Over my spring break I had $1,000 dollars of flight credit to use, built up from four postponed trips. After so many false starts, it was time to go again – and go I have. First up, Siena for the Strade Bianche. For the trip, I put away my Instagram and my updates and I turned to my journal. Over dinners and downtime, I wrote down my sensations. These are the moments that captured the trip for me, and I hope you enjoy the “crudo” distillation of my week in Tuscany!
March 3, 2022 — Firenze Centrale, Florence, Tuscany
People seem to flow here. In scarfs, overcoats, down puffers, and other regal regalia built for temperatures colder than now, the Italian masses move with effortless intention. In twos, and threes, and four, and sometimes ones but nearly never fives, people would come, and people would go in a swirl of the sing-song language of the land.
Once again, you’ve done it, you mastered viral marketing. Now, December is marked by the bombardment of Spotify branded music tastes. As much as I try to be the grinch, I like it. I like it a lot.
Alas, my contrarian flare persists, and I have journals to write. So instead of a simple Instagram story share and per a budding tradition, here is my 2021 playlist. Five of my favorite songs from 2021 paired with my top five rides. I highly encourage you to listen as you go! Each passage was written while the tunes played on loop. My apologize to my roommates. Enjoy!
After copy editing last year with a classically gnarled old-school journalist, I have been on the prowl to slash and burn the cliches I have in my writing. I think I am improving. Nevertheless, sometimes those cliches are cliches for a reason and I’d be a fool to let a good trope pass me by. So, as I have emerged from my forced concussion sponsored reset, I am going to have a little fun with some lazy formatting because it’s what I want to do. Sue me.
In my ruminating on my summer in Ecuador, the old Clint Eastwood cliche keeps seeping in. It was good. It was bad. It was ugly. And I just couldn’t help but share this worn triumvirate in the third installment of Ecuador shorts.
The following is an except from my upcoming article on the larger political and economic story from Ecuador. Although it may not be a cycling specific piece, it is the perspective of the region and the context of the cycling. Enjoy and look out for the full story soon.
Situated one ridge over from the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador, deep in the towering shadow of the mountainside staircase of an unnamed mine, sits San Antonio de Pichincha. In an arid landscape, defined by human domination of the landscape, the town is hardly reminiscent of the bustling metropolis to the south.
Over the month of August, I spent my time backpacking through the country of Ecuador on a research grant from the University of Richmond. While the subject of the research was not a cycling story, the scenes from the road were on their own, little nuggets of intrigue. Here is the first!
The absurdity of Guayaquil, Ecuador is hard to understate. In the dense neighborhood and enclaves, the worlds of many fuse into a convoluted web of urbanization. As I wheeled to a halt at the sudden terminus of a bike path on the outskirts of the city, that chaos was inescapably and suddenly present.
I wrote this journal before starting Unbound on Saturday. I was going to post this on Friday, however, my hotel’s internet was toast, so here it is as a little preview of the big report. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this little insight into how the sausage was made!
A couple weeks ago I realized I made a huge mistake. As an unabashed fan of controlled chaos and the benevolence of mess, I cannot say mistake are uncommon. Mistakes are really more a consistent reminder of the progress I continue to make.
In a year where the world will come back to each other, we cyclists have choices. From new tech, to new friends, to new races, we all have the power to pivot our focus and point our wheels towards pastures anew. For me, 2021 has produced the chance to fundamentally shake up my cycling horizons, and with that an opportunity to try and tell the story of a different path than what I have found before; a path that is as dirty and long as it is ambitious, creative and exciting.
After a junior and U23 career on the road, I feel that the time is ripe to shift focus to what truly speaks to me in cycling. While I will always love road cycling, and hope to continue it in some small capacity, the dirt, grit and endurance of gravel. From the tenacity required, to the rewards for the bold and the physiology required to excel, I believe that I have the tools to be successful. For the last couple years, I have felt this way, however with the stability of my road program and the lack of a sustainable gravel path for a less proven athlete to elite gravel racing I held off. Now, I am fit, I am excited, and I am ready.
With my bike partner Rodeo Adventure Labs providing the ultimate machine for the many different jobs, I hope to take on a calendar of races, activities and adventures which cover as many different shades as possible of pedals and two wheels, with the intention to highlight the variety of alternative options that cycling has to offer and how a bike like the Donkey, and a full send attitude like mine can offer. This means that I will be trying to get to the country’s fastest road events, the longest gravel races and some beefy bike packing and ultra-endurance events both home and abroad to get a fantastically rich perspective.
