Sunday, November 20, 2011

At What Cost?

If you're an older cyclist, you'll probably be able to relate to these thoughts. If you're younger, you'll probably brush it off, but some day, a long time from now, it might reverberate in your mind.

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately, about cycling, why I do it, why I love it, why I hate it, what it gives, what it takes, what it costs financially, emotionally, and physicaly.

I guess it started back in the summer when one of my heros and a good friend got hurt very badly in a mountain bike race. At first the news was just that he hurt his back and DNF'd. Then it turned into "it's pretty bad, he broke his back and got moved to a different hospital". Then it turned into "It's bad, he needs surgery", finally it became "It's very, very bad. He's lucky not to be paralyzed and he may never ride again". I don't think thats gonna be the case now, 13 weeks out from the accident, but all the emotions went through us at those moments when we heard the news.

There have been lots of bad crashes this year for the old guys. Several have had to be airlifted to hospitals. A lot of people don't think of me as an old guy, myself included because I don't feel old, and I can still go pretty good, but make no mistake about it....I am one of the old guys. I'm a lot closer to 50 than I am to having been 40....and 40 aint exactly young.

I told my friend Matty O "I never felt old, until I hit the ground at Providence". Laying there injured, and not sure if you can get up, your years make themselves known in a hurry. One of my teamates said to me "It couldn't have been that bad, you were going uphill, how fast could you have been going?" I've thought a lot about that and here's the thing. I was going as fast as I could, but it was probably only about 12 or 15 mph. It was a slight uphill into some wooden stairs. I screwed up my footwork at the last possible second to transition into running and just completely lost control of my body. I planted it onto the wooden stairs, face first. I didn't hit my face, but here's the thing, remember when Dale Earnhardt got killed at Daytona in a crash that didn't seem all that bad considering what those guys routinely walk away from? They determined that it was the sudden complete stop of momentum that made the impact so devastating. My crash was like that. I landed on hard wooden stairs with my thigh, rib cage and shoulder, all on the left side. The impact was so shocking, as I hit the ground before I even realized I was in a crash. There was nothing soft to hit at all. There was no slide, no tuck, no roll, no protective clench, just absorbtion.

I didn't know it, but my season ended right there. For the next few weeks I battled the pain and forced myself to train. Breakfast was usually a nice bowl of Advil and work was pure torture at times. My back was already very bad before the crash and the lack of mobility just made it worse. I felt like an 80 year old for days and days, just pathetic. Still I rode, I told myself it was just temporary and that I'd been through much worse, but there was something else wrong out there in the wind. My mind was on all the guys that have been injured lately, how they'd fare in recovery and more importantly in old age. Suddenly it seemed like every car that passed me, missed me by mere inches....and they did. It's brutal being a cyclist in America, at least where I live. People are so mean spirited just because they don't like guys in lycra. They drive 4" from my left leg at 50mph in 3 ton SUVs, with nothing preventing them from giving me a lot more room. How many people have driven by me totally shitfaced? How many were texting and looked up at the last second and swerved around me? When is my number up? Not "if" but "when"? I began to analyze my hobby and I decided that a fair description of what I do on a daily basis is essentially "PLAYING IN TRAFFIC". Thats my hobby...."PLAYING IN TRAFFIC". Does that seem like a good idea to you?

Maybe this is just my moment. I've had them before. But right now I hate it. I hate cycling. I hate that every fucking skinny douchebag racing a bike is on drugs. I hate that that makes our sport as a whole a joke, a laughing stock. I hate that it's something that gets into your soul and takes over your life. I hate that you can be riding along 1 minute enjoying the ride, the wind in your hair, life in general, and in an instant it can all be wiped away. I hate that we feel like we have to keep up with the insanely expensive technology by buying carbon everything, only to see it break 2months later. Who the hell can afford this sport? Not me. Not any more. Despite what some people seem to think, I'm not a rich man, it's not like my future and my retirement are all set. This behavior of spending all on this sport is downright irresponsible, and frankly stupid. At least for me. Some guys don't have to worry because it's a hobby that isn't breaking the bank for them. Good for you, you've worked hard in life to put yourself in that situation and you deserve whatever you want. I'm not jealous at all, I'm envious and also happy for you. So many guys that have achieved financial success are fat slobs that don't appreciate it. Not in this crowd.

