Another stupid brief message from the President and CEO of thesoiledchamois.net, and Soiled Chamois Enterprises, Inc.™
The following post contains a small dose of opinions and some large quantities of a personal mental journey in search of some inner peace.
In the context of “real life,” COVID, a historic US Presidential election, and the dumpster fire known as the year 2020, it’s a blind pimple on the ass of life that could have/should have easily been ignored.
With the election barely behind us, I find myself looking to let go of 4 years of worry, hate, and rage and
get back to start practicing a bit of self-care and self-love (not code for masturbation).
It doesn’t take a Mindbender (although I will consult the OG this week) to figure out the reasons I hated Fuck Face (Donald Trump); his misguided policies could have had a real impact on my family’s lives, as well as on a global level, but there was no doubt that I also saw him as the embodiment and conglomeration of various people with whom I’ll just say I don’t “mesh well” with. So, seeing Fuck Face lose wasn’t just about Fuck Face losing; it was also a way for me to experience what it would be like to say “FUCK YOU!!” to the un-meshables (I just made that word up) I’ve encountered in my life. And I’d be straight-up lying if I told you it didn’t feel great! Even if it is potentially unhealthy.
As part of my non-masturbatory (for now) efforts at self-love, I am revisiting and hopefully saying goodbye to what I refer to as my “complicated” emotional relationship with my bike and the sport of cycling.
Before I get into the cock and balls of this, I have to thank all the folks who replied to my Instagram post on this subject. I highly recommend checking out the thoughtful replies from endurance athletes and friends (past and present) worldwide. I am very grateful for their open and honest answers and will be talking more about it below.
Also, to be clear, I was never, EVER a Pro level racer, and my technical skills are only average. Riding and racing was in no way a career for me. It’s a fucking money pit of a hobby! I had some luck here and there to get on a podium or two, but I was mid-pack at best and then got worse and worse (and worse.. and worse) as I aged.
“I got enormous pleasure simply from riding a bike.
So I guess racing was a reason for riding it more.” — Eddy Merckx
Not including goofing off on my BMX around town in my youth, riding bikes has been a constant part of my life since I was 20 years old and bought my first “mountain bike.” Riding helped me lose the weight that mentally crippled me through my teen years, meet new friends, fall in love with the outdoors, see new places, and give me the confidence to try new things. It’s an amazing sport and a fantastic way to get outside and stay healthy.
The quote from Eddy Merckx1 above sums up what racing meant to me. I was never fueled by competitiveness with anyone other than myself and my waistline. It was the time I spent on my bike and the fitness that riding provided that tickled my saddle sore-laced pickle.
Racing slowed down for me after my second blood clot, but then made a brief resurgence in 2011 when I ignored (meaning I never mentioned it to him) the doctor’s advice and did a career-high 13 endurance, XC, and gravel races. But after the 3rd more painful clot in my upper thigh in 2012 or 13, the commitment to blood thinners2 for life, and a couple of (non-race) crashes that resulted in SERIOUS bruising, pain, and swelling due to said medication; I decided that racing was done. I was OK with that; I was still riding, just slower, and taking my camera along with me.
Eventually, my weekly mileage totals started to get lower and lower (and lower…and lower still), and now here I am, at 49 years old, 50+ pounds overweight, and I often go weeks at a time without touching or thinking about my bike. And that can have me questioning what the hell is wrong with me. It turns out there may be nothing wrong with me at all. But accepting that can be a bitter pill to swallow.
That Instagram post I mentioned above helped to point me in the right direction, and I regret that I didn’t do it years ago. The replies I received were thoughtful, poignant, and eye-opening, to say the least.
A long time web-friend named Allan, who used to ride and race endurance events and now power lifts, had some really interesting insights when he said, ” In all honesty, I think being in a bad relationship was one of the main drivers to go out and ride as much as I did. Once I met the woman I ended up marrying, I didn’t hate being at home, so the drive to go out on all-day rides just wasn’t there anymore.”
