Wednesday, September 4, 2013

For the story to begin you must begin.

Part I:

This is dedicated to super director, Jefe Miguel, to his dream, to his Selflessness. 

-- This is a story of Adventure, and with all adventures, a map in hand is needed. To see the full details of the map, click here. More on this later. I have some confessions first...  --

-- As per my norm, this blog is going to quickly get intense and dark (and then lightens up). So, I want to start by proving that I'm not always Mr. Serious via sharing this video: Freeride Adventure Commuting. Totally the next big thang. Yup, all about doing things with my road bike that ya aren't supposed too. --

Lies and Secrets of Neuroticism:

-- The Mind and the Body must Unite or the Mind will destroy the Body --

Last Autumn I lied to you. If you recall, I made a promise to write at the bare minimum one blog a month. As you can easily see, the last cohesive story I supplied to you was written well over a year ago. 

Not to confuse you, I’m going to back track a bit. Maybe I need to give myself more credit. To claim I lied to you all is a rough insult to myself. You see, though I never published any stories, I certainly attempted too. 

From the start of my winter training last October, all the way to just a few weeks ago, I have sat down at my laptop innumerable times with a deep anxious hope that the blank screen in front of me would begin to flood with profound insights discovered through my plight of growing as an athlete, as an adventurer, as a human. 

Words would come. Yet, they all rang hollow. Sentences forced into pretentious preaching. My Self discoveries translated into paragraphs where the only meaning left after reading was a bland taste of yet another self-appointed expert in a sport where I am hardly anything special--a bottom-of-the-barrel racer struggling to keep afloat in the cutthroat world of Professional cycling. 

What relevant insights could I offer after getting my ass handed to me time after time again in races where I was just pack-fodder? Frustration haunted me. I contained a vast longing to articulate what I believed to be really important discoveries I had found through self-experimentation this past winter. Yes, last winter. 

Last winter, for a span of four months, I achieved a level of commitment and dedication to my training that I have never experienced, never even thought possible. Over the years, I have drifted on a mixture of natural talent (whatever the hell that means) and dedicated training to a certain point. Never had I gone all in.

In prior years, my dream of taking racing to the highest level possible--this goal of finding my potential as an athlete--had been blockaded by my fear of true commitment. I was scared of fully committing my life, my mind, my very soul to being as fast as I possible can. 

Finally, last winter I got so sick of avoiding full commitment that I finally cracked and harbored enough self resentment to make the resolute decision to go all in. I was willing to go there. Into that darkness of complete and total obsession on one specific goal.

From October 1st, 2012, through the end of January, 2013, I transformed my life into a series of alarm clocks and timers. Every second of my life would be channeled into training. Piles of books on nutrition, training theory, and human physiology I tirelessly read. I did not want to go into this ignorant. I bathed in knowledge, drowning in input from some of the best mentors in the world of athletics. 

Every morning I would wake at 555am, and from that minute every part of my day would have a specific time frame allotted to it, all the way to 8pm, when I would lay on my floor for 45min of active recovery via stretching and foam roller work--my alarm yelling at me every 5-10min to switch poses, or to swap the foam roller to the other leg before the final burst of the alarm clock scolded me into bed for a solid 9.5hours of sleep where even my sleep had intention for every morning upon waking I would crawl out of my bed and immediately write down my dreams fluidly in stream-of-conscious-style for 25min straight. I was slipping into layers of my psyche most will never (and should never) experience.

Every calorie was meticulously tracked. A week in advanced I would plan every meal, every ingredient in that meal, and the exact amount of food that would go in my body in relation to my training load that day. I went wild with Intermittent Fasting (IF is an extremely powerful weapon, one that can destroy you if you do not respect it), refusing to eat until, rang rang, the pre-determined fast window was over and I could stuff myself full of nutritious food.  

Every morning I would weigh myself, test my CNS score, do my morning routine of pull-ups, push-ups, hanging-upside down with inversion boots, meditation, upside-down sit-ups, update my training, write in my journals, answer emails... 

Ring. Ring. Ring. RANG! My alarm clock zipping me through my day to the Gym, to my bike, up lonely rain-soaked mountain climbs, tackling next level workouts designed by me and my coach. For the first time in my cycling career I could afford a coach. 

In my 28 wild years of being alive, for the very first time ever my life was stable. I started my own coaching business that gained immediate success purely through word of mouth (my tribe, my cycling tribe, I thank you!). I finally had a stable income, which meant I could afford healthy food (oh the memories of being 20-years-old, living in a house with crack-heads and heroine addicts, and going to the food bank to stock up on bread for weekend bike races).  And not only did I have a solid team to race for next year, I had the responsible honor of being assistant director. To top it all off, a joint real-estate venture resulted in me in having a place that I could call my own home.

It was if the whole UNIVERSE smiled on my fierce commitment to this sport and whispered to me, You've done it, you've made it. And now, here is your reward. You are given a fresh start of stability to achieve your cycling goals. 

I was by no means going to disrespect this gift from the Universe. So, I went all in. All the way in. Into the depths. And what I found still haunts me. 

I would flex in the mirror and stare at my body in awe. Not in a narcissistic way, but in a way of innocent fascination. I looked like a half-starved blood-crazed wolf, sinewy and violent and capable of deadly force. My eyes pointed and menacing. Everything I looked at I felt capable of destroying. Here I was, a terrifyingly beautiful example of a human Mind’s ability to focus. 

After all these years I had finally achieved my childhood dream of being utterly in control of my body. I was a machine. Invincible. In a span of three months I went from 195lbs down to 173lbs (keep in mind, I'm 6'4"...) and I was hitting bike power numbers I'd never seen before and dead lifting my biggest numbers (no point in being light if you aren't strong).

And what did this all give me? An eating disorder, chronic fatigue, and the worst race season I’ve ever had. 

In late February, after returning from team training camp, I totally mentally cracked (Paul T. maybe now you know why I really got sick at your gorgeous Georgia woods cabin). I wandered around the dark miserable piss-soaked alleyways of Seattle, a bottle of wine in my hand (I hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol in five months), depressed, frustrated; I felt hopeless and the race season had not even begun. When I flew down to So-Cal for my first race of the season I showed up feeling like at any second I would break down and start sobbing. 

What in the hell happened! I yelled into the wind and rain. I did everything correctly. Training, Recovery, Nutrition. What did I do wrong? 

Well, the problem wasn’t that I had starved my body. The real problem was that I had starved my soul. My monastic lifestyle of resolute neuroticism led to me to shutting myself off from the world. I was determined to generate my own energy, and even became resentful when anyone tried to give me their energy. Friends, family, fun, all became obsolete in the name of my singular goal. And that is what destroyed me. My Ego. 

Don't misunderstand me. Commitment and Focus and Discipline is necessary to succeed. Yet, there are limits. My commitment was not sustainable. I got greedy. Repercussions cannot be avoided. And I paid for my Ego's greed. 

-- I'd much rather be a small fish in a big pond. Here I am getting dropped at the hardest one-day classic in the USA: the Philly Cycling Classic. --

-- Always gotta whoop it up: Crowd Pleaser. --

It took an entire season of embarrassment, of getting dropped, of being nothing special for me to fully heal. And who do I have to thank for this? The very people I resented and closed myself off from. My friends, my family, and my teammates who, with their passion and emotional generosity, slowly chipped away at the thick (falsely) impenetrable walls that I had created as a feeble attempt to prove I am fully self-sustainable. 

Do I regret my decisions last Autumn? Do I regret crawling into a hole of self-experimentation and self-exploration through the medium of fully committed athletic focus? 

The victim voice would say: what a fucking waste. 

The voice of overcoming asserts: take what you have learned to grow stronger. Be gentle to yourself. You are foolish to expect every season you will get better. There are ups and downs. So, now, use this knowledge to better prepare for next year and don't make the same mistakes and share your short-comings with others so they too can avoid digging the same hole you crawled into. 

Now that a year has gone by, now that my body and mind have both healed (thank you people in my life, and thank you universe for the power of introspection), I can confidently say that my miserable existence last winter was an incredible experience that taught me more about my mind and body than I could have ever initially imagined. And I am thankful for this.

My lesson in one sentence: I know so little and have so much more to learn.

-- The S17 crew in full force. This is my tribe. I love them. And I love being a bike racing Gypsy. --

If you have been following along, you know that I've had a crazy season. The most I have ever raced in one season, the most I have traveled, and the most responsibilities I have had while playing duel role as racer and assistant director and small business owner.

The race season is nearly over, and I can look back and see that I addressed my team responsibilities as assistant director in the same faulty way that I approached my winter training. I was so set on being a good director and on creating perfect logistical plans that I often forgot to take a step back and enjoy the process of gallivanting around the USA with a bunch of young men.

This voyage wasn’t about my perfect plan. It was about assisting in an incredibly rewarding process of helping young men turn into top-level athletes as well as helping them turn into well-rounded humans full of genuine confidence to contribute to a world that desperately needs constructive energy.

Believe it or not, after spending six months of their lives with me and Michael, my dashingly young teammates now actually know how to wash their dishes, wash their clothes, wash their handlebar tape, and pack all their shit (in an organized fashion ;) into the team van in the wee of hours of the morning after gruelingly exhausting races. Time and time again they proved their worth, and proved their willingness to grow. To me, that is all that mattered.

This August (Gawd! Is it September already?) I returned home to Seattle after being on the road for two months straight (I lost count after sleeping in thirty different beds) and took the month off from hard racing. 

I was back in the local race scene and it is here where I began to put all these pieces of this blog post together. Showing up every Thursday night Seward to race with the Cat4/5s as a coach and seeing the enthusiasm of recreational racers reminded me that my plight as a racer is not special. 

