In 2017, my best friend Johanne and I drove to bike races weekend after weekend. Every single drive, we cried, and most of the time, we tried to logic our way into figuring out if we were gay or not.
Neither of us had the ability to sit still and feel into it, we were tangled up in the logical questions, reaching further and further away from settling into our bodies and what was true for us. We could barely ask the questions without skipping immediately to logic. We’d dated boys, but it honestly always felt like we had weird relationships with relationships. We stared at girls. We dressed in very stereotypically gay clothing and competed in downhill mountain biking. We drove a Subaru and a truck and wore Carharts and five-panel hats. These signs, as the logic suggested, pointed to yes, perhaps we were gay.
We drove home on Sunday nights, and after a good car cry, continued on as if we absolutely did not have time to address a fundamental component of our lives when there was still a Senior Thesis to write.
Another year later, I crashed and sustained a gnarly concussion. I couldn’t do much at all. Screens hurt, reading hurt, moving quickly hurt, loud noises were horrendous, and I yelled at a kid who bounced a basketball next to me because my nervous system was on full alert that everything was DANGER. I remember blurry days where my only task for the day was to rake leaves, not even put them in bags, just rake them.
I had plenty of time to think, and even though my brain wasn’t anywhere near full capacity, the basis of who I am and what makes me happy started to bubble up. I was dating another truly kind boy and I somehow still let my poor concussed brain (also deep into heteronormativity and monogamy) settle into the idea that maybe dating girls was something I should think about thinking about.
It literally took years of this thought actively and consistently skipping along in the background and surfacing regularly for me to acknowledge that it had validity. I was never great at trusting my intuition, which makes loads of sense now, how could I trust any intuition if I couldn’t even trust that I was fundamentally attracted to girls? In hindsight, it must have taken so much brain capacity and subconscious contortions to keep this thought shoved back far enough for over two decades.
I used to call myself an emotionless brick - absolutely cringe-worthy, but telling as to how I had adapted to survive. I shoved and shoved and wholeheartedly avoided. I don’t consciously remember being scared or embarrassed to be gay, I just thought that was for other people, not me. Facing this internalized homophobia has been revealing as I slowly accepted that I don’t need to be scared of myself, and besides, gay people are nice and really really fun.
It not only took two decades, but it also took a silent meditation retreat and a traumatic brain injury to slow me down enough to ask my own questions and listen to the answers. While I was concussed, I learned, seemingly for the first time, how to listen to my body. Or rather, I relearned how to listen to my body after being taught out of this skill. I learned to feel because my body was constantly giving me tiny signals that would prevent me from walking too far from home, or looking at a phone for too long, or forgetting to drink water. Suddenly, I had to tune in and listen.
As my concussion healed, I started chatting with some splendid gals and eventually met someone for dinner. It still took until halfway through dinner for me to give myself permission to think she was really attractive. I felt a switch, or a release, as I acknowledged what my body had been telling me for years - yes, girls, and this person in front of me, are so cute.
After dinner, we consensually kissed in the car and I was blown away by the softness. The clichés came rushing in and it felt so normal and so soft.
I’ve learned that if I decide something and it is in defiance of what is expected of me, it's likely something I actually want. I grew up meeting expectations. Deviating, or letting those expectations go, is terrifying but feels like a heavy truth I am so happy to hold close. My parents appeared surprisingly confused when I told them I was dating girls. To be fair, I did start the conversation with “Sooo, here’s some fun news” accompanied with nervous jazz hands…
It may be the therapy or daily meditation (headspace 50 day streak whattuppp) but I feel so much less like I have to shove things down to survive.
By settling and breathing and thinking and feeling, I’ve successfully made my parents mildly nervous and helped myself feel alive. I don't want to sit here and shove down thoughts, fixating on things I feel I have control over, like bodies and food. Instead, I can start acknowledging what’s real for me.
I always felt intuition was incredibly elusive. In the last few months, I’ve started to feel a flicker of what intuition is. I can tune in and it feels ~homey~ rather than a place I’m scared to approach.
I feel suddenly steeped in gay media and it feels like I’ve been brewing some decaf stuff when all I really wanted was this new cup of spicy, caffeinated, excitement.
We live in such a wildly heteronormative world that I’d convinced myself I didn’t even like movies because they all felt like watching something I was unamused with (read: hetero-relationships). Turns out gay movies are INCREDIBLE. Turns out thinking about having a crush is ridiculously fun now. Turns out all those clichés are pretty dang legit when brewed in gayness.
It blows me away that so many people feel this sort of emotional explosion in hetero relationships -- I feel so happy for them that the water they swim in is perfectly suited for their sexual desires. I do feel like I was deceived for lots of years, AND I’m happy that I’m here now. Even if this stream is smaller and legitimately hated by people (very cool!). We’ve leaped! It’s brilliant here!
