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Putting on the Brakes

In my last post I went straight to trying to get you to come back to my place. I didn’t even buy you a drink, much less take you out to dinner. So let’s squeeze the levers, slow it down. Grab a coffee with me and let’s learn a little about each other.

There are moments in our lives that influence who we have become; sometimes those are decisions we make and sometimes things we find ourselves part of. I have three such moments that come to mind, each very different in how it set my course, but all have a thread that connect them to something I have yet to achieve.

In 2004 a couple of guys from northeastern Iowa dreamed up a race that would traverse the state of Iowa, in a westerly direction, in a single push. That was 16 years ago, I was a college kid with enough hubris to sign up for this 330 mile force of nature. Cyclocross tires were rarely bigger than 33mm, 29ers got sideways glances, and 650s were relegated to the smallest of road bikes. Gravel wasn’t a movement, it was just the shortest and most fun way to get between A and B. On this particular day in April Haywarden, Iowa was A; Decorah, Iowa was B; there was 330 miles of chunky gravel between them. Fifty or so would start at daybreak to single digit temperatures and steady 30 mph winds out of the north, only 9 would make it to the end. No one perished, but most of us died a thousand different deaths. I have 3 distinct memories from that day:

1) Having a van of hooligans (who I knew) give me some full moon encouragement from a moving mini van. Then giving me pizza as an apology,
2) Eating a Snickers bar in a ditch trying to remember what I was doing and why I was there;
3) Sitting in a camp chair at the 180 mile checkpoint in Algona, Iowa. Consuming pounds of my mom’s pasta salad, I was told I was done for the day. I was in a place that wouldn’t allow me to make that decision on my own. My single person support crew saw me, and immediately made that decision.

The second was the longest journey of these three – a pick up and move from Iowa to Colorado. If you know the story of a midwest boy finishing college and leaving for the Rockies, this is that story. The intervening months weren’t the lasting image (except for meeting my wife, she just didn’t know it yet). It was the closing of ski season and a season’s savings that created the adventure.
A Honda Civic packed down with 2 bikes, camping equipment, a kayak, and enough money to get me to the ocean and back. Headed west over Vail Pass, down into the Western Slope, the desert opened up to me. I had the same feeling as when I first saw the Rocky Mountains at 16. Edward Abbey gave me a romantic idea of the possibilities the desert held. I would take nearly a month to reach San Francisco. Another month after that to take a southern route back to Colorado. All told I visited every National Park I could find on the map, 5 states, road in places I couldn’t find again. The desert created something inside of me that pulls me close when the snow has nearly melted and winter gives way to spring each year. It hasn’t stopped after 12 years.

My goal in 2018 was to finish on the podium at the Breck Epic, it was a race goal, a time goal, something I could measure. The plan that I laid out to achieve this started 8 months before I would even arrive in Breckenridge to pick up my number plate. I analyzed power files, understood my weaknesses, and how to capitalize on my strengths. Weekends were spent doing back to back long days on remote trails, I was filling up my fitness cup, but something else was happening too. Maybe it just felt good to be back in the mountains after living on the Colorado Front Range. Focused on the fitness ramp, plan in place, it was all coming together. I awoke on Day 1 of the race to pouring rain and a race postponement, the night long storm was something I remember from my midwest youth: sheets of rain with structure rattling thunder, it lasted most of the night. This threw a wrench in everything, so I thought. Of all the things that occurred over those long 6 days, 2 things remain with me, and that wasn’t one of them.
1) Considering quitting somewhere climbing Westridge on Day 4. I may have cried a little that day in the woods by myself. Going nowhere on a trail I had ridden dozens of times while living in Summit County. I pushed on – walked on – and the downhill off the other side was done in a flow state I had never experienced before or again.
2) Day 5 has you pushing bikes to a Summit where whiskey, Sour Patch Kids, and bacon waits. Its a spectacle for all this and because of where it is, better than the Skittles on Day 3. When you are at the bottom of the trail there are points you look up to see all the ants in front of you pushing their bikes to the summit. We do this because then we get to ride back down to the place we came from. The flow state washes over me, yet this time I was aware. Fully comprehending what was happening, not in the emotionally fatigued state of the day before I picked my way through obstacles and blew by first place, never touching the brakes, just seeming to skip from boulder to boulder. I’ve not descended that trail since, I’m not sure if I want to.

My coffee is long gone, I assume your’s is as well. And now you are thinking “Okay I get it, he bikes a lot, that’s the thread, two wheels.” You are partially there. It became more than that, I’ll be the first to tell you it is an addiction that started quite young. What the three shorts illustrate is how the bike can transport you. It goes from A to B, perhaps back to A. There is something deeper than the physical transportation that I find myself after, increasingly more as the years wear on.
I emptied myself somewhere outside of Algona in 2004 to bring me to a state of complete depletion. That year started the slow burn of the fuel that was planted there the first time I rolled two wheels. Things really flamed up in 2008 during that 2 month western road trip; I have vivid memories from that time. I can close my eyes: smell the giant pinecones of Kings Sequoia, hear the utter silence of the desert on a cool spring night outside Moab, and completely surround myself with the campsite outside Sedona. Those 6 days spent racing around in 2018 allowed me to fan that fire even further, even 10 years later. It forced me to explore – the terrain, myself. The bike has given me these experiences, they haven’t stopped between all these momentous occasions. The in between times keep the flames alive until the next cord of wood can be chopped, dried, and thrown on the pile. It is these experiences that drive my decisions and have created me.

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