Heartbreak

When I was 15 I had my heart broken. My first love had dumped me and the world was ending. What had I done wrong? My mind raced with possibilities and answers to sad lines of questions. Surely there was a simple way to fix the problem. I moped around the house, listening to laughably angsty Dashboard Confessional songs (“My heart is yours to fill or burst to break or bury, or wear as jewelry, whichever you prefer”), going on long runs by myself, blackout drinking with friends, self-mutilation, and being generally morose. My mom would roll her eyes and give her 10,000 ft view: there will be more girlfriends.

I didn’t believe her at the time, and looking back my behavior seems so silly and overdramatic. Of course, there would be other girlfriends. Of course, that heartbreak wouldn’t last forever. Of course, there would be more heartbreaks. But at the time, it was so painful and real. I couldn’t imagine loving anything or anyone else, simply because I hadn’t experienced anything else.

Back then, the only thing to heal my broken heart was to fall for someone else. A new love interest would occupy my attention span and eventually, I forgot about the pain of a broken heart.

I actually had no idea what it was to love as a teen. Truly, I couldn’t understand how much hard work goes into loving someone or something. The challenge is waking up every day, resetting, and rededicating with your whole heart. In the lull of the mundane, it’s easy to go through the motions of emotion, thinking about my to-do list or daydreaming of other things.

Bike racing is a labor of love and with anything that you love, there has to be heartbreak. My friend Hannah wisely said, “The bigger the dream, the bigger the heartbreaks along the way.” I have sacrificed so much of my money, time, energy, and relationships. In exchange, I’ve received a lot of scars, new friends, and some really precious memories. Similar to romantic relationships, I’ve broken up with bike racing before.

I moved to Northwest Arkansas in 2016 to take road riding more seriously. For the last couple of years, I had been living in Kansas City and worked my way from Cat 5 to Cat 3 in quick succession. I loved road and criterium racing—the speed, the strategy, and the timing. The delicate dance had to be just to end up at the top. In Arkansas, I put in hard work and went to the right races, upgrading to a Cat 2 after the season. I raced a handful of Cat 1/2 criteriums and realized how much more work and money the next step was going to take. I would need to rededicate myself to training but also travel a lot more for races to get my Cat 1 upgrade. And then what? Disenchanted, I stopped racing altogether.

When I describe my passion for long-distance racing, people have asked me, “Why?” and that’s a funny question when you’re in love—it’s a little indescribable. At times, it can feel like the easiest thing in the world and then it can also feel like the most punishing. I can list a hundred different ways that bike racing is fulfilling for me, but it won’t quite capture my love of the sport. I know that when it’s good, it’s really, really good. The Process is a long one, day in and day out. Hours of riding, hours of bike maintenance, hours of body maintenance, the right food, experimenting with bike setups and fuel strategy. When it all comes together, it’s not just a celebration of one moment or event, but of The Process.

Hours of riding in Arkansas and I found the world’s sketchies ferris wheel
Humans may share up to 55% of their DNA with a Tyrannosaurus rex

People’s reaction to Lachlan winning Unbound 200 has been so wholesome. Finally, a champion that everyone can celebrate. Why is this feeling so universal? Lachlan’s story has been in cycling media everywhere. He tried his hand at World Tour racing and was burnt out by the grind. Shifting his focus, he raced in the emerging American gravel scene and Team EF believed in him enough to support him. Lachlan comes off as humble and personable while still achieving superhuman feats, like unofficially blasting through the Tour Divide record. Lachlan is the everyman, and we see our own reflections. “That would be my story.” Bike racing takes its pound of flesh in any way it can, so when we see someone pay their dues year after year and finally take the top step, it’s like we all won. In my own successes, I feel that energy from the people cheering from my corner.

My favorite hero to rescue me, my girlfriend Heather
I have had success this year, despite the tone of this post–a win at Ozark Highlands Classic and at the Rule of Three 200
Peter and Rodeo Bro Logan came to visit Arkansas for the Rule of Three

