The Blank Canvas


It’s almost game-time for me as I leave tomorrow for Alaska and the 200 mile Iditasport race.  As with the rest of the world, it seems Alaska has had their fair share of bizarre weather this year with a dramatic mid-winter warmup that sent temps soaring into the 50’s degree F.  However, recently temperatures have returned to a more normal range and the long range weather forecast is calling for near perfect weather for the race (aside from a potential windstorm that might make things interesting on the way out to the turnaround).  From all accounts the trail should be, at its best, hard and firm.  At its worst it could be an icy mess but it really doesn’t matter.  The trail will be what it will be.  What I make of the experience is what is important, even if I finish dead last.  If you’re a guy like me and you go into races like this with the mindset of “conquering” you’re missing the point.  The real race is within.

A long time ago I sat down in the dusty recesses of the University of Maine library, picked up a book off the shelf and started reading a collection of letters from Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo.  It was a remarkable glimpse into the world and mindset of the artist.  One passage in particular has always stuck with me:

You will say that I have no success. I don’t care; to conquer or be conquered, in any case one is in emotion and action – and those are nearer being the same thing than appears.  Just dash something down if you see a blank canvas staring at you with a certain imbecility.  You do not know how paralyzing it is, that staring of a blank canvas which says to the painter: you don’t know anything.  Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the real passionate painter who dares.

Life too always turns towards a man an infinitely vacant, discouraging, hopeless blank side on which nothing is written.  But however vacant and vain and dead life may present itself, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, who knows something, does not let himself be led astray.  He steps in, and acts, and builds up – “ruins”, they call it.  Let them talk, those cold theologians!

Of course Nature holds no emotions.  Alaska may blizzard up a sudden three feet of snow, or the winds may howl, or the trail may be an icy, unrideable mess that I (lacking studded tires) may have to walk for long stretches at a time.  Who knows? It might also be 40 degrees and raining but that’s OK, I’m prepared for that.  It really doesn’t matter what the conditions will be as I’ll adapt and come out the other end tired but smiling.  Alaska is a blank canvas staring back at me right now and I’ll make of it whatever I want, ruins or not.

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10 Responses to The Blank Canvas

  1. Gerry says:

    Good luck Tom. Steve shared your blog with us and oh so amazing. Your pictures are just unbelievable. So enjoy looking at them. Will enjoy following your new adventure. Ron &

  2. I live in the sierras and I feel like I haven’t explored them like you have. Enjoy the ride -Iditasport

  3. Steve King says:

    I wish you all the best Tom. Keep it on the trail and enjoy the ride.
    Looking forward to reading about it.

  4. Dai says:

    I like how you remember the perfect quote for your situation. Haha… Have fun out there!

  5. Steve King says:

    Tom you really should figure out how to get your writing and pictures published. I read a lot of bike mags but I truely enjoy your material.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks Steve! It’s a fun hobby and good writing practice, maybe one of these days I’ll submit something. Thanks for taking a look, I’m still in AK but I did take a few photos during the race, great experience!

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