Monday, May 28, 2007


In the past couple of months, as the world of endurance cycling has rolled on without me, I have found myself more immersed in it more than ever. Chalk another one up to an amount of chair time that is directly proportional to the amount of time I'd rather spend outside. I've found these ways to move on vicariously, learning about these epic rides from afar, and reading the words of the people who participate in them.

One arching quality I've noticed in many of these athletes - some near the top of this ever-expanding game - is an almost anti-competitive introspection. These are athletes who are more immersed in the battle within than the battle outside. They are out there not to prove themselves to the world, but to prove the world to themselves. It is an interesting juxtaposition from everything I was ever taught about athletic pursuits. My teachers, my friends, all drilled it in me that sports were a way to best others. And I was not really interested in that. But I was interested in becoming better than myself.

"I woke up yesterday with an understanding about (Grand Loop Race), which simply put, is that the reasons I want to do it don't have anything to do with anyone else. It really doesn't have anything to do with racing. It's hard to explain. But one thing is for sure: I'd rather do it completely solo than in a race setting. That doesn't mean I won't try to go fast cause of course I will. It is simply more natural and agreeable to make a solo TT effort out of it."
- Dave Harris, April 2007

And so I thought about this today as I was lamenting the fact that I will not be able to enjoy any competition during the summer season. I once had grand schemes and plans to enter races that were harder than anything I have ever tried, to push myself harder than I have ever pushed myself, and therein become a better version of me. But as weeks turned to months and I continued to pick at unravelling pieces of myself, I've tried to figure out why I hold on to this ultimately self-destructive drive.

"As I progress in this world of endurance racing, I am realizing how small it can make the rest of the world feel. After the (Kokopelli Trail Race) last year, I lined up at a local XC race. It felt ... insignificant. I raced, and had fun, but at no point did I ever have to go anywhere near that spot I found on Troy's Loop, sitting in the pseudo shade, eyes blurry, feet numb, and mind foggy. At that point everything was significant. Every forward movement, each pedal stroke, each rock and boulder and passing minute meant something."
- Adam Lisonbee, May 2007

And I thought about the people who do this all the time, the people who are so talented that they can extract at least a small part of their bread and butter from something as obscure as endurance bicycle racing. Fans and sponsors love the loop races, the 24 hours of whatever. We are, after all, a NASCAR society. We like to be where we can sit and watch all the speed and pain happen. I love the 24-hours, too, because they become my chance to master a small piece of the earth. But I'm watching more and more people at the top of this game leave the spotlight and turn to self-supported, often self-imposed, self-suffering rides. And even I, who claims to love adventure and eschew competition, find myself struck back with confusion and respect.

"I love adventure. I want to be lost in the woods looking for arrows and ribbons and what not. I want to leave the car, and not see it again for at least nine hours. I definitely have no regrets on this one. This experience made me realize that I can walk away from the lap/time format and not look back. Just because I can do something well doesn't mean I have to keep doing it. I'd still be a male stripper if that were the case."
- Team Dicky, May 2007

I will never, never be at the top of this game. I will always admire those who are. But at the same time, I find a certain reverence in stories of the races that aren't races, the athletes who struggle but don't win, the people who suffer only to lose themselves in the scope of it all.

"I've had some trying moments in the woods before, but the Kokopelli was a window into a different world. Many times during the day I looked forward to putting the bike away at home and leaving it for a while, and I will. I'm also negotiating to buy Enel's Reba. I think the sickness got worse."
- Dave Chenault, May 2007

And at the end of all this blog surfing, I set goals. Every day, I set goals. I want to pedal 15 miles today. I want to be smart and do all of my stretching. I want to write off my doctor bills as the s*** tax and find new ways to love life and all of the small adventures it brings. And I want to set big goals. Even though I have no idea what my future or my health holds for me in one, two or nine months from now. Because, through it all, what I'd really like to do is get on my bike sometime next February and ride the Iditarod trail 350 miles to McGrath. Not because I am good at it, but because I am at this point so woefully bad at it. And not because it's 3.5 times more difficult than the Susitna 100, but because it is immeasurably more difficult than the Susitna 100. And not because it's a race that might benefit me, but because it's a race that might change me, irrevocably.

And now, as I set my daily goals and hope I can ride 15 miles tomorrow, I close my eyes and believe I can really do it.

"In ultra endurance, it's 90 percent drive and 10 percent everything else."
- Mike Curiak, April 2007


  1. Thanks for this - what an inspirational post. you've captured what makes us get out there on our bikes in any weather, and push ourselves beyond what we thought we could achieve.
    Keep going - you'll get to your 350 miles...

