Cue the Guitar Solo

Where were you in 1991? It still blows my mind to think about how long ago that was. Remember when the 90s were just a few years ago? I was 11 years-old and experiencing some of the best and worst times in music history. I was very much an MTV kid, and spent hours recording the sound on my tape player for my radio station. Yes, I recorded my own radio station. On tape. Let that sink in.

One of my most vivid music video memories was the Guns N’ Roses classic, November Rain. I remember feeling my heart pound out of my chest every time I watched Slash step up on the piano to deliver THE MOST AMAZING GUITAR SOLO OF ALL TIME. As I child, I felt an intense connection with this song because of my November birthday. To be honest, I still do. The raw emotion that comes through his fingers gets deep down in places you don’t talk about. You can feel it reach in and grab your soul. It’s simultaneously the most amazing and terrifying feeling in the world. Do you ever listen to a song and think, “Man, I could have written that”?

Me too.

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The Last Day of Summer

Cindy stripped the ball from the other team’s point guard, and I started sprinting towards the other side of the court as hard as I could. We knew each other’s style so well we didn’t even have to lock eyes to know what was about to happen. I put my hand up and she threw the ball in my direction. I saw it spinning towards me in what appeared to be slow motion, and I knew I would only have a second to get it up in the air. Desperation three-pointers are one of the most beautiful things, and even more glorious when you hit bottom. The crowd noise dug deep into my gut, and I felt the adrenaline rush over me with a quickness. In that moment, every single thing I had experienced up until that point was worth it. At the time, this was simply high school basketball, but I have learned this experience applies to almost everything else in my life.

Yesterday’s race was my desperation three-pointer. I made a promise to myself that I would stop racing for a while if I couldn’t figure out how to move past the traffic jam in my head. I spent the week involved in something that resembled the training I used to know, and I put a little more energy into getting where I want to be in many different aspects of my life. Since day one, cycling has been something of a paintbrush for me. It’s been a way to express myself in a manner that few people relate to. Racing has always provided me with two things; enjoyment and the expression of spirit. When all of those things are no longer present, that’s when you have to  take a step back and reevaluate.

The start was narrow and slow, and allowed me to hold back my excitement for a change. This course was very much a mountain biker’s course, and I knew I had the ability to demonstrate a somewhat flawless performance if I could stay out of my head. I wasn’t comfortable by any stretch of the imagination, but my body seemed to be working in my favor. My leg pain was kept at a minimum, and my lungs were pacing along nicely. I felt the flow off the bike, and seemed to float through the barriers. I never got in a place I couldn’t recover from, and I always had enough juice to get out of the saddle coming out of every turn. It was like watching Larry Bird score 43 points against the Cavs in 1986.

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As I rounded the final turn on the last lap, I felt the adrenaline rush come over me. I couldn’t stop grinning, and quite surprised I didn’t get teary. The battle I had been fighting with myself for the last few weeks was over, and I had solved all the world’s problems with 45 minutes of pain. A well-earned 2nd place in an amateur bike race seems trivial to normal people, but as a friend recently pointed out, bike racers are not normal. I can attest to this.

And what’s better than one great race? TWO GREAT RACES. My girl Kelly was able to take the second step in her race after a long vacation from the ‘cross world. Nothing makes me happier than sharing my favorite thing with one of my favorite people.

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I love being inspired. I find inspiration in so many things, and it’s always such a joy to discover it in places you never even imagined. I thrive on seeing the beauty in situations, even when they’re ugly and dark, and bike racing offers these gifts so eloquently. I wish more things delivered inspiration the way a bicycle does. This vehicle drives social change, personal relationships, foundations for living, and does so much to transcend the art of pedaling. Even road racing, with it’s often tarnished and damaged reputation, is a beautifully choreographed ballet demanding our utmost respect. It still moves me.

You have to embrace these moments, whatever they are. I’m sad for people who don’t get inspired often, or at all for that matter. Hope doesn’t keep things alive for me; inspiration does. Even if it’s something as small as watching toddlers ride Strider bikes on a pump track, let that shit inspire you. It’s even inside YOU. You can be the source of someone else’s inspiration. You could be the ah-ha moment in another person’s life, and there is no greater connection than that. We are all in this together, and you can choose to be silent, or be a source of joy and light for others. Which will you choose?

Since we don’t race on Sundays in Utah, I typically use this day to tend to myself. This often has different meanings from week to week, but I generally make time for a head-clearing bike ride to get me fresh for the impending doom of Monday. I love mountain biking, but adventuring on a ‘cross bike just does something to me that I can’t quite put into words. Today was one of those days, and the inspiration certainly made itself known. You can’t bottle it. You can’t put it in your pocket for later. You have to grab it when it’s there. These moments are precious and real and no Instagram is capable of capturing that.

