Jess: “You know what would feel better than a drink right now? Going for a spin.”
Me: “There is a 0% chance that I’m riding a bike now.”
Jess: “You know what would feel better than a drink right now? Going for a spin.”
Me: “There is a 0% chance that I’m riding a bike now.”
When the air is warm and the sun shines bright on dry roads, cycling is a privilege and a pleasure, no matter how hard the ride. You clip in, savor the breeze on your bare skin, and feel positively blessed. Bikes are the best! Life is great!
Winter evokes none of these feelings. Winter is a slap across the face with a cold, dead fish.
There are a few lucky cyclists who live in climates that never turn against them. This article is not for those riders (instead please enjoy a friendly middle finger). This article is for everybody else who has ever had to spend twenty minutes bundling up just to venture out for a quick spin. Whatever hemisphere you call home, chances are good you’ve had a ride plan impacted or derailed entirely by weather that would put off the most intrepid athletes.
I’m from Northern Virginia, and never does the “Northern” qualifier feel more applicable than winter. We are blessed with a shitty and miserable mix of grey, chilly, damp, occasionally icy conditions from December through March. I can stomach cold but not cold plus wet, so more often than not I’m forced into training indoors. It eventually starts to feel easier to resign myself to indoor riding before even considering the forecast – fewer layers, a more consistent ride, no stress about climate concerns.
My obsessive compulsive tendencies also appreciate the scientific precision of working out indoors; there is no coasting or hiding from the requirements of the workout. I figure that if I’m going to do intervals, I might as well do them perfectly (or throw up and cry trying). On the trainer or rollers, the only thing that keeps you from nailing the targets is your own weakness. This self-flagellating philosophy explains so much about my cycling career, and yet I’m astonished when I burn out by May every year…
Even if you are not a glutton for punishment and boredom, you should at least try exploring the great indoors. It does wonders for fine-tuning your cadence and efficiency while offering excellent mental training. Many times in races I’ve thought back to suffering indoors as a reminder that nothing I’m experiencing sucks THAT badly, so surely I can keep going.
Whether you choose to be miserable inside or out, the important thing is that you just keep riding, because the fitness you build in the off season is critical to the rest of the year. With that in mind, I offer some helpful pointers on surviving the less lovely months.
Helpful Tips for Riding Outside in Winter:
My worst winter ride experiences have been the times I tried to ride outside, failed due to iced-over roads or borderline hypothermia, and had to restart indoors. It’s not worth the hassle when a warm, dry option waits patiently to offer you endless fun.
Helpful Tips for Riding Inside in Winter:
For my birthday last October, my dear friend Ivy gave me a necklace:
There was a moment last November when I almost forgot that. Everything felt broken and insurmountable. I sat alone in my apartment in Seattle and wept at the mess I’d made of my life. In that instant, I couldn’t figure out how to begin untangling the wreckage of an entirely derailed life plan.
But then I got up off the couch and did. One step at a time, one day at a time, with the help of my tirelessly loving family and friends. I got shit done. Now it’s time for the next step. I just left home to go on the road for the season.
I often write something here when a chapter of life comes to a close; it’s my way of processing things. When I thought of this time and what I’d say about the 10 weeks prior, originally it was going to be depressing as hell. “I spent all winter being cranky, training indoors, and doing work, WAHH WAHHH.” But while mentally drafting a recap of this past winter, I realized that’s not what actually happened.
Well. Not entirely. I was definitely irritable far too often. As Andrew delicately said, “I think you do too much and give too many fucks, and when it comes to anything beyond that, you don’t have any fucks left to give.”
I’m going to start a GoFundMe for fucks. Please help me overcome this critical shortage.
It was definitely a difficult period and there have been many moments when I felt lost or mired under disappointment and hurt. I spent a not insignificant amount of time eating Veggie Straws in my bathrobe watching old MTV shows. But in retrospect, this has also been one of the most productive, strongest times of my life. I guess I didn’t see how much was happening until it was time to stop and leave.
It started with a bike race at the beginning of December that reminded me how much I love this sport and want to keep racing. After that, training kicked off hard and provided a place to put my feelings and attention every day. It didn’t matter how shitty I felt; when it was time to train, I threw everything into the workouts. It paid off; testing with my coach last week showed the best numbers I’ve ever put out. While I love to complain at length about indoor riding, this winter it saved me.
