It happened probably a lot sooner than I had ever anticipated. It was the moment when my oldest decided to ride his cross bike...on a mountain bike trail most adults find challenging...with his road tires on. I saw his abilities and his joys and how instinctively he negotiated the trail knowing with precision how to stay light on the bike, not use brakes in the corners and just flow away...away and out of site from mom, dad and little bro.
This isn't a story to gloat about my son. He's 9. And God knows what this kid wants to do with his life. He's just a little guy. For now it is all about opportunities and experiences and ensuring both my sons' lives are rich with them...whatever they are: sport, travel, religion, family, friends, relationships, joy, pain, etc. But my child I can see is falling in love with what I know as one of the purest forms of joy: Riding. And he is emanating the same emotions in his words that I often struggle to find for just...how...good....it...makes...him...feel.
But is it time? Is it time for me to full stop make the switch from wannabe uber racer to an athlete who can balance the goals I still feel in my heart I can achieve and pour myself into my sons forays into the sport to achieve theirs? Is it time? Should racing be a proxy for riding...or riding a proxy to racing? What is the blend and on the meter of selfishness, how do I throttle back and balance more for them?
I'm formulating answers to questions I am still finding about these feelings I'm having and this place in life I am at with my beautiful boys. I want to fly and continue to do so...but not at the expense of not dedicating what I know is required to them. For them. More time to teach the lessons to gain more confidence. To learn more history of why we do what we do. Of the promise of where this sport can take a person. To be more relaxed with it all.
I'll continue the search for the right balance. But I know what is right. The torch is being passed. And it makes me so proud.
The influences of a child are maddening in our society…in this era…and in this country. And it (mostly) saddens me. My influences as a kid in the 70's were people…not things. Ron Guidry, Audie Murphy and St. Anthony were pretty much all I knew. Ron Guidry because the guy was a stud and I wished I could grow a mustache at age 7 like he had . Audie Murphy because I just wanted to be like my brother, a real-life army man, and would fantasize in black and white, just like the images I saw Audie blowing up German tanks like this guy did in WWII. St Anthony because if I lost anything I’d pray to that guy and the shit would just show up.
Now…it’s different. Media, sound, imagery, written word…it all gets bombarded into our children’s brains at such a furious pace, it’s almost uncontrollable. And it comes in from everywhere. I’m lucky to be able to drop off and pick up my boys from school…and when I scan the playground it’s like a sea of hunched-over children. Hunched over and consumed by devices. Consumed by the imagery, sounds and eye candy they produce. It’s a connection to the world we never had. And one we didn’t need. These 'things' have become the modern day pacifier for the 4-14 year old set. Given to them by their parents to essentially keep them out of their hair in my completely opinionated opinion.
So how to deal with this? How to combat some of these forces but do it meaningfully...and in a way that applies the focus on REAL things.
Here's that experience of mine...
To the 9 year old, the iPod or iPhone is a toy. A magical, shiny, inexplicably cool toy. But, a $400 toy nonetheless. And their draw to it is unstoppable. Crowds of kids gather around the lucky one who’s got the magical device…watching in silence as the kid hucks birds or other monumentally “important” activities on its HD screen...which is about all they can do at this age as they're too young to open up a social network or email account.
The begging began in my house a year or so ago for one. Intolerable. “PLEASE mom and dad! PLEASE can I have an iPhone??? I’m the only one without one and I can’t play with my friends anymore!”
Play, son? Play how with your friends with an iPhone?
Trust me I’m not a crust or an old curmudgeon. I know how they can play together with iPhones (e.g. pier to pier web-gaming). Maybe I do not want to see my children’s innocence sullied yet, which I’ve seen happen thus far in lots of instances of this dilemma from getting obsessed with 1st Person Shooter games through to accessing smut. Or maybe ‘it’s just me’ in all of this…but imaginative, hard, sweaty, in-the-dirt, on-their-bikes-and-scooters, with Legos, hair-raisingly spectacular PLAY is what they need. With other real kids. In the flesh. Not hunched over. In silence. Staring at screens. Laughter, arguments, dialog, creating real things…all in the analog world..is what they need.
On the countless rides I do with Pete, he has been the brunt of my rants on this subject of how to handle this iPhone thing. Pete's generally acted as a great sounding board as another dad. My plan was to make my son realize that there is more to life right now than being heads-down in a device playing games. There's (limited) time for that but being outside, playing and school are it for their little lives at the moment. But while this seems logical, it still is hard for a child to understand ‘why’ they are being denied this eye candy. Saying, “Because I said so” or “You’ll understand when you’re older” just doesn’t cut it. And frankly he deserves better than that.
So I needed a deflection…and a teaching lesson. And that’s where Pete truly comes in. I decided that Aiden needs something to work for. We’re not just going to drop a $400 phone on him…one that will be destroyed and lost (the kid can not stop losing Legos every day for chrissakes). His greatest joy is riding. Yes, I love that as a nerd-biker and dad, but now is the time for him to go down the rabbit hole we all go into as cyclists. Learning about your equipment (bike and body) and having fun when all that equipment is dialed and you flow.