While living in Austin, I was out two-stepping and a GIRL asked me to dance and I felt so proud of my boiler suit outfit choice. I went to a gay variety show and multiple people told me they liked my outfit and I’ve never felt so proud of what I was wearing. THIS IS FOR YOU, GAY GIRLS OF THE WORLD! And for me, this outfit feels good and honestly I typed that but I don’t know that I believe it that I’m actually dressing for myself yet.
Gayness feels like I’m immediately excused from so many social pressures. Who pays for dinner? Who fixes the garbage disposal? Who changes their last name to indicate OWNERSHIP? Hellooooo, there are no rules here. My sister said recently that if she decides to get married, she is only doing so in a red jumpsuit. I’m OBSESSED with this energy and it feels like it encompasses the boldness with which I would like to wave goodbye to so many social expectations surrounding sexuality and gender.
I’ve started talking to children about gayness -- partially for them and partially for me. I do wish I had a memory of someone explicitly telling me that if I was gay, that’s awesome and allowed and should be celebrated. So, I have taken it upon myself to tell the children around me. I told my seven-year-old cousin that girls could marry girls, and she said, “yeah, what’s that about?”
When I was five I had already internalized that it was legit for another five-year-old boy to walk me to my piano classes, so I sure hope we are here in time to disrupt this deep-seated heteronormativity for a seven-year-old.
Just as she adjusts her expectations and realities based on where she sees herself reflected, I hope that by having casual as well as educational conversations about sexuality and gender, she will see there are options. She will be able to ask questions to people around her and to herself. I wish I had seen and heard about gay people in a way that allowed me to validate their existence as something that could be part of me too, not just something distant that I remember learning about in late elementary school. I wish that health class, or my parents, or ANY media I saw had represented gay people so that I could go through the process of either coming out as gay or straight before I’d convinced myself I was straight for over two decades.
My sister asked me why I wanted to post anything about sexuality. My first answer was that I’m excited about it. I feel great! And alive! And excited!
My second answer has to do with the notion of coming out. I wish it felt antiquated to me to have to “come out” but the reality is most people are not given options in terms of sexuality at a time when “coming out” could feel more like “coming in” where we can just accept who we are because we can listen to how we feel and see that validated in the world around us. Perhaps if we had the option to feel early, we wouldn’t need to ~come out~ of anything, we wouldn’t need to defy the expectations and step out of line in order to feel like ourselves. I wish that my years of feeling stuck and not having words for it could have been avoided by validation that what I felt was an option. Now that I’m ~out~ and about, I do feel an incredibly heavy sense of grief for the time and energy that people, myself included, spend pretending and acting to fit a part that they were never interested in or suited for.
As I grapple with this, I’m feeling (which is still a big thing!) so thankful that I’ve been able to ask my questions and listen to my answers instead of just answering the questions served to me with the expected answers. This certainly isn’t a finish line, but I do feel like I can just keep swimming in a much more inviting stream, taking moments to pause and appreciate that hey, there are options here, and probably more rainbows, and still so so much to experience.
(Some notes: I am super lucky to have had this sort of a coming-out experience. I recognize that many people do not have these types of experiences and coming out can be truly threatening to their well being or safety. I am truly so sorry for anyone in those positions. I hope that by sharing and speaking more we can keep nudging and shifting narratives until we all live in a place where every single person feels free to leap into a different stream without abandon, Free Willy style, if you will)
I wrote this letter to a group of college students who are graduating this semester. I taught them during their freshman year and this was intended to be a typical graduation congratulation letter. Due to the ~apocalypse~, the letter was different but ended up feeling more helpful than the typical congratulation letter.
Hi Sweet People,
I was asked to write you a good luck letter as you near graduation.
If I were to write this letter a the beginning of March, I would have included lots of exclamation points. You made it! The world is your oyster! I am so proud of you! School is so hard and you did a tremendous job!
While all of this is true, it’s all been complicated in the last few months by this virus.
I was listening to a woman yesterday who was talking about how this is truly a great, collective pause. We may not have wished for this pause, but here we are, and in some ways, we have an unprecedented opportunity to breathe, right here.
In 2018, I crashed while biking and sustained a gnarly concussion. In the months that followed, I felt primarily miserable, amid brief feelings of healing, content, joy, and growth. At the time, I would never have wished that sort of injury on anyone, there were days when the only thing I could do was rake leaves, not even put them in bags, just rake them into piles. However, a year later, I started feeling incredibly thankful for the experience. I started saying it was absolutely net-positive. Prior to this concussion, my frenetic, planner-oriented days had left so little space for stillness.
Even though I was concussed, I started to feel these deeper parts of who I am bubbling up. I had to start listening to myself, instead of tuning out and focusing on what was happening around me, reacting to the stress of school or what other people wanted from me. Most directly, if I didn’t listen to what my body was telling me, I would end up in a situation where I was far from home and usually with a headache that would put me to bed before the sun set. I learned to listen to the tiny clues, the slight dizziness, or a tiny tinge of pain in my neck in order to keep myself safe and healing instead of taking steps backward and feeling bad for the following days.
