Everything hurts but I am not dying

It’s been a week and I survived.

When everything fell apart, there were honestly moments when I didn’t want to survive. I didn’t want to have to live with the pain until it finally passed, and felt hugely overwhelmed by the work of dismantling a life on one side of the country and restarting on the other side. The last thing you want to think about when your heart is obliterated and pounding through your veins like broken glass is “I hope there are enough boxes in the building’s recycling bin for me to pack up my kitchen.”

(There was definitely a moment when I climbed halfway into one of those huge rolling dumpsters to grab the last empty box at the bottom. I can laugh about this now.)

In the past week, I’ve ended my life in Seattle and moved-cross country, settled into my room at Chez Bayer, and spent roughly 98% of my waking moments thinking about everything. What happened, why, how, what signs I missed, what red flags I ignored, how I could be so wrong about a person, what I could have done differently, how somebody I thought loved me could act that way.

It would be nice to stop thinking about it. I’m ready for a bout of amnesia, a little Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But my head doesn’t work that way – I’m that one final crow picking away at the long dead and desiccated animal carcass on the side of the road. I have to understand and process endlessly until everything feels great again. That is stupid because no amount of thinking or talking is actually going to fix these feelings. Loss and grief are only solved by time.

The good part about all of this (other than cutting my monthly housing bill in half) is that my friends and family have caught me in this fall better than I could have ever hoped. To everybody who has reached out: thank you. Your kindness, friendship, and support have made this bearable and carried me through the hardest moments. People I didn’t even know well have stepped into my life to offer friendship and wisdom. In the face of one person’s horribly hurtful actions, I’ve found a few dozen kind, caring people that make everything less painful.

People have asked what I’m going to do next and if I’ll return to racing. I don’t know. None of this was planned. It feels a little like asking somebody to solve a crossword puzzle right after their arm has been chopped off. Right now I’m focused on doing my jobs, working out every day, managing the team, and spending time with good people. Anything beyond that feels like too much to decide now. I retired for reasons that mostly still stand; I saw something different in life that mattered more and looked more appealing. Just because that man and our theoretical family no longer exist doesn’t mean I stopped wanting to move on to the next chapter of my life. If I decide to race again, it will be because I realized I was swayed by something that no longer seems right for now. I’m not there yet. Yesterday was the first time I rode a bike in over a week. I’m starting there.

Apparently a week off the bike is enough time for my butt to de-acclimate to a saddle. Will the injustices ever stop???

The hardest part about realizing I’ve been living in a network of lies is the loss of both the future and the past. Every experience we shared became instantly tainted and called into question: when was I being loved and when was I being deceived? The trips to Korea, New York City, San Francisco – all wonderful memories that hurt to go near now. Quiet dinners at home, big nights out on the town, birthday celebrations, race travel, road trips, afternoons at the park with his daughter followed by beer and ice cream. What was real? How can I even think about any of those times without hurting for both the real loss of him and the intangible loss of trusting that any of it was real?

What I can take from this experience are a few personal gains. I’ve finally been to Asia, eaten ramen in three different countries, learned how to properly roast a chicken and pick a good beer, broke the cycle of my eating disorder, and quit relying on sleeping pills and antidepressants (there’s some irony). These are all good things that no heartbreak can take away.

The rest of it – the memories and shared experiences, the love I have for his daughter, the life I’d built in a city that felt like home – remains to be filed away. I can’t think about any of those things now without physically hurting.

So that’s where I am now. Well, right this moment I’m literally riding the trainer in my parents’ garage sandwiched in the narrow gap between my mother’s car and four ladders (because apparently you can never have too many ladders). This kind of absurdity feels almost like a return to normalcy. A week out from the implosion, it’s as good a place as I could have hoped to be.

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Rebuilding.

Posted on in Family, Friends, Life, Sadness 2 Comments

On heartbreak and starting over from zero

Something about what he said stuck out, like a nubby loose thread on an otherwise tightly knit sweater. I couldn’t let it go, poking and fussing at it.

I never expected that with a single tug, the entire thing would unravel.


A week ago, I was in Korea riding through the mountains. My life had been shifting and changing dramatically for the previous six months, but I loved where it was going. I was in love with a man and his little girl, running the team but stepping away from the obligations of training and racing, planning for grad school and to become a mother. I had finally relaxed my rules enough to start truly living every day. Whatever unknown remained, I knew it was going to be exciting.

