So you want to be a pro cyclist.

One of the best things about this past racing season was no longer constantly worrying about signing my next professional contract. When you run your own cycling team, you worry about everything except whether or not you’ll have a job.

Jono and I did have a conversation about this few months ago.

“You’re hiring me as a rider again,” I said. “You don’t have a choice.”

“I could say no, but then you could fire me. And we haven’t talked about whether or not you’re hiring me back as the director.”

And so that was settled.

After five years of stressing all season about getting a job the following year, it was a relief to let go of that concern and race my bike without thinking about a result on a resume. [Instead I worried constantly about the team getting results to keep the sponsors happy and the team in existence. No pressure.]

I also didn’t have to spend July through October desperately checking my email for good or bad news. Rachel Heal and Linda Jackson are likely still relieved that my emails have stopped coming, while Jono would probably give his right arm to go back to the sweet old days when my emails to him began with “Dear Mr. Coulter…

Now I’m on the other side and would like to offer some advice to every rider hoping to sign a professional contract. I’ve been you, I feel your pain, I know that hunger. There were times where I would have traded a major organ for a contract. But here are some things to consider:

1. Just race your bike. Results do matter, but if you spend all season chasing results just for the sake of getting hired, you are asking to be unhappy. I remember dragging my burned-out, weary butt all over the country because I was desperate to get that stand-out result that was going to make all the team directors swoon. At one point, I paid $900 for a plane ticket to do a single crit in Aspen, took a 5am flight to Virginia the morning after, had 36 hours to rest/recover/attend a bachelorette party, then drove 6 hours to race another crit the next day. When I finished 4th in that race, I cried hysterically and felt like a crushing failure because it wasn’t a podium and I wasn’t going to get noticed by directors and was probably going to die alone in a cave. That is the definition of doing it wrong. You should race because you love the challenge and want to be the best — that’s the only way to keep it rewarding enough to be worth doing.

2. But no, seriously, race your bike. Please do not spend your entire season racing locally and then send your resume to national/international pro teams telling them about your great results. You need to learn how to race at national-level events and show directors that you can be competitive in those races. Yes, it is expensive and challenging to do as a solo rider. Life is not fair but that’s the price of climbing the ladder in this sport. True story: I genuinely believed after winning my first few local races as a category 3 rider that pro teams would want to hire me and sent out my resume accordingly. Please do not be me. I am still embarrassed enough for us both.

3. Being hired to a team is not going to make or break your life. Yes, it is great to be able to call yourself a professional cyclist, to have things paid for and given to you, and to be part of a collective organization in matching clothes working together towards a single goal. Some of my best moments in cycling have come from traveling and racing with a team. But some of my worst moments in cycling have also come from the drama and politics and budget struggles inherent in so many teams. The wrong environment can wreck your season and motivation. Before you structure your whole season and personal sense of worth around getting a contract, make sure you figure out what you want from the sport and THEN decide the best way to get there. A pro contract on a team where you are not a good fit isn’t going to get you anywhere you want to be.

4. Be sure you’re ready to be on a team. Unless you are a very special snowflake, you are probably going to spend your first few seasons on a team as a domestique. It is hard to go from being a hometown hero with brilliant results to finishing 58th consistently because you are part of the leadout train. My ego struggled with that because I worried that people back home would think I suddenly sucked. My own parents spent most of my first pro season asking why I kept doing so poorly in races where I’d gotten top-10 results the previous year. Figuring out how to be truly happy that you got somebody else on the podium doesn’t happen overnight. If you’re not ready to take orders and be a cog in the machine and give up being an independent agent, that’s fine, but don’t join a team. Go into a team ready to learn, willing to listen, and happy to cooperate.