My crash at Unbound happened in the blink of an eye. One moment I was on top of the world, feeling like I was finally proving myself in one of the toughest bike races. I remember we crested over the top of Dawson’s Hill, picked up speed and the road turned into a gnarly, ledgy rut. My body tensed up when I saw I was on a really bad line. My front tire was a bit low on pressure and I smashed into the edge of a jutted rock and instantly deflated. The momentum catapulted me from the bike going from 22 mph to zero. I lay on my back for a second stunned at the sudden turn of events. In a combination of agony and frustration, I let out a wild scream before remembering I was a danger to the folks behind me. I quickly scrambled to my feet to drag my bike out of the way and assess any damage. Nothing on the bike was broken, just the levers turned inward. Frantic, I grabbed my CO2 to start on my front tire when my helmet slid down over my eyes, no longer holding to my head. When I took it off, I knew my race was over. Underneath the huge dent on the back, the styrofoam had cracked in multiple spots. For a moment, I considered the option of charging forward but knew the serious repercussions of concussions. Some concussions won’t show the worst symptoms for a few hours. As a high school cycling coach and advocate for rider safety, I understood the gravity of head injuries and the importance of prioritizing health over ambition. Ignoring my own advice and charging forward would be reckless and stupid. Dazed and dejected, I rolled my Donkey backward on the course to a spot with cell service to call my girlfriend Heather for a pickup.

The verdant green Flint Hills were putting on an apology show. Dusk sunlight streamed through clusters of clouds, highlighting the deep valleys and luscious hilltops. As much mettle and grit as one thinks they have, this land stays stoic and unwavering in its slopes. My existence is a blink of an eye with the tens of thousands of years of Dawson’s Hill and my inexperience is apparent. The hill does not care about this stupid race, but I feel some consolation while I saunter back to the gravel road, the vast rolling landscape reminding me of the stunning beauty of Kansas. In 2024, I am not the first Kansan to win Unbound XL, but I will be back next year. The first conversation with Heather is all business. When she calls back 5 minutes later, her voice is cracking with emotional strain. She knows just how bad I wanted this title because she believed I had it in me. I have sacrificed a lot of time, energy, and money for this goal, but so has she. Even in this moment, we are sharing the heartbreak of a lost dream. I am thankful for the ability to still walk, I am thankful for a partner who is willing to drive an hour to the middle of nowhere to rescue me.

I remember some spectators on a corner and walking another mile to a gray Dodge Caravan sitting with the back hatch stretching open like a cheetah’s jaw. Their eyes look surprised to see me and they ask a couple of times if I’m okay. I am, I think. While I sit there on the back bumper, I go through sharp emotional whiplash and feel like I’m in a fog. The two locals hand me a blanket that ends up smearing with my blood and I feel guilty. They just wanted to enjoy the race, not have to keep an eye on a grown man with a head injury.

After two hours, Heather and I are at the local emergency room and I’m being pampered by late-shift nurses with not a whole lot else happening on their watch. After CT scans and multiple X-rays, I got the all-clear and we left the hospital at 1:30 in the morning to swing through a greasy drive-through. This is a fitting meal when you’re mentally beating yourself up, thinking through all the different possibilities and choices that could have been. The next morning, as we are leaving, we make our way to downtown Emporia just in time for the finish of the XL, a sprint between the German that I met in Spain and last year’s winner, Logan Kasper. 353 miles and it all came down to a few dozen yards. Afterwards, we sneak out of town to head back to my parent’s house, a place that feels familiar and comforting while my entire right side feels like it’s been sledgehammered by John Henry and the cloud of a concussion follows me around. In moments of intense emotion: am I grieving for the race or is this a symptom? In moments of exhaustion: am I tired from the race and subsequent night or is this a symptom? Lines blur and skew and I feel unfocused, but maybe depressed.

The nurses gave me a pretty serious looking neckbrace for an hour
Two ruined skinsuits in one season 👎

A week later, Heather and I made the long drive westward to Oregon spanning over two days. Springdale, Arkansas to Laramie, Wyoming. Laramie to Denio Junction, Nevada. Denio Junction to Klamath Falls, Oregon. 29 hours of driving packed into two and a half days. In the first couple of days of landing, I have a couple of rides and I feel stiff and slow and start to worry the FKT may not go according to plan. I am still nursing twisted knots and green and blue bruises from my wreck in Kansas only 9 days previous. I’m telling myself that I am ready for this FKT attempt and I think I want to believe it so badly because I need redemption from Unbound. If I can smash this record wide open, I am reassured that I have the fitness for Unbound greatness. I’ve made a Google Sheet timetable with a 15 mph average to a bold 18 mph average.

