Lately I’ve been thinking about the magical metamorphosis that took place when cycling went from being a hobby for me to lose weight and stay in shape to something that–in many ways–defines me as a person today.
As a kid, the extent of my bike riding was rolling around town on my black and yellow Mongoose BMX bike wishing I had the skills, speed and balls to race BMX with my friends Scott and John. The bike was cool, with sweet yellow mag wheels, checkered bar and stem pads and even though I never did race the bike, I rode around with a number plate on it. I was #4, paying tribute to then Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop turned coke-head Dale Berra. A tribute paid only after buying the #4 decal and being asked why the hell I was #4. If eleven year old kids called each other poseurs back in 1982, I would have surely been called one, and deservedly so.
After the BMX days, I sold my bike, stopped playing soccer, stopped playing baseball and turned all my attention to my new hobby; eating. Through my teens and very early twenties, I ate myself to a robust, ruddy cheeked, lonely and depressed 300 pounds. It wasn’t until I was on the brink of exceeding the maximum girth of my size 42 pants and lacked the funds to make the move up to 44s, that I finally did something about my weight (it seems it’s cheaper to lose weight than buy new clothes).
After years of saying I was going to “diet,” I finally just changed my lifestyle. I no longer attempted to starve myself, try diet pills or Slim-Fast shakes. For the first time in my life I started eating healthier foods, cut out between meal snacking (which were actually between meal meals) and started exercising, and IT WORKED!
Keep in mind, that at 300 pounds, my “exercising” consisted of long walks seeking out the biggest hills in town while listening to my Walkman, and that when you go from doing nothing to doing something, things will start to change; regardless, I was stoked to see the pounds start to come off. Then one day while sitting in my room listening to sad bastard music and flipping though a magazine I saw an ad for a mountain bike. It looked cool as hell and on top of that I remembered that this really hot girl I had gone to art school with had one. Cool looking bike… hot girl rides one…. OH, I’M GETTING ONE!
I imagined myself riding over rough mountain trails with throngs of fit, lycra clad mountain bike girls in sports bras following me, yelling out their phone numbers. Even though I knew in actuality, the bike would probably never see dirt and until I lost more weight any hot girl would most likely be found in the magazines I kept hidden under my bed. Despite this, I made a deal with myself that if I got down to a not quite as embarrassing 250 pounds I would get a mountain bike and start riding to help me burn more calories and lose more weight… And I did.
So some ten years after the poseur BMX days, I rediscovered the want to ride a bike and set about shopping for a mountain bike on a very limited budget. Once a heavy, full rigid, chromoly GT mountain bike was picked out at my local bike shop, it was put on layaway and picked up a month later. Now I was ready to ride!
I will never forget those early rides, roughly three miles in length, wearing a flannel button down shirt, jean shorts, an old pair of Vans and a baseball cap for a “helmet.” I barely knew how to shift gears and struggled to finish each and every ride, yet I was falling in love with riding my bike and as soon as I got up in the afternoon (I worked a 12 hour night shift back then) I would go for my ride, and somehow through all the “fat guy on a bike” embarrassment, frustration, sweaty flannel and a taint rubbed raw by the seam of my jean shorts, I loved every minute.
Getting in Deep
In the years that followed, those few short miles soon grew into longer and longer miles. I DID finally start wearing a helmet and I DID start riding on dirt! In addition to falling in love with mountain biking I also fell in love with and married an amazing woman. I don’t recall her chasing after me in a sports bra and lycra shorts shouting her phone number, but I digress… I lost more and more weight, my skills on the trails got better, I started making friends with other cyclists, better bikes were bought (including an actual road bike, gasp!) and more and more miles were put in; then I started racing.
Those first couple of XC races were OK, but they didn’t do too much to spark the fire. I continued riding both on the road and on the trails and soon found myself on a 24 hour team to race in Snowshoe, West Virginia. Now THAT lit a spark.
The next year I logged even more miles and twice found myself on 24 hour race teams. NOW the race fire was lit and before I knew it I was turning my attention to doing solo 6, 12 and 24 hour races as well as some of the burgeoning 100 mile NUE series races. Along the way I bought and sold way too many bikes and spent too much money I didn’t have on race fees, bikes and gear (thank you very much 19.5% APR Visa Card).