5. Prepare a strong resume and introductory email. Your resume should be succinct, current, and easy to process. Directors do not want to wade through five pages of lovely photos and touching narrative. When you write your introductory email, focus on what you can do for the team, not what the team can do for you. If your objective is “To find a team that can help me accomplish X, Y, and Z,” you are doing it wrong. Your parents, friends, coach, therapist, significant other, and pet all care about your hopes and dreams. Directors care about the team’s hopes and dreams, so you should focus on telling them how you will be an asset. Make an effort to show that you want to be part of their team for a specific reason so it seems like you’ve done more than just cut and paste the same message to a dozen directors. If you email me and mention that you were so impressed when the team set Scotti up to win at Stage 1 of Redlands or that you have a fetish for polka dotted bottles, I am going to be impressed enough to at least open your resume. If you want a director to care about you, start by showing that you care about their team.

Note: This advice can also be applied to your resume/cover letter in your professional career outside of cycling. In my non-cycling career, I review a lot of resumes where people seem oddly convinced that corporations care about their personal career goals.

6. Ask the right questions. Ask directors what their race program goals are for the following season. If your heart is set on going to Europe, be honest about that so you and the director can determine if the team is a good fit. Ask about the team’s views on riders having outside employment, if significant others or family members can be accommodated on travel plans, whether the team prefers to keep riders on the road or send them home between races, and what expenses are covered or not. It’s okay to ask these questions and if the director won’t answer them, then it’s probably not a team you want to spend a year with anyway. As for the salary conversation, people seem very uncomfortable about this all around. That is stupid: cycling is a business and this is a job. Even if the salary on offer is low or non-existent, let’s all agree to have the same professional discussion one would expect in any hiring dialogue.

7. Rejection is not the end of the world. I have received a lot of rejections in cycling. Jono himself has rejected me multiple times in past seasons. (NOW WHO’S LAUGHING??) There are a lot of great riders and not a lot of teams. There is not a lot of money to go around in the sport, and there are tons of politics and weird relationships that make navigating the world of teams even more challenging. If you get rejected, just keep riding and racing your bike. If you were only doing it to get on a team in the first place, please go reread point #1. Don’t give up because you never know what could happen. Teams often bring on guest riders throughout the season that end up getting hired. Teams also make final hiring decisions at the end of the year or the start of the new year to round out their rosters. If you always focus on racing your bike hard and being a generally decent person, your time will come.

Posted on in Cycling, Employment 5 Comments

For Helen

My friend died today.

I knew this was coming – she has been losing a fight with cancer – and I have been waiting for the phone call for several days now. This friend, Helen, is a dear friend of my family and I was expecting (dreading) a call from them back in Virginia to tell me the sad news. Waiting for the phone to ring with bad news is a terrible feeling; yesterday I thought about hiding my phone so I wouldn’t have to face it, but that doesn’t actually stop life from going forward. Or death.

My alarm went off at 6:55am today, slicing through my pitch-black room and sound sleep to wake me up for a 7am work teleconference. I was barely awake as I dialed in and then while waiting for the call to start, Andrew texted: “Hi.”

I responded, whining immediately about being exhausted and on a call. Andrew replied that he was sad, and I asked why.

“You haven’t heard yet?”

I had been awake for three minutes. No. Was Trump elected overnight?

“Helen passed away last night. I kind of feel like you shouldn’t hear that from me, but I guess it’s just as good me as anyone.”

I read that a dozen times, struggling to process. The work call got started, people introduced themselves and talked about a document. I have no idea what document.

Andrew explained that my mother had let him know this morning. As he was explaining this, she texted him to say she planned to call me once a reasonable hour came around on the west coast. Oops. Guess that ship sailed.

Finding out that somebody you love has died is terrible. Finding out by text message in a roundabout way while trapped on a teleconference is almost funny except that it’s also shocking and breathtakingly sad.

The good part (if you can call it that) is that Helen had been in a very bad way for a week now and her passing comes as somewhat of a relief to everybody who has watched her suffer. It’s not for me to say “she’s in a better place now” but at least she isn’t in pain anymore. From what my parents tell me after being by her side every day for a week now, she was ready to go and to stop being sick.

