written by Syd Schulz
When I fantasize about my dream vacation, it usually involves bikes. Maybe we’re shredding down some beautiful single track in the Swiss Alps or exploring new trails in some other far-flung corner of the globe. I love my bike so much, so why wouldn’t I want to bring it on vacation with me?
For nearly five years, I never questioned this assumption. My husband Macky and I traveled to Chile, Scotland, New Zealand and Australia, all with our bikes. We raced on four continents, gloriously blurring the line between work and travel, vacation and real-life. In four years, we never took more than two or three weeks away from our bikes. If we weren’t training, we were “riding for fun.” And it was great… while it lasted. But last year reality came crashing down on us — despite living many people’s “dream life,” we were burnt out.
When you’re a professional athlete, and your “job” is to travel and race your bike, being burnt out feels like a mortal sin. Most people would kill to have your job, right? So, how dare you complain about it!
But reality is, dream job or not, it’s still a job. And while the past four years have inarguably been the best of my life, the truth is that it’s possible to ride your bike too much. This is especially true when riding a bike fills up all your buckets — work, fun, play, meditation, stress-relief, vacation. That’s a lot to ask of one activity.
And while Macky and I may be in the minority having riding bikes as our job, we certainly aren’t the only ones who fill up too many mental/emotional buckets with cycling. As I started to talk and write about my experience with burn out and over-training, I began receiving messages from recreational riders and casual racers who were experiencing the same thing. How do you remember why you love riding bikes, they asked? How do you get it back? What do you do when riding bikes makes you crazy, but NOT riding bikes makes you CRAZIER?
All very good questions, none of which have easy answers.
For me, the answer looked like taking several months off the bike, and also taking a real vacation — possibly my first relaxing beach vacation ever — WITHOUT MY BIKE. In December, which is usually when Macky and I start thinking about ramping up our training, we left our bikes in the shed and flew to Thailand, where we spent three amazing weeks visiting Macky’s family, sitting on the beach, swimming in the ocean and, most importantly, not riding our bikes.
It felt strange at first to be traveling without bikes — no hassle at the airport, no oversize luggage fees and, weirder yet, no sweet single track to explore upon arrival. But ultimately, this time away from our normal lives was refreshing. We discovered new ways to explore a new place — hiking! swimming! walking on the beach! — and not having to worry about bikes and training allowed us to be more present with family during the holidays. For me, this vacation provided a much-needed time for reflection on the role I want to play as an athlete — and the role I want bicycles to play in my life. I returned to the US, and to my training, with a sense of clarity and purpose that I had been lacking for the past few years.
You don’t have to run away to Thailand to avoid cycling burn-out, of course. You could just take a few weeks off. Or take a weekend trip that ISN’T focused on finding the best riding spots. If you’re reading this blog, you probably agree that bikes are one of the best things in life, but maybe that doesn’t mean we should use bikes to fill up all our buckets — but rather that we should savor our time on the bike, and make it count.
I guess what I’m saying is that if bikes are your love and your passion and your sport — maybe they don’t need to be your vacation, too.