Since the age of 3, stories of burning holes in my shoes and busted "Big Wheels" from skidding turns or rumbling downstairs in a hilly New England neighborhood ruled my childhood. Riding bikes around town to get places, I found myself enjoying the ride to and from the destination more than the event set in the middle. I got a job in a shop, I broke a lot of parts, I had a lot crashes, but all I wanted to do was keep riding. The ride has driven every decision in my adult life, from where I went to school, to where I travel in my free time, its all ride driven. I went north to Vermont to attend college with more mountains and more riding. I met a few notable racers like Dave and Lee Trumpore and began chasing them and the clock from that point on. A few years later, I achieved a degree in Mechanical Engineering, a pro cycling license and an empty bank account all in the same year. I took the logical path, thanks to my education in complex problem solving and began a career in my field of study. All the while, I ran to the hills every evening and weekend I could, because I simply love riding my bike. A decade later, after countless hours in the office daydreaming about what it would be like to ride my bike all around the world racing with the best, I decided it was time to wonder no more.
Things in the bike industry seem to trend together all at once. It's as if riders and brands all the sudden reflect on what is unique and marketable, then deliver all at the same time. Shred edits, raw edits, epic destination photo stories, carbon whatever, wheel size this, hub spacing that, you name it. This year seems to be all about the privateer and here I am to bring another story to the table. There are heaps of passionate riders with varying degrees of support and lifestyles out there every day pursuing what they love. The truth is, we are all hardworking men and women with similar, but unique stories about how we get to these impressive venues with intense competition.
When initially planning for a season of Enduro World Series racing, there was a long list of reasons not to do it. The logistics of travel, the funds to get me through the season, the time needed away from work and a fully dedicated lifestyle to make it all happen. It would have been easy to turn the opportunity down, but I kept repeating this one question over and over in my head. "What are you going to remember or regret more in 15 years, the time you got qualified for the EWS and went on a cool vacation for a week to race one in Europe somewhere or embarking on a year full of unknowns and risk to experience it all. The logistics will be tough and my time will be precious. I was able to come to an agreement with work, but flights will need to be tight, often overnight, to get me at the events without missing too much time. When I am home, there are no days off. Training during the winter had me running to the gym on lunch breaks a few days a week and on the evenings as well. The weekends sent me 4 or more hours south several times a month to find trails that were not completely covered in ice. With the amount of time and funds being invested in this season, I want to be comforted knowing no opportunity was spared and I gave it all I have. Whether that's 50th or dead last, cause let's be honest, there's a reason I don't ride bikes full time after 15 years of racing... I'm not here to win. I love it just the same as those that do and that's why I'm here.
There was so much anticipation leading up to the first 2 rounds. I was concerned about if I had ridden enough through the winter or if I had trained hard enough to simply be physically able to finish the races. Round 1 in Lo Barnechea, Chile would serve up the longest stage the EWS has ever seen, above tree line high altitude terrain and the infamous anti-grip soil. All these elements could not be further from what I am used to riding at home and during the middle of our winter nonetheless. I approached this race with the ultimate mindset of first and foremost, finish the race and secondly, start practice slow to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. Although I had my share of crashes in practice, I was elated to not have any during the race and really enjoyed the polar opposite terrain I am used to. With the length of these courses paired with the technicality of trail, it is nearly impossible to have a perfect race. I had my share of issues throughout the 2 days and know there was lots of time left on track, but overall round 1 was a success with some stage results that had me smiling.
Now it was time to move onto round 2 in Colombia, but first task was getting there. Hustling to pack bikes after the race, drive down to Santiago, a few brief hours of sleep and a very early morning trip to the airport. I will never forget being greeted at the airport by Yoann Barelli who happens to be walking by. He quickly stops and turns to us as we walk into the airport and says (insert French accent) "Okee, you are going to go ova zare, to the right, and just bring your bike and whatever you do, don't freeeeak out! Just ova zare, everything will be fine, just don't freeeak out!!!" I awkwardly laughed to myself thinking, yea everything you see of this guy, he is legit crazy. I continue on to round the corner for flight check-in only to find a queue filled behind the ropes with every major factory team and rider all in line for the same flight to Bogota. Literally hundreds of bikes lined up in the oversize line and all I could do inside was FREAK OUT! How would we make our flight and how many days later will our bikes arrive I thought to myself. Yoann was right though, everything was fine, we made our flights and the bikes came to us just 1 day later.
The few days leading up to the next event, although being in large crowded cities like Santiago or Manizales, it all seemed so small. The flight to Bogota might as well have been a charter flight for all the racers with so many teams and individuals booking the same flight. Once settled in Colombia, you couldn't go for a walk to the grocery store, have a coffee outside or a drink in a bar without seeing other racers doing the same. These familiar faces from the city all joined up for some incredible riding 2 days before practice started through nearby coffee plantations. The riders were greeted by excited and smiling locals. Again, something I will never forget was the pride these hard-working farmers showed in their faces to be hosting riders from all over the world in their home village and trails. The fears of embarking on this wild season were instantly justified at that moment.
The race consisted of 1 relatively light day with just the urban downhill stage and 1 heavy day of pedaling with 7 stages and no uplifts. Similar to the excited smiling faces on the coffee ride, the urban downhill stage brought out thousands of people from the city to watch and cheer. The entire course was lined with cheering fans and the experience alone was worth every dime to get me there. Now on day 2, I'm not sure if it was too much Aguardiente a few nights earlier that week, something mysterious in the food or my body shutting down after an intense week and a half, but energy was low and my body wasn't right. This paired with intense rainfall made several of the stages unrideable in sections. Another memory I will never forget (seems like there will be many of those this year) was running portions of stages while my wheels dragged behind me because they were so clogged with mud that they could not spin. It didn't feel like a race to me and there were some new mental lows during that day that I had not experienced previously in an event. The ultimate goal this year is to just finish all 8 races. Nearly 25% of the field did not complete the race in Chile. Just to finish is an achievement in itself that you have to remember as you run into issues out there in the remote deserts and jungles.