Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Arrangements With the Weather Gods, Part II

Update: If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may recall that exactly one year ago, I made good use of my special arrangement with the Weather Gods when I resigned from my day job as a renewable energy developer and promoted myself to full time Professional Cyclist for The Kona Bicycle Company. That is, in exchange for my service of putting wind and solar projects onto the grid and offsetting my carboniferous* ways as a globe-trotting outdoor fanatic, the architects of the elements granted me favorable weather conditions for whichever outdoor activity I happened to partake in. Whether it was good snow for skiing, or crisp, dry days for cycling, the weather gods would deliver!  In this case, the closing act and high-point of the deal entailed very mild winter weather conditions during my acute transition to full-time professional cycling in December 2014 (perfect for training!). All I had to do to fulfill my end of the contract was to train diligently, grow personally, and enjoy my work.

*I'm inventing a new use of the word "carboniferous" to imply carbon-burning activities, not relating to, or denoting the fifth period of the Paleozoic era, from 360 million to 286 million years ago. Speaking of carboniferous, smoke-infused clouds over Mt. Adams during the giant forest fires in the Gifford Pinchot this summer. Photo Credit: Diane Paxson

Hard at work at the Mt. St. Anne World Cup in Quebec, August 2015. Photo Credit: Duncan Philpott/Kona Bicycles

It Gets Warm and Fuzzy: A full year later, and I'm happy to say that the self-promotion has been fantastic.  Not only am I feeling well-established in my "métier" as a cyclist, I'm feeling more established in life, in general! In the context of life's work, and having come from the more typical situation of being "a-bike-racer-who-also-has-a-quote-real-job-end-quote" (btw I am conflicted with the term "real job"), I sometimes view my situation as a mini-retirement, which allows me to appreciate the people who have inspired me and helped me to get here, the planning and patience it took to create this system, savor every drop of it, and look toward the future with positive momentum and motivation.  Most times I don't even contemplate anything other than the task at hand, which is immensely rewarding in itself.  It all has me growing as a cyclist, and more importantly as a person, learning and developing habits and perspectives that I feel will benefit my family and me for the rest of my days.  I've even excused the Weather Gods from bothering with my system, because, well, controlling the weather is selfish and too tricky.*  And besides, I entered into a few new contracts in late-2015 that far outweigh my need for agreeable weather conditions.  First of all, Sarah and I got married!! We also purchased a beautiful home! We are grateful to be well-planted in Beautiful Bellingham, with good friends, stimulating work, and a community dedicated to world-class stewardship and enjoyment of the outdoors.    

All hyperbole aside, above is one of a million good moments on the "best. day. ever." in Moretown, VT. I should note that we had perfect weather for our outdoor wedding in Vermont despite a hurricane blowing up the East Coast the day before and frost the day after, and when we moved, the rain stopped just when we needed to carry items out of the moving truck...thanks, Weather Gods.       

The vexingly positive update continues: Prior to my record-setting offseason, in which I became a married man and a homeowner, the 2015 race season finished on a high note as well.  Back in September I earned the honor of competing with the US National Team in my fifth mountain bike World Championships, this time in the small country of Andorra.  There I posted a career-best international result, finishing 40th on the day, coming from behind, outside of 100th, and along the way churning out lap times good enough for the top-25.  On paper it doesn't sound too impressive, but it had me fired up.  It felt like a good culmination of the increased commitment I had made through the year.  Along those lines, it had me looking positively toward the final Olympic selection process in 2016.

Just a few highlights from the 2015 season: Competing at the international star-studded US Cup; hypoxia at the Continental Champs in Colombia; getting lost at BC Bike Race; competing in the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto; setting a personal best at World Champs.

Speaking of 2016: I'm delighted to say that I'll be renewing my contract with The Kona Bicycle Company for the 6th year. As such, they'll be providing me with endless amounts of candy, and a bike made of iron (get it?).  Training is already well underway, and every day involves interesting preparations for a big season that will focus on making it to the Olympics!  On December 4th, USA Cycling announced the women's and men's Olympic Long Team, naming the list of athletes from which the final 2016 Olympic rosters will be selected.  I'm honored to be one of seven men and eight women who earned one of those spots!  

