It’s More Than Just My Bike

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Here we are still in the midst of one of the best ski seasons Colorado has seen in a long time, yet, this week I found myself atop my bike cranking away and dreaming about the warm summer months. I’ve by no means hung up the ski gear, far from it, but this week I sort of needed my go-to session for clearing my mind. Some people would say I’m in an enviable position, some I’ve heard call it the scariest time of their lives. The position I’m in is trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life.

It seems as though I’ve been doing that for a long time really and always sort of suffered from a little “Life A-D-D”. From early on I remember daydreaming with childhood friends about one day being doctors, lawyers, policemen, architects and various things.  Those early career ideas were indeed the seeds many of my friends wound up sewing.

I remember my personal choices were either to be a rubbish collector or a world adventurer — or both. I was always fascinated by the fact the rubbish collectors got to ride around all day, every day on the back of that truck and actually got paid for it! And to be an adventurer. traveling the world, discovering new things, eating strange foods, speaking different languages, well, yeah, that speaks for itself.

As it turns out, I never found myself on the back of a garbage truck (not legally anyhow), though I still think about it when I see the guys come through the neighbourhood each Tuesday. Rather, after a circuitous route through several study/career choices during university, I landed in the financial and mathematical world. Now, since graduating university, every aptitude or career development “test” I’ve taken has revealed that finance and math are the careers I am least suited for based on my personality traits. So much for those guidance counselors. Oh, and just in case you’re curious, Myers-Briggs has me pegged as ENFP with the “E” occurring equal times with “I”. I’ve taken this hundreds of times over the years and it’s always the same.

Regardless, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a long and mostly enjoyable career with the same company. Because of that longevity and corresponding build up of holiday time off, I’ve also managed to regularly go cavorting about the globe, sometimes for very long stretches of time. I think they’d balk at calling it sabbaticals, but it’s sort of what I call them. I think two months away from my office at a given time qualifies? So at least that part of my early career dreams came to fruition.

I’ve ridden bikes for, well, forever. My first love was an orange Huffy Dragster, complete with sissy bar and ape hanger handlebars — a true muscle bike of it’s time. Not caring that it wasn’t really an offroad designed machine, I still jumped every earthen undulation, curb or homemade ramp in the greater Desert Southwest. It was my ticket to freedom and I was 100% ready to “buy the ticket and take the ride” (that’s a Hunter S. Thompson quote by the way). Over the years I would graduate to more sophisticated bikes such as triathlon bikes, touring bikes, racing bikes, etc and eventually I found my true love when mountain bikes came into fashion. A bike was so simple yet was the perfect foundation for countless adventures in my life.

A few years ago I decided that instead of buying another bike, I was going to build one from the frame up. I think I basically realized that I’d ridden bikes for a long time and knew quite a bit about them, but I’d never really gotten to know one from the ground up. So, I bought a frame based on what I wanted and set about researching each and every piece, part, nut and bolt.

Though I had a huge resource of friends who race professionally or have built bikes before and I could have easily tapped them for knowledge, I wanted to learn this stuff on my own. I wanted to know why some things worked and why others didn’t. I’ve always believed experience is the absolute best path to knowledge. It’s not always the easiest, but it’s the best. That said, I scoured the internet researching every single component, looking for the best deal and practicing patience until I could find exactly the right combination of performance and price. I wanted even the tiniest of pieces to mean something and have my time invested in it. Eventually I had all the parts neatly laid out in our basement and was ready to start assembling.

Some things wound up being easy, as expected, and some things wound up challenging me a little more than expected. Undeterred by the challenging bits, I patiently went through the trials and errors until I figured out why things weren’t working and more importantly, why they did. I think what surprised me in this process was the sheer number of components and considerations I’d never really contemplated before. Building my bike from the ground up helped me understand the relationships of ALL the components.

Eventually, I rolled the bike out of my basement, clipped into my pedals and took her out on her maiden voyage and I’m happy to report it worked flawlessly. And best of all, when something breaks now, I know I can fix it myself without having to rely on anyone else.

