Over the past ten years of my life, I’ve been through the fire. But I’ve also become the fire, in a way. The paradoxical perspective that this journey has left me with has been something I draw on almost every day.
After my last surgery in 2014, I was proud to turn my negative health experience into a successful bike racing career, securing my first professional contract and being selected to race on the US National team for a UCI 2.2 stage race just four years after my last brain surgery. For a while, I got so carried away in the trajectory of it all that I almost lost track of where I had come from.
So committed to a result, I had mostly forgotten about the surprising truth that I was also here, first and foremost. And “here” doesn’t last forever. I had already learned this lesson, but I was still struggling to live that truth.
For example, a triple flat tire on the first day of the stage race that I had looked forward to for the past six months, taking me out of contention in yet another race before it had really even begun. In each instance, it feels definitive and heart-wrenching, thinking about the cumulative total of the damage. I’ve found a mechanical in 95% of the races I’ve lined up for this year (each within the first hour of the race). It’s gotten to the point of expectation. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, I know quite well that things can get a lot worse than mechanical failures that are just an unfortunate byproduct of this beautiful thing we call bike racing.
So my fiancée and I decided to take the initiative on making a more intentional path for ourselves in this world, with our temporality and the infinite ways through this wide world in mind. We launched ourselves into a project to build out our own custom home on wheels — converting a Ram Promaster 3500 cargo van, complete with a solar energy system, a composting toilet, a shower, and a full kitchen. Even with the help of our good friend Dylan, the project still was a bit of a bear to put together. So at first, it turned out to be more of the same: chasing an endless string of problems with a “perfect” vision for our new home in mind.
But then we hit a tipping point where we finally began enjoying our new van in exactly the way we had always dreamt of living. Packing was no longer a chore that took days out of our year, and years out of our lives. When it came time to move on to the next event, all our belongings were there in the van already. As we made our way towards our next destination, we reveled in the ability to stop at any time and simply pull over for a ride, for a shower, for a bathroom break, for a home-cooked meal, or for a good night’s rest. Life began to slow down again, feeling limitless in its options for our enjoyment of its many fruits that so often we’re prone to ignore for the sake of “progress” or “schedule.”
Nicole and I simply take turns driving while the other takes on the “desk job” from the passenger seat, and before we know it we’re in our next destination for another fun bike race or a visit to see some friends. We’re currently at the midway point in our racing seasons, and although results have been harder to come by than we expected with so many new moving parts in our lives, the important ones are coming into place.
We just got engaged! We finished our van. And we have incredible sponsors to stand behind us through the thick and the thin simply because they are great companies and value our contributions to this incredible community that we’ve found in the world of bikes. Even if that next significant result we’re always dreaming of isn’t coming together just yet. Someday it will, and that feeling will be great. For about an hour. Then we’ll go back to enjoying the pursuit. Because that’s what it’s truly about. And that is a success in itself, as long as we’re just present enough to appreciate that truth.
I don’t know that this lifestyle will suit us forever, but finding the space to back up and remember how fortunate we are to live the lives we live and see the sights we see every day sure seems just about perfect for us right now. And after seeing the fire, from both ends of the spectrum, that’s precisely how we want to live. So if the time comes that we want for the extra space to spread out, the extra company and challenge of beginning a family, or simply the regularity of a stationary life and home, I now have faith that we’ll know what that should feel like as well.