This listening to my physical body resulted in learning how to listen to my mind as well. I started to understand what intuition was, I felt the nudging thoughts that I’d always had but never addressed.
The stillness forced me to turn in. It was incredibly challenging to set a timeline, plan, or even expect anything. I quickly learned that the three-week timeline I’d been given by my doctor was wildly inaccurate. As the months rolled on and I still didn’t heal, I had no choice but to release all expectations. I couldn’t possibly plan for next month, all I could do was listen to what I needed in this moment.
I understand there are countless differences between a concussion and a global pandemic, but I find myself being dropped back into the concussion time as I navigate the last few weeks.
Here are some of the things I learned after living through a bizarre break from the world and then slowly coming back:
-You are here, how incredible is that? You are breathing and your body is working so hard to take care of you. Perhaps now is a great time to say thank you to your body and to look, listen, smell, and feel what’s happening around you.
-Planning is important, but having a plan means nothing. It’s super important to go through the process of planning if that feels good, but once you have that plan, it means nearly nothing. We have very little control over what is happening around us and therefore that plan may pan out, but it very well may not. (In the last two years, I’ve planned two trips to bikepack in Europe, the first one was canceled after I already had plane tickets when my best friend fell off a cliff and shattered her foot, this year, we replanned the trip, bought tickets again, and here we are in the middle of a pandemic, with yet another trip canceled) So! Planning is good and exciting and can offer some direction, but the plans can be swept away with the breeze.
-Be gentle with yourself. You are trying so hard and you are doing everything you can at this time. All of the things you do are strategies to keep you alive. If you lean on exercise, food, Netflix, relationships, or grades, each of these are part of a strategy you’ve brilliantly developed to keep yourself afloat, functioning, and safe. Even anxiety or depression are strategies our body had developed to keep us safe. For example, if the world is too scary, our body may turn to depression in order to numb out the scariness. If we’ve been taught to seek validation, perhaps a relationship or grades have kept us afloat and mirrored back to us what we want to see in ourselves. All of this points to the notion that we are not actually any of these things. None of us are depression or are our grades. We are not expectations other people have of us. It is not our job to live up to the expectations other people have of us. At our core, we are good. Each of us is so so good, whole, and beautiful. Regardless of which strategies we have leaned on or learned to hold tight to, they do not define us and they are not who we are. You can be gentle with yourself, it’s not easy, but it can feel good to offer ourselves some grace, some space, and some curiousness about who we are without these strategies we’ve developed. Remember that this lightness is already inside you, you already have happiness inside you, you have peace inside you as well -- you do not have to go looking for these things, they are already there within you.
-After everything, remember you have permission to begin again. Whether this resonates for your day, for just a moment, or for the last years, you are growing and learning and expanding. This means the old shell you lived in may or may not serve you anymore. You can change and you are not stuck in what you can do based on what you did yesterday.
-You don’t have to make sense of anything today. You don’t need to solve any problems, you don’t need to feel okay, you don’t need to follow any script. There is no right way to feel, so, as the confusion of graduation, online school, uncertainty, families, health, fear, needs, and aspirations all squiggle together into a blur of color, you are allowed to sit and breathe, or eat ice cream, or cry, or sleep. Whatever it is that you need right now, feel it, and take note that it is happening. Realizing what you’re doing and perhaps being curious as to why can allow us to grow. However, there are really no rules and you do not have to do anything at this time. This comes back to being gentle with yourself. This is confusing! And hard! And disorienting! No one is solving it today and you can’t figure out your life, or maybe even next week, at this time. This is okay though, if you can embrace the groundlessness, we are all floating above where we perhaps felt grounded. Maybe this space is just what we needed to know where we want to land next time.
While all of this may feel isolating or scary, the irony is we are all experiencing waves of similar moments. Your experience is your own, but it is also shared.
I can’t imagine the uncertainty you may be feeling, graduating into a world so greatly limited by a virus. I too, feel scared and uncertain. I also know that things are changing all the time and they will shift back and forth. Things will get better, they will also get worse, but they will get better.
If any of you would like to chat, I am here.
Oh! Also! When I started this letter, I intended to tell you all that teaching recitation was, without a doubt, the most important thing I did at CU. Each of you holds such a big piece of my heart. That semester, I cared so much about supporting you and doing what I could on the day to bring a sense of calmness and love into your days. Since teaching recitation, I’ve settled into the idea that I want to teach at a university. So, while this is a good luck, and a please take deep breaths note, I also want to say thank you for fueling me with hope, excitement, and some guidance.
Sending lots of love.
I've pulled up at hundreds of aid stations, grabbed some watermelon, filled a bottle, thanked the volunteers, and zipped along. I recently worked as a crew member on a trip called Bikerpelli. This trip guides ~100 riders from Fruita, CO to Moab, UT over the course of 150 miles of single track.
The riders show up in everything from spandex and full face helmets, to
t-shirts and baggies. Some riders have been training all year for this event, others have, and I'm not exaggerating, finished their longest ride ever the week prior -- clocking in 22 miles and a whopping 330 feet of elevation gain.
