2015 Cycling Team
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- Worth A Visit
We got another dog.
I couldn’t decide whether to say “I” or “we” there because while he is definitely our dog, the half-baked planning and dogged (zing!) obsessiveness around getting another Shiba Inu were all mine.
Searching for another Shiba to adopt became my life’s sole focus shortly after Scout died. Early on, people asked if we were going to get another one and I recoiled in horror at the very idea of trying to replace Scout. The body wasn’t even cold yet! JESUS, PEOPLE.
But then I found myself in the Pets section on Craigslist, looking for a dog to adopt. Also Petfinder, Adopt-a-Pet, Petango, various county/city animal shelters, SPCA sites, the Humane Society, and every Shiba Inu rescue group in America. It was psychotic; I’d search every site and then start all over again automatically because maybe the right dog had been listed since the last search…eleven minutes ago.
I knew without a doubt that I wanted to rescue a needy dog rather than getting a puppy. I also knew that it had to be another Shiba because the breed is well suited to our lifestyle. We live in a condo, I do not enjoy drool, I like emo dogs with holier-than-thou attitudes who prefer to spend their time writing poetry and cleaning their feet. While there are many wonderful dog breeds out there that are great for other people, I know we can keep a Shiba genuinely happy.
However, it turned out to be really difficult to find one to adopt. As soon as I’d locate one on a shelter site and make an inquiry, I’d get a response saying the dog had found a home. You know things are getting desperate when you’re like, DAMNIT, the damn dog at XYZ shelter found a damn loving family, damnit!
After a few weeks of compulsive searching, I found an available 8-month-old boy in Tennessee. I arranged to meet the owner’s driver at a gas station off the highway halfway between our homes to collect the nameless dog, and a nine-hour road trip later, I was back home with Tanner. He was filthy from living outside, Kobe hated him instantly, and he peed in the house within hours. And with that auspicious beginning, I knew our family was just a little closer to whole again.
Hi Dad! Happy Father’s Day!
Remember last year when you gave me a helpful suggestion for what to get you for this special day?
Once again, that did not happen. I’m sorry. Surely it’s some consolation that I left my M Coupe at your house a few months ago with strict instructions to drive it regularly. Happy Father’s Day, here’s my car to babysit? Children really are a gift that keeps on giving.
When I thought about other things I could get you, I drew a blank because you already have the one thing you wanted most over the last few decades:
I didn’t think “the more the merrier” applied to rubber chickens, so I did not get you another one. Besides, I’m pretty sure you already have one of everything else in the universe:
Instead, I made you a card and dinner (although we both know I ordered the steak from a restaurant because the only grilling that happens in my neighborhood is when the police come to question another suspect). I don’t really know a better way to thank you for being my father. There isn’t a gift or card that covers “hey, thanks for life and then teaching me to be a person and helping me solve every problem ever.” Although Starbucks keeps sending promotional emails to convince me otherwise.
So, thanks for life and so on. I couldn’t have gotten here without you. I’m also very grateful for this:
Who would ever have thought we were engaging in some early career development? Thank you for showing me the ropes and running alongside as I figured out how to not crash. I have gone on to find so much joy in cycling (while unfortunately only earning slightly more from the sport now than in that picture). I will never forget who first launched me on two wheels.
I will also never forget what you did for me recently. On the last day of Scout’s life, you were the rock for the rest of us. You held steady as my world was collapsing and helped the vet place our sweet puppy in a box so that he could be carried home and laid to rest. I wish I could erase that day from my mind forever, but in the absence of that ability, I am so grateful to at least be able to remember how you carried him out of the office and placed him gently in your car. I didn’t have the strength to handle any of his arrangements but you took Andrew to your house, got out the shovels and the whiskey despite the rain, and laid my dog to rest. You gave me the comfort of knowing that he was at peace when everything he left behind was so crushed and broken.
You have always stepped in to help me through the worst of my life’s moments. There isn’t a chicken or dinner or car enough to thank you for that. Thank you for being my father and for making sure that when I crash, I always land on something soft and safe.
