Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Final Push

For reasons that don’t deserve explanation, the past few weeks have been mentally difficult for me.  When the main sponsor of my team pulled the plug without any warning I felt like I was pushed two steps back in my cycling career. A violent blow was struck against my identity as a bike racer. Here I was, back in Seattle, back to the daily grind, back to the struggle of getting from race to race. Amidst the aftermath, my ego started to whisper, “now you’re a nobody!”
To silence my nagging ego, many fond memories came to my rescue. These are the memories of all the comical calamities my bike racing adventures have brought me over the years. They remind that the whole real reason I race my bike isn’t for the accomplishments, it’s for the process.
In a way, accomplishments are like rungs on a ladder: they clearly demarcate upward progression. But what about all that empty space in-between each rung? And what about all the movement and effort put forth to lunge up to the next rung? It’s much harder to define the empty space, so it’s often glossed over and ignored. During moments of little-to-no accomplishments I think it’s ever so important to take a close look at what exactly hides in that seemingly indefinable empty space.

Do not misunderstand me. I’m not trying to devalue the significance of accomplishments. Everyone isn’t a winner if they just try. The cutthroat fact will always remain: only one wins. But, let us never forget, when an athlete has won the reason he/she breaks down into ecstatic hysterics is not simply because he/she just won. The deeper reason is: winning is the symbolic release for the self-inflicted hell of torturous training, masochistic commitment, and life sacrifices.
Racing bikes full-time is strangely akin to the life of a peripatetic nomad.

You see, winning becomes a reason to justify the torture athletes physiologically and psychologically put themselves through. Without accomplishments, often dedication wavers because all effort put forth seems pointless. “Why am I sacrificing so much if I have nothing to show for it?" is all too frequently asked. Well, look deeper. Do you truly have nothing to show for it?

Would you still wake up and kill yourself on the bike if you were the only person on the earth? If no one was looking, if no one gave an ‘eff if you won? Would you wake up and still have an undeniable rage to push your body? These are the questions I should be asking myself. I think I have an answer. But I can’t tell you.

Accomplishments are merely markers on the
imperative Process in which life is learned.

In the first post of this blog (From There to Here) I rushed you, the reader, through nine months of my adventurous road-trip. You caught a glimpse of the lessons I learned through adversity and introspection. I ended the story directly after National Championships, as I lay on the ground dry-heaving moments after placing 2nd in the Time Trial. But, the story didn’t end there. I still had one more important week left before I could officially say my road-trip was over…
The Final Push:
July 3-10, 2010: Seattle-Minneapolis-Seattle-Atlanta-Seattle

The evening after Nationals I left Bend and drove straight to Portland to race the Alpenrose six-day that started the following day. My Madison partner was the rockstar, Zak Kavolchik. You can’t miss him with his punk tattoos, black, cut-off shorts, and black, sleeve-less shirt. His platinum blond mullet really gives him away; it’s audacious as his wildly sincere personality is compelling.

The shiny symbol of success.
Though my legs were weary from Nationals, my mind was gluttonous for domination. Zak and I crushed the race, winning by a comforting margin. My comeback to bike racing was official. I had found purpose and it was paying off. The Alpenrose six-day ended July 3rd; the same day I received a phone call from the promoter of the Dicklane Omnium track race.    
    “Dan, do you want to fly out to Atlanta? We can give you start-money. There’s a big cash payout for results as well. We’d love to have you put on a good show.”
    “Sure,” I said (I never pass up start-money). “When is it?”
    “Next weekend.”
    “Next weekend?”
    “Don’t sweat it, flights are still cheap.”
    “No, it’s not that. You see, my truck’s in Minneapolis. I’m flying there Monday to drive it back to Seattle.”
    “You can’t change your ticket?”
    “I’m flying there in two days!”
    “Book a roundtrip ticket to Atlanta from Minneapolis and then drive your truck back after the race.”
    “I don’t got time to do that. It’s not that easy. Give me a few hours. I gotta think this through.”    

The complications were much deeper than the simple logistics of getting my truck back to Seattle. If you recall, after I reached Nova Scotia (the mountaintop of my road-trip) I stopped in Minneapolis to race the Fixed Gear Classic in preparation for TT Nats. I had decided long in advance to leave my truck there for three weeks so I could fly back to Seattle and give my body more time to rest before the big showdown at Nationals in Bend. The decision to part ways with my truck wasn’t easy. 
I know this sounds odd, but my truck had become my best friend. It had become a part of my identity. In many ways, my little truck was all I had. Guilt trailed behind me as I abandoned my truck to race my bike.  This bothered me. Moreover, I could not tell myself my road-trip was truly finished until both me and my truck were back in Seattle. The return of driving my truck down through the fog covered Cascade Mountains, over Lake Washington, and into the somber city of Seattle was my ultimate symbol for victory. Until this happened, I would be procrastinating the much needed closure of a tumultuous chapter in my life. My soul was anxious to end this road-trip and move on.
There was also another type of time limit imposed on me. My human need of companionship had won over my lone-wolf tendencies. I couldn’t deny any longer how much I missed a certain girl back home. My emotions towards her made me feel weak. But, I didn’t care anymore. In a month she would leave permanently to the East Coast. It struck me. A month is not a long to fully express my appreciation for her. I’d be dammed if I didn’t spend every second I could next to her limbs and voice.
However, I wasn’t going to be a love-struck fool. Time spent next to her skin came second to the higher order of fulfilling my bike racing dreams. All too often I see young people throwing their dreams into the mud just so they can be with a lover. Even worse is when a person uses a relationship to fill a void. This form of immediate gratification has long-term consequences on the psyche. I’m a firm believer that an individual can bring so much more to an intimate relationship if the individual is living out their life passion. A full relationship is composed of full people. Life is so long. Why does love make us think otherwise?
With all this in mind, I came to a decision: I can do it all. I can race my bike in Atlanta. And I can get my truck home to finish this road-trip. And l can still spend time with this girl without having to neglect my personal ambitions. The only way I was gunna do it was if I flew to Minneapolis, drove my old truck to Seattle in less than  48hours, hoped on a plane to Atlanta, raced for two days, returned home (hopefully with a bunch of prize money in my pocket), and then fell asleep next to this girl’s warm breath. For better or worse, my lust for a challenge took over. I had one week. I wasn’t going to half-ass any of this.

