Secondly, I hope to verbalize the often-inexpressible emotions and overpowering mental processes that propel an athlete to achieve seemingly impossible goals. I’ll write of this towards the end when I articulate the exact thoughts that soared through my head during the Elite Time Trial National Championships this year, at which I placed 2nd, the distinct result marking my return to the sport.
This fall, after six tumultuous years of being in a peculiar relationship with bike racing, I signed my first professional contract with OUCH pro cycling, which conveniently followed me winning my first Elite National Championship title in the Team Pursuit at Track National Championships. A year ago, I never would’ve thought I’d be here in L.A. preparing to race my first World Cup. And this is really the beginning, or, rather, the re-beginning, I should say.
Along with some riotous stories of my adventures, I hope to offer you, the reader, useful methods of pushing your mind and body past “self-constructed limits” through illustrating the ways in which I did and will continue to as I chase after 2012.
From the Beginning(s)As many of you may already know, two years ago I had quit cycling. After graduating from college I became entirely lost in life. Directionless. I began stumbling down a destructive and unhealthy path, spiraling out of control with late nights in the drugged-out Seattle underground Electro scene. I was desperately searching for meaning, and had absolutely no forward facing goals. I knew I was losing it and had to escape Seattle. I needed to engage in a task that would push me and direct my intensity.
I hatched the idea to go on a reckless adventure of beatnik proportions where I would explore the USA—a country my childhood spent living internationally taught me little about—and I would document my travels in the form of an episodic novel complete with pictures and video, ChasingAfterHarm.com (Now that my life is stable—finally—I've been making abundant progress on writing/designing upcoming stories of my adventures, and the main goal: it's eventual completion as a cohesive, interactive novel. Stay tuned.)
In the late summer of 2009 I sold most my possessions, bought a faded red 1970 Datsun pickup truck, packed it with only the bare necessities, and hit the road on November 1st, fully intending to become a mad-man artist/writer who unabashedly would explore the dark recesses of humanity.
Over the span of nine months I circumnavigated a good portion of North America, covering thousands of miles, surviving on a handful of cash a day—and eventually my credit card—sleeping on the side of the road, exploring vast forest and teeming, chaotic cities, searching for strangers and their unforgettable stories, and doing all the things your parents told you not to do. A mission to live the fantasies most people are too scared to indulge.
So, how in the hell did I end up on the podium at Time Trial Nationals? Better yet, how did I transition out of my vagabond life back into professional bike racing? Though the process was arduous and emotionally painful, the answer is simple. I realized: I can be a crazy artist my whole life; there is only a short window of time I can be a professional athlete, let alone an Olympic athlete. I had demons pulling me back to properly finish this chapter of my life.
Let’s go back to the start of my road-trip. It all began slowly, as if lost in the state of waking from an ancient dream. It took a couple months to cruise south along highway 101 exploring the west coast—the whispers of Redwoods, the addictions of San Francisco, the cliffs of Big Sur, and the vile of LA. When the City of Angels entirely devoured my soul I escaped to the deserts of Arizona.
In Tuscon, around the end of December, my idea to “re-begin” bike racing first vaguely occurred. After my stint in L.A. I noticed my body had fallen apart. I looked at my body and saw the years of rigorous athletic training had been demolished by neglect and long hours hunched over in a pick-up truck way too small for my 6’5” frame. Exhausted, a fortunate invitation arrived from old friends who lived in Phoenix. Jimmy and Alynda are complete bike racer nerds (and the cutest damn couple). Both of them dragged me out on bike rides and my legs hollered to me, “Holy hell! Dan! Don’t you remember?! You like the way this feels!”
After meeting a group of eccentric artist at a New Year’s Eve Party, I drifted around Phoenix crashing for over a month on couches of these strangers (and at the guesthouse of a generous and amazing family I met through pure synchronicity). From there, I would drive back and forth to the high-plateau forest of Sedona where I pitched my faded REI tent every week for a few days in light-snow drifts under crisp stars and a lecturing moon. My body craved motion, physical exertion, and I just rode my bike for hours on end over the serene mountain passes and into muddy unpaved forest roads, lost in a trance of past memories, a kind of meditation to sort out my head.
These bike ride reflections brought forth a rushed epiphany: I had never believed in my talent. The weeks went on and the motion of pedaling and pushing my body become more appealing the further east I traveled.
