Thursday, September 7, 2017

For The Love Of Bikes

For a long time I laughed at the idea that fatbikes had value. I kind of scoffed at the claim that riding one was fun, that they opened a lot of different avenues for fun. I remember, on multiple occasions, making comments about how they're overrated and another stupid invention that would die out and that anyone riding them probably has too much money and too much time on their hands. 

These are all things I've said.

Even after testing a few, even after grudgingly admitting that maybe they have a place in the bike industry, even after having fun, I was still stubborn and kind of grumpy about it. I just didn't get the point.

I wish I could claim that I gave them a fair chance before deciding all of that. I really wish I could. But I can't. I made this uninformed, really dumb assumption that fatbikes were lame and then I stuck with it because... Because of what? Because I'm a jerk? Because everyone needs something to hate on?

Honestly, it's a funny thing. My change of heart didn't come overnight. I wasn't suddenly less of an asshole downhiller who hated change and I certainly didn't immediately embrace the culture surrounding fatbikes. 

I think what changed was my perspective on bikes as a whole. I've preached a lot about acceptance inside of the bike industry and inclusion, but I still kinda held those weird biases and grudging assumptions. 

What shifted for me was a slow realization that two wheels are rad and anything and anyone on two wheels is cool. 

It was this system of beliefs that sort of softened and then melted away the more time I spent on two wheels and the less time I spent talking about it. I got a beach cruiser for my birthday last year and then literally picked a city bike out of the garbage. That's what I trained on last fall, mostly... Seriously. I put that trash bike to work and when the weather got too cold, I put it on a trainer. At that point, I was just riding anything I could get my hands on and then my good friend Jonah hit me up about Growler and their new carbon bike. They called me and asked if I'd be willing to help them promote the bike and I sort of laughed at the irony that now I'd get to promote something I was vehemently against at one point, but agreed. 

I don't think I understood what the bike was going to do to all of my misconceptions. I was certainly more open to the bike and to spreading love and acceptance, but I had  no idea what I was getting myself into. And then it showed up and suddenly, I had all of this access to places that previously, for six months out of the year, were almost completely inaccessible to bikes. The idea of that to me was huge. And the more I took it out during the cold days and the further I rode it, the more I understood why this was a thing. I mean, anyone who love bikes enough wants to ride bikes year round and in the sand and in places that bikes don't really do well. But fatbikes are sort of the go between and when I opened my mind, I learned that there were a lot of skills-related aspects to it as well. I'm a terrible rider in the wet stuff. I've blown it pretty consistently in wet riding conditions and struggle to handle anything that's not silty, dry moon dust. But fat tires... Fat tires and no suspension will teach you how to ride a bike. Your brain has to figure out how those side knobs are gonna tuck into that icy or snowy turn and you have to compute how you'll stay up in softer stuff with enough speed but not too much, you know? It teaches a rider how to predict what mud is going to do, how a wider footprint is going to slide and stop. It also made me feel like a champ --  I'm not gonna lie, some of those technical and rocky climbs I've always struggled with were easy peasy on that rig. I mean, having a lightweight bike helped a lot, but when we're talking about 36 inch wheels, that's practically a monster truck. That confidence helps. Confidence always helps. And as I built more skill and improved my ability to read the differences in what these fat tires are doing and what those smaller tires would do, I got better at reading myself. Our brains adapt to demand -- the more we use them, the better they'll work. And jumping from a regular city bike to a solid MountainBike and then to snow and ice and sand and my usual local trails on a fat bike, my brain was on overload. And for me, that's interesting. It made everything more interesting. More of a challenge, more of "can I hit that, will I make it" question? And yeah, that makes riding more fun. Feeling those differences, sliding around some turns, feeling trails in new ways... It's almost like learning to ride again. 

The thing about fatbikes is that they're fun. I mean, I'm not doing backflips on it or even riding the usual downhill tracks, but they're a different kind of fun. Simpler, I guess? They're more of this "let's get on it and go out and see what happens" sort of fun, and that's what's fun about all bikes. Fatbikes helped teach me how to just roll with it, that not everything is a training ride or a race or even an over-the-top speed chase with friends. It's this sense of freedom in that we're not limited by stuff that used to shut riding down completely. Snow? Mud? Super sandy and cactus-filled trails? Nah. We can ride it all and the scope of what we can explore gets even wider.

