A lot of the time-- most of the time-- we don't get to choose the crises that come our way. But we do get to choose how we respond to them. Make smart decisions, think creatively, be calm, stay true to yourself. Have style even when the shit is hitting the fan. Especially when the shit is hitting the fan.
Testing our wits when there's nothing really all that serious going on may not be the worst idea. That's what I tell myself, anyway. Push the edge farther away, test the boundaries of a bad idea, and come back home safe with lessons learned. Then wake up the next morning feeling braver. Experience tempers me, like heat tempers steel.
Because sooner or later, it's the real deal: your house is actually falling down.
I had been deep in thought on my road bike, getting out the day's frustrations on a nice long climb. I'd not checked the clock when I left. By the time I noticed the sun was low, I was 17 miles from home in either direction. And 2400 feet higher in elevation than my home. And it was 7 pm. The sweat from the climb evaporated, chilling me.
Dark clouds were pushed across the sky by a strong wind. The temperature had dropped sharply when I'd reached the end of the Mt. Pisgah Highway and turned onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. This section was still closed to vehicles, and littered with blowing leaves, sticks, and patches of ice. I uploaded a couple cellphone photos to Facebook. After I crashed and, lying in the dark forest, succumbed to hypothermia, they'd piece together my foolishness by the time stamps on the photos.
This section of the Parkway is twelve miles of a steady six percent grade, following the windy spine of the range. In the longest tunnels, pitch dark, I unclipped my red taillight from my seatpost, switched it from blinky to steady, and held it in my teeth to guide my way. Halfway down, the dark clouds started making good on their promise of rain. My numb hands kept losing the brake levers. And the descent was interminable. I admit: I wept. As the rain hit me in the face I sobbed at my own self-inflicted misery.
Two hours later, I was warm and dry. I push myself out onto these stupid ledges almost subconsciously. When I left at four thirty, had I thought the ride might end this way? No. I do tend to stumble into the dramatic when there's no one to offer wiser counsel. But the drama makes us stronger and smarter and braver. No one ever got braver sitting on a couch, or doing intervals on the trainer. No one ever got braver without first getting scared.