Mission 19 – Enlightenment of Racing Bikes

‘19’ has long been an important number in my life. When I was 19 years old, I was diagnosed with a disease that they said could kill me at any moment. During the course of my 19th trip around the sun, I spent several months glued to a hospital bed for reasons that could never be properly defined. Suffice to say, I’ve long suspected this number to represent misfortune for me. But lately, I’ve been seeing more and more signs that the number 19 may actually be a good omen for me in many ways — which, if I’m honest, makes sense as well. For it was my 19th year in which I relearned to walk, to ride my bicycle, and to see this world in a different light. Finally, this paradoxical distinction is becoming clear to me. 19 is not, in fact, a sign of misfortune or doom. 19 is rebirth; It’s another chance to find my destiny. So it’s fitting that my race season ‘19 should look so entirely different, in terms of support, freedom, and focus.

The latter part of 2018 was filled with an inordinate amount of distress and depression for me. I had poured so much of my heart and soul into something that was coming apart at the seams for reasons that I could no longer control, no matter my contributions either inside or outside the box. Between food delivery shifts in the dark, pouring rain last fall, in a rental car that I could only afford if I met my quota for McDonald’s runs to CU Boulder college students each night, I found a reframed perspective on what it means to be human in a community of enormous means. This lit a new fire inside me. Not to simply try harder, or grind longer, to continue to dig myself out of the hole I had found myself in, like so many others around me somehow find the courage to do every day of their lives. But to renew the passion that has guided me over the past 10 years in recovery from fatal disease. To find a purpose once more for myself as an athlete, in light of the uncertainty of life. So ended a period of intense introspection and major depression.

A few phone calls and virtual handshakes later, my faith in that path was restored. My faith in humanity was restored. I once again felt as though I had purpose. I had a mission. And that mission began to grow in scale each day once more. I began to call it Mission 19. Because it is a mission, after all, one that is centered around a byproduct of rocketship production. It’s a mission to find balance in my life once more. A mission that’s inspired by a legacy of literally struggling to find my feet after a good portion of my cerebellum, the balance control center of my brain, was taken from me. It’s a mission to retain perspective of what a silly endeavor bike racing actually is, yet how central it has been to my existence. A reminder that this essential paradox in my life represents the balance of which all life is made. Without balancing these unique — often paradoxical — elements that come at us at a million miles per hour, we are lost.

Whenever I’ve found myself in a position of profound uncertainty, I’ve found the most productive response is a reversion to my roots. Bikes have always made me happy because of the unbridled freedom they offer. On a bike, I can forget about all the petty issues of today and simply explore the world — often with others. Admittedly, my winter home here in Tucson, AZ makes that easy. The sun always shines. The pastries are always 60 cents. And the coffee and burritos keep you going in whatever form you want that sense of adventure to take.

More importantly, my girlfriend and I have met so many like-minded individuals here to ride our bikes with. We’ve also reconnected with more old friends that have been instrumental in helping us to weave our story than we can count. But that’s another story. With moderate temperatures and a world-class bike path network, there are at least as many cyclists here in Tucson as in our previous home in Boulder. These cyclists all return our waves. Wait staff at the cafés act like they’re actually paid to serve their customers. And the checkers at our local Trader Joe’s always seem to have a fun story to tell us about their own bike adventures when they ask us what we did with our weekends.

I swear that all this damn humanity is making me a better person. And it is in this environment that my training has resumed. Importantly, it’s just taken a different focus this year. One that hits a bit closer to home.

You know those dreams where everything you’ve been working towards finally begins to click? You’re finding more and more self-realization around every corner, until that unsettling moment when you’re abruptly awoken on the brink of certain fulfillment, only to find that you haven’t accomplished anything at all and your new car is still broken. That’s where I found myself last fall. But with the help of some incredible friends, I remembered something that I learned all those years ago during my time as a philosophy student at the University of Oregon. Plato had it all wrong. All that energy spent focusing on otherworldly dreams, or just old dreams come to pass, is a waste of this great gift we are given, in all of its existential crises. So instead of continuing to harp on that same old sob story of all those things that could have been but didn’t work out, I realized that I could now freely choose to focus on what is here and present. But also, critically, what tomorrow might look like. So I got to work.

