This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike.
At this point in my riding “career”, I have done a bit (shit-ton) of research, mining for information that resonates with me about how to get better at bikes and at life. From podcasts, to YouTube, to social media, magazine articles, and books, to daily videos from Summit County’s very own Coach Joe at the Summit Endurance Academy, I have been looking for common threads, or paths that will lead to fast race results and personal enlightenment. One of the themes that frequently comes up is referred to as “knowing your why”. Why spend so much money on a new bike when the old one works great? Why spend money on a coach and a training plan? Why spend most of your free time following that training plan, or going to races, or obsessing over how well you did or didn’t do while forgoing time with friends and loved ones? Why change your diet? What is it that you hope to accomplish by accomplishing that one goal, or finishing that one race? Those are all good questions that probably require unpacking quite a bit of emotional baggage in order to answer them honestly. This “why” question is probably something I will continue to revisit in future posts, not to be confused with posts about “why can’t I ride over this stupid root” or “why was I too afraid to try”.
In the meantime, in order to try and begin to understand why I’m doing all this, I will start by saying that this happened before. This obsessiveness, this single-mindedness, is just kind of who I am. I was three years old, still living in Soviet Russia, and had never seen a horse in real life when I decided that I love horses and would do whatever it takes to be around them. It took a few years and overcoming a few small obstacles such as learning English after we immigrated to America, being poor, and living in strip mall country, but at the age of 12, after flipping through the Yellow Pages and asking around, I finally found an inexpensive riding program courtesy of 4H, at a boarding stable relatively close to home. This led me to another stable that allowed me to work for rides. Before long, I was basically living there, whenever I wasn’t in school, which by 8th grade, turned out to be quite a lot. More experience working with horses, more connections, and more leads, and I found myself at a large hunter-jumper barn in Bucks County, PA riding several horses a day when I wasn’t doing barn work. I spent a summer at a ranch in the mountains of New Mexico as a working student when I was 16. I spent the following summer going all over the East Coast as a horse show groom, working 18 hour days, travelling in the horse hauler and sleeping in stalls with my charges. This was my life, and I honestly thought it would be my adult life, except for one problem. I was not good enough. This realization was enough to get me to do the college thing, but it wasn’t enough to get me to quit riding altogether. I ended up guiding horseback rides in London, UK, after a working student situation on Withington did not work out. I guided rides in Kawakawa, New Zealand in exchange for room and board for a few weeks, in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, for my first job out of College, as well as Edwards, Colorado for my first two summers in the state.
When I was about 12, one of my neighborhood friends was telling about how she went skiing, another thing that my family could not afford at the time. But I have always loved snow, and knew that it was a matter of time before I would go skiing and love it. A few years and a few more obstacles later, like still being poor, and living about two hours from the closest mountain, I finally got my chance in the form of a Senior ski trip in high school. I was obsessed, like I knew I would be, from my very first turns. Since then, I managed to go with friends one or two days a year throughout college, but it wasn’t until I met some friends the summer I was guiding rides in Wyoming that I realized skiing could be my life. They convinced me to move out to Colorado with them the following winter, and they helped me get a job as a ticket scanner at Beaver Creek, where for half the day, I was literally paid to ski. So I bought some ancient skis and oversized boots at a thrift store in Jackson Hole, and off I went. Those first few winters, I was skiing at work, I was skiing on my days off, and when the season was over, we would go searching for snow to ski some more. I actively worked to improve on my skills, spending days upon days skiing alone until I got good enough for others to want to ski with me. This led to countless powder days, ski trips all over Colorado, and some really cool backcountry lines. I met my husband through skiing, and continued to work at various ski resorts until I landed at Keystone as a ski patroller for six years, during which I took an opportunity to patrol in New Zealand for a season.
In the fall of 2016, I started my first year-round job, one that pays a decent wage and allows me to pay my bills easier. I don’t ski as much anymore, in part because of the crowds, in part because our snowpack in the backcountry scares me more than it used to, and in part because I’m a bit burnt out from all the time I put into it. But I still get on skis a few days a year, and they are usually pretty quality days. I also don’t ride horses anymore. I got extremely tired of guiding, and that’s primarily the extent of the opportunity around here. But occasionally, horses still find a way into my life, whether I’m visiting my old trainer when I’m back in Philadelphia, or helping out a friend with her horses when she’s out of town. But there is a point to all this. These obsessions that I had, that had consumed my life, they didn’t really lead me anywhere in the traditional sense. I did not become a horse trainer, a winning show jumper, or a veterinarian. Nor will you see me in any big-mountain ski movies, or getting paid to go on expeditions. Those daydreams were there, like I imagine most humans daydream about what it’s like to be phenomenal and famous for something. My real dreams never had that kind of end goal, or any goal for that matter. What I wanted most was to live what I was most passionate about, and to progress, as an equestrian, as a skier, and I did. This has introduced me to places, people, jobs, and experiences that I could not have imagined had I stayed in line, treating my interests as just that.
And so, as I have taken up this Leadville endeavor, I already know what it’s like to go all in, yet things are a bit different this time. I’m going into it with more maturity. I have no delusions about becoming a famous professional cyclist out of this, nor do I want to be. I appreciate the fact that my livelihood does not depend on my riding, as well as the fact that I am doing this on my own terms. Although I have an absolutely necessary support system, I’m doing this on my time, with my money, no begging for favors or chances. I am far more aware of my strengths as well as my athletic and mental road blocks than I ever used to be. Understanding your “why” tends to help you stay motivated in working towards your goal. The more noble the “why”, for example, racing to overcome immense life hardship, or working towards something outside of yourself, it magnifies the effect. My “why” is not that noble, but it’s the only one I have. So perhaps I’m doing this to see if I can break through those aforementioned road blocks. Perhaps I’m just out to ride this obsession (and my bike) as far it will go, and see what kind of person I can become while being a cyclist and an endurance racer, what kind of experiences and adventures I can have, and what other passion it will bring into my life.