The more I think about all these things, the more it makes sense to me. How much is enough? Am I happy with what I've achieved? Is doing the same thing more and more better than doing it just a few times? What am I trying to prove? Wouldn't it be nice to just be normal? Do I like driving all over New England week after week, month after month, year after year? Do I like getting home with 2 muddy bikes on a Sunday night while trying to get ready for the week ahead? Do I wanna spend my vacation dollars on a trip to Madison WI in friggen January? I hear Aruba is nice that time of year. The more I think about this, the more I realize just how retarded all this is.

But....theres always a "but".

What if I can win Natz or win Worlds? That'd be pretty cool. It is pretty cool, I've done both, but you know what....who gives a shit? 15 or 20 people might care about that and I'm not even sure I'm one of them. Being good enough to do really, really well is almost a curse. It's just amateur, master's racing but at the top level you're racing guys that all prepare just like pros. It's a MASSIVE commitment to get to that level, let alone knock them all off on the big day. Last year at cross natz I finished 3rd. The 2 guys in front of me had both previously ridden in the Olympics. At worlds I was focused on beating the defending World Champ, Marc Druyts. I did, and the Belgian National champ too, Mario Lamenns, but still I was 3rd. Marc is dead now. YES DEAD!!! He was riding home from a late summer road race when his heart stopped beating. He was my age. Now he's gone. He had children. Do you think his children think "I wish Pappa could have done a few more races before he died"? Of course not.

I don't know where I'm going with all this, but I keep getting questioned about what I'm doing. The truth of the matter is, I don't know. But it feels good to get this out here. I'm sure people will be dicks and call me a pussy and every other fucking thing. Thats fine, I guess thats what the internet is for huh? Anyway, I don't care. Walk a mile in my shoes some day, some week, then judge me.

Peace, JB


Alby King said...

Normal *is* doing this stuff - I'm certain the key is gracefully easing up with time and fostering the new generations. Reminds me of: "There are bold pilots and there are old pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots"

fabian said...

You are not a pussy! Take a year off and enjoy life.

A 91 year old guy once told me..." I wish I was 80".

Keagan Dog said...

I hear ya JB ~ Having a passion in one's life is a gift not to be taken lightly and you certainly are not taking your "gift/passion" lightly. I know with your introspection you will sort out what balance is best for you! I'm doing a bit of introspection myself right now... Also, The CC Drivers are the worst. As you know I ride down there (CC) quite a bit in the summer and it's very different than up here in the Boxboro, Harvard area.



PeterO said...

well organized thoughts. i live in nj and vacationed in cc a few summers back. the hostility towards cyclists was palpable - strange really. as for racing, it's tough to take a balanced approach - time and moneywise - because you finish further down than you might. but in the end, swallowing the ego lets you continue longer, i guess.

pecusick said...

JB, move to SoCal, we have bike lanes and 1000 times more cyclists so peoples attitudes are more relaxed.

or better yet, take up a new sport. I was burned out on the bike a couple years ago and I ride a small percentage of what you do. Bought a dirt bike and started riding moto. I am a total beginner and suck at it but, the nice thing is, every time i ride, i get a little better, the constant improvement makes it fun and challenging. Cycling became more about limiting the age related losses each season and trying to be as fast as I was when I was 30 or 35. Started to feel like an obligation to train to be competitive rather than a fun activity.

Hill Junkie said...

Great assessment, JB. Many of us have been taking deep, introspective looks into our motivations lately. I know I have since my mishap last year. Complete recovery seems to elude me. I'm not talking physical here. Body is fine. It's what goes on in my head. The demons inside say look what happened from a simple dab in the woods. I was in the race where Roger crashed. That could just as easily been me. Imagine getting tagged by a car. Or slip off a ledge in Colorado. The list of what-if's is infinite.

One thing is certain though. My passion for cycling is not diminished. It is my near daily reset button. I'm stuck in a shitty work situation for the foreseeable future, and I'd go out of my f'n mind if I couldn't get out for a ride each day.

I may be more risk adverse these days, which affects me more in competition than training. Performing at a high level brings satisfaction, but it is not my primary motivator. I could be completely content if I never competed again. The cameraderie in cycling is good. Woods rides or mountain road epics with friends are fully satisfying.

