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When in Seattle

Unlike my regular meticulous and advanced planning, but not unlike many of the decisions I’ve made in the past little while, the decision to go to Seattle was quite last minute.

After the provincial criterium on Sunday, I left at 4 am on Monday to get to school. For the whole drive I was thinking to myself that I HAD to race again, and soon. I hammered through the next three days of school, spending eight hours on Tuesday and Wednesday chain sawing trees and carving stumps into seats and lumps, in the heat, on the beach. I convinced our supervisor to allow us to start at 7 am on Wednesday so that we could get out early and I’d make it to a local criterium.

After eight hours of chain saws, I hopped in the van and drove three hours to the Westin Speedway in Langford where we slammed out a quick 50 or so minute crit. I spent most of the race chasing down attacks or launching my own. I was focussed on getting the hardest ride possible in to make the most out of it in terms of training. I drove home afterward and upon finally sitting down at around 10 pm, I saw that I had a message from Graham Lock of Team MB inviting me to join him in Seattle that weekend.

I decided on Thursday after three hours of riding in the rain that I would indeed go to Seattle. I packed my stuff up and made a plan, and left the following afternoon. A weekend in Seattle would offer a great opportunity to see where my fitness is at, as well as the chance to exercise some new approaches to racing abroad.

 A double-decker freeway? 

A double-decker freeway? 

To start, I solemnly swore that I would not spend the days sitting in a hotel room killing time watching garbage telly and scrolling through twitter in an effort to save my legs before the evening races. Hotel rooms are depressing. A wasted day is a wasted day. I’ve been to far too many places and seen little more than the four walls of a hotel room and the four corners in a crit. Graham was also down to make the most of our trip. After all, we were in Seattle.

On Saturday we drove into the city and searched for the cheapest on street parking possible (which wasn’t very cheap) and proceeded to walk around and explore the Pioneer Square area. After a failed attempt at sneaking into an underground tour, we purchased tickets to Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour, which I highly recommend. It was quite interesting, and a lot of fun to walk below the city streets, at what was once street level. We walked around Pike Place Market, and had incredible paninis and falafels at a cute little Mediterranean place called Cafe Polamar. Check it out if you’re ever in the area!

 In case you're hungry... here's the gum wall at Pike Place Market.

In case you're hungry... here's the gum wall at Pike Place Market.

The first crit was the Ballard criterium. The course was a very short 800 metre rectangle. Each corner had an obstacle, including: raised manhole covers, large lips created by the transition of asphalt to concrete, and the blindingly bright setting sun. We rode in circles for 70 minutes, and my legs simply weren’t there. I set two goals on the start line, with a prime in mind and a top ten finish. 

As weak as I felt, I made an effort to ride conservatively. I stayed within the top ten for much of the race. Early on as I struggled to hold on, I told myself just to finish. You can do this, buddy. You can do this, buddy. You can do this, buddy played through my mind like a broken record. I saw an opportunity around mid-way through the race as the pack slowed, and used my momentum on the backside of the course to establish a small gap before the third corner. Nigel Kinney of Langlois Brown was on the front of the pack and yelled to me to go for it, and that was enough for me to grab my prime. It was the first prime I went for in three years, and I got it. Barely... but I got it. I tried again later on in a similar fashion, but had nothing in the legs.

I was third wheel as we entered the second corner on the third last lap, and I hit the lip where the road transitioned from asphalt to concrete. Due to my forward position on the nose of my saddle, the force created when I hit the bump tilted my saddle nearly straight down. I tried to continue, but at speed it was way too sketchy, as I couldn’t sit. I pulled the plug with two to go a little frustrated, but humbly pleased with how I rode. My third and final goal of the night was to find a burrito.

 Warming up for the Ballard crit.

Warming up for the Ballard crit.

Upon asking, a local racer suggested that I check out El Borracho for a killer post race burrito. I’ll never be the same after such a blissful experience. Cyclists like their burritos, so a group of BC racers joined Graham and me for a post race burrito and chat. It was the best burrito and chat I’ve ever had. I will return, even if it means driving to Ballard just for a burrito.

Saturday was a really, really good day.

On Sunday Graham and I went to the Klondike Gold Rush museum and learned more about Seattle’s history before heading over to Volunteer Park for another criterium in Capitol Hill. The neighbourhood is gorgeous, which I quickly discovered on my solo ride, navigating through mansions to find the best locally recommended vegan sandwich. Honeyhole did not disappoint.

The race was an hour long with two-thirds of the course going uphill, and the other third being a fast, curvy descent. Again, my body hurt. By the second lap I felt sick to my stomach with the effort of the climb. I wanted a top five, but quickly changed my focus to just making it through the race. I tried to break away a few times, and even found myself in a huge move of ten or so guys with every team represented by two or more riders. Desperate for an increased chance to finish in the top ten, I rode on the front and tried to get the others to roll through. I couldn’t believe it when no one worked and we were soon caught. It was ridiculous. There was no reason to waste such an opportunity.

I was in the top five as we neared the final corner, but as the hill dragged on to the finish, I didn’t have the strength to push the extra ten or so percent that everyone else could. I was passed by many guys before I sat up.

After the race I was exhausted and near tears. It’s so frustrating to watch a race from the peloton, unable to properly contribute to the race itself for no reason other than a lack of fitness. The course would have suited me had I been fit, and knowing that a younger me would have done better is never easy to swallow. I felt pretty defeated.

 Another shot from Ballard by Graham.

Another shot from Ballard by Graham.

There are going to be tough realities which I’ll need to accept as I make my return to riding. I’ll let myself mope about and consider each one for a little while. I’m not going to hide my emotions, but I won’t let a bad race bring me down for too long. I’m not going to jump into a race after three months off the bike and win. There’s no way. But a part of me is still disheartened when I lose. I look at the dishearted(ness) as something to appreciate though, as it means no matter what, I’m going to race my bike hard. I’m not surprised by my showings of emotions anymore. For me, emotions will just be a part of being a cyclist that I will work with now.

I’m a lover of good food and adventure. My favourite part of travelling is to walk around in the sunshine and take in the sights, and find quality, local food. My frugality and belief that the only priorities when on a race trip are to race, eat as much and as cheaply as I possibly can, and rest, has denied me these other pleasures on many trips in the past. I decided in Seattle that from now on, I would enjoy more than just racing. I would find balance. And I think that was a healthy decision, as the memories and feelings of accomplishment go beyond the outcome of my races.

Past Oli would have spent 2 hours and 10 minutes racing his bike, and the other 45 hours and 50 minutes focussed on the races. One bad race could have spoiled the entire weekend. I achieved more this weekend, and left Seattle feeling pretty good.

There is more to life than racing a bike. And there is more to racing a bike than racing a bike. Racing evermore requires balance on and off two wheels. By enjoying the other aspects of my life, I’ll become a better racer than I ever have been. I’m sure of this.

 Just a pretty building I found.

Just a pretty building I found.