|Ride of My Life|
|Part 2: Virginia|
|Part 3: Nationals|
The Ride of my Life
1995. Man, what a year. That was the year I thought I was gonna be a big time bike racer. I graduated from WSU, packed up my stuff and set out on an adventure that began with big dreams and goals in San Diego, and would end in my facing a harsh reality at the top of a twenty mile climb in central Oregon. It was there that I finally faced reality; I never was meant to be a big time bike racer. Isn't bikin' cruel that way?
After the 1994 season I set two goals that I wanted to achieve in my cycling days: 1) become Washington District Champion and 2) get on the podium at a collegiate national championship. Deep down I knew these were both attainable with my limited natural ability, simply because I had two things going for me. I WANTED them both badly, and I was committed to achieving them. As far as I was concerned it was just a matter of time.
So, 1995 came around. I had done a few big time bike races, but when I did them I wasn't a full time bike racer. There was always that school thing getting in the way. But this year was going to be different, I was going to be a real bike racer. I was going to eat, sleep and live bike racing, and it was going to make a difference. The season started out at the Redlands Classic, and I didn't even last the first stage as I had comedown with an awful virus the week before. Oh well, it was a long season yet to come.
Probably the best times I had that summer were amidst a four week road trip where we hit the Vuelta de Bisbee and the Mike Nields stage race. You really learn a lot about people when you spend every day with them. Some good, some bad, but hey, that's life and you deal with it. There were so many people we met on that trip, and all of them were generous. They would take us into their homes and treat us like one of their own. Most of them were complete strangers who volunteered their houses simply because they heard there was a bike race in town. I really got to see the good side of people on that trip. I think of them every time that mid 80's full size pickup truck with mud flaps, a gun rack and a dog in the back tries to run me off the road.
Bisbee. What a trip. A couple of hundred mile stages in 90 degree heat with no support. Can you say carry six water bottles? Needless to say, I suffered. We all suffered. Except Greg, he was just starting his season to remember as he slayed all in the first road stage and won the final time trial. That was just a token of what he was capable of.
We stayed in Boulder the week before Mike Nields, trying to recover after baking in the hot sun in Bisbee. I think Maynard Hershon wrote an article about the cyclists around there once; how they were too cool to take a second out of their day to return your wave. He was right. Except that one guy who happens to ride for Motorola, Andrea Peron. He waved to us first as we pedaled out on the flats just east of the Rocky Mountains. Guess he's not a native. Amazing, he didn't think he was too cool not to wave. That pretty much sums up my opinion of Boulder. It's just to cool for me, I guess...
I was still looking for my form to come around. I saw glimpses of what I was capable of during the long flat road race in Mike Nields. A top 25, my best placing yet at a national level race. I was pretty stoked. I went home and slaved away for Greg and my bro' during the Twin Rivers Classic. I kinda like doing that kind of stuff, especially when my boys win. Next, I was off to Canada for the Tour de White Rock and BC Super Week. It was my final preparation before the District Road Race in Rosalia, forty miles from my home.
A defining moment during that trip came in Victoria BC, the last race during BC Super Week. It was an 800 meter crit course with a short hill in the very European-esque heart of the city. Brian Walton and Scott Fortner had been kickin' ass all week and that day was no different. I was beat, my legs were a lop 'o goo and I didn't really feel like racing, but I knew I had to make it through this race. Then I could rest up for districts. Anyway, we had to do something like 90 laps of this god forsaken course. I started at the back of the 70 rider field. I never saw the front. Dudes would blow on the hill and I would have to sprint my ass off to get around them. There's nothing like feeling like a pile of shit, and then looking at the lap board... It said 75 laps to go. I was the absolute last guy in the field every time around. There were times I was thinking to myself 'just quit'. After awhile though, I made it a goal to finish in the field. I suffered like I had never suffered before, but damn it I finished in the field. A lot of the times racing is all mental with me, if I put my mind to it, it gets done. I was the last guy across the line, but I did what I set out to do; I could go home satisfied. It was times like that that make me think of the toughest question any body could ask me. Why do you do it? Why do you race bikes?
I guess I don't have a single answer to that question. It's those two weeks of good form a year when you don't feel the pedals. It's those close friends you train and race with. It's those friendships you make that you'll have for the rest of your life. The ones that shared in your suffering and the ones that contributed to your successes. It's those last fifteen minutes of that six hour ride. The ones that make you say, hey, I just pedaled my bike for six hours... Where do you want to ride tomorrow? It's those mass quantities of food you get to eat, and yet you're still called "Scrawny White Boy". It's those long easy rides by yourself, when you get to think about stuff. It's that feeling you get when you win your first race. It's that feeling you get when a total stranger stops you and says 'alright man, that's cool'. That's what makes all the suffering and pain worthwhile. That is why I do what I do. That is why I race my bike.
Districts: Rosalia, Washington. It was a hot Sunday afternoon, with temperatures in the 90's. I had raced the day before and knew I had good legs. It didn't take long for the first breakaway to form. About 15K into the 140K race I joined what would turnout to be the decisive move. The break worked well for the first 40K but the field was still less than a minute down. What were we doing out there? We were destined to dry up and blow away in the oppressive heat. But for some reason we kept working. Next thing we knew we had a sizable three minute gap. I guess teammates are a good thing to have. It seems the field was waiting for my man Paul D. to do something. Otto had different plans you see; Paul had confidence in me. He was paying me back for all the work and sacrifices I had made for him and the team in the past. That is how great teams are separated from merely good teams. It makes me proud to be associated with those guys...
With 25K to go, I sensed the impetus leaving the break and felt it was time to go it alone. Somehow, Eric Messenger had escaped the field and had caught what was left of the breakaway. Now he had me in his sights. I was no match for the much fresher Messenger and after we dispensed with the remnants of the knackered break it was me and him rolling over the last climb with 2K to go. He beat me to the line in the end, but it didn't matter he was out of district and couldn't take home any hardware. I was the 1995 Washington State Road Champion. It felt good. I would have to remember that feeling four days later.
I had gone deep into my reserves that day, and I quickly began to wonder what the Cascade Cycling Classic would have in store for me. My legs ached. They ached for three days. They ached when I rolled to the start line of the Prologue outside Bend, Oregon. They ached on the start line of the following days McKenzie Pass road stage. They ached for the 200K in between. They ached at the top of the twenty mile ascent to the McKenzie summit. They ached when I missed the time cut by two minutes. Bike racing is cruel sometimes. In four days I went from the best feeling I had had on a bike to the worst feeling. As I got into the car for the somber ride home I realized that I just didn't have what it takes. That was a hard pill to swallow.
I think for the previous few months that thought was in the back of my mind. Every time I would line up with real bike racers (i.e., Pro's) I would do fine until they decided that they were ready to race. That was when I would immediately check out. I just couldn't seem to get even a field finish when Pro's were involved. It was races like those that planted the seed that maybe, just maybe I didn't have what it took to be a bike racer. We wound our way back down the Cascades towards Bend amongst the moon like lava formations. As I sat in the back seat, completely wasted and demoralized, I knew deep down I wasn't going to be able to ride shoulder to shoulder with my brother as a member of the "Real Bike Racer" club.
The rest of the summer went by quickly; I just didn't have the drive to really train any more and I had to pack up all my stuff and head back to school out in Virginia. I did, however, manage to get my first field finish with pro's during the Tour d' Toona in August. That was the last big race I did during that summer to remember. I still had one more goal to accomplish though, and I wasn't going to give up so easily.
Part 2: Virginia