A whole day of laying around and fiddling with my setup and I am set to take off on my quest at midnight. The setup feels dialed. The bike hasn’t felt this smooth since the first ride. Standing outside the building of our Airbnb, the air is a crisp 46 degrees. Cool, but not cold. In the first ten miles, I am warming up and I feel like the FKT doesn’t stand a chance. Over the first hour, though, the temperature drops below 30 degrees, bottoming out at 23 degrees. I had gone over 100 scenarios except for a major temperature drop and was only clothed in my skinsuit and long-fingered gloves. For five hours straight, my body shivered and shook with violent tremors to keep itself warm. Out of the first section, the OC&E rail to trail, I wondered if you can die from hypothermia while still being active. The effort in the dark is a delicate balancing act. I want to go hard enough that I can generate heat, but going too fast means more windchill. I pray for climbs, knowing there isn’t much. Every so often I am in so much physical pain that I just need to stop and catch my breath. Even though the sun is finally over the horizon, I’m ready to bail at mile 110, already feeling like I have ridden 300 miles. My body and mind feel absolutely wrecked. My brain has this fogginess that is an exact replica of how my concussion felt and I worry I’ve agitated a sleeping monster. I continue on, even pulling par with the current FKT’s average speed. As I slog through the infamous silty, red dirt of the Deschutes National Forest roads, I know I’m going to call it. Out of the 363-mile route, there are still 190 miles to go and I am shattered.

Maybe this sounds conceited, but I’m not here for completion. I don’t do efforts like this to check them off a list, collecting routes like Boy Scout badges. I know I’m perfectly capable of finishing the Oregon Outback, but I want the title of Fastest Known Time. Too far off course from that goal and I’m digging a hole and I’ll need serious recovery. To bail now means I can salvage some of my aches and pains and mostly deal with the emotional vacancy of failure. Heather rescues me again from the roadside and we drive down parts of the course towards our preplanned camp spot at the Deschutes River State Park campground. Out of Shaniko, Oregon is a 15-mile stretch of a new chip and seal on a two-lane highway. Piles of tiny gravel undulate perpendicular to the road and the big truck traffic is intense. I imagine myself crawling along the hot highway for an hour being pelted by the flecks of rock that get kicked up under the 65 mph dually tires and part of me is relieved to not finish the Oregon Outback. But, a couple of hours later I’m already scheming to return. I can’t let this business go unfinished.

29 hours of driving over the course of two and a half days, but random dispersed camping spots like this one in Wyoming are just the best
Night two of our epic drive we landed at this natural hot spring in Nevada. Divine!

In bike racing, I have been spurned by many lovers. Cat 4, my first Tulsa Tough, crashed out all three days and ended up on the front page of the Tulsa World newspaper looking like the Invisible Man with all my bandages. Cat 3, Tour of Gila, a junior slid out of a corner while CLIMBING. I had to pull off my own mangled pinky nail in the aid tent after the finish line. It was disgusting. Mid South 24, Velcroed my front tire to a rut at 23 mph, gaining a lovely leopard print of scars running from my right shoulder to my butt. My elbows and knees are layers of scars, like the folding geological formations found on mountainsides. By now, bike racing scars have overtaken my alcohol-induced scars by a long shot. Some racing scars are like those hazy bender scars and I can’t remember where they came from, but I can look at my ugly pinky nail and think “Damn. That kid is riding for Israel Premier Tech now.”

Those scars are markers of love lost, and races interrupted. They also signal to take a few steps back. Days of recovery, shrinking confidence, and the replacement of parts or worse a whole bike. All these steps back to take a bigger look at what is safe, strong, and worthwhile. Walking back from my crash on Dawson’s Hill, I imagine my life filled with a different hobby. Maybe piloting a side-by-side ATV through this rugged terrain, still enjoying this remote landscape, just from the comfort of a roll cage and a gas-powered vehicle. Or perhaps I’m an amateur geologist, picking up random gravel and proposing an approximate chemical makeup. I know that green is more copper-rich, and red is more iron. I’m basically halfway to my new life.

The Buddhists say that all suffering comes from our attachments and our desires. I try not to assign superstitious patterns out of chaos, but this season has been challenging. Last November, I set the 350-mile distance as my main target. The pinnacle of my season would come in early June at the Unbound XL. I would have some good prep running up to the event though: Traka 560km, Rule of Three 200, Unbound XL, and then cap off the 6-week run with a stab at the Oregon Outback FKT. My heart felt so full with this new direction—refocused training, some new events, and a personal touch at Unbound XL. I wanted to be the first Kansan to win the distance. Truth is, I haven’t had a good run at my new target distance. Traka was canceled, Rule of Three was around 13 hours, and I crashed at Unbound XL, and bombed at the Oregon Outback FKT. I put my desire into making this my focus and the reward is a broken helmet, scars, and DNFs. In my center of the universe, everything is conspiring against a clean run. But, you have to have the desire to race at this level, to be this competitive. You have to want it and persistence is the highest form of worship.