I first met Helen when I was 15. She and her husband lived down the street from my parents, and they were part of the neighborhood social group that started having regular get-togethers. These people had better parties and more fun than I had in my own social life; everybody would eat great food and drink too many good drinks and things would get loud and crazy and I loved it. Helen was always a fixture at these events; a bold, classy, blunt lady who could drink me under the table easily. Over the years, she and her husband became a part of my extended family. It wasn’t a Bayer family event if they weren’t present, and they became my parents’ best friends. The expression says you can’t choose your family, but Helen is proof otherwise.

A few years back, she was nearly at the 40-year official retirement mark for her job and we spent a lot of time talking and joking about what she would do next. I said she should go be a cocktail waitress for fun, because her brash, confident, take-no-shit demeanor would make her the perfect person to dish out drinks and banter. She was more than ready for that official deadline to come around, but when I suggested bailing early to get started on the next step in her life, she was adamant about seeing her work through to the end. Her loyalty and determination were impressive and unwavering.

Then came the cancer diagnosis. She was stoic and fought it hard, made it to her official retirement date, and kept enjoying life while battling the cancer. I was away more and more for racing and missed a lot of opportunities to see her while she was still healthy and strong. Maybe that’s a normal part of life – you grow up and go out into the world and leave behind people back home – but in retrospect I feel selfish and filled with regret. She was around for years and I wasn’t, and now she is gone and I can’t take any of it back.

The last time I saw her in August, I was caught up in personal drama that left me wandering in a depressed haze. She came over to my parents’ house for dinner and I was poor company at best, silent and withdrawn and emotional. It was so good to see her but I was too focused on myself to appreciate the time we had. At the end of the evening, I came back downstairs from where I was hiding in a dark room to hug her goodbye and that was it.

That was literally it.

She spent the last days of her life surrounded by family and friends that adore her. My parents were there every day, and Andrew went over last week to share a message from me to her. She was loved and cared for until the last moment, but that still doesn’t make the ache of her absence any less now. She was a wonderful person and my life and family are richer for having included her and emptier now that she is gone.

If I could tell her one last thing, it would be to thank her for demonstrating how to be strong, loyal, feisty, determined, and the life of any party. If she could tell me one last thing, it would probably be to stop crying already and go pour myself a double of something strong.

She was amazing. We were lucky to know her. There is never enough time in life to spend with the best people and it always seems we figure that out too late.

Posted on in Family, Friends, Life, Sadness Leave a comment

That time I was swept away by a tsunami of man and bike

Hello from the off season! Everything is going really well here. Wait, no. That is a lie. Much like every road in the city of Seattle, things are continually up and down. Sometimes life is peachy and I’m living the dream and other times I would very much like to wake up already, damnit. That shift usually occurs several times before noon each day.

I went on a great ride last week. By great I mean “possibly, if not likely, the worst ride of my entire cycling career” but in retrospect it was at least memorable. My training plan called for a three-hour endurance ride and, because my legs were crap and I was exhausted, I decided to plan a chill ride exploring West Seattle for several hours. No pressure, no big efforts, just some quality time on the bike seeing the town.

Then it rained.

It was very windy by the water.

I flatted.

I flatted again.

Stopped at a bike shop to buy more supplies.

Flatted again.

Stopped at another bike shop to buy even more supplies.

Ended up with too short of a valve stem on the tube; struggled to inflate the tire.

The ride was gloomy and gritty and tedious.

My riding partner crashed on slick pavement and took me out.

Then he had to get a car and drive home (while dripping blood) because the ride had run an hour longer than the day’s schedule permitted.

I stubbornly refused to stop (SHOCKER) and spent the final hour of the ride limping home slowly while struggling to breathe through the pain in my back/shoulder.

Then I got home and was still struggling and moping and grimacing and he asked me to take a picture of his wounds and beer.

Then I stabbed him.

