We are all individuals! But are we allowed to be?
Lately I have been thinking a lot about individuality and its place within cycling and bike racing. It’s a strange beast, especially for someone like myself, who more often than not, feels like he just doesn’t belong to any real part of cycling culture. That’s OK, I mean I’m talking about cycling, if one wants to “fit in,” there are plenty of other hobbies and lifestyles to choose from in modern-day society.
Sometimes I think about the things that set me apart (often to a fault) from so much of the cycling community: despite having raced, I am not all that competitive, I don’t dig the bought my bike at a studio/coffee shop roadie culture, I don’t do or like Strava, I don’t do big group rides, I don’t like cyclocross racing, and enduro to me is short for “endurance,” NOT racing a technical downhill but not the uphill. I find the idea of doing a week-long stage race with a bunch of other cyclists who aren’t my friends a bit like hell, I don’t ride a singlespeed and drink bad beer, and I would never ever consider owning a fixed geared bike. There is nothing all that wrong with any of those things, it’s just that none of them are my thing. I don’t rag on the folks that do all that stuff and expect the same in return for not doing them.
What really got me thinking about all this is this coming weekend’s Iceman race here in Michigan. Possibly the largest one day mountain bike race in the U.S., if not the world. Literally several thousand people from Michigan and around the country descend on Traverse City, Michigan to race roughly 30 miles, of two-track, dirt roads and wee bit of single track. It is an amazing spectacle and it’s great for the mountain bike community and for Michigan.
In 2010, my fist year living in Michigan after moving from Western Pennsylvania, I endured the questions “Are your racing Iceman? and “Did you race Iceman?” hundreds of times. I nearly thought of making a sign to hang around my neck that said “NO, I DID NOT RACE ICEMAN!” Finally, in 2011 after my most productive season ever as a mountain bike racer (not sure where that came from), I finally did the Iceman. The Iceman is a race, that as a mountain biker and a Michigander, I am SUPPOSED to love.
I’m fine with never doing it again.
It’s not you, it’s me.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the race; the promoter, the people who do the race (at least most of them), the sponsors or the spectators. The race is truly an event to behold. Even looking back at the race report I wrote in 2011, I had very little bad to say about it. But for me personally, the more I thought about it, the bad outweighed the good.
In the months before registering, I was warned by many a local racer about the annual debacle that is registering for Iceman. I was told “Servers will go down, panic will ensue, there will be riots, angry forum posts and hissy fits thrown!” All of those things did indeed happen, but not for me; I logged in, and a few minutes later I was registered. It seemed almost TOO easy. I think I may have actually been disappointed at the lack of registration drama. I felt like I missed out on the true spirit of Iceman.
Now that I was registered, all I had to do was book a cheap hotel room, race my bike all summer, then cap off the season with a November trip to Traverse City and my first Iceman, where I would start in an ungodly 24th wave due to having not prior finishing time, well after all my friends were to start and probably almost finished.
Fast forward several months…
I remember going to the race check in the night before, walking into the expo and registration area, and being so overwhelmed by the amount of people there that I nearly walked straight back out the door and probably would have had I not bumped into my friends just as I was about to flee!
Once the race started, it was actually fine. OK, that’s a like, it actually sucked, because I was hauling ass and passing a ton of folks in the first five or so miles when I flatted. It seems that I MAY have failed to re-Stan’s my tires in the
weeks months leading up to the race and that I had forgotten my hand pump in all the pre-race carpooling, shit taking, ass wiping, frozen hands, start line shivering madness. The Co2 canisters I had on me spat out an anemic wheeze and left me walking along the trail until a friendly racer dropped a pump for me. Once that Beginner/Sport class-like drama played out, I was back on the bike and enjoyed the race and the crowds of folks that lined the trail cheering for anyone and everyone.
It’s funny, because I really do remember having fun racing and even more fun after the race watching the pros and drinking beer. Like I said, it’s a great race and a good time for most people, it’s just that I am not “most people” and the time before the race and between my finish and when had my third Bell’s Two Hearted sucked. All those freaking throngs of people and me there hanging out with just a few folks that I had known for less than a year. Sure, we were friends and we’re all really good friends now, but I still ended up with the same feeling I get from festivals, amusement parks, concerts, cities and large sporting events. It’s hard to describe… it’s not a panic attack, it’s just a wish to not really be there!
In the end, I had fun but swore I would never do it again. Not because of the race, the actual race is easy. If you can ride dirt roads, you can ride Iceman. It was just that “feeling.” The feeling is sort of how I like the idea of going on vacation but the entire time I’m actually on vacation I wish I was anywhere but.
Moth to flame, etc.,
Oddly enough, time–like booze, drugs and all you can eat pizza–has a way of erasing bad memories and I once again registered for the 2012 race.
However, as time went on I found myself less and less enamored with doing the race. I didn’t racer nearly as much as the year before, my fitness was down, stress and depression were up and I kept putting off getting a hotel room. Finally I started asking around, found a place to flop, found a place and then said those two words that seem to define my personality more and more as I get older and more and more of a depressive, old fucking prick… “fuck it.”
When 2013 and now 2014 rolled around I never even entertained the idea of racing. I won’t be missed amongst the thousands of racers and spectators and I won’t miss it (that much). Aside from one or two races a year, my days of racing draw fewer and farther between. Some of that is fitness and some of it is health related. It’s not ideal, but it’s OK. My only goal now–even if I’m not racing–is to keep on riding and regain at least some of the fitness I had when I WAS racing.
As I read all the dross I typed above, I actually think this post has very little to do with being an individual or the Iceman and more and more to do with me being a total fucktard. Oh well, if you’re racing the Iceman this weekend, I wish you the best of luck. Make sure you have fresh Stan’s in your tires and have beer or twelve for me at the finish line. I’ll be riding in the cold and slop of mid Michigan, feeding and walking my friend Chris’ dog while he DOES race the Iceman and spending time with my crimson headed, buxom gal pal whom I haven’t seen in a week.
Remember, you don’t have to like EVERYTHING. Being yourself can be tough, and on occasion a bit lonely, but in the end it’s worth it.