We gave swift goodbye hugs as our Lyft driver waited patiently, seemingly unaffected by the markedly less-patient driver stuck behind him while his car entirely blocked the narrow Philadelphia neighborhood street outside the Helm residence. The weather was pleasantly tepid on this