I'll be 50 next year. Since I jump into the next age group at some races, I struggle with trying to make a serious go of it or just let it go. Still have a little time to sort out.

You certainly spelled out the battle in your mind clearly for the rest of us to grasp. This will sort itself out soon enough. Keep us posted. Many have gone through this in the past or struggle with it now.

Murat Altinbasak said...

Hear hear! Well written. I crashed violently 2x this year, both times in the last 100m of criteriums- very ugly falls. I have a wife and kid waiting for me to come home alive and go to work the next day.. Makes me wonder if I'm not the most selfish prick who ever lived, risking so much for so little. Maybe it's just a drug addiction.. Endorphins, adrenaline, dopamine, all surging and peaking and keeping us coming back for more. We're all drug addicts in a way, when you think about it. For the same reason a blackjack player can't stop until he's lost it all, we won't stop either until we're dead or disabled I think.

Il Bruce said...

I had a few beers with Solobreak Sunday night and ask him if he knew what you were up to. You seemed a bit quiet.

Thanks for the candid insight. You are not a pussy. In fact I was impressed with how nice you were to a fat recreational cyclist when I finally met you.

It was more fun to see you do well once i got an idea of the kind of guy you are. You are more than a bike rider. You are a gentleman.

Enjoy your off season.

I am pretty sure I owe you a beer.

SlimenUndGrossen Racing said...

JB, u dont kow me. I am a masters cx racer in the Kansas City area. Found your blog a year or 2 back from another friend who had your link on his. Always go to your blog from time to time to read your race reports, and to c what going on in the new england area. from reuter, myerson and you, i get a pretty good fix of the goings on in the cx heaven of the northeast. was pretty curious as to y your blog hadnt been updated in a while. thru colin's or somebody else out your way, i read that you had a pretty good wreck. however, all my questions were just answered in your latest update. I am a 41 year firefighter who has really been going at the cx thing the last 5 years pretty hard. wife and kid...physically demanding job...thru recent events in my life, i have begun to question the sanity of the expense that cx and racing on the road and mtb takes on me and my family. hell my job has never caused me to check my own mortality...but cross and crits...just keeping up on the training sometimes makes me feel old. the battle with the wife on me 'wasting' my weekends racing against other 'old' narcicist selfish bastards:) but...thats just it.....BUT. i need the outlet. a weeknite soccer league or playing golf or whatever...they just dont cut it. i am addicted to the people, the lifestyle and the competitve outlet that it gives me....its just tough, because i know i need a balance. Just really hard to figure out how to do that. its the one thing in my life i am unable to cut corners on...thats fucked up, I know.
so your blog etry here really got to me...its nice to know i am not the only one struggling to find that balance.
Josh taylor

Cathy said...

JB - sorry to hear that you are having such a struggle, but can certainly relate to many of your points. Here's the issue though - what is "normal"? We spend all of our days riding bikes, training, and then, traveling to the races on the weekends. Monday comes, and we start the cycle all over again.

To me, this IS normal. And it has been for you, too. I honestly don't know what I would do with my time if it weren't for riding, training and racing. The bike, while often my nemesis and enemy, has also been my therapist and best friend. A bad day at work is often cured by a good hard ride - on the road or on the trails. After losing my brother, the bike took the brunt.

Sure, we could be like other people, and sit around watching TV, playing Nintendo, eating cheesy poofs and drinking beer. But what would any of that get us (besides a heart attack)? The release and satisfaction just wouldn't be there.

Without the bike, I never would have met so many great people, like you. You are one of a few all around riders - racing on the road, on the trails, and performing perhaps your best during CX season. And you do all of that while also being a kind, welcoming and encouraging person. I know that personally, I really respect you as a person, and as a rider.

We all have demons of some sort. And life is inherently fragile, no matter our definition of "normal". Do what you love, but if you stop loving it, then it's time to stop doing it.

I, for one, hope that you can put this behind you, and make peace with your passion, in whatever form that takes.

Kurt Perham said...

JB, best post so far.

as a dad of 3 I try to NOT let these silly sports takeover my life or time from my family.

I lost ANOTHER friend this past week. 40yo sub 3 hour marathoner with 2 kids. 1/4 mile left in the Philly marathon...DEAD. 2 fatherless kids.