I don't care about freedom. I want adventure. 

16:41 Saturday the 3rd: 
    Five minutes after Zak and I won the Alpenrose six-day I dashed away from Portland and hit the road north in my mom’s utilitarian mini-van (Gawd! I missed my truck!). The 3hour drive to Seattle seemed to take forever as the anticipation of seeing Katy clutched my throat.
    As soon as I got to her house I had a good shower, and then said to her, “Babes, I gotta take off for a few days. There’s a bike race in Atlanta.” She gave me a wry smile and ruffled my hair. She understood.
     I went online to look at plane tickets. My flight back to Minneapolis had me arriving there 23:32, Monday night.  The race in Atlanta started Friday afternoon. I should probably arrive in Atlanta Thursday evening to allow myself one good night of rest.  So, I booked a ticket that left Seattle at 1:40pm Thursday afternoon and had me arrive in Atlanta at 20:14.
    Perfect! If I hit the road at the crack of dawn in Minneapolis, this should give me plenty of time—two whole days—to get back to Seattle. Experience has taught me a journey always takes twice as long as one assumes. says it’ll take me 27hrs to drive the 1,800 miles. But, doesn’t know I’m driving a forty-year old truck that tops out at 50mph and broke down twelve times in the past nine-months. But, why worry about this now?
    That night over dinner and wine Katy and I shared one of those ethereal conversations that solidified the intangible connection between us. I fell asleep in a tranquil state, the hum of excitement drifting into my dreams as I imagined the exhilarating week that lay ahead.

15:58 Monday the 5th:

    After a refreshing day and a half spent next to Katy (I’d forgotten how fun it is to lie around and do nothing for a change) she dropped me off at the airport. “See ya in two days,” I said. She gave a hearty laugh, shook her head, and said, “You’re ridiculous. Just don’t die.” I told her I’d try my best.
    All I brought with me was a small backpack of food and clothes, a set of Krielter rollers (during the drive back there’d be no time for a proper ride) and my road-bike frame (I had the foresight to leave a pair of wheels in Minneapolis at Terra’s house to avoid flying with a huge bike case). The majority of my belongings (camp stove, sleeping bag, extra clothes, typewriter, yoga ball, you know, the necessities…) were still nestled underneath the antique doors bolted to sides of my truck’s cargo bed.
    Checking in for my flight was easy. I’ve gotten used to cheating (ahem, I mean, bending) the system at airports. If you want to avoid the ungodly luggage fees airlines charge for bikes, you have to be creative. You also have to (sort of) lie.

How do you live out of a truck while adventuring and racing bikes for a year? Easy.

Tip-one: never say it’s a bike; instead: “It’s equipment for a photo-shoot,” or “It’s product display for my carbon-fiber technologies company,” or “It’s physical-art equipment,” all usually do the trick. But, unfortunately there are still dimension limits, so if my Pika-bag is blatantly oversized, there’s no arguing with a tape measure. I’ve found squeezing the Pika-bag down with rope works, as well as nudging a little weight off the scales with my knee…
Tip two:
If you’re worried about packing your two-grand disc wheel, bring it on the plane. The wheel bag slips easily into the first-class coat check. You see, once you get on the plane with a wheel (or rollers/trainers), the flight attendants usually seem to find a place to stash your equipment.

Tip three:
Just remember to smile. When you need assistance there’s nothing more convincing than being genuinely nice. Playing dumb sometimes works too, though I usually go for the, ‘But I did this on the last flight,’ excuse.

Last tip: If you’re late for a flight, go to the first class-line at security and give them your best sob story. Also, you can always ask to be upgraded to first class. One time they’re bound to say, yes. It’s statistics.
    My plane arrived a little before midnight. A peppy Terra picked me up, warm and friendly as she always is— even whilst doing huge favors for her crazy friend. It helps she’s also a racer and an all-round bike nut.
    When we got back to her place she poured me a healthy glass of wine and we both went straight to the basement so I could build my bike in a manic fury. My wheels and tools were still stashed where I’d left them three weeks ago after the Fixed Gear Classic. It took me two glasses of wine and 15minutes to build up my steed.
    The plan: I’d get up at 05:00 and bike north 30miles  to where my truck was parked. At the time Terra was selling her house, so there was no way she’d let that THING hang out in her driveway for three weeks. Made sense to me. The problem was solved when her mother offered to let me park my truck in her garage. And that was where I was biking to the next morning, which was now only a few hours away.
    As hard as I tried to fall asleep, my mind refused to listen to me. It was too busy scribbling down all the possible scenarios that could go wrong in the next two days. When I’m having trouble falling asleep I try to avoid checking the time. But, after tossing and turning for a few hours I got up to take a late night pee and made the mistake of letting my eyes glance at the kitchen clock: 03:12. Tomorrow was gunna be a long day.
05:00 Tuesday the 6th:

    I bolted upright before my alarm clock even had the chance to go off. My frontal lobe must’ve been stewing with impatience all night. Adrenaline helped me ignore the knowledge that I’d only slept two restless hours. I gave Terra a huge hug goodbye, slung my backpack over my shoulders (my rollers were strapped to it with cut-up inner-tubes), and then pedaled my bike out into the hazy dawn.
    Pastoral morning colors teeming around me yawned awake. Even though I was anxious to start my trip early, I needed to begin my day with a rejuvenating workout. The scenic route and the motion of pedaling my legs calmed my nerves. An hour and a half later I arrived outside the house of Terra’s mother.
    There my truck sat patiently. I hollered at it, “Hey, ol’ Baby!” and jumped inside. I tugged out the manual choke, gave the key a turn, and held my breath. Its starter-box wailed in agony. Most likely my truck was still groggy from its three week hibernation. Biting my tongue, I gave the key another turn and gently worked the gas-pedal. “Come on, ol’ Baby,” I hissed.  Then, proving its worth with a resolute grumble, my truck growled back alive.
    After letting it warm up for a solid twenty minutes I listened carefully to what the engine had to say. From what I could hear it sounded healthy, ready to fight. But, I wasn’t convinced. Last time I had it worked on was way back in the foothills of Vermont’s Green Mountain range when my truck sputtered to a halt right outside the quaint city of Williamstown. Since then I had put 2,000miles on it. Based on experience, it was due for a breakdown, especially considering I was about to push this little truck harder than ever before. Getting back to Seattle was sure gunna be a gamble.
    To increase my odds I went to get an oil change. Any old truck driver knows this is necessary. In the waiting room of the auto-shop I sipped on their free Folgers coffee. There’s nothing like caffeinated dirt to get my armpits sweating. After five cups I felt good and cracked out and was ready to venture eastward. Yeehaw. Time to head home.

09:11 Tuesday the 6th:

    I merged my truck onto I-94. Finally! I was on the road! Soon, the density of the city faded away into extensive carpet of rural pastures. The rush of the wind roaring by my open window and the peppy whir of my truck’s motor made me feel alive. I had about 850miles of driving ahead of me for the day. My goal was to reach Billings, Montana, where I-94 turned into I-90, which roughly marked the halfway point from Minneapolis to Seattle.
    The excitement of being back on the road kept me entertained for the first five hours of driving. I’d never seen this part of the USA. My eyes soaked in every farmhouse, every rolling hill, and every roiling cloud rising into the heavens. Minnesota seemed to disappear in an instant.

We ride the roads that are the scars of this earth.

    But, soon even my whimsical thoughts and musings weren’t sufficient to ward off the looming boredom. My body grew stiff from the cramped position in my little truck. I’m a tall fellow, and don’t exactly fit too well inside the cab. My legs and butt began to fall asleep. My back yelled at me in retaliation.  To give my body respite I maneuvered my flexible limbs into some clever—albeit a bit dangerous—positions. Every ten minutes or so I would rotate through these ‘in-truck’ stretches I invented, chuckling to myself at how ridiculous I must look.
    The miles slowly drifted by. I felt like I was stuck in time. As I plunged further east, deep into the tedious scenery of vast North Dakota, I begged for developing rainstorms to unleash their loads. Anything to break up the monotony.
17:32 Tuesday the 6th:
    In the past eight hours I had only stopped twice briefly to fill up my 10gallon gas tank. Out of all the places to perform calisthenics, gas stations have to be the most awkward. I try my best to ignore insolent stares as I do push-ups next to the gas pump. For some reason, tattooed truckers aren’t comfortable walking by a skinny guy touching his toes. If they only knew how sore my hamstrings were, they’d understand. A hundred jumping-jacks and fifty high-kicks on each leg to get all the blood chugging ends my routine. A bona-fide nomadic bike-racing ninja I am! Woohoo! A cup of truck-stop coffee always seals the deal before I roar back onto the road at a reckless 35mph.
    Around dinnertime I couldn’t take it anymore. Dusk was fast approaching and I still hadn’t ridden my bike. Outside Medora, North Dakota, no less than 50miles from the Montana border, I pulled off the freeway and drove into the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. In no time I found a nice rest stop next a Ranger Station.

Looks like a good place to sleep. Luxury just gets in the way of living.

    Underneath the shelter of Cottonwood and Aspen I set up my Krietler rollers next to a forlorn pic-nic table. A large storm front from the North churned over the hills towards me. Armed with five layers of spandex I mounted my bike and gave my legs a much-needed spin. All my muscles felt like frozen rubber bands.  Thirty minutes later I was finally sweating. The furnace still worked. I kept it up for another twenty minutes to convince my body it was built for bike racing, not for sitting in a truck all day.
    During long bouts of travel riding the rollers is standard protocol. I’ve done this at airports, on the side of a freeway, in grocery store parking lots. To me, it’s normal. But, the distraught facial expressions of people walking by me give testimony to the fact that it is not normal for some dude to ride a stationary bike in public. Nor is it normal to do sit-ups in an airport terminal. People look at me like I’m a madman for running up fights of stairs instead herding myself onto an escalator. Our society is unwittingly terrified of physical activity. And it shows.
    The roller workout made me hungry. An avocado-honey sandwich filled me up right. Daylight was stubbornly vanishing. Colder temperatures rushed in bringing globs of sporadic sleet. I had to push on; I still had 400miles to go before I could end my day. While I boiled water for tea with my camp-stove I loaded up my bike and then gave myself a quick baby-wipe bath. In a blink I was back on the road barreling through the rugged landscape of Montana that flowed passed me beneath the bursting red rays of the setting sun.