Foreign – Luke’s Traka Adventure

2 AM, on Sunday Morning and I’m in a Boeing at over 35,000 ft in the air. Sorry, over 11,000m in the air. When competing outside of these United States, we will use the metric system, like the rest of the civilized world. But I refuse to be some proselytizing Metric Snob just because I have been to Europe once. As soon as I cross that border, that Wahoo returns to miles and I’ll be referring to my beverages in “fluid ounces” and calling French fries by their true name, freedom fries.

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Identity

Last year was my first ride with my friend Peter, a three hour session in the North Boulder rolling hills. A little bit of dirt, a lot of quick pavement, a little chit, a little chat, a good way to get to know someone. On our way back into town, we were riding side by side on a wide shoulder, probably discussing some inane topic when a white Chevy blew past us laying on their horn and a clear stretch of road for the next half mile. Now, I used to be a middle finger in the air kinda guy. Fight fire with fire. But, over the past few years I’ve found that I don’t ride with as much stress after a confrontation if I blow kisses.

Thanks for recognizing me, my adoring fan. Lovely to see you, too. Say hi to your mother.

I enjoy thinking about what goes through their heads as some psycho matched their hatred with kisses. This particular flagrant dismissal of the Chevy’s importance got under the driver’s skin and he stopped at the following intersection, waiting for the two of us. I know better because my mother taught me better: avoid conflicts with people who are crazier than the crazies. I stopped anyway. Some days I’ve just had enough and that Saturday was one of those days.

I’m acutely aware of the dangers of these situations. A couple of years ago a long estranged family friend got into a heated road rage incident. Both drivers decided to pull into a parking lot to settle the score. They were both carrying hand guns, killed each other, both leaving behind spouses and offspring. The Wild West still exists, now in the corner of Checker’s Food parking lots instead of the dusty Main Street in front of the saloon.

“YOU GUYS ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO RIDE SIDE BY SIDE” I can’t even with this guy. It’s July, hotter than a McDonald’s coffee, and he just popped up out of plush leather seats and air conditioning, mad that Peter and I didn’t want to shout a conversation to each other in tandem. Even in the Boulder Bubble you’re bound to piss off a rancher–only they also have a Tesla in their garage.

I asked him what the actual difference was to him at that moment. He didn’t even care to use the oncoming lane to pass—and the time difference between us side by side and tandem is negligible. There was no harm, no foul, we were both still on the shoulder of the road. I won’t use my direct quotes because it’s inappropriate and sometimes my mom reads these things. Luckily, the confrontation just ended in shouting and didn’t scare off my friend Peter who still rides with me. I try to keep in mind that we were probably not his problem that day, but perhaps he was going through a divorce, just lost his brother, or cattle futures were looking grim.

Cycling as an identity in America is two polar opposites from the outside vs the inside. To the outside, we are pests, annoying and seasonal like mosquitos. When immersed in it, you see the traditions, the lore, and the rituals and it’s a complete world. After I started regularly attending the Thursday group ride from the skanky bar a couple of blocks from my house in Kansas City, I started to pick up on the little things. I read magazines and books. I watched and rewatched the two most iconic Hollywood cycling movies, American Flyers and Breaking Away. It’s not hard to get wrapped up in the Tour or geek out on new tech when you’re new to everything. I slapped a Selle Italia SLR saddle on my 20lb 1987 Schwinn Circuit. At 135 grams, it was barely there in more ways than one. In college, I started shaving my legs for cross country and track, so I easily gravitate back to that convention. My girlfriend at the time grew up in a ultra religious household and had an existential crisis about me shaving my own legs. What would people say? Would people assume that I was <gasp> gay? Someone’s assumption of my sexual orientation is probably at the bottom of my Shit to Give a Shit About list.

I used to think that I was pro pancake.
Until I got my own waffle iron. Then I realized all breakfast carbs are good carbs, but waffles over pancakes.