I’ve since ridden thousands of miles on that bike. And while those miles are only a fraction of the total miles I’ve ridden in my lifetime, they are by far the very best miles. I’m invested in every pedal stroke now. Every time I grind my way up some long singletrack trail to a ridge high here in the Rockies and am rewarded with a mind blowing view, I know it was a result of my time, patience and desire to be 100% invested in the things I want in my life AND the life I want to live. There is nothing more rewarding.

Now that I’m starting to consider where my next chapter in life will take me, I sort of feel like I did when I brought my bike up from the basement the first time. I knew I’d done things to the best of my ability but there’s always that question of whether it was good enough. Will I take one pedal stroke and the crank fall off? If it does I’ll get out my wrenches and tighten it up. Will the gears shift properly?  If they don’t, I’ll adjust them. Will the tubeless tires hold air? If not, I’ll put some more sealant in them and be on my way. The bike I built has taken me places I never imagined, no reason I can’t trust that the life I’ve built won’t do the same.

I suppose the only way to know is to get in the saddle, start cranking and see where it takes me.

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Going It Alone When You Need To

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I once asked my good friend Liz Clark http://www.swellvoyage.com/ if she ever found herself afraid when she was alone in the middle of the ocean, forced into a difficult situation or when she realized she was literally, all alone. Her answer was quite simple, but left a deep and impactful impression on me. She told me she was “often scared, but never afraid”.

I’ve thought about this a lot, not because I find myself in tenuous or life threatening circumstances very often, but more so in the context of how I live my life.

I think everyone probably has an ideal life they envision for themselves. Having gazillions of dollars and the house on the hill, living out of a backpack while indefinitely roaming the world (guilty), solving one of life’s great mysteries or even just a notion of being able to truly live in the moment with a life full of simple pleasures (again, guilty).

While we all have dreams of what we want life to be, there oftentimes seems to be a cavernous disconnect between having the dream and executing the steps to actually living that dream. Maybe part of that is being afraid to take the first step due to fear of failure. Those fears naturally come from many sources such as negative peer pressure, societal pressure, religious pressure, monetary pressure and probably more often than we’d like to admit it, our own internal pressures.

What makes it worse is that our society relentlessly pounds on us to be insecure. Think not? Listen to any advertisement and they’ll tell you how the car you’re driving is not as good or safe as it could be so you should buy theirs. Your current product doesn’t do what theirs does so you are grossly inferior to your peers. The list of examples is literally infinite. With so much constant negative stimulation, I think sometimes we probably lose confidence in ourselves to make and trust our own decisions.

I love to ski, mountain bike, trail run and climb. There was a time though when the numbers game of the these disciplines dictated how I pursued them. I felt constantly pressured to reach and maintain certain benchmarks or risk not being included in the micro-society of each of those things. After a short amount of time, the initial lure of spending time feeding my soul was replaced with having to compete to maintain. I sadly began to lose sight of the true heart of the things I love. I fortunately reversed that situation long ago and now do all these things simply because I love them.

I have a few friends who understand the value of just being outdoors and enjoying the gift of where we live, the value of spending time with each other and the importance of living according to the rhythms of the earth. They aren’t afraid to not be the best, the fastest or the burliest. They enjoy life because of the true gift it is and find importance in time shared with likeminded people who are perpetually looking to feed and expand their soul through simply living and experiencing.

One day last season I met my friend Jesse, an incredibly good athlete, for a day of backcountry skiing near his home in Vail. The snow and weather were both amazing and the day was near perfect for ringing up “big numbers”. Because of the relationship Jesse and I have, I think we knew from the start that that was not the day for “big numbers”. Instead, we spent most of the day talking while we casually climbed, took lots of “philosophy breaks” when necessary and never once felt compelled to ski harder or think about one other thing than the very moment we were in. Though we climbed and skied a lot, we enjoyed the day simply because we put all of life’s constraints, expectations, distractions, inhibitions and limitations aside and let life happen at its own pace. So simple, and to this day, it was likely one of the best days I’ve ever had…on or off the snow.

It’s unfortunate we can’t always have those people in our lives readily available 24/7 to share in life’s natural rhythms. And it’s even more unfortunate that most people won’t, or aren’t willing, to go find those rhythms on their own. If everything is not perfect, or have all the proper restrictions and constraints in place, well, then the entire outing is a bust. Sound familiar? When is the last time you just did something and did it without having one restriction or expectation? How many times have you said, “I’m going to do this thing and I’ll just see where it takes me, however long it takes?”