Off the bike, I fixed all of the minor problems on my beloved M Coupe, got it detailed and ready to sell, and then decided to keep it because why the hell not. I moved out of my condo, fixed it up, put it on the market, and signed a contract to sell it. The relief of unloading that place after nearly nine years and being free to call anywhere home is huge. In the process of ditching my Seattle apartment and my Reston condo, I also got rid of boxes and boxes of stuff I no longer want or need. There’s something liberating about being able to fit all of your worldly possessions in one large closet. (There is something distinctly less liberating about telling people you live in a closet at your parents’ house.)
I also kept up with my plans to keep traveling, and spent a few weekends wandering all over Philadelphia and Charleston, seeing and eating everything. Back home, I caught up with friends, met some wonderful new people, visited new places, and even decided ice skating would be a good idea (wrong). Most excitingly, after fifteen years of fussing with glasses and contacts, I finally got laser eye surgery and can see perfectly. IT IS AMAZING. As the eye doctor said during my final check up last Thursday, “Your flaps look good.”
There’s an uncomfortable compliment.
Finally, between work and running the team and training, I also started writing a regular column for Peloton Magazine and launched a podcast, The Dirt Field Recordings, with the help of Bill Schieken (aka CXHairs). I’ve wanted to do more creative projects for a long time but always felt like those ideas got pushed to the side because there were too many other tasks to do. In rebuilding life into what I want it to be, those things finally became priorities. We only get one shot at life and nobody dies being really glad they knocked out their to-do list.
Things still hurt. There are still moments when I feel lost. But living a full life means accepting that with the good comes the bad and from the bad, there can also come good. This past winter wasn’t what I expected or thought I wanted, but in the end it was so much better.
What a year! I will forever look back on 2016 as the year that overflowed with joyful moments like slamming into the ground repeatedly, getting my heart pulverized, and finding out we’d elected Trump. What a time to be alive! And yet, in the wake of a year of sometimes crippling defeats, I have never felt more alive, excited, and ready to plunge ahead.
So many things happened in the last 12 months. We launched Hagens Berman | Supermint and had an incredible season of highs and lows, victories and learning experiences, and a roller coaster of thrills that took the team all over North America and to Italy for the Giro Rosa. (Meanwhile, I went to Canada. So that’s basically my 2016 life choices in a nutshell.) It still feels surreal, yet we’re now well underway towards our second season.
In my own cycling career, I raced hard, crashed harder, stubbornly kept going even harder than that, and then retired. It seemed like a good idea at the moment, sort of like jäegerbombs or that time I pierced my nose. But like any good pro cyclist, I quickly unretired and kept training because that is what we do.
Off the bike, I drove back and forth across America a time or four, in the way that other people run to the grocery store. Oh, you need something in California? BRB. I don’t regret the experience – I love a good roadtrip and the thrill of motorpacing behind my car for three hours along the highway – but maybe the next time a guy suggests I move across the country for him, I’ll just pack a carry-on and fly. Because there’s a good chance it’ll be a short trip anyway.
Which brings me to that little thorn in the side of 2016, the Great Shocking Heartbreak Adventure. I rearranged my life for a dude that turned out to be not what he seemed, or maybe exactly what he seemed had I been willing to be less delusional. I made a serious of bad decisions that culminated in realizing abruptly that I was a sucker and the unfortunate owner of a fully-furnished and now entirely unnecessary home in Seattle. So I cried and screamed WHYYYYYY at the heavens and then moved back across the country and cut my losses.
Now it’s the end of the year and a great time to reflect on a number of valuable lessons to take into 2017 and beyond. Let us all learn from my foibles so that at least some of us can avoid the joy that is letting somebody break your rib AND your heart.
1. If you are not sure about a new living arrangement, stick to Ikea options. It makes bailing in a hurry much less painful and expensive; nobody weeps over the loss of a particleboard bed frame.
2. Say yes to adventures that make you feel anxious. Say no to people that make you feel anxious. It’s a great idea to step outside your comfort zone to explore the world and branch out personally. But if somebody tries to tell you, “no, really, you LIKE this,” and your gut says you don’t, listen to it.
