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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

​Solving Discrepancies In Cycling Starts With Diversity In Leadership And Organizational Structure.

I originally began writing this piece for publication by during their March, 2017 coverage of women in the bike world as part of International Women's Day and their accompanying articles. Due to personal issues and issues with reaching different sources for expert opinions, I blew through my deadline and it was never published upon completion. I do, however, feel that this adds important points and data to the current bike industry narratives around the value of an emerging female market, and am publishing it here for free for the open use of the bike industry at large. If you'd like to use excerpts of this article or would like more documentation on sourcing, please cite proper ownership of this work or contact me for more information.

When we look at the biggest threats to mountain biking and cycling as a whole, some of the biggest challenges that immediately stand out tend to be growth, sustainable economics, investment potential and retention rate. There are panels, round tables, lectures and even entire weekend conferences structured around addressing these challenges inside of the bike industry; with the source of these issue constantly being debated, much of the industry focus often deals with putting out the fires that spring up. From retailers to bike parks and manufacturers to media, these problems are pervasive and demand immediate attention to stem the bleeding.

The bike industry has seen waves of growth and recess but our roughly $6B annual valuation has varied little over the last two decades. In twenty years, despite the progressions in technology and accessibility, our industry growth has stagnated. According to the National Bike Dealer's Association 2015 Industry Report (and the NSGA - National Sporting Goods Association), more Americans rode bikes in 1995 than they do now and that number has almost halved in the last two decades. From nearly 60 million riders in 1995 to 36 million in 2015, the data is a stark picture: the bike industry is splitting a smaller pie into more pieces than it can support.

Growth patterns show decreased use and annual rider numbers since 1995.

Between online bike dealers, Independent bike retailers and direct-to-consumer sales, increased players in the retail game has led to more availability of bikes as well as a wider selection to choose from, and all of that completely ignores the value of the used-bike sales market. With so much convenience and supply, why has the demand decreased? In a world where action-sports is a multi-billion dollar annual industry, why are bicycles falling so short? In fact, why does the bike industry continue to hover around the 1973 high-mark annual unit sales number of 15.2 million? In 2015, we were slightly above the forty-year-old measurement at 17.4 million bikes sold in the US, but over the course of forty years, that doesn't seem like a commensurate amount of growth.

Comparatively, the US population has skyrocketed from 211.91 million in 1973 (the same year as our 15.2M record) to 323.58 million in 2017. That doesn't bode well. But it's easy to get lost in sales numbers. We see huge changes in population growth, in sports spending growth, in the value of mainstream presence and the appearance of bicycles in media, but we're not seeing significant growth inside of cycling on many levels. There are many avenues we could walk down trying to find the one cause of stagnancy in cycling, but seeing the lack of growth as a symptom of a larger and entirely different issue might be more effective.

Outside of the burdens of the US national cultural change and the advent of electronic entertainment, the bike industry has largely failed to capitalize on demographic engagement outside of the middle-aged white male rider. Until as recently as 2014 when 'women's specific' became the norm for manufacturers desperate to see any growth, the average viewer would have been hard pressed to find a female presence in cycling let alone racial representation. From visibility in pro races to equal representation in boardrooms, the lack of diversity inside of the bike industry is stunning. One could argue that it's even whiter, more affluent and more male than even golf when we look at the participation rates. According to The League Of American Bicyclists' 2013 "The New Majority: Pedaling Towards Equity" report, white people made 53% of all commuter trips in the US in 2010. Even worse than that are USA Cycling's participation numbers: only 16% of USAC license holders are female. 83% of the user base is male. The problem with that? It's not representative of the actual presence of women in cycling, nor does it address the racial disparity.

According to a People For Bikes 2015 study, the gap isn't that big: "We found that 104 million people—a third of the population—rode a bicycle last year and of those, 45 million (43%) were women compared to 59 million men (57%). Our findings revealed less of a gender gap than the 2009 National Household Travel Survey which (using a different methodology) found that just 24% of bicycle trips were made by women." The People For Bikes study goes on to say that 95% of women ride for recreation.

