We stand on the shoulders of others.
All of us, no matter who you are, or what you do, stand on someone else's shoulders. Whether you’re talking about business, being raised by parents, taught how to drive a car, finalizing a merger, or learning how to train and exercise properly, everything we know can be traced back to another person before us. It is from this basic principle that I am supremely grateful heading into 2016. I would not be who I am today without countless others in my life.
As far as riding goes, things are no different. Dozens of people have taught me endless lessons about riding, racing, exercise, life and myself. In fact, every time I head out the door to ride, I learn something. So in that sense, I have learned something from everyone I’ve ridden and raced with.
But, there are definitely a few I have learned the most from. People who I’ve spent hundreds of hours with, who have invested time in me over the years. This is a tiny tribute, a brief description of some of those who have impacted me as a result of my time on the bike with them.
Peter Bolster – When I first started riding, Pete was one of the first people I ever rode with. He was in his mid 40’s at the time, many years my senior. And yet, no matter how hard I tried, he would ride away from me on climbs, descents, flats, everywhere. I remember wheezing my way to the top of a climb to meet him where he had been waiting for me for quite a while, and I asked him again for the hundredth time how he could go SO hard?! He replied, “You’ll learn that your body can always go harder than you think it can.” I’ll never forget that. He was right, and that’s something I’ve found to be true of all of life. You are always able to handle more than you think you can. When out on rides now, when doing a tough interval or challenging ride, I know that my mind will limit my body, and that helps me push harder. And I learned it from Pete.
Greg Garvin – When I ride with buddies, often times we will just ride as hard as we can to make each other suffer. It’s a twisted type of fun, but we love it. Bashing each other’s legs with efforts up every climb, hoping you’re not the first person to crack. Garvin is just one of those guys who always made it look easy. You could be at your absolute limit and he looks like he is on a beach cruiser pedaling softly down the board walk. Not only is that incredible psychological warfare (which is insanely demoralizing when you’re hurting!) but it’s actually a great technique. Maintaining a smooth, consistent pedal stroke allows you to push the most power possible. Garvin still rips my legs off and now he’s over 50, but still waits for everyone at the top of the hill and is encouraging to all. I’ve tried to mimic him while riding now, staying as still and smooth as I can during the hardest of efforts, but always waiting with a smile, hoping to encourage others to ride hard.
Jerry Jackson – I know very few riders who have minds of total steel. Jerry is one of them. My first year riding, Jerry went out and rode some Strava challenge that had him doing more total distance in a month than I had in my entire life combined to that point. I’ve seen him do 200 mile days, climbing 20k feet in the mountains,SOLO. He has grit and mental fortitude I can only dream of. But watching him has pushed me to develop a type of grit. It has expanded the realm of what’s possible in my mind and ultimately helped get me out the door to do my first 100 mile mtb race. Jerry was the first person to teach me what pure grit could do.
Tom Blanks – As one of the first riders I met when I started out, Tom quickly became my window into the hardcore cycling world. Here was a guy who had defied all odds of fitness, and in a matter of years gotten super fit riding to work every day. He was the strongest rider I knew of and regularly showed it as the instigator of these brutal rides we would do out in the country, attacking every hill we could find full gas. I learned a lot from Tom. How to do intervals, work on your bike, how to ride over 3 hours and not die, how to pace yourself racing, how to attack people mercilessly (that was more of a repeated observation) and how to love a sport. It was always fun riding with Tom, and always fast. He was notorious for sending an email saying we would do a 16mph pace, and we would end up doing 18. A master route crafter, competitor and great friend, Tom taught me a bit of everything.
