This past summer I had a get together with friends to celebrate the release of my book The No-Drop Zone. All I’d had in mind was a chance to enjoy a beer or three with some friends and a sense of accomplishment—and relief—at having the book out. I wanted to feel that release of pent-up steam from the boiler.
What I didn’t anticipate was that a half-dozen friends became one dozen, then two. A copy of the book was passed around the table and people would grab me to tell me how amazed they were by the book. With three years of effort invested in the book I deserve to feel some amount of pride in its achievement, in my accomplishment. I struggle with that. Often times, in my head, I’m still the twentysomething long hair walking into my first graduate seminar. No matter what I know objectively of the skill I’ve honed, my parents instilled in me a need to remain modest about my work that can curtail any urge to thump my chest. I tell people it’s less my book than a tribute to the sport’s many sages who took me under their wing. It’s both the truth and a way to dodge something I struggle to do in-person: accept praise.
Next week, peloton‘s eighth issue will be released. It’s a photo annual featuring the work of eight incredibly talented shooters, and it is carried by a 15,000-word manifesto I wrote in a week spent in a near-meditative state. While it’s not a book, its breadth of vision and ambition for an emotional connection with the reader caused me to lay it all out there. I can’t say I’m not nervous about what the audience’s reaction will be. I’m amazed to receive this opportunity to go as hard and deep as possible—it feels like my race radio just crackled and my team director told me to put my head down and drill it. Two hundred kilometers later I’m rolling into the velodrome at Roubaix, all alone. That I got this chance owes to a sequence of events I’ve been thinking about ever since driving home from the bar following the book party.
The first was approaching Maurice Tierney of Dirt Rag at the NORBA National at Mount Snow in 1991 and asking him about the possibility of freelancing for his mountain bike magazine. He was immediately receptive and told me about the sort of material he’d love to see more of.
The second was a phone call to Richard Fries, the publisher of The Ride magazine. I’d done some writing for them, but my contact at the magazine said Richard would be overseeing all the freelancers and if I wanted to continue writing for them, I needed to contact him. I waited a few weeks and then—despite my fear of calling someone I didn’t know—picked up the phone. At the other end, after I introduced myself, Richard said in a bright voice, “Oh, I know that name.” So began our friendship.
The next was a phone call placed on a snowy March morning. I’d been trying to get an interview with Bicycle Guide, a magazine I thought was beyond cool. For reasons I couldn’t understand, they kept seeming to circle, but not interview me. So I picked up the phone at 9:00 am with the plan of leaving a message for the editor, Garrett Lai. After all, I was on the East Coast, he on the West. A deep voice answered. What the hell? I thought. He told me how he was working crazy hours because they were a man down. So I said, “You need work done. I want to do the work. You should hire me.” At least four more times in that conversation I told him point blank: hire me. Eventually he said, “Alright, let me talk to HR;” 24 hours later I had a plane ticket to Los Angeles. By the end of the day I had an offer.
In the wake of the demise of my magazine Asphalt, I was trying to imagine a way for me to re-enter the bike industry as a writer. I was depressed and wasn’t sure I could get arrested, even if I pepper-sprayed an entire preschool. One night I was trolling Craigslist when I ran across a listing for a publisher looking for someone to write a mountain biking guidebook to Los Angeles. Menasha Ridge Press’ acquisitions editor Russell Helms became a friend and confidant and six months later I was writing a road riding guide book to my adopted home. It was that relationship that led to the opportunity to write The No-Drop Zone.
Fast forward another year or so and one evening I send Brad Roe, the editor of Road Bike Action a query. I’d written a post for Belgium Knee Warmers but upon completion, I realized it really didn’t fit. I wanted it to receive a home and I wrote Brad with the hope that RBA‘s web site might provide an audience. His was an enthusiastic yes. Two months later he was in touch with an offer to write one of the more fun features I’ve ever penned, “Magic or Mutiny”, which you can find reprinted here.
For most, the lesson here is that it pays to get off your ass and network. That’s not my takeaway. I’m fundamentally introverted; reaching out to people I don’t know is painful and scary. At each turn these people received me enthusiastically, made me feel welcome and like I had something important to contribute. Had even one of those people been in the middle of a bad day and rebuffed me—the pretty girl who spurns the advances of the guy with romance in his eyes—I can say in all likelihood I wouldn’t be here writing this to you now.
To each of those men who entertained my approach, as skilled, daft, ill-prepared or urgent as I might have been, I’m here to say thank you. Maurice, Richard, Garrett, Russell and Brad: I’m grateful for the opportunities you gave me. I hope that you feel your efforts on my behalf were rewarded. I’ll never forget what you did for me.