95% of women ride for recreation. Even wilder than that number is the fact that women make up 60% of bicycle owners between the ages of 18-27. SIXTY PERCENT. Women are vastly underrepresented in racing and media coverage but they're still present in cycling despite the lack of advertising and outreach prior to the womens-specific hardgoods push. The People For Bikes study has important value concerning the lack of bike industry knowledge about women on bikes, participation and buying habits, but marketing to women and minorities is one small piece of the growth pie: how much of this research will actually affect a change in leadership structure and inclusion?

People For Bikes' 2015 Infographic on Women in Cycling
Not only are women present in cycling, but they're leading the way. From female coaching programs and race teams such as SweetLines and Velocio-SRAM to charities like the World Bicycle Relief Fund and the Afghan Cycles documentary, many of the movements inside of cycling have women at the helm. The list of lady-led efforts to improve cycling as a sport is endless: media outlets like Total Women's Cycling, Ella Cycling Tips and Pretty Damned Fast continuously highlight the side of the bike industry that hasn't historically gotten as much coverage and the sheer number of female-led camps, clinics, forums, groups, races and brands should be recognized as legitimate entities inside of a growing sport that represent a valuable and vastly underserved audience. The volume and voice of these women and girls aren't just serious about riding bikes -- they're an economic force to be reckoned with. As such an integral part of both the bike industry and society at large, they deserve industry and company-wide equal representation.

But that's where the problem sits: representation. Harvard Business Review identified six basic female consumer segments but found, at large, that "Although women control spending in most categories of consumer goods, too many businesses behave as if they had no say over purchasing decisions. Companies continue to offer them poorly conceived products and services and outdated marketing narratives that promote female stereotypes." Sound familiar? It should. Women and minorities are often under-served due to lack of representation at multiple levels in the design and production process of nearly every product in the world, which leads to lackluster purchasing by women or minorities and thus often confirming existing purchasing biases. When a product is solely made by men, it's often made for men. Humans build and create around what we know, which is most often ourselves and the things familiar to us. Unfortunately, this is where implicit bias comes into play and not only inhibits the creative process, but infringes on the quality, profitability and even the safety of a product . However, when products are conceptualized, modeled, designed, studied, built and produced by a diverse range of people who reflect global population representation and wider individual needs, those products are simply more successful. Diversity doesn't just build great products, either. It makes for better companies. In February 2016, the Peterson Institute for International Economics cited "McKinsey Global Institute (2015) estimates that a scenario in which women achieved complete gender parity with men could increase global output by more than one-quarter relative to a business-as-usual scenario" in a peer-reviewed working paper entitled "Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Survey". PIIE also notes that the study "...results suggest that the presence of women in corporate leadership positions may improve firm performance and that the magnitudes of the correlations are not small. The largest gains are for the proportion of female executives, followed by the proportion of female board members; the presence of female CEOs has no noticeable effect on firm performance. This pattern underscores the importance of creating a pipeline of female managers and not simply getting lone women to the top."

In layman's terms, this supports evidence that companies make better products, have more inclusive marketing and that brands are simply more profitable when women and people of color are involved at every level.

On the other side of the issue, while many studies across the spectrum exist that show the positive effects of diversity within leadership, it's not always that simple: bad diversity policies can harm companies and create or worsen cultural barriers within an ecosystem. But bad diversity policies often come from boards and diversity panels that are misrepresentative of an entire organization which creates a cycle of fallout that is often contained only by curbing diversity efforts entirely rather than restructuring them. Tokenism cannot be the answer to an under-served market that's demanding equality and parity; the integration of inclusive and effective policies must be a series of steps taken willingly by organizations that are truly committed to creating growth.