To be clear, making the Long Team is akin to making the "Olympic Trials".  The "Short Team" will consist of two (and possibly just one!) riders.  Those riders will be selected in June 2016 based on their performance in major international and domestic competitions between March and June.  The Olympics will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in late August.  There is still a massive amount of work to be done to earn a ticket to Rio.  That said, I'm thrilled by the opportunity and eager for the journey. This is my second time being named to an Olympic Long Team, and I'm coming into it with an order of magnitude greater experience than I had last time around.  Below is a snapshot of the schedule I am looking forward to for 2016.

To my sponsors: It's difficult to overstate how fortunate I feel to be able to pursue these opportunities, and I am grateful to represent my sponsors who make these pursuits possible: The Kona Bicycle Company, Shimano, Fox Suspension, Maxxis Tires, ODI Grips, Wilderness Trail Bikes, Champion Systems Clothing, Stans NoTubes, Clif Bar, Giro Sport Design, Smith Optics, as well as Stages Cycling, and Trailhead Athletics.

Stay tuned for more updates soon!  

Meanwhile, I'm warmed by the thought of all this inspiring others to seek fulfillment and happiness through their craft, whatever it may be. If you like, you can follow along on my NEW Facebook Athlete Page, as well as Instagram and Twitter by finding @slaxsonMTB.


Here's the anticipated line-up for 2016.  I'll have my work cut out for me to offset this carbon footprint! 

Looking ahead to 2016.  On the start line at the 2015 World Championships in Andorra.

And a few more parting shots from the off season:

There won't ever be another off season like this one, married, first-time homeowner.  Along with it, I enjoyed building a new work bench for the garage using a giant slab of 600-year-old Douglas Fir that my dad and I harvested from a "hazard tree" several years ago.  I was thankful to have time on my side to do some great projects with Sarah to customize the new house.

Scouting new trail with the WMBC, catching sunrise in the woods, getting the hours in the legs, heating up the map!

At home in the woods...somewhere near Bellingham

Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Fulfilling Frame of Mind and the Summer Time Warp

From 36,000 feet in the sky, the world below appears flat as it pans by slowly through my window.  'Another way of seeing the world through a screen,' I think to myself as I scroll wanderingly through photos on my phone.  Gazing back out the window, far below I can make out the fuzzy shadow cast by our airplane, a silvery penumbra hurling across the landscape.  I focus on this fuzzy spot and contemplate the conflicting perspectives, one slow, one swift, and me, sitting still in my seat. I’m going fast and slow at the same time, and it makes me think how time and experiences have passed during this race season. Fast or slow, depending on how I see it.  The images on my phone are proof.  Many megabytes of moments, but all it takes is the swipe of a finger and they turn into a psychedelic blur.  

It's the perennial summer time warp, kicked into turbo mode and made so rich by two-wheeled adventures.  There have already been many, from back yard to distant country.  After nearly two decades of bike racing, there has always been something novel about every season.  From one perspective they might blur together, but I can recall something distinctly special about each one.  

The 2015 has been especially unique because it is my first year as a “full time” Professional Cyclist.  That is, no 40-50+ hours per week committed to energy development work, which had been the case since 2008, and full-time college before that (I became an Elite in 2007).  I’ve always believed in playing the long game with my sporting career, and have been truly fortunate to work with such supportive employers and sponsors.  Over the years they have enabled my big aspirations, professionally and athletically, which has provided me with amazing experience, and spurred me to achieve the best I can in all my endeavors.  At any rate, I've been enjoying this year tremendously.  It’s nice not to always be doing the dance with fitting in training and travel amidst weighty deadlines and a storm of emails and conference calls.  Ironically, I do somewhat miss the challenge and fulfillment of pulling it off.  But most of all, I am appreciating the chance to savor this cycling adventure a bit more than usual. If anything, life is less of a blur right now, and that’s nice.  Since the spring World Cup campaign wrapped up in May, the summer film reel goes something like this:

Life may be less of a blur this year, but not the trees back home…they are blurring by almost every day...

Most days are dedicated to a vigorous training curriculum…ride, replenish, rest, rehash, repeat...

More time for rewarding extracurriculars, like mornings and afternoons spent volunteering with local community organization like the Whatcom High School Mountain Bike League, working with the next generation of shredders; or and Ride Run and Dig (RRAD), hosting “bike rodeos” and teaching grade-schoolers some bicycle basics, safety, and environmental stewardship…it’s inspiring and rewarding to see the flame ignite in some of these kids when they discover the fun of two wheels...

Getting more plugged in to the local community, co-leading a multi-week Functional Fitness for Mountain Biking Course at CorePhysio with my fiancee, Sarah, DPT...