Ethan Frey – The first time I ever saw this Ethan Frey I had heard so much about, was ironically exactly what I’ve learned most about from him. I was cruising on the local trails when I hit a small bypass. You could go over two logs, or go next to them. I opted to go around and immediately next to me I heard a rider FLY by. I looked over and saw him practically float through the air over the logs, passing me. Being the competitor that I am, I wasn’t going to let this guy drop me LIKE THAT, so I chased. For about 20 seconds. Because that’s how long I could see him before he was out of sight. I’ve learned more about riding fast and going over impossibly large obstacles on a bike and at speed from Ethan than anyone. I’m fairly positive he could jump his mountain bike clean over my 5’1 wife, uphill, at race pace. Riding with him I will literally just dare him to try things, then make him explain how he just blew my mind, doing the very thing I thought impossible. Ethan has taught me how to embrace the challenges of being on the trails and not simply look for the easiest and smoothest path to take.
Keith Omundson – In the short time I've known Keith, probably a year and a half, I’ve gotten to see what next level is like. Riding with Keith is like being with a pro all the time. You can push hard, kill yourself and think you are going fast, then you see Keith just cruise past you. He keeps me humble, always. But for a guy who is so strong, he doesn’t have the big head or excuses you typically get from fast riders. He owns his hardwork and lack thereof, no matter what the outcome. Transparency like that is hard to come by these days, but it’s fun riding with guys who are as talented as Keith, and I’ve learned to not make any excuses from him, but to check your humility, work hard and be gracious.
Greg Rittler – Ever met a true Go-Getter? I have, his name is Greg Rittler. The first time I rode with Greg, he was on the wrong bike, had no fitness and on a ride way too fast for him. But he had a goal, and wanted to get faster. He worked and worked in every possible way he could, weathered setbacks and storms but remained laser focused on getting fast. Then he started racing and every time he was on course, he was getting faster and faster. It wasn’t just the focus and drive that he embodied though. Any able bodied person can become an endurance athlete with time. But Greg attacked the racing world head first, with a smile on his face. I’ve never seen someone love riding so much, in the most miserable conditions, as Greg. It could be pouring rain and 40 degrees and you’ll hear him saying “Isn’t this great?! So much better than the office!” And he’s right. Sometimes training gets tough. Losing focus and giving up is a 5 seconds away. Then I think of Greg’s persistence and perspective. I remember how blessed I am to just be on a bike riding/racing around, and I’m back in the game. Greg has taught me how to stay focused no matter what the circumstances and enjoy it with a smile on my face.
Chris Cosper – I got some great career advice once. I was told to stop focusing so much on developing my weaknesses to get a certain job, but rather to work on finding a job that needed my strengths. Chris Cosper is a guy who knows what his strengths are, and leverages them extremely well. Now, yes, we should all train our weaknesses, but Cosper knows that he is an unbelievable and fearless bike handler on an XC course. So he races XC, and CRUSHES it. Put him on a longer course or a boring trail and he loses interest. But if you give him some tricky single track and he’s out of sight. There have been days when I have tried to take down record times he has set on particular trails and no matter what I do, how hard I train or strong I get, I cannot take down his records. I’ve spent too much time racing and riding courses I didn’t like and have gotten chewed up and spit out. Life’s too short for that. Cosper has taught me that when it comes to race day, find what you do best, and go do it.
Carla Williams – There is no such thing as gender limits. Does physiology give men an edge in some sports? Sometimes. But every time I ride with Carla, I am reminded there is no substitute, no edge, and no advantage, when you come up against true talent and hard training. Carla is one of the strongest riders I know and she routinely destroys me on rides. There is no climb long enough, steep enough or burly enough to unhinge Carla from my wheel, and I have definitely tried; hard. Calra has taught me that hard work erases presumptions and the boundaries that others claim exist. She has created her own, new standards, and lives by them.
Ryan Jordan – Some call it boring, others cringe at the repetition, but if you want to accomplish a goal, you have to try and try and try. I still remember it well; the winter of 2011 I was riding with Ryan up a climb. He punched it right from the bottom and we drilled it all the way to the top. I remember it because it hurt SO MUCH. It’s one of those 90 second efforts that are just short enough to SOUND easy, but just long enough to make you nearly throw up. Ryan had a time goal for himself on that climb, and he rode that hill over and over again that winter trying to hit it. I could only muster up the courage to do it that one time with him. But every ride, Ryan hit that hill full gas to see if he could get to his goal. I’ve never forgotten that dedication and tenacity to achieving a goal. And if I’m serious about a goal, I emulate Ryan’s drive.