I raced Philly. We packed Kobe into the car to join us for the trip, I showed up and only cried three times, and then I raced. It was somewhat surreal; my first World Cup and I couldn’t even engage enough to feel anxious. At one point during the race, Lauren Hall made a comment about how I wasn’t smiling and so I replied, “my dog died,” and started to cry. She then pointed out the moto with the camera that was filming us. Good times.
Before the race started, I noticed my teammate had “FAIL” written on her bars. That seemed like an interesting tactic and for a moment I thought about writing “YOU SUCK” on mine in solidarity, but instead asked for an explanation. “It’s a reminder,” she answered. “Fail to win. It reminds me to go out and give everything I’ve got to win.” I mulled that over as we lined up to start (because it was an improvement over the endless loop of my-dog-is-dead-my-dog-is-dead that I had previously been using as a motivational monologue) and then went out and did just that. Every time it was even slightly possible to pull off, I attacked. Sometimes it wasn’t that smart, sometimes I didn’t feel great, one time I even came straight through from chasing back onto the field to go right off the front.
It wasn’t conservative and I didn’t care. It felt good to ride hard and not worry about the consequences. It felt good to think, “Holy shitballs, I’m attacking at a World Cup.” It felt good to not worry about what would happen in a lap or the next day but to just race the hell out of each moment. I failed to win and it was excellent. When I made the final trip up the Manayunk Wall – alone, after having detached from the field on the previous ride up the wall – I got high-fives from spectators the whole way because why the hell not? I was so thankful for their cheers and so damn grateful to have found the balls to finish the whole race. It may have cost me an extra 30 seconds, but it was worth it.Fast forward a week and I was home racing the Air Force Cycling Classic. Another week of living without Scout has made things hurt less acutely (partly because I’ve made a full-time career out of looking for needy Shiba Inus to adopt), but I can’t shake the slightly detached, depressed feeling. It’s starting to feel awkward to tell people that I’m still sad about my dead dog, but awkward is sort of my thing and it’s not like I can magically feel better on schedule.
Last Friday night before Air Force, my teammates and I went to an event at Green Lizard Cycling to meet people and answer questions about what it’s like to be a professional cyclist (short answer: like being a regular cyclist, but with more kale). There I got to meet a few young female cyclists who were so excited about racing and the chance to meet me, which blows my mind because I do not see myself as an aspirational figure in any way. I giggle at my own farts. But they were excited and that made me excited and I went so far as to autograph somebody’s bag of chips.
The next two days of racing went well. I don’t feel quite like myself yet – and maybe the definition of ‘myself’ is going to be different now that I’ve lost something so dear – but I was able to ride hard, give everything possible, and fail to win. For Saturday’s race, that was enough to earn the Most Courageous Rider jersey. It was an honor to receive that award at my hometown race in front of my family and friends.
For Sunday’s race, we had a team strategy and I wanted to hug Julie in the middle of the crit (despite the logistics of that) for being completely spot-on in nailing the plan. She was everywhere she needed to be at every moment, freeing me up to play my part in the plan. It didn’t work out – I was supposed to go up the road with a Tibco rider and never managed to get away – but it was great racing nonetheless and we did our best. If there is one lesson I want to share with the girls who are kind and crazy enough to look up to me, it’s that you should always do your best, even when you’re hurting, even when you’re sad, even when life does not go your way. There may still be heartache when you fail to win, but at least there is no regret.
Tomorrow is the first World Cup of my cycling career, the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic. While I’ve done this race every year since 2011, this is the longest, hardest version yet and also the first time I’ll be doing it as a World Cup. You can learn more about the significance of the World Cup series here. I have been eager and anxious all season to step up to competing at the highest level of the sport with the best women in the world.
But to be honest, I am struggling to give a shit.
I miss my dog. Racing my bike seems frivolous and empty at the moment, as does just about everything else. Work? Ugh. Training? Ugh. It feels like a chore to even care about things like getting the mail or shaving my legs. I just want to sit on the floor with Kobe and wait for time to pass.