I hope that you found some inspiration today.

 

 

 

 

 

Eva Bandman Part Zwei

My first big cyclocross race was the 2012 USGP in Louisville. I was a fresh cat 4 with very little fitness and even fewer technical skills. The course was unlike anything I had ever seen. Racing at Eva Bandman was the perfect way to spend my 32nd birthday weekend. I was desperately in love with cyclocross, and couldn’t believe I had lived my entire life without it.

I can’t remember how I placed that weekend, but I do remember being nearly dead last. I am fairly certain I spent too much time running rather than riding. I was about 25 pounds heavier, riding a borrowed bike, and I had no idea how to get myself through the course. I gave it everything I had. When the race was over I dressed up in butterfly wings and made people laugh. I started an amazing collection of friendships and acquaintances that weekend, and felt like I had finally found my place in the strange land of adulthood.

A few weeks later, I found out the 2013 Cyclocross World Championships would be held on US soil. After the amazing experience I had racing in Louisville, I was elated to hear I could potentially see the world’s best racers compete in my own back yard. We immediately orchestrated a plan, reserved a hotel room, and made costume arrangements for our return to the place that stole my heart.

We arrived in Louisville a few days before the big race. My friends and I participated in the Raleigh Single Speed Derby, where I had the pleasure of learning what it was like to push a 42 x 16 and run through flaming barriers. The special events were only the tip of the iceberg. Nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming sensation that followed as we walked into the park on race day.

Growing up in the SEC provided me with many opportunities to experience the emotion of competitive sports. Aside from my own athletic endeavors, being amidst a fiery crowd at a ballgame was nothing short of a religious experience. Walking into Eva Bandman pulled at my heart strings and ignited old memories. You could hear vuvuzelas and cowbells everywhere. The air was frigid as the baby snowflakes fell into the fresh mud from the rain the night before. I was wearing a Captain America costume and a blue wig. The vibes in that place could have easily been felt on the moon. I thought my heart would explode.

The European fans were delightful. You could see Americans posing for photos with Belgians. I saw a group from Switzerland dancing with Canadians. This place knew no barriers. We all had this eloquent example of bravery in common, and no political agenda could break those bonds. I remember two gentlemen from Belgium asking my group to pose for a photo with them. We were all dressed up for what seemed to be the world’s biggest Halloween party, and they didn’t speak a lick of English. I remember not being concerned and somehow connecting with them on a different level. We hugged and high-fived. Bicycles can do that, you know?

I distinctly recall the light bulb going off that day. What had started as a way to be competitive in adulthood just four months earlier, became a new way to see the world. Bicycles had inspired me in a way no basketball or volleyball ever could. The seed of passion had been planted, and what would follow changed the trajectory of my life forever.

As I pedaled out onto the Louisville course in November of 2015, I thought back to my first big race in 2012. I noticed a stark difference in my abilities on both a physical and mental level. I was faster than ever. My technical skills surpassed anything I ever thought to accomplish in Louisville, and I had developed a robust mental toughness. I celebrated my 35th birthday with a top 10 that weekend; my best race to date. My connection to Eva Bandman continued, and my love for the sport of cyclocross flourished.

2016 has been an intense and challenging year. I’ve learned more about life and myself in the last 9.5 months than I have in the past 36 years. I now truly understand just how short our time on this earth is. I know people don’t always stick by your side like they say they will. I have learned that success is measured in many different ways, and your success isn’t necessarily someone else’s. Do what makes you happy, but more importantly, do what makes you great.

The seed planted at the World Championships virtually saved me. I was in a place both personally and professionally that I didn’t like. I wasn’t happy with my job(s) and I couldn’t imagine making a career out of any of them. I had high hopes for my success, but no real path to follow. I wasn’t getting any younger and I felt like the world and her opportunities were passing me by. Bicycles came into my life at the most appropriate time, and I think Worlds was simply the medium that allowed me to catch a glimpse of the bigger picture. I took it to heart.

I’m coming up on my 36th birthday next month, which puts me closer to 40 if you look at my racing age. I still feel immature. I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of experiences, even though my life resume seems shiny and full. I’ve passed up opportunities because of fear, because let’s face it, failure is a hard pill to swallow. But you know what? A life worth living to the fullest doesn’t work like that. Bravery has many faces, and you can’t let a fear of failure keep you from reaching your potential. Pretty heavy stuff for a Sunday afternoon, but epiphanies wait for no man.