I gravitated to one particular bike shop in Kansas City. It used to be called Volker Bicycles. Inside was jam packed with wheels, bikes, frames, and parts out the wazoo. Many folks did not like Volker because the owner was crotchety and uninterested in running a normal bike shop. I was particularly drawn there because he kept great staff and always had a keen pulse on building great bikes. When I first started going there, I was also frustrated at the lack of service attention, but I grew to understand why. All day people would pop in to waste his time, 10% might actually be serious about purchasing something.

“Do you guys buy bikes?” “No.”

“Do you guys sell used bikes?” “No.”

“How much is this?” “Look at the sticker.”

The more I showed up to the shop, the more he saw I was serious and treated me seriously. Lingering around the shop, I soaked up mechanical knowledge (rear derailleurs took me forever to understand), local racing drama (did you hear this week’s losing excuse?), riding tips (”don’t ride the trainer it makes you slow” may have been tongue in cheek), and IPAs. I made great friends through that shop. Friends that I still keep up with to this day. Every so often, I run into the owner at events and always get such a kick catching up.

Volker moved out of their expensive little shop to a bigger, cheaper shop down the road changing their name along the way—One Star Bicycles, a wink and a nod to the cursory experience of a doorway shopper. What I saw in that place was the tight nit community of loyalists that form around bike shops and now it’s a feeling that is always on my radar when I enter a new shop.

Whatever it is we were all waiting for, it’s almost here!
Just a former farm kid who loves going fast on dirt roads.
My favorite identity mixup is being called a ‘biker.’ It always conjures an image of a sweaty bike ride in full leathers, a spiky half helmet, and maybe a rad MC patch on the back of the jacket.

I’ve found the serious pursuit of sport as an adult can be tricky. Especially if you’ve the slightest genetic gift. Too much effort and you’re a try hard, with little room for enjoyment with friends. Too little effort and the sport is painfully punishing — emotionally and physically. I have a hard time holding back. I’ve tried riding a bike just for funsies and I always fall back into the same dreadful habits that almost killed me. I want to drown myself in alcohol, drugs, depression, distraction, or bikes, pick one. Aimless self destruction is the best description, but I’m genetically predisposed to slow suicide by abusing my liver. Most interesting to me is that these microscopic DNA strands hold both my cycling aerobic gift and also my addictive downfall.

I fell down a rabbit hole on ancestry.com with some encouragement from my dad’s sister this summer. She had mapped twenty branches back to an English lord. Seems to me that there may be tens of thousands of people who can also trace that same lineage. I never knew much about my birth mother’s genealogy except for folklore, so that’s what really piqued my attention. Turns out that side of my family had been Southeast Kansas natives way back through the late 1800s, making their way to the fertile lands at the promise of plentiful coal mining jobs. My great-grandmother was a Belgian immigrant, which means I’m practically 16th cousins with Wout Van Aert. Seems like cycling has always been in my DNA.

This revelation led me to ponder the concept of identity within the cycling world, particularly in the realm of gravel cycling where personalities loom large. The Mt Rushmore of gravel cycling is populated by people with Very Important Personas. Their identities act like superhero’s powers. You’ve got “Racer(s) from the World Tour. Racer with TBI. Racer with Long Dog; Racer that Likes Metal Music; Racer that Likes Beer; Racer with Kids.” Without these definitions, would they even exist? It’s not enough to be an excellent bike racer—they also need a Supplemental Identity Certificate with their sponsors to square away their spot in the peloton. Who am I, you ask? I am—Man Who Found Bike Way Too Late But Still Fantasizes About Younger Opportunities! Never went to the sea, so how can I be washed up? All sports seems to be susceptible to the quicksand of What Ifs, but cycling especially so. My proximity may inform my bias, but our sport is littered with excuses and daydreams. It’s a trapping that I am constantly caught in, especially at this stage of my “Hey it’s healthy!” mid life crisis. I’ve come to understand that my story is just as valid as any other. While I may not boast the pedigree or the eccentricities of the cycling elite, my passion for the sport is no less genuine.

In gravel cycling, it’s not cool to take the sport seriously. Sarah Sturm’s pleading campaign last year was, ”It’s Supposed to be Fun.” But, even Ted King has relented and finally started doing intervals. I have always been an unapologetic Numbers Nerd. I put so much weight into the metrics, neurotically overanalyzing every race or poor workout.

I guess I like to collect notes to remind me how fun this whole experience can be. The top is a drawing of a tarantula after I told an 8th grade class about my favorite thing I’ve seen out on a ride. The bottom note was written by my girlfriend before Unbound XL to help me focus on the fun. Photo by Alex Rozko
Rodeo saw these artifacts and knew they were a part of my identity, putting them as a permanent relief on my stem.