I was offered a position as the aid station manager for the two consecutive trips. I showed up unsure, but ready with facepaint and lots of aid-station-stoke to do what I could for these riders.
I quickly realized I was going to see and talk to 100 people everyday on a trip that many of them deemed the hardest thing they had ever done.
It took consistency, lots of encouragement, and as the day wore on, more and more creativity for how to get people back out there. Each aid station was a turning point where riders could choose to continue for the second half of the day or take the van to camp. At one point, I picked a BUNCH of cactus splinters out of someone's leg, then painted some encouraging words on his forearms, made sure he ate a whole pb&j even though he was quite uninterested in food, and sent him on his way.
I did something similar to this, perhaps without the cactus, 100 times a day for 8 days. I cut up 80 lbs of bananas, 18 watermelons, and served up 260,000 calories of peanut butter. We drove 40 ft moving vans on four wheel drive roads with 14 creek crossings, and worked from 6am to 10pm each day. (mostly play-work though -- because bikes and facepaint and huge red rocks everywhere!)
When I race, I know my experience and maybe a glimpse of the people's around me. During Bikerpelli though, I heard a select part of 100 people's experiences. They came into the aid station with stories, dread, excitement, and bike drama. Often, it seems they needed someone to listen as much as they needed Sun Chips and pineapple. While I chopped fruit, I learned about wild bike fixes, lack of preparation, and even learned about a sport called burrow racing where you and your donkey trail run together for multiple days.
I quickly grew a lofty appreciation for aid-station volunteers as well as the people who work the logistics of events. I always knew it was a lot of work, but I hadn't ever been the person who made vats of coffee or coordinated loading and unloading 6000 lbs of duffle bags everyday in the remote backcountry (at least remote for a moving truck). It's a ton of work to get to Costco and buy insane amounts of food, then drive them across the state, and present them on colorful trays, ready for when riders make their way through.
So, here's my huge thanks to organizers, coordinators, and supporters. The biking is simple in comparison. This is a pretty insane side of the sport and we pedalers certainly couldn't do really any of it without you. Thank you thank you thank you! And a huge thanks to my Bikerpelli family, I wouldn't have wanted to play/work in the desert with anyone else.
I, alongside Kaylee Blevins, and a group of local riders from Durango, CO challenged the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic to equalize the payout between men and women in the road race. This debate has been going on for over a decade and numerous women have reached out to the organization to change the payout. We took a new approach and rallied a large group of people that the director would have a harder time saying no to. It took lots of women, men, local organizations, and even one company offering to pay the difference. We sure did do it though — this year the race paid out an equal amount of money to the men and women as they crossed the line after the historic 50 mile race against the train from Durango to Silverton, CO.
(If you’re looking for the gritty details, check this LINK from the Durango Herald article)
Starting a race is scary. Starting a race and already knowing your undervalued makes the ol’ stomach pit even deeper. Cycling is men’s sport – we are reminded of that with unequal payout, lack of representation, and chamois that simply don’t fit well. The step-through bike frames and pink clothing remind us we are not here to race, instead to look good and clean and sweet on a bike.
In this “men’s sport”, the kid’s development program in Durango had more girls than boys out there shredding this year. Just this weekend, American women won all three races at the World Cup in The Czech Republic. We train damn hard, put up with the degrading comments on group rides, and keep showing up. We are here. We are all just hoping to be recognized, seen, and acknowledged.
Race organizers have a choice. It’s easy to logic their way out of equal payout. There are less women, we don’t typically race as fast, and our entries don’t bring in the same amount of money. But, values. Let’s honor and respect the women and girls who show up and who push through this male dominated sport to find their own freedom and happiness on a bike. Everyone deserves joy, representation, inspiration, and to be compensated equally for putting in incredible effort and dedication. We will keep showing up and keep bringing more people with us. If you have the power to tell us that we are equal or that we are valued in this sport, step up and equalize that payout. The women will thank you, you can ignore the men who complain about losing a snippet of their privilege, and the young girls around you will hopefully only know a sport where they are taken seriously and not put on the back row from the very beginning.
After more than a decade of numerous women contacting the Iron Horse, we have finally been able to level the payout in the road race. It took rallying a group of women and men in a strong community effort to make the change.
I’m thrilled that after a decade of women reaching out that the payout was finally changed. I’m certainly thankful for the men who stepped up to help us. At the same time, I can’t wait for the day when it doesn’t take men stepping up to make other men listen.
It doesn’t take much – just be nice, respectful, and treat others the way you’d like the be treated. Be kind and encouraging and trust that we can and will do things that are challenging. It means a lot when men are supportive without being degrading and honor that we have skills, and also deserve the joy and sense of freedom that draws all of us to the cycling world. So, here’s an enthusiastic cheers to big smiles for feeling valued, and another cheers to pushing for equality, and a third for continuing to hold our ground in this “men’s sport” – boobs and all.