The worst part is that I feel obligated to ride and race because of how much time I sacrificed with Scout to be elsewhere in the country riding my bike. I missed several months of time with him this year to travel for cycling, and now he is gone. Was I too selfish? Is it even worse to not care about riding right now, after sacrificing so much?
I don’t know if it’s normal to feel this broken and sad over a dog. It doesn’t matter; this is how I feel. There is a hole in my heart and in my family and nothing except time will ease that sorrow. I don’t feel ready to get fired up about anything, World Cup or not.
But I think that is okay. Just because tomorrow is an important, prestigious race doesn’t mean the rest of life should cease to exist. I will go and race, while respecting that right now my heart is a little too broken to fully engage in the moment and the competition.
Thank you so much to everyone who has offered kind words this week. You have all reminded Andrew and me that is okay to be sad, that we made the right choice for Scout, and that in time the sorrow will be replaced with wonderful, happy memories. Thank you for understanding and for being our friends.
When I first met you, you were tubby and fluffy and covered in filth, trotting down the driveway of the family that was giving you away for free on Craigslist. Some guy had gotten there first and was taking you home, and even though we’d known each other for about fourteen seconds, I knew you needed to be my dog. I followed the guy’s truck as he drove away with you, flagged him down into a parking lot, and offered to pay an inordinate sum of money if I could have you. Then you vomited and pooped in my car. We were off to a great start.
You were quiet and reserved when you first moved in, spending a lot of time in the armchair with your back to us and peeing on the corner of the bed so often I had to buy a new one. I knew you were having trouble adjusting; I could tell from the paper trail you brought home that you’d had a number of owners and not much security in your life. Based on some of your scars and sensitivities, I suspected somebody had been unkind to you at some point in the seven years before we met. The most I ever did was raise my voice at you, but even then you’d sit in the corner and face the wall until I apologized and plied you with treats.
In no time at all, you were part of the family. Kobe didn’t mind sharing the house, the armchair became your property, and our routines shifted to accommodate a second dog. You lost sight in one eye but hardly seemed to notice, always remaining calm and good-natured. When my life went through some tumultuous changes, you seemed to know – you’d occupy the empty side of the bed and burrow into me when I needed company.
Then you went blind in your other eye and for a while I didn’t know if things would be okay again. You retreated into your shell and it was so sad to see you seem vulnerable and uncertain. But then you adapted and learned to ping-pong gently around your surroundings to find your food, water, and family. It helped that we got rid of the coffee table.
The last few years have been steady and sweet. Each day was an unremarkable ritual of walks, meals, treats, and snuggles that was lovely in its pleasant predictability. You hated to be hugged, but loved to be petted, so much so that you’d throw your whole body into the attending arm over and over like you could never get enough.
Sometimes you’d also rub your face on the floor. That was weird but really cute.
You turned 12 last September and seemed to be slowing down a bit. I affectionately joked about you and Kobe being my little old men, but was concerned to notice you seemed to be going deaf. How would I know when it was time to let go? How could I define your quality of life and decide when it stopped being good enough?
Then last night and this morning happened, and I thought for sure you were slipping away. Things progressed so quickly – you seemed fine and normal one minute and so sick just moments later – that even now it seems surreal. My parents came to join Andrew and me on your trip to the vet this afternoon. I spent the drive over wondering if we’d be going home without you, partly terrified that we wouldn’t and partly terrified that we would. Saying goodbye seemed unimaginable, but the idea of having you continue to suffer and decline more was just as bad.
There was never a clear answer. We don’t know why you were sick, and I will spend the rest of my life wondering. The vet said we could run tests and give palliative drugs but all I kept thinking was, “To what end?” Even if we could save you from whatever illness was crushing you, you’d still be blind and mostly deaf and clearly in the twilight of your life. That didn’t seem like a good enough existence for you.