When the bike industry starts to hire and listen to more women and people of color, companies will begin to avidly support female and minority athletes as equally as they support white, male athletes and when that support arrives, bike media will be forced to give an expanding and diverse audience appropriate images that represent a changing industry. Consumers buy into the things they see themselves doing: until we create an industry that welcomes and represents all riders, sustainable economic growth will elude cycling.

It takes all of us.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

10 Of The Best Bikes For Women in 2017

In response to RedBull's recent list of 2017's best womens-specific bikes, I'd like to present an ACTUAL list of great bikes for women in 2017 (not just a collection of budget-ass rigs thrown together by someone who doesn't think that equipment matters to female riders).


The end.

No. But seriously. You don't need a 'women's specific bike'. You need a 'human specific bike'. After all, a bicycle built for an elephant will probably be too large and heavy and a bicycle built for a fish is superfluous because what need would a fish have for  bicycle?

I digress.

For me personally, here are a few bikes at different price points that I love because of their features. Try one on if you like it, dismiss my opinion entirely, or shout mean things at me while throwing slushies from the chairlift. You do you, love.

2: Anything from Transition
These folks are getting the first mention simply because of their new take on the 'specific' marketing inside of MTB, but they also happen to make damn fine mountain cycles. They're also rider-owned and run, they have kickass customer service, they truly give a damn about the MTB community and... Okay, I'll stop. But really. Go. Go now.

Transition Bikes: Human Specific Design from Transition Bikes on Vimeo.

3: Anything from Pivot Cycles.  

Now, this may come as a shock to most people here, but Pivot has been making 'womens-specific' bikes longer than anyone in the market. They've also been making 'men's specific' bikes forever because they make size-specific rigs. What a novel fucking concept. Their bikes range from XS to XL and, like the Mach 6 pictured below, are hard-charging as they come. Their bikes aren't designed for the wallflower, either: Pivot's athletes range from kickass XC racer Jen Hanks to World Cup rider Emilie Siegenthaler and they've supported female racers at every level since before it was en vogue to back up marketing lip service. Pivot has consistently support efforts to get more #girlsonbikes and to create actual parity within cycling by hiring women at their Phoenix HQ, sponsoring women across the spectrum, making great bikes that fit people of all sizes, and not skimping on the build specs. That's why they made my list.

4: 2017 GT Sanction: 

GT is getting my endorsement because not only do they make kickass bikes with killer geometry, but they make (comparatively) affordable bikes as well as sponsoring female riders and hiring some really smart and rad women. Tell me that isn't a company worth supporting.  

5: Anything From Kona Bikes

Kona did away with most of their 'womens specific' category a while back and instead, opted to expand the sizing range offered to fit a better section of riders who want a good rig from a good company. Kona also supports massive amounts of lady efforts from CycloCross to the new Kona Supremes, an all-female squad in the PNW. Like Pivot, Kona's bikes come in sizes ranging from XS to XL -- enough range to fit people from 4'11" to 6'4". While different companies will have different geometries to fit different people, the Process 143 below comes in at a seriously reasonable $2699 USD with components that don't skimp on efficacy.  

6. The Evils:

With lower standover height and high-end appeal, anything from Evil comes with the ability to rule entire underworlds. Whether it's the 27.5 Insurgent or the 29 Following, these bikes are made for major fun (the type that might get you arrested). Ranging from size S to XL, they have highly-capable handling for even the most discerning lady. Evil has also hired one of my favorite lady-shredders this year, Kathy Pruitt, as their most recent addition to the staff... Between badass bikes built for people and hiring based on radness, that's enough for me.  

Image result for Evil Insurgent

7 - 10: Anything not branded 'womens specific'.

Listen: there's a huge difference between a company claiming to be 'women's specific' and a company that, instead of marketing their way into female hearts, actually earns a spot in our stand.

There are plenty of companies out there willing to tell women what we want to hear but not as many who are actually walking the walk with what they're doing behind the scenes. The list above is in no way a comprehensive or complete rundown of what the industry has to offer. It's more of a sampling of the companies out there offering actual bikes for actual people.  