Many of my sponsors for this year told me explicitly that they didn’t care about my results. They’re only keen on the storylines and the participation. Not one had any language of performance in my contract. To say that such an attitude in sports promotion is refreshing is a gross understatement. I took great solace in this as I began to train for what has, without a doubt, been my most substantial off-season to date in terms of training volume, overall structure, and strength work (at the gym we initially thought we were joining simply for shower access). I’m riding my bike again this year because I simply love riding my bike. But I also love riding my bike hard. So when race season ‘19 hits in a few weeks, I plan to do just that. Thank you to every single one of you who support and encourage that mission, even those of you who simply prefer to cheer me on (or heckle me) from the sidelines.

Aristotle was always my favorite of the ancient Greeks. It’s fascinating to me that, for good or bad, dead old men of his era still influence so much of how we all think today. One of my favorites of his many influential concepts was the idea that in anything, there is a sort of pendulum that guides our action. Fueled by naïveté and passion, we often begin a new activity by jumping into it full stick, only to eventually get kicked back to an equal, but opposite degree of participation for lack of true understanding. If this process doesn’t break us, we eventually return to a sort of middle ground upon which we can find true self-realization and fulfillment. Unfortunately, unlike the pendulum itself, most of us never make it to this final step. We get frozen in the dramatic energy of one of the two swings and simply jump to the next parallel pendulum to ride its intrinsic motion until it, too, grows old. And we never realize true success as a result, which comes in finding true balance in that endeavor.

Growing up on my backyard trails outside of Bend, OR. and financing the majority of my racing efforts as a mountain bike guide, it only makes sense to me that I should come back to something a bit dirtier after all my time competing on the road. Importantly, there’s a bit more technicality inherent in the emergent discipline of gravel racing. But it’s also inherently more individual. Being that these are two qualities I’ve always longed for in my time on the tarmac, I’m excited to get back to them in full, while still preserving much of the raw speed I’ve come to love in road racing.

With more and more cars taking over our paved world and road races falling away left and right, I’m excited to be joining the enormous counter-movement that is gravel riding. At the same time, I’m incredibly excited to showcase the innovative businesses that have put their support in me to help them share their common focus.

MISSION 19 CALENDAR
Gorge Gravel Grinder – Hood River, OR (4/7)
Sea Otter Classic – Monterey, CA (4/11-14)
Cascade Gravel Grinder – Bend, OR (4/26-28)
Belgian Waffle Ride – San Marcos, CA (5/5)
Grasshopper Series King Ridge Dirt Supreme – Santa Rosa, CA (5/11)
Sasquatch Duro – Oakridge, OR (5/18)
Lost & Found – NorCal (6/1)
Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder – Sisters, OR (6/19-23)
Tour des Chutes – Bend, OR (7/13)
SBT GRVL – Steamboat Springs, CO (8/18)
Ochoco Gravel Roubaix – Prineville, OR (8/24)
Rebecca’s Private Idaho – Sun Valley, ID (8/29-9/1)
Walla Walla Grit – Walla Walla, WA (9/8)
Grinduro – Quincy, CA (9/29)

We’ll be out there, in our new van, touring the country and doing what we love. I look forward to seeing many of you at the races this season. For those who won’t be in the ranks, thank you for following along. My aim is always to use these personal experiences to paint a more meaningful picture.

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After several years on the US domestic road circuit (most recently with Colorado's 303 Project), Dillon is switching gears and focusing on gravel/adventure racing for 2019. As a brain tumor survivor, mountain bike tour guide, van lifer, journalist, and cycling coach, Dillon brings a wealth of unique experience to PEARL iZUMi's team of influencers. If you happen to be racing a gravel race in the U.S. this year, you'll likely see him and his big silver van. Don't hesitate to say hello!

One thought on “Mission 19 – Enlightenment of Racing Bikes

  1. I am so very happy to see you putting all of your wonderful passions together in such a fulfilling way. I admire how well you are able to communicate those thoughts and give inspiration to others❤️

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