The decision to race again solidified the day after Mardi Gras, February 16th, in New Orleans, the day after an all night bender of utter chaos and debauchery, which I intentionally used to seal the deal. Despite the toxins still floating in my body, this day marked the official beginning of focused preparation. I hopped in my pick-up and high-tailed it to Dallas to stay at the house of an incredible friend who was also conveniently a veteran pro cyclist. His guidance and wisdom pushed my commitment in the needed direction.
But, a knee injury, caused by over-zealous deep-knee single-leg lunges in cold rain, left me useless for the remainder of February and through the beginning of March. I also still needed a proper road bike to train on. The entire winter I had been doing five-hour death rides on my Tiemeyer track bike. Thanks to CycleU’s endless support of me and my wild antics—Craig Undem is the MAN—they packed up my road bike that had been gathering dust in the storage area and shipped it to Dallas. Being reunited with my old bike was like sliding into the arms of an old, forgotten lover; confusing, enticing, and terrifyingly familiar.
I shrouded my doubt and rested. On March 15th my knee was finally ready for big training loads. This left me with exactly three months until Time Trial Nationals. I knew this was my lone shot. TT Nationals is a prestigious event taken very seriously by pro teams looking to scoop up new talent. If I won this, people would not be able to deny the seriousness of my comeback.
But, there was a catch. Should I just drop my brazen road-trip adventure to start racing? Before I left Seattle in my little pick-up truck I created a goal to keep me moving forward one mile at a time. I had to reach Nova Scotia, the absolute other end of this Continent, the mountaintop of my adventure. I was still in Dallas, far, far away from North Eastern Canada.
After much thought I reached a conclusion: I would finish my damn adventure AND dominate TT Nationals, even if it killed me. And truthfully, it nearly did kill me on several occasions.
Over the span of a month in Dallas my thought process went something like this: “Dan, you want to go to the Olympics. You have a history of quitting everything you get good at because of a fear of failure stemming from deep, troubled insecurities. How will you conquer these self-doubts? A good way is to accomplish a difficult task, like driving to Nova Scotia in a 40-year-old pick-up and writing a novel about your adventures. If you return to cycling without accomplishing this adventure, then how in the hell will you be able to convince yourself you have what it takes to go to the Olympics?”
The deal with the devil was made. I would spend the next three months traveling from race to race, training religiously for TT Nationals. AND, I would still document my crazed adventures, and continue to live out of my truck sleeping in forests, at stranger’s houses or, most often, on the side of the road, firmly set on exploring the hidden ghost of the USA.
At this point I had exhausted the small amount of money I'd saved up for this trip from working in Seattle. So, I said, "What in the hell does it matter?!" and pretty much bet on myself by living off of my credit card, paying for all my races, gas, and food to finish this story right. I could hear the devil laughing.
In the South, outside of Nashville, and over by Asheville, I landed some big results at some key races and got my name back out in the scene. In early April, I got a phone call inviting me to Trinidad and Tobago for an all-expenses paid International All-star cycling event consisting of three weeks of racing. Really? No way! This is all coming together! I had to fly out from Atlanta, so I headed further east, first making my way to the coast to stop for a perplexing weekend in Raleigh.
There I visited an old lover. I had forgotten what it was to care for a person, to be close to a person. Being next to her warm body reminded me how important the feeling of caring for someone is. The forced isolation I cast on myself during this road-trip had taken a toll. All the people I loved, my friends and family, danced beneath my eyelids as I fell asleep next to her quiet breath. Those two days with her vanished like morning mist. All too soon I had to plunge straight south to Atlanta to rest up for a week before I caught my flight.
Deep in the Caribbean I raced with multiple Olympic and World Champion track racers—albeit in their off season—and took 2nd in two of the biggest races there, which proved to myself I was capable of racing with the world’s best. In the wild three weeks there I made new friends for life. But, my little red-pick up, like an anxious child, was waiting for me back in Atlanta.
Once I arrived back on USA soil I began slowing making my way North along the East Coast. I didn’t get far before falling catastrophically ill after racing Speedweek, a weeklong event of daily big-money Criteriums. I couldn’t afford hotels, or even motels—and Adrian, my close friend and hot-shot pro, was not able to convince his team manager to let a scraggly amateur with a bad skin-rash stay at their hotel—so I slept in forests and on park benches in-between races (one morning, deep in the woods, I woke up in the middle of a Renaissance Fair. After watching sword fights and light-hearted damsels giggle, I bid my adieus and went to race my bike).