Fatbiking, trash bikes, beach cruisers and pretty much anything are a few of those things that you don't even know you're missing until you try one and then you can't imagine how you didn't realize what was missing all along, you know? At least... That's what they are to me. They represent the best parts of riding a bike: two wheels, no limits and a whole lotta laughter.

I feel as though much of the bike industry is a bit too focused on the next best thing, the latest and greatest and even the best-fitting or best-functioning kit or gear or ________. It's not. Sure, innovation is great, but when it comes to adapting to a changing market, ultimately, we either adapt or die. People are tired of the rat race. Humans are exhausted with the burden of living. I know because I'm one of them. I get caught up in the bullshit, in the bills, in the broken car and the medical problems and the boyfriend nonsense and the worry about whether or not I'll be able to buy groceries next week or next month.

But it fades away the moment I throw a leg over my bike. It all disappears when I ride hands free across an overpass with a looming storm and the wind is ripping through my hair. Nothing is more present and more real than the moment my lungs feel as though they're bursting and my legs can't stop spinning. That is freedom.

The freedom to escape into something. A thing that is good and pure and magical. A thing that is healthy for us and healthy for our planet. A thing that makes us smile and want to spread our wings. The freedom of leaving at sunup and arriving home only after the streetlights have come on and the stars are beginning to show... Or not. The freedom of not being limited by day or night or cold or heat. The freedom of two wheels underneath us as we experience our own mortality, our own humanity.

A bike doesn't protect you during a high-speed descent. It won't save your life when you miss a turn or a car misses theirs. There is no sound dampening, there is no insulation against the weather, the smells, the sights of life. There are no guarantees.

To walk that fine line is to take our existence into our own hands and release it into whatever may come as we make a pact with the universe that yes, we acknowledge this risk. That yes, we're exchanging safety for something far greater and far more beautiful.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World

There's a movie out there somewhere that I think I watched a few years ago with Steve Carrell (perhaps?) where he's actively searching for someone to love because... Well, I can't really remember why or what or anything that happened outside of the basic premise of the movie, to be quite honest. But I remember the title which means my brain isn't mashed potatoes quite yet. 

For the record, I am not seeking anyone to accompany me into the very-near-future apocalypse.

It's an interesting topic, that idea of 'company'. It's a weird drive humans have. I left the house this afternoon, in fact, with the sole intent of subjecting myself to the random and strange traditions of the homo sapien in order to dissuade my subconscious from becoming any more hermit-like as that's what I'll eventually become when left to my own devices: a hermit. It's a real risk now that I've moved house and am living in a new city in a different state without any housemates or forced 'companionship'. I'm a bit worried that I'm comfortable going days without wearing pants and that, despite the curtains being open, i have no qualms about brewing coffee in the nude.

Did I mention that I'm 30?

This is not normal behavior. I haven't started talking to myself as of yet (yes you have, you liar) but when the apocalypse does arrive thanks to the psychopathic megalomaniac at the White House, my skeleton will probably be unearthed by future life forms clutching my bikes without any remnants of sanity or clothes to be found nearby. 

I've gone caveman status.

On the plus side, moving to a new city has a certain.... Anonymity to it. Nobody here knows me or the havoc I can wreak, no one will stop me at the grocers (aside from the produce boy concerned about the lady staring at the ceiling) and no one shows up at my door unannounced. I can wander through my days untouched by humankind, entirely unaffected by forced social interaction and simply live

Except I cannot because everyone here is simultaneously just as weird as I am and unendingly friendly as well as curiously fascinating to my Utah-deprived brain. I want to talk to everyone. I want to find out why they're here, who they are, what they think about the meaning of life and how they stay looking so impossibly young. For the first time in a very, very long while I'm driven to grin at strangers and cheerfully bid a "good morning" to anyone I pass.

I did that. This morning. On my run. I was fucking running  and spent air wishing someone else a beautiful day. 

Something in the water here has fundamentally altered my DNA.