-- Here I am leading a free labour day HARM Coaching hill climbing clinic. Though this was 'free' I benefitted just as much as everyone here. You see, I struggle with motivation as much as any athlete. This group setting gives me strength to want to improve out of respect to those who look up to me. --

-- Hold on tight. There will be more stories of this incredible race season... --

Hell, the most I've ever made racing my bike is five hundred bucks a months (Yes, it's true. And, I will have you know a disturbingly large percentage of professional cyclists also race for 'free.' I wanted to write a story about this, but figured Phil Gaimon will do a much better job in his soon to be published book). My management role gives me no paycheck either. I volunteer my time as Assistant Director in trade for being able to race my bike around the World. 

So, what is the reward? I get no money out of it, and I am sure I've lost a few years of my life from plentiful hospital visits, stitches, broken bones, and boiling pots of stress hormones coursing through my veins from near death high speed turns at 40+ mph in thrilling races and in not so thrilling traffic riding next to homicidal drivers. 

Does this mean I shouldn't give my all? Does a paycheck have to equal value? Fuck NO!  It's the lifestyle, the lessons, and the EXPERIENCE that drives me. I don’t need money to want to invest every ounce of my soul into this adventure of being a bike race Gypsy.

Part II:

Adventure heals. Adventure purifies:

-- The worries of the human world vanishes into the flow of the nothing which is everything in union with the Self who lives and sleeps and dreams deep inside despite of you. -- 

If you call recall, in the Autumn of 2011, I was hired by my close friend's parents to build trails on their private property located on the Icicle River of the Cascade mountain range just outside of Leavenworth, WA. I wrote of the cleansing experience and of my hair-brained adventures into the Alpine Wilderness

A few months ago, now that the construction of their new cabins is well underway, I received an email from Scott asking me if I wanted to continue to build trails. There was no question. This is exactly what I needed: time outdoors spent using my muscles and relaxing my mind. 

The workload of maintaining and extending the trail network can (and will) keep me busy for years. Since I'm just a daydreaming outdoor kid who is drawn to the big city rush, this trail building gig is the perfect opportunity to create my ideal lifestyle of splitting my time between humanity and wilderness. 

My imagination went into over-drive as I planned out how I could incorporate all my goals into this split life. As you can surmise, I learned my lessons from last winter's training, and thus decided training this winter needs to be more adventurous without sacrificing quality and focus on my bike racing goals. I also don't have my truck anymore, and my confidence in the power of the bicycle to travel long-distance has significantly increased. 

Therefore, I decided that I would commute back and forth from Seattle to Leavenworth by bicycle. The 160mi (one-way) commute would be a kickass way to obtain steady base miles. Then, having my bike with me in Leavenworth, I could work half-days on the trails and use the other half of the day to explore the vast network of gravel fire roads that trace the mountains like barely visible scars leading me into the unknown. 

The rigors of hauling stones and rocks up the trails, along with swinging axes and pulaskis, and hefting heaping shovels of dirt would be my core and strength training. And, if I ever grew bored of the bike (very rare) I could run and hike up trails as cross-training. 

My recovery wouldn't be sacrificed either because right there was the Icicle River for ice-baths, and, by god, do I ever sleep well with the sounds of nature kissing my ears to sleep. Nutrition would also be easy, since one of the cabins is already complete and I brought my cast iron pan and can easily bike into town to the little Market that sells organic meats and produce. Lastly, my writing goals (that I've been avoiding from fear and anxiousness...Writing is my biggest internal fear) always surface in full force when I am surrounded by the creative voices of Trees, Rivers, Birds, Deer, Rocks, and endless Creatures whispering wonderful sentences teeming with articulate ideas. 

Then, back in the city, I already have my routine set: strength training at the Seattle Bouldering Project, group cycling interval training with my HARM Coaching clients, an incredible condo where I live and create and nourish my life, and my close network of friends for wild parties and conversations leading deep into the night and into my soul where I long to explore the complicated facets of being a human searching for love and completion. 

The last piece of the puzzle was how to get to Leavenworth by bike without having to deal with the violent roar of automobiles that invades our daily unconscious lives like a festering diseased wound. This task would be a cinch, since exploring new roads is my new thang. After being a hamster stuck on a spinning wheel, I just can't imagine training on the same damn roads that I've been training on for the last ten years. So, over the course of a few weeks I scouted out the perfect route (as seen in the map above). 

On the morning of August 22nd, my panniers were packed (light bivvy sack, sleeping pad, hatchet, headlamp, bike tubes and essential tools, Smokejumper boots, warm clothes, walnuts, goji berries, journals, Big Sur, by Kerouac, mmm, and I think that's it) and I hit the road to test out this long commute for the first time in one full go. 

I say all this and the real reason for this excursion is because I was slipping into a bad place of complacency and depression. The race season had worn on me, and the vices of the big city were wearing me thin. I needed a true adventure to re-find the person who I want to be. 

Instead of rambling on with words, let me tell you my story in the form of pictures. For those of you who follow me on Instagram, I apologize for the redundancy, though, keep in mind that all the captions to these pictures are new. 

A Long Quick Ride:

-- I left my crib in Capitol Hill, and after a few hours passing over the monotony of Mercer Island, through the thoughtless sprawl of Issaquah, up into the mist of Fall City, down into more rugged North Bend I connected to the gravel path of the Snoqualmie Valley trail where I finally escaped from the city as trees closed in around me and guided me further onwards to where the trail changes name to the John Wayne Iron Horse Trail heading due east to my outdoor Salvation. 

This picture espouses radiant Pacific Northwest landscapes (without cars!) boasting their summertime beauties of open fields sprawling and tall trees yawning in the slow sunset of long summer days. --

- This is one of the many beautiful bridges you will encounter on the Iron Horse trail, which is aptly named since it was formerly the old Milwaukee railroad in the days of Pioneers, deforestation, and rampant human takeover of Nature (wait, has that stopped?). --

-- After climbing up the easy, consistently graded trail (easily ridable even with 28c tires, if you are a confident road bike handler) you will near the top and encounter the first of three tunnels. This one, the longest, last for what seemed eternity, and in the center you will encounter a thick darkness. --

-- I won't lie, I was damn scared riding through that long tunnel. With my hatchet in hand I pummeled into the center of the cold and ancient mountain were the tunnel violated its core, a haunting hallway of impenetrable blackness hiding unknown fears my mind conjured. --

-- On the other side of the tunnel, at the official entrance to the Iron Horse State Park, I made my first pit-stop after riding for 6hours straight (keep in mind, holding 12mph on a loaded touring bike is equivalent to hard Zone3, or 250-280watt average). Riding gravel roads will put you in a trance, and the hours slip away as the fascination of the final destination beckons you forward. --

-- When adventuring there are simple tasks, like brushing your teeth, that assist in keeping your sanity in solitude. This picture is from the next morning after sleeping in some random thicket in the Pacific Railroad Park nestled on the edge of the quaint town of Cle Elum. The night before, I passed numerous ideal sleeping spots, and ended up next to the 1-90 freeway where the screams of automobiles forced me to backtrack in the pitch black night. Exhausted, after riding for eight or so hours, I crumbled into my bivvy sack and disappeared into the world of restless dreams. --

-- After I packed up camp I trotted into the heart of Cle Elum and found this gem of an independent coffee roasting cafe, the Pioneer Coffee Company. In my opinion, the best cafes are ones that roast their own beans and have several brewed coffees ready to go and all you can drink. For someone like me, a bona fide caffeine addict, this equates to about ten (or more) cups to get me righteously cracked out and ready to tackle the day. 

Don't tell anyone, but in the future I fully intend to scout out extensive routes of automobile-free roads (paved or unpaved yet all navigable with a sturdy road bike) that wind through the wilderness and connect to big cities and small towns with the main destinations being independent Coffee Roasters, Art galleries, small-op organic get the picture. --

-- Surprisingly, I wasn't tired from the previous days effort, and I started the second day of my commute feeling explosively excited. The gorgeous scenery around Cle Elum helped add to the energy (as well as my caffeine saturated blood stream). 

And, yes, here I am without a helmet, which is a very rare sight indeed, and one that I will only indulge in when on roads with ZERO cars, and when I am going up hill at the astonishing speed of 5mph. Sure there is a risk involved, but chances are the greatest risk is of a giant purple unicorn storming out from the undergrowth to eat my heart as a sacrifice to Zeus, may he rest in peace. Point being: think for yourself. Danger is contextual. If you think black and white, you will live a boring and desperate life. Rant over. --

-- Cle Elum in one lone picture. For those of you haven't ridden in this area, get yer ass out there, because these roads are endlessly filled with friendliness. --

-- The real fun began as I turned off of H-97 (after stopping by the cutest joint, the Liberty Cafe, to fill up on water). Since I wanted to avoid cars, getting away from nerve-racking H-97 (which isn't actually that bad for bicyclist, but, still, fuck cars) and venturing onto fire roads was my main agenda. 

All I knew about NF-7320 was that it was a fire road. My lust for adventure had me assuming it would be a treacherous gravel road leading into wild lands. Turns out, it was perfectly paved, and used to be the old Blewett Pass highway. Not wanting to take any risk, I strapped on my hatchet lest I encounter any violent bears or unicorns. --

-- Freedom defined. Here I am cresting ol' Blewett Pass (and about to stop to put on my helmet for the steep descent, like a good role model). Shirtless, the sun soaked my tan skin. The crisp air restored forces inside me forgotten in the city. Never once did I encounter any combustion engines. Old Blewett Pass is my greatest discovery of late, the best road for a cyclists I have encountered since training in Big Bear Mountains prior to the Redlands Classic last March. Can't wait for my next commute up (and down) this spectacular road. --

-- One of my favorite aspects of adventure is the feeling of being a little kid, where you have no fears of being judged by society, where you can just be yourself and play and play and play and appreciate all the wonders pulsing around us in an infinite cosmos of beauty. --

-- All too soon the solitude of Fire Roads disappeared and was replaced by Highway-2 filled with tourist and weekend do-gooders. Forest fires in the Eagle Creek area clogged the air with a hazy grayness of smoke. I was well ahead of schedule, yet could feel the stress of red-lights and intersections as people rushed unnecessarily through the late afternoon. After stocking up on bacon, avocados, and raisons at the grocery store, I was antsy to get to camp. 