A bike! A bike is what will be the deflection and he will work to earn this. It will have to become the 'bright and shiny object' and demonstrate what is real for his mind, body and soul.
Back to the Champ. Pete is surgical. I mean medicinally surgical in his approach to bikes and racing. Everything is thought through and meticulously taken care of. How else can you repeat winning national championships and take a Worlds? He offered as part of this ‘earn-in’ into the bike a "Daddy, Pete and Aiden bike building lesson." Amazing. (I hope Pete will be ready in a year to work with Seamus!) It’s this level of ‘community’ and friendship that we cherish here and in every way, this felt like a baptism of sorts for Aiden…really showing him the details of ‘the bike’. The quiet moments of cutting cables and the Zen of getting everything to work perfectly.
Pete is the type of influence I want my children surrounded by. A Champ to look up to. One in our back yard and one who shows the type of quiet work that’s needed to succeed.
I’ll start by saying this: Clearly no child who is growing should have a bike of this caliber. It’s all a bit strange to me as well. But with the support of Boulder Cycle Sport and Ridley, this particular frame became available and ready for a young (small) pilot. That frame and essentially all my old parts made this an extremely cost effective endeavor. And thankfully yielded a bike that a 10 year old can actually lift over barriers (all the parents how have gone to great lengths like me to lighten Redline Conquest 24’s know EXACTLY what I am talking about).
Aiden and I worked on assembling the parts, getting to know each kind and how they worked. From my old SRAM group to how bigger wheels could get him up to speed quickly…it was an entirely new biking experience for him. We scheduled with Pete some working lessons over a few days, taking the bike from its skeleton until its completed state. Here's a pictorial of that build out...
Aiden getting greasy with Pete and Dad.
Pete demonstrating the surgical details...like eliminating that annoying space between the hoods and the bars. It's all about focus on the race.
The fully built whip. 14lbs. 41cm Ridley X-Fire. Grommet-sized.
One of Turbo Pete's 'super mods' A bottle cap chain watcher.
C'mon. Did you think the kid would ride anything else? #oldschool
Yup. He'll be outgrowing this bike (but little brother already licked it for 2nds.)
In all of this, what am I saying here? What is to be concluded? Well,
a) That I think kids with all of this digital media influence are missing some spectacular shit in life.
b) It takes a village to raise your kids. A village you create with friends built on trust and the same core values.
c) If it takes some money and some effort to positively distract your kids and enable more time with you, do it for your kids.
That's it Amy and I are learning to be better parents every day, thankfully having learned lessons from our own parents. Am I trying to turn back the hands of time to force my kids to be a child like I was in the 70's? Hell no. Am I trying to buy time and preserve some innocence where I can. Yes. Unabashedly yes. They can not be 'protected' forever...and I don't want that. I just want more time with them. As innocent young boys.
And yes, little brother is waiting to slay...
Yeah, it's always time to celebrate cross...and even better when you can celebrate some new engineering goodness coming off the assembling line from Ridley Bikes. Boulder Cycle Sport is the FIRST store in the country to launch and debut this amazing product. Join the BCS Ambassadors and Ridley Bikes as we unveil the new steed along with all of the new SRAM Red group that will hang on these beautiful new frames.
See you there! HUP!!!!
Work put in. Results come out. It's a simple equation applied to virtually anything....work, sports, relationships....and of course given my last 2 months of pretty scary body melt-downs: lots of work put into healing. All of this has caused my writing to take a back seat as I continue to get some strength back in my aging corpse...all the while also being pretty much completely consumed with life lately. I'm in this vast stretch of learning...and in learning, falling on my proverbial knees, skinning them into bloody pulps and simply learning by experience how not to do [said wrong thing] again.
Train and ride hard for years and don't give back? Wham! Skinned knees. Jump head first into a job doing things I've never done before and fumbling about like an imbecile until it becomes instinctive? Wham! Skinned knees. Trying to be a father to sons who are growing mentally and physically at such a ferocious pace these days, I feel like I'm flailing and inadequate. WHAM! Skinned knees.
"If you know what you're doing, you're not learning."
Here's the period where I am letting go. Not holding on like a stubborn pile of shit who is convinced his way is best. I'm relying on gut....and the theory that most times, less is more...all to be able to learn these new lessons (or at least not combat them...and let the knowledge pour in).
Don't do the work for the employee - Tell 'em they'll find the answer and to go deeper.
Don't go ballistic on your sons when they simply outright refuse to get out of bed for school...for the 4th day in a row. - Ask 'em why they are behaving this way.
Don't try to get back on the bike when your back is yelling at you - Chill...the riding is in the legs all these years.
I'm not re-inventing by any means. Just listening more. Stretching mind and body so I can sustain. Life.
I have taken, taken more, and taken yet again….way more than my proverbial fill. Consider me a glutton who continually would take from my body’s resources…and never gave back.
And to think the only thing I want out of all of this bike stuff is to pop wheelies and shred with my friends. To be the 50+ year old dad some day railing with my sons in Fruita or God knows where.
