With nearly two months off the bike now, I’ve had plenty of time to think about what might have lead me to where I am.
I’m realizing that many of the things I’ve done to develop quickly as a cyclist aren’t sustainable and I’m already starting to pay the price for some of my sacrifices. When I consider my strategies and skewed understanding of what’s necessary to become a professional cyclist, or athlete for that matter, I’m encouraged to re-think how I should have approached riding.
As far as I know, I’m not done cycling. I love it too much. Currently, I’m jealous of my team racing the Tour of the Gila in Silver City, New Mexico. I love racing. But I’m well-aware that I’m not prepared for the stresses of racing at that level. As much as I want to race, I don’t want to train. It’s a tremendously maddening mindset to be in. I’m simply not prepared for the mental toll that training will take on me. And, as much as I want to race, I’m realizing that there are other things that make me happy that I want to experience.
Anyhow, if I’m going to ride again, whenever that may be, I need to do it differently. Perhaps the way I tried to do it works for others, but I’ve learned that it simply will not work for me.
In California in February, I learned to hate my bike. Eventually, I became so sad and anxious that I grew sick to my stomach. For two days I didn’t eat. I simply couldn’t. I would get up at 6 am, take a two hour nap midday, and then I’d be in bed again by 8 pm. During the day I wouldn’t ride. Like always, I just told everyone that I was sick. This, I suppose, wasn’t really a lie.
The first two days that I felt this way I sat on the sofa for hours reading and watching lame TV. I just wanted to be home. I longed for affection and for someone to take care of me. I was so lonely in California, and the only person who I could cry to was so far away. I wanted to be able to tell someone about everything that was going through my head. I was scared shitless by the fact that I hated riding.
Later that day when everyone was home from their rides and had started dinner, I went upstairs to my room. I lay on my back on the floor next to the heater, with my head in the doorway so that I could stay connected to the wifi. It was as though the wifi was my life line. It sounds terrible, but it was all I had to connect me with something outside of my miserable existence. Wifi allowed me to talk to Bryanna. But you can only offer so much through a screen, and I needed affection.
My last meal, dinner the previous night, had long worn off. I couldn’t get up to brush my teeth. I had no energy. I didn’t have the energy to bother hoping that I would wake up suddenly happy the following morning. Instead, I closed my tearful eyes as I lay on the carpet next to the heater, and imagined that I was on the floor in my room, lying next to my heater. For a couple of minutes, I was home.
I lay there, defeated, for two hours before making my way into bed.
On the third day I managed to eat some oatmeal. MA and I watched Thereabouts together as I ate. We were inspired, and jumped on our bikes. We wore our cafe bib shorts, but instead of a jersey we sported button up denim shirts. We wore casual sunglasses instead of our riding one. We pedalled as lightly as we could and chatted all the way to a cafe, where we sat and chatted some more on the patio for three hours. Then we spun home. It was fantastic.
In the past three years, I don’t recall ever doing a ride like that. For me, if I was on my bike it was to train, or to race. I would be in full kit every time I rode. Any other time was for recovery, and I did that off the bike. I rode because I had to. In the past two years, there were only a handful of days that I actually wanted to go out and train, but more often than not I was training because I had to, and not because I wanted to. I would do every ride early in the day in order to get it over with.
Looking back, I remember hearing about my team mates riding to a cafe, or going for a spin around town after training or on a day off. All I thought of that was: “Well, why would you do that? You don’t have to ride today.”
I took the fun out of riding. And I didn’t realize that until I went for that fun ride in Cali. I rode 2,500 km in 85 hours with 21,000 metres of climbing that month. But that day with MA was my favourite day of the entire trip.
I started riding a bike as a kid because there were no rules. It was fun. I could take risks. I could go wherever I wanted, as long or as far as I wanted, and when I wanted to. I rode my bike every single day in the summers in elementary school. I loved it. There was nothing like it. It was the epitome of feeling free. Somehow, I forgot that feeling. I turned a passion into a job.
With this revelation, something so blindingly obvious has finally come to my knowledge: If I’m going to race my bike again, it has to be fun.
My first coach, Bill Algeo, who coached my Kids of Mud Club, Wolseley Wheels, when I was 11 or 12, taught me the Wolseley Wheels’ motto of, Keep it fun. Before I moved to Victoria in February of 2016, he handed me a Wolseley Wheels water bottle at my going away party. He had written ‘Keep it fun Oliver’ in indelible ink. Ignorantly, I thought nothing of it. Looking back, that’s the best advice I’ve ever received.
Since stepping off my carbon bike, I’ve taken the old steel Bianchi with down tube shifters off the wall. If the sun is shining, I’ll ride for 20-30 minutes. In the three and a half years I’ve been dating Bryanna, we might have ridden bikes together once. Now, I ride with her to work every morning, and on her last two days off we rode to cafes, parks and beaches. On those days, the sun shone brighter than it has in the better part of a year. I feel no guilt for riding slowly anymore. I’ve realized once again why I love the bike.
I’m a kid again. I smile. I ride because I want to. I’m keeping it fun.