When I started DEVO, I was spending most of my time running around in the woods, making up games, and feeling generally enthralled and amazed at the world around me. In middle school, I truly hadn’t hit the teenage angst or feeling that I wanted to be more “adult”. I loved to play, to get really covered in dirt, to make up songs, and to climb trees. It became hard to remember this genuine type of fun when my planner filled up and studying and cleaning the kitchen became a priority. However (!), DEVO continued to hold this joyful space for me. Even as I started to feel more independent and responsible for my own well-being, I held the little DEVO secret of NFTF, of laughter, and of down to earth play time. Biking with DEVO began as play and has continued to offer me a sense of childlike joy ever since.
As a cyclist, I have felt myself slip into times when biking is not fun and when workouts feel like something I have to do rather than something I want to do. Each time, I recognize its time to step back and remember playing polo with Chad, or dancing on the top of Animas Mountain, or watching a fellow teammate make it up that one tricky rock for the first time.
Unlike many professional cyclists, I didn’t have a training plan until partway through college – almost 6 years after I started racing. I play bikes. I let cycling be a few hours of each day when I can let my to-do list flutter away and simply focus on how splendid it feels to be pedaling along and ripping up some burms with my best friend on my wheel.
I wish I had remembered, at every point of my cycling life, that this really is all for fun and games. We are all a bunch of goofballs in leotards, riding in circles. It can seem very serious and nerves are real; however, as soon as I don’t want to ride, or as soon as cycling is not as fun, it’s time for me to step back and consider why I initially loved biking. For me, I love to compete, and even more importantly, I love riding next to friends, laughing and feeling giddy to make it over the next hill. I love squealing after a sweet corner and feeling very rad after nailing a jump. There are very few people who are the best cyclists in the world from a results perspective – and I would rather be full of joy and love each day I have the opportunity to ride, than leave behind all the fun and make something that is rooted in fun just another to-do list item. And (!), some of the best results I’ve ever had were races where I smiled the whole time and slipped back into the NFTF feeling DEVO taught me so many years back. Kiddos! Remember you’re just about the luckiest people in the world to get to ride bikes. Support each other, cheer for one another, be nice to everyone on the trail, don’t take yourself too seriously, and remember to rest when you’re tired!
I crashed, actually three times, at the beginning of September and ended up with a relatively serious concussion. Interestingly, I hit my head twice and hardly experienced symptoms, then I crashed on my hip and the impact reverberated causing a cascading effect of a significantly worse concussion. For about a month I felt nauseous and tired. I certainly could not exercise and avoided screens, loud places, bright lights, and thinking in general. All things considered, it was a pretty typical concussion experience.
However! The typical athlete concussion narrative that I hear involves not much more than a longing to be back riding. I too, felt like this should be my response. However again! I took a step back when I realized this is not what I was feeling. Honestly, I had one of the best months of my life. I camped, climbed, read, wrote, drew, slept and generally let cycling take a back seat while I committed to watching sunsets and caring for myself while I was healing.
I do not think I am hardwired like a world champ cyclist. I did not feel like I lost myself when I couldn’t ride. I was not itching to ride again. I easily found loads of other things to do – many of which made me happier than I have been in a while.
I find I am tentative to set goals when it comes to biking – I realize now this may be rooted in a fear of commitment. Truly, I like many non-top-level-athlete things: dancing at folk festivals, staying up late to watch the moon, rafting, family trips without a bike. I often want to succeed in certain races simply to prove I can both camp and stay up late and race the following day. I want to prove its possible to be a committed professional as well as have boat-loads of fun while not on a bike.
Thanks to this month, I settled into the idea that I may have been striving to conform to a lifestyle I did not actually want. It was easy to convince myself I was following my own goals – but in reality, I needed a significant amount of time to re-center and think about what I actually want to do. Turns out, I love racing, I love biking, but I mostly love playing bikes, having fun, and not feeling continually sucked into not having space to do anything except bike.
This past summer, I felt incredible pressure to hit certain results. I did everything I could – ie. I rested, rode, and turned my full attention to bikes. I barely remember being happy this past summer. I was grinding each day, in complacency, following a training plan, and forgetting about many other components of my life. I was traveling and racing, and from the outside, it seems like I should have been fulfilled and happy. But since September, I’ve laughed more and rekindled my love for numerous facets of life. I’ve camped with people who I love, people who are complicated and care deeply about so much outside themselves. I refunded the money from a plane ticket to go race and spent it on a ski pass, because frick yeah its ridiculously fun to ski again.
Also this past summer, I went to Grinduro. Let me tell you, this is exactly the kind of biking I want in my life. All the racers camp, listen to music, eat food together, and then ride fondo style for the majority of 65 miles. There are short timed segments where everyone goes ham, then regroups at the aid station to eat food, drink beer, play with dogs, and paint our faces. We jumped in lakes, laughed, and still had an outlet to be wildly competitive – even if we did have cat whiskers drawn on our faces. This is the shit I like. At this time, I don’t feel any need to race a world cup. I want to play, to take myself less seriously, and to still feel strong, capable, and more well-rounded than I have in a long time. I’m realizing I care more about the joy of it all than the results. This is not where I was headed just a few months ago.
