Skip to main content


I have a pretty modest trophy collection for 15 years of mountain bike racing. Here's a picture of it.
 I have four. Technically, I have 5 if you count the 2nd I took at Chainbreaker a couple years ago. I didn't get a ribbon or medal but I did get an awesome pint glass.  It's down in the kitchen.

It's not much to show for all those miles of racing and the time and pain, not to mention the thousands of dollars spent on gear, gas, and race fees. The personal investment for that 2nd place ribbon from the Mt Ashland Hill Climb - the ribbon that looks like a prize from a spelling bee at a Southeastern Oregon charter school with serious budget problems - must have been a couple grand alone.

I suppose because I have so few, they matter more to me. They all have a story, but it's the big one in the back I'm most proud of. First Place First Timer at the Revenge of the Siskiyous. 

It was July 1987. Ronald Regan was President. MTV still played music videos. George Michael's "Faith" topped the charts. I had bought my first mountain bike the previous autumn. My friends told me they did this crazy mountain bike race in July and I should give it a try. I don't remember why I thought that was a good idea. I was probably drunk. There might have been the dregs of youthful enthusiasm involved.

This is what I looked like at the start of that race on Mt Ashland:
I know. Where do you begin? Some of the high points:
  • I'm riding a Trek 830 with toe clips and an air pump mounted to the seat post.
  • I'm wearing a Members Only jacket before irony had even been invented.
  • Underneath that jacket, I'm wearing a Crazy Eddie t-shirt. If you were from NY in the '70's, you knew his prices were "Insane!"
  • We are all wearing hard plastic helmets.
  • I was rocking a mustache that would have made the Village People proud (which might explain why I couldn't get a date between 1984 and 1986). 
  • I was 27 years old.
It was my first race and it was awesome! It was mostly fire roads and double track back in those days and I had no baseline to measure the experience of racing 20 miles down a mountain with hundreds of other riders around me. Nor did I have any baseline to measure the experience of pushing my bike 3 miles up the Revenge Hill along with everyone else. Hardly anyone did. The sport was barely 4 years old.

It was 27 years ago but I still remember what a rush it was. I bonked hard the week before pre-riding the course. But race day I was ready for it and felt great all the way to the finish. When I walked up to the podium they announced my time and heard someone say "Good time!" I felt like I could take on anyone. I could excel at this sport!

This led to some rather unfortunate decisions on my part. This was me two years later:
God, I really miss those tights.

I had also swapped out my riser bars for these weird Scott mountain/aero bars that would not only cement my freak status in mountain biking (that's not breast cancer awareness pink handlebar tape, that's just pink handlebar tape. On a mountain bike), they would also break in half during a race a couple years later.

I also decided to bump myself to an expert class so I could do the full course from the park in Ashland. I'm not sure that was a bad decision, but I was clearly racing outside my class and it was my first taste of being in a race and being on the outside. It was also my first taste of really sucking during a race.  I quietly moved myself back to sport class a couple years later and had a good run as pack-fill for a few more years. My dreams of racing triumph tempered by the reality that while I was fast, there were lots of people who were faster. I didn't get near a podium again until 2011.

I've been wandering down memory lane because  Friday afternoon I'll drive out to Echo Oregon to do the Echo Red to Red race for the 6th time. My racing age is 55. Peak fitness is rapidly disappearing in the rear-view mirror. I don't know what this year will be like. I admit, I'm nervous. I'm feeling the years more than I thought I would and many of the support mechanisms that have made racing so much fun the last few years are gone.

Looking back, I realize it all goes. I never thought those orange tights would go out of fashion. I never thought they'd stop doing the Revenge - but the back of the course got logged off and they lost access to the Revenge Hill. The race is just a memory now.

But I look at that plaque and I remember what it felt like. And I remember that, as great as getting a plaque was, the real reward was the race. I remember that putting on a number and lining up at a starting line doesn't change. It is a pure act, no matter what sport you do. It's something I still need to do. Many of my friends and family wonder why I still do it. I wonder the same thing, sometimes.

I'm just not ready to hang it up.

Not just yet.


Kurstin said…
This is a great post, Jonathan. So funny.

Popular posts from this blog

Hawaii Part I

This is a year of great portent for Carolyn and me. All kinds of things lined up. It's our 30th anniversary! Actually, it's the 30th anniversary of our first date which turned into a sleepover which turned into nightly sleepovers which turned into moving in together which turned into buying a house together which turned into buying another house together and breaking out in cats, which is pretty much where we are now. Exactly in the middle of those 30 years we got married. It was sometime in July, we have it written down somewhere. That's not to say we take the marriage lightly. It means a great deal to us, though for some reason, we aren't getting the spouse's discount on rental cars that I thought came with the package. Anyway, 15 years of being bound in matrimony this year too. It's also Carolyn's 65th birthday, which is maybe the biggest deal. Oh, and there's a solar eclipse in August. If you're big on numerology and signs from the Heavens, this…

After this Winter - Some thoughts on losing my way

Last weekend I dug my bibs out of the closet, suited up and did the Mudslinger mountain bike race again. Some confusion after the race got me thinking about paths, wayfinding, and getting lost. It also got me thinking about politics.

This was the 30th annual Mudslinger which means we share an anniversary! A couple actually. Carolyn and I have been together 30 years and I started racing mountain bikes 30 years ago. My race prep this year consisted mainly of gassing up the car the day before driving down to the race. I think I've ridden outside four times since Christmas. Still, I wasn't going to miss this one. I did the second Mudslinger in 1988 and quite a few after that until I stopped racing in 1996. I've done it at least six more times since I started racing again in 2008.

I finished pretty far back in the field but ahead of a few dozen racers. I wasn't the only one having trouble getting the base miles in. More importantly, I had fun. It was a beautiful sunn…

Some thoughts on the road's end

I didn't get many Christmas cards out this year. Didn't do a letter either. I'm sorry about that. Here's what happened.

Less than a week before Christmas, my in-laws reached a crisis point that signaled the end of their independent lives and the beginning of ongoing nursing care. I want to recount the journey to that crisis point. I apologize for the length of this. I need to get it out of my head. I need to document this because my in-laws are wonderful people who have reached the end of their independent lives and I want you to know what it was like.

The crisis had been building for some time. We knew something was going to happen to push this forward. Indeed, Merle and Catherine are where we wanted them to be but their journey there was so abrupt and terrible sounding, it actually made people laugh when I recounted it. We tried to get ahead of what was coming but the desire to let Merle and Catherine continue to live at home combined with their determination to stay…