While 'women's specific' bikes might make us ladies feel as though we're finally being given our (over)due, being 'given' a pre-selected and carefully controlled place in the industry isn't equality. All of the shiny pink and purple paint in the world doesn't cover up the desperate need for parity and real equality within cycling, and buying into the notion that women deserve lesser components isn't going to help us get where we need to go. Our industry needs wider sizing range for people of all sizes. This industry needs actual diversity, not just advertising efforts that try to capture the female dollar. If you want a bike, please buy based on your needs as an individual.

That's the only way we'll ever get bikes that fit.

I'm currently trying to raise the bar on my content production, race previews and recaps, free clinic offerings and media creation. If you enjoyed this post, perhaps you'll consider supporting my Patreon -- it's a labor of love, but it doesn't always pay the bills. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Getting Older And The Fires That Cleanse

I went to Moab this week to celebrate my thirtieth birthday.

As I'd been planning a trip to Sea Otter and then a detour through Yosemite to hike the falls, it was a last minute trip change due to a combination of some unforeseen circumstances and some undesirable outcomes. I wasn't thrilled at first, but it culminated in what I feel is probably an important series of lessons as I start this new decade. 

My twenties weren't easy. I don't think anyone's are, to be fair, but mine were particularly rocky as I battled my own willful stubbornness, social anxiety, traumatic brain injuries and a rapid (and completely unintentional) ascension towards sports infamy. While reflecting on these challenges, however, I was startled to start feeling grateful -- my severely-ADHD brain often moves too quickly to process more than brief bouts of gratitude, so my sudden onset of overwhelming thankfulness surprised me.

Mostly, I'm thankful I survived it. Literally. I'm lucky to be alive, have a roof over my head and have pickles in my fridge. Through no work of my own I've stumbled into some of the best friendships and situations to ever exist and whether it's fate or circumstance that has led me to where I'm sitting right this moment, I'm not about to look a gift horse in the mouth... Except I am. Because that's what I do. I'm introspective and curious to a fault, which often leads to much eye-rolling from my better counterparts. So as I critically examined the last twelve to fifteen years of my life, I figure that I'm either the luckiest person alive (no, I'm not kidding) or the universe has some ulterior motive in keeping me alive, mostly sane, housed and sort of well-fed. 

Don't ask me what it is.

After three life flights, two drawn-out medical sagas, one kidney down and more concussions than modern medicine needs to declare 'potato status', I am, very literally, incredibly lucky to be here. I've put myself in some very stupid situations, some very careless positions and a few needlessly ridiculous predicaments. And yet.

Here I sit. 30 years old and still punching back. Hard

At what point do I just point at the sky and kind of giggle? Is this the  right time to feel completely indestructible and go about thwarting evil (a la Bruce Willis in Unbreakable)? Or do I count my blessingsand simply walk away from further risk, content with the fires I've started? I'm not sure I can answer that. But what I do know is that while my neural plasticity exists, I'm going to try to suck everything I possibly can out of this situation called 'life'. What can I say? I'm kind of an opportunist. 

In keeping with my thirty-year streak of damn fine luck, this week has been no different. We rolled into Moab Tuesday afternoon to beautiful spring temperatures of 65F and nothing on the calendar but moderate sunshine and time on two wheels. A spin through town  proved it was still standing despite my emotional departure a month ago and a warm up wheel spin in the cool evening air of Klondike Bluffs ensured that we were ensnared with the possibility of more fun to come. You know the rides where everything works and your legs feel right while the smile just won't go away? Tuesday's quick ride was one of those, despite a loose rotor on my rear wheel, and as Brian and I got back to the car, I spread my arms wide and spun in circles as the sky brightened in the most beautiful sunset I've seen this spring. I've been #blessed to see so many sunsets. Seriously, though. Absolutely blessed.


It was quite the welcome.