Enjoy WHATEVER you decide to do. It does not have to be bike racing. Just be passionate about it.



krausmattic said...

JB, the part that resonated with me is the "being good can be a curse." I'll let others judge my goodness, but I know that I've been better than not since I started cx. Being good and perhaps the responsibility to use it is a driver to return and prove to yourself your goodness. Its also hard to stop when your good. Great fitness is a terrible thing to waste no? Especially when it takes little to bring it back to form and enjoy its fruits. If I sucked, it'd be easier to check out and do other things. But how many things are we truly "good" at that let us assert our skills in the public domain? Not many. It feels good to use it, especially if you got it. Hard to leave years of accumulated skills, knowledge and fitness. But stepping away for a short time is healthy, I've experienced it this season. Hard but worth it if you need it.

ukelele lady said...

Jonny, I so understand. I took a walk from bike racing at the age of 40, with far less accomplished than you.
Whatever you decide about bike racing, give Curtis and me a call and wup his ass at nordic skiing this winter in Waterville Valley. We just got back from the first alpine turns of the season this morning.
Take care and I hope you heal up quickly.

Russ Campbell said...

Jonny, we've never met and I only know you by reputation. I've heard both the good and the bad that gets tossed around the small and sometimes catty New England bike racing community but I have to say this post spoke directly to me. Anyone that does not gain a load of respect for you upon reading this had better take a similarly frank and honest look into their own heart.

I'm just a 50 year old sophomore road/CX racer with no podiums under my belt AND currently recovering from a chronic injury. While my investment in time, energy, money and passion in no way comes close to yours, I have begun to harbor some doubts about what a "racing career" might mean for me. Thank you for articulating many of the same things I have been thinking about so well!

Todd Rowell said...

Hey Jonny-

Thanks for this post. I'm sorry to hear you're having a crisis of faith, but even sorrier to think you're in this alone or that people are going to judge you. If they do, then I agree with you: they're dicks. Lots of us have gone through this, some of us return and others do not. But it doesn't get talked about enough and I'm glad you put it right out there. People come into this mindset from a lot of different directions, but the fact that you arrived here via an injury doesn't cast any aspersions on your toughness, it was just the luck of the draw.

Anyway, heal up and take some time to explore other passions, and if those passions lead you back to racing then I promise you the sport will still be here and it'll still be fun. Until then, take care and we'll keep a bib number warm for you.

Matthew J. Domnarski said...

Great post. One of my mentors is old and fat and just rides his bike for fun. He told me, "I've made my peace with cycling".

There's freedom in being a "has been", "nobody" or "never was" but I still have a lot of fun in CX. Its difficulty and danger make it worth doing for me, and unfortunately I just suffered a season ending calf muscle tear yesterday.

I'm not sure what your peace with cycling will be, and when but I know for sure you accomplished something that matters to me and more than a dozen people. I get what you are saying, but a dozen people that understand you is better than 4 Billion that don't.

I'm hoping to heal up and get back to easy riding the mtb in my backyard, then hopefully punching the ticket of 45+ CX in the 10th-30th place range where no one really cares, except for perhaps a dozen + or maybe a few hundred of my best friends.

You will always be one of them not matter whether you ride or not. No one can ever take away what you've already done.

Max said...

I did not know about your crash and I'm sorry to have heard about it. Back in May of 2009 I shattered the neck of my femur during the Hartford P 1,2,3 crit. I didn't know it at the time but my life would change that day and not necessarily for the better, although I am trying to make it so. Having raced my bike for the better part of half my life now, and going through an injury that, while in the hospital after 2 surgeries, almost ended my life I can empathize with what you wrote here. Have to tell you, I have not read anything since I broke my leg that day that has been as eye opening as what you wrote, and so true. I was told I'd never race my bike again, in 2010 I raced all three of the major stage races here in New England, even raced the Cat 2 races at Fitchburg with the sole intent of finishing, I raced something close to just over 50 races in 2010, even won our local Tuesday night World Championship crit... Anyway, throughout all this I had the same questions you've posted here, in the end I found that I had something to prove to myself, that I could in fact ride again, race again, I did it, I was able to get around it in my head, even after having crashed two more times in 2010. Looking back now, it has been crazy for me to go on like that, I've put myself at risk in every race since, if I break my leg again I'll most certainly need a hip replacement, at 41 I've already been through enough. I raced a little this past Spring, I slowed way down in the summer to not racing at all during the weekends and only doing our Tuesday night races, I was able to help some of the younger riders that come to our race, that has given me a lot of pleasure, I actually got more of of it than the racing, seeing anyone excel with my help gave me a lot of pleasure, I plan on doing more of it in 2012, I'll most likely race a little as well but I know what is important, I just need to show a little bit of restraint is all.
Heal up JB, go for a ride, enjoy it, and be careful out there.