Nathan Ong – There is only so much you can do to go fast on a bike. At some point, equipment stops helping and you just need power. Ong is one of those guys who is incredibly resourceful as a racer. As a sprint specialist, you might think of a big guy with huge quads. But that’s not Ong. He’ll even admit he can’t drop very much power in a sprint. But what he does, is use every advantage he has to win. If you look at Ong’s bike you’d see what I mean. He has the bars so low compared to his saddle height, you’d think it would be hard to ride! That’s just it though, by optimizing his position on his bike and adapting his body to handle the low profile, he can remain very aerodynamic while sprinting, to get an edge on the bigger guys. Your position is a huge part of how you ride, and Ong has taught me to leverage it for whatever your goals are as a racer.
Peter Malmquist – Pete was one of the first people to give me a lesson in mountain biking. He took me out on a trail I had been on a million times and explained a few basic principles to me. After we got rolling I was absolutely appalled that I couldn’t keep Pete in sight. Not even for a minute! I actually told him at one regroup (because he had to keep stopping to wait for me) to ride as hard as he could and I would try to keep up. I counted, and it took 30 seconds before he was out of sight! That day he explained a basic principle of geometry to me: the shortest distance between two points is a line. When riding, taking the most direct route on the trail is the fastest. Don’t follow the natural contours of the trail, take the fastest line on that trail. It’s racing, not beach cruising. Every time I get on a mountain bike, I ride that way now, because of Malmquist.
Joe Siegel – There is a concept in racing, specifically road racing, that aerodynamics are everything. Obviously there are other factors that help propel you forward, but when you think about it, the majority of the work you are putting into your pedaling is used up overcoming the wind resistance to keep you moving. There is no one I know who understands these physics better than Siegel. He has explained it six ways to Sunday so that I would finally give over and recognize that the more aerodynamic my equipment is, the more “free” speed I will net. I now think about those principles every time I’m going fast, regardless of what type of bike I’m riding. Getting into an aero tuck on a descent, putting my face close to the bar when I’m trying to bridge a gap, all of it is has been influenced by Siegel’s aero preaching. Siegel was the one who taught me to leverage science and physics to harness speed.
Jim Miller – It happens on almost every group ride you do in the woods. If there are more than 3 people riding together, someone is bound to have a mechanical problem. That person was me one particular day, and no sooner had I stepped off my bike when Jim was at my side unrolling a bike bag that must’ve had everything one would need to build a bike, let alone fix one trail side. Before I knew it, or had time to even protest, Jim had my wheel off and was pumping up a new tube for me. It must’ve taken under 60 seconds; the man is good. It made me realize something though, I often plan for the best case scenario. I carry just enough to flat one time in the nicest way possible. I wasn’t carrying anything that could help someone else, nor did I have something to fix anything more complicated. I was unprepared. Having seen Jim fix countless issues on the roads and trails now, I have come to learn from him that being prepared not only keeps you out and rolling, but can help you save your buddies when they are unprepared (like me). I once saw him rig a snapped derailleur cable 25 miles from civilization for a friend who needed to climb 3 mountains to get home. Jim taught me to think ahead, because life is better when you plan for what could be not just for what has been.
Gordon Wadsworth – There is really no substitute for the attitude that you decide to have. Nothing can change the demeanor of a person like a shift in attitude, or the mood of a group when you add someone with that positive perspective. Enter Gordon Wadsworth. As one of the most prolific racers that I know, he has plenty of opportunities to get disappointed. It’s part of racing. Things break, you don’t feel good, you make mistakes, whatever. But amidst it all, Wadsworth doesn’t waver in his outlook and attitude toward anyone. He truly keeps life and riding/racing in perspective and chooses to focus on the positives of whatever the situation may be. Now, he’s not perfect, but I doubt you’ll find anyone who doesn’t like spending time with him. His positive attitude is contagious and extremely enjoyable to be around. I want to be more like that.