01:38 Wednesday the 7th:

    With 15hours of driving behind me I was still 50miles short of Billings. My sleepy eyes forced me to call it quits for the day. I found a nice place to park off the side of the road by an exit ramp that was closed for construction.
    I hoped out and stretched my wobbly legs. Since I’d only be sleeping for a couple hours, I didn’t want to bother setting up a tent for the night. The tiny cab of my truck would have to suffice. To fit into a reclining position I must leave the passenger door open so my long legs can dangle out.  It’s actually not that uncomfortable, except for the biting cold air the wide open door let’s in.

I only roadtrip in my GinOptics Stunn-gunners.

    As I shuffled around for my sleeping bag and extra jackets I caught a glimpse of a glowing array of lights. Above me countless stars littered the dark Montana sky. Even though fatigue was dragging me into the land of dreams, I knew this moment was rare. I leaned back on the hood of my truck and stared at the incomprehensible magnitude of all those twinkling, shimmering lights. Lost in the enormity of this universe I was overcome by an unworldly feeling that everything just makes sense. 
    I was supposed to be here on this asinine two-day journey, here on the side of the road about to fall asleep, here making my way back to a girl, back to my old home, to the next adventure waiting ahead. For me, the loss of adventure is death. I have felt the darkness of not wanting to wake up to another day. To fight this, I fill my life with endless adventure to give me a reason to explore the next day the rising sun will always bring. And the stars floating above the desolation of Montana told me, “Dan! The future has not been written, so write your own adventure.”

Nova Scotia. Here I am.

04:30 Wednesday the 7th:

    The morning came too quick. After a little more than two hours of sleep I groggily woke to a quiet, gray morning. Shrouds of mist crawled down the forested hillside and scratched their chilly claws onto me as I rolled up my sleeping bag. I ditched my usual on-the-road morning routine of boiling up water to make a cup of coffee. No time for that. No time to even stretch the legs out. Still had 900miles to go today.
    Shivering and tired I attempted to start my cold truck. With great strain it turned over and rumbled alive. I pulled back onto I-94 and wouldn’t see another car for an hour. A few stars lingered overhead awaiting their daily death to be burnt from the brilliant morning sun. Endless landscapes and exhaustion blurs the memory. I held my steering wheel tight, drove until my gas ran out, and then pulled over at a truck stop.

 There is much to see on the road, like flaming state troopers.

    There, a young kid covered in splotchy tattoos and numerous piercings rang me up for a 24oz cup of coffee. 24oz of teeth-grinding caffeine.
    “That’ll be three-seventy-five,” he said.
    “How’s your day?” I asked him out of politeness.
    “Just finishing up a night shift” he replied with a yawn and a long vacant stare. It was almost 07:00.
    Hearing that from the young kid was a much-needed reality check. His life working graveyard shifts at a truck stop just so he can pay the bills is unquestionably more hardcore than the life of any athlete I know. Always remember this. Badass-ness is socially inflated.
    With hot coffee I was a bit more prepared for the long day ahead. Though, the caffeine didn’t matter much because out of the fog a deer leapt from a thicket and skittered frantically across the road. I swerved wildly, barely missed hitting the big critter, and nearly ended up careening into a ditch. My truck don’t handle too good. The steering pins are giving out. Thankfully, all disasters (including spilling my coffee) were avoided. Startled wide-awake, I kept driving.
    I had decided to push all the way to Spokane before I’d take a break to ride my bike. At this rate I should get there by 15:00, which meant I could get back to Seattle in time for a good home cooked dinner with Katy! The miles ticked by uneventfully. The towns of Bozeman, Butte, and Missoula drifted by. I felt guilty for not exploring them. There’s too much to do in life. Sticking to schedule, I drove into the Lolo National Forest. This was mountain country. My truck drudged up and down the countless climbs.
    So far my truck hadn’t given me any trouble. Though, my heavy foot’s been pushing my truck to a flying 65mph, which ain’t good for an old four-speed. My truck lets out a high-pitch hum when I push the rpms that high. I knew it wasn’t the smartest idea. But, the engine sounded great, so I kept my foot down. The extra 15mph an hour adds up quick over 800miles.

An interesting way to cart around CorsaConcepts, the best bitchin' wheels around.

    You may be wondering why in the hell I chose to drive an old, slow, unreliable pick-up truck around the USA for a year. Good question. Before I left, I had no idea. The truck just looked rad. Looks matter, right? Plus, I just like old things. There’s an allure about a machine that operates without computers. The way the door clicks shut. The involved steps just to fire it up. The lack of automatic anything. The sound of the heater fan clanking rhythmically. Driving an old truck is an intimate experience. You actually have to use our brain to operate it.
     A few months into my road trip was when I finally discovered my truck's unreliability proved to be its biggest asset. Every time my truck broke down it created a new opportunity to test myself. A new opportunity where I was reminded life cannot be controlled, that the whole purpose is to be flexible and dynamic. To overcome.
    There was the time my muffler exploded from a fuel leak. It blew right off and dangled by the exhaust pipe, which I had to hacksaw off. There was the time my truck broke down way out in the wilderness and I had to bike many miles to get into cell service. There was the time the distributor fried as I was leaving Phoenix. Someone driving by recognized my truck from pictures online. This person stopped to help me and I ended up staying in Phoenix for another month...
    I chose to turn the nuisance of my truck breaking down into opportunities for adventure. I may not be able to control life, but I can surely control how I react to it. Always question your perspective. Luxury is not living. Hardship is living. You do not feel life in Luxury. You feel death.
    After all, is not death the ceasing of time? A life spent in Luxury puts the notion of time on hold. A plastic death, an artificial death: that is Luxury. When the body and mind are taxed to the ultimate limit, this is when every modicum of your flesh, and every firing synapse of your brain, is felt in awful awareness. This is where time becomes tangible. You can feel it on your skin. You can taste its acrid flavor in you mouth as bile and blood bubbles up from the stewing fear churning in your guts. Struggle breeds survival.