Afterwards, we wandered to North Klondike to meet up with Isaac Miller and his fur son Rico who were posted up at their Airstream basecamp. As we chatted about the road life and tossed tennis balls  in the light of a halogen lamp, it struck me again: what a life. To be able to stand there in the chalky white moon dust and firelight reflecting on my travels and laughs with good people who loved me... That was a gift. And as suddenly as it had appeared, the thought spun off into the dark night under a blanket of stars as Rico approached with his second tennis ball.

I woke up the following morning in order to pee in sync with the tittering of sand pipers as the sun rose to highlight the blooming Sego lilies. With the grey clouds outlined in gold and the sky turning pink, it seemed an appropriate sunrise for the first day of my third decade. Shortly after climbing back into the tend, Rico puppy offered an excited jump on the walls of our temporary shelter demanding that we rise and start the day. 

We set off from camp with coffee in hand and a Porcupine shuttle booked. Our preparations didn't clue us into the hilarity that would  be the day, however. If they had, I'd have worn a bubble suit and carried a flask of tequila. We met up with The Jeffs* to grab a shuttle to the top of Kokopelli and after some hot-coffee-down-the-pants-and-into-the-shoes action, I was on my way! We bullshitted the entire shuttle ride up, chatting about racing, laughing at dumb jokes and mostly trying not to touch each other in a packed van. Upon  arriving at the drop-off point and finding it twenty degrees cooler, we all realized that an extra layer would have been prudent and bitched for a few minutes while swinging our arms and pretending we knew the finer points of human thermodynamics. 

Then we dropped in. 

This is where I think I'm supposed to start lying. I should probably tell you what fun Porcupine is. I'll explain the different stages, how I crushed them all, then how we all ate lunch at the overlook at sang Kumbaya.

But I won't. Instead, I'll tell it how it really happened: we dropped in, I almost ate shit in the first turn, sucked wind on the fire road pedal, then had to stop to check Trailforks to make sure we hadn't missed  the turn onto UPS. After that, we took some pictures, rode some rocks, had intermittent bike weirdness and then met a friend. This was the cool part, because what had been four was now five. Me, Brian, Jeff Richards and Jeff Skalla had to stop because Brian's bike  was a bitch and blew a shock. Somewhere along the way, Skalla's friendliness had extended to a solo rider and this rider rolled up on us to chat and compliment me on the weird staircase that I had rolled, clipped in halfway. As I stood eating my strawberry M&Ms, we exchanged some chit chat about where this rider was from, what the hell we all were doing, etc etc etc. And then came the question: "Do you mind if I tag along?" 


As it turns out, Roman would become a fixture in our trip and despite having recently started riding in June of 2016, is a total badass on two wheels and a whole lot of fun to hang out with. Go figure. Trail friends, amirite?

I should probably lie to you all a bit more about how I stole the QOM on Porcupine and rode triumphantly to the finish in a cactus confetti shower with music and cold beers and back slaps.

But I didn't. I crashed 1/3 of the way down on one of the easiest drops, broke a couple of ribs, couldn't breathe, got back up, whined a bit, and then whined the rest of the ride while alternating between mad sprints and struggle-bus seated pedaling. I finished it off by angrily hiking the bottom portion of Porcupine rim and mutter-shouting "who puts a fucking trials course at the bottom of a 20-mile-plus descent?! ASSHOLES! That's who!" 

Good times.

Then we pedaled into town and wheezed over to Milt's where Brian treated my already sizeable ass to a double Santa Fe burger and large peach milkshake as we all sat around and commiserated about the ridiculousness of the day and how we'd likely not do that again. 

The perfect birthday.

In all reality, it taught me a few things about not expecting situations to be enjoyable because they're overhyped and that my sort of 'fun' is still consistent with what psychiatrists call 'type 1.5' fun. In other words, I don't want to struggle. There are struggle riders and there are struggle fun riders and then there is me. If it's not immediately threatening my life while being totally enjoyable at the same time, I'm unlikely to avoid whining. 