I have qualms though, lots of them. Primarily, I consumed a ridiculous amount of things over the years, rationalizing over and over that is for cycling and therefore doesn’t need to align with the values in the rest of my life (hellllooo cognitive dissonance). I’m fed up with thinking it’s reasonable to switch my tires for one race weekend then toss them after two days of riding. I also no longer want to feel like a disposable athlete. I understand teams are challenging and funding is volatile, AND I have felt like a disposable component of numerous teams for years. I’m not about that. Here’s my no to consuming nearly as many products and also to feeling like I, myself, am disposable. I’m also tired of traveling to incredible places, only to sit around waiting to race. I used a ridiculous amount of fuel and resources to get here and I want to talk to people, explore, and embrace this new space. No more to coffee shop rides being the most I see of a new place. Also, my qualms with gender disparities in the sport are enough to really make this a long post. – but I’ll leave it at the fact that I was explicitly called “too emotional” by a guy in charge and instead of saying this was unacceptable, I just smiled and tried to be okay in the hopes he wouldn’t terminate my two year contract, which was ended a mere two weeks after. You are welcome to dig into that, because I see innumerable ways to dissect that interaction and they all lead to some serious shit the industry needs to work through when it comes to women in sport. DAMN
Here’s the good stuff though! Instead of turning my back, or complaining much more than that last paragraph, I think there are ways to make this better. And now that I’ve simmered down in reeled in my apparently unacceptable emotions on the topic, here’s some good stuff that I want to make happen:
-plan my calendar based on what I actually want to be doing (!)
-work with people who value sustainability and durability
-not get new stuff every 10 minutes
-do other activities and be strong in ways other than moving my legs in circles
-use this platform to do good and not just be selfish
-think hard about travel decision in order to minimize the GHG impact of being a professional athlete
-fix stuff instead of demanding new-ness all the time.
I’m excited, it feels good. I already feel better knowing that I can address the extreme number of excuses I make for cycling and stop before they take over. I want to do this better, and I also don’t want to leave the community. So far, I’m thinking this means more jorts, probably more snack breaks, more rides without rules, a serious increase in laughter, significantly less time sitting around resting my legs, and a whole lot more contentedness at the whole situation. And don’t forget I want to go ham, be strong, and work really hard when I want to be working really hard. Care to join me?
I won't say it has been easy in Peru. I've had my fair share of solid cries, parasites, dog chases, broken bikes, stolen phones and GoPros, and serious language barriers. However, despite the seriously numerous challenges, I love this country, and therefore it must be pretty spectacular in order to overcome the hardships. So, what has kept me sane? Here is a quick list of physical and non physical items that kept me a happy Em:
Unexpected Physical Goodness:
-Osprey Hornet 46L pack (this thing somehow works for backpacking, school, day trips, and long weekends. It shrinks with some cool sinchers and expands to be pretty massive -- I'm continually impressed)
- Probiotics, vitamins, Wellness formula -- all of them, all the time
- Peanut butter packets to turn a day around
-Bar of coco butter lotion (weirdly calming and key in the dry climate, also I smell like chocolate all the time now -- so that's a win)
- Talking to and hearing about shared study abroad experiences, from what I've heard, almost everyone has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows while abroad. I can confirm this is true.
-My sister gave me a Gratitude Journal, every night I write a few things I am thankful for from the day, it takes about one minute, and I love it a whole lot
-Patience, bring lots.
Biking is Possible With These Things:
-a ridiculous amount of patience pt II -- basically no part of cycling is easy here, but it is possible, and its freakin epic out there once you make it
-Haku Expeditions -- this agency is run by Nicole and Bill Koch, they rock, and they kept me sane and happy here, and showed me probably the most ridiculous trails I'll ever ride
-Knee Pads/Thick Pants -- I'm just adding this in here because someone told me the best way to fight off the dogs was just to wear plastic on your legs so when they bite you don't get rabies...
-Trek Top Fuel -- Honestly, I would recommend a drastically squishier bike for optimal fun here in Cusco, but the Top Fuel kept the heck up and I'm more impressed everyday at its abilities :)
Magura Vyron Elect Dropper Post -- blessings, these mountains are gnarly and I was happily dropping that seat all semester
-Orange Seal Sealant -- while the dogs are chasing you, its easy to run over the seemingly innumerable nails sitting in the road... CRAZY INSANE COUNTRY
-Squirt Lube -- the sticky clay mud must be fought off!!
-Wool clothes, all of them -- Voler Apparel makes some incredible wool products. Not only can you blend in with the sheep, but when the sudden hail storms come in, you won't turn to ice!