Welcome to New Mexico. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Ability Over Aesthetics

This is a repost of something I wrote in 2014 after a USAC ProGRT round in Snowshoe, WV. Has remained unedited other than this contextual note.

As a female athlete, I often find myself under differing amounts of scrutiny from many outlets on varying topics, but one of the most prevalent topics is physical appearance. 

Some weeks back after placing well at a US national race, I was reading the comments on a recap article about the results here on Pinkbike and came across a comment about my legs from another Pinkbike member. Granted, in the accompanying photo of the podium, I look like a fat kid whose shorts are hiked way too far in the awkward direction; it was an awkward picture, to say the least. But what really caught me off guard was the fact that this male commenter felt the need to comment on my legs in the first place. Yes, they looked AWFUL. Yes, I looked fat. But to publicly point it out? Is that really necessary? After an angry, emotional rant to a friend and a few beers, I calmly sat down at my computer and patiently explained to this gentleman why I love my chubby little stems. It ended fairly well.

What stuck with me from this experience, however, was that a large portion of the public, as well as members of the action sports industry truly believe that female athletes are all supposed to look like the models displayed in the magazines and ads. This false advertisement and hype not only creates perception issues for the general public, but it creates an economy within the action sports industry that punishes and devalues women who prioritize their skills and athletic ability over their physical appearance and 'look'. Many companies and sponsors will outsource product shoots and advertising campaigns and tradeshow appearances to professional models while the very athletes who test and use their products get 'budget cuts' and reduced incentive payouts, despite being the people doing the work... It creates a false public belief that athletes are these beautiful people who always look perfect and instills in young women a lie about the definition of success. Some of the strongest female athletes I have ever met are women who don't give a damn about how they look; they're usually more concerned with progressing their sports and pushing the performance line than smudging their mascara. These women are the girls going huge, 'chicking' the boys and changing perspectives and ideas about female athleticism, yet they don't get advertising campaigns devoted to their competitive prowess or total athletic domination. They don't receive accolades for building outreach programs for other women and girls and they don't get press for pushing boundaries, because someone has already given that ad space to a pretty face who 'looks' athletic. 

Now, I clearly understand the issue from a marketing standpoint: a brand needs to look attractive to trigger an aspirational response within a potential consumer, which usually leads to a purchase, aka the "buy this because this product makes you pretty" campaign. This campaign is why models are paid to stand around in the first place. I get it. Believe me. But my problem is that this is required in an industry built around skill and progression. Male athletes are endorsed because they are particularly talented or skilled in a certain discipline or area, or because they're personable and make the sport fun, or because they do crazy shit. That's great. But female athletes get press for being pretty. If you have skills, great! If not? Well, that's okay... You can still be a professional athlete! We'll just make sure you don't race or film or do any sort of event where raw skill is required. A pretty face is literally a golden ticket to success in our appearance-obsessed world, and sadly, the bike industry is no exception. In a world of followers, likes, and comments, an athlete's value is based on how much 'influence' they have across social media platforms, and it can be easy to get caught up in the waves of lustful adoration from pervy lurkers. It's easy to confuse attention for respect and followers for influence; it can happen before we even know what's going on. 

Anyone with enough motivation can be 'fit'. Anyone can train to look good. Anyone can wake up, hit the gym, eat right and get a great body. Anyone can wear makeup and have their hair done for some cute photos. How do I know this? Because I've done it. It's a whole lot easier than you'd think. Sexy bodies reflect commitment to fitness, but anyone can just go out and exercise -- training for and excelling at a sport requires dedication to a long-term vision of success, and a strong body often looks much different than a 'sexy' body. It's not easy to consistently push back what we want now for what we want most. It's not easy to go to bed early and wake up early and mix jobs and training and riding and skills work and travel and family. But it's worth it because it goes far deeper than what any of us 'look like' on the surface. We owe it to ourselves and to the next generation of athletes and girls to build a realistic concept of 'strong' and 'successful' that isn't based on appearance. 