It took me over a month and a half to recover from my illness, which was caused by complete and utter mental exhaustion, and this exhaustion is what kept me sick for so long. Training and living out of my truck was harder than I’d thought. In Richmond and Washington DC I stayed at stranger’s apartments. I had been excited to explore these fabulous East Coast cities, but spent most my time unable to move from chronic fatigue. I did manage to spin around on my bike a few hours a day enough to understand the East Coast is a place I need to explore on a much longer time-scale.
It was not until an extended two week stay in T-town, Pennsylvania, at the house of a bike racer friend—well, actually, it was an 18th century refurbished school house—when my body finally found rest and could heal. It was now the end of May.
Only one month left before Time Trial Nationals. I still had a few thousand miles until Nova Scotia and only a few weeks before I had to be in Minneapolis on June 14th for a track race I’d been given start money to attend. I headed east from Pennsylvania, skipping the distractions of perilously seductive New York and instead visited an old friend in Providence. There, with the help of his positive energy—and time spent sailing on his boat in the womb-like Bay—I was able to get in a week of TT death-workouts (3x20min and 6x10min over-geared was my bread and butter) without relapsing back into illness. This was a good sign.
From Providence I made a picturesque pit-stop in Portland, and then continued traversing up the fog-covered coast of Maine, halting for a couple days at Arcata National Park for more mind-altering TT workouts that were complimented by the mind-boggling scenery—I could live here in the arteries of nature and ghostly trees of haunted Maine, a silent world of seasons and solitude—and then, in one final three day push, I crossed the border and drove through the rugged, desolate and fiercely vast expanses of Canadian forests and ended up in Halifax, Nova Scotia on the rainy, subdued evening of May 28th.
There I stayed with a few art school kids who were fascinated by this “American Bike racer.” I politely declined the free whiskey, weed, and costume parties they gleefully offered and was lucky enough to have my own bed and almost an entire place to myself since many of the roommates were out on summer vacation.
I planned my arrival in Nova Scotia to coincide with their countries biggest Criterium of the year. The morning of the race, May 31st, I woke to a cold Atlantic downpour. Absolutely perfect. I wanted this Criterium to be as miserable as possible. I wanted to royally ‘eff up this Crit in the worst way. I was here to conquer and vanquish. This was all about blood. In the first 10minutes of the 60minute race I attacked and soloed away for the entire race, and somehow, through pure mental determination and sadism, I won the race. I could not walk for two days. It was wondrous. It was then that I realized Time Trial Nationals was mine. And now I had some money for gas!
Yes. I had conquered Nova Scotia. And now it was time to go home to Seattle. The moment I left Nova Scotia I became dreadfully home sick. Arriving at my mountaintop filled me with a hallow satisfaction, pure and thin and terribly beautiful, too human to understand. And so I cried for many hours as the miles in my truck ticked by during the five days I took to reach Minneapolis.
Those 2,000 miles—from Nova Scotia, through immeasurable Canada and empty roads of Maine into the quaint mountain towns of friendly Vermont and over onto the straight stretches of Upstate New York freeways that led to the simple hills of the MidWest all the way to Minneapolis—hosted some of the wildest stories I have ever experienced. Stories that helped re-defined my limits of how hard I could push my body, of how strong the human will is, and, most importantly, of the pure kindness of strangers who helped keep me alive. I do not have time to write of these stories now. But one day I will. Stay tuned…
Somehow I arrived in Minneapolis still in one piece. Yes! My last stop before Seattle. I raced my heart out at the Fixed Gear Classic to open my legs up for TT Nationals, which now was a shocking 10 days away. I decide long in advance, way back in Pennsylvania, to buy a plane ticket from Minneapolis to Seattle. Flying home would save my legs for Nationals. I left my forlorn little pick-up in Minneapolis at a dear friend’s house and finally, after nine months, boarded a plane and returned home to Seattle.
My plane landed; family, friends, and lovers all welcomed me back. But, I could not help but feel the subtle shame of the Prodigal son. When I left Seattle almost a year ago I left on very harsh terms; broken hearts, shattered friendships, I had just selfishly cut the umbilical cord and let the wound bleed.