15:32 Wednesday the 7th:

    A few hours outside Missoula me and my truck were chugging along up a lengthy mountain pass. The trees thinned out and revealed remarkable views into the ancient shifting epochs of the Rocky Mountains. The hot heat poured in from the radiant summer sun. Sweat dripped down my cheeks and clogged the fabric of my ratty, green tank-top.
    Near the top of the highest pass, my truck started severely backfiring and hiccuping. My jaw clenched. I threw it into 2nd gear and revved up the engine to try and burn off the plugs and get more air combusting. Bile burst into my throat. I had a creeping feeling that my engine had been running rich this whole time. I could feel the beast of stress driving a knife into my neck and shoulder blades. This was not good.
    I threw my emergency blinkers on and crawled up the pass at 20mph. I thought if I just take it easy I could reach the top and then let ‘er sit for a while. The engine was probably just flooding.
    After driving slow for a few minutes it sounded like the engine was kicking back in. My hands clutched the steering wheel. I hollered every curse word under the sun and then floored the little sucker. Right when I got to 40mph my truck bucked like I hit a barrier. The engine was suffocating. I threw it into 1st and worked the accelerator, narrowly missing getting rammed into the ground from a semi-truck storming passed me on the narrow highway.
    I somehow managed to limp my truck (clutch-in/floor-it, clutch-out/ease-it, repeat) to the top of the pass where it finally gave out completely with one weary grown. It was dead. Totally ‘effed. 400miles from Seattle, 7hours of driving left with a dead truck I was stuck on the top of a mountain I didn’t even know the name of. 
    This is a classic situation where you are given two options: deal with it or don’t. Physiological capability is not the only factor that determines which elite athlete rises to the top. To be the best at a sport—any sport—requires the ability to handle copious amounts of psychological stress.
16:00 Wednesday the 7th:
    Broken down on the shoulder, I looked out my window and just sat there totally numb in my truck for five minutes. I didn’t think. I didn’t do anything. I just sat there and accepted what was happening. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to break something. I wanted every person in the world to crowd onto the mountaintop and feel sorry for me. BUT, would that get me back to Seattle? No. By not reacting I just let my subconscious bubble to the surface. Instinct must override emotions. I had to act.
    In those five minutes my instincts strapped on their combat boots. They busted the hinges off the filing room inside my brain and started hacking into my memory bank. My instincts found the right files under the heading: Experience. They found out it would be useless to contact a car-shop. No one would have parts (a carburetor?) for my old truck. Moreover, no mechanic out here would understand my big-city pressure to get my truck rolling, “Why there now, it’ll be ‘bout a week ba’fer I can get to workin’ on ‘er,” is the answer I’d get from any mechanic in these small mountains towns.
    There was only one option: I had to tow it. There was no cell service, so I ran higher up the mountainside to a wide clearing and finally got a signal. On my phone (thank god for iphones…) I dialed up a tow service and then promptly hung up after I screamed, “fifteen hundred dollars!”
    Time was running out. Places would be closing soon. I had to think. I couldn’t get it fixed. I couldn’t get it towed. I couldn’t just leave it here and hitchhike back. I had to get home with my bikes. With my truck. With my pride! Then, it hit me:  I’ll tow the damn thing myself!!!
    Two minutes later I located (via iphone…) a uHaul rental station in Kellogg, three towns down the mountain, about 40miles away. I called them up and told the guy my situation. “You got till five thirty ‘fore we close up,” he said with a brusque drawl.
    “What’ll cost me?”
    “Er ‘bout four ‘undred.”
    “I’ll do my damndest to get there at five.”
    Perfect time for a bike ride. At this point I was ten grand in credit card debt. Thankfully money is a human fabrication. An illusion. Must we forget that “reality” can crumble in an instant as soon as a couple continental plates get a little testy? There’s plenty o’ time for obtaining social stability (which one day I actually do want) but, the age of twenty-six is not the time.

Gettin' it done right.

    With no sponsors, with no financial help besides my credit card (minimalism goes a looong way) I needed to come up with creative ways to prove to myself my renewed commitment to the sport of cycling. I had quit cycling two years ago. Before I could prove to others my comeback was legit, I had to prove it to myself. I had no director, or manager breathing down my neck. All grit had to come from my own boiling blood. Now was a perfect time to take it to the next level. No one was watching. This was all dependent upon what's inside my head, inside my soul.
    I ran back to my truck, grabbed my bike, and then pedaled onto the freeway and hauled ass down the meager shoulder while trying to avoid the confused stares of passing motorist. My legs felt like absolute hell. I didn’t plan on doing a Time Trial, but I told my body that this was an opener for the Atlanta races. I relaxed my shoulders and relaxed my face. I flew through Wallace, through Osburn, and into Kellogg frothing at the mouth, my legs burning, the lactic acid gnawing on my legs with their fangs. And, I dealt with it.