It no longer surprises me when people make comments about the attractiveness of female athletes as related to their value ("yeah, but she's HOT!"), because that's what we've allowed our industry to become. We objectifiy female riders and athletes every time we fail to speak up during a conversation or debate. We demean our female athletes every time there's an ad, an Instagram post or a video of bouncing boobs that casts the women of our sport in a sexual light and we stand idly by, waiting for someone else to step forward and create change. 

It's the responsibility of all of us to rise above the sexual shitstorm that plagues women in sport, and that includes the female athletes. As women we need to focus on what our bodies can do, not what they look like. If we do this... If we refuse to exploit our sexuality for profit, our sponsors, our companies, our male counterparts, our industries and the public will follow suit. At the end of the day, much of the responsibility comes down to those of us in the spotlight earning our places as professional athletes. Not by having pretty faces or great bodies and using our appearance to 'get ahead', but by pushing the boundaries and limits of our sport every time we're on our bikes. We need to set an example for those coming generations about what we will and will not tolerate from our own industry, and what we will and will not do for the sake of notoriety, glossy pages or social media fame. If we truly want equality in sport, we need to behave equally and stop commercializing our sexuality. All of us have to be willing to put the work in, step outside of societal roles and start earning those equal payouts. We DO have something to prove, and that's why we're out here: to prove that we're more than a genetic lottery. That's the beauty of sport. 

As a culture, as athletes, as a community and as an industry, it's high time we start paying attention to the messages we're sending to the members of our sport and the image we project to those outside. It's time to start asking ourselves what we REALLY want as a sport: athletic-looking models who capitalize on the status quo of companies looking to send the wrong message? Or women who really do throw down and have committed to the permanent health and growth of our sport? It's time to start seeing these powerful, incredible women as what they are: the building blocks of a healthy future.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mud, Sweat and 'Why The Hell Am I Here?!': Lucky Number 13

I've never been a wet rider. 

Living in Utah doesn't provide much opportunity for it without doing some serious damage to trails and with the influx of new riders, flow trails and 'trail improvement' (aka sanitization) around the state, finding a wet trail that's both rideable in the rain and has any technical difficulty beyond chunky rocks is a little like the holy grail: still missing... Much like my wet-riding skills.

I've had a few chances to hone them over the last ten years but have generally approached it with caution, denial or a frank "fuck that shit". Begrudgingly, I've been forced out of my comfort zone enough that my basic understanding of water + roots + mud + rocks + gravity = less pain, but even after a few wet trips to Whistler (one including watching Katie Holden dislocate shoulders after tumbling down a waterfall while riding and shooting for Deep Summer during a storm), it's still something I'm uncomfortable with. Seriously uncomfortable, if 'uncomfortable' means 'everything inside of me screams violently and shrivels into a tiny ball while bleeding from the eyes'.

It's an understatement to say I dislike the mud. 

After all, I'm a desert rat, born and bred. Give me blown out moon dust and sandy landings and I'll hand you a podium finish and the best photos you've ever asked for. I'll toss you dirt-filled teeth in the middle of a grin and laugh with lungs full of dried earth. But if you add water, I'm out. It's always been that way. Who wouldn't, though? I broke a shoulder in the rain at Windham in 2013 during my first bid for UCI points as a new pro. I destroyed both hands in 2014 at Beech in a mud- and water-filled waste of a weekend that ended up costing me my trips to Mont Ste Anne and Crankworx that year as well as a rebreak at Windham, again in the rain.

Getting the picture yet? 


And yet... Last Wednesday, after flying to West Virginia to drive through a summer monsoon the day before, I found myself staring up at a dark sky and cursing everything inside of me and anything within a 2,000-mile radius. It was going to fucking rain. It was National Champs week and instead of the rare and dusty conditions I had raced in during the 2014 ProGRT, we were going to have a mud bog. On a death track. In the middle of nowhere. It was going to... Nope. It was raining.

I laughed. Because, really, what else is there to do at that point? You have a bad history of rain racing, you suck at east coast riding, you can't help but die every time you spend tons of money to come ride your bike and... Now it's raining. Great. Pile it on, right? So I went to see Mark.