3. Consider refundable plane tickets. After retiring, I bought a plane ticket to Japan for a 3-week adventure in January. Hooray spontaneity! Then I unretired and need to spend January training. Changing that ticket to a trip after the season ends was an unpleasantly expensive undertaking. Lesson? For big trips, it might be worth building in flexibility.
4. If you are looking for a way to spend all of your time and money, start a professional cycling team. This requires no explanation.
5. Money can buy neither love nor happiness. “But it can buy a bicycle and that’s basically the same thing!” Oh, please. Seriously, though, if you think you can throw money at yourself or somebody you love in hopes of making everything better/happier, just stop. It doesn’t work. (Or throw it at me instead.)
6. Always do your workout. You’ll rarely regret it. Getting up and moving when all I want to do is read the Internet and eat Veggie Straws never fails to make me feel better. And besides, the Veggie Straws are always there waiting when I’m done.
7. Compromise is key to making any relationship – personal or business – successful. But compromise by definition is mutual. Be willing to give, but not everything all the time.
8. There are three things on which you should never budge: How much you’re comfortable spending, how much you’re comfortable drinking, and what saddle you ride. Your butt deserves better.
9. If you find yourself Googling “is this the right person for me?” you can stop right there because you have your answer.
10. There is always time to stop for coffee or a snack. Life is short and nobody ever dies saying, “Thank god I never made time to sit and eat ice cream.”
11. Sometimes stopping entirely is the only way to move forward. This is hard for me to accept because I stubbornly refuse to back down under any circumstance, even while losing a fight with a tiger that is poisonous and covered in angry wasps. But I wish I’d sat out the Gila race after I got a concussion, and I wish I’d given my body time to recover from the crash at North Star, and I wish I’d walked away from the relationship that made me feel badly long before it imploded. A well-timed cease and desist would have made all the difference many times over.
12. Instead of trying to have what you want, want what you already have. I’m perpetually discontent and always chasing more in life, and frankly after 32 years of this, I can tell you it’s not doing me any favors. Don’t make the same mistake. Chances are, you already have everything you need to be happy.
There were a lot of painful moments this year, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing. Maybe I needed to learn hard lessons in cycling to make me a healthier, wiser athlete. Maybe I needed to get my heart trampled by a guy to figure out how to be smarter and stronger (and more careful with the concept of joint checking). Maybe I needed to walk away from everything I’ve worked for to realize just how badly I still want it.
All any of us can do is weather the shitty times, learn from them, and keep going forward. I am so happy to be here now, surrounded by people that make me feel lucky to be alive, doing things that make me excited to wake up each day. There is no better way to start a new year.
You know those nights when you go to bed and nothing happens? You lay there and lay there and eventually start to grow moss but sleep doesn’t come. That was me on Saturday night. After several hours of chewing my pillow in exasperation, I resorted to reading until sleep finally came. When my alarm went off at 6am so I could volunteer at the Capital Cross Classic, I had been asleep for less than four hours and woke up ready to punch somebody in the face.
My beloved 14-year-old dog was the my first interaction of the day. Okay. No punching.
So I got up feeling exhausted and cranky, put on fifteen layers of clothing (how many pairs of leggings equals one pair of actual pants?), and headed to the race. I began my volunteer duties, caught up with friends I hadn’t seen in months, and was bordering on hypothermic within two hours. Eventually I headed to the heckler’s tent where there was a campfire that I bonded with so closely that it burned a hole in my pants. I was sitting there with friends discussing our vague intentions to ride “later” when somebody (HI FRANK) jokingly suggested that his girlfriend and I should enter the elite women’s race.
Haha. Ha. That’s funny. Lemme just put on another five layers of clothing and become one with this log.
Except the idea poked me in the brain hard enough that I looked up the start time. It was in an hour. I had no cross bike, no cross shoes, no cash to register. I was sitting in the woods a quarter mile from the parking lot freezing my ass off and I hadn’t eaten in four hours. Also no sleep.
Of course this seemed like a brilliant idea. “I’m going to the car for a snack,” I announced, not wanting to commit to the plan I was 110% committed to in my head. I rushed back to the parking lot, stopping only to grab and inhale a handful of Oreos from a random package on the ground. Whatever. I was dumpster diving a week ago.