I bypassed downtown Leavenworth (a trashy mockery of Bavarian architecture), by taking East Leavenworth Road. I was back in familiar territory. For the past ten years, the Wilderness surrounding Leavenworth served as a playground for me and all my wild outdoorsy friends. Countless adventures I've had in the jagged slabs of rocks piled into mountains peaks and ridges. 

As I pedaled along I noticed a large field off to my left where three or four helicopters slept. I presumed this patch of private property had been turned into an impromptu airfield to man these forest fire fighting helicopters. I stopped to stare at the glittering red of these magnificent machines. 

The sun was quickly setting, so I stepped on the pedals. Around the bend where the road turned due West, just before the road dumped me into Icicle Road, I noticed a spattering of colors. The array of shimmering fabric was a temporary tent camp for troops of Forest Fire Fighters recruited from all over the region to fight the local fires. --

-- My curiosity slowed me to a halt. Setting up camp could wait. I rolled up and waved to a stocky fellow with strong arms and a trimmed beard. I gave him a big manly hand shake. His name was Lance, a veteran forest fighter of twenty years. 

Ever since I was a child, I've had a thing for fire fighters. My mother and father were once both fire fighters. They actually met in the fire department when they volunteered there as teenagers. Two of my Uncles are currently city fire fighters in the Seattle ares. My third Uncle, who died from cancer a few years ago, had been both a Ranger and a forest fire fighter. 

At one point in my life I had given forest fire fighting serious thought. When you start out, you are a Hot-shot, which is the first line of defense, a crew of badass mountainy men who are hauled to the front line of the fire in army-like off-road vehicles. They unload and hike straight to the heat and dig trenches and clear undergrowth with pulaskis and shovels over hours of grueling work and tireless muscles to prevent fires from spreading. 

If you want to take your adrenaline lifestyle up a notch, then you graduate to being a Heli-rappeller, who are essentially Hot-shots who rappel out of Helicopters to access fires too remote to truck or hike into. Then, there are the legendary Smoke-jumpers, the Navy Seals of forest fighting who parachute out of airplanes to access the most difficult terrain that even helicopters can't get close too. Ultimately, I chose a different path in life, yet this doesn't undermine my deep respect for the rare personalities who pursue this line of work. 

A hearty talk with Lance erased any longing I may have had for human contact from my lonely hours on the bike. We talked for a good hour before I waved my goodbyes and pushed onward for the last five miles of my journey.

--With only an hour or so until dusk fully set in, I hiked my bike into my friend's parents property and returned to the very spot on the Icicle River I had called home for three months in the Autumn of 2011. There the same boulders and trees I recognized like faces at a dinner party stood as patient friends awaiting my eventual return. 

Against my better judgement, I stripped off all my clothes and plunged my grime covered naked body into the knife sharp cold of the River. After the initial shock sets in, the frigid waters turn into a pleasurable burn tensing all the weariness out of my weary-happy legs. --

-- I knew I wouldn't be able to fall asleep without seeing how my trails had survived through two harsh winters. So, I grabbed my headlamp and hatchet and hiked up the trails. They were beautiful and held valiantly strong. My sweat equity prevailed, yet again... --

-- The next morning I woke feeling refreshed from sleeping under the healing rays of a freshly full Moon (Little did I know this very full Moon would throw me into a manic frenzy the following night, its intense light boring into my mind, forcing me awake all through night to journal furiously, its light so bright I needed no other sources of light or inspiration to write down the countless thoughts parading around me in the vivid night. Yes, you have the full moon to thank for this blog post...)

My only thought was: coffee. A few miles down yonder road is another favorite cafe, O'Grady's at the Sleeping Lady lodge. There, just like two years ago, I would spend every morning sipping strong coffee, answering emails, keeping up with a responsible life, and brainstorming crazy ideas for the future. --

-- The next few days I spent surveying the trails to scout out future routes and to decide what sections required the most significant maintenance. The real work wouldn't happen until later this Autumn after my race season officially ended (stay tuned). 

I planned on having plenty of free time to roam the cliff-sides, clamber up trees, and hop along the river-bed rocks for many playful hours guided by a warm sun and fitful clouds spraying occasional specks of refreshing rain. The type of weather where all I wore was my bare feet, no shirt (I really don't like wearing shirts), and an old ratty pair of cut-off jeans. 

My solitude came to a welcome halt when Andy and his parents, Scott and Jenny, joined me for a weekend spent grilling dinners under the faint stars, fishing in the heat of the day, exploring local mountain bike trails (on my road bike), and bonding the way life-long friends do. --

-- There are certain friends that will be friends for life. Andy (the founder of the Seattle Bouldering Project) fits seamlessly into this category for his friendship has seamlessly accepted me for my faults and my gifts.

During my late teens and early twenties I was a train-wreck in too many ways and Andy (the popular kid) always saw my potential and stood up for me (the unpopular kid) in front of our peers when I was the easy target for immature rumors and high school insecurities. Andy, you are an incredible human, a force; your soul runs deep, well beyond the bounds of your body. Keep creating. --

-- One morning at O'Grady's cafe I got royally sucked into the Matrix (what I call the Internet and social media). I was wasting precious daylight. There were roads to explore and here I was staring at an iphone (an iphone5 because I ball hard like that) procrastinating my daily goals. An hour later than I wanted to leave the cafe, I finally started heading back to camp. 

Then, another distraction appeared. Two local guys my age sitting on a stump on the side of the road waved me over to ask about my bike and good places to ride. They were super friendly, and I savor meeting locals and their local knowledge, so I hung out and chatted. Way behind schedule, but not stressing (since my schedule was: ride my bike on gravel), I was on my way back up the Icicle. 

A mile away from my turn off to the camp, a white SUV slows down and pulls over. I pay it no mind. Probably a group of rock-climbers out for the day. I pedal on and noticed a weird feeling in my stomach, a recognition of unrecognized energy. I look back to the SUV. The occupants throw the doors open and out pops my giant (6'8") Uncle Paul, and my Aunt Shari full of big beaming booming smiles and hugs. An adventurous couple, they were also out exploring back country roads. 

Synchronicity occurs more often when you open yourself to possibilities. I spent the afternoon forgoing my gravel road exploration because I had something way more fun to do: hang out with my FAMILY!

-- Before heading back to civilization I knew I had to seek out one last epic adventure. Andy and his family had left, leaving me back to the comfort of my lone wolf ways.  On the morning of my last full day before heading back to Seattle, I sat back at O'Grady's cafe guzzling coffee and scouring maps to find some true Wilderness roads to roam.

I sketched out a basic route, then muttered aloud, to hell with it, and decided I would just go explore as deep as I could go and when I had gone too far I would simply backtrack and follow my way out of the mountains.

Armed with two water bottles and three giant cookies, I hopped on my bike and cruised up the Chumstick highway, took a right on Eagle Creek road and pedaled up and up the climbing road, pedaling past miles and miles of burnt hillsides, the smoldering scars of the recent forest fires that had been quelled by rain showers in the night. 

Eventually, the paved road ended and turned to gravel and climbed steeper until I was stomping out of the saddle in my 36x28 hammering my pedals at 30rpm, my entire body in rigid focus, teetering on the verge of not-moving. Any careless movement would result in a loss of traction which would cause me to unclip and topple over. I had no idea how long this insane road would climb up for, but I could see the trees were thinning and I seemed to be nearing the top. 

In the distance I heard a faint and strange rumble. Moments later, an old rusted blue pick-up truck loaded with cords of freshly chainsawed rolls of firewood bumbled to a halt. Two friendly old men stared at me in disbelief. After I convinced them that I was truly on a road bike, they informed me that I had to visit the Sugarloaf lookout. This was the sign I was looking for. My aimless exploration now had a distinct goal. 

A few hours later, covered in a thick layer of dusty sweat, I arrived at the historically beautiful Sugarloaf fire lookout. A few minutes after my arrival, clouds swirled down low and unleashed a frigid rain that only added to the exhilaration I felt inside the wild lands of my spirit. 

I was greeted by the kind smile of Ranger Jim (the same name of my late Uncle Jim, Ranger Jim, who had died after living a full life of questioning and searching. Often I feel my Uncle's spirit being lived through me since I could've easily chosen the same path of drugs and destruction that wore his body beyond its limits. Uncle Jim, you are here and I know this. Mad respect to you and your rebellious ways. You had guts.