While I have every intention to approach everything with competitive intention and training, what I am really trying to accomplish is to bolster my storytelling capabilities and highlight the narrative produced by diverse and vivid cycling experiences. By overlapping the multiple forms of competition with a constant theme of travel, nature, and community I want to be able to foster a connective and cohesive narrative. One that ties divergent paths of cycling together in a story that would, hopefully, resonate with cyclists of every age and discipline and hopefully break down the stigmas and misrepresentations that have become all too present in the cycling landscape.
Rockstar Gravel FKT – April 3rd – Harrisonburg, Virginia
On April 3rd, I will be kicking of the season with a proper doozy; the Rockstar Gravel FKT. With 250 miles of gnarly, ratchet and nasty gravel, the Rockstar FKT is the consummate Virginia gravel ride. From Harrisonburg to Roanoke, the Rockstar will be a proper 18-hour affair, with the legend Jeremiah Bishop holding the record now at a little over 18 hours. Alongside my longtime training partner Ryan Hagen, and my family tagging along as a crew, we will go after that time, as a prelim to the self-supported race that will start a week later. We will be working closely with the Virginia Endurance Series who promotes the event, in order to make this a truly roaring good time.
Greenwood Gravel Grinder – April 10th – Abbeville, South Carolina
The Greenwood gravel grinder is event number two of the southeast gravel series, a six-part show of the Southeastern gravel scene. With a new pro category and payouts totally $1,000 dollars for men and women, the series is an exciting opportunity to bring more emphasis to gravel racing in our southeastern neck of the woods. At 70-odd miles, this is quiet the different challenge than the Rockstar, but is nevertheless a challenge in its own right!
Monster cross – April 11th – Chesterfield, Virginia
Part two of the spring double header will find me back home at Pocahontas State Park just south of Richmond! Monster cross, an iconic local race, pits cross, gravel, and mountain bikes against each other on a blistering off road course that mends together the different disciplines of the sport in a love collage of two-wheeled bliss. Let’s call it NASCAR in the woods, for two wheels, and with knobby treads.
Gaps and Hollows – April 24th. – Stokesville, Virginia
My homecoming! After years of riding in the hills and hollows surrounding Stokesville and Staunton, Virginia, my vision of racing over those roads is coming true! Promoted by the great folks at Stokesville, Gaps and Hollows is a race that will test everyone on a course built for the hardy on one of most stunning weeks of the year in the area with the vivid greens, reds, purples and yellows of a budding spring dominating the visual landscape. Truly, the perfect culmination of the Virginia swing of the calendar.
Falling Creek Pinnacle Creek Punisher – May 8th – Zirconia, North Carolina
Even though most of the season is filled with new (to me) events, adventures, and races, the Pinnacle Creek Punisher in North Carolina is a ~light~ redemption story. Last year, I went into the race with massive misconceptions of the course and of my equipment’s capabilities. With 60 chonky miles of rocks, dirt and even a little pavement. The perfect chance to build the speed towards the big events on the horizons, and a great temporary farewell to southeastern gravel.
Armed Forces – June 5-6th, Washington DC
My road season! This one cuts a little deeper. Since I started cycling in the mid-Atlantic “Air Force” has been king. While I have always been restricted to the minor categories, it stands alone in its regional importance. Sitting at 100km it is also the friendliest to my gravel grinder fitness and is an event I would be extremely sad to miss, so for the first week in June you can count on me being on that sweltering start line in the concrete jungle many, many miles away from the nearest small gravel roads that the year is about. Ya know, juxtaposition.
Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder – June 23-27th – Sisters, Oregon
Can you call it a homecoming if you have never lived somewhere? Absolutely, what even is a home? Sisters, Oregon, is as much a home to me as any of the towns I have dwelled in. The home to my grandparents for as long as I can remember, Sisters and the surrounding Cascade mountains are a mix of geographies that are starkly unique and equally beautiful. From the eastern slopes the mountains tilt out of the high desert. Littered with rugged pines, sagebrush and gnarled micro-canyons, the scenes of the east are straight from a spaghetti western. Conversely, cross the volcanic caps of the mountains and the vegetation transitions on a dime to lush scenes of the vibrant woods of the coast. Therein lies the mixed and mossy forests of splendor that ooze the life and soft comfort emblematic of the Pacific North West.
` It is an ecological juxtaposition I have never seen replicated, and a place that gives me endless satisfaction. While this won’t be my first-time racing in the Oregon Cascades, it will be a new and engaging way to integrate competition and community into an exploration of that familiar terrain. I am so excited to be a part of what is sure to be one of the best events of the year. How could an adult travelling stage race/summer camp not be?