These are good lessons to know when one is entering the hallowed temple of thirty when everyone else seems to be a grown up and one still has Cocoa Puffs debris stuck to one's shirt.

I am Jack's milk-saturated cocoa puff. 

Of course, Wednesday culminated in birthday cake and ice cream courtesy of both the hilarious waiter at Moab Brewery and Brian, who orchestrated the most obscene public birthday spectacle known to man: the restaurant-staff birthday song. My fellow bike compadres were deaf to my pleas as they laughed their asses off in the corners of the booth (I will get you both, Jeff and Roman), so I was left to sit and blush furiously over the remnants of our nachos and a delicious brownie cake thing. 


After a bit of tequila and more cake and ice cream, I settled into the $29 hotel room like a bear preparing for hibernation: with full intent on not coming out for a few months. Unfortunately, I had to wake up the next morning, despite a sugar hangover and a pounding head. While an interesting experience at a bike shop didn't dull my headache or the pain from my broken ribs, it made for a funny story and provided a fascinating Twitter saga that would unfold as the day progressed, as well as an interesting look into why I still fight so heavily for an inclusive sport. It was also narratively consistent with me turning 30: nothing says "I ain't changing" quite like keeping up  my usual antics. Who said brain function doesn't improve with age?! 

We met Skalla and Roman for a quick jaunt up Hymasa to ride the massively-overhyped Captain Ahab (I'm sensing a theme here) and after Brian and I bailed at the upper intersection, we ran into the third  faith-restoring character of the week: Rob from Tahoe. Now, Brian has been looking at new bikes recently as he jumps back into MTB (pun intended) and after the horrific demo experience Thursday morning, needed a bit of a pick-up and some positivity that I couldn't really provide. Enter Rob, the YT Capra-riding patron saint of size-small MTB riders everywhere. As we pulled over to yield to uphill traffic, Rob pedaled towards us before inadvertently catching a pedal and swinging off his bike to hike the rest of the rocky corner. Brian, upon seeing the YT logo on the frame, immediately asked "hey, which model is that?" This wonderful, beautiful dude of a man grinned and said "The Capra" before handing Brian the bike. He really did. He smiled at two strangers he didn't know from Adam and then proceeded to hand over his BRAND NEW RIG that had TWO FUCKING RIDES ON IT for Brian to inspect. As B asked what size it was and then ogled the ride and began asking if he could maaaaaybe just swing a leg over, Rob gestured to the trail and says "Hop on, man. Take it for a spin. Seriously. Great bike."

Now, I'm going to stop right here because I've suddenly started leaking from the eyes and my keyboard is covered in some weird, viscous nasal slime. I wanted to blubber like a goddamn baby yesterday and right now as I write this, the reality of what happened on that trail is hitting me again. This random rider, not knowing a  thing about the two goobers descending Hymasa, saw the look on my friend's face and without pause, handed his brand new bike to a stranger so that the stranger could see if it fits.


DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANT TO US?! I mean, I may as well have been hit by lightning as I stood there with my stupid mouth agape and nearing a full on emotional monsoon.

I've had a crisis of faith for so long, thinking that the spirit of mountain biking has slowly died off. I have cried into my hands at the lack of respect on our trails, in the forums, at the way we portray other riders and disciplines and each other. It has slowly killed me and eaten at my core to see the very thing that saved my life and my soul turn into something ugly and cruel. The disrespect, the pettiness, the lack of sustainability... It's wrecked me.

But then along comes Moab with its strangers and incredible examples of the very best parts of this sport and it destroys the hope-sucking monster that is disappointment. These people inside of this thing, outside of this thing, just getting into this thing.

These people.  

Three days, three experiences, three prime examples that the soul of everything I love still exists. 

And now I'm crying again.

