Essay: Facilitating a Break

It is easy to get too comfortable in the peloton. We move forward, at varying rates of speed, but always in concert with the school of individuals around us. We don’t have to think too much about where we’re going; just follow the pack. Behave erratically, we get knocked back in place. Get lazy, we get left behind. Best to go with the flow.

In the peloton, we have people to talk to. We can socialize with our neighbors. If we need food or water, someone will most likely give it to us. A neighbor in the peloton will listen when we complain about feeling tired or having a cramp in our leg, our hip, our calf.

Life is safe in the peloton most of the time. We don’t have to stretch ourselves. We don’t have to work to improve our position if we don’t want to. Whether we stay where we are or move a few notches higher, we are still in the peloton. We fit in. In the peloton, we belong. We are a part of something greater than ourselves, but we remain part of the status quo.

Every now and again, a member of the peloton gets antsy. He wants something more for himself, but isn’t sure what that is. He starts to feel constricted by the peloton. His breathing becomes shallow, his heart rate climbs just a little. Although he doesn’t know where he’s supposed to go, his impatience takes over and he breaks free. The feeling of the wind in his face is exhilarating. He has space to breathe. He feels powerful riding ahead of the peloton. He’s better than all of them, he thinks. Just look. I will get to the finish line first, for sure. I’ll show them.

A couple guys chased after the lone breakout artist, but quickly resumed their positions in the peloton, overwhelmed by the extra work required to fly solo. They didn’t realize that being a leader would take so much work.

Where is the finish line? The man that broke free doesn’t know. He starts to feel uneasy being a quarter of a mile up the road all by himself. He should have researched the route. He should have planned his way out. He frets over where he is supposed to go. There is no one to help him out here. Meanwhile, the peloton surges closer. The lone breakout artist hears their incessant chatter and the drone of their high-priced vehicles. He is better than them, he assures himself, but he’ll rejoin the peloton for now, just to play it safe. He’ll break free again, he tells himself. But he never does.

Meanwhile, another member of the peloton is executing his plan to win. For most of the race, he stays comfortable in the group. He is well-mannered, even giving up a very good position to help out a teammate. But through the course of the race, he slowly moves up. One spot, then another. Pause, and then another. He is calm, because he has a plan. He researched the route on Strava. He researched his competitors and knew how to outsmart them. He visualized the race in his mind, over and over for weeks, months, years, right down to the finishing sprint, where he would raise his arms high in a victory salute. For weeks, months, years, he felt the thrill and all-encompassing joy of achieving his dream.

At just the right time—divinely guided, one could say—the driven athlete sees space give way ahead of him and he makes his move. Not too fast, lest he burn out too quickly, but not so slow as to lose momentum. He makes a confident surge forward, bolstered by an inexhaustible engine. He doesn’t look back. He doesn’t even consider the peloton anymore, because he knows he has greater goals to accomplish. He follows his plan flawlessly, like he has so many times before in his mind. He glances around from time to time. His heart seems to fill his entire torso as it expands with joy, because he knows he his realizing his dream. His whole body vibrates with excitement. The trees look especially lush and green today. The air is pure and crisp. Life is good and very good. The stats on his Garmin say he’s working harder than he ever has, but the work feels effortless. He is meant to be here.

The peloton watches the leader with mixed emotions. He’ll come back, they say. Just give him time. He’ll break. He’s good, but he’s not that good. I could do that, but today just isn’t my day. The well-appointed school of fish collectively grumbles. A few start bickering with one another. A few others crash into a pile of carbon, spandex and smooth, lubricated flesh.

Hundreds of meters up the road, the horizon opens its arms for the leader, who reveres the power of faith. He had the patience to plan his attack carefully and the unwavering belief that the dream was his for the taking. He crosses the finish line beaming, his arms raised high in the victory salute he had practiced, over and over, for weeks, months, years.

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