Eric Schmitt – Racing is a bit like solving a puzzle. There are a lot of pieces to consider that are shaped differently making it complex. There are skills and tactics, gear and timing, nutrition and training; the list goes on. Most folks take a formulaic approach to racing, and will simply plug in the formula that has worked at X race into Y race. “If it worked then, it should work here, right?” Wrong. Every race, every course, every field of competitors is different. And that is something Eric gets better than anyone. He analyzes each and every piece of racing down to its very core. He knows who his competitors are and where their strengths lie, how they will utilize them and what he will do to counter. A course is a living organism in his mind, something to be learned and subdued with specific training to conquer every inch of it. If you want to win, you must analyze the details, and I’ve learned precisely how to do that watching Eric.
Rich Polt – It took me a few years before I started riding with anyone under the age of 40. In fact, for a while there, it seemed like all of my riding buddies were at least 20 years older than I am. While this became normal to me fairly quickly, I also adapted to the “I’m a dad” schedule of riding. Most of my rides started at dawn and ended before most normal people had eaten breakfast. When I met Rich, he was a big believer in getting in the miles and being a family man. Most of my buddies had older kids, but Rich had very young kids that required maybe a bit more time and care. Thus for him, it was a big obstacle to riding. Some guys sort of just disappear for a few years when they have young kids, and some guys are like Rich. They make it work, even if that means 5:30a rides in sub 30 degree temps. Anyone can make excuses about not having enough time to ride. I know young single guys who claim that 7 hours a week of riding is pushing it for them. But then I look at guys like Rich, and how he get up as early as it takes, to get in 3 hours before 8:30a. Rich has taught me what true commitment to your passions looks like.
Cameron Cogburn – I’ve had a very different relationship with Cogburn than most in this list. We never ride together and rarely just shoot the breeze, but in some ways, he knows me better than anyone. Cogburn coached me in 2015 and knew every workout I did, every time I was tired, fresh, and could predict accurately how well I would do in my races and probably when I would be irritable in general. He was completely in touch with how my body responded to any kind of ride or exercise I would do, and structured my year accordingly. In reality, he knew my fitness better than I did, and he taught me how to understand it like he did. Cogburn is one of maybe two people I know who can manipulate his fitness like clay. Give him 7 weeks and a specific goal and he can hit the bullseye every time. Most riders just head out and roll around. Racers might do structured workouts. But Cogburn has dialed in his comprehension of his body so well, that he knows precisely what it can do, and how to get it there by careful analysis, and recorded trial an error. He’s a scientist of sorts, and approaches training scientifically with excellent and repeatable results that most don’t even dream of. It’s no wonder he has the second fastest ascent EVER of Mt. Washington; second only to a rider who confessed to doping during the time he set the record. Cogburn taught me to listen to my body, document it’s tendencies, analyze them and learn how to manipulate it for my own purposes.
Jordan Chang – “Andrew, you can absolutely do that,” Jordan said, grinning from ear to ear. I still didn’t believe it, I wasn’t trained, I had never done anything that long, let alone mountainous; I would die on the side of the trail. “Here, let me tell you a quick story about a friend of mine, ok? A bunch of us were heading to an ultra. Holiday Lake 50k, you know that one, right? And we told her she should come with us. Now to that point, the longest run she had ever done was 7 miles, EVER, but I told her she should come and try it out. So she did, and she finished! 33 miles of trails and she did it!” Never have I ever met someone who believed in others as much as Jordan Chang. His excitement for life, challenges and encouragement toward others blows me away. Jordan is probably one of the tougher athletes I know (think 100 mile running races), yet he has this way of convincing people to try anything and to push the boundaries, and break past them. I wouldn’t be the person I am (let alone athlete) without Chang in the back of my head telling me I can go farther, faster, than I ever have before. I just have to take the first step and try.