Because this is what matters. The fringe bullshit, the constant turnover of technology, the hype, the nonsense, even the bad attitudes (like my own) can all disappear in the face of what is still the greatest thing to ever happen to me. Bikes saved my damn life. Bikes gave me back everything I thought I had lost, everything I never had, everything I'll ever become. The goodness that lives inside of me exists because of what I've learned on two wheels and what they've taught me about the world. My perspective and undying hope were created by the balance struck between where I've been and where I'm going, and the eternal lessons of forward momentum. Who I am and what I bring to any situation have been irrevocably and unfalteringly built by the bicycle and the people who also love two wheels.

Everything I am is because of experiences like those of the past week and these experiences have been shaped by the people in them.  

May I always strive to be that person for someone else. 

*Jeff Skalla and Jeff Richards, two of the best people to play bikes with.

I'm currently trying to raise the bar on my content production, race previews and recaps, free clinic offerings and media creation. If you enjoyed this post, perhaps you'll consider supporting my Patreon -- it's a labor of love, but it doesn't always pay the bills. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017


In the transcendent words of Aretha Franklin, 'R-E-S-P-E-C-T.' The queen of R&B may have been singing about romance, but she knew that any functional relationship revolves around respect. I've been giving this particular topic a fair bit of thought lately as I rocket towards the third decade of my existence and reflect (as most people are prone to do) on what I've sort of got figured out. The answer is mostly 'nothing', apart from my basic knowledge including the constant laws of the universe.

Take gravity, for instance -- it's what holds us to the surface of this planet, is our greatest challenge and our biggest fear. But like the inevitability of death, we know it's there. We have a healthy respect for it while we gently push the boundaries of how we can manipulate it. The same goes for death. Bear wrestling and downhill mountain biking seem to examine that fairly well. But what about respect itself as a universal law?

That we seem to have a bit of a struggle with.

In an attempt to engage and mobilize the Utah trail community, I've recently begun talking more about my efforts to give back; while I've been a pretty outspoken advocate of public dig days and responsible use for the majority of my bike-riding adulthood, I tend to keep my shovel antics behind the scenes. My low-key approach stems from a combination of feel-good anonymity and, until recently, a belief that most enthusiasts within the trail community step up when they're needed... That and nobody wants to hear about how I spent my weekend digging holes in some random corner of the forest. Trailbuilding is a good outlet for me, but not a riveting story one relates at parties. Due to the current debate around trail access and the explosion of growth in the outdoor enthusiast market leading to a boom in trail use, however, collaboration with land managers and cities is more important than ever. It's been good for me -- In spite of my anarchy-driven solitary soldier style, I've gotten a bit more involved with the local organizations responsible for trails, because everything about MTB has changed. We're a high-school sport now rather than just a few crackpot bike guerrillas bucking meat in some dark corner of the planet, and as such, organization is more important than ever. In working with these groups, I've been a bit surprised by the low level of public relations functioning and the amount of information and engagement that happens with the community, so it seemed like an appropriate time to broach the subject publicly from whatever diving board/soap box I have.

The only problem? Public awareness campaigns never begin when the situation is manageable. When informing and educating the members of a community is imperative, it's always because the issue has reached terminal velocity and must now be dealt with thanks to years of neglect. And neglect, unfortunately, breeds contempt. It's safe to say that most public relations and advertising in the mountain bike community (and outdoor industry at large) has been less than informative about our responsibilities as enthusiasts. Less Americans understand the 'leave no trace' edict than ever, trash and vandalism are at an all-time high, and as America battles for the preservation of it's most precious public lands, a few of us are left scratching  at our scalps and wondering how on earth the situation deteriorated to this point.

Neglect is sneaky like that. One day we're on top of our collective shit and the next, we're fighting to keep oil companies out of national parks.

But I digress.

So we're raising awareness, discussing the need for public involvement as a local community, setting up dig days and suddenly, there's backlash. 'Backlash to trail maintenance?', I can hear you ask.

