Friday, January 6, 2012

Going forward

So I’m on a plane again. It’s been a while since I’ve checked in… right now I am on my way from Bozeman to Tucson. Ill be spending about three weeks down there training. Then it’s back to Bozeman for a couple days and then I’m moving to Switzerland. Yep that’s right... gonna try to make it over there. But first I want to reflect a little on the last trip to Europe I had last year.

Much of my season was spent in hotel rooms. I traveled around the globe, rode to and from racing venues, ate at restaurants that had menu’s with pictures… hoping someone spoke English. I walked around towns, took some photos while riding, and occasionally sat outside an appealing café. Rarely did I know where the best coffee or food was, nor did I ever know how to find the best trails. I relied on what seems to be my vast amount of dumb luck… I was afterall traveling the world to race a bike for god’s sake. I seem to have a lot of it. So when I failed to stumble on the best trails or was forced to drink the hotel’s Nescafe… I usually just dealt with it. And binged when I stumbled upon something good… I spent the rest of my time, hanging out with my American teammates. We caught up on Facebook, watched bike racing on Eurosport, in languages foreign to our ignorant ears. I listened to NPR and read the New York Times. We napped and read books. We talked about bikes and girls and bikes. We lived in our comfortable American bubble.

This is the nature of the beast though. I get to travel the world and race my bike. It’s not glamorous, but its what I love, and have always just accepted that for now I don’t get to experience the places I visit in the traditional, often more enriching ways. I don’t see many museums or eat a the mysteriously delicious street food usually.

The tides are turning. I spent two weeks in Czech and Italy, racing with the BMC European team for the final two World Cups.

In between racing in Czech and Italy, I traveled to Julien’s hometown of Fully, Switzerland. It’s in the county of Valais, south of Lac Lemon, Geneva and Montroux. It reminds me in many ways of the Wenatchee Valley back home. Apple orchards pattern the valley floor that gives way to bare, Alpen peaks. It’s breathtaking. Fully is a small town, maybe 5,000 people… Julian’s family owns something like 20 hectares of apple orchard. As we rolled into town, we stopped and picked some fresh Gala’s, ready for harvest, off his trees. Their juice was warm in the august sun. It was a little piece of home half way around the world. We had big family barbeques in his backyard, watching the sunset and the moonrise over the alps. And we rode his favorite trails, winding through the vineyards along the Rhone and up the steep mountainsides past massive waterfalls.It was incredible. I was treated as one of their own. We ate dinners, speaking French, German, Italian and English. We shared our success and our failures, we laughed together and we trained together. We drank good coffee and had good food. We picked pears, berries, carrots and tomatoes out of Balz’s garden in Zurich while when we found ourselves locked out of his house.

I was able to do the same thing in Freiburg a couple days later… Hanging out with Markus and Felix and Moritz… making espresso in Felix’s apartment and eating bread from the bakery just across the street from his living room window. I spent time hitting a rope swing into a pond with Moritz part of the way through a ride, and finished with more espresso on his back porch. On our drive from Italy to Freiburg, over the historic little passes of the

Giro d’Italia, we passed through St. Moritz, past massive glaciers and went swimming in Switzerland at beautiful clear blue lake just off the autobahn. I keep saying ‘we’ because I was part of their lives and they were part of mine for three amazing weeks. It was like I was experiencing Europe again for the first time; in a new way with new people. Experiencing these countries as a local does… living it, immersing myself in it.

I ended that trip at Worlds in Champery, with high expectations. I finished 5th in Czech and 7th in Italy… I think 8th overall in the World Cup standings. Good things could happen. Jaroslav Kulhavy crossed my front wheel 15 seconds into the team relay and I went down at 50kmh into the barriers. I broke my hand, ruined a wheel, lost a lot of skin and finished the race. Two days later I made it from 50th after the start lap of our U23 race up to 15th with my hand completely numb and in a splint when I again crashed and dislocated my shoulder with two laps to go. Glamorous.

I flew home hung over… airport ceilings were spinning for the 22 hours of travel home. And that’s kind of the way things have stayed until right now. This fall was the most insane three months of my life. I graduated college, taking 17 credits. I was training. I was a member of the Pan American Games team in Guadalajara. Karina and I broke up. I partied my face off. I made the Olympic Long Team. I signed a two-year contract with BMC. I feel exhausted from the emotional rollercoaster that culminated in graduation a couple weeks ago, and the reality that I am now 100% a professional cyclist. There are too many stories… all I know is that its gonna take some time for me to recover from it all. It was a blast; it was stressful, and trying. It was a lot to digest and I don’t know what it means yet.

I do know that I sit here I am a different person than I was a year ago. I’m headed back down to Tucson, and I have a different understanding of what this sport means to me. I love it more than ever… that I don’t question. But I’m approaching it differently. My emotional investment in it has changed. It’s still my escape; I live it and breathe it, but its also how I’m going to pay my rent. I’m still trying to figure out what it means to have this as my job and find a balance between going to work and going to play. More than anything I know I can do this. There isn’t any question in my mind any longer. I can be one of the best in the world. I’ve shown myself that. Sure their will be trial and error as I go along in this journey, but knowing I have the capacity changes how I invest my energy into this lifestyle. I’m excited to be living in Valais. Its going to be challenging; it won’t be like I have American teammates nearby… or doing a semester abroad with a bunch of other exchange students. I’m going to be living in my own apartment, becoming part of the place and community.

Just like I did during that final trip to Europe last summer. It’s an incredible opportunity. But first, I’ve got three weeks of sleep, eat, ride here in the desert to realign myself after what was an incredible 2011, so this year can be even better!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Stephen I am so happy to have this small glimpse into your cray 2011! We are so proud of all that you have done! Your incredibly hard work has been unimaginable by those of us 'looking in' and I'm glad you are going to be able to 'stay awhile' in Switzerland, making a new 'home' to come back to! Keep writing!! I thoroughly enjoy your description, thoughtful perspective, and that I can live vicariously thorough you! You will love to read these memories when you are 50, 70, and 90 years old!!! You're awesome! Continue to love life and keep 'turning up the good'!!!-Ann-Scott