And so it was the end. We said our goodbyes and the vet gave you the medicine to help you slip away peacefully. It happened so quickly – one minute you were breathing and the next she told us you were gone. It felt like the bottom dropped out of the world, as if all of the air had been sucked out of the room through a massive hole in my heart. Andrew and my mom kept petting you but I hated touching your limp body because you weren’t there anymore.
Now we are back home, Andrew, Kobe, and me. This house, tiny and filled with stuff and bikes and tumbleweeds of fur, feels far too large without you wandering around. When I think about you being gone, there is an ache that feels suffocating and all-consuming. I’m afraid to let this day end because it’s the last one in which you were alive, and I dread waking up and starting a new one without you. I’ve even thought about digging you up because I want so badly to hold you again, but (a) this isn’t Pet Sematary and (b) you did not enjoy hugs.
What if I made the wrong choice? What if you were just sick and it wasn’t supposed to be the end? What if I didn’t give you enough time, walks, attention during your life? These what-ifs are probably a very normal and yet crippling accompaniment to the choice to end a pet’s life. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s better that I hurt because you’re gone rather than you hurt because you’re still here. All I ever wanted was to protect you from the bad things.
Thank you for being such a special, sweet part of our family. I cannot imagine my life without you, neither the past nor the future. You were wonderful and will never be forgotten.
Over the past six weeks, I spent a lot of time living with a family in Yucaipa, CA that were old friends of our team director. You may know them as the family with the pig. While I fell in love with the pig instantly, it didn’t take much longer to become deeply attached to the entire family. Jamie, Pete, and their three daughters started to feel like my own family and I spent so long there that I’m probably one step shy of being added to the mortgage. It was a privilege to spend so much time with them, to join in family dinners, do school and sports practice pick-ups and drop-offs, and to feel like I had found a home on the opposite side of the country. I’ve missed them since the moment I drove away last week and cannot wait to go back.
Why do you race your bike?
Sometimes (okay, usually) I race for results, whether team or personal. It’s easy to get caught up in the placing on the results sheet. Did I win? Podium? Beat that one chick? Was everybody, like, totally impressed? Did I get beaten by that person who I cannot believe was faster, WTF, OMG? Should I hide in the team trailer?
The problem with this approach is that you can win one day and come in 48th the next. It could be a crash, a mechanical, poor preparation, crap luck, or just that your legs forgot to show up. I raced the San Dimas Stage Race a few weeks back and had a disappointing time trial, a strong road race, and a crash that broke my bike and ended my chances in the crit at one lap to go, despite feeling great and being in the right position to launch a sprint. I walked away from three days of hard work with this:
But the rewards went beyond a 5th place medal and $27 (and thank god, because that barely covered our tab for Burger Sunday). I got to race my bike. I spent time with friends and had personal victories throughout (did not explode on the QOM laps, learned to be patient in the road race, held good position in the field). While each day’s result felt make-or-break, these accomplishments ultimately last longer in my mind.
I think that is the only way to race your bike and stay sane, healthy, and happy. As good as it feels when things go well at the finish, results are so fleeting. Bike racing doesn’t pay well or make you famous, either, so you better have some deeper reason for chasing this dream.
As my coach put it, “In racing you are never going to come out ahead; there is just way too much you have to give up to ride well. It is crazy how much love goes into the sport from the riders. You don’t get rich, you don’t buy a house on your earnings. You are doing it because something inside says Race My Bike. But you are all in; that is the only way one can do it.” Such excellent wisdom. I don’t race because I love the podium, I race for the experience, the suffering, the tiny victories and moments of growth. Those exist whether I win or lose.
Yesterday’s TT didn’t go as well as hoped, but despite my initial disappointment, that doesn’t mean the day was a loss. Big Bear is a beautiful place to visit and ride a bike. I saw friends, rode hard, and learned more about the art of time trialing. And even if I’d won, there is another stage waiting today that will have a new victor and a new lanterne rouge anyway. To only get on my bike for a placing is to ignore the beauty of everything that happens along the way. I will never win all of the races, but that doesn’t mean each race can’t be an experience to be savored.
There is never truly a destination in cycling, so the only approach seems to be to enjoy the journey.