18:26 Wednesday the 7th:

    I stumbled into the uHaul depot (which was a hunting store). The guy there gave me a big grin, “Been ‘specting you.” Surprisingly, he didn’t even blink at my full spandex and clinking bike shoes.
    “Thanks for staying open for me.”
    “Wasn’t gunna leave you hangin’.”
    We walked to the back and he handed me the keys to a moving-truck the size of a small house. It’s aerodynamic qualities made me cringe. Well, it would get the job done. In my slippery bike shoes (and careful not to slip on my ass) I attached the towing dolly. I jumped in the uHaul and roared back up the mountain while having a moral crisis for how much gas I was burning through. But, I was back on the road, only four hours behind schedule. I was gunna make my flight!
    Now, truthfully, I don’t know much about trucks. To prove this, I mounted my truck to the towing dolly backwards, with the front wheels on the road and the rear wheels fastened to the dolly. I soon found out that at about 45mph the unstable tracking of the front wheels in combination with the pivot point of the trailer hitch caused my truck to sway back and forth with violent speed wobbles. I ignored this for a while by driving in a straight of a line as possible.
    Eventually the haunting speed wobbles got the better of me.  A slow semi truck was in my way and I got greedy with time. At 50mph I could keep the speed wobbles under control. Trying to pass a semi-truck was a different issue.  I floored the uHaul to gain some momentum to pass, and then switched lanes to overtake the semi. The jerking motion of turning the steering wheel at 70mph sent the trailer into a fit. As soon as I was dead even with the semi-truck, with inches to spare on either side, my truck was swaying to the point where I swear the damn tires were rocking off the pavement.
    I threw the brakes on. Not smart. Slowing down exentuated the speed wobbles even further, causin the dolly and my pick-up to buck wildly. The uHaul tipped near the tipping point. It was either fly off the side of the road or bash into the semi-truck at 75mph. Some primeval voice yelled at me, “You idiot!!! There’s another option. Floor the mother trucker!!!”  
     So I did it. And, sure enough, instincts overrode my idiocy and the physics of acceleration pulled the trailer taught, thus enveloping the speed wobbles. By the time I hit 90mph, everything smoothed out just fine, except for the three years I lost from my life. With the semi-truck miles behind me, I now had plenty of road to gently slow back down to 45mph. And, I’m sorry to say, 45mph was the speed I remained at, which promptly slapped me into a behind schedule pace once again. But, I would at least make my flight, alive.

21:17 Thursday the 8th
    Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean the sun was extinguishing itself right around the time I rolled through Spokane, a measly 4hours behind schedule. Only 300miles left. Not bad after 1500miles of driving on a few hours of sleep. But, unfortunately, my eyelids thought otherwise.
    As soon as the last ray of light was replaced by the numinous glow of the moon, my exhaustion became unavoidable. The long flat stretch of I-90 leading up to the climb over the Cascade Mountain Range sucked me into a hypnotic trance. I fought against my exhaustion. I blasted the radio. Jazz didn’t work, nor did rock, or classical, or crappy pop. The only station that enraptured my mind to crystalline attention was a Fundamentalist Talk show informing me that humans have only existed for 3,000 years. Interesting. I just couldn’t turn the dial.
    Then, there was also the ever-looming possibility of speed wobbles that fought my head from nodding off. If I didn’t hold the steering wheel exactly straight (and I mean exactly) the truck would start rocking back and forth like a skinny teenager at a basement punk show. Even the wide sweeping bends of the freeway required precariously exact steering. It required so much focus I kept on telling myself to remember to breathe. I probably still have knots in my neck from that drive.

Contradictions are the only things that make sense to me.

    Midnight was long gone by the time I descended down the western side of the Cascades. The moon cast enough light to see beautiful shrouds of black mist billow out from the shadows of towering Evergreens. At this point I was so tired my brain finally figured out I wasn’t going to fall asleep anytime soon so it might as well just stay awake with me. When you hit this state, it feels similar to chronic dehydration. But, at least you’re wide-awake.
    I felt comfortable by myself staring through the window shield into the black night. The lonely lights of passing cars hurt my tired eyes. Memories sat next to me and kept me company.
    Halfway down the winding mountain a deer decided it was a great idea to jump out in front of my two-ton truck and stand there to play a little game of chicken. I threw the brakes on and skidded to a dramatic halt right in the middle of the Interstate. Then, the deer vanished in a poof. Regrettably, there was no need for my impressive skid. The deer was a complete hallucination. My silly brain, always trying to do it’s own thing. Didn’t it know I was just trying to get home alive?