-Feedback Sports Roller -- We are well acquainted, and this thing is rad when its tough to be outside
The Least Sensible Things I Brought:
-a sheet of stamps from the US ... literally WHY, Em? I just laugh when I think about this decision
Honestly, I intended for this list to be genuinely helpful... looks like it took a bit of a different direction, but I'll take it. And honestly, there is some good stuff in here, particularly the bike stuff and the peanut butter, and the gratitude journal. I take it back, it is pretty helpful.
Much love, thanks for reading my low key ramblings.
Five women and I took on the Santa Cruz trek in Huaraz, Peru for our spring break. While most people went to the beach, we convinced ourselves that four days in the Cordilleras range would be full of beauty, feelings of simplicity, and accomplishment.
We each own a pair of hiking boots, on the final bus to reach the start of the trek, I laced up my shoes with a sort of superiority that my choice of hiking shoe was clearly the best for this endeavor. Lightweight, approach shoes, with laces that start down by my toes, and an impressive level of waterprooofness.
We started walking, up, lots of up, with small rocks on the trail, large rock steps, and a stunning river raging to our left. Rainy season hydraulics teased the water as it plunged along. We had heard the first day was a mere two hours of hiking – so, two hours in we took a break, took of our shoes, and wiggled our tired toes in the frigid river.
Lesson number one: never, ever listen to anyone who tells you how long the trek will be. Another 2+ hours later, we finally reached camp, slightly frustrated at the length of the day, but happy to have arrived. I took off my trusty, and now dusty, hiking boots and slipped on my camping crocs.
The following day, some feet had blisters, and we had heard we would be walking for closer to five hours. However, see lesson number one.
Eight hours later, with feet covered in blisters, we made it to camp number two. The number of times we convinced ourselves it was “just over that ridge” was comical. By the end of the day, we had all chatted about our boots, and found each of us was incredibly, unbudgingly, partial to our own shoes. Whether this hinged on weight, level of waterproofness, age (new or old), or numbers of miles walked, we all tapped our toes together while sitting at lunch and chatted, simply, about boots. Part of the beauty in simplifying, in only really chatting, walking, eating, and sleeping, means we had space to talk about shoes, or really detail how a certain cup of coffee tasted, or reflect for slightly too long on how massive mountains look silhouetted by the stars. However, by the time we reached camp, no matter how fond we were of our boots, we were all happy to take them off and wiggle into camp shoes.
Day three, they told us eight hours, so, naturally, ten hours later, we had successfully summitted the highest peak (15,600 ft). We squealed, and continued to gasp as we looked higher than we thought possible to the tops of the surrounding peaks.
As we made our way down the other side, the rain started, and the stomach aches started. It was a low point. Clean shoes turned fully brown from stepping in surprisingly deep mud puddles, and we walked in silence as the hours ticked by. Six rain-poncho-ed girls kept each other moving through the occasional words of encouragement, but mostly through the shared experience of continuing to trudge along together.
By day four, our feet were permanently smelly, hurting, and resistant to another day of walking. Two of the girls had pretty brutal stomach bugs, and the hike ahead seemed almost cruel. Fortunately, each of us had moments of pulling the group along, and we were able to step up, often fueled by complaints, and followed by amazement at the world around us.
The cleansing mountain air was refreshing, trying, and breathtaking. We did it though. We all made it from start to finish and it was not easy. I think most of us shed a tear and wished we were at home in our beds. However, the shared experience of walking, chatting, and feeling tiny in the massive valley brought a renewed sense of smallness as well as accomplishment and strength. I’m thankful for strong women, resilience, and of course Pachamama for the earth she built.
As we finally returned to Cusco, after almost a week of travel, I pulled my absurdly smelly boots out of my bag, and put them straight outside to air out. And, while I have no plans of putting them on in the next few weeks, I am still convinced they are the absolute best option – but aren’t we all.
All photos taken by the insanely talented Eliza Strait <3
On the flight to Mexico City from Denver, I started reading Catch 22. This book, so far, is an entirely male-based war novel. Even on the flight to Peru, I already felt like this was not what I needed or wanted. Since then, I've recognized the magic of spending time here reconnecting with women, feminity, chicas, softness, self awareness, and some much needed body love.
I spent the last semester in Boulder living with two boys (who are both great, to be fair) and training and racing with almost all boys as well. I am often inherently drawn towards a masculine energy and can feel more comfortable in competitive, logical situations. Racing and training feels more inherently masculine, and the fact that the sport is dominated my men reinforces this idea.
However, when I arrived in Peru, I looked around the room of fellow students and felt a flicker of panic when there were only four boys amongst the 31 of us. I am used to spending time with male energy and it feels easy for me to jump into this role.
Over the last five weeks though, I have again recognized the magic of women. I find it challenging to be kind to myself, to stay soft, and to connect with the feminine side of myself. While this does feel quite new for me, here are a few things I have noticed:
1. I feel validated in taking time to rest, recover, stretch, and just be still. This is hard for me, and the women surrounding me all encourage me to care for myself in a way I almost always disregarded at home.