Here and there I earned a few sponsors, met a lot of cool people (and a few douche bags), raced a lot of races, took vacations centered around riding (hello Crested Butte, Durango, etc.,) and even conducted apartment and house searches based on their proximity to trails and road loops. I was in the best shape of my life and was the thinnest I had been in my entire teen or adult life, thin enough that I took great–although be it slightly perverse– pleasure in people asking me if I was ill or not. I wasn’t ill (at least not physically). For one of the first times in my life I identified with something; I was a cyclist, I was a mountain biker, I was a mountain bike racer.
On a bike I have experienced everything from pain, happiness, tears and smiles, to sickness, sadness and anger. I have had great rides, bad rides, OK races and DNFs. I’ve been on the podium a couple of times, finished mid-pack a ton and no doubt finished dead fucking last on a few occasions. I’ve crashed, fallen off of and broken my fair share of bikes and parts. I’ve also done a few embarrassing things on, as well as off of, the bike (like starting this blog in 2005). To quote my friend Brad, my “stain on the internet will be hard to erase.” I still feel the occasional sting of regret for having started the blog, as well as the need to extend heart-felt sympathies and apologies to you the reader, yet I still keep writing.
When I opted to leave my job of sixteen years in 2009 (opting to take a buy out, rather than risk possibly being laid off and left with nothing) I even attempted to make a career out of my passion for mountain biking by starting XXC Magazine. While that may or many not have been a good idea, through the joys of doing the magazine and the stresses, sadness and occasional bouts of bitterness of laying it to rest, I still remained and continued to be a cyclist.
A Decline (of sorts)
In recent years I’ve had the odd health issue than can interfere with riding and racing on occasion: three different blood clots, in three different years, in two different legs, for unknown reasons, has led me to a life long daily dose of anticoagulants, which makes crashing less than appealing to me due to increased bleeding and bruising risks, and even less desirable to my doctor (I currently operate on the “he never said I couldn’t race, he said I shouldn’t race” plan). I’m nowhere near as as thin as I was a few years ago, I no longer obsess about what I do and don’t eat, I enjoy way too many beers and I don’t get in nearly the hours I used to on my bike. Yet I still consider myself a cyclist and not just a guy who rides his bike now and then.
Any friends or long time reader of the blog will know that I am in no way the cyclist I was even just three or four years ago (even then I was pretty crap). Now, if I ride four or five times in a week, it has been a really, REALLY good week and most weeks I happily settle for three or four rides. In the summer (due to my Dad duties) I sometimes ride as little as twice a week. Still, right after being a dad and a husband, I feel that I am a still a cyclist above all else.
I’m Not Done Yet
I’ve met a lot of cool folks and I’ve seen a lot of talented riders and racers over the past twenty years or more. Sadly, I see many that don’t even ride anymore, let alone race. Some racers–no doubt–subsided to burn out, for some it was lack of time, money, a growing family, school or a starting a career. I don’t know if I will ever have the desire to race as much as I used to, nor the time or metabolism to ride myself back down to 170 pounds, but cycling has become too ingrained in my life to ever let it completely go. There will be more rides, bikes, parts and miles covered. There will be more legs shaved, more scars got and even more races raced. There will be more beer fueled cycling rants amongst friends, giving family and friends bad advice about what bike they should buy with money not mine, time wasted watching races on TV and sadly (for you) there will be more posts on this nearly ten-year old digital fish wrap I call The Soiled Chamois. All of these things will happen because over the past twenty-two years (nearly half my life!!) I have seen and done too many cool things on my bike. I have met too many good people via my bike and I have fully grown into a cyclist.
I know I’m not done yet as a cyclist, I know that it doesn’t matter if I race as much as I used to, ride as many miles as I once did, or weigh as little as I did when I was twenty-six. I know all too soon my son will be old enough to spend more and more time on his own, that I will once again return to the work force (doing what I don’t know!) and riding my bike will continue to be part of my life’s routine.
I might not have been, or be, the stereotypical cyclist or racer–but like it or not–cycling is part of my lifestyle and a huge part of who I am. I can’t fight it, I won’t fight it.
Now to go plan my next ride.