Working in depth with the Kona Bicycles Product Development team testing and designing our new wave of awesome 2016 cross country bikes, like the Hei Hei Race DL and Kahuna DDL...

Then, of course, there's the racing...

ProXCT, Missoula - Getting tuned up for a big summer...sprint eliminator victory...5-star accommodation with the Clapp family…an ice cream problem...champagne chugging…jumps off stumps

BC Bike Race - Coming into form...ultra dry & hot weather…yellow jersey...some missed turns and missed glory…tasting blood...getting a bit too keen for the win…seven days of singletrack paradise...a memorable runner-up finish (Photos: Erik Peterson, BC Bike Race)

Pan Am Games - First major games…Team USA…inspired...first-lap-mechanical-disaster-to-comeback-success...determination to the finish...from DFL to 6th…finding the silver lining in knowing I was one of the fastest despite nothing to show for it…(Photos: Sean Scally, below; Canadian Cyclist, bottom)


US Cross Country National Championships - A venue thick with heritage, but not oxygen…feeling sharp as a knife and poised for something big…so were the rocks…podium trajectory impeded by a puncture...another test to the perseverance...over the last 6 years I've been 7th or better, and this year was a disappointing 7th...

"the essence of sport is the duel between the spirit of a person and the limitations of matter” F. Beckey

The world is still going by slowly outside, but I know the end of the season is rushing near.  Up next is a trip to the East Coast for the last chapter of the 2015 season: Rounds 4 and 5 of the World Cup, then a strong push for the World Championships in Andorra.  I’m hungrier than usual for a clean race, and am chomping at the bit to be on the start line again.  This year was about going in deep, and I’m certainly there, despite not much to show for it in terms of wins or medals.  I still care about “the win”.  The recent misfortunes and mistakes certainly sting, but for me, there’s still a big sense of fulfillment that spurs me on.  I’ll look back at the the heart of this season proudly as representing the strong performances I purposed for, just not the fortune I would have hoped for.  Better that than the other way around. 

While some people may dismiss sport as trivial and superficial by nature, I would argue that, ironically, it is precisely this proximity to triviality that can make sport so profound.  In a realm where the conflict, defeat and disappointment seem to carry real consequences, at the end of the day, they don’t (notwithstanding the fact that some sports are objectively more physically dangerous than others).  That’s the beauty of endeavor through sport.  Underneath the failure and disappointment, there’s always a reward for giving your all at what you love to do.  That reward is simply connecting with yourself and knowing yourself deeply.  

Sport can incite a distracting, binary attitude towards the things we do.  Indeed, racing is about being fast and not being slow.  But, paradoxically perhaps, there’s much more to it than that.  There is more than just being good or bad, winning or losing.  Just like the view from the airplane, I guess, it’s not sufficient to just think about the rate at which the world goes by, but your orientation to it.  It’s about something in between and beyond at the same time, that fuzzy realm where you beget your own fulfillment, no matter which end of the spectrum you find yourself on any given day. 

“The views earned by long hours of toil are more wonderful than those gained in comfort.” F. Bekcey 

(Photo above: Margus Riga/BC Bike Race)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

If I was Mick Jagger I'd Say I "Got What I Needed" at the World Cup Season Opener

One of the many rock gardens on the Nove Mesto course.
This photo used with permission from Rob Jones/canadiancyclist.com 
Scene: Nové Město na Moravě, Czech Republic, UCI Cross Country World Cup season opener.  

The Nerd – 
What’s involved in finishing on the lead lap in a World Cup XC race in 2015? Something like this...the last time you raced here (2012) you got pulled with two laps to go and didn’t even crack the 100s.  This time you blast off the starting line at over 30 miles per hour amidst a pack of 150 snarling, spandex-clad bike racers and into 6 laps on a 2.5 mile course, adding up to 15.4mi and 3,700’ elevation gain, with your heart beating within 10% of its maximum the whole time.  The whole field goes careening into the woods, mud everywhere, across jagged rocks and wet roots, up climbs exceeding 20% grades, down drop-offs and jumps, with 20,000 fans screaming in your face, making the woods sound like a battle scene out of Braveheart.  You burn up 1,600 calories, or over 900 calories per hour, power output normalized to over 5 watts per kilogram for one hour and forty-five minutes. Amidst churning out the biggest effort your legs and lungs can muster, you’re busy passing at least 50 racers from the back of the pack, and the higher you move up, the faster things get.  The day is going well!  Meanwhile, the “fastest guy in the world” is kicking your ass by about a 5-6% margin.  You ride from 115th on the start loop to finish 65th. 