All the people who are close to me were happy I was back alive, but they didn’t quite know what to make of me anymore. Or, was it that I didn’t know what to make of my-self anymore? I had no time to reflect on the life-altering adventure. I had to FOCUS. I had one week to rest up before the long-fated showdown with myself on June 24th, only days away.
USA Elite Time Trial National ChampionshipsMy mom picked me up from the airport and we drove straight over to CycleU in West Seattle. I descended down the familiar stairs into the basement, and walked over to where my remaining possessions I’d left behind were stored. There, in a haphazard pile, my TT bike lay in pieces, some broken or missing. I had not ridden it in over a year and now only had six days to become re-acquainted with its movements and desires.
The Time Trial fell on a Thursday, two days before the full moon. Like wolves, my life has stayed in rhythm with the dark, enigmatic energy of the moon. On Monday the 20th, I packed up my mom’s dependable mini-van (my little pick-up truck had broken down 12 times on my trip) and headed down to Bend, Oregon. I wanted at least three days for heavy reconnaissance. I wanted to know the TT course like an enemy.
A few miles from the start line, perched next to the Deschutes River, was a house full of outdoorsy hippies. They hosted this strange, “bike racer,” and let me crash on their floor with their two bumbling happy dogs. Their warm voices, their curiosity about me, my sport, and travels, their home-brewed beer, and their scrumptious home cooked dinners all gave me the stability to feel relaxed and ready for the tremendous amount of energy I was going to burn out of my body, leaving my teeth, soul, and troubles left in a pile of ashes at the finish line.
June 24th. 9am. Two hours till my start. I stationed myself one hundred meters from the start line beneath a patch of shade to protect me from the intense Southern Oregon sun. I set up my rollers and had a cooler full of liquids and ice. As I warmed up I knew this was the day, I just had that feeling. I’d ridden this course twelve times in the past three days. During my reconnaissance rides I had been scheming, calculating, meticulously observing. In my head I had created a game plan. And I repeated it over and over and over and over during the 48hours leading up to now, 10am, one hour before my start.
The course was very challenging. Especially how to pace oneself. The mixed terrain made it very difficult to establish a rhythm. There were two main parts: an out and back climb and then a short, hilly finishing circuit. Luckily Adrian, who last year placed 2nd here, had some key pointers to give me.
The course: A 35k Time Trial. The solo race against time. From the start gate you immediately turned right onto a long, straight highway that gradually climbed upwards. This plodding climb had three significant undulations, like gradual stair-steps rising upwards. At the top of the third and hardest undulation you pulled a 180 around a cone and descended straight back down what you just climbed. Once you hit the bottom you took a ripping fast right turn and began the last section, a technical circuit shaped like a lollipop. This loop accounted for about a third of the course’s total distance. The lollipop loop boasted three steep kicker climbs, total leg busters, each lasting about one to four minutes. This demanding lollipop was where the race would be won. You needed to have reserves to slay the steep climbs on the lollipop.
I decided to break the course into seven sections. Seven, my lucky number:
The Race Plan
Part one: Out and Back Climb1. First Undulation (easiest)
2. Second Undulation (longest)
3. Third Undulation (hardest)
4. Long Descent (pure recovery for lollipo
Part two: The Lollipop
1. First Hard Climb (steepest)
2. Second Hard Climb (longest and hardest with very steep rise at end)
3. Third Hard Climb (Last one. Doesn’t matter. Kill it)
I had fifteen minutes until my start. I hopped off my rollers to finish readying myself. I took handfuls of ice and stuffed them all over inside my skinsuit. Keeping my core cool on the long, hot course was absolutely essential. I took ice water and wincingly dumped it over my head. I emptied my bladder, walked over to bike check, and waited in line for my start time.
My nerves were so bad I had to pee again. I was already soaked in ice water, so I just pissed my pants right there at the start line. No one knew and who cares really? Social stigmas can ‘effing die for all I’m concerned. Half the reason I’m here, at TT nationals, soaked in adrenaline, fear and piss, is because there is an undeniable animalistic part of me bike racing allows me to defuse, at least temporarily.
RedemptionThe Official gave me the countdown. I rolled down the start gate onto the course. My race had begun. Only look forward.