St. Helens project – July 1st–July 4th – Washington
Continuing with the Western excursion, the Saint Helens project is a bike packing adventure through southern Washington, starting and finishing in Portland, Oregon. The summer four day trip is a continuation of sorts. Born out of last year’s trip that I did with my little brother through our old Idaho home, the St. Helens Project establishes summer overnighters as our Fourth of July tradition. This summer, we will take the trip one state to the east, from know turf to something new to both of us. While our roots run deep in Oregon, Washington is unexplored turf for us Jones-Wilkins boys. Beyond three days spent there last year, all I know are the lovely word of mouth tales of the great northwestern state. We are thrilled to get ~volcanic~ and enjoy what is sure to be an explosive trip in the Cascades!
The Tushar Crusher – July 10th – Beaver, Utah
I am through and through a mountain western kid at heart and the Rocky Mountains will always have my soul. Therefore, in this year where the focus is on spreading the net far and wide, the mountains of Utah were something I simply could not ignore. The Tushar mountains have been a range that excites me and while the massive climbs may not be 100% a strength of mine, the challenge and status of the race is very exciting. With the high altitude of Ecuador on the horizon, the Crusher is the perfect place to start that preparation. Bring on the dust!
Ecuador Expedition – July 28th-August 21st – Quito, Ecuador
This summer my riding and academics will center primarily around a project I have been planning for a very long time. In August, pending bureaucratic formalities and allowance, will take on a bicycle-based tour of Ecuador as a research tool for a long form investigative piece on Ecuador’s road infrastructure and all the drama, corruption, and success it has created. Additionally, I will produce a cycling based piece on my own personal journey, as well as photographs and videos from the expedition. In total, I will be in Ecuador for four weeks for school-funded research where I hope to cover 2,000 miles, from the Jungle, to the coast, and finally the spine of the Andes mountains. In stature, this is essential a DIY grand tour of unknown places and people. Noncompetitive, but even more epic, dramatic and chaotic.
Lake City Alpine 50 – August 28th – Lake City, Colorado
There are very few places in the United States that can effectively prepare a rider for the Lake City Alpine 50. Starting and finishing deep in the San Juan mountains of southwest Colorado, the loop takes on one pass of over 12k elevation and one of a stunning 13k. At only 50 miles the route is shockingly tough, with massive gravel (read: rocks) high altitude, exposure and gradients. For a sea level dweller, it’s a losing proposition. However, one place which can rival the mighty San Juan is the heights of…Ecuador. While the fatigue will be high, the acclimation and aerobic fitness will be a key to allow me to really take a good stab at this truly unique and stunning event.
Southeast Gravel Final – October 2nd – Abbeville, South Carolina
The last of the “local” gravel will serve as a tune up for the final push. This will be a repeat offended, a second stab, at the first gravel race of my year and provide a short opener to the final phase of my season, and my most competitive.
UnPAved of the Susquehanna – October 10th – Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
The hits just keep coming! Two weeks later, in the heart of the Pennsylvania mountains, is possibly the brightest hidden gem of the gravel world. UnPAved is nothing short of stunning. Coming during the panicle of Pennsylvania’s gloriously vibrant fall, the race earns its slogan “easy on the eyes, hard on the legs.” What’s more, the short, punchy climbs and distance are the features I dream about. In many ways, UnPAved is the perfect event for the type of rider I believe I am and is absolutely a top priority of the year.
Big Sugar and Chinkapin Hollow Gravel Grinder– October 23rd – Fayetteville, AR
The second of the two big goals of my late season and (pending lottery results), the new kid on the block in the hills of the Ozarks. After spending quarantine in Arkansas and taking a few escapes to the Ozarks I can say I am truly dying to return. Those yonder hills are as small as they are harsh, replete with rocks that act as shrapnel and unrelenting undulation that creates some of the hardest terrain I have faced. Pair that understanding and appreciation with form that will be peaking, and I hope the results will follow. But that is not all! With the 109-mile Chinkapin Hollow Gravel Grinder to follow, the weekend in Arkansas is shaping up to be one massive, rowdy experience.
Belgian Waffle Ride Kansas – October 31st – Lawrence, Kansas
Last of the triumvirate, and the final race of the year, is BWR new race in the gravel heartland. My first throwdown in the heartland of gravel seems a very fitting way to finish my first season delving into the waters of gravel. I do not know much about this event, or the stories that will come from it, but it seems to have all the ingredients for a fantastic final showdown.
Home is a powerful thing. For many it is one place that exists throughout time as the bastion of their childhood. For others, it is something more fluid, something that develops as they do. I, for one, subscribe to the former.
For me, home is something that exists in a purely daily context, depending on where I place my head. I chalk it up to my family’s nomadic habit; Arizona to California; California to Idaho; Idaho to Virginia; Virginia to Arkansas. Home was never a building, a bedroom, or a state; Home was a place where I could feel the love of my family; home was a place where I could appreciate those around me; home was a place that I enjoyed being.
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