Ranger Jim and his grandson, Spencer, ushered me out of the rain and into the fire lookout. Stunned, I sat drop-jawed. Here I was, in a fire lookout. I had always imagined what they must be like with their wood stoves and wind battered wood beams. Ever since my fascination with Kerouac and his Dharma bumming days as a Desolation Angel, I had wondered what it would be like to live in a fire lookout. And here, by sheer synchronicity, I sat with a 360degree view of a Wilderness my soul may one day die in. --

-- This day would not last forever, so I said my sweet goodbyes to Sugarloaf. It took me over five hours to ascend the 30miles to get here. The way down was a different story. My years of handling a road bike for a living culminated in a calculated reckless descent back down the gravel fire roads, hitting 40mph at times, drifting through corners like I was dancing on a grease-lighting dance floor. Shimmy and shake and whoop-whoop I laughed and screamed and boogied down never once second guessing the speeds my skinny tires spun. --

-- My bike racing Gypsy mullet felt at home in the rugged scenery of shadows, granite, roots, and erosion. --

-- As I looked back for the last time, the Icicle Road and the gods of Wilderness and Adventure wished me farewell without sorrow. They know all too well I will return. Adventures never end and souls never die and stories are always spoken even though our voices will all one day eternally sleep. Well, hell, I had a grand time and there will always be more. --

Journal Excerpts: 

-- My journals contain my secrets. Some secrets are worthy of sharing. --
"If since breathe one you believed yourself a failure, to acknowledge your accomplishments you must defy Impossibility." 
"In a cold, thin sleeping bag, as I lay on a patch of dirt underneath the pensive arch of a rising yet waning full moon, the wind gently licked the skin of my exposed face like the feeling of a new lover's tongue writing barely perceptible words of a long forgotten language on my upper lip and closed eyes. In the winds whispering touch I could hear the same moans of sorrow as the beginning of Time. Endless is what I wanted this night to be before I fell away from the dying moon; fell away from the tireless swaying trees overhead; fell away from the black dashing river below; fell away from the soft patch of dirt where shiny ants skittered without weary; fell away from my cold, thin sleeping bag; and fell away from the playful bite of the night air and into a different unavoidable world of dreams." 
-- The act of writing slows down Time into an energy I can begin to understand. --
"And then the Tree next to my tent--the Tree burnt halfway dead from a forgotten forest fire clinging to the crumbling edge of infinite erosion in an ever-changing boulder strewn River bed--the Tree said to me with the River murmuring in agreement, "All your Worries...Selfish."
Part III:

The Future:

-- Through the tribulations of being a bike racer the only thing that matters is the TEAM: we fight together. --

What I got out of this whole lovable mess of life it that I need to trust more. Trust myself. Trust the path I am on. And trust the Universe is guiding me. 

I am now 29-years-old and have been pursuing athletics for the past ten years. With my young, capable body, the only thing that will hold me back from physiologically improving is my own Doubt and Ego. Reflecting on the past year, I witnessed a huge mental hiccup that has been occurring and reoccurring in my life for many years (and I am positive these hiccups will occur again).

There were plenty of times where I wanted to hang up the bike and say,  fuck it all. I have given up on myself too many times. I'm not done with bike racing. But, something is different now, and I am going to try and articulate this:

For the first time, my personal identity no longer has to be a bike racer to be fulfilled. Being a bike racer doesn't have to justify my existence or be the only source of worth. I can honestly say that two years ago if bike racing had been taken away from me, I very well could have lost it, committed suicide, or given up all hope. I wasn't secure enough to just be me.

So, that begs the question, "If you don't need to be a bike racer to be fulfilled, then why continue this path?"

I have no answer. Trust. That's it really.

Something tells me that I still need to follow the path of being a bike racing Gypsy. Maybe it is still my ego. Maybe it is just so I can boast that I am a 'Pro Cyclist' to make girls squeals. Maybe I'm not as enlightened as I think I am. After-all, there are a ba-jillion things I could be doing with my life and I enjoy being distracted.

I have a tendency to be abstract, so let's get concrete:

-I want to remain fast for this sensation thrills me.
-I want to grow with my young teammates and improve as they improve.
-I want to be a better bike racer because breaking through psychological barriers is sweet as sweet sex.
-I want to experience the thrill of big races, of racing in foreign countries. There are still so many races at this level I haven't done that I want to experience. There are still races that I haven't given my all.
-I want to learn more, because the more I learn, the more confidence I develop and the more I can share my knowledge with others. 
-And I still want to know of what my mind and body is capable.

In the mean time, I will continue being a hobby artist, writer, adventurer and generally all-around wild good-hearted trouble-maker. And I trust that when I no longer get to ride my bike at a professional level the Universe will tenderly guide me into the next phase of exploring my short meaningfully meaningless life I blink to live.

Daniel Harm

-- I am not done with this journey. --

P.S. If you've read this far, then please check out my post on More-Car-Less-Ness. This winter I want to explore more Wilderness roads, and I want to share my findings with others. If you support this, and want to donate to my car-less cause, your generosity will allow me to focus my time and energy towards the dreams and goals I have of increasing a global love affair with the power of the Bicycle.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Retrospective Highlights: the 2012 road season.

(Dear loyal Readers, if you enjoy reading my stories as much as I enjoy writing them, please support my car-less cause.)

This essay will focus on my season highlights, on adventures I had along the way, and--to satisfy your lust for gore--on the many harsh lessons cut in the name of blood and grit. As is often requested by you, dear reader, I will of course also share many audaciously wild stories.

The 2012 season was spectacularly enjoyable. I had a non-stop race schedule that sent me all around the USA on Bike Racing Gypsy adventures. Along the way I even managed to secure a few laudable results. Most importantly, this season I finally learned how to be a road racer.

For the past three years my primary racing focus had been on endurance track racing.  After the tumultuous learning lesson of my failed attempt at the making the 2012 Olympics, I ultimately reached the conclusion that pursuing professional track racing in the USA lacks any sort of stability or infrastructure. To satisfy my life desire to race full time I had to switch to the road to obtain any sort of constancy and forward trajectory in this nebulous career.

At the last possible moment, in December of 2011, I fortunately landed a spot on the Chicago based team, Astellas Oncology. The transition was complete. I was now an official road racer on an official team and would focus on the domestic NRC and NCC circuits. I ended up touching my track bike only twice the whole summer.

Now, with the race season behind me, as I sit here writing this, I can say I much prefer racing on the road. Going around in circles on the velodrome (yes, metaphorically) was tiring. The season spent racing on rugged and diverse landscapes inherent in NRC stage races and UCI classics, and learning the trade of handling my bike at top speeds in sketchy, blazing fast NCC crits, was a stimulating challenge.  Plus, there was the fringe benefit of spending a large chunk of my summer based in Chicago, which is damn fine mad, mad city I now know more intimately.

At the start of my 2012 race season, my goals were clear:

     -Win USCF Time Trial National Championships
     -Learn how to be a dependable and savvy force in highly technical criteriums as a breakaway artist
      and go-to lead-out man.
     -Lock down as many National caliber results as possible.

I wanted to make the transition to higher ranks of professional cycling. Achieving these three goals was a surefire way to do so. You see, at a National level you must market your assets. Teams want riders with specific skill sets. I already have a big engine and pursuit power (I’m still developing), but this is useless without technical skill. Sure, if I were winning NRC Time Trials, then I could baulk on skills. But, as of now, I’m not winning big TTs (yet). So, I knew learning how to be a lead-out man and a strong NCC racer was my best path towards ‘job security.’

In short: I only achieved the latter two goals. The season had many unexpected turns and twist of fate. The simplest explanation is I raced too much at the detriment of focusing on those BIG results, like TT Nationals.

In retrospect, the over-abundance of racing was still a huge success. Racing so many tough races was my intentional crash-course in learning how race my bike with skill and savvy—a struggle I’ve forced myself to overcome in lieu of my prior brawn-over-brains racing style.

Though I wished for some bigger results, the most significant gain from this season was: I proved to myself that I’m physiologically, technically, and tactically able to compete at higher levels of the professional racing world. Having just broken into these ranks, I’m hardly anything special. Bottom of the barrel, as the saying goes. Yet, I know how far there is to go and of how much more I’m capable of developing and progressing. There's still so much to learn!

The Race Season: always a list.

(For the love of this damn crazy sport.)

2012 Results:
-1st, Monkey Hill Prologue, NCC Wilmington Grand Prix, DE
-1st, Stage 4 (Criterium), SRAM Tour of Gila, USCF1/2 , NM
-1st, Tour de Dung Road Race, WA
-1st, Winfield Twilight Criterium, IL
-1st, Team Overall Classification, Ski to Sea, WA
-1st, Stage 3 (Road Race), Wenatchee Omnium, WA
-2nd, Stage 1 (Prolouge), Village Volkswagen of Chattanooga River Gorge Omnium, TN
-2nd, Fountain Square Criterium, IN
-2nd, General Classification, Wenatchee Omnium, WA
-2nd, Stage 1 (Time Trial), Wenatchee Omnium, WA
-4th, Stage 2 (Criterium), Wenatchee Omnium, WA
-4th, Redmond Derby Days Twilight Criterium, WA
-4th, Herman Miller Grand Rapids Classic Criterium, USCF1/2, IL
-4th, Ravensdale Road Race, WA
-5th, Downer’s Ave Twilight Criterium, NCC Tour of Dairyland, WI
-7th, Stage 3 (Time Trial), SRAM Tour of Gila, USCF1/2, NM
-8th, Volunteer Park Criterium, WA
-8th, Winfield ABR National Criterium Championships, IL
-9th, Stage 1 (Criterium), Tour of Elkrove, USCF1/2,  IL
-9th, Final GC, Village Volkswagen of Chattanooga River Gorge Omnium, TN

  2012 Races:
-Lago Vista, TX
-The Driveay, TX
-Sequim, WA
-Redlands Classic (NRC), CA
-Volunteer Park, CA
-Tour of the Battenkill (UCI), NY
-Sunny King Criterium (NCC), AL
-FootHills Road Race, AL
-Joe Martin Stage Race (USCF), AR
-The Tour of Gila (USCF), NM
-Ravensdale, WA
-Monkey HIll Prologue (NCC), DE
-Wilmington Grand Prix (NCC), De
-Ski to Sea, WA
-Lake Bluff criterium (NCC), IL
-Glencoe Grand Prix (NCC), IL
-Wenatchee Omnium (Regional), WA
-Nature Valley Grand Prix (NRC), MN
-USCF Elite National Road Championships, GA
-Sheboygan International Cycling Challenge (NCC), IL
-Fond du Lac Commonwealth Classic (NCC), IL
-ISCorp Downers Classic (NCC), IL
-Madison Capitol Criterium (NCC), IL
-Redmond Derby Days, WA
-Cascade Cycling Classic (NRC), OR
-Herman Miller Grand Rapids Criterium, IL
-St. Charles Twilight Criterium, IL
-Elkgrove Criterium, IL
-The Winfield Criterium, IL
-Fountain Square Criterium, IN
-The River Gorge Omnium (Regional), TN
-Thompson Buck Country Classic (UCI), PA

USCF Tour of Gila:

(In bike racing there is nothing as glorious as a winning by a solo attack.)