Eddy A. said...
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channel_zero said...


Part of the problem is the culture USAC has created. USAC really has no interest in expanding participation or taming doping, so what's left is a few good people in your age group and a bunch of addicts. Most of whom feel they have something to prove and try to resolve it racing. Only as you've discovered the rest of the world just doesn't care.

I don't know if there's another federation in your area, but my free advice is to quit racing USAC for a while.

Don't stop exercising or racing. Just do it within the context living a long, rich life. This is the way OBRA events are run and it's great.

WildBill13 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WildBill13 said...

I lost a whole summer do to a training ride with some fellow riders.Hit a pothole when i was looking at a street sign wen't down after the jolt my hand wen't off the handlebars.Then I hit my elbow with all my weight and shattered it.But I still rode 20 miles back from Eastern MA with my elbow swelled up to the size of a baseball.Operation Titanium hardware glue put all back together.But then was the Pain.PT twice a week for 3 months.This accident was on 4th of July weekend I feel confident riding and training again but my fitness weight pain are there.I plan to race again in 2012.It shows just a split second can ruin you.


Johnny I have some pics of you racing at the nbx Gand Prix last year you were a monster on two wheels.Wearin the red white and blue.

Billy, Union Velo Club

Tom Officer said...

Jonny, great post! Since I got back into racing as a master it has amazed me how the addictive part of the sport can still take hold at our age. Sometimes it takes alittle dose of reality to make us realize we're getting a little too "into" it. I went through a tough time with my youngest son 3 years ago, when I had just finished a super season and was looking forward to the next one. I got blindsided and quickly realized how silly the racing was compared to what he was going through. It's taken 3 years of effort from all in the family to get him better, but he's ok now. The motivation to train and race has returned for me, but as much as I'm putting into it I think I'm a little more balanced about it. I hope you find that place, it may take a little but of time, but hopefully you'll see how much the bike improves not only our lives but that of our families too. Good luck.
Tom Officer

mattie said...

Hey Jonny,

Your blog made me think of the times (too many) that I've hit the ground or a car has hit me, turned in front of me, on purpose or by accident. Once, I came to, on a busy highway, only to watch cars swerve to avoid running me over. Not one stopped to help me.

It's true that you don't realize you've crashed until it's over. (kind of a blessing) You saw my crash last year at New Gloucester and I am still hurting from it! Both wrists hurt like hell every time I ride.

For me, cycling is my passion, not addiction. Very fine line there. I've been accused of being addicted to cycling and have given it much thought and passion is what I come up with. I don't enjoy spending the tons of money needed or perceived so, to race every weekend throughout the year, but it could be worse, and was. I spent many years partying and pissing away my hard earned cash and if I added it up, would rival any future spending on bike related expense for the rest of my life. The other thing I came to realize is that, when my time does come, I'd rather it be on the bike, (as if I have a choice), than in a nursing home waiting to die.

Whew! Bottom line, I miss seeing you out there running with the big dogs and showing guys like me how it's done. I pity the fool that calls you a pussy.

Best to you,


mkr said...

JB, many seem to be in the same boat. Competition drives us to be the best we can be yet forces us to be self damning when we are less. At what cost and for what, really?

I'm hopeful that we can do some skate skiing this winter and maybe I can get you out for some SS MTB mayhem. It really does help to simplify things, getting you directly to the fun.

Mike Claus said...

Nice post. Nothing like a bike race for a character check.

Wheels said...

"...who gives a shit?" hits the nail on the head Jonny. If your competition is worth their weight in titanium, they'd truly rather see you fail. And your true friends and family really only want you to be happy. If you're not happy riding a bike, then don't. You have to give a shit. That being said, I hope you'll be up for another mtb ride this summer! Enjoy your life bud!

OSR1134 said...
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