Mid-packin it! Race Analysis! - Lap time splits and overall positioning through the course of the race.   

The Realist – 
A personal best World Cup performance in terms of placing, lap times, time down from leader, etc.  In the grand scheme of bicycle racing, finishing solidly within the top 50% at the highest level of the XC racing on the planet is pretty nifty…but in the applicable context of World Cup racing, there is some work to be done.

The Satirist –
Last time you were 100-something, now you are 65th...congratulations, you have now progressed to “average World Cupper”.

The Modernist – 
#DoYouEvenEnduroBro #HuckingIsTheNewXC #TallSeatTalent #KonaBikes #pinned

The Thinker – 
Sunday’s experience was very satisfying at a core personal level.  It wasn’t a medal, it wasn’t a podium, it wasn’t even a top-10.  But it was a good race, and the best I had done in Europe so far.  After this I’ll only be hungry for more, but for now, it was a healthy dose of how great and fulfilling this whole pursuit can be.  Putting together a good ride in Europe, much less having the opportunity to compete in some of the great sporting events of the world, always feels good.  According to the physiologist Vladimir Issurin, the single overall objective of competitive sport is “attaining excellence in a selected sport.”  While that may be true, I believe there is an aim beyond the sport itself.  I think it has something to do with “attaining excellence in living”.  After all, hasn’t it been said that sport is great because it is a proxy for real life, but better?  And moreover, there is more to life than sport, not the other way around! 

The last time I was in Europe in 2012, I was what I like to call "wrapped around the axle".  Sometimes we athletes get wrapped around the axle as we become myopic about our situation and morph the “pursuit of excellence” into “pursuit of perfection”.  The same may be said for anything that we care about doing well at...sports, jobs, relationships.  In the ever-advancing world of advanced training processes, measuring this and that, posting this and that, it’s easy to fall into a reductionist approach to achieving perfection ergo excellence.  It’s easy to become obsessed with theoretical perfection. But as the 18th century thinker Edmund Burke reminds us, “be wary of over-reliance on pursuing theoretical perfection.  The accompanying principles can take you to the extreme, because you pursue the vindication of those principles and cannot stop short of total success.” That sounds like a recipe for not being able to enjoy the things that can make life so good.  In other words, don’t get too wrapped around the axle, otherwise it might be harder to accept a good thing even if it’s right there in front of you.  Like Mick Jagger says:

You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need   

I needed that.
Next stop is Round 2 in Albstadt, Germany.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wayne Gretzky at the Duffer League, Bonelli Park #2

"Bonelli is like the 100 meter Olympics of mountain biking," proclaimed a fired up, dust-crusted Kris Sneddon. 

"It seems like a crazy way to ride a bike," replied endurance connoisseur Cory Wallace as he listened to the other three Kona boys describe the events of the previous weekend. 

Fast, crazy, frenetic, aggressive, exciting - there are many words that can describe Round #3 of the US Cup at Bonelli Park in San Dimas, CA. Thanks in no small part to the organizational efforts of Scott Tedro and the Sho-Air Cycling Group, some 85% of the world's top-twenty ranked XC mountain bikers (and 100% of all top North Americans) were on the start line for Saturday's cross country race. This included reigning World Champion Catherine Pendrel in the women's race, and perennial heavy hitter Nino Schurter in the men's race. 

"It's like having Wayne Gretzky show up to your Duffer's league," jokes Canadian Kris Sneddon. "Actually it's more like showing up to a major swim meet with Michael Phelps, or having Michael Jordan at your basketball game...that was the most competitive field I've raced against in a regular season North America race since the NORBA days in the early 2000s"

With the literal momentum of these early season races, it's easy to forget that the 2015 is race season is just getting underway. The Kona Endurance Team now has three major Olympic XC events behind them, with much more racing to go. I brought it home this weekend in Bonelli with a satisfactory 17th, 5th for the U.S.  Barry and Kris battled from back row starts and churned out finishes in the top half of the internationally stacked field. 

Up next is the cycling industry mega-show at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California, where both the Endurance and Gravity Team riders will be on site to shred some sunny California hills and the odd trail. The same international fields will be at the start line, and it's sure to be another good show.