I failed miserably at my first threshold test a couple of months ago and it really stung. Since we moved to Colorado three years, I had not tested. My previous coach believed them to be over pressured (true), ego-boosting (true), and an ineffective measurement (perhaps). The test was on a 65 degree Thursday afternoon in January, also known as a Perfect Day for Riding a Bike Really Hard. Typically preceding the actual 20 minute test is a 5 minute all out effort. I set my pace in a general direction of my maximum and parceled up the 5 minutes into two 2 minute segments and one minute of survival. With 90 seconds to go, I started to struggle and pushed my legs harder and harder to maintain the rate. In the last 15 seconds, I could feel my whole upper body spiraling and contorting upward and to the right, overloaded with lactic acid. My face was panicked and desperate, distorted by the physical strain. When I stopped pedaling, I instantly recognized the taste of pennies, signaling the breakdown of red blood cells in a really hard effort. The result was 458 watts, an all time 2nd best and definitely my strongest effort at altitude.

Roughly a year before, I had set a 20 minute personal best in a race at sea level, thrashing an early climb at 426 watts. The way I figured it, sure I was at altitude and sure I had just almost made myself vomit on the 5 minute effort, but I was ready. A few days before I got some dry needling done by my friend Doug Hanna. My sleep hygiene over the last month has never been better. During workouts my heart rate was lower than the wattage zone I was pushing. I thought if I could sit around 409, I would be extremely pleased and ready to set new zones and goals.

The first five minutes were excited but on target and I kept having to remind myself to relax and settle down the nervousness. Everything began to fall apart in the next five minutes. I found myself making compromises and hopeless promises. I would settle into a new 10 watt power range and just be cracked after a minute. Gasping for oxygen, I would soft pedal for 5 seconds and then try to rev back to where I had just come from. I honestly just felt silly, pitiful, and wishful for a redo. As the 20 minute effort came to a close, I was frustrated that 362 watts hadn’t even come close to my goal. Technically, it meant I needed to walk even the “conservative” threshold that I had set in my offseason down a few watts. It was a shame that felt personal, because in my own fantasies I had imagined a triumphant return to regular threshold testing and proof that my self coaching was doing something right. My training this year is wildly different from the past three years, focusing on volume and sweet spot training. Training philosophy is all just different ways to skin a cat, I just enjoy skinning it this way.

A few weeks later I tested much better at 406w with all training indications to back up the improvement. Putting so much weight into performance as a part of my identity can lead to some mentally frustrating moments when things don’t work out (over pressured). And then here I am writing a blog, flexing numbers. But, I needed testing to give me honest feedback if what I was doing was right. Self coaching can feel so vulnerable, but my identity shouldn’t be tied to a number that is one factor in 100 for a bike race.

In my newest identity crisis, I’ve become an Arkansawyer again. I’m not joking. That’s what many call themselves. My girlfriend and I moved back for a variety of reasons, but namely to save money. There will be a lot that I will miss about living in Colorado like a complete voting information packet that gets mailed to you along with your ballot, a simple gesture that speaks volumes. Or the smooth, but potholed-to-hell dirt roads of North Boulder County. Paved roads with a shoulder wider than 6 inches. Quirky mountain towns with a lonely general store and the owner wears a leather duster jacket and a leather cowboy hat and believes some broken Nikolai Tesla looking electrical machine could cure his customer’s cancer. And of course, the long climbs and long descents.

But, I’ve missed the community I experienced in Arkansas. Like Colorado, the people in Northwest Arkansas are largely transplants, drawn here by employment or opportunity. The rural riding here is fantastic. Twisty roads snake through quiet hollows, with some technical riding on sharp rock that always keeps you on your toes. We’ve been back for about a month, getting settled in and I’m already highlighting my new favorite roads on Ride with GPS.

Long live old Ozark cabins that look like they are barely hanging in there.
Probably the most beautiful barn I’ve ever seen.
Growing up on a farm, I’ve now developed an appreciation for cattle. My favorite cows are of the Zebuine variety — floppy ears, blueish tint.