03:14 Thursday the 8th:
    There was no feeling of joy when I arrived outside Katy’s house. I parked the massive uHaul and stepped out. I stood in the center of the street and looked at the sky. It was brown and murky with hints of pink. I didn’t feel tired anymore. I didn’t feel anything. I wanted to remember it all.
    This was the end of the chapter. Today marked the 265th day of me living on the road. And now it was over just like that. In this time I had visited 93 cities and 25 National Parks; drove 16,369 miles; written 54 stories; did 10,750 push-ups; and, worked 802 hours.  I had met countless people. I had questioned life itself. I had challenged death. I had started this trip lost and confused. And here I was, back in Seattle, with nothing tangible to show. And it made sense.
    I realized there was no meaning to be found. All that mattered was racing my bike, was getting home to that warm girl I missed, to my friends, to my community, to the small streets of Seattle I know so well. It took a year of searching to realize I didn’t have to find anything. It took a year of running from myself to realize circles always go round.
    Funny how sometimes you have to destroy everything to understand what you have destroyed. I did it all for adventure. For creating a reason to push on. For experience. I unhitched my little truck from the dolly and pushed it into Katy’s driveway and gave it a gentle pat. “I’m proud of you buddy,” I whispered to it.
       Katy opened the door and looked at me. She didn’t say anything, which was perfect. She just hugged me and we stood there on her porch as moths flew over our heads like magical creatures. Here I was.
    The idea of winning seems superfluous in moments like this. The most rewarding moments in life usually are never witnessed, or never articulated. A whole band of TV reporters wasn’t gunna leap out of the bushes to interview me. A pair of podium girls wasn’t gunna stroll down the street to hand me a shiny gold medal and bottle of champagne. There was no crowd, no applause, no recognition, and this is why the moment was so special. I was the only person who knew what I had won. I had returned home.
    But, there was no time to stand around and gloat. Tomorrow (yes, tomorrow!) I still hadda win me some bike races. Another three hours of sleep should do the trick.

07:00am Thursday the 8th:
    Morning arrived the instant my eyes closed. I didn’t have the luxury to sleep in. To get Katy to work on time we had to wake early to return that beastly uHaul before dropping me off at the airport. Luckily, my track bike was already packed and waiting to go.
    The airport was slammed. But, I arrived three hours early so I had no rush. In the jam-packed security line I marveled at how stressed people were. Everywhere around me people were freaking out in a panic. Any moment I expected Godzilla to rip the roof off the place. The guy in front of me kept stomping his foot and made this weird grunting noise. One woman was screaming at a security guard because she was about to miss her flight. Didn’t she know that were other planes going to Dallas today?   
    I started to laugh out loud. I couldn’t contain myself. People started to stare at me. The lady behind me demanded curtly, “What’s so funny?”
    “I’m laughing,” I told her, “Because I’m so excited to be here!”
20:14 Thursday the 8th:
    A fellow racer picked up from the airport. At his apartment, I went straight to bed. As I fell asleep, fear crawled over the bed sheets and into my ears and started to conjure destructive thoughts. I had slept a total of seven or eight hours in the passed three days.  How on earth could one night of full rest possibly cure me for fit performance tomorrow? What had I been thinking? Had I come all the way here just to get my ass kicked? I shut off my brain and went to bed.

10:00 Friday the 9th:

    In sport there are no excuses. Unless you shatter a femur or rip open an artery, you have to get back on your bike and perform. Just imagine, when I make it to the Olympics, what if my flight gets canceled? What if I’m forced to sleep in the airport? If that’s going to affect my performance, then I shouldn’t be at the start line of the Olympics. At a certain level there are no excuses. Period.
    When I arrived to the velodrome my initial impulse was to come up with excuses. I wanted to tell everyone about my laborious road trip. I feared I would perform poorly, and so my ego wanted to lament how tired I was as an explanation for how poorly I would ride.
    Luckily, I had the fortitude to realize excuses manifest the future. The second I got on my bike I made a decision: I would give no excuse. My future was directly in my control. There would be no poor performance. I would turn my excuses into a weapon.
    I shut my mouth and got on the track. My lack of sleep, my exhaustion, the emotional drain this year had taken on me, the rage to prove my worth as a racer: these were strongest forms of motivation I could possibly have. I had gone through more hell to get to this race than any of my competitors. And this is why I would push myself harder than any of them. The history of this world has shown: Struggle is our strongest motivator. 
    The race was a two-day Omnium. Five races each day. The first few races were sprints. Not my strength, but perfect for an opener. I went all out and somehow made the final round. By the end of the night my legs were finally coming to life. The premier race of the night was an unknown-lap scratch race, a real crowd pleaser. It was up to the drunken announcer to ring randomly the final lap bell at an unknown point during the race. After three laps I attacked. No use sitting around.
    After ten minutes off the front in pursuit mode, the beautiful sound of clanging metal reached my ears. The announcer hollered like a mad-man, "Last lap!"
    The pack tried to draw me back as they sprinted after me, but I was way off the front. And I won the race easy. This put me in second place for the overall Omnium lead. I’m sure glad I had a powwow with myself earlier that day. There’s nothing like a mental shift to slap me straight.
10:00 Saturday the 10th
    The next day I woke up feeling hung-over. Racing in the 100 degree Atlanta humidity had taken a toll on my body.  I rose out of bed to get some water. My legs didn’t move. They were stiff as an 80’s porn star. I crawled into the living room and stretched my muscles for the next two hours, massaging some remnants of life back into them.    
    At the racecourse, I warmed up for much longer than normal to make sure my legs remembered what they had to do. The first few races were a blur.  “Go, go, go,” was the only eloquent chant I could surmise to propel my lungs to breathe. In-between races I caught myself nodding off to sleep. Before the points-race, Emile shook my shoulder and said, “Dan. We’re up in two minutes, man. Two more races, man. Hold it together. There’s big money, man. Hold it together.”
    All too soon there was only one race left, the grand finale: The Miss and Out. After two days of racing, I was still sitting in second overall. Only two points separated first place from third place. The Miss and Out would decide everything. The only way I could win the overall was if I won this last race.
    The gun went off. I raced beautifully. Lap after lap riders were eliminated as the Devil took the hindmost. I held my position calmly at the front, waiting for the pack shrapnel to get pulled. Finally, the field had been whittled down to the last three riders: Emile, Holt, and me.
    In the final sprint to the line we flew around turn four, hurling ourselves down the home straight, hitting close to 40mph, 180rpms, I could feel Holt’s elbow jutting into my hip, Emile swung his bars in tapping mine, full fury, we were neck and neck, and, in the last twenty meters, Emile edged in front of me and took the win. I lost. No excuses.