Rick Norton – There’s a phrase in cycling that is particularly graphic. It isn’t one that you can totally understand unless you have experienced it, but once you have, its utterance brings you straight back to the moments when you have felt its weight. Rick Norton is one of the most unassuming competitors you will meet. Put him in a room with 10 guys and he will be the last person you would expect to be fierce in competition. He’s a genuinely kind and soft spoken guy with all the encouragement and none of the typical racer ego you would expect from a former national champion. When Rick talks about racing though, a common theme is that he will suffer endlessly to win. Emptying yourself completely, then hanging on for 10 more minutes. That’s what Rick does. He describes it with this phrase: “dying a thousand deaths.” I always think about that now when I race. It’s not supposed to be easy, it is going to feel like you are dying for a LONG time in some cases. But that’s what it takes. I never knew that’s what racing took until I met Rick, and saw firsthand how it’s done.
Louren Reddick – Riding on trails is more fun than I can really describe. It makes you feel like a kid again, free of responsibility for your brief adventure through the woods. But you don’t just ride a bike through the woods randomly, you take trails that have been carefully constructed, engineered and designed. Time, effort, resources and sweat were put into creating something that can be enjoyed by the masses, often times with no recognition to the builder. Trails are a gift in life. They provide an escape for many of us into a world of solitude without having to lift a finger to create that escape. Louren Reddick was the first person to help me truly grasp the pleasure it can be to help others enjoy that escape, to enjoy the outdoors. Whether its trail cleanup, maintenance or creating a new and more environmentally friendly trail all together, Reddick finds great joy in creating an avenue for others to enjoy the world. It’s a selfless and thankless job, but the rewards are highly understated, and the satisfaction is supreme. Like any type of giving really, giving back by creating access to the escape that trails provide is something I am so glad I learned from Reddick.
Matt Buckleman – Life is full of bumps and unexpected turns. For years I watched Matt develop as a racer, getting faster and faster despite a demanding family and work life. He worked hard, invested the little time he had carefully, and pushed himself to his limits. He was about to enter a new race season having spent 9 months (and the subsequent 3 years) working towards goals that were finally within reach. Then, he got injured. I don’t know if you have ever worked towards a singular goal for years before, but it takes serious focus and mental strength. Not losing sight to a long range goal that requires almost daily sacrifices, is exceptionally challenging. So to come that close, and to be set back, it can be utterly devastating and typically it’s defeating. Plenty of guys walk away from the sport when this happens (and who could blame them?). But Matt didn’t. He took the time to recover, regrouped, and went after it harder than ever. Instead of being demoralized by the hurdle he encountered, he used it as fuel, as an extra push to say “yes, I will get there,” and to get what he had worked so hard for. Bumps and turns shouldn’t defeat us, as I learned from Matt, but merely be new launching points from which you keep pressing towards the end goal.
Roger Masse – Have you ever heard someone use their age as an excuse for why they can’t xyz? How about the phrase, “age is just a number,” have you heard that one before? I’ve ridden with folks of all ages at this point: I’ve ridden with 15 year olds who can ride fast, and 70+ year olds who gave me a run for my money. Actually, a 68 year old beat me in a sprint not too long ago. That was humbling. And yes, of course we all know the reality that the body changes as we age. I am NOT the same athlete I was even 10 years ago, but I never imagined the trajectory of fitness could be continually up for another two decades, until I met Roger Masse. At 54 years old, Roger is without a doubt one of the strongest racers I know. He specializes in 100 mile mountain bike races that take typically about 8 hours. Think about that for a second. He is racing a bike for 8 hours over rough terrain, AS HARD AS HE CAN, in his mid-FIFTIES. But here’s the kicker: he still beats 98% of everyone he races. I have never heard Roger talk about his age as an excuse (probably because he beats me all the time and doesn’t need an excuse!). He truly is a model though, of someone who refused to let his age define how he could enjoy himself. My whole perspective on aging has changed since meeting Roger. He truly is an inspiration.
