I was pretty much drunk for most of the Bush Administration. Depending on who you talk to, that may or may not have been such a bad thing. I started bartending in 2003 for college money. I did that for a year, and then our National Guard unit got deployed to Kosovo in 2005. While I was there, I saved up money so when I got back I could open a bar, which I did. I will say that almost everyone, up to and including the fourth highest ranking person in the Army, the US Army Europe (USAREUR) commander – a 4-star General – told me it was a really bad idea. Don’t do it kid, you’ll shoot your eye out. Well, I think you know what happened next.
Yep, I got hit by an icicle. When you own a bar, it seems like a really good idea to drink as much as you possibly can, every single day. So that’s what I did. Not a great way to live, let me tell you. I do want to say, that I did meet some really great people along the way, and am that much the better for it. My main problem is when I have a beer, I don’t have an off switch. I’m not the type of person who drinks every single day, but I do do the binge thing. IE – if I have to work the next day, I don’t drink that night, but if I’m off, it’s nothing for me to kill a couple or three six packs. Not the best way to live. My one saving grace was that in 2007 I bought a cheap mountain bike to ride around town to save gas – initially.
I started going on longer (at the time) rides; 8, 10, 15 miles at a time, then increasing distance and frequency. In August of 2009, I got hired at my current job, and in December of that year, I bought a road/touring bike with the intention of riding the Bike Across Kansas that next summer, which I did. 2009 was really the year that the bike bug hit me. Three things really happened all within a couple of weeks of each other.
First I found Eric Benjamin’s, the Adventure Monkey, blog. He was training for his first Dirty Kanza race, and was blogging about it. As being this was a hometown race, and he worked at the same place I did, I was hooked! He was going out and doing 3-4 times the distance I was, and in all kinds of weather. In one of his posts that winter, he mentioned this girl by the name of Jill Homer who lived in Alaska and rode bikes on snow incredibly long distances – like say -half of the Iditarod Trail, and blogged about it. The very first post of hers I ever saw was this video<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/8548336″>Alaska Slickrock</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user419463″>Jill Homer</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
and it probably saved my life. If Eric’s blog was the kindling, then Jill’s video was the lit match.
Hey, you gotta start somewhere.
About this same time, I came home from work, and was flipping through cable (my roommate at the time had it) and stopped on the documentary channel because there was a mountain biker. The movie turned out to be Ride the Divide, a documentary about a 2,745 mile mountain bike race from Canada to the US-Mexico border. That movie was the true fuel for the fire. After watching that, I knew I could do anything, but I had to get in shape…and quit smoking. I also knew I was headed to Afghanistan in late 2010, and preparation for that really took precedence, but I managed to get some bike stuff in.
A guy I work with invited me for a ride in June of 2010. He had a new 29er (29″ wheels instead of the 26″ that I had). I spent the whole ride in the biggest gear that I had, and couldn’t even come close to keeping up, and about a month later I bought my first 29, a shiny red Gary Fisher.
This was a great bike to get serious about mountain biking on. I was so serious, in fact, that I thought I was good. I went to go visit my friend Mike in Missoula, MT. Well, Jill had recently moved there too, and I pretty much begged her to go on a ride with me. After much pleading, she reluctantly agreed.
She isn’t the type to say “no, Matt, you’re really not that good at all.” She just showed me I wasn’t. Did I also mention she set the women’s record on the Tour Divide in 2009, and it wasn’t broken until this year? Yeah. Anyways, after making a general ass out of myself, I promised to myself I’d quit smoking and get in shape.
We left Kansas en-route for Afghanistan the day after Thanksgiving 2010. We went to Camp Atterbury, Indiana for about 3 weeks for pre-mobilization training. While there, I went to the gym and hopped on the exercise bike for a bit. After I got back, I got some good-natured ribbing about it, and someone joked that I was going to try to cover the distance between our base in Afghanistan and Emporia on an exercise bike. I did the math, and figured out I would need to ride 23.3 miles every day. Totally doable. I didn’t make it due to mission briefings, rocket attacks (twice), etc, but I did get on the exercise bike as much as could – at least 4 days a week. What I DID manage to do was get in incredibly good bike shape, and also lost about 20 pounds. Ohh, did I mention I had my last cigarette in the Berlin Airport on December 17th, 2010? Yeah, that helped out immensely.
While I was in Afghanistan, in addition to riding the pedals off the exercise bikes in the camp gym (this really happened, twice), I watched Ride the Divide probably 40 times, and read Jill’s book – Be Brave, Be Strong, about her previously mentioned Tour Divide run. I decided that I wanted to see where this whole thing went, and planned on doing the Dirty Kanza 200.
When I got back, I splurged on a new mountain bike – a really nice, custom-built bike. For any bike geeks that may stumble across this, it’s a Surly Karate Monkey with SRAM everything – 2×10 gearing, a Rockshox Reba suspension fork, Salsa Woodchipper drop handlebars, and two wheel sets – one with cross tires – Kenda Happy Mediums for gravel, and the other is 29″ WTB Nano Raptors for..well, I’ll tell you later 😉 The guy who owns the local bike shop thinks he built it primarily for the Dirty Kanza. He didn’t, but it worked great for that.
In January of this year, I signed up for what would really be my first big race. It was the Stagecoach 400, a brand-new bikepacking race in Southern California at the end of April, put on by Brendan and Mary Collier, who was the first woman to attempt the Tour Divide, and one of the main players in the movie. Eric the Adventure Monkey was going to go also, but he decided he’d rather have open-heart surgery instead. I’m not sure he has his priorities straight, but to each their own. I went, and decided that I didn’t like it, and opted for the easy way out by getting hit by a car and going to the hospital 20 miles in. It may have put an end to my race, but it did enable me to meet and greet some of the best racers in the world, including Jay Petervary and Eszter Horanyi. Gotta find your bright spots where you can, I suppose.
As being the extent of my injuries was a severe case of road rash, I decided to proceed with the Dirty Kanza. All I needed was a new bike frame, seat, rear wheel, derailleur, and tires 27 days before the race. No problem. I finally got everything put together three days prior, and toed the starting line. I knew I wasn’t going to do well, due to lack of training from the accident, but I just wanted to finish. I did manage to cross the finish line at 1:40am, after riding for 19 hours and 40 minutes. My knee was grinding so loud it sounded like a bad clutch, but I finished. 200 miles of gravel and dirt roads on a bicycle in less than 20 hours.
I wasn’t exactly expecting a picture.
After that, I took it easy for a couple of months. Our schedule at work is really screwy, but every six weeks we have a scheduled six days off. I try to get in a trip on those. I went to Minnesota in July for canoe camping on the Boundary Waters, and in September I bikepacked the Vapor Trail in Salida, CO.
About two weeks ago I went to Montana and met up with a friend and got a personal tour of Yellowstone. That pretty much brings me up to date. This year has been a really amazing year, and I’ve met some really amazing people that I’ll get into in my next post. I’d better end this before it turns into a book.
I’ll see you down the road,