2. When I give myself space, I want to do things like read, write, and draw. This creative capacity is easily masked by checklists, busy days, and a disconnect from how I actually feel.
3. Biking has given me an incredibly skewed sense of what is reasonable. I am definitely still piecing all of this together-- but, I spent four weeks riding the trainer here in Peru and while at home, this would have sounded like torture. However, once I had time to appreciate the rest of my day, slow down, and rest, the trainer became almost.. dare I say enjoyable? Obviously I am elated to have figured out how to ride outside, but the difference in how I approach cycling feels entirely different here than at home.
4. I don't obsess about what I look like or feel like while I am here. Maybe I'm simply distracted by the beauty, the dogs, and the stares from children -- or maybe I am becoming more at peace with myself. I've tried to write, reflect, and even draw myself without judgement. This feels really good. I've known that I have pretty serious body image issues since early high school, and this feels like a step in the right direction.
In honor of International Women's Day, I'd like to re-center and continue to bask in the magic of the women around me. I feel filled to the brim, connected, loved, and cradled by the Cusco valley, bumping hips with the women who all chose to be in this city. I am thankful and fulfilled, feeling strong and soft, independent and cared for.
I'm also thankful for the men, particularly the men at home, who are actively taking a stance, to support the women around them. I see you, I hear you and I appreciate it. It makes a difference and does not go unnoticed.
Much love from down in Peru. Thank you Pacha Mamma and la luna for that beautiful divine feminine energy keeping us all alive and full of joy.
Cusco, Peru is starting to feel like home. Here is a series of photos and short stories to give you an idea of what life is like here: (some photos related to the words, and some truly not...)
Carnival! This past weekend/the entire past two weeks has been full of celebration. My friend Luke and I were in the plaza watching the havoc and we bought a soap/foam sprayer like all the kids so we had some chance at fighting back. While sitting calmly on the steps of a thousand year old church, we were ambushed by ~8 giggling boys who proceeded to douse us in water, soap, and smiles. They even managed to steal our one weapon and leave us drenched and, of course, laughing.
ELEVATION. The city sits at 11,000 feet and the surrounding mountains reach 20,000 feet. Walking is hard, biking is hard, and I'm pretty sure my lungs are already bigger. It is stunning and steep and amazingly nestled so close to the sky. The stars are perfect, the sun is super strong, and hardly any bugs can live here -- I'll take it. Also, the city nestled in a valley does remind me of Durango, I feel held by Pacha Mama.
Last night I poured coffee on my dinner. There was a clear vase of what I thought was balsamic vinegar, but was actually super concentrated coffee on the table. It was hilarious, the whole family laughed, and Kala, our tiny dog was a happy little gal after a dessert of rice and vegetable with coffee on top.
I have not seen a single car stop at a stop sign. Actually I have never seen a car slow down at a stop sign, there are no rules and it is craziness.
I ate some guinea pig.. can't say it was great.
This croissant cost 60 cents and it was DELICIOUS. Cheap food is a crazy thing -- I've been eating a mango almost everyday and throwing down a full 75 cents for each one. :)
Biking here is freaking hard. I am trying to make friends to ride with, but it's challenging. The hardest part is the dogs. They are fine with people walking and cars, but runners and bikers are vicious dog targets. I've only ridden outside twice and both times I was honestly scared the whole time. Hopefully finding some friends will make it easier. For now, I am happy as a clam on the trainer watching Pirates of the Caribbean in Spanish and hearing dogs bark outside without fearing for my life.
Everyone I've met here is nice. Even though I'm continually laughed at for being a gringa and speaking truly remedial Spanish, everyone smiles and is happy to speak slowly for me. I feel super safe here (mom, take note). Everyday I am more and more impressed with the kindness of the Cuscanean people (rest of the world, take note).
Here's my favorite breakfast: chive omelet, avocado, and beet/apple /banana fresh juice smoothie!
I'm learning Spanish super quickly.. mostly because I have to because my family speaks super minimal English. It is pretty cool though! Immersion! Wow!
I had to put my bike on top of a bus, twice, on Sunday. They didn't strap it down, it was just held on my the 6 inch railings on the side. I spent the next thirty minutes watching out the back window waiting for it to bounce out. TERRIFYING. However, it didn't bounce out, and it was a good lesson in trust.
This is my roommate Allison, she's great. Nothing like a shared experience to create the best friendships possible in a two week span. S/o to my new friends, you guys are all SO COOL and I'm very thankful to know you.
The food here is pretty good! Most of it is good and some of it is SUPER DUPER GREAT. My family cooks every meal for us, which is quite an adjustment from college life. We eat so much bread, lots of rice, some veggies, and some meat. There is also lots of fresh fruit which is a real win. While I don't eat meat at home in Colorado, I have been eating meat here. I don't want to impose a dietary preference on my fam, and I also need the protein, and I also want to try all the Peruvian food! So far, so good!
Much love to you all, stay tuned for more cactus pics and stories and hopefully cycling success. :)