Okay, that last part only happened in my head. Clearly crashes happen and it was an accident that could have happened to anybody. I am not an unreasonable person (that is actually a lie). I know he didn’t mean to slide out and bowl a perfect strike with his large bike and flailing limbs and I know he felt terrible about it.

After a week, the pain in my back/shoulder/somewhere inside was actually getting worse instead of better. It hurt to breathe/sneeze/laugh/cough/have a pulse and don’t even get me started on how terrible it was to move. Drying my hair the other day resulted in shrieking obscenities. So I went to see a doctor yesterday and found out that my T7 rib is fractured.

This is where The Guy will say PICS OR IT DIDN’T HAPPEN. Sorry, I was too busy weeping like a baby over my misfortune to snap a photo of the X-Ray.

The doctor said it will take 4-6 weeks to heal (“On the bright side, you’re already a week into the healing process!” The Guy chirped optimistically while I fantasized about pulling out the broken rib and shanking him with it) and in the interim, I am supposed to let pain be my guide for physical activity.

Okay. I can lift my right arm to get a drink to my lips NO PROBLEM.

But truly, it could have been worse. I could have fractured the rib through my own error (something very likely given my life choices) and then I would not have this great line to drag out all the time for the rest of my life about That Time You Broke My Rib. This is killer leverage.

Living in Seattle has given me ample opportunity to explore the idea that every cloud has a silver lining.

Posted on in Cycling, Family, Life 1 Comment

On Handling Bad Times Like A Pro Or Something

Things have been unraveling since I slammed into the ground during the first North Star Grand Prix crit on June 15.

Lindsay Bayer Bokanev ER VisitWhen the crash happened and I was cleared by the hospital and the stage was neutralized, I went back into the race the following day like nothing had gone wrong. I did that stage and all the others after it, limping along stubbornly and pushing my body so hard. There was no logic in what I was doing but I couldn’t stop and wouldn’t let anybody around me say otherwise. That mindset is my greatest gift and curse as an athlete – I never stop.

But I should have. Then, or in the days after, but I didn’t. I tried to race and then started another cross-country drive out west. I called that drive my “time off” but who the hell is ridiculous enough to think driving 5-6 hours a day for a week is restful? Apparently me. So I made it to Missoula, MT “fresh and ready to train” except that I was still in so much pain and my body wasn’t functioning.

To properly recover, I took a day off. Literally one freaking day, and then I was back on the bike pushing. When my body balked and the pain increased, I got annoyed and pushed harder. Off the bike, I kept up with corework every morning despite my mid-back being in perpetual spasm. There were so many signs that I needed to stop moving but I just couldn’t. I sobbed through intervals that were sub-par at best, ate far too many salads to compensate for what I thought was not enough hard training, and bludgeoned myself mentally around the clock for not getting it together. There was also another visit to the ER to rule out the possibility that the lump in my leg post-crash was a blood clot.

Then once I’d concluded my refreshing rest in Missoula – which was at least made enjoyable by time with my teammate Ivy and her wonderful family – I packed up the car again and drove to Seattle. Signed a lease, set up an apartment from scratch, and started a whole new life with completely new routines in a new place. Three days later, I left to race BC Superweek.

It’s weird how I didn’t feel fresh and ready.
Lindsay Bayer BokanevThen my heart kept acting up with arrhythmia episodes and my back kept aching and the first race was crap and so I decided to stop. But of course I still kept riding because insanity knows no bounds, and then the Gastown Grand Prix came around and I couldn’t bring myself to sit out another race. So I lined up and actually raced the crap out of that event. It was great – I didn’t feel good at all but it didn’t matter one bit. I ended feeling a bit like myself again and ready to focus on the next step – a block of cyclocross racing!

So I took one day off to rest and then started running. Started off gradually with a nice easy FIVE MILES which is somewhere near the upper limit of the farthest I’ve ever run. I ran for consecutive days and then started riding again a day later and are you getting the gist here? I never stopped moving, despite injury, travel, fatigue, burnout, and major life changes.