The past month I had a wake up call. Extremely scary and all demonstrable of the fact that living in fast forward for almost 20 straight years of riding, training and racing yet never giving back to my body what it needs to continue doing it. What happened? Well, let me explain…and I’m sure many of you will immediately know what I am talking about…
Race. Train. Ride. Race. Rest a bit. Train. Train. Ride. Eat Well. Race. Race. Train. Ride more.
Notice anything here? Lots and lots of on the bike volume. Some rest and thankfully due to my unbelievable wife, supreme nutrition.
But all this time: NO BODY CARE. No stretching, massage, yoga…NOTHING. And all the while my muscles getting stronger…but only in their repetitive planes of motion. Yanking, pulling, melding with one another into singular masses of muscle doing the same repetitions over and over. My regular routine was this…
- Train my butt off during the week…typically before work hours.
- Immediately shower and get back into work, slumped over my computer, or trapped in a tortuous seat on some airplane.
- Race on weekends
- Rinse and repeat for, oh ~20 years.
About a year ago, I’d finish a cross and my back would essentially be seized. As in ‘Robotic back.’ No real pain per se, just effectively rigor mortis of the back. Stiff as a board. It’d ‘fade away’ eventually so I never got concerned. I’d had no serious bike fit changes so attributed it to a case of the O.L.D. ™ Michael Robson.
Fast forward. About a month ago, the pain settled in. Truly (like I’ve heard it said before) like a stabbing pain. Right in the “Q-L” (quadratus lumborum) above my hip bone (the iliac crest). It was immobilizing. No sleep, difficulty walking, sitting, lying, bending over. A cripple.
And yes, like a child I was scared and freaked out that “this is it! I think my racing is done!” (Ha…).
And yes, this is exactly why I married my wife. She did the equivalent of the bitch slap of my small brain saying: “Dude…you need to give back for everything you take. Duh.”
And thus began my story of “The Obvious” and all the things I’ve done this past month to get back on track with the help of my wife and good friends here in town.
Here is a list of the things I am incorporating and integrating into my life which I would implore you all to do if you feel cycling is going to be one of those lifer things:
- Stretching – I do not know about you, but I was brittle. As in could not touch my toes. I began to slowly and steadily begin a DAILY stretching routine.
- 20min in the AM (first thing, before breakfast). Hamstrings, IT, QL, Glutes, Psoas and back. In addition getting my thoracic area to open (e.g. to work on preventing back rounding and better breathing)
- 40min in the evening (same pattern but integrated in strectch bands...e.g. HUGE rubber bands to help pull my legs farther)
- Massage - OK, I admit it's a blessing having my wife be a massage therapist...but even I have to beg to get time on her table!
- Trigger release therapy...to essentially fire the most problematic muscles literally 'releasing' them when they get into their defensive postures to protect the body when it's reacting to muscle issues.
- Back Stregthening via Foundation Roots - I am on my 2nd full week of this but it is rather mind blowing. See here for info. Get yourself to a class. DO NOT fool yourself that you can watch the YouTube videos and just do it. You really need to be assisted before you go on your own so you do not wreak havoc on your back muscles. CRITICAL for lower back strength. Especially for 'cross when your back is going UP DOWN UP DOWN UP DOWN for 60 minutes violently.
- Core Stregnthening – I am not a fat guy, but not a ripped 6 pack-core guy either. It all comes down to what’s under the surface not only of your stomach, but also of the back (see Foundation Roots above). But for core, I am doing a ton of strengthening to breath better and to generally support my body for longer periods under duress (think: a cross race).
- Physical Therapy - This was SO instrumental for my recovery. I visited my good friend, amazing PT and fellow 'crosser Charlie Merrill as he is the 'guru'. I was crippled and his treatment of physical therapy was amazing. I am working on plans with Charlie for 'maintenence' as well. The core of his work was:
- PT via deep manipulation of my muscles via slow and methodic pulling and stretching.
- Dry Needle Therapy- 6cm acupuncture needles deep within the muscles to literally/directly trigger and release them. It was the spark to get them to release deeply along with my wife's trigger release massage (deep...but not as deep as the needles can go).
So what does all this mean: More work. I need to put back in the till what I take out. It means that I need to tack on and carve out times of day where I need to focus on this. More balance needed so I can ensure my family and work needs are met, but allowing time for these critical things I need to do to keep rolling. And that means what you see above is now a forever part of my life. Many of you will read this and undoubtedly say: No shit, dumbass. But what can I say? I'm a full-gas guy and thus am paying for my sins blazing in fast forward all these years. But alas, I see the magic to this type of body maintenance and the benefits are already surfacing.
Hope it helps you in "planning for prevention!"
I'm passing from one side to the next. Crossing the gap. Pushing yet again to make it all right. Life, my mental state, my passions. A gear higher to cross the space between losing control and gaining it back.
My writing as taken a back seat. Many things have in fact. But it must be this way while the good efforts are put in to learn more about myself.
This time I am in control of the teeter totter, sons. And it's OK.