Unfamiliar Surroundings

By: Evan Burkhart Apr 16

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Well, I’m finally in New England. After months of stress and anticipation I’ve made it to the great white north. Back in December when I agreed to ride for BikeReg.com/Cannondale and subsequently move here, I simply assumed it would be warming up by April. It really didn’t matter though. This team was by far the best option I had, so I said yes without hesitation. Whatever the weather was going to be, that’s what it was going to be, and I was just going to deal with it. You know, because I’m a bike racer and think I’m tuff. Well, as luck would have it, my trip north consisted of driving smack into a predicted 4-6” of snow. I figured I might be in arm warmers for another couple of weeks, not trainer bound. My heart sank. I was ready for some sun, but my plan to redefine the phrase, “tan lines,” was going to have to wait a while. In the end, the snow didn’t amount to much and team camp went off without a hitch, including some quality riding outside. While my initial quasi freak out quickly subsided, it was a stark reminder of how out of my element I truly was, and that was just the beginning.

In my last article I raved about how tight the cycling community is and how virtual strangers had gone above and beyond to help me move. That was unquestionably true and without them this move would have been an atrocious debacle. That said, they are still strangers. When I cruised into town I didn’t know anyone except my teammate Steve Weller, whom I had seen twice for races when he was down south. I had never met any of my other teammates before, nor did I have any friends in the area. When I arrived in Massachusetts I was suddenly very alone. It was like I was going swimming in the ocean with no one around. If I had a problem on a ride who was I going to call to come get me? To make things worse, I was in a completely foreign land. I had never been to this area before. Everywhere I looked there was something new. A new mountain, a new river, a new road, a new person, nothing and no one was familiar.

Eventually team camp started and I have to admit, it was great. Everyone gelled well and I had a great time riding and getting to know everyone. It was a lot of fun on and off the bike, so I think it’s going to be a good season and I’m really looking forward to it. Despite how well things were starting off with the team, I couldn’t help but feel like the outsider. While I am one of three new guys on the team, I am the only one that’s not from New England. These guys all know each other and have been racing together or against each other for years. It’s not that I got the cold shoulder; I was welcomed with open arms and I feel like I fit right in, but I’m still an X factor. We haven’t traveled together, or even raced; they don’t know what kind of rider I am and don’t fully trust my abilities. Why should they? They’ve never raced with me before. I have to prove myself to them on the road and hopefully I can do that and more. So there is still much to be learned, but that will take time. You can’t rush that process so for now I just have to train, be professional, and hope that results will come.

After the short team camp it was off to the temporary digs where I was greeted by five new roommates. The process repeated, we started getting to know each other and it was a smooth transition. We’re all about the same age and we all ride bikes so it was relatively painless. However, I’m still the new guy and that’s just how it’s going to be. These people have never heard of me. I’m not a friend of a friend or anything of the sort. I’m a bike racer and a stranger, and that’s all they know. Then again, it goes both ways. They’re all strangers to me too. The difference is that there is one of me but I am surrounded by them. They only have to get to know one person and are doing so surrounded by friends and familiar places. I have to get to know, well, absolutely everyone around me and do so in a place I know nothing about. It’s a slightly daunting task but I might as well embrace it and enjoy meeting some new faces.

Now we come to the new city. Amherst, Massachusetts is a fairly small town but it still takes time to learn your way around. Finding the grocery store, a bank, a coffee shop, or a place to eat can all turn into serious undertakings. If I venture outside the city I’m even more lost. I don’t know the good training routes or even remotely know which roads go where. So for the first week I stuck to out and back rides. I’m sure you can all relate to the fact that it takes a while to learn the good loops and all the back roads of an area. Let the process begin. At least this one is usually enjoyable, barring the three hour ride turns into a six hour ride situation. I don’t know anything that breathes more new life into training than fresh roads, and I’m finding that the riding here is absolutely incredible!

What else? Oh, don’t forget the new job at a new bike shop with a new boss and new ways of doing things. This all went on over the course of about four days. My head was starting to spin. I was going into overload with nothing but new people, places and things constantly flying at me. I was aching for something familiar, something that could let me take a deep breath and be at ease, escaping the stress of my new world.

Then, the other day I had a moment of clarity. I instantly had this overwhelming feeling of familiarity. I wasn’t consciously thinking about, it just hit me. It was like the stress disappeared and I was 100 percent in my element. I was riding my bike. Not with new teammates, or on a trainer in a new house with new roommates around. It was just me and my CAAD 10, and it was the first time I had felt at home since I left North Carolina. In reality, riding my bike was the first thing I had done that was familiar in what seemed like an eternity. Finally, something that wasn’t new! It was so refreshing. As journalists, we pride ourselves on being able to put emotions into words and transfer them to the reader, but I don’t know how I could ever explain how I felt in that moment. After my period of euphoria, it was like nothing could stop me. I was on my way to this climb a roommate told me about that’s only 20 minutes from the house. It turned out to be one of the most amazing climbs I’ve ever done. It’s not very steep so speeds stay high as you wind your way through the trees beside a rushing mountain stream. The sound of the wind and the water behind the iPod, the feeling of the mountain air, your open jersey flapping in the wind, the earthy smell of the forest, the occasional click of gears, the first thing to get tired was my face because I couldn’t quit smiling. I think I invented the 400 watt smile on that ride. I had never been to this place before in my life, but I was home: I was on my bike.

As full-time racing cyclists, we tend to lead somewhat nomadic lifestyles. We might completely move for a season, spend a couple winter months training in Tucson, or just be on the road for a couple weeks racing. Regardless, we spend a lot of time out of our element, away from the things we know. Living out of suitcases, eating enough bagels and PB and J to make you hate them forever; enduring long, dingy car rides from races when all you can think about is how bad your ass just got kicked and how you have to work and train all week so you can do it again next weekend. It sounds hard, and believe me it is. But no matter where we go or how long we’re there, we can always get on our bicycles and instantly be home. What other mode of transportation can do that?



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