Now, I could tell you stories about Mark that would make you think he's Jesus, but I'll just say that Mark Wallace is the real deal. He understands racer mentality on a level that few mechanics will ever even glimpse and he deals with our neuroses with grace, compassion and solutions. There are few mechanics I'd ever listen to in any situation, but Mark will be the first person I call when my life/house/career/racing burns to the ground. He's simply that good. We argued for a few minutes about mud tires, he told me I'd have already missed the boat except that he saved my lackadaisical ass by pulling a couple out for me and we moved forward. 

Because that's what Mark does. He moves us forward. 

Forward was where I needed to go -- after a brutal crash in practice in what were relatively 'dry' conditions, I needed to put one foot in front of the other and just do the damn thing. National champs is not the place to get stuck in a bad headspace of minutiae; national champs at Snowshoe in the rain is an even worse place to do it. So forward I went, practicing the sections I could and literally walking everything else because body-sledding down the face of a mountain isn't my preferred choice of transit. Weird, right? I know. We were on rain delay on and off on Friday, but a course change announcement Thursday night had us all chomping at the bit to check out the new section, get some rubber on dirt and start working out the kinks.  

Now, we've discussed how I'm not a wet rider, but I can honestly say that the first day or so of dry practice was likely my salvation for the week -- even one or two days of mostly-dry track enabled me to simply focus on doing my job without the double distraction of weather. I've been racing for five years but only recently have discovered that the solution to my brain freeze/fear instinct isn't, in fact, getting towed into an obstacle. It's sacking up and having the courage to tackle it alone that leaves me in the best mindset. The first day of practice, I miraculously sent both road gaps (!) and despite a massive speed miscalculation, survived unscathed. After a rolling course walk on the first run, I just committed and doubled down in what was one of the best moves of my experience at Nat Champs. I tell you all of this not to boast but rather to describe the intimate details of what (I suspect) goes on in the head of a pro racer faced with fresh or unfamiliar stuff. I'll be real with you for a hot second: I wasn't truly hitting legitimate gaps before last fall other than on-and-off flirtation stuff where I'd get broken off. I seriously wasn't. I've always gotten hurt on gaps and the related nonsense and they terrified the hell out of me; these jumps were no different. But training somewhere that tests every limit one has tends to force growth; hunger for reward turns normal humans into forces of nature. After the letdown at the ProGRT in June, I was hungry. I still am. And training in Angel Fire has built me into a better, more capable rider. I guess we could say that I built on the confidence and the hunger and the rage and the supportive, loving compassion from those watching it all unfold. But something inside kind of snapped open on Thursday and said 'enough is enough, bitch'. "Just do the damn thing". And although the video footage shows me overshooting the second gap while cursing my way through massive amounts of panic and fear, 'do the damn thing', I did.

Like I said: I really believe that was the building block for the rest of my week. Rolling into unfamiliar territory and decisively throwing down creates momentum for anyone faced with a challenge. Humans are geared to build on success and chase reward -- as I struggled through the rest of my week, I began realizing a few seriously valuable lessons. When we focus on the small details of a task, when we break a course down into little tasks to do each day, the big job of "LEARN THE COURSE" suddenly becomes a series of boxes to tick off. Instead of an overwhelmingly intimidating course, I gave myself one challenge a day to beat. First day were the road gaps. Second day was the rock shelf drop and the off-camber triangle rock jump. Third day was simply staying up (and keeping my pants on!) during qualifiers and come race day, all of the little bits of work I'd put in over the week started pulling themselves together.  

You know the saying "focus on the little stuff and the big stuff will take care of itself"? Yeah. I suck at that. I'm great at big-picture thinking but thanks to my ferret brain and desire to achieve, I often skip over the smaller details that ensure success. But last week, having a mechanic who happens to be the king of detail-oriented attention and emotional support and being able to prioritize and sort through my mental shitstorm was imperative. I'm not sure I'd have been able to get through any of it without the help of other riders, too -- I shared a condo with Jaquie Thomas and Kim Godfrey, and the hilarity was an appropriate offset for a situation I've always taken far too seriously. 

I guess what I'm saying is that I did everything different this time around.