No identity is permanent. As Baba Ram Dass used to say “In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring one another that our costumes of identity are on straight.” Every so often, I need to take a step back to examine the identities that I’ve constructed for myself within cycling. At the end of the day, it’s still pedaling circles to push bigger circles in our uniquely human way. This mutual connection forms deep bonds with stories of epic rides that dig deep into what we think is possible. Endurance sports are uniquely lifelong, in contrast to the American popular ball sports. Growth occurs every age and stage of life in cycling.

The Winter Blues

Winter training is a massive chore in so many ways.

Big secret, I know; but the grind is real. I pride myself on being a man of principle and have set clear boundaries on what I consider ‘outdoor fun.’ When outside conditions are too harsh by my barometer, I find myself firmly planted on my KICKR trainer, spinning along in erg mode. Perhaps my biggest mistake since moving to Boulder is my complete lack of interest in any snow sports. Something is daunting about picking up a new sport in my mid-30s, especially one where people frequently injure their ACLs. Not to mention, the horror stories of people waking up at 3 AM just to wait hours on a hazardous, traffic congested I70, and then to wait for an hour with rental skis to ride the costly lift. Add in being constantly cold? Not my cup of tea.

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Renewal

Content Warning: Abandonment, Self Harm, Substance Abuse, and Bike Racing

I’ve been asked where I come from a few times. It’s a conversation-rite-of-passage in Colorado because hardly anyone is local. The answer varies depending on the context. Sometimes, my answer is Arkansas; sometimes, it’s Southeast Kansas. I’m just measuring for the judgment. January is the season of renewal and rebirth, where we start to make a new story informed by our past.

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A Season of Lessons, Pt II

Summarizing a 10-month season of racing is complicated, but in an effort to take you all along with me through 2023, I’m going to try. Events like Mid South in mid-March now seem so distant compared to the more recent sweltering heat of Foco Fondo in July.  Now it’s December, and I’m deep into prepping miles for the 2024 season. My brain wanders while on the trainer: What is it that defines a season as a success or a failure? Is it really either-or, or is it neither-nor?

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A Season of Lessons Pt 1

For the last 10 months, I have been racing professionally in CA, AZ, OK, CO, NE, KS, and AR. My TrailDonkey tells the story of long, dusty miles and many lessons learned. This is the first year I have raced full-time and it has been an enlightening experience. More than a tool for fitness, a bicycle is a teacher. The lessons are usually tough and sometimes take more than one confrontation with challenges. I entered the season wanting to dive deeper into the sport than ever. Over the season, I’ve grown as an athlete physically, mentally, and professionally. I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned so far in 2023. I can’t wait to see what new lessons the next season will teach me.

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Robididn’t: Open Range Tornados

I experienced a wide range of emotions after standing on the podium at Unbound. Climbing up there and fulfilling a long journey of hard work and sacrifice filled me with elation. However, it also left me with a lingering question of “what’s next?” The following four days were mostly filled with snacking and sleeping as I basked in achieving my biggest goal of the year, only touching the bike to clean it.

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Unbound: The Gloopy Glamour of Gravel

When you’ve been living in a place for ages, it’s easy to overlook its charm. Growing up just a couple of hours outside Emporia and spending most of my life in Kansas, I couldn’t fathom why people would travel from far and wide to race on seemingly dull and unchanging roads. But then, amid a grueling nearly 25-hour journey, a realization hit me like a lightning bolt. As I pedaled along the ridge, the undulating emerald hills stretched for miles while ominous thunderclouds loomed above—a quintessential Kansas storm rolling in to welcome me back. There was nothing to do but smile and hope it wasn’t too harsh. Soon, a refreshing 30-minute drizzle came to my rescue, and I found myself grateful for the momentary respite from the heat and electrified by the surrounding beauty.

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Luke Hall’s Unbound XL podium TD4 Build

Update: Luke took his bike to 2nd overall at this year’s XL, and we couldn’t be more proud of him and his ride!

Elizabeth Wilcox Photo. Luke Hall Unbound 2023 finish.

This year, I will be going back to Unbound to race the 350 mile XL. I chose the XL because I have history racing ultras out of Emporia, Kansas and I think the format of less than 24 hour ultras is pretty exciting. It requires a ton of focus and persistence. Last year, I was signed up for the XL and made it through 185 miles. A couple of weeks before the race I had to get stitches on my elbow and was on a wide variety of antibiotics. It really messed with my stomach and I wasn’t able to eat like I wanted. I’ve put in a lot of work this season getting prepared, both physically and mentally. I think I have a pretty strong chance at the top step. My bike setup is second to none and one of my favorite, unique builds.

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