(I owe my Tour of Gila success to the full moon and to the relaxing place I stayed. My mind was connected to my body. A calm soul I was.)

(Here's me motoring down the straights while gasping out of my mind.)

The Tour of Gila is a race I've wanted to check off my 'must do races' list for quite sometime. During the first week of May, a mere 24hours after I finished racing the Joe Martin Stage Race in Fayetteville, Arkansas, I hitched a ride to Silver City, New Mexico to compete in what I consider to be the most beautiful, challenging, and epic-ly fun stage race in the great ol' USA. 

Since I was racing by myself (my team decided to skip this race and allowed me to race it solo) I wasn't eligible to enter the UCI version. The UCSF version still boasted much talented. For example, the eventual winner, Louis Meintjes, a scrappy young kid from South Africa (who won on a 5-year old aluminum Cannondale with Shimano 105) is now racing on the prestigious Pro Continental team, Momentum Toyota. 

After a strong showing at J.M.S.R. and the Sunny King crit, I was excited to throw down in New Mexico. Everything--as they say--was aligned in my universe. No expectations, gorgeous scenery, a relaxing guest-house all to myself, new epiphanies in my personal life regarding a certain intimate relationship, and a massive Southwest desert full-moon all equated to my mind reaching a calm ferocity directly connected with my body.

I'm by no means a climber, yet on the first-day of the five-day long race I managed to place 11th on the stage despite the grueling finishing climb. Unfortunately, by my own oversight, I missed the winning ten-man breakaway that oddly went off the front in the first 5miles of the race and stayed away after gaining over 10min on the field. 

From then on, top-ten in GC was set, so my battle was to fight and maintain my overall placing. My legs surprised me with unknown climbing prowess and I secured 13th final classification, even after surviving the infamous last stage appropriately named, The Gila Monster.

The real highlight of my week was the downtown Silver City crit. For the previous day's Time Trial (which should've been my time to shine) I was an absolute shit-show and walked away with a disappointing 7th. Using this piss-poor result as motivation to rile me up, the next day I started the crit on a hunt for blood. 

The week before, at the criterium stage of J.M.S.R., I tried a ballzy solo attack with eight laps left and stuck it all the way until a lap-and-a-half to-go when I got caught by the field and thus resigned myself to lead-out man duties. Learning my lesson, I remained patient on the streets of downtown Silver City. 

The high elevation, strong winds, and tough course comprised of a nasty head-wind on the front-straight and a cruelly steep leg-killer climb on the back-straight equated to a lot of suffering and necessary smart positioning. 

With five laps remaining the peloton was exhausted from an hour of relentless attacks. In a flash of instinct I saw an opportunity to attack hard and power over the steep kicker on the back-side of the course. The field hesitated and I surged on ahead, holding on for dear life. And then, well, you already know the end to this little story: Solo attack and a win. By over 30-seconds. Bamm!

NCC Monkey Hill Prologue:

(Proud of my first win at a Domestic Professional race!)

(Here's me charmingly gettin' up on that top step.)

(A perfectly gruelingly end to a treacherous and technical course that ended too early for my taste.)

(Example of the technical course: exit out of a downhill s-curve at 30-35mph and then immediately take an off-camber 90degree right-hander onto the longest cobble section of the course-- and I love how the police officer is telling me to, "slow it down.' Hah! Right. Guess that means I pushed it harder than a few other riders...)

After the Tour of Gila I went back home to Seattle for two weeks of 'supposed' downtime. My recent racing success led to my Ego begging for more cut-throat training when I should've been recuperating from a hard 6weeks of racing on the road. 

Instead of going on easy recovery spins like I should've been, I thick-headed-ly cranked up my training volume and intensity to eleven. I did stupid shit, like: biking 3hrs to a local race, then racing the 60mi road course, getting in the winning breakaway, and then hammering it out in the sprint for a measly 4th place. 

In short: I felt invincible and ignored everything I had learned the hard way about over-reaching when on form. The wise, weathered athlete would've said: don't get full of yourself, eventually you will come crashing down. In the long-run, your fitness will benefit more from a rest block than from crushing even more training.

Before I dropped splat onto the ground right behind hot-headed Icarus (my fated plummet from the sky would happen about a month later) I hopped on a plane to Delaware on May 15th to compete in the Wilmington Grand Prix and Monkey Hill Prologue. One of my lesser season goals was to win this prologue. 

My good buddy, Adrian, had won the year before, so I knew the course had good juju energy for me. I called him up and he gave me the beta. "Race it like a crit," he explained, "Any time you can put down power you gotta kill yourself and then try to scrub as little speed as possible in the corners.

The prologue course wound through the gorgeous expanse of the Brandywine River Park. Short and extremely technical, with over 25 harrowing turns,  requiring massive power in the couple straightaways that were less than 1k long, and boasting cobble sections so jarring I swore my bike was going to explode into pieces at any moment, this course was unique and held true to its historic cycling legacy. The finishing climb up famed Monkey Hill, a mind-numbing cobbled hill with blasphemous grades around the 20% mark, was the real climax.

Since I had recently acquired a new set of handling skills, and since my body was great at the big-papa watts (and since my Ego was all polished up neat after the Gila crit win), I knew this course was built for me to win.

The morning of the race I pre-road the course nearly fifteen times. Pre-riding a course is the single biggest advantage a racer can have in a technical Time Trial. You must know the course as you would an enemy. For the really technical turns (example: see video above) I probably practiced thirty times. 

Despite the meticulous memorization of the course, the second the gun went off for my start-time I was in an absolute panic. I felt like I was running for my life. I desperately clawed to find a rhythm. I stomped madly on the pedals with no form or finesse.  I sucked in air spasmodically like a bloated and beached fish. When I hit the longest straightway my legs felt like they were piston rods snapped at the center. 

This course was madness and I felt lost. All I wanted was to get to that damned Monkey Hill where I could hammer out of the saddle and destroy any energy I had left. 

I hit the bottom of the hill and pushed and pulled my way manically to the top and when I crossed the finish line I collapsed on my bike in total despair knowing that was my worst effort ever. I hobbled off to sulk in the shadows. That is until a few minutes later when my friend Ben Chaddock, who races for team Exergy, came up to me and said, 

"Dan, you crushed it. You beat me by over fifteen seconds!" 
"Really?" I said. To beat Ben was no easy feat. "Then, who won?" I asked curiously.
"You did!"

I was ecstatic. The discrepancy between my perceived exertion and my actual result I still find hilarious.  The psyche of an athlete always wields an itchy knife. In my defense, rolling through the course at race-pace happened so wildly fast I had zero concept of my effort; thus, to protect my Ego, the logical answer was to cut sharply into my moral and declare: I must've sucked royally.

To measure up my time against the greats, my good friend, Paul Timmons (who took the awesome videos above), did some research and informed me on the following historic Monkey Hill statistics:

-Greg Lemond, 1992. Time: 6:18 (1st)
-Lance Armstrong, 1995. Time: 6:06 (3rd, 1sec off of 1st)
-Dan Harm, 2012. Time: 6:07 (1st by 17sec)

"Are you sure it was the same course?' Was the first question I asked Paul. "As far as I can tell," he replied. "Distances match and from what I remember everything is the same. I was there for all three! In Greg's defense, it was windy in 92."

Downer’s Grove:

(Nature Valley Grand Prix: Stillwater Criterium Stage. This was the race that cracked me and showed me that I ain't piddly-beans.)

(Four years ago, if ya told me one day I'd absolutely love Criteriums, I would've said you're full of shit)

After my Delaware exploits I returned back to my lovely home in lovely summer-soaked Seattle. Within two days I mysteriously contracted a fever, which frustrated me to all hell since I never get sick.

My fever was soon explained by my ankle flaring out red, bleeding, and oozing like mangled meat, which were all sure signs of poison ivy. I guess the Brandywine River Park sent me home with more than a big win.

The illness turned out to be blessing in disguise since I was forced to resign to taking a break. There wasn't much time. Ten days later, on the weekend of June 1st, I had to fly to Chicago for two back-to-back NCC crits: Lake Bluff criterium and Glencoe Grand Prix. The races were highly technical. Glencoe lasted for 2hours, which is brutally long for a criterium, and was filled with unattractive crashes, including a rider bashing out his teeth on the asphalt and leaving a pool of blood. 

This Chicago trip only lasted five days. The combination of hard racing and very involved sponsorship obligations at the American Clinical Oncology conference had tuckered me out. After the crit carnage and a sponsor gig in downtown Chicago, I was back at my second home--the airport--to hop on the ol' airplane once again to my real home, sweet Seattle. Thank gawd. I needed the rest. 

Yet, instead of reflecting to realize I hadn't taken a break since the Redlands Classic two and half months ago, I was obsessively looking forward to what would be the hardest month of racing yet: June. There were now only three weeks left until Time Trial Nationals.

The following weekend, after I returned to Seattle from Chicago, instead of resting and focusing on Nationals, I greedily competed in the Wenatchee Omnium with the intention of cashing in on the decent prize money.

In the end, I won the queen climbing stage, thus beating a local x-pro whom I've never outdone before. The effort of lugging my 180lbs up 7,000ft of climbing over the 73mi course put half of me in the grave, specifically: my legs. The death of my legs was terribly convenient (hopefully you are seeing a trend here...) since two days later I had to fly to Minneapolis to race in the Nature Valley Grand Prix.

