Hard at work or hardly working

A week or so ago my roommate made some comment about how hard of a worker I am. He couldn’t believe I had the energy to get off work at the hotel at 11:30 pm, then wake up early the next morning to shovel snow most of the day, then work at the hotel again later that night. He said I was “an inspiration to us all.” I said thanks, though I really didn’t feel like I deserved the compliment. For one thing, shoveling driveways and bussing tables takes nowhere near the level of effort that even a three or four hour ride takes. Secondly, that was not a typical couple days. But more than that, there are people who train 20+ hours a week AND have FULL time jobs of 40+ hours a week. Compared to these people, who are quite abundant in the cycling world, I feel lazy. I come home from my ride (sure, it was a hard one) and lay on the couch fiddling on the internet or drawing pictures of wolves for the rest of the evening. I don’t have kids to take care of, papers to grade, student loans to pay off, homework, or even the slightest inconvenience of having a lady friend to go visit. No, I have absolutely no other major commitments other than training and racing. Save for my menial jobs a few days a week, I wake up late, eat, ride, eat, and laze around. Repeat.

Now my roommate, on the other hand, is a truly lazy person, which is why he must think I’m so busy. It baffles me to see someone who works part time and doesn’t have any hobbies, sports, a family to raise, or activities to occupy himself with other than watching TV and talking on the phone. And what surprises me even more is his age. He’s almost 50, and he’s STILL lazy! Ummm, retirement money, hello?? I thought people grew out of laziness sometime after college. Apparently not everyone does.

Most of the “adults” I know put me to shame when it comes to working hard. In my family, I’m used to people like my aunt and her husband, who’s extremely long hours spent on their small business must have profited enough money to buy the entire bulk section at Whole Foods 1,000 times over. I’m used to people like my uncle, who spent his life doing hard manual labor 10 hours a day his entire life. As a landscaper, your work environment is always either too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry, you get cuts and small bruises everywhere from blackberry brambles and knocking your shins on machinery, aches in your knees from kneeling while yanking weeds, sore feet and legs from walking and standing all day, burnt skin from the sun, and you always come home tired and hungry. He wrecked his back after 25 years and no amount of surgery will fix it. I’m used to seeing the hard work of my mom, who went back to college to get a third degree while raising my brother and I, then afterward worked full-time as an accountant while also attempting to keep the house intact as my brother, my dad, Thomas, and I tried to run it into the ground. (Thomas is somewhat of a destructive dog. We’ve lost count of the pies he’s stolen off the counter top and the square footage of house he’s gnawed away). I’m used to but still in awe of my dad’s relentlessly early days, starting at 4:30 every morning to row or swim for an hour, commute to work, teach classes, write papers, do research and field work, train for another 1-2 hours on the bike, in the pool, or on the erg at the gym, then come home, and go to bed at 9:00. Three hours of hard workouts a day on top of a 60+ hour a week job, and he’s 58. Even my brother is majoring in a real degree, chemical engineering, while all I learned in journalism was how to write a good blog. The only person lazier than me in my family is Thomas, who can’t go on bike ride runs anymore since he has hip dysplasia. He still gives those squirrels a run for their money though.

But all of those examples are nothing compared to the reward-less, demeaning, and exhausting work that goes on in the third world to make all of the crap we’re buying for christmas. The 15-hour days in sweat shops for a dollar an hour, the scorching heat and heavy lifting in banana and coffee plantations, the disease, poverty, and starvation that’s put up with in the third slave world, while subsequently working their hands to the bone, is what impresses (and sickens) me.

When I think of all the hard-laboring people in the world, then think about what I’m doing, I get depressed. It makes me feel like a worthless, lazy slob. Yes, there are a lot of people even lazier than me, but I don’t compare myself to them. If there’s someone faster than me, I want to beat them and will gasp like a fish in order to do so. If there’s someone slower than me, well, so what; it’s like taking pride that you passed an old man on a mountain bike with flat tires on his way back from a prostate exam.

I realize the extreme fortune in my opportunity to race full time and still, at the ripe old age of 26, receive support from my family. While I feel bad about how lazy I am and how much harder it is for people in Ethiopia, India, or even in Portland where there are droves of fast cyclists with families and careers,–at the same time the guilt helps drive me. The parrot on my shoulder, no wait I mean the monkey on my back, whispers in my ear that I better not fail. I better fucking smash those damn pedals as hard as I can every day and starve myself with salad and clams every night. I better eek out every single drop of effort on my rides, wring my muscles dry like a sponge to get out the final few watts, train my mind to suffer in ways that only a select few will ever know, and then when I’m done, I better be the best lazy ass-hole on earth for the other 20 hours of the day.