Lindsay Bayer Heartrate MonitorAlong the way, things in my personal life took a nosedive. There was anxiety and emotional times coupled with stress from work and meeting all sorts of obligations and deadlines. To figure out my heart issues, I had to wear an annoying, uncomfortable three-lead heart monitor at all times and carry a stupid device that looked like a clunky beeper from 1993. I lashed out during rides, dropped out of a local weeknight crit, and struggled to figure out who I was and what I was doing if I wasn’t a successful professional cyclist. What do you do when the biggest thing that defines you and your life goals stops having meaning?

It was more than just my body not cooperating. This season has been tough personally, with the concussion at Gila, the illness during Tour of California, and the crash at North Star. Racing while running a team and holding a full-time office job was harder than I expected (dude, duh). I’ve also seen friends and fellow racers get decimated by this sport and come away badly injured. It’s hard to think “oh, this is TOTALLY worth it” when you’re in the ER for the second time in weeks because you slammed your body into pavement. I started questioning why I kept going and what I wanted out of my life and the sport. What mattered the most? What sacrifices were just not worth it anymore?

Things have started to settle down now. My injuries have faded, riding a bike feels good again, and my personal and professional lives have stabilized into feeling mostly manageable. I stumbled through some of the hardest times I’ve ever faced, doubled my antidepressant, leaned on the best friends and parents a person could have, and then gradually stumbled back towards feeling okay. That’s where I am now. Mostly healthy, mostly okay, mostly focused on what lies ahead.

Lindsay Bayer Bokanev
This sport is so demanding and costly and sometimes now I’m not sure it’s worth the price. But it’s also been the greatest love of my life. I started in June 2007 and haven’t been able to stop since, despite a hundred setbacks. So for now, while I’m still unsteady and uncertain, I’m trying to focus on the love part and just keep moving forward until the rest of the plans and motivation fall into place.

I talk to a lot of other athletes about their experiences in training and competing and it often seems like we all see these setbacks and doubts as a deviation from the road to being a great competitor. But that’s not correct. Part of being a professional at anything is learning to see the crappy times as a real part of the process, not a detour. I’ve never felt more like a professional athlete than now, when I am able to accept that shit happens and I can still keep moving forward and that it is actually all part of the plan.

Lindsay Bayer Jono Coulter Bokanev

Posted on in Cycling, Family, Life, Sadness, Travel 3 Comments

In which I uprooted my life and moved into my car

I’m sitting in a stranger’s living room now, doing my laundry in his washer with my feet up on his ottoman. I’ve never met the guy before but I’m going to sleep in his bed tonight and go through his cabinets to find a pot to boil water in the morning. After breakfast, I’m going to pack up my things, get in my car, and relocate for the weekend to another city I’ve never visited.

This is basically my every day. Tonight it’s Cory’s house, last night it was Chelsie’s, for a week before that it was Ayman’s, before that it was Angie, and Alice, and Gretchen and so on. The year started with me living in a studio in Tucson that I was subletting from a guy I never met named…..David? Michael? Can’t recall. But for three months, I used his dishes and sheets and towels, lounged on his couch, scribbled notes on his decorative chalkboard.

His, mine, hers, anybody’s – it stopped mattering a while ago. When I left home at the end of last December, I didn’t know when I’d be back. Andrew and I had reached a point where we were happier apart than together and I needed to relocate to warmer weather to train. I packed the Chevy, took Tanner along for the ride, and moved west. When the race season started, I left the Tucson apartment and moved around California, staying in various places sometimes with Tanner, sometimes without. Eventually I drove all the way back east for a block of races in Winston-Salem, Philly, and Northern Virginia, but then it was back on the road to Minnesota to race North Star. Now I’m driving to Seattle by way of some time in Montana, will race in Vancouver and Bend in July, and then figure it out from there.