  2. Jill, you took the words right out of my mouth. As I was reading Dicky's tale a similar train of thought was building...there are certainly some changes afoot. I really appreciate your keen interest and ability to describe your observations and experiences.

    You've got that 90% in spades. The 10% (aka the Knee) will come in time.

  3. In some ways it is easy to find the magic when you are doing something epic. But, life is full of amazing spectacular moments and maybe the greater challenge is to appreciate them in our everyday lives?

  4. As you know, I have been riding for a while but my riding was always "just OK". I started xc racing last year, thinking it would make me a better rider and it did, but not the way I wanted it to, so this year, I have gotten help and hired a coach. Now I am training with a plan and I have been riding more than I ever have and I am riding better than I ever have.
    But my biggest battle is still PATIENCE!!! My dream is also endurance biking, but I know, I can't do it yet. But I am learning to be patient with myself. I go out every day and ride and I know, every ride gets me closer to the form I want to be in.
    TAKE CARE OF YOUR KNEE and do everything to make it heal properly. Afterwards, you could ride around the world and if I have a well paying job by then, I support you!

  5. Hi, I've been reading your blog from down here in San Francisco, it's great, I really enjoy it. I think that a lot of the themes, challenges and rewards from endurance sport serve the purpose of paralleling that of our day to day lives and teaching us to face rough times when they come up. But let's face it, even engaging in these activities is a privilege. For me, the pain and suffering in endurance sports carries over to help me be a stronger person when there's pain and suffering in life. Beating a time, or beating someone else are ego-trips that really have nothing to do with who you are as a person in the world at large. Are you/we racing to change yourself or to get to a greater level of accepting yourself?

  6. Dear Jill,
    I'm reading you since a few days ago, and I enjoy a lot. I like your blog because you have the same obsession for endurance cycling thant I have for reading and writing. Your words of today have me thought you were talking about my writing: is the same goodamed thing: trying to be better than yourself in your own silent way. Congratulations and come on with your obessions!

    Esther (from Catalunya)

  7. This describes why I like doing ultra events. I can't every really but it into words. I do like the competition with others a little but it really isn't what drives me. Sure having someone just in front of me will make me push harder but it's more about making me ride better not about beating them.

  8. You say you'll never be at the top of this game...why not? What are you - 27, 28 years old? You are just a pup. To me, this sport doesn't even start for real until you are in your mid-30's. Do a google search for Michelle Grainger...she's done it all, RAAM, Montezuma's Revenge, you name it, and she still wins and is pushing 50. Your knee injury is a blip in the big picture. Heather Irmiger missed a whole sumer of riding a few years back because she was riding her singlespeed all winter and hurt her knee...sort of similar to your injury actually. Now she is the top female mountain bike race in the country. You ramped up your mileage too much in January, and now you are paying the price. Live and learn. If you stick with it and keep finding the stoke, who is to say how good you will be in 10-15 years? That's my theory...the races are not just marathons...the whole process is. One thing's for sure...I doubt many of us got into this because we were the star quarterbacks or basketball players in high school. Curiak, Grewal, Bassinger...whoever. They are talented athletes and should be commended. But remember, they put on their pants one leg at a time too. They got to where they are because the stuck with it, learned from their errors and kept having fun.

  9. Jill - I've been following your bolg for a few weeks now, initially as a former Juneauite, but increasingly because of the pleasure I get out of your writing - and in observing your obsession. Today's entry is inspirational! Thanks for the sharing!
    Raphael (New Delhi / Two Rivers,AK)

  10. Jill,
    Just read your post on Fattys blog. Glad that you can be cheered up! Yes, other people are in worse shape than us, so count your blessings. Better to have fun doing something you enjoy than not being able to do it at all, right?

    Best Wishes for you too!

    AMG in Texas

  11. Awesome Jill!

    Pulled some quotes I've been thinking about the last month or so....

    Keep on keeping on...

  12. Jill, I just wanted to comment re: being hardcore (more relevant to your last post). I think it's all based on your frame of reference. You may feel you're not hardcore compared to your friends and riding community, but compared to me, who pats herself on the back for finishing a 20 mile ride and quivers at the thought a 15 mph headwind, you're pretty hardcore. And I'm hardcore compared to my friend who thinks that once you start to sweat, "it's not fun anymore".

    So you're pretty inspirational to a lot of people who might never do what you do.

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