The first step to tackling a daunting task is by breaking it into smaller manageable parts. I had my seven sections of the course. All of them separate but connected in a continuous flow of carefully moderated energy expenditures paced in a way that would leave my body completely taxed at the finish line. A pile of ashes.
But, a game plan is not enough. Athletics is not —or should not—be a bunch of scientific data, graphs, and empty numbers. There needs to be a reason. A deeper meaning. What’s driving me? Why in the hell am I out here? What is truly the motivating force that allows me to push my body to collapse? These are the questions athletes should be asking themselves. You will lose your soul in counting calories, obsessing about watts and proper position.
Once you’ve learned enough of the basics you eventually got to chuck all that jargon and fitness fads off a cliff and actually go outside and punish your body over and over again. Redemption is found in knowing how hard you are to kill.
During my road-trip’s long hours of isolation I had found my reasons. Sure, there was the fascination with discovering what prowess my body is capable. Yeah, okay, perhaps I’m addicted to the numinous sensations I’ve only found when my body is maxed out from physical exertion. But, still, these are relatively selfish reasons. I would not be in this opportunity, a minute onto the TT course of National Championships, if it were not for something extremely important: People.
And that was it. People. All seven sections of my race plan were dedicated to specific individuals in my life and the feelings I associated with them. People, who for some odd reason cared for me, supported me, believed in me, and despite my shortcomings, trusted me. As spit and sweat dried on my cheeks, their connection with my soul kept my focus guided and controlled.
The tender hands of time had slowly begun to transform my propensity towards destructive independence into a longing for healthy, stable relationships. I hope this is called wisdom, because I need so much more of it.
1. First Undulation: Rhythm for Greg and Chad.
I pedaled through the barriers lining the start of the course and turned right onto the long climb. The first undulation came after a short flat section. I focused on breathing, steadying my cadence, and getting comfortable on the bike.
Greg Hudson of Corsa Concepts and Chad Nikolz of Gin Optics, were two of the three lone sponsors (along with my gluttonous credit card) who believed fully in my comeback. Both Greg and Chad started their own businesses with big goals, clear vision, and copious generosity. I have had the privilege of watching their dreams grow into a reality as their solid products gain deserved notoriety in the racing world.
The majority of the cycling world had written me off as a lost cause, and I’m sure a particular handful were chuckling with excitement to see me fail again. I had burnt bridges on my prior exit from the sport, and this left many grudges. But, Greg and Chad look to the future, not the past.
Rhythm in an endurance sport is just a micro-reflection of the rhythm needed in life. If one does not have rhythm—the ability to pace oneself, to enter challenges calmly and directed, to synch into the fluctuating beat structures of life, then one is left without out any pattern to follow—lost in an anxious whirlwind of blurry randomness.
This was going to be a long TT. For the first undulation I didn’t even care about going hard, all I cared about was getting my body in a dynamic rhythm locked into the path I had committed too, the same path Greg and Chad trusted and saw before me.
2. Second Undulation: Patience for Pyatt.
I could see the second undulation looming ahead as I crested the first. This next rise was the longest and most difficult to mentally process. The pitch just got steeper and steeper and seemed to wind on forever. Yes, it was essential to go as hard as I could on this first long climb, but now was not the time; my body was not ready, yet. I had to be patient.
Along with Chad and Greg, Jeff Pyatt of Broadmark (the dominant Seattle based track team) was the enigmatic third lone sponsor who never once questioned my comeback. But, Jeff—as those of you who’re lucky enough to have him as a friend already now—is a man who, for some reason, despite being an incredibly successful businessman, seems to have time for EVERYONE. In every interaction I’ve ever had with him he fully connects with the people he’s chatting with. He gives you full attention through his patience. More than a sponsorship, Jeff gave me the encouragement to believe in myself.
Without patience, one cannot truly engage with a task. True patience quiets the mind and allows for infinite, seamless union. If I lost patience during this second undulation, then my rhythm would vanish and anxiousness would crawl in to suck away valuable energy and concentration. I wanted to be genuinely connected with this TT as much as Jeff is connected with the individual people of his expansive community.