I made a spirited decision this weekend. I decided to embrace my fears and experience the thing responsible for getting me into the business of bikes. I sold my mountain bike last week, with intentions of replacing it with something bigger and better in the coming months. Having felt the need to check things off my bucket list, I opted for a more ballsy choice. I wanted to get back to where it all began, but I knew the same old thing wouldn’t do. So, I bought a plane ticket to Luxembourg for the 2017 Cyclocross World Championships.

YOLO.

Charlie Day, producer of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, gave an amazing speech at Merrimack College in 2014. He said, “Don’t wait for your break. Make your break. Go make it happen for yourself”. Cycling and bike racing have taught me this lesson more than anything else in my life. You don’t get results without the work, and success doesn’t just fall into your lap. You have to make your own way. He ended his speech with this:

You cannot let a fear of failure, or a fear of comparison, or a fear of judgement stop you from doing what’s going to make you great. You cannot succeed without this risk of failure. You cannot have a voice without the risk of criticism. And you cannot love without the risk of loss. You must go out and take these risks. None of it comes easy. And people will tell you to do what makes you happy, but a lot of this has been hard work. And I’m not always happy. And I don’t think you should do just what makes you happy. Do what’s uncomfortable and scary and hard, but pays off in the long run. Be willing to fail. Let yourself fail. Fail in the way you would want to fail. Fail, pick yourself up, and fail again. Because without this struggle, what is your success anyway? Look, as best we know it, we have one life. In it, you have to trust your own voice, your own ideas, your honesty, your vulnerability, and through this you will find your way. You do not have to be fearless, just don’t let fear stop you. Live like this as best you can, and I guarantee you will look back on a life well lived. You are capable of greatness in your profession, and more importantly, in your quality of self. Stay hungry. Stay young at heart. Take those risks. You are going to change the world around you in big ways and in small.

I think Charlie was on to something.

The Birdsong 500

I don’t remember how or why I decided to play sports. I was incredibly young and a minority in the 1980s athletic world, but I can still remember the first time I felt the buzz of competition. I loved the game, but the fire that burned inside me was kept alive by winning. I felt like every practice was the battlefield and every loss was personal.

As a mid-thirties amateur athlete, accepting the fact that my childhood mantra might be flawed was a daunting task.I was an out of shape has-been when I decided to pick up a bike. I had been running in hopes of becoming a marathon athlete, but my body had a way of shutting that idea down. I wanted to race. I wanted to feel the rush of success run over me like the gravy on a pile of southern baked biscuits.

The last few weeks haven’t been very awe-inspiring, and I took a week off the bike to clear my head and readjust my attitude. I started running again. Yeah, I started running again and I LIKED IT. I was tired of losing at bikes. I was tired of getting close to a breakthrough and being stopped by this, that, or the other. I was bummed to start my 5th season of ‘cross as a cat 3, B-level racer after getting destroyed in an elite field for 3 years. It just didn’t add up and I decided I was over it.

Like getting in a fight with boo, I came crawling back after a few days of being pissed and stuffy.

“Hey bike, can we maybe start training again? But only if you promise to stop pissing me off.” The bike didn’t respond, obviously, but we started hanging out again this week. We have a real complicated relationship.

I watched Mara Abbott’s TEDx about her fourth place finish in Rio, and she said a million different things that really hit home for me. She mentioned giving herself the opportunity to experience the potential she had been building throughout her life. That’s what makes me toe the line every weekend. I may not be a pro cyclist, but I feel like a lot of the reason I take racing so seriously is because I secretly want to win. Well, it’s not a secret anymore. And let me be the first to tell you I don’t see myself on the top step anytime soon. I’m a realist.

My heart breaks multiple times a week, on any given day, for any given reason. I’m also an empath.  Intuition is the filter through which I experience the world. Racing bikes has pushed me to the highest peaks and buried me under the heaviest, most soul-crushing rubble, and I keep coming back. I would honestly give up cycling if the fun factor was missing, because the emotions that come with losing are exhausting. As Mara said, “It’s an earned privilege, this sort of a broken heart.” I didn’t go to Rio and my problems are small in comparison, but my defeat is a gift. I need to embrace that.

I missed the lunch ride today after a meeting with an angry pothole, so I was forced to squeeze in a training ride after work and before the sun faded. After a week of bicycle mishaps and missed chances, followed by a week of the “Second Lap Blues”, I finally had a moment of clarity.  I felt good for a change. All my body parts were working in silent harmony. The white noise came back and the thoughts disappeared. It was fun and I was flowing. The sun hit the East Bench like a mimosa bar day buzz and the vibe was phenomenal. After I reached the top of my final interval this evening, I looked over my shoulder and felt my heart skip a beat.

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