Five days after Unbound 2024, my wristwatch buzzed while I was checking out at the Phillips 66th gas station in Boulder. It flashed, ‘Lost connection with Garmin Edge.’ I didn’t think anything of it.

I paid for my stuff and wheeled out the door without looking up. Swinging to the left, I unconsciously reached for my bike, just like I’ve done hundreds of times at gas stations for over ten years.

My hand met thin air.

I looked up. My bike was gone.

I looked around. Two men in a construction truck drove up and pointed vaguely to the West.

“Saw him. He went that way.”

Then they drove off.

Strangely, I wasn’t mad, I didn’t yell, and I didn’t throw anything—I just sat down on the curb next to the dumpster and called an Uber.

After Unbound, a fellow Wisconsinite, Hayden Pucker, texted me after a nightmarish, aborted run through Kansas.

“Gravel is just so much money, then when shit goes bad, it’s hard to keep motivation. Is it normal to have this many set back? I feel like things go wrong so often for me. I just wanted to finish the damn race and race as hard as I could.

What did you think of the race ?”

I told him the key to bike racing is to proceed from defeat to defeat enthusiastically. Winston Churchill said that, or Gandhi, or maybe it was Jesus – I dunno. You know the old saw – nothing is failure, just feedback.

Sitting on the curb in 97F heat, I wasn’t so sure. I was pretty sure the Universe was telling me to either:

  1. Step into traffic.
  2. Jump off a tall office building.
  3. Find something sharp and cut upwards on my arm, not sideways.

My Unbound was a trainwreck.

I ground on it for six months, dumped enough money on it to send both my kids to an Ivy League College in 2040 money, logged enough hours on the bike getting the miles in to forget my children’s names, and ate like a monk, all to, maybe, briefly rise to what I was so sure I had inside me.

Except I didn’t have it. I flatted early (mile 29) and then rode the next 175 miles as hard as possible, knowing that, if I was lucky, I’d finish in the top 100.

I got 99th in 10:53….🤡

Days later, I’m sitting next to a dumpster in 97F heat, puffy from eating like a trash panda, my bank account destroyed, deadly tired, and behind in every part of my Life.

But I wasn’t angry.

Anger only happens when you think you’ve been wronged. On the contrary, I think I’d been righted. The last seven days, Life hadn’t dealt me body blows; it had sent headshots, so many in fact that the core narrative I tell myself had begun to fragment and shift to the darkest corners in my skull and join with the ugliest thoughts I have in me.

In this place, the most positive thing most people do is to quit this shit. Take up pickleball. Reroute the enormous Life suck that cycling is into something altruistic and mutually beneficial to other people – maybe I could get into gardening or join the PTO.

Except.

Twenty-five years ago, after loading hay on a wagon for ten hours in Edgar, Wisconsin, I started running down Highway H for no reason.

No one told me to, and I didn’t even know why. I’d never run for more than three miles in my Life.

The first mile was ragged, and my heart rate, though I didn’t know what it was, rioted up my chest and expanded through my temple. Everything began to burn.

And I loved it.

I love feeling the surge of blood pressure, the panicked inner voice telling me to stop, the searing protest of muscles, and the steady physical escalation to my limit, the emptying.

Wanting and needing to feel that has unlocked everything else. Without it, I wouldn’t know what to do.

Twenty-five years later, sitting on this curb next to rotting garbage in tight, sweat-encrusted clothing doesn’t feel like much of a choice but a certainty I can’t escape.

Once again, I’m confronted with human nature. You strive, you sacrifice, you’re in pain, and you want it to stop.

It stops, and soon, you’re bored and restless; a meaningful vacuum opens up in your chest, and everything you reach for to fill it disappoints.

As far as I can tell, there’s no closure here until death unless I book that trip to the Amazon and rewire everything with a proper Ayahuasca journey.

Are you missing the optimism, anecdotes, and jokes this year?

I’ll add a few, but I won’t apologize.

The thing is, Life is never a ‘J curve .’We all want the product of our efforts to be up and to the right.

Well, sometimes it’s not, no matter who you are. Sometimes, you slide backward despite relentless, witnessless grinding toward a goal.

That sucks. But it’s part of it.

Every workout will not be a new PR, your threshold may not magically jump up 25 watts, you could fumble something you thought was automatic, and your results could tank not just for a race but for months.

That’s part of this process also, and anyone who promises otherwise is either:

  1. Lying.
  2. Hasn’t had a bad year yet.
  3. Pogi.

During a bad stretch, it becomes clear why you’d better be in it for more than external validation – you better like riding your bike. You’d better like to push yourself. You’d better enjoy where your bike takes you, the people you meet, and the trips you take.

Because everything external WILL NOT always redeem what you put into it, if that’s the only reason you ride, you’re bankrupt. It didn’t pay. Those hours were a waste.

But ONLY if the only thing you’re getting out of riding your bike is external. If there’s internal value there, if everything that goes into training and racing has hardened into an identity that is a reward in itself, failure is never complete.

Results can blow, but no matter how deep your name is buried in the backlog, it can’t take away from the intrinsic lift of pedaling, which adds to your day-to-day.

Quotes

“Hi. It’s great to see you. So, why is the drivetrain of your Unbound race bike currently disassembled in the garage?”

~Forest, after getting dropped off at my house and walking in on my unfolding mechanical disaster.

“Hi. I’m about to lock the garage to prevent you from changing something on your bike.”

~Forest, at the AirBnB in Emporia, saw the look in my eye at 8 pm the night before Unbound.

“My coach told me to do X.”

“I sure would love it if my coach knew what he was doing.”

~Ed, my athlete, finally starting to bond with all the young knuckleheads around him.

“Wait, what happened to the Ice Cream.

“It’s in my belly.”

You ate A TUB of ice cream?”

~Ed has never been around me in trash panda mode.

“I met the Airbnb host. He’s a judge. We started talking about Trump.”

~Ed arrived at the Airbnb early and wasted no time getting into dicey conversation topics.”

“It is Fucked Up O’Clock out here.”

~Me, to my brother and Howdyshell at the 2nd aid station. Nothing is more entertaining in gravel than seeing what happens to people between miles 100-150 at Unbound when you go out too hard.

“Did you buy America Freedom gloves at that gas station?”

~My brother to me. Guilty as charged.

“Can you pull?

Uhh..Sure.

Great. No one I’ve ridden with the last four hours has pulled once.”

~Remco, who finished 3rd in the Open category, couldn’t pedal under 300 watts to save his Life.

Mattttiiii!!!! What’s up.

I need to switch wheels. My front is flatted, and I’ve been limping in on this pump for the last thirty miles. F Schwalbe tires.”

~Me, to Howdyshell at the first aid station. Not a fan of Schwalbe.

“Hey here.”

“Hey.

The lead women are about to catch you.”

“Ok.”

Jesus H Christ, they’re animals!

Yeah, they’re fast.

Well, when they catch you, get out of the way. Don’t mess ’em up.

Roger that.”

~The lead moto of the women’s race was a character.

“GODDAAAAMN?

What?

Dude – you are so fing handsome. How does your wife stand it?”

~Me, to Nicholas Applegate after he came out of the bathroom in a robe. Nick looks like a cross between a Greek statue and Brad Pitt during Fight Club.

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