3. Third Undulation: Full Power for Craig:
I approached the last part of this long climb. When one is patient, undoubtedly there is always a reward. For me, I could now drop the hammer on the rise to the climb’s peak. The knowledge that I had properly paced myself bred pure confidence. I’d manage to comfortably stay in my 56t chaining up the whole climb, and now it was time to detonate a vicious explosion in my legs.
Craig Undem is one of the most generous individuals I’ve ever met. He is humble to a fault, and has a contagious, hard-earned optimism. Being a retired professional, Craig knows what it takes to become a pro, and gives his employees ridiculous amounts of flexibility to allow them to race. This is no easy way to run a business. But, Craig Undem is more than a businessman, he is a humanitarian. And CycleU is more than a company, it is a supportive community of passionate cyclist. And that’s why having Craig as a boss is like having a constant mentor available. Without his support I can say unquestioningly Adrian and I would not be professional cyclist.
The pain finally began to creep into my body. Instead of “ignoring the pain,” like we’ve been stupidly taught by society, I embraced it. Pain’s a secondary emotion, and like all emotions, it’s an interpretation. Pain connects me to parts of my body-soul only found through punishing endurance. How in the hell will I ever know how fast I can go if I don’t explore the pain puncturing my lungs? Devils danced on my tongue. Spit hung like poison. You can’t kill yourself this way. Pain’s a fabrication. A damn lie.
I could see the top of the climb. Now was the time to destroy. My eyes laughed maniacally as millions of tiny needles pulsed ferociously through my arteries, stinging me momentously in my throbbing heart, like the countless sacrifices Craig has made to see other’s attain their dreams, no matter how large or small.
4. Long Descent: Intelligent Rest for MK:
My body was open and greedy. I slaughtered this climb. I hit the 180 degree turnaround at the top of the climb and headed downhill. Now, I had to mentally prepare to flay myself on the lollipop. The descent accounted for a little less than one third of the course, but would only last about five minutes. I had dug deep on the long, grueling climb—survived all three undulations perfectly as planned. Recovering was germane for excelling.
MK, she’s my best friend, in the sense of when two opposing forces connect and balance into a synergy. In her arms I found rest; she did not judge, she accepted the catacombs of my mind. Love is a form of energy. Often tangible. Often unavoidable. Often hidden. And, as Albert Einstein declared, “Energy cannot be created or destroyed.” Thus, love cannot die. But, it can change and morph and flow and pulse away into new bodies. Love, like energy, cannot be controlled—though we as humans desperately try to conquer both.
Often, the best way to develop is by rest, and rest entails separation from the specific task that requires energy. Often this separation feels like a disconnection. Though the feeling of letting go is terrifying, it allows us to become more wholly human.
Sitting on my top-tube, suicide aero-tucking down the descent in my 56x11 meant I was pushing 50mph. There was no advantage to over-exerting myself on this part of the course. Breathing, stretching, getting as aerodynamic as possible, and letting gossamer thoughts relax my face was prudent. Now was the time to briefly exit the intensity of this Time Trial and enter into a seemingly infinite state of respite and pensiveness, just like when your best friend leaves to another part of the world for a very, very long time.
5. First Hard Climb: Now or Never for my Sister and Mother:
At the bottom of the descent the road leveled out. With the tail wind behind me I was still pushing 30mph on the flats. The sharp right-hander that led onto the lollipop was coming up. I was 2/3rds done but the final 1/3rd would be the worst. After about a kilometer of rolling roads, I would hit the first steep climb. It was now or never.
Since I was about 14 year old I was more or less—for lack of a better term—‘raised’ by my mom and sister. I couldn’t really be ‘raised’ because I was totally out of control. As reckless as boys get. I must say, my mother has done a damn fine job of understanding that I’m one of those rare souls that can’t be tamed.
“Mom, you just gotta understand,” I would casually say to her over dinner, “I’m probably gunna die young, and you’re just gunna have to deal with it.”
She’d look at me the way only way a woman who had birthed and raised a child could, and held her tongue.
My sister, by sheer stubbornness, and the ability to absorb unfathomable amounts of stress, put her way through an Oxford PhD program, and is now the first Dr. Harm. Her ‘now or never’ work ethic has rubbed off a good bit on her distractible little brother.
