By Logan Jones-Wilkins
Staring down a 200-mile bike race is scary. REALLY scary.
Staring down a 200-mile bike race in January is just plain old silly.
For me the Sugarcane 200 will be my maiden odyssey into the wild world of gravel racing. I am excited for the challenge ahead, however, I really don’t have many wise things to say going into it. I know next to nothing about the competition, except that Ted King is one grade-A certified fast dude. I know next to nothing about the course, except it is longer than long and flatter then flat. Lastly, I know next to nothing about nutrition and tactics, except I need a lot of food and even more patience.
However, what is familiar to me is the controlled chaos that comes from trying to extricate myself from my college bubble in Richmond, Virginia, to South Florida for the weekend. Living the life of a student cyclist is not without its unique and distinct challenges. My dorm room has morphed into a bike shop/garage/bedroom combo. Just over the last week, between my road team camp and the Traildonkey’s arrival, I was up to four bikes carefully stuffed under my lofted bed in my “pristine” all boy’s freshman dorm.
The biggest hurdle, though, is far from the size of my bedroom – put me in a van and I’ll be alright – nor is it the academics, which are difficult, but nothing a couple late nights (read: all night) can’t fix. Where the real difficulties lie are in the social aspects of college. In the time in most people’s lives where we as a species largely shift to a nocturnal existence, the act of dedicating most of my time to bike rides and sleep feels downright rebellious.
It is not all bad though. For every party I’ve missed, I’ve gotten tranquil Saturday morning walks by our beautiful campus lake and empty lines for omelets. It is simply a way of life that takes a bit of warming up to.
At first, I was hesitant to accept this reality. Having spent the last year of my life in a gap year I was chomping at the bit to begin the next chapter in my life. Not only in terms of academics, but also in terms of all the other opportunities given to a college student.
What nobody tells you about a gap year is how much of a lonesome endeavor it can be. In both a positive, learn about yourself, way, and in an “oh wow, I really wish I had some new people to talk to” way. So, not to mince words, I was stoked A.F. to see some more people my age.
At first, I had a good time. Staying up till the wee hours of the morning causing ruckus and making merry, you know, like a “normal” kid. But soon it started to feel…off. I started to feel as if there was nothing to look forward to. After years of spending all my time living one adventure to the next, it had become what gave me joy and positivity. The life of having teenage fun on the weekend as the defining piece of happiness in life just seemed so hard to rationalize.
Although I had not said it outright (or very clearly to myself) I went into college flirting with the idea that cycling might take a backseat going forward. I had notions floating around in my conscience that I needed to figure out what I was going to do in the “real world.” I thought college would also push me towards a more social existence and I would need to spend more time with others and less with the roads of central Virginia.
As it turned out, all I needed was two months before I figured out where my priorities needed to lie. Riding a bike was still as close to my personal identity as anything and without it I really struggle, no matter how good the rest of my situation in life is. The friendships that began in school faded. I spent my nights in my room foam rolling, stretching, and reading while my peers went out. On many Friday nights I would even take my bike out and rip around town complete with lights and a smile.
Instead of being hurt by the intentional solitude, I really enjoyed it. My life was filled with purpose again while my nights regained their sleep. The many people around campus I knew would see me around and wonder where I had been and how come I have missed this, that, or the other party. Without hesitation, shame or a shred of regret I say, “I’ve been riding.” I have leaned into the many nicknames. “Biker Logan” or “Biker Boy” are the most common but fall somewhat short of where I feel best describes me.
For me, my pursuit seems monastic of sorts. Not to the same degree, but driven by this spiritual connection to a pursuit of a deeper goal. For those of us who have chosen this path that goal lies on the bike, and pedaling is what gives us sanctuary.