And then how many times have you said, “Good grief, it’d be a helluva lot easier if I just did this by myself”.

It can be a daunting task to do anything alone, especially when it comes to things like  adventuring or putting yourself into an uncontrollable situation when traveling internationally. But as Liz said, it’s okay to be scared, just don’t be afraid. And looking back, every time I’ve been in situations where I found myself alone and a little uncomfortable, I’ve learned more about myself than at any other time in my life. Personal growth and confidence never come from living safely.

When I do find myself going it alone, I always cherish the time to think about why I’m there and  slow down to look at the natural beauty around me instead of getting into that “mach it from the car” mentality. I love climbing on my skis in the frigid, wee hours of the morning to a high ridge where I can sit and watch the sun rise and know there is a world of endless possibilities out there waiting on me. I then love skiing down by myself at my own rhythm, savouring each and every turn to the fullest extent, as if it may be the last turn I ever get to make. I love climbing on my mountain bike and finding that perfect pace between physical desperation and euphoria, eventually arriving at a point where the world falls away in every direction and I know in my heart I can conquer whatever life throws at me. I love living at my own unfiltered pace and having the time to appreciate being small in this big world, embracing the imperfections, being a little scared, and even a tad out of control at times — and to realize that that’s okay. Scared, but not afraid.

I’ll always treasure those days with friends like Jesse, but fortunately I’ve learned to never be afraid to just go it alone when all the clutter and distractions start getting in the way of how I want to live my dream.

Walk confidently along the simple road.

I Love It When Everyone Around Me Is Happy

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Because the backcountry is a little scary right now with incredibly sketchy avalanche conditions, I, along with my good friends Jill and Jason, headed up to Arapahoe Basin to ski some of the best inbounds conditions of the season, maybe even of the last couple of seasons. We knew it would be good, but we honestly had no idea it would be that good.

The three of us being avid backcountry skiers, who truly enjoy working hard for our turns, showed up early (well before the lifts opened) and quickly set off climbing toward the Continental Divide. I know I speak for the three of us when I say that despite the hard work, there is something centering to the soul about being in the mountains as the sun comes up, being with the people you care most about and detaching from all the stimuli that tends to clutter our everyday lives. And when you can climb with your favourite people for long periods of time and never have to say a word to say everything that needs to be said, you know you’re in exactly the right place, doing exactly the right thing with exactly the right people.

After initially skinning up and skiing back down, we quickly decided the day’s conditions were just too good to make it a one and done type day so we jettisoned our packs back at my truck and hopped on a lift to whisk us to the highest point of the resort. If you’ve never skied The Basin, it’s pretty close to magical to stand on Lenawee Ridge, right on the Continental Divide at over 12,400-feet and look around at 360-degrees of awesomeness. To be there when the sun comes up, even better.

The Basin is not a Vail, Aspen or Telluride, though I honestly find it far superior. There are no fancy restaurants, no world class hotels and certainly no fur coat-clad tourists. What they do have though is incredible terrain, good food at a fair price in a cozy and fun little lodge and sun-loving locals who love to ski and go there to…well…ski. Because people genuinely love the funkiness, simplicity and overall groovy vibe of The Basin, they tend to host a battalion of fervent loyalist, like me.

Anyhow, as quickly as the lift would get us there, Jill and I were skiing Montezuma Bowl off the back side of the resort, a mind blowing place known for steep lines and deep snow! As usual, the stoke was high and people’s exuberant “yee-haws!” were echoing around the place as they flew off steep drops and plowed through deep powder stashes! Taking note of all this while riding the lift back to the ridge, Jill just blurted out, “I just love it when everyone around me is happy”. Yeah, me too, and happy they (we) were.

I learned a long time ago that simple most always means more. If I just take time to look past the hype and frills (promised or otherwise) to see what the true heart of something is, it will tell me everything I need to know. That applies to ski resorts, jobs, cars, houses, people and life itself.

I’m so fortunate to know what I love and have a few good friends around me to share the same stoke.

Keep it simple, keep it fun.

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