My logic was as follows: without question, the Nature Valley Grand Prix is the hardest technical NRC stage race in the USA. With my recent form and criterium skills, I believed I had a high probability of securing a decent result. Arguably, landing a stage result at the NVGP is more honorable than a podium at TT Nats. Along with this, I also knew the learning experience of racing at the NVGP would be a critical learning opportunity. If I could hang in this race, then I could hang in any race.

And all I did was hang. Hang on for dear life. And finish in the middle of the pack every day, suffering like a beaten dog, my Ego shattered and trampled to bits by my own undoing. And Time Trial Nationals was now only four days away. I stayed positive and hopeful.

Perhaps my effort at NVGP would convert to speed if I went into recovery mode, I thought.

The travel from Minneapolis to Augusta, Georgia (where Nationals was held) was an exhausting trip allowing for little recovery from NVGP. After hibernating in my hotel room for two days, hiding from the sweltering Southern sweaty summer heat, I rolled up to the start line of Time Trial Nationals and, as I deserved, made an absolute fool out of myself. 

And this is where a crucial transition was made in my personal development as both an athlete and a human. Here, at 2012 Time Trial Nationals, after the most embarrassing result of my life, I went to my hotel room, sat down slumped in a chair, and started to laugh out loud.

Dan, I said to myself, You are such an idiot. Did you really think you had any hope at winning after the amount that you've been racing and training obsessively? 

Unlike prior years in my cycling history where I would've thrown a spectacular hissy fit, I instead resolved to stay positive and to learn from my mistakes and accept my folly. 

Two days later, I sold my soul in the National's road race to sling my team captain into the critical break away of the day. The effort of playing domestique obliterated the last of any energy I had. After the race ended, I coasted up to my director and asked him if I could skip the Tour of Dairyland, which was the following week. I wanted to go home so I could crawl in a hole and heal. 

After much internal deliberation, I revoked my request to go home and obliged to my race commitments, knowing that if I skipped out on the Tour of Dairyland I'd let my teammates down and negatively affect moral.

Another aspect of my personal development this year included my growing understanding of, and appreciation for, being a team player. Racing on the road taught me the value of self-sacrifice, of  emotionally connecting with my teammates, of placing the groups progress above my own.

And this wasn't hard, because my teammates were a hellacious hoot of fun. Our team roster for the Tour of Dairyland consisted of:

-Big-grin Andre who talked with a drawl, cracked jaw-drop jokes, and whistled a mean whistle;
-Baby-faced Zach with his sexy stutter, and quick punk young-kid wit;
-The spider-legged Kiwi, Gorter, who loved Americans who couldn't understand his ghetto-Zealander accent;
-Thug-life Brandon who always had killer beats to blast and who worked his ass off admirably;
-And last but not least, suave McVey who was always game for quality conversations and who understood the psychological training benefits of really loud rock shows.

My mind was made up to be a team player and to stay focused on racing for one more week. On June 25th, five days before the Tour of Dairyland, I flew back to Chicago and stopped being a bike racer for the rest of the week.

You see, I resumed the role of just being a wild kid in a wild city and I busied myself collecting stories I can't share with the children. Enjoying life for life's sake was a needed shock significant enough to charge me up for four days of hard midwest NCC crit racing. 

Our first two days racing at the Tour of Dairyland were ugly. Despite the short five day break after National, neither me or any of my teammates were motivated. We just went through the motions. That is, until our director called us up and informed us, "The head of Astellas global marketing is going to be at Downers. We gotta get a result."

Pressure: Downers Classic. Located in a hip, artsy area right outside of downtown Milwaukee, Downers Classic was the hardest and most prestigious of all the Tour of Dairyland races. With the specific task of our team having to get a result, our moral sky-rocketed. Excitement of a do-or-die job pulsed nervously through our veins. 

The boys--Zach, Gorter, Brandon, McVey, Andre, and myself--worked out a meticulous game plan with our director: for the first half of the race we'd launch one of our guys into every move. Each of us would have a specific role. My role was to stay fresh enough to hurl a convincing attack in the closing laps to keep pressure off of our sprinters. If I got caught, then my sprinters would take over. And if I didn't get caught...

On the tough triangular course, the massive and rowdy crowds of Milwaukee were deafening in the fading twilight. Calm composure, clean lines, conserving energy, and racing intelligently were my constant mental occupations. Total clarity and engagement. Plus, a dark-haired, tattooed girl from Chicago had driven all the way up here to watch her first bike race.

Some primal force crawled inside my legs and I raced like a savvy beast that night. All the harsh lessons I had learned this season burned bright in my mind and were transformed into instincts.

At the decisive moment, half a lap after the $6,000 gamblers prime, I felt the subconscious predilection of a looming snap in the field. Before I even had the chance to look, I knew what was going to happen and so I sprinted like a man fighting for his life and merged to my left onto a blur of movement lurching of the front of the peloton.

After the red fog of violent pain faded from my eyes and I had controlled my breathing I assessed the situation: I was in a decisive nine-man break. It had already got 10second on the field. Who was in it? I quickly recognized: Pipp, Damiani, O'Rielly, and, dear lord, Rory Sutherland. If you don't know who Rory is, you should. He won the the queen stage in the Tour of Colorado's USA Pro Challenge by attacking on the final climb up Flagstaff.

This break ain't coming back, my mind excitedly shouted (forming words were not possible). And it didn't. I had the distinct honor of following Rory's wheel in the break. Holy hell can that man put down the watts. It took everything I had just to stay connected to his wheel. When we finally hit three laps to go I knew I had at least secured a top-ten result.

Once we hit the sprint my legs did the best they could and I nabbed the most satisfying Criterium result of my career thus far: 5th at Downers.

With the team director happy, Zach, Gorder, Andre, and I were ready for some healthy celebration.  I'll save us all a lot of trouble and keep the stories safe. Let's just say we thoroughly enjoyed every hour of that night and I'm proud to say we did so responsibly and respectfully. When we all re-grouped the next day none of us were dead and we all had made some new friends... 

The best part is, after a night of zero sleep (I don't consider two hours of slumber in the backseat of a car to be sleep). We rolled up to the Madison Capital criterium and all of us placed in the money.

The whole team had been racing full-time without a break since Battenkill, which was an honest learning lesson of a well-funded first year team composed of a motivated, yet small squad. The reward: our director gave us all a month break and sent us back to our respective homes. By golly did we need it. 

The UCI Classics:

(All you have to do is simply suffer)

(Mandatory post-race hotel-room glamour shot. Couldn't tell if the cute front-desk lady was scared or turned on)

(Having a hoot in the Hospital. Gawd!!! I love health insurance)

(Showing off blood and gore like the full-of-it bike racer that I am)

Every bike racer has dreams of competing in certain races. In another life, in another body, I believe I would've excelled in European classic. Over the years, I've had the realistic dream of racing the Tour of Battenkill, which is a famed UCI one-day classic held on dirt roads--chaotic Roubaix style--up and down the steep-hilled and big-leaf forested landscape of upstate New York. 

To compete in a race of this caliber is an honor. Bike racing at an elite and professional level is very different than say, a typical marathon or triathlon, because your team has to be invited to race. Any old Joe can't sign up and start. At a race like Battenkill, every one of your competitors is a force to reckon with.

When our director told us Battenkill was on our team's race schedule, I used this race as a carrot all winter to kill myself in training. The demands of a 130mi race slogged out with a laudable showing of international professionals and all the domestic heavy-hitters was both motivating and terrifying.

Last winter was the first winter in my career as a bike racer where I truly focused my entire life on training. Radical epiphanies lead to Quality base training. Yet, I learned the hard way about an error in my process of transforming my aerobic engine into fast race-legs.

I trained like an animal all winter long. The fitness reward was immense, unfortunately the fastness rewards came to fruition in May (Gila and Monkey Hill), and not in early March in time for my first A-race of the season, the Tour of Battenkill. Along with my nonexistent race-legs, there was another mistake I made before the start gun even went off at Battenkill. 

Nutrition is a fundamental element of training and racing. Over the winter I had over-hauled my nutrition/diet with significant positive success. I began for the first time to track the quantity, quality, and macro-nutrient composition of everything I ate. 

The information I gathered was substantial and I thus developed a more intimate understanding of how my body works as an athlete and an animal. A better understanding of the relationship nutrition has with recovery, training, and lifestyle directly leads to a greater awareness of one's body as a holistic biological machine. Mood, energy levels, and even small fluctuations in homeostasis can be more exactly perceived when one increases knowledge of his/her nutrition.

Race day morning I stuffed myself with absurd amounts of calories in preparation for the massive physiological demands the race would require from my body. A lot of this was admittedly from nervousness. It wasn't like Battenkill was an entirely new beast. In training, I had done 5hr death-marches and knew my caloric requirements for these type of efforts. So, I knew I didn't need to eat this much damn food.

Even worse, the calories I ate were significantly less quality than the nutrition I had complete control over while at home. Refined sugars in pastries and bagels entered my system and turned me into a nauseous and lethargic lump of a belly-ache. Hardly the sensation of ferocity I aspired to possess at the start line.

I'm not gunna blame my breakfast on getting my ass handed to me in the race. My bad nutrition and lack of race-legs were by far outranked by my most critical mistake: Positioning. 

In a race like Battenkill, where the roads are very narrow, where the climbs are short and extremely steep, where the course is over 50% gravel and dirt, and where the field of over two-hundred riders is heavily talented, positioning is the critical crux. If you aren't racing in the top thirty to forty guys, you aren't even in the race. 

And about halfway through, that is exactly where I was: not even in the race. Furious at my mistakes, I powered on, refusing to quit, finishing the race well off the back, by myself, covered in grime and misery.