I can relate to that for sure. My move from riding for fun and fitness to endurance mountain biking started a few years after I married Wifey. No, no, no, I wasn’t running away from her!! But as our marriage morphed into job losses/changes, the loss of a parent, the loss of a grandmother, homeownership, parenthood, and working a low-paying job I hated, my stress levels went through the roof, and any chance I had to be on my bike or holed up in the Stankment on my trainer was seized like a mouthy bank robbery hostage in need of a good pistol-whipping.
Then, as B got older and my relationships and bonds with both he and Wifey grew even stronger, I found myself wanting to be around the house and around them more and more. And there was no way I was going to miss one of his soccer games to go for a bike ride! It’s easy for me to type this now, but only because of 20/20 mental hindsight and some help from Allan’s words. However, at the time, I fought it hard! I would force myself to ride, be miserable, and then be a dick for the rest of the day.
Even when I had a “career,” it never defined who I was or what I did. I couldn’t have given a fuck. Up until I was about 20 or 21, I was always known as the goofy fat guy. Then once I lost 100 pounds, I turned into the skinny guy that lost a ton of weight. Eventually, I became known as a “bike rider” or “racer.” As you can imagine, going from being known among friends and family as the “fat guy” to a bike-riding endurance racer was some serious fellatio for my flaccid ego. And going back to being just some aging white dude with a raging Dad Bod was quite the opposite. Ain’t no fluffer in the world getting that shit up.
John, a Masters racer that I used to see at all the races, and up on the mountain from to time back in PA, also has some interesting words:
“I ride a lot less now and go to the occasional race, only to see old friends and to keep in touch with the culture. I’m mostly OK with that, but sometimes I feel like I’m missing something by not being able to mix it up, and feel like an outsider looking in.”
While I don’t really miss “mixing it up,” I do often feel like an outsider working at the bike shop or when I photograph a race. That imposter syndrome was one of the main reasons (in addition to mental and financial burnout) for the demise of XXC Magazine. I worried way too much about what people thought of me. “How in the world could I publish a magazine about endurance mountain biking and racing when I no longer do it??” I would think. Never once stopping to think that thousands of newspapers are published every day, and you don’t exactly have to shoot someone in the face to write a story about someone getting shot in the face. Although there are some people… I digress.
I realize that on digital paper, this may sound like there were some ego issues. I can assure you this is true. Although ego seems strong since I never considered myself good at what I did, because I wasn’t. But after having lived a life of daily verbal and physical insults about my weight from my family and classmates (fat-shaming was so “in” during the 80s!), I was definitely enjoying being known as a skinny cyclist. And when the racing stopped, and the riding slowed without an enjoyable replacement for burning all those calories, my weight started to climb back up. And up.
Just as my hatred of Fuck Face was most likely increased by various antagonists in my life, you can probably see that cycling has everything and nothing to do with my issues. The real problem, of course, is giving a fuck what other people think of me. Oddly enough, I don’t give a fuck if people like me, think I’m obnoxious, dig my creative work, think less of me for not having a real career, or want to kick my ass. I don’t give a shit. But there are some things inside my brain that can turn me into a child in need of attention, approval, and validation, and the one-two punch of riding less and gaining back weight picked open that mental scar for sure, and I went right back to fat kid Jason filled with constant shame and embarrassment at what I am, who I am, and what I look like.
My friend Marc who, in addition to mountain biking, was a passionate cyclocross racer who I’ve known in racing and web circles since ’04 or so, messaged me with some additional insights as well.
An injury had kept Marc off his bike, and he was going mad. His wife—also a competitive cyclist— recommended that he go ride his skateboard. The result; “A new fire was lit, and skating has become a passion for me in a way I couldn’t have expected.”
I’ve always appreciated Marc’s insights and approach to life, and so his answers to my questions were incredibly helpful, including when I asked if he was content with where he is now:
“It took me a couple of years to figure out how cycling fit in my life. I still loved racing bikes, and I continued to watch races, but I didn’t want to do it. My wife is still racing cross and rides to be competitive at that. It took me a few years to get back to riding 3-4 hours a week, and that actually gives me a little more balance in my life. Something that, if I look back, I never had when I was racing. It took me a while to figure out the ego part of it, and frankly, to get over myself.”
