I would love to tell a story that involves me riding a bike at age two, winning my first race at the age of four, and entering the endurance gravel scene by eight, but that just wouldn't be true. You see my first bike didn't have the same meaning to me as my bikes do now. My first real bike came to me in the form of a blessing and a curse.
A blessing in that it represented a right of passage of sorts, a badge of honor. It meant that I was trusted, that I was ready. It was a blessing in that it meant I could be with my friends in minutes, riding around in circles, and talking for hours. It was a blessing in that I could go brook trout fishing in Duluth, Minnesota at the drop of a hat, even if it was way too far to walk. It was a blessing when I just had to have 9 more holes of golf to round out the perfect 36-hole day, and I just didn't want to ask my Mom to drive me to the course again.
At other times the bike came to me as a curse, like when I had just laid down, exhausted from a long hot summer day of playing outside, only to hear my Mom yell, "Tim, jump on your bike and go to the store to get us some bread and Dad wants some cigarettes. Don't forget the note." I'd stomp and curse my way to my bike for the mile-long ride to the neighborhood grocery store, baseball glove still dangling from my ape hangers. All in all, my bike was a tool to me as a child, a tool that gave me independence. It would be a long time before I realized it as a means to pursue athletic goals.
I grew up dreaming of playing baseball, not just playing, but being considered good like my brother. I used to watch him sit down opponents with his rocket left arm while coaches scratched their heads. I poured it all into baseball. It's all I wanted to do. I never dreamed that the machine getting me to all those practices would ultimately become my passion.
When I wasn't on the diamond I was usually in the woods. Duluth has the luxury of having enormous green spaces within the city limits, and as luck would have it a whole bunch of it was right out my back door. My Dad and I would walk the trails almost every night talking about animals, plants, and the woods. I loved being outside and there was always something special to me about being lost in all those trees. At a very young age I knew I would always be drawn to the wilderness.
As I entered my early teens I started to feel like the strolls through the trails weren't enough. I launched a campaign for a motorcycle. I was relentless with my parents. I made promises I knew I couldn't keep, but I wanted that speed and I wanted it on the trails. Eventually, a deal was hatched and I had a Yamaha 100, and my love affair with singletrack began. I rode for hours on end, through countless tanks of gas, constantly trying to go faster, trying to handle corners cleaner, determined to be a better rider. I was born again!
My motorcycle days passed me by once I got a driver's license, but I never stopped thinking about the trail. My baseball dreams left me when my high school team lost the regional championship game that would have sent us to state. The next year a college tryout left me frustrated.
I took off down a different path. I would try my hand at the fitness craze. I started running. I was never anything more than average runner, but I loved the progress I could see and feel. A knee injury had me in the doctor's office listening to him tell me that I should try riding a bike. "A bike?" I questioned. I thought long and hard about it and figured I'd give the whole mountain biking thing a try.
The first bike I ever owned that was designed to meet goals other than just going to the store was a Trek 7000 with a Rock Shox Judy on it. I stared at that bike a lot thinking I was looking at the coolest thing with two wheels ever. I couldn't believe how physically demanding it was to ride off road, but it really reminded me of those old motorcycle days. I was determined to get to know this sport.
Competitive cycling started as an idea much like my first running 5K. I figured I'd try it. I laugh when I think about lining up wearing running shoes, summer shorts, and a T-shirt. I finished that first MTB race thinking it was the most fun I'd ever had and I wanted to do it again as soon as possible. I wondered what the race was like for the leaders. I thought about how easy it must be for them, because they were going so fast. I really had no idea what was going on, but I had to be part of it.
Soon the racing turned into more than just a folly and I wanted to do well, but I was getting frustrated. I just couldn't keep up with the super fast guys floating up those ski hills. I began to think about my running days. I had been a marathon runner, perhaps I should look at biking the same way?
I entered my first 12-hour solo mountain bike race and it all began to change. I was able to see what the view from the front looked like. I quickly learned that the real race took place in the mind, not the body. I would make myself angry during the races in order to push harder. I felt I had something to prove. I would try to sit down my opponents just like my brother used to from the pitcher’s mound. I wondered what it would be like to have other riders wondering if they could beat me. I became fueled by the competition. I admired the other riders and how fit they were. I began to copy their style. They humbled me. I tried to learn from them. There would be no turning back.
Sometimes I get asked how I found cycling. I'm not sure I did. I think cycling found me at the age of five, making me the happiest little boy in Duluth Heights. If it weren't for that little yellow Schwinn I can't say for sure which paths I would have chosen. I'm grateful for the memories, the experiences, and the friendships I've made on two wheels. What a gift it has been and continues to be.