Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Coolest Way for Things to Change

I'll admit it, I'm a little nervous. After all, things are going to be different from now on. I'm not exactly sure how they're going to change, all I know is that I'm ready to take on some new challenges and although things are sure to be completely different, I can't imagine that this change won't be for the better in the long run.

I can't imagine a better way to close out this chapter of my life before starting a brand new one than to compete one final time at the race that really started it all three seasons ago. I raced the Coolest 24 Hour Race Against Cancer solo for the first time in 2007. It was the first time I had attempted a 24 solo and I didn't know it then, but that race was going to change my life and lead me down the path which I've been riding for the last three years.

I had never pushed myself that far before and the sense of accomplishment that I felt upon completing my first 24 solo was unlike anything I had every experienced before. My entire perspective on the world had been changed with the completion of that first 24, suddenly most anything seemed possible. After all, I could now rid my bike literally all day long. What could possibly be harder than that?

Fast forward three years to last weekend. The first weekend of May usually marks my first 24 hour solo attempt of the race season and the start of all that is good in the race season. Good weather, good friends, good legs, good trails, it all seems to start in that first weekend of May as I turn the pedals over again and again throughout the afternoon, into the curtain of night, past sunset and into the heat of the next day in that first weekend of may. Last weekend was different.

Instead of marking the beginning of another season, last weekend marked the end of a dream. That dream began in the winter of 2005 when the rain poured on for weeks on end and I struggled to survive on my own in my first apartment. Too poor to pay for college unless I worked full-time and unable or unwilling to sacrifice my time on the bike in order to juggle a full-time job and a full-time college schedule, I made a decision and set a goal which has defined nearly every waking breath and consumed almost every ounce of my energy for the last five years. I told myself that no matter how and no matter what, I would become a professional cyclist.

With this decision, I stopped attending classes and took on a full-time position so that I could afford to pay rent and devote all of my free time to riding. It was so simple then. I spent every spare moment of the day on the bike. Up to that point, I had ridden two hours a day as hard as I possibly could. After my decision, I still rode as hard as I possibly could for two or three hours but then there was time spent on the trainer, or time spent just riding to ride.

I was racing by the spring of 2006 and traveled up and down the state with a friend, coworker and eventual roommate who was hoping to live the dream as well. I knew this was where I wanted to be. I became obsessed with detaching myself from the "American Dream" of having a wife, a mortgage, a dog, a minivan and a couple of kids to go along with my college degree and got rid of anything that I didn't use everyday. I slept on the sofa as I had no need for a full bedroom since all my stuff had disappeared and as odd as it sounds, I was happy to do it. It set me apart, made me stand out, made me somehow different from the rest of the flock; and I enjoyed it.

Racing went on and the season drew to a close. I made some bad decisions and tried to move to Las Vegas briefly before realizing that I hated the place with a passion. Before I knew it, I was on the phone with Matt Jewett at Cannondale Bicycles and the next thing I knew, a frame and a box of clothing and other goodies arrived in the mail with my name on it. Could this really be happening? Wasn't it only a year ago that I had decided to try racing at all? Was it possible that I had come so far so quickly? I was officially a sponsored athlete. Weird. And oh so amazingly satisfying.

I couldn't see the danger in my early success on the bike just yet, but upon upgrading to the Semi-Pro racing level, I began to wonder just where it was that I was supposed to go from there. I had really only ever planned to make it to Semi-Pro, I had never really allowed myself to believe that attaining Pro status was actually a realistic possiblity and once I found myself racing as a Semi-Pro with some success, I became worried that I may actually need to think about the next step. Sounds odd, but it was worrisome to me. It's like planning a trip with a destination of some sort but not actually having any activity planned at said destination. When you get there, what are you supposed to do? It was never really about the destination, but really more about the journey itself all along. The same was true for me then only unlike arriving someplace and not having anything in particular to do or see, I couldn't simply hop back in the car and enjoy the drive home.

Nope, there I was feeling as though I was all dressed up with no prom to go to.