Another year is coming to an end. As cliché as it is, I find myself in both a reflective mood and excited for the year ahead. To say that 2016 was business as usual would be a lie. It had it's ups and downs but I've thoroughly enjoyed my return to writing life and my work with Adventure Cyclist as well as freelancing for great titles like Bicycle Times, Roadbikereview, MTBR, Bikeradar, and RIDE. As a cyclist, I challenged myself with new races, new disciplines. At times I succeeded, at times I came up short. Throughout the year, thanks to travels as well as time at home, I've had the opportunity to spend time with amazing people.
As much as I joke about being a misanthrope, I do have introvert tendencies that have me holing up at times. Thankfully my wife drags me out and the extra time with friends has been a blessing. It is the people with whom we share time who make life meaningful. My first instinct when I sat down to write this 'year in review' post was to list the cycling events that I attended. Instead I want to talk about the people who make those events so special.
Bobby Wintle (Land Run 100): I did a solo road trip to Stillwater, Oklahoma to check out the Land Run 100 after several friends (who I'll mention later) recounted their tales of mud and finish hugs. Bobby, his wife Crystal, and the crew at District Bicycles organize the Land Run. I first met Bobby in Emporia, Kansas at the Dirty Kanza. While we didn't spend much time together there, the next time I saw him, he remembered my name, gave me a hug and enveloped me in a whirlwind of enthusiasm for life, cycling and gravel. If you know Bobby, you know what I'll write next. This man is special. He exudes energy. It's infectious. Better than any cup of coffee, time with Bobby will brighten your day. From the firing of a cannon to start his race to jumping up and down and giving you a muddy hug to congratulate every finisher, the man is a perpetual energy machine. He raced the Tour Divide this year and it came as no surprise that he finished in his first attempt, blitzing the course with a smile. Bobby, I appreciate you.
Jason Gaikowski (cajoler): Jason is one of my two best friends. He was the officiant at my wedding and a favorite wingman/adventure buddy. When he emails me to sign up for an event, conflict withstanding, I sign up. This year that meant mountain bike races. While our relationship was born on gravel, we both love mountain biking. But my experience racing offroad is limited to XC races in college. This year Jason decided it was time for me to up my game, first at the Ouachita Challenge (62 miles) in Arkansas and then at the Maah Daah Hey 100 in North Dakota (here is Jason's preview of the MDH100). I managed to finish both events, but they certainly stretched me and helped me discover new mental fortitude and confidence in my cycling abilities. For that, Jason, thank you.
Brad Kaminski (White Rim): Brad is the photo editor at VeloNews, and all around fantastic guy. He's always up for a new adventure and late last year we began chatting about bikepacking the White Rim in Canyonlands NP, Utah. Soon, the trip morphed into a group trip in April with other VeloNews characters past and present joining the fun. Mike "M-Rizzy" Reisel and Chris Case were there to ride too and Brad's friend, Matt, drove support carrying camping gear, food and water. We had an amazing time, with beautiful weather and gorgeous scenery. Even when his personal car was stuck below a ledge (thankfully a helpful Jeep driver winched it up), Brad never lost his cool. He brings a nonchalance to his riding and manages to enjoy himself even when the going gets tough. Brad, thanks for committing to the ride. It wouldn't have happened without you.
Eric Greene (partner in "Ride to Ruins," a forthcoming story in Adventure Cyclist about a bikepacking trip in southeastern Utah): I have always wanted to explore Ancestral Publeoan cliff dwellings and rock art in the Four Corners area. In talking about this with Eric, a close friend whose life is one for the storybooks (someday I'll write it!), he recommended I get off my ass and go do it. He knew of an area dense in sites that he had wanted to explore, so the planning began. I would pedal a loop, bikepacking my way around, and he would ride his motorcycle, taking photos along the way. In late April, a couple weeks after the White Rim trip, I made my way back to Utah. Eric rode his KTM Adventure 990, enduring snow in Summit County on his way. I don't want to give away the story as I hope that you'll read it in Adventure Cyclist, but we had a great time dodging weather and hanging in the desert. Greene, thanks for risking hypothermia on your motorcycle for this one. The heat in my car was cozy on the way home.