Thompson Bucks County Classic (formerly known as Univest Grand Prix) is the only other UCI classic in the USA. The two classics act as bookmarks to the domestic race season; Battenkill at the very beginning and Bucks County at the very end. This would be my last race of the season. Having learned many harsh lessons throughout the previous seven months of racing,  I readied myself for the Thompson Bucks County Classic on the hunt for redemption.

In true Classic's form, the course was epic. Tight, narrow tree-lined roads, covered bridges, harrowing descents, and four extremely steep climbs comprised each lap of the course, which we did six times. 165km of up and down. There was no flat ground, no place to hide, no place to chase back on. To increase the difficulty, not only was the course more difficult than Battenkill, the field of riders also boasted more talent.

My game-plan was simple. I'd race this long, brutal race the same way I would a crit: at the front and killing myself to follow moves and maintain position. 

Yup. A four-hour crit up insanely steep climbs. Before the race, I had no intention of making the lead-group. All I wanted was to prove to myself that I was capable of 'racing' in a race like this. So, I guess you could say my goal was to race as hard as I could and be an actual bike racer until I blew up to high hell.

From the gun I was in the top-twenty and I maintained this position the entire race. The first successful attack came (unbelievably) up the first climb. A few guys went hard at the base and I knew it was trouble when Rory Sutherland hesitated  then changed his mind and put on the afterburners when he saw how dangerous the attack was. He bridged the gap, taking a few others with him, including me, for about thirty second...

Following Rory's wheel on flat ground at Downer's Classic was one thing. Following him as he covered the winning move on the 15% five minute climb was a completely different requirement. I wasn't strong enough. A moment ago, I said I maintained top-twenty the whole race. The catch is, I maintained top-twenty in the lead group. 

Honest assessment:  I was strong enough to maintain position in the lead group, but I wasn't strong enough to cover and go with the critical attacks. 

A few laps later, another break went, and I tried again to hold the pace, but could not, and resigned myself to finishing the race strong. I did not berate myself, because I knew the more important positive outlook was to appreciate me surviving in the lead group. 

Yes! I showed myself that I was skilled enough and fit enough to actually be racing the race. Strength, I knew, could develop, and I soon would be the one barreling off the front into the winning move. I knew to achieve this all it will take is time and commitment.  

So I stayed positive and excited and my adrenaline soared while on the front pf the peloton bombing around the crazy course. My job wasn't over though. These long races wear on you. By this point, I realized I actually had a chance of finishing up there in the rankings. Crazy, since I started the race not even thinking about finishing. 

About half way through the race, numbing fatigue set in. To mentally combat the dull knife of pain slashing into my body, I began to count down the number of climbs left. Four climbs each lap. Three laps left. So, twelve climbs is all I got.

Each time I summited a rapacious climb, I'd ecstatically tick it off and focus solely on the next one. I did this all the way until I got to the very last lap and summited the fourth to last climb, the hardest of the lot. When I crested and my legs didn't buckled completely, I knew I was actually going to finish this race strong.

Then, everything quickly changed. As the peloton approached the feed zone, in a sudden undefinable instant, I was lying in the ditch covered in blood and not able to move. 

To this day I do not know what happen. Five others crashed, and I was the first to go down, so I knew it was my fault. By the damage inflicted on my bike (the fork snapped in half, indicting my bars had swung ninety degrees, thus pile-driving my bike into concrete, causing the bike to stop instantly with a loud crack, which sent my body rocketing at 25-30mph straight onto vicious chip-sealed asphalt), my best guess is I hit an unseen pothole and my hands were knocked off the handlebars. None of the riders were hurt, and none were pissed at me, because a crash like is often unavoidable. And that was that.

I did not look good at all. A crowd of medics encircled me. My director ripped off his shirt to stop the stream of blood gushing from my elbow. I couldn't move my left shoulder. 

"Broken scapula. And by the look of that elbow its busted too with that there road rash all the way down to the bone," the medic said nonchalantly. "You're going straight to the trauma room, buddy." I was in a daze."You need any pain killers? What's your pain on a scale of one to ten," he asked as the ambulance roared. 

"I'm fine," I spat, "I hurt more going up that climb before I crashed."

I had no perception of pain. I didn't care one damn bit. I wasn't concerned about my body. It was in shock anyway. So pain wasn't an issue. The real issue was: I couldn't finish the damn race. 

By the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital I had silently overcome my disappointment with a few moments of hidden, hot tears. It's over, deal with it, Dan. And I did.

Then, it hit me: if I'm as bad as they say I am then I'm gunna to have to cancel NYC. 

You see, months ago I had planned to visit NYC directly after this race. I had planned to spend five days in NYC with close friends for celebration and much needed off-season debauchery. Jackson (a best of friends) was already there having flown in from Seattle and was with Veronica (my high-school sweetheart and still close friend who'd moved to NYC a couple years ago) and they were both there waiting for me to arrive so we could all begin many maniacal adventures. 

Twenty X-rays later, the E.R. doctor scratched his head and said, "I don't know how ya did it, but nuthin's broken." The most significant damage was tons of road-rash and a large, gnarled gouge on my elbow that went all the way down to the bone. The doc did the best he could to stitch the mangled skin.

While at the hospital I smiled and laughed and had a hoot. Hell, it's not every day you get sent straight to the Trauma room, So I figured I might as well soak up the experience and slap smiles on the faces of nurses an' doctors. 

Plus, nobody likes a whinny cry-baby. I think I crossed the line when the doc was stitching me up and I started taking photos of myself giving the thumbs up. Doc rolled his eyes and said, "Just keep still."

Sooo... I almost finished the hardest race of the season in the lead group. Progress! But ended up the in trauma room. And now I was going to NYC! Looking like a zombie!  With a barely functional bike I patched back together with spare parts! And I didn't give a flying fuck because I knew I was gunna have a guaranteed riot. Season's over. 

NYC Adventures: (photos: Jackson Edward Alaho Quall)

(An easy way to make room on crowded NYC subways is by shoving on a huge bike bag and two bikes while you and your best friend both look like you just fought a hoard of post-apocalyptic zombies.) 

(Last night in NYC: speakeasy shaman.)

(Every morning I spent a good hour guzzling coffee and re-wrapping all my lovely oozing wounds.)

(There's so much life and adventure still left to be explored in the world.)

(The only wat to explore big cities like NYC is by mobbing around on bikes. If only my busted post-crash bike had a front brake and steerer tube with more than 1cm of bite for my stem...)

(Do I really need to explain the sheer bulk of amazingness contained in this photo?)

(A wild five-day reminder that best friends for life are even more important than bike racing.)

I arrived at the NYC Port Authority terminal around 9pm on Sunday, September 16th. While I waited for Jackson to roll up on his bike to meet me, I pieced together my haggard bike. With a few turns of allen keys and and a lot of cursing, my bike was ready to (unsafely) ride.  Jackson and I mobbed through the streets of Manhattan--a real life game for the adrenaline-seeking cyclist junkie.

Jackson, a talented musician and artist, adopted my Bike Gypsy ways. After I taught him a few tricks, now whenever he travels he always brings along his mid-1970s road-racing bike. Though not a racer, he can handle his bike quite well.

Racing our way down the streets, I didn't have to worry about him while we squeezed in-between cars, dashed by pedestrians, navigated harrowing feats of maneuvering, and glided through the chaotic ever-shifting maze of spontaneity this crazy city offers.

Thirty blocks later we hopped off our bikes, strolled into the lobby of Veronica's condo, stacked our bikes and bodies into the elevator, and soared up to the top floor. Veronica lives two blocks away from Union Square in a penthouse complete with an incredibly large patio deck that gazes out into an astonishing view of NYC’s narrow steel skyline of concrete giants.

Walls lined with antique books, shelves spilling with musty records from lost eras of time, a baby grand piano, and a small well-stocked European kitchen all created the foundation for Veronica’s lavishly decorated condo. And this would be our home base for the following five days of big city madness.

Without losing a second, I threw my bags on a full-sized bed laid out for me in the living room, slid into my skinny jeans and worn green tank-top, and then briskly followed Jackson and Veronica as they hustled right back out the door, down the elevator, and into the warm glow of a late summer New York night.

“Where we goin'? I asked.

“A few spots you'll like,” Veronica informed. “A re-donk-u-luss Indian joint for dinner, then a couple dive-ey bars.”

She looked at me inquisitively. "What?" she hollered, sensing I had a different plan. She knows me all too well.

Coffee!” I begged. It was after 10pm. “First we gotta get coffee.”

At this point, with the race season officially crashing to an end, my coffee drinking routine was no longer an energy booster. It was a nervous habit—completely necessary for me to keep up with Veronica and Jackson’s night-owl artist’s lifestyle.

The life of an athlete—my life—is structured and rigid. Early bedtimes, meticulous meal planning, and obsessive focus on recovery and health for optimal performance are incessant and fully consuming preoccupations.  To make a sudden transition to sleepless nights--especially considering my body was fighting desperately to regenerate itself after my brutal crash--meant I'd be living two contradictory lives in NYC.

The world of late nights and the world of waking just after dawn regardless of how little I slept was not sustainable. Obviously. But, totally worth it. For five days I knew I could fight through this double standard in the name of experience and adventure.

My body's biological clock is ingrained to wake early. So, as Veronica and Jackson slept like the angles they are, I would get up shortly after dawn, make a gallon of coffee, spend a solid hour cleaning and re-wrapping all my oozing wounds, and then sit calmly on the patio and either read or just stare out at the endless sights flashing all around me beneath the gallant rising sun.

Each day, by the time we busted out of the apartment for adventures, it was usually around high noon. We’d ride our bikes all over, meeting friends here and there. Brooklyn, Dumbo, Harlem, East Village: non-stop here we go! Michael, Pepper, Alex, Natalie, Brett: conversations go-go-GO!