The events of the next forty minutes were a blur. I borrowed a cross bike from a very kind and same-sized friend. Changed into cycling clothes in the parking lot. (See? I really did intend to ride later.) Tried to source shoes. Remembered to raise the seat. Registered and pinned a number. Borrowed shoes from the same friend and realized that donating my foot sweat to him meant I owed him more alcohol than I could probably afford. The plan was crazy and last-minute and haphazard but my friends all came together to make it happen. I couldn’t have pulled it off without them.
With 10 minutes to spare, I was ready. That seemed like enough time to practice a few dismounts and remounts on a grassy stretch. While I was no Katie Compton, it wasn’t a total trainwreck and my biggest struggle was clipping in. There was a perpetual missed connection between the cleats and pedals and when I did manage to latch in, there was no obvious click and I could only confirm by yanking up on the pedal. It’s great to be a beginner.
I rolled to the start and staged at the back, where officials store people who have accomplished nothing thus far this season. The official gave brief pre-race instructions, saying, “You all know the drill,” and I had to call out that no, I actually didn’t and, um, how many laps are we doing? IS THERE A FREE LAP? When she asked if everyone was ready, I yelled NO and then the whistle blew.
The race started fast and unsurprisingly, I did not get the holeshot. I was awkward in the group, but also fired up and excited. Racing cross is so physical: it’s you and the bike pushing hard over varying terrain, but also you and the other riders vying for space and squeezing each other out at every turn. My first lap was not pretty. I hadn’t seen the course other than the parts I’d crossed briefly on foot and wasn’t exactly smooth on the technical sections. If you were behind me, you have my sincerest condolences. But I fought to pass riders and stay ahead because it’s bike racing and the part of me that fights to the death when there’s a bike involved was out in full force. I smashed every part of the course as hard as possible.
Early on, I felt like an octopus riding a unicycle while drunk and on fire. I even had to ask another racer if we were supposed to use the drops or not. I fumbled to clip in and stumbled over the running sections. But then it got easier and I felt things coming together. I passed more people, opened gaps, and found it easy and even fun to dig painfully deep. My heart rate was somewhere around 190 and my legs were screaming WHAT ABOUT RETIREMENT but oh my god, I felt alive and so damn good.
To everybody who cheered all around the course, thank you. Realizing how many friends I had out there would have brought tears to my eyes if I wasn’t already nearly weeping from the exertion of trying not to crash into trees. At one point, I heard a guy on the sidelines ask, “Is that Lindsay Bayer?” Trust me, dude, I was as surprised as you.
After six glorious laps of fighting and flailing, I finished third, winded and hurting and thrilled.
WHY DID I NOT DO THIS SOONER?
There are real answers to that question that end up being part of a much larger discussion about racing and my career and life in general. I made choices in the past five months to move in one direction and along the way, lost the fire and fight that made me the kind of person who turned getting the mail or eating cheese into a do-or-die competition. Throw in a broken rib a few months back and there went the hypothetical cross season I’d planned. But one minute yesterday I’m freezing my butt off on a log in the woods thinking the people on course look insane and the next minute I’m throwing elbows and smashing pedals trying to get ahead.
It was the best moment I can remember in a long time. Months, really.
Things haven’t been good for a while now. The last 12 days have been the hardest of my life, and the months prior were filled with uncertainty, insecurity, and conflict. Somebody hurt me badly, but I also put myself in a position to be run over and allowed it to happen. I’ve felt off-kilter and unsteady for months, trying to figure out what I was doing and who I was becoming. It wasn’t going well; I was lost and depressed and frustrated by ‘choices’ I was making that didn’t feel like my own. I thought I was compromising for love, but instead I was compromising myself. Yesterday I did something wildly impulsive and bold and it felt fantastic. Like waking up after a bad dream.
It wouldn’t have been possible or nearly as enjoyable without the help of some really great people. To Frank – thank you for the crazy idea. To Alistair and Laura – thank you for the bike and shoes. To Arden and RJ and Mary and Jim and Andrew – thank you for helping me make it to the start line. To Bruce – thank you for putting on a kickass event and letting me participate. To everybody cheering – thank you for the reminder that the mid-Atlantic cycling community is an awesome place to race. To the person who owned the Oreos – I really hope that bag was fresh.