Tanner is still in California, living in Redlands with the most amazing dogsitter on the planet. She spoils him rotten with hikes and runs and adventures and games and I’d feel inadequate by comparison except she’s so much better than me at dog mothering that we’re not even comparable. Apples and oranges.

2016 Redlands Tanner Crit 2
My father asked me the other day if I’m tired of traveling and I realized no, I’m not tired of it anymore because it no longer feels like traveling. Sometimes I miss the concept of “home” but it no longer feels weird or inconvenient to live out of a suitcase. I’m still a creature of habit – breakfast is the same every day, core work happens every morning, I follow the same bedtime routine every night – but it’s possible to have those routines in a perpetually shifting area code. Home becomes a concept defined by certain comforts; my same pajamas, my morning coffee ritual, my family and friends instantly accessible by phone (and spread all over the country themselves anyway).

It helps that I have a car here. People mock my seeming aversion to air travel (and yes, I loathe airports and airplanes and delays and boarding passes and seatback pockets) but it’s so nice to be able to have my “house” available everywhere. All of my cycling stuff and snacks and spare toiletries and winter clothes and cooking supplies are parked outside and make it easier to live comfortably and feel settled anywhere. My car is organized sort of like a Container Store fantasy: there are drawers and bins and even hanging fabric shelves that make storing and finding things easy.

If you put something out of place in my car, I will stab you.

So this is my life now. I travel around, use Airbnb to find places to stay, see places across the country I’ve never visited, and still carry out some semblance of a typical life with training and working. Sometimes that looks almost normal: I wake up, do work, go for a ride, do more work, go to bed in the same place. Other times that looks odd: I wake up, motorpace for 2 hours behind the car while somebody knocks out a chunk of that day’s required drive, work from my laptop in the car, and spend the night in a stranger’s home in a town beside the highway. The basics are always the same. Wake, work, ride. And eat. I do a lot of eating, from my sack of food in the car to roadside grocery store stops to interesting local places.

I went back to Virginia for a little over a week at the end of May and while it was good to be back and wonderful to see my parents, Andrew, and friends, it also didn’t ignite any real desire to stay. When it was time to go, the only thing that felt hard to leave was the people. Home isn’t a specific place anymore.

This lifestyle will probably get tiring at some point. Not knowing where I’m going to sleep in a week and continually getting used to new pillows can be tiring. I’ve eaten hardboiled eggs every day for the past 10 days because it’s more convenient than cooking in new kitchens. I don’t actually like hardboiled eggs.

But for the moment, I am happy. My life feels like perpetual good luck, even during the difficult, stressful, or lonely times. Andrew is my best friend and family rolled into one. I’m dating somebody great. My dogs are happy. My team is awesome. The bruises from last week’s crash are starting to fade. If this is the best my life ever gets, then I am pretty damn lucky.

2016 Road Trip
Ten Things I Have Learned About Living On The Road:

  1. Pack light. If you think you need it, you’re probably wrong.
  2. You can wear the same outfit over and over as long as it smells clean.
  3. Always have silverware on hand. Andrew got me this and it’s the best thing ever.
  4. Yogurt and eggs can spend all day in a car. Spinach is iffy. Fish and pickled onions are a hard no.
  5. Pack everything in the same place all the time so you don’t constantly lose things.
  6. Don’t worry about looking stupid when you’re savoring your surroundings. I hugged a metal sheep yesterday to take a photo. People drove past and probably stared. Who cares? Now I have a photo of me and a metal sheep. That’s worth a lot more than my dignity.
  7. Add “hipster” into your Yelp searches to find the really good coffee, food, beer, and wine places.
  8. Always have a jacket/sweatshirt and sandals accessible.
  9. Never assume you are home alone. It is likely you will regret it.
  10. Hold tight to certain routines each day that help maintain a sense of balance and normalcy. Let go of everything else.
Posted on in Cycling, Family, Friends, Life, Travel Comments Off on In which I uprooted my life and moved into my car
1 2 3 4 5 ... 189 190   Next »