Then, at dusk, we’d cruise home, and while Veronica plunked around on the piano or fabricated her outfit for the night, and while Jackson edited photos, I would cook up a massive, healthy meal and then would pass the 'eff out to recharge up on as much rest as possible before 10pm rolled around and I was unceremoniously dragged out of bed for another night of too many stories to tell.

On Tuesday, Veronica had to work. One of Jackson’s main missions for our NYC visit was to bike north, off the island, through the Bronx, and all the way out of city to where trees and animals actually still lived. Our final destination would be Pelham Bay Park, which is an expansive green space nestled on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

That morning, we woke to a massive windstorm. The sun had vanished. In replacement we were given tornado warnings and violent gusts of savage unpredictable winds. In my opinion: perfect weather for an adventure. Plus, precipitation was low. Jackson and I didn't have to worry about getting soaked and could thus enjoy the novelty of such strong winds.

Bags packed with food and water for the day, Jackson an I rolled out, headed towards 1st ave, and then headed North on a precarious bike path. The streets were surprisingly empty for Manhattan. Our biggest battle was pedaling in a straight line down as punches of crosswind would catapult us every which way.

In downtown Bronx we stopped at a fire station. All my Uncles are fire fighters, and my mother and father both once were. So, I knew that I could ask any station for medical supplies and they’d gladly donate them to my dwindling bandage supply.

A fire-lady there, a young hip gal, inquired, “You’re not riding those bikes here at night are you?”

Oblivious to her insinuation, I said,  “Naw,” and then explained,  “and if we do, we have these flashy lights for cars to see us.”

She laughed and said, “That’s right. You’re bikes are flashy. Real flashy.You best be safe 'round here. This isn't Manhattan.”

I agreed. Though, I wasn’t worried. I had travelled the globe. Hell, I even spent a week by myself roaming the streets of Guatemala City, a city with one of the highest murder rates in the world.

In downtown Bronx, there are many ‘eyes’ because of the many people bustling about; thus, safety isn't a concern. When you get north, all those eyes disappear and only a few ‘eyes’ remain and they are standing in the shadows on empty and dilapidated street corners.

My fight-or-flight instincts kicked in hard as we rolled through one neighborhood where I knew no good was waiting for us. A heckle from the streets, “Nice bikes. Those are nice bikes.” My confidence back at the fire-station had been rash.

With the sensations of fleeing a predator I remained externally calm. Jackson instantly read my cue. We pedaled our butts off all the way to the main highway where the safety of a bike trail led us away from danger and closer to Pelham Bay Park. The wind still roared ferociously. We dodged fallen branches and felled trees. The wind was so loud Jackson and I had to yell just to talk.

We pulled over at a little sandy beach next to a small bridge that connected the farthest edge of the narrow Bay. The immense Ocean lay before us angry and disturbed by the relentless winds.
While Jackson wide-eyed and grinning took pictures I stood on a rock and gazed into the tempestuous beauty all around me. That is, until I noticed a peculiar sight.

Unbelievably, a sailboat was out in the storm. Tossing and splashing, it headed steadily towards the drawbridge where beyond safe harbors lay. As the boat approached the drawbridge, I suddenly realized the bridge was no drawbridge. It was a regular ol’ bridge.  And that sailboat was unmanned. Free from the constraints of ropes and a heavy anchor, the broken free sailboat was the wind’s merciless toy.

I shouted at Jackson and began to sprint towards the bridge where the boat was now mere feet away from the course of its unavoidable crash. I glanced back and saw Jackson hot on my heels and holding his camera in front of him to document the looming carnage.

The support embankments for the bridge were built from a steep pile of stones stacked twenty-five feet high. The lower portion was covered in thick slippery sea-slime. My eyes sharpened by a life spent outdoors immediately saw the slime and I effortlessly leaped through the slipperiness. As I reached the top I looked down and saw Jackson had not been so lucky. Sitting on the ground, a smashed camera in hand, he held his knee which was gushing a crimson stream of blood.

He’ll be alright, I said to myself, and I jumped to the top of the bridge's structural underpinnings just in time to witness the sailboat's fatal battle. The mast had rammed into the bridge, and the sailboat clung there, fighting to remain upright as the wind cruelly beat its hull. Right at the point where I thought for sure it would capsize, the mast snapped at the base with a violent twang! And, like an embarrassed puppy recently neutered, the sailboat limped onwards, the mast pathetically trailing behind. To this day, I still wonder where the hell that sailboat ended up.

My lust for destruction quenched, I helped Jackson limp over to sit on a stone. Then, I proceeded to wash out his would and bandage him with the bag of fresh bandages I had conveniently acquired a few hours ago. Serendipitous, indeed!

Having satisfied our mission’s goal for beyond our wildest expectations, we hoped on the subways, which was only a mile away (thank god, since Jackson could barely bend his knee). Yes, Jackson and I, two characters, both beat-up and injured, yet still filled with the boundless energy of NYC escapades.

That night, Jackson bounced back from his injury. Though barely able to walk, he.prevailed and shortly after 10pm he and I limped our way onto the subway to visit a bar in Williamsburg renown for playing those nasty trap beats.

The following day, Wednesday, would be our last full day in NYC. With the invading feelings of impending nostalgia, Veronica, Jackson and I spent the early afternoon slowly walking around Manhattan, hobbling along at Jackon’s pace, filling our time with incredibly gorgeous conversations and many memorable moments stopping into cafes, bistros, and little quaint hidden shops Veronica is oh-so-talented at sniffing out.

The day quickly vanished into our last night, a night, which by principle, had to be epic. Joining us for the night was Veronica’s slender smooth-talk boyfriend, Austin, and his fast-pace, design-genius friend, Curtis.

After getting rowdy all evening listening to loud records in Veronica’s living room, together we all hit the streets to roam, gallivanting southwards to dance away the night at a speak-easy hidden beneath an art gallery.

Down in the dingy barely lit basement French cold-wave blared relentlessly on moaning speakers. We danced madly and would take breaks by ascending up from the depths and into the fancy art gallery lounge where we filled our heads with mad talk of endless stories, ambitions, and dreams.

Our lone objective for the night was to stay out until dawn to watch the sun rise over the electric folds of NYC. After our legs could dance no longer we casually strolled through the deserted streets and returned back to Veronica's condo.

The sun had still not risen. A warm hazy dark glow of pre-dawn gurgled awake. Everyone was tuckered out and cuddled up beneath blankets on the balcony and whispered soft tales of memories-- collective memory of friendships, a bond no amount of time will ever break.

Even though I was surrounded by the best of friends, I could not tolerate sitting still. Filled with the energy of this mysterious Universe, I climbed the stairs leading to the rooftop. There, by my lonesome, gushing with thought, I leaned on the railing and watched the sun rise over a city so vast and teeming with life my frail mind struggled to comprehend it all and I felt very small and very alive.

"I've found I live best by following a life of straight-edge focused athleticism with rare occasional well-planned moments of hedonist debauchery" -Me (off-season break, 2012)

A Return to Home:

(For a Bike Racing Gypsy to remain sane, there must be a home base to return too: Seattle, my love!)

With the race season behind me, I'm back to spending my autumn and winter days in Seattle. My coffee consumption is also back to a more reasonable high-quality intake. Life is good. Stress levels are at an all-time life low. I've never been so productive and calm. Too be honest, sometimes, when gazing at the clouds or trees, I laugh to myself at how good everything is, and hot damn, I believe this is all from hard work and perception. You see, for so long I perceived my goals to be these monstrous, insurmountable obstacles. I was a whinny, nihilistic braggart. And a complaining quitter. 

After life slapped me around good and hard a few times, and once I started growing the hell up, I realized that there is nothing else in the world I'd rather be doing than pursuing these 'hardships.' Seven long years it took to lay the foundation for making bike racing a sustainable lifestyle. And this year it all finally came together. 

Viola. Magic. Hardships convert to Passion. All it took was hard work and focus and learning to never, ever complain because there ain't nothin' to complain about. We are alive people. We are alive! Crazy.

The best part is, I'm fervently working towards my personal, business, and athletic goals. And my life still allows time for me to volunteer at the Major Taylor Project, to help my grandparents with projects out in the gorgeous autumn air, to hang out with my mom for meaningful Sunday dinners, and to assist in one of my favorite activities: being a catalyst in helping my friends actualize their potential. In doing so I get to live vicariously through my friend's many talents: art; music; fashion; gardening; and the list goes on. Feels good to be behind the scenes.

Surround yourself with ambitious friends and loving family and the synergy of life marches forever upwards. Yup. Life is good. 

Winter Revisited:

(Stay tuned for the next installment of winter training advice and lessons learned the hard way.)

After the chaos of living on the road racing for eight months, I've swung wildly to the opposite lifestyle. Directly following my much needed and cathartic adventure in the Enchantments, I officially began my winter training on November 1st. In doing so, my life has become a beautiful spectacle of rigorous routine and intentional patterns constructed elegantly to form a cocoon protecting me from any and all distractions. 

When you are so passionate about specific goals, nothing else matters. All the 'fun things' people claim you are missing out on become trivial annoyances. My bedtime, waking at dawn, dreaming, training,  writing, and accomplishing the tasks and projects I've been craving to do have all become my most direct route to fulfillment and satisfaction. 

My mind is most efficient and productive when working on multiple projects simultaneously. This holds true for my writing. This post you just read is the first of five I've been working on.  

In two popular posts of mine from last year, You're a Week and I'm a Machine, and, Winter Arsenal, I offered many insights into my revamped training. For my next big blog post I'll specifically address all the mistakes and learning lessons involved in my training last winter and from my racing this season. I will meticulously go through what worked, what didn't work, and explain why I reached these conclusions. Stay tuned for another ass-kicker. This winter, as always, is going to be next level shit!


P.S. Many more Bike Racing Gypsy stories in the works...