Mike Reynolds (Dirty Kanza host and friend): The Dirty Kanza 200 currently holds the title as my favorite race. (Here's a link to this year's account) Much of that is to do with the people I see every year. Mike and his family have hosted Kristen and me for several years. Their hospitality and pride in Emporia is amazing. In 2013, Mike saved my race when, in the days before the event, I had a major allergic reaction. As a doctor, he wrote me a prescription and I was good to go! Mike has raced the DK four times and in 2017 he'll finish his fifth! On one of those occasions, in 2015 (the muddy year), he and his daughter Caesie crushed it on Mike's beautiful Calfee tandem. We've also been lucky to spend time with Mike and Joyce in Idaho at Rebecca's Private Idaho. They're wonderful people and visiting them is always a highlight of the year. Reynolds Family, thank you for opening your home to us. You make Emporia awesome!
Paul Legan (father and 12-Hour World TT pit crew): I'm from Indiana and proud of it. But for the past fifteen years I haven't lived there. Colorado has been home with stints in Europe and Atlanta interspersed. This is all to say that I don't get back to the Midwest as often as I'd like. When I decided to race the 12-Hour World Time Trial Championships in Borrego Springs, California, it seemed like a golden opportunity to spend some time with my dad. He flew to Denver where I joined him on a flight to Los Angeles. We ate at In-N-Out burger, went to the beach, saw videographer friends in the Valley, spent hours at the amazing Petersen Automotive Museum and then made our way to the Anza-Borrego Desert for the event. There Dad went into support crew extraordinaire mode. I stayed off my feet and rested before the race. During the race, where I definitely had a few bad patches, Dad was extra encouraging. The pride on his face every time I remounted my bike still puts a smile on mine. After the event, which on the whole went really well (read about it here), I was fairly hobbled. Dad drove us the hours and hours back to Los Angeles and was just fine with me stuffing my face and lounging on a hotel bed. Dad, I don't see you enough, but when we do spend time together it's always memorable! Love you.
Jeff Archer (NAHBS): Another highlight of the year was judging the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) again (coverage can be found here). But the biggest loss of the year has to be the senseless death of fellow judge and fast friend Jeff Archer. He was killed while walking across the street by a drunk driver. Jeff was the owner of First Flight Bicycles and curator of the Museum of Mountain Bike Art and Technology (MOMBAT) in Statesville, North Carolina. I first met Jeff while I worked at VeloNews when Brad Kaminski, mentioned above, and I toured North Carolina visiting the A2 Wind Tunnel and several cycling highlights in the state. The welcome we received was exceptional. His passion for cycling and for keeping it accessible to all people was immense. So too was his knowledge.
I subsequently visited his shop, this time with good friend Kevin Harvey, when NAHBS went to Charlotte. It was a homecoming, with beer and moonshine consumed, tall tales told and laughter throughout. That was also the first year, 2015, that Jeff judged the handmade show alongside Patrick Brady, Maurice Tierney, Andrew Yee, and myself. During that weekend, another in 2015, and yet another this year that I go to know the loving, considerate, humble, self-effacing man called Jeff Archer.
Writing this down, it's striking to me that I spent less than 11 days with Jeff, but his loss affected me greatly. In Sacramento earlier this year his wife accompanied Jeff to the show. Afterwards they took what was a dream trip for Jeff, visiting NorCal bike and part makers. During the show, Julie, his wife, invited me and my wife to come visit them in Statesville, to stay at their new home and to actually get a chance to ride bikes with Jeff. If only I'd known that I'd never get the chance. I regret not booking a ticket immediately. Life takes unexpected turns and all too often it is cut short.
So as I think about 2017, I remind myself to carve out ever larger chunks of time for friends and family. The framework for my year is still driven by a calendar filled with events. But the people at those races, industry shows, and gatherings are the source of much of my happiness. It's worth saying out loud.