Wednesday, September 4, 2013

For the story to begin you must begin.

Part I:

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

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

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

Lies and Secrets of Neuroticism:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The victim voice would say: what a fucking waste. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part II:

Adventure heals. Adventure purifies:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Long Quick Ride:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Journal Excerpts: 

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

The Future:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Harm

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

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


  1. Hi Dan,
    You don't know me, but I simply wanted to say that your blog is the best bit of writing about cycling I've read, I think anywhere.
    I am a broken bike racer from the UK, and your words help me to properly focus on my rehab, and remember why I love this sport.
    You are an inspiration - in your enthusiasm, motivation, opinions, and fantastic writing.
    Please keep it up.

  2. "I can honestly say that two years ago if bike racing had been taken away from me, I very well could have lost it, committed suicide, or given up all hope. I wasn't secure enough to just be me." THIS! Felt this way in 1978 when a knee injury ended my hopes of winning the Boston Marathon and again in the mid 80's when I realized that physical and mental limitations would keep me from racing bikes at a professional level. I'm still dealing with it today at 51 as I try to find my way and just be me.
    Thanks Dan, your ability to articulate what you, (and so many of us) feel and struggle with is truely incredible.

  3. Dan,

    If you haven't already, you need to read Young Men and Fire, by Norman MacLean, he of A River Runs Through It fame. Best book I've ever read about fighting fire.

    I've always enjoyed cruising your various blogs. Good reads. Keep it up.