Entering The Next Phase Of BikeLife

I heard the sound of a bird in flight above me, looking up, I was in awe as I was certain I had just seen a Barn Owl. Whatever it was, I knew it wasn't a typical bird that I've seen countless times. It was larger, with white/cream feathers, and what looked like a flat face. I struggled to look and see if it would stay on a tree long enough for me to get a better look or maybe even a picture, but it was gone as quickly as it came.

I forgot up until a couple days later and decided to search for the meaning of seeing a Barn Owl.

"Owl spirit animals are symbolic of death in many traditions. In most cases however, it should not be taken literally: If the owl is associated with death, it can be viewed a symbolic death, meaning a transition in life, important changes that are taking place or about to happen.

When the owl shows up in your life, pay attention to the winds of change. Perhaps you are about to leave some old habits, a situation that no longer serves you or to bring something new in your life."
During my ride and the conversation with Travis on the day that I looked up the meaning, I had started the process of some serious soul searching. Specifically about the concept of racing and what else I would like to do in my "prime" years of mountain biking.
I realized that I just really didn't want to race anymore.
I spent that Tuesday mountain biking a total of 15 miles. My first ride was roughly 9 miles that included a break at home, then going out again to finish with a total of 15 for the day. What I loved the most was the fact I rode for a long time in a single day. I took my time and took breaks when I needed them. 
I have become disenchanted with the pressure that I put on myself when it comes to racing. Yes, I end up having fun riding my bike, but it takes a bit of time before I feel like I can calm my nerves and not worry or focus on the whole "race."

One could say "Just pretend it's a giant group ride!" However, that's not how my brain works. It becomes hyperaware of surroundings and anxious about passing and being passed. I want to be as respectful and responsive as possible, yet I'm trying hard to do as well as I can. I'm also doing this on #bikeshoplife scheduling, which isn't super easy. I don't have unlimited hours in the day to train. I'm at a continual disadvantage due to that, and the one day where I can put the most miles on doesn't always end up being free. Honestly, I hate the concept training and I just want to ride my bike as much as I can, whenever I can, without worrying about riding too much because I'm trying to get as many miles as possible in my limited time. I find myself burning out because of trying so damn hard.

I work very hard to do well at events I participate in while battling my chronic neck/shoulder muscle stuff. I'm seeing that I will be dealing with discomfort during riding regularly, even with all of the PT I've done. It's frustrating and having that chronic ache while trying to race can really mess with your emotions. I do not have the capacity to go to a race and just "ride." I'm doing my best to put out max effort because I am a prideful person. Because I can't turn that part of my brain off, I know that the only way to counteract that is to simply not race...I'm either in or I'm out.
What I've loved about attending races has been immersing myself in the local community where the event is held and engaging with fellow riders. It also gives us a mini-vacation away from the bike shop to spend time with friends and ride our bikes. However, there are times I wish I could enjoy the scenery and trails on my own terms, and not battle the continual "Should I pass or not pass?" and question whether or not I'm pushing too hard or just enough. I'm forcing nutrition in rather than eating when I want to and what I want to. I thought "What if we went up to Hayward for a mini-vacation that wasn't during Chequamegon weekend to ride mountain bike trails instead of racing?" We'd be able to ride way more for a longer period of time, and I could finally show Travis some fun stuff that I rode at the Borah Epic. We could easily find a table at a restaurant, we could do our own thing and ride at whatever pace we wanted without putting the hurt on. 
It sounded lovely.
Why not do what sounds lovely?

One could argue that I have the kit and the bike, but in the end, why should I continually push myself to do something that my body just obviously doesn't want to do. Also, my mental and emotional health might actually benefit from me not putting so much pressure on myself to do events. I've given it a solid go for a few years now and each year I go into the couple races I do with the hope that I'll feel fantastic in the end. Each year I've found myself continually lacking in training hours, and often not of my own choice. Each year I'm thinking that my shoulder and neck will improve, and in the end, I'm extremely uncomfortable.

How much more would I enjoy my time here on Earth if I rode my bike in ways that brought ME joy?

I like to take pictures. I like to watch the critters doing crittery stuff. I would like to enjoy my trailside snacks instead of choking on waffle crumbs and forcing gels down my throat. I would like to stop and stretch when I feel like it. I like to look at the clouds, hear the birdsong, and appreciate the flowers. I like to ride race pace when I want to, other times athletic pace is perfect, and then there are the days when I'm all over the place. Thing is, I'm riding how I want to when I want to.

My time is precious and I'm sick of feeling obligated to log extra miles to feel conditioned for a race.

I'd rather go out and do a gravel ride with my friend and enjoy the time outside rather than being focused on my average every ride. We had a great gravel ride not too long ago and it did not involve going fast. Instead, I was encouraged to go down by the "waterfall" and get a picture or two. We stopped to look at Trillium flowers on the side of the road. We went to ride over bridges literally to just ride over bridges and look at the river.
My shoulder and neck were tight, but I was able to appreciate the multiple breaks over the course of our ride.

I'd love to spend time with Travis mountain biking and 100% enjoying my time with him. When we are racing together, it's not that it's a bad time, but it's not the same as if we were just riding trails together. He has strengths that aren't really compatible with mine. We have to continually remind each other of those differences during a race, if we were just riding, we would be much more in sync.

Why not free up our lives for a little while? If I keep planning for us to do this race and that race and we keep closing shop for those, we'll always have the excuse to not go down to Arkansas or go to Copper Harbor. As great as our traditions have been for the past few years, I also have the stark reminder hanging over my head. Life is short, you just don't always know how short it is. If my neck and arm are going to ache from riding, it better be while biking oodles of singletrack with Travis rather than at a race.
This means that what I've decided to do event-wise for 2019 will likely be my last for some time. I'll make an exception for the local Decorah Time Trials if I'm feeling it, but beyond that, I'm putting all other event goings on hold.

This means I'm going to be a mountain biking ambassador for the non-competitive person. I'm going to be the ambassador for the person who likes to ride their bike, enjoy the scenery, and maybe take a picture or 20 of their bike leaning against trees n' stuff. Because why not?

I'm going to be the ambassador for casual gravel rolls that might lead off the beaten path to take in the scenery at a dam. I'm going to be the ambassador of trail-side cookies, high fives, and GoPro sessions because we all want to have a cool shot of us riding mountain bikes!

An ambassador for having fun on bikes.

At first, I felt a deep sadness when I came to these realizations, but at the same time, I felt a sense of relief. Acceptance. This isn't the first time I've questioned racing, but this is the first time I'm really acknowledging that it's something that I do not need to do in order to be a "mountain biker." It's the first time I said: "It's okay to not want to."

It's the first time I embraced that I can still be a damn good rider (who has a lot to learn) and I don't need to race in order to prove my mettle. I've done it. I've won a few things. I have had great pride in what I've been able to accomplish, but now it's time to take better care of me.

I need trips that really open up my heart and soul, that make me appreciate my time on the bike, that make me feel grateful for Travis and my biking friends.

2019 is the year of rebirth and re-evaluation and 2020 will be my year of adventure on my terms.


  1. We do aspire to improve, but when it becomes about competing and being better than others the fun gets lost. Enjoy what you do on the present. Kitteh

  2. Hell. Yeah. Now GO Have Fun =)

  3. Josie, thanks for sharing! Ultimately doing what makes us happiest is the remedy. Committing to that ideal is the hard part! Competing is just but one aspect of any sport and if you're not getting out of it what you certainly seem to be putting into it, then you might be onto something. Don't beat yourself up for not beating yourself up anymore. wink wink! Happy Trails, literally!


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