Chris Beck – “You should race mountain bikes,” Chris yelled over his shoulder at me as we screamed down a washed out ravine. I laughed at the absurdity. I was terrified of mountain biking. I crashed every time I went out; often 5 times! I was slow and not interested. I was a road racer and perfectly happy with that. That was before I really knew Chris. I have never, and doubt will ever, meet another person like him though. He is a fire of passion and energy, only contained by his skin, with an uncanny ability to perpetuate his excitement for life, indefinitely. Passionate doesn’t even touch the type of person Chris is. So when he started coaching me a few years back, it had a heavy impact. We would go out riding on trails and he would crush me, over and over, dropping me in every section of trail. “Follow my wheel and do exactly what I do!” He taught me by showing, getting my feet wet at full speed. Then he would ride behind me, analyzing every decision I made, and helping me learn how to turn my brain into a machine capable gliding a bike effortlessly through the woods. “You have to go FASTER to punch through that section!” he’d say. “Lean the bike over more and DO NOT BRAKE!” At one point he threatened to take the brakes off my bike to force me to drive the bike smarter and faster. In only a few short years, Chris made me into a competitive elite mountain biker, even though I laughed at his first suggestion of the idea. He showed me how to race smart, how to be tough, and mentally defeat your opponents. Chris ultimately took my natural competitiveness from the lump of coal that it was, and carefully refined it into the shiny gem it is today. A fearless teacher that had eternal patience with me, Chris taught me most of what I know today about mountain biking; which is now my favorite pass time.
Dave Holland – Dave rolled up to meet Tom and I for a ride. He was new to our group of friends and we warned him immediately, “this is going to be a hard ride.” We were skeptical of this new guys ability to hang on a particularly brutal climbing workout we had devised to crush ourselves. We set out and ironically, Dave killed us both up every climb. He had just come back from taking 20 years off riding and racing because of back issues, and now, here he was, blazing again. Dave is one of the most gracious and genuine guys you’ll meet, and he loves going hard on the bike. He fights horrific lifelong back issues on a daily basis but never complains. No ride is too long, no effort too hard; he is just happy to be out on a bike, riding with friends, seeing the world. I often forget that riding is a gift, not given to everyone. But Dave exemplifies appreciation for the freedom it gives. Every ride with Dave is like his first. Never taking it for granted, attacking every climb like it’s his last. He is truly grateful for the ability he has to ride right now, today, in the moment. Gratitude for every moment is what I’ve learned from Dave.
Charlotte – If there was a dollar for every time I asked Charlotte if I could go on a long ride with my buddies, that would be a significant amount of cash. And if she had a dollar for every minute I spent on my bike instead of with her in 2015, I can tell you she would have exactly $25,800. That is a lot of grace she extends to me on a daily basis to allow me to pursue a passion that I enjoy. It’s staggering at times actually. Typically on the weekend there’s a big ride heading out early on Saturday morning. I ask if I can go, and I must look like a sad 5 year old asking to buy a puppy, because 99% of the time, she says yes. This then means she is woken up when it’s still dark by my bumbling around the house gearing up to head out. The second time she wakes up it isn’t to the smell of freshly brewed coffee or a nice omelet, it’s to a cold, empty house. We rarely sit and enjoy a nice and slow morning together, because I’m off riding AGAIN. Maybe you’re starting to get the picture. There is a seemingly limitless love for me that Charlotte displays through endless patience. Through all the loneliness during my rides, to my crazy post ride rituals of stretching, eating and data analysis, she remains caring and kind. Is there any more tangible ways to show someone love than to be patient with them? Charlotte has convinced me there isn’t, and has taught me all about how to be patient, and to be so often.
There are so many others who have taught me from the saddle of a bike. I could write a hundred names, and a hundred paragraphs for each of them. But the point is, thank you, all of you, for giving so much to me even when you may not have realized you were.
All I have learned, the miles I have ridden, the results I have achieved, were and are only possible because of you. The real treasure though is the memories made, the conversations had, and the friendships developed. I cherish them all greatly and look forward to that next ride, new friends and learning more from each and every one of you.