Yeah. Something like that. Or talking about responsible use and appropriate behavior. See, that's the other problem with neglect -- when the standard of operation goes by the wayside, it's essentially every person for themselves. When there's a vacuum left by bad/nonexistent leadership or lack of guidance (aka, public awareness), the community at stake will flounder without gentle direction and reminding that yes, this is a functional relationship between the land and the users of it. Without Smokey the Bear smiling at us as we enter the forest and explaining that only WE can prevent forest fires, would we even think about forest fires? I grew up on Smokey's influence as he stood there leaning on his shovel, or pointing at me from under the brim of his ranger's hat. He was the edifying deity of my childhood and possessed more authority than Jesus himself... Because who wants to disappoint a friendly, talking bear by setting his home ablaze?! Come on now.

The same lack of care extended to the sports industry in the early 2000's as the 90's fight for women's equality faded, girl power reached peak saturation and lazy marketing took over -- because we didn't actively fight sexism in cycling, it began to rule our lives like a virus run amok. And now the same issues are back on the equality table once more as we talk about things we covered twenty years ago and solve problems that were supposedly solved then. And in the 50s. And in the 60s. And 70s. And 80s.

Human instinct requires maintenance. Evolution and progress demand vigilance, but we can't pass (or take) the baton of responsibility if we lack a basic understanding of the need for it. This is where the backlash to awareness and my girl Aretha meet up.

Responsibility is accepted based on the level of respect one has for the issue. Accountability is rooted in a healthy appreciation for whatever subject needs maintenance, and maintenance stems from respect.

These are laws that apply to car mechanics and public lands alike. Like gravity and death, respect and accountability are immutable laws of function upon which society rests. Without them, we have nothing. Literally. We lose what we don't use and what we don't use, we neglect. When a wound is neglected, gangrene will set in. Gangrene will kill us. Even as a rule breaker, I follow these rules. Chalk it up to the ripe old age of 30, but respect for my environment and my place in the ecosystems of functional relationships has driven me to more value than any other single motivator... Even death. Or gravity. Combined. But I grew up on tales of respect. I cut my teeth on the stories of heroes who fought for something greater than themselves, for a higher plane of existence. My brain developed to the music of legends who built noble legacies with the bricks of respect and loyalty and it still took me years to embrace the concept of respect as an undeniable law.

As cliche as it might sound, fostering and promoting a sense of respect towards each other, our surroundings, the planet and the situations on that planet won't hurt anyone. What's the drawback of understanding history and taking part in how the world moves forward? Where is the negative consequence of respecting those who have come before us, those who come after us and living in a way that honors and benefits both? What do we lose by operating with respect, and not as a weapon to be tossed around, but a living, breathing embodiment of what and who we are?

Respect and it's inverse aren't the ego-driven concept that we're accustomed to. It's not a reason to kill or maim  (i.e., "They disrespected me"), but rather as a rule of functional relationships inside of a healthier existence at every level. Respect breeds respect. If you earn respect, you'll be respected. But we can't earn respect without showing respect, and the idea of respect demands self-discipline and control based on the functional respect carried for that subject.

Kids who respect Smokey the Bear don't set the forest on fire. People who respect the autonomy of others don't make jokes about rape or portray other people as sexual objects to be used and abused. Riders who respect the planet respect the scientific evidence that protects natural habitats from damage and neglect, and they respect the work done by other respectful users to maintain that delicate balance. People who respect the delicate balance want to learn more about it, and they educate themselves and help other people learn more so that a higher level of respect begins to build.

You see how that works?

Now imagine for a second that everyone operated on some level of basic respect for life. Yes, ALL life. Humans, plants, animals, molecular, historic, life. Imagine that respect folding into the other plane of thought where we respect life so much that we choose to respect the actions of people as long as they don't negatively impact someone else. Why would they? After all, if everyone respects everyone else and life in itself, there wouldn't be a reason to NOT act with respect and autonomy.

Respect is a universal law. We either have it or we don't. But when we respect something, we begin taking accountability for ourselves.

Think about it. Or don't.

I respect your decision.