My mother had my sister when she was 19, and is now a single divorced woman. No easy task in our society for a woman who only had a high-school education. But, her innate drive to never give up has landed her well on her way to getting a Masters in Psychology. All the while she played “taxi” as she carted me from bike race to bike race, totally selflessly supportive of my racing. Somehow—as mother’s do—she knew more about my potential than I did. Watching her tackle life’s challenges inspires me. She’s been the single biggest motivator in my return to cycling, whether I admit it or not.
The adrenaline pooling in my stomach gurgled to my throat. Fear clutched my neck as I saw the first steep climb loom straight ahead. This is really gunna hurt. But, who cares? The sorrows of the world dwarf any of my pains. In life, it is Now or Never, because, like I told my mother, “You need to realize, we could die at any moment. And this is why everything is so beautiful.”
6. Second Hard Climb: Connection and Effortlessness for my Father:
I owned the first steep climb. At the crest I soared back downhill and set up for a harrowing turn. Up ahead I would have to carve into a roundabout turn at 40mph+. My tires squealed from the g-forces as I tried to carry as much momentum as I could up the second to last climb. It started gradual, but the last 200meters peaked out at 12percent. Shifting into my smaller ring would be too risky, I had to pin it as hard as I could in the big boy gear.
Since the dawn of Instinct, a son’s relationship with their father has always been precarious. Throughout the span of humanity, countless myths, fables, dramas, and novels have spilt words seeking to fathom the perplexing transfer of manhood from father to son.
During crucial developmental years later in my life my father was absent. This left a dark streak across the portrait of my father. For the span of five years, as I traversed the many forked roads of adolescents, I swore my father and I were nothing alike. As any historian will lament, labeling an individual as the “other,” as “different,” breeds unfounded prejudices.
In my attempt to ‘fix’ relationships, I had damaged them by forcing the connection. Slowly, I began to recognize similarities between my father and I. Instead of repulsing the similarities, I began to embrace them and cherish them. My father has become more human to me, and this allows me to accept my own blemishes with empathy.
I turned to the left up the second climb, violently throwing over my pedals, breathing in a connected and effortless manner. And, as the thoughts of defeat crept up—as they do on climbs as treacherous as this—I recalled a phone call I had with my father many months ago in Phoenix. It had been during the time when I fully realized my reasons for quitting stemmed from a deep insecurity. Part of it came from wanting my father to believe in me. To accept me for who I am.
“Dad,” I yelled into the phone, “I don’t want a big house, I don’t care about having a big paycheck. I love living on the side of the road. I love being a dirt-bag vagabond. I want to be a crazy artist. All I want to do is race my bike, travel…see the world! All I want to do is drive to Nova Scotia—.”
“—Nova Scotia?” he interrupted. There was an echo and long delay. He was calling from his new home, Malaysia.
“Yeah,” I said slowly, “Why d’you ask?”
“When I was a kid,” he answered, “I would stare at maps for hours. My favorite memories are of road-trips with my brothers. I always wanted to go to Nova Scotia. It was all the way on the other end of the world for me. I was never brave enough to go.”
“You used to stare at maps when you were a kid…?”
I could see my Dad, a young, awkward and shy kid without a lot of friends, like I was, fantasying about all the faraway places hidden in the folds of maps.
“Yes,” he said, “I loved maps.”
“I know,” I said, “I do too...”
My father was not a rich man. He wanted to see the world, and our family tagged along. He took jobs overseas to make foreign travel accessible and to reap the contract bonuses of working in tough locations, like Saudi Arabia, where we lived for four years. The manhood my father handed down to me was his adventurousness and desire to see the World.
“Dan,” my father said. I could hear him tearing up. Then, in a firm, fatherly voice, he said, “Go to Nova Scotia!”
I was twenty pedal-strokes from the top of the climb. I had conquered Nova Scotia, and now I would conquer again. Needless to say, I devastated that climb and left it begging for mercy.
7. Third and LAST Hard Climb: Kill ‘em Dead for Myself:
To be perfectly blunt. Humans have gotten too soft. There’s no divine inherent flaw with humans. We haven’t fallen from grace. We’ve become over-populated. And now there’s no accountability. Individual actions are lost in the masses. Primal instincts are no longer necessary in a world where material wealth and social status dominate our consciousness.
People label me insane for dancing naked by myself under the moon in knee-deep snow on the edge of a 1500meter cliff as I brand my flesh with red-hot metal I heated in a fire built with the very sticks my leathery hands gathered.
