Friday, January 23, 2015

Seeing The Forest Through The Trees

Bike racing is a hard sport (the sacrifice and dedication required to succeed is something that has been spoken of quite a bit, so I wont elaborate on it here). However, there are some days I feel like bike racing has made me soft—in that it has given me a false sense of entitlement. Racing at a high level, it’s easy to expect certain things—bikes, clothes, housing, equipment, massages, food, etc.—that, outside the scope of actual racing, are luxuries to the common person. Even worse, in the face of not receiving such accommodations it’s easy to find yourself quickly becoming annoyed. It’s sad really that, even after years in this sport, I’m still learning about just how great I have it and how miserably I’ve failed at thanking those who have helped me get to where I am.

This past season racing for Horizon was especially eye opening in terms of the effort required for the team (specifically our director, Nick Traggis) to get us the things we needed to race. Even as a small program, we rarely went without the necessary items needed to compete. This was no fluke—it was the result of many individuals sacrificing their time and resources because they believed in what we were doing and thought we could serve a greater purpose (i.e. promoting their brand, growing the sport, community outreach, etc.). It was here that I really learned how there is no such thing as “free” in bike racing—it’s a two way street, even when the flow of traffic would make one think otherwise. Now, I’m sure someone can make the case that receiving such items is necessary or constitutes the tools of the trade or that it’s part of the business; and I agree. However, simply because something is part of a job description doesn’t make it’s execution un-remarkable and not worthy of gratitude. For example, it’s NASA’s job to go to outer space—does that mean we shouldn’t be amazed when they land on the moon?

But I digress…

The real point I’m trying to make here is that I (and probably many other cyclists) need to bring a bit of perspective to our expectations about what this sport owes us; because the fact of the matter is, it owes us nothing.

To offer a short anecdote, after winning nationals I was completely convinced I had my ticket back to the pro ranks. In my mind, I earned it…I deserved it. In the months that followed, I emailed every team under the sun—rather incessantly if you ask me—to the point where I was convinced each team director would roll their eyes when they saw my name pop-up (once again) in their inbox. Despite doing everything I thought I could though, come the Fall I had nothing but an inbox full of rejections. I was devastated. I wanted to quit; and for a short time I did. I remember calling my parents, all my cycling mentors, and even some friends to tell them I was hanging it up. I’m pretty sure I even replied to a few of the rejection emails saying I was done which, in hindsight, was pretty dumb but at the moment seemed inconsequential. In the end, my expectations got the best of me and when they didn’t come to fruition, I was at a loss.

Fast forward a few weeks and I emerge from the grocery store to a text message about a new team—Alto Velo/Seasucker—that was looking to see if I was still available for next season. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t quite done with this whole cycling thing and, as such, I told them I was. After speaking with the management a bit more, I came to realize this program was a great fit and I can honestly say I’m more excited about the opportunity this season presents than I have been about any other race season to date. At the same time, I’ve come to realize that nothing is guaranteed in this sport; and yea, while it’s easy to lament at the things you don’t have (or haven’t received), it’s even easier to lose sight of the things you do. This was a prime opportunity to prove my mettle--I took it and haven't looked back.

So what’s the lesson in all this? Well, for me, it’s about taking a bit more inventory in the things that have been given to me and using that appreciation as motivation to continue working hard everyday. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true; and when push comes to shove, I’d rather wax poetic like some suck-up than, in the words of Louis CK,  be a "non-contributing zero."

Thursday, January 1, 2015


Standing at the kitchen window, I’m sipping coffee and looking out over the marsh lining the North River. It’s Christmas Eve and after a whirlwind travel day back East I can now breathe a sigh of relief that I’m home. Even with a low morning fog drastically reducing visibility the view is still pretty amazing. If there is one thing Colorado doesn’t have, it’s an ocean; and despite growing up on the water, I’m surprised by how quickly I’ve forgotten how beautiful it is.

Suddenly, from behind my dad walks up and taps me on the shoulder, “hey, check this out!” He points to a hanging birdfeeder suspended off the deck before scurrying off to the other room. Despite being designed with an exterior cage to keep squirrels and other vermin out, this birdfeeder has failed to perform its given function as sitting inside was a rather small baby squirrel. Space was limited but given the excess of food I highly doubt it cared. Happy as a clam it sat there getting fat in preparation for the upcoming (or already present) winter…that is, until my dad emerges with a large tree branch from above. With a figure similar to that of a golfer driving off the tee, he smashes the branch against the side of the cage sending the squirrel flying several feet in the opposite direction. Landing with a thud, the creature immediately darts towards the woods in a manner that would make you think it intended to hit the ground running. Shortly after my mind flashes to that scene in “Bambi”—you know, the one showing the mother drinking peacefully the river stream only to have the pastoral scene abruptly interrupted a few moments later by hunters shooting her. Obviously, this squirrel isn’t dead but one can’t help but think it’s definitely a bummer of a way to start the day.  

My dad is still laughing as he returns to the house—so much so that he can barely form a sentence. In this same state of oxygen debt he leaves the kitchen for his downstairs basement office and it’s only after he is no longer audible that I turn back to looking out the window. In spite of the fact this previous affair took at most forty-five seconds, the tranquil mood of the morning has somehow disappeared. Surely, somewhere in this story is a metaphor for my pre-college youth but I have neither the desire (or comedic vocabulary) to come up with it now. Either way, it’s a firm reminder that I’m home—and that’s something I’m pretty excited about.

Flash forward a week or so and I’m all packed up and ready to head back to Colorado. It’s amazing how quickly my time here has passed—sadly, this always seems to be the case. For me, coming home is a lot about “stopping to smell the roses” so-to-speak. One of my biggest faults (and there are many) is that I tend to fixate so much on my day-to-day routines that I lose sight of the things around me (just ask me friends and they can validate this). When home, things just tend to go slow—mainly because it’s during the holidays and there really aren’t many commitments. In short, it’s easier to relax. I sleep a lot. I watch TV. I hang out. It’s fairly easy. Still, my personality will only allow me so much downtime before I get restless. To compensate for an abundance of energy by weeks end I start doing things like climbing the stairs two steps at a time or cleaning the kitchen. It’s weird, I know, but I really can’t help it.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to getting back to Boulder and resuming my normal schedule. With the racing season quickly approaching each training day becomes that little bit more important and I’ll be happy to get back to work. Still, despite the long outlook, I'm really satisfied with how the last week has gone. Sure, riding wasn't my greatest focus these last ten days but I'm continuing to remind myself how that's not really something worth getting worked up about. I mean, it's not like someone beat me over the head with a baseball bat while I was eating breakfast. THAT would have sucked.

Bon voyage and happy 2015!