It's hard to say "yeah, I'm an idiot", but... Yeah. I can be an idiot. And instead of putting up mental blocks for myself like 'I'm not a wet rider' and 'I can't jump for shit', I just need to do the damn thing. Not only was my physical and skills preparation key, but untethering myself from the weight of expectation was simply liberating. And it sounds crazy, but focusing on one problem and one task to solve at a time mitigated the whole trainwreck that I often am and the morning of the race, I simply let go. I had put the work in, I'd done my job and when I dropped out of the gate, I think I knew that. I knew I had support from the best people on the planet, I knew there was a crew of rad chicks waiting at the bottom and I knew that whatever happened, it happened. I'd deal with it.

That's why I race -- to know things about myself. To find new things about myself. And I might not be wearing the stars-and-bars this week (because you know I'd rock that shit everywhere), but it all still feels triumphant to me. For the kid who can't ride wet and won't jump for shit, I'm okay with how it ended up and I'm proud of the lessons I learned and was able to share with fellow racers. I had a moment with another racer at the top of the course during a practice session near the end of the weekend, and they asked me about my line through a certain rock garden close to the bottom. Having just barely nailed that line, my response was the fresh candidness of a new discovery: don't look at the line. Don't look at the obstacle. Don't focus on that rock, on where you're at. Focus on where you're going. Look past the rock that keeps stopping you. Look past it and into the road, into your next line, into the tree section. 

As the words came out of my mouth, I was a little shocked to hear them. It rocked me back on my heels to vocalize what my subconscious had been doing for me all week and to realize that the tools were all there but that I simply hadn't been using them correctly. My lack of attention to detail had been a hindrance, until it wasn't. I learned that I'm able to gaze past the shit that would hitch me up and stare down the barrel into my next line. And I found out that while I tell all my coaching kids to "chin up, eyes forward, elbows out" I sometimes forget the logic of that statement. "You can't ride/ski what you can't see", I'll shout. But it's about seeing the details, handling them and then moving on to the stuff we can control. We gotta let it slide sometimes, put a foot down here, build up speed where we can, work that technical corner smarter and occasionally, just hang on for dear fucking life while we keep ourselves upright. 

National Champs taught me a lot about racing in the rain, but I think it taught me more about myself. And that's why we race. 


** I'd be hugely remiss if I didn't mention the people responsible for getting me rolling, getting me out there, keeping me sane, hugging me at the bottom, making me laugh, making me crazy and holding my hair. So. In no particular order of things, please acknowledge that the following people made last week possible in every literal sense of the word and instead of congratulating me, thank them. Thank them for supporting me, believing in me (even when the smart option is to not), trusting me, pushing me, hugging me, drinking with me and preventing me from going on a homicidal rage. Ian Supple, for the bike. Without you, I'd never have ridden in the first place. There's a special place in my heart for folks who are just as crazily optimistic as I am and who can imagine these wild dreams alongside me. Clay Kimsey, for keeping me rolling, setting me up and not murdering me over my ongoing shop tab and complaints about how everything 'feels so off'. Rob Johnson, for getting me out there, getting me back and being a goddamn fucking champ when it comes to putting these dreams to work and literally handing me opportunity. I can't really begin to describe how much I owe you for this one. Steves: both of you. Twitter, us, the world. I won't name you, but you know what you did. Mark Wallce - for wrenching on both my bike and my brain and for letting me sob into your shop shirt afterwards without actually laughing at the trainwreck of emotions that I am. Thanks for always being so fucking gung-ho. You're listening and empathy skills are bested only by your attention to detail and I'm insanely lucky to have met you, to know you and to love you to death. Ashton and Amir: goddamn, you two are hilarious. This is our third (?) nationals race at which you've both made my sides hurt and if I weren't so damn happy, I'd probably be seriously upset. Ashton... I might wanna punch you, but I love you, soooo. Fuck off. Jaquie and Kim: Team FastTits for LIFE. Y'all were my salvation this week. I was a fuckin' head case, I am a wreck and you two are the most fabulous friends any bitch could ever have, particularly when she's blackout drunk before the sun goes down. The photos, the hugs, the hangovers and the killer riding (and really bad advice) will continue to remind me that this is why we race. Perhaps calling retirement was a smidge premature. ;) To Park City Bike Demos and Andre: thanks for letting me train, giving me leeway and believing in me enough to care. Thank you for being amazing. To Tyler and Amanda at SDG: GODDAMN. Sponsors who have my back can change a weekend and when everything feels upside down, being on 'my' shit meant everything to me. Thank you for continuously supporting me and my shenanigans and having my back when I burn the world down. To everyone at Angel Fire (yes, you too): you've given me a home, a training ground, a place of solace and an outlet. You've seen me at my best, my worst and everything in between and still continue to give the world the best goddamn trails this side of the Canadian border. Thank you. To my Big Fish: you're a pain in my ass, but the anchor in my life. You've given me the incredible joy that is mountain biking and the power to chase these crazy dreams. Xo. To my little brother who, even after all this time, still reminds me that the tough lessons are the ones that stick. You keep me humble, you keep me smart, and when the shit hits the fan, you're the first one there to make a joke about how I'm covered in feces. We might make our own families with the friends we choose, but you're both to me and I'm a better person because of you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I don't know how much I have to say it or how often i should, but there's nothing that was possible this last  week without all of you in every role you play and beyond -- the world is lucky to have you all in it, and I'm the luckiest one of all to have such an amazing combo team of badasses in my life. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Object Permanence And The Beauty Of Failure

