“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”
― James Baldwin
Bike racing is a sport of constant motion; of centrifugal force, momentum and constant travel. Seeing the world from behind the handlebars has taken me places I could have barely imagined; from the red-rock desserts of Moab, to the patina roofed streets of Quebec City, and the ruggedly beautiful mountains of South Africa. But sometimes I’ve found that to keep moving forward I have to go back to the start and find the store of motivation I first found hidden in the valleys and mountains I grew up in. Sometimes, you just have to go home.
I could ride these trails with my eyes closed I’ve been here so many times. The rock on the left, lean hard, pump the dips in the trail-shift. It’s like floating back through a collage of time spent training, of days lost in the woods. The “race loop”; ‘the ridge”; the “lean-to”; the “graveyard”. Names burned into my brain since I was a teenage punk riding on flat pedals with toe clips. Remember that time Andy Guptill made it all the way up the graveyard with no dabs? Can you make Mowrey hill? These are places I could reach out and touch without even having to close my eyes to imagine them, rocks and roots and dappled sunlight conjured with instant accuracy.
But it’s not just the trails, the roads too are as familiar to me and as laced with memories and as if I were here yesterday. I know the time from the motel at the base of the mountain on route 23 to the two-lane merge sign at the top, and I knew it before Strava when we timed things with stopwatches—the dark ages. I know what speed I can hit on the descent of Susquehanna Turnpike, and I have had good days and bad on the climb of Devil’s Kitchen.
This is my home: Windham, New York. When push comes to shove, and I need a place to fall back on and get back to the basics and put in a training block where nothing around me can distract from the work; where the ghosts of my past times or those of my friends, or those who I consider legends are all around me to make sure I push through and keep going, this is where I need to be. I came home in the weeks before the Cape Epic, when I was petrified of the possibility of barely being able to keep up with my own teammate, Jason Sager, across the mountains of Africa, much less the world’s best. I put in 100-plus mile days in the snow and the wind, linking all the longest climbs I could think of, hour after hour with my thoughts, the wind, the cows on the side of the hills, and 10,000 ft of elevation gain. I judged myself against things I knew and remembered from years past, and at night I sat in the fake-leather armchair of my parents’ living room, watching TV and falling asleep to the warmth of the wood fire, and summoned the belief that I could do this race, that I could make it happen.
This time, I’m here for the trails. I have another mountain bike stage race to prepare for, and while the miles I’ve been putting in elsewhere have been effective, it’s only here in these woods that I can describe in more detail than the interior of my house, that I can really judge myself. Every turn here is on the hairy edge because I’ve pushed it there before. Every hill is full gas with the in depth knowledge of their length and severity. I breathe deep in the middle of the woods the smell of blackberry bushes and ferns all around me, look at the stopwatch for my time up the “north face” and know that I am home.
*In a few short weeks this small town-where I once dreamed of being a pro mountain biker, the town that was almost carried away by the raging floodwaters caused by hurricane Irene, will become the epicenter of the mountain bike world for one weekend. Not so long ago I never could have imagined that Windham would play host to the World Cup of mountain biking or that, as happened last year, I would get to be a part and race in the middle of my hometown. It wasn’t a perfect race, with mechanical troubles keeping me from performing my best, but standing there on the start line amongst the best riders in the world, staring at the mountain I had seen every day as the backdrop for my K-12 school, it was a perfect moment. Hopefully I will be there again waiting for the start gun to go off, but even if I’m not, you can count on me being there shouting from behind the course tape and logging the training miles, proud to be a part of an excitement that has brought together an entire community. Sometimes, even if it has become a cheesy catch-all sentiment, there isn’t anywhere quite like home. I hope that everyone that can comes and supports this awesome event, to show the world that the US, and the East Coast, can be as worthy a World Cup destination as anywhere in the world.