A week later, I am driving to Virginia to live with my parents. My life is packed into the same car that took me out west with him into what I thought was my future.


Wednesday was literally the longest day of my life.

I woke up in Korea at 5am, restless from persistent jet lag, moody, and hungover. Went to the hotel gym and dragged my body through workouts until the sun rose and my head cleared. Spent the day wandering around Seoul – lunch, coffee, photos, stores – and then caught a cab to the airport. Made it onto the plane, then dinner (again), drinks (more), a movie, my head in his lap while I slept fitfully through the long flight. I remember his arm draped over me while I dozed feeling safe and loved. Landed in Seattle at 11am on the same Wednesday morning, passed through immigration/baggage claim, picked up a car, went for coffee and food, did some time-sensitive errands, home to unpack, did some work, showered, headed back out for more errands. I went to the grocery store at 5pm the day before Thanksgiving because our refrigerator was empty. Bought everything we needed for daily life and to make an improvised Thanksgiving dinner for two. Came home, stumbled onto a tiny detail, explored it further, and ended my life as I knew it.

The longest, worst day of my life ended 32 hours after it began. My biggest regret may have been going through the time and expense of buying so much food. I gave it all away.


The details of what happened are not mine alone to share. My part of the story is to say that in a instant, everything I believed in and planned for came crashing down, leaving me standing alone and shattered in the wreckage of what had been my life.


What came next is the part of which I am most proud. I brushed my teeth, slept, got up the next day, ate a few bites of food, showered. I kept going. Packed his things, reached out for my friends and family and held on for dear life, kept breathing. I started packing and loading my car, ruthlessly boxing and bagging and trashing the entirety of our home. It felt like I was dying inside but I did not stop moving. Slept again, showered again, finished packing and loading the car. Strangers from Craigslist came to take away the furniture for free. I wept through it all. The couple that took our bed hugged me, said everything would be okay in time, and gave me $40. The Xfinity representative who cancelled my account told me she loved me and was sending hugs. The inherent goodness of people was a tiny speck of light in a dark hole. When everything was packed and cleaned, I went to the leasing office and terminated the lease on what was supposed to be my home through next July. I cried into the paperwork and cried to the mailman who dug out my mail so I could leave right then, but I still got it all done.

Just 34 hours after being decimated and heartbroken, I was done in Seattle and on the road out of town. When looking back on this part of my life, I will always be proud that I mustered up the strength to act quickly and decisively. I feel so shitty about myself in every other way right now, but I have that.


What the hell comes next? I have no idea. The slate of my life has been wiped clean of all the plans I was actively pursuing. At some point when the hurt dulls to something less than agony and crushing depression, it will probably feel exciting, like the world is my oyster. For now, I am too raw and sad. He loved oysters; we’d eat them together all the time. I can’t believe it’s over.


There are three things I take from this chapter of my life.

First, always trust my instincts. My gut tells me a lot of things that I often ignore – don’t eat that much dairy, you don’t need three dinners, another scotch would be a mistake – and this was no different. For the rest of my life, when my gut says to be careful and pay attention, that something is not right, I will listen.

This does not apply to scotch, at least not for now.

Second, it’s better to live life than live by endless rules. He taught me to cut loose in so many ways and while I often panicked and clung to my old self-imposed restrictions, I also felt more alive than ever before. I know that a healthy balance between the two extremes is where I want to spend the rest of my life.

Third, crying and talking to friends and strangers is cathartic. There is no shame in loving and losing, in trusting and being betrayed, in genuinely trying and still failing. I overshare; it’s who I am and I’m not going to shy away from being open about my life and getting my ass kicked sometimes. This is what it is to be human and fallible.

Oh, and a fourth thing: people will haul anything away from your home in a hurry if it’s free. It usually took two of us to fold down the heavy hardwood futon into a bed, but I watched one skinny dude carry the thing out of my apartment alone.


The mornings are hard right now. I wake up to face and reprocess this new reality every day. It probably hasn’t helped to be waking up in South Dakota or Minnesota in roadside motels that make me wonder if I’m current on my vaccines.

The nights are hard too, when the longing and loneliness of losing my partner sets in.