Marc continued with his honest replies when he got to my optional last question; If you’re still deeply in love with your sport, how do you keep the fire burning? “I love it. I love bikes; I love racing- I just don’t want to do the work to be good at it.”
Brian, another Instagram friend from the west side of the Mitten, who I often refer to as my “brother from another mother,” due to our shared love of good music, good beer, bikes, and photography” also shared some words with me. Brian started riding with his son to help foster a love of cycling. As his son got older and started riding less, so did Brian until cyclocross came along to keep the fire burning a bit longer.
Now 62 and retired, Brian goes on to say, “Technically, I could ride my bike every day now, especially being retired. But I honestly don’t want to. The “why” is a combination of things, including the weather, photography, laziness, and now traveling/camping (though that often includes riding). Now my riding is either for exercise or to do photography.”
I wish I could share all the replies I got, but it seems my posts are becoming longer and longer, with more and more rambling, and an editor I am not! Please check out that Instagram post for more.
I can’t begin to tell you how much reading the words from fellow riders helped, as did writing all this. Putting it all into words helped me to confront my own ego, narcissism, and true feelings enough to write this:
I’m Jason. I ride my bike sometimes, but not like I used to. Cycling is a fantastic sport that gave so much to me. However, my want to enjoy my family and life-long passions like listening to music, art, writing, cooking, and photography—that at one time I used as shields to hide from my childhood obesity, my mother’s MS, my depression, and loneliness—still burn, and now I do them out of pure enjoyment.
I have a smart, loving wife of over 22 years and a 16-year-old son who is a 4.0+ GPA student, a fantastic soccer player, and a kind, funny, creative young man. While our family dynamic is different than that of our parent’s generation, what with Wifey being the provider and me doing the cooking, grocery shopping, etc., it works for us, and I love the role I play in making my family happy. It is not a stretch for me to say that cycling gave me these two; Back when I was 20 or so, if I hadn’t started losing weight and found cycling, I never would have had the confidence to go out with a couple of friends that New Year’s Eve so long ago where I met Wifey.
Sure, I might be 50+ pounds overweight, but I’m active, eat well, and (now) have perfect cholesterol and blood sugar numbers. Who the fuck cares what my waist size is?
I enjoy hiking with my camera, as well as shooting photos for B’s soccer team. It’s not a career—I do it for free— but that’s probably why it’s so fun!
I don’t have a ton of friends locally, but the ones I do have are kind, generous, and fun-loving people who I love hanging out with (or going to Jamaica with!) from a wide variety of backgrounds and careers, with a variety of personalities. I also have a few intensely loyal and loving friends in Pennsylvania that I keep in touch with on a near-daily basis, as well as a couple of unfortunate souls who were banished to the hot mess known as Florida.
I also love reading, watching footy on TV, playing FIFA on the X-Box, making people laugh, and having sexy-time. Sometimes all at the same time.
The last five or six paragraphs and 370+ words above are interesting to me (and surely only me) because, in those paragraphs, I really only mention cycling two times. See Jason’s Ego; you’re so much more than that!!
I am by no means giving up riding, but I am giving up on caring what people think. If I want to ride my bike, I’ll ride my bike, but I don’t have to do it. Cycling helped me become a better person than I was on track to be; there is no doubt about that, but I should never have let it define me as a person. I would be rather known as a happy guy who’s a good father, husband, and friend than a sub-par cyclist any day!!
Thanks again to all those who provide their personal stories to me and to the OG Mindbender for confirming some of my beliefs. I have no doubt there are many more miles in my legs, but whether those miles are covered via bike, hiking shoes, snowshoes, or a fine pair of tan, velcro-laced orthopedic sneakers is of little difference to me.
Now to think about changing this blog’s name. I’m thinking, “Soiled Undies,” “Lung Buttah,” or “Look at This Fucking Bullshit of a Blog!”