Well, I think it’s insane for someone to work 80hours a week just so they can buy a sports car. Whether it’s the pollution, inevitable freeway car-crash, or elevated glucocorticoid-stress levels, they’re going to die one day. For death is inescapable. But, life! Life is YOUR creation.
I could see the finish line a few kilometers away. The last climb lay before me baring it’s fangs. I closed my eyes and silently screamed in a convoluted mixture of anguish and delight.
The sensation ripping through my body was nothing close to pain. It was something far greater and mystical. It had taken 40minutes of punishing my body to get to this last moment where I could truly purge everything.
I opened my eyes. I was riding off the road, onto the shoulder, and inches away from nose-diving into a gravel ditch. I steered left back on track and closed my eyes again. My legs felt light. I was no longer connected to them. I had disappeared for a moment and hovered over my body and saw it nearing the finish line. Emotions ceased. For, emotions are reactions. Action exists in skin and blood.
The Finish: Commitment and Dedication for Adrian.
As I crossed the finish line I rushed back into my body. My lungs would not stop moving. With my focus released I couldn’t help but interpret the heaving of air and beating of blood as agonizing.
An Anti-doping official immediately stopped me. I’d clocked the fastest time so far. The top three finishers had to be drug-tested. So, without a second of cool-down, I had to sit in the hot seat under supervision, waiting to see if my time would hold. Uniformed USADA officials hovered over me as I crawled on hands and knees to lay in dirt beneath the shade of a shrub.
As I sprawled out on the ground dry heaving, my friend Adrian flashed though my mind. Five years ago we both started racing on the same team. The first time we met was when he rear-ended me on a group ride and snapped my wheel. A long road trip together to Nationals later that season confirmed we would be friends for life.
Two years ago I had quit cycling and Adrian didn’t. For all practical purposes, he’s the one who should’ve quit. That year I had stellar results, and he had none. His season even ended with a broken shoulder. But, he didn’t quit, and I did. And, two years later, he’s on the biggest pro team in the USA, UnitedHealthCare.
By witnessing his unnerving commitment and dedication, I was able to see first hand that ‘talent’ is a dirty word. Back in the day, many people told Adrian to quit racing because he isn’t ‘talented’ enough. But, he never quit, and worked his ass off, and is now World Class, gearing up this fall for a full European campaign making big dollars.
Riders rolled past me and I still held the lead. “How many more riders are on the course?” I asked the officials as soon as I could form words. “Just a few,” they replied.
As the last rider crossed the line, an official said, “The last rider won, Michael Olheisser” But, I didn’t care, I was ecstatic, because I had placed 2nd at Elite Time Trial National Championships, just like Adrian did last year.
And this was just the beginning. The first step. TT Nationals Championships was a just small blip.
And NowSo here I am. Ten grand in credit card debt. On a professional team for the first time in my life. Making small bits of money being a bike racer. Training in LA. Racing World Cups around the globe. One step closer to the 2012 Olympics. One step closer to being able to finish this chapter the way I wanted it written.
It still boggles my mind how in less than a year I went from sleeping in my pick-up truck under freeways to flying in OUCH’s private jet to and from track practice. A flashy life of expensive material goods is not what I’m striving for in life. Though, admittedly, for an Athlete to compete at the World’s highest level it takes an enormous of amount of community and financial support. Plane tickets, housing, equipment, and race fees—along with the thousands of over-looked expenditures—add up extremely fast. To have this support is crucial for peak performance. Now, all I have to worry about is training hard, resting hard, and showing up to races hard to beat.
The next six years of my life are fully committed to striving for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. I’m positive I will continue racing professionally until my body gives out and my mind tugs me back into a PhD program focused on the intersection of Media, Art, our Environment, Text, Technology, and all the Social nuances of these silly little human’s who for some reason stake claim to this Earth as “their own.”
Yes, to be a professional cyclist is incredibly fulfilling and rewarding. (And I’m excited to share with you, the reader, my stories about Chasing after 2012 in more blog posts to come). But, ultimately, there is so much to life, so much to explore, and what keeps me feeling alive and free is knowing my old, little red pick-up truck will always be waiting in Seattle for me to take it into the wilderness of unexplored lands, unfamiliar faces, and uncharted emotions.
Art. Adventure. Athletics.