The time in between is also hard, when I spend endless hours looping though why/how/why/how. An autopsy on repeat in my head. I can’t make sense of any of it and I have dozens of questions that will remain forever unanswered. Sometimes it feels like I’m in shock: surely this happened to somebody else, not me, or perhaps I’ll wake up still on the airplane home from Korea.

It’s all hard, but I suppose that’s to be expected. I love instant fixes but there is no cure except time.

This is life, right? Live and learn, love and lose, break and rebuild.

What a time to be alive.

Posted on in Family, Friends, Life, Sadness 2 Comments

On deciding to retire

The first thing I did after deciding to retire was spin for an hour on the trainer.

Of course that’s how it would go. I decided to retire; I didn’t stop breathing or being a head case.

But I should back up.

In early June of 2007, I bought a mountain bike and later that month, I started racing it. By August, I’d decided I wanted to go to the Olympics for cross country racing and by the following December, I was in training. My whole life shifted: my diet became healthier and actually included water, I rode a bike all the time, and every day included some type of cross-training. Sometimes I loved it; others I’d put off training all day and throw tantrums as I dragged myself onto the trainer at 10pm. How I felt about the process was mostly irrelevant – I had a goal and absolute tunnel vision to that end. My whole life shifted to being about training and racing and I made choices repeatedly to support that goal and abandon everything else.

2010-greenbrier-racingWhen I stumbled into road cycling (or crashed into it, as some of you may recall), everything changed except for the steel-trap focus on making it to the highest level of the sport. I was more successful on the road than trails and that stoked the fire to work harder and sacrifice more. Two years later, I was racing professionally all over the country and have been there since. It’s been a wild ride.

podium-in-walterboroStarting the Hagens Berman | Supermint team was an incredible experience and I enjoyed racing this past season more than ever before. I was fitter and stronger then any year prior, and finally had the confidence and experience to feel in control in races. I didn’t achieve some of my personal goals but have no regrets.

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What I do have is the certainty that I need to step away from racing now. Not from riding, not from running the team, but from the demands of being a professional cyclist. The negative feelings started months ago but I ignored them or chalked them up to temporary injury/fatigue/burnout. They didn’t go away, though, and I would listen to myself chatting with people about racing and the coming season and it sounded like I was talking about getting teeth extracted or attending my own funeral. There is nothing in professional cycling so rewarding that it is worth doing when you don’t feel like it anymore.

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As for the why? part: Phil Gaimon had a great interview recently talking about his own decision to retire and many of his reasons mirror mine. It felt like my fire to race dimmed to the point where it no longer blotted out the magnitude of the risks and sacrifices. I’ve missed events and holidays for years, begrudgingly put my body through grueling workouts when I wanted to be doing ANYTHING else, and visited the ER more times than people who work there. Throughout all of it, I kept seeing the goal the goal the goal and that was enough, but when the goal stopped meaning as much, I couldn’t figure out why to keep going.

In the middle of a Saturday morning while visiting the San Francisco area in October, I abruptly decided to retire.

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There was an immediate feeling of relief and excitement about how wide open my future suddenly felt. There was also panic – who am I if I’m not a professional cyclist? – but that wasn’t a good enough reason to keep going anymore. I told a few people about the decision, did my daily core workout, and then rode the trainer. Although I was done racing, I wasn’t done being fit or feeling compelled to ride and I needed to spin my legs out in advance of the next day’s big ride.

The rest of the week in San Francisco was spent smashing my body on long rides and not giving a shit about being totally cracked, having terrible legs, or stopping for coffee mid-ride. Off the bike, I ate and drank like it was my last meal and spent a lot of time trying to figure out who I wanted to be next. I bought a plane ticket to spend three weeks in Japan exploring because this is the first time in nearly a decade that I felt free enough to travel without thinking about training or racing. It felt a bit like being let out of jail.

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When I think about racing, I do feel sad and miss it already. I’m certain it will be hard to watch or hear about races I should be in and know that I’m not part of the action anymore. But it’s like outgrowing a romantic relationship; you can look at the person and love them so much but know they’re not right for you anymore and it’s time to move on. I love racing and everything it has done for my life, but it’s time to figure out what is next and plunge wildly, terrifyingly, and joyfully into that unknown.

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Until I come out of retirement, that is. There will likely be a sequel.

Posted on in Cycling, Employment, Life 2 Comments

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 Comments Off on For Helen