I don't care what ya say. All I want to do is race my bike.

18:34 Saturday the 10th

    All was not lost. I still had a big wad of prize money for placing third overall. Then there was the money I got from other riders I had alliances with (there is a lot more to racing than meets the eye). The best part was I made enough money to pay for the uHaul, and still had a bit left over to throw at my daunting debt. In the USA, an accomplished track cyclist is fortunate to break even after a hard season of racing. So far, I was making a positive net income from prize money this season, which gives testimony to how dedicated one has to be to the sport.
    There are few extrinsic rewards for a bike racer. Perhaps you will win a handful of races in a whole season. More often, you become pack filler. Then, there is the likelier chance that you will crash and break your body and have no chance to win or even race. There is little-to-no money for a cyclist who was not bred and groomed from 14years of age to race the proTour. Cycling is a rich man’s sport. I say this objectively. I’ve seen countless talented local racers give up on their ‘pro-dream’ solely because they had to work a nine-five job to survive.
    Without support, to break into the professional ranks, you have to live on the fringe of society, a half-wild animal, only focused on buying food, resting, and figuring out how to get to the next race for the least amount of money. This process goes against every design of society, for society cannot understand those who work diligently on a goal that has no material gain. Simple things become obstacles (how do you get health insurance or a bank account with no physical address? Mail it to my pick-up truck, you can't miss it...)
    A domestic professional cyclist, in my opinion, is the quintessential representation of passion. The only reward is the satisfaction of pushing your mind and body day in and day out. I also should not forget the experiences of traveling and meeting a vast community of interesting eclectic people who support this non-mainstream sport. Cyclist support cyclist. I can’t count the number of couches I’ve slept on.
    I think this is why I was drawn back to cycling It’s a hard-person’s sport, a working person’s sport. To race at a professional level requires dedication that by far exceeds any remuneration. Most spectators don’t know this, but about a third of the pro-peloton in the USA doesn’t even get paid. Their contracts cover all equipment and race expenses, but its kinda hard to invest in the future without a paycheck. This is why the sport is so harsh. In races, riders are battling each other to get to the next level, to make their passion sustainable, to get the contract with money, with security, with identity. So when I’m racing, I know I’m bumping shoulders with athletes who are killing themselves on the bike simply because they love it or are completely our of their minds (and, perhaps both, most often I think). Ego fulfillment put aside, there is no other explanation. 

 14:18 Sunday the 11th
     My plane lands back in Seattle and I’m greeted by companionship in the form of a thin, yet strong woman. In front of Katy’s house my truck still sits loyally. I look at it from a distance and give Katy a knowing nod. We both hop in. I turn the key and stomp on the gas-pedal.
    After the week of rest, my truck fires up with a triumphant roar. We zip through the narrow streets of Seattle and head towards the end of my journey. In front of us looms a malignant sun.  Forest fires in northern Canada spurred a spectacular phenomenon of apocalyptic proportions. The sun is blood red and hugs under the horizon, half-hidden behind the blazing Olympic mountain range. I think to myself that the sun looks like it will when the world one day dies. I pretend it’s my own omen.
    I stare at the sun boldly as it melts away. I have such a short time to live; this is why I constantly push myself. I want to experience as much life as possible before the day when, like the sun, I will also die and slip away from the light of this world.
    Katy and I roll up to the little cottage I live in next to the park and unload all my equipment. This was the first time I truly had been ‘home’ in almost a year. After these months gone by, there was nothing I wanted more than simplicity. No more sleeping on the side of the road. The whole evening lay ahead of us. There was nothing more I needed to worry about. I could finally shut of my mind and enjoy the fundamental existence with Katy for which all lovers are designed. As the night gently descended upon us, I immersed myself in a thought: Life will never stop.
    To push one’s self both mentally and physically to absolute limit of bodily health and sanity, solely to achieve a life goal, is a feat only to be undertaken at the most foolishly serious of times. So far, after living for twenty-six years, I doubt that I have ever fully done this.

Time to re-begin:
In my formative years many people asked me, “Dan, why do you do all these crazy things? Is it really worth it?” At the time, intoxicated with the brashness of youth, my only answer for them was a venomous, “Worth it? Of course!”

In my teenage years I couldn’t articulate why I knew it was worth it. Sarcasm and recklessness was the best defense I could surmise for my explanations. But now my soul is getting older, and as a soul ages it begins to understand more through the process of seeing a world larger than its own. At the age of twenty-six I’m hardly a wise old man. I’m just now beginning to realize the answer to that question I detested and heard so often. My explanation is maturing slowly. Now I’d say, “Of course its worth it. Because I’m teaching myself how to survive anything.” 

By remembering the audacious challenges I inflicted on myself, I’m reminded of why I’m working so hard on my goals. My Olympic dream, my dream of racing my bike at the highest level, my dream of finding out how good of a bike racer I can become all makes sense when standing atop the challenges I’ve already conquered.  These self-inflicted hardships give worth to my life.

My team collapsing is simply life giving me another challenge to conquer.

-dan harm

The loss of Adventure is Death.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I read it two days ago and had to come back again today. Don't know why.

    What you wrote got to me, under the skin, through the muscle into my heart. I'm not a bike racer, just a dude working on making my integrity stronger, my rides longer, trying to figure it all out. You have a raw rareness to what and how you write. I just want to say thank you.