As I'm ruminating on the events of the weekend (and last week, to be fair), I keep circling back to one remarkable thought: I didn't fail. I don't suck. I'm still a good person and a fast rider, and that those two things are completely separate.

Now, this series of thoughts may not seem remarkable to most, but they're a newly consistent narrative to an athlete who has often been insecure about her performance and how it ties in with who I am as a human being. I've 'lost' at a lot of races. I haven't won, but have made excuses about why (even with some very valid reasons peppered in there), and then been disappointed because the same thing keeps happening. Now, there are definitely some caveats to racing, like catching other racers, which is and likely always be a huge obstacle for me personally. I still haven't figured out how to solve that particular issue, but solving the problem isn't my biggest concern -- it's dealing with the "it's not fair!" attitude that comes with it. That I create, post-race. No. Racing isn't fair. But there are rules and regulations that are part of the reason I love racing: clear boundaries. But despite those rules, I often internalize the struggles I face on the course because for whatever reason, I have a sort of 'idea permanence' of how life should go and about how racing should be.

'Object permanence' is a developmental theory about the early growth stages of the human brain classified as "the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be observed (seen, heard, touched, smelled or sensed in any way)".Young children develop object permanence about 8-9 months into life and later extend it to people through association, such as parental attachment, pets, understanding of nuclear and extended family, etcetera. In thinking about this after the term popped into my head while making my coffee this morning, I realized that object permanence is what often leads us to grieve after loss. The concept of 'loss' itself is inherently fascinating and complex but when we combine the life fact of loss with object permanence, we run into immediate issues. Life cannot be lived without experiencing loss at some level. We'll all grieve over something at one point in our lives. But this 'unfairness' of loss stems from the first year of our existence when we learn that all things are permanent and that they're simply hiding under a blanket.

They aren't.

Now, take object permanence and extend it to ideas -- ideas and thoughts we have of ourselves, our perceptions of the world, our biases, learned knowledge, experience, patterns, observations. These cement concepts that we've built in our minds over the years and through relationships, careers, vacations, struggles. For example, the idea I have that I'm an exceptional athlete and because of that, I should excel at everything and anything. Immediately. Without practice. Without effort.

It's not realistic, but as humans go, few things are. So it doesn't have to be realistic, per se -- it's simply a 'truth' that's been embedded in my mind since I was a child. Through experiences, confirmation, assumption and even feedback from sources such as coaches and parents and my own perception of events, I've classified myself as a capable competitor (and eventual winner) in any arena from a very young age. If that isn't insane, I don't know what is. Now, mind you, there are some very clear indications of 'success' in children based on traits such as stubbornness, curiosity, rule-bending, work ethic, desire, imagination and more. Pediatric psychology has probed the depths of many traits and topics in search of the magical equation that will lead the human race to exceptionalism. The problem, however, is that we've created little monsters who feel entitled to success based on a few isolated personality traits that bring just as much trouble as they do 'success'. And while we could delve into the concepts of traditionally-defined 'success', I'll skip that in favor of staying on topic: idea permanence.

We have these ideas about ourselves, the world, our place in the world; they aren't accurate (understatement of the year). But we become attached to these ideas about ourselves, these concepts of who we are and what we do. We internalize them and repeat them, believing them so much that we base our very behavior around them. But I'm wrong -- I'm not an anomalous athlete. I'm not so talented that my work matters more. I may have a slight advantage because of body composition, but someone who appreciates their art and works to refine themselves will have the upper hand every time.

And this is what I figured out this weekend. Again. Because it's a lesson I have to learn at least once a year. Of course. And because racing bikes is so punishing and so severe, small mistakes and oversights can be catastrophic. Lessons in racing aren't easy ones to learn. They're often painful (on multiple levels) and fraught with "could have, should have, would have" moments when hindsight is indeed 20/20. But because of these, our idea permanence can change. The ideas I hold about capability and skill can be altered if there is enough motivation to alter them -- and finding my face in the dirt twice in a row is hefty motivation. But what motivated me? What were my actions after the two practices crashes that now find me frantically searching for a chiropractor and icing every part of my body? I slowed down. I took more caution. And then I got sad. Because losing isn't fun and I'm not supposed to lose, remember? I'm an athlete of spectacular skill and innate talent, y'all. I'm a child prodigy of unmatched cunning and ability and when I lose, it's not because of me...

Yeah, right. That's the craziest idea in the whole world. That's nuts. How bananas does a person have to be to actually believe that?

Crazy enough to think I can make a living by throwing myself between trees and over rocks without consequence, apparently. But I don't think I'm alone in this idea -- I think I share it with a lot of other athletes (if we're all very honest with ourselves). I think to be an athlete, to live life as an addict to whatever we love, requires some sort of delusion. All of us have these delusions that drive us to what we do and for every athlete on the planet, it's the permanent idea that we're special. That we can make it. That we're the anomaly, the great, the one. Call it a delusion or an overblown sense of self, but we believe that we're the messiah of sport. We have to. If we didn't, we certainly wouldn't spend our lives obsessing over the smallest parts, winters on a glorified hamster wheel, summers in the sweltering heat or a hospital room. This idea permanence keeps us both sane and batshit crazy, and it keeps us coming back for more. I think that it doesn't just apply to sport, either, but that's an entire pandora's box of talking about all my ex-boyfriends and I'd really like to not go there on a Monday at 11 am.

So this permanence that brings me back to my bike, back to racing, back to crashing and expensive parts and battles over sport -- I don't think it's a bad thing. What's a life without loving something more than ourselves, after all? I'd argue that it's not much. But the things that keep me coming back have created an eternal optimist, a critic, a self-effacing egomaniac. They've built a woman who isn't afraid of bruises, who is slowly coming to terms with speaking openly about traumatic brain injuries and depression and illness and body issues. I hate failure as much as I ever have, but maybe I'm getting better at accepting that idea: that life isn't life without losing. That when we lose someone or something, it challenges us to grow beyond the idea of permanence and into something more malleable, more compassionate, more open. When we let go of everything we know about what 'should' be and our knowledge of self, perhaps that's when the truth slides in and settles slowly onto the branches of our minds like a soft, winter snow.

Maybe that's when we start to grow from all these 'learning experiences'.

I wasn't prepared. I didn't practice as much as I clearly needed to, I didn't religiously check or inspect my equipment and despite my current level of riding, I simply wasn't vigilant in making sure I was physically or mentally up to the task. It happens. When it happens, it creates a learning opportunity rather than a 'shrug it off and move on' moment. Because it does hurt to lose, despite the level of racing. Even if I'd won with that race run, I wasn't happy with it and I didn't reach any of the goals I set for myself for this race (elusive as they might have been). It wouldn't have been a win, it would have simply meant there wasn't enough competition. Because I wasn't ready. I hadn't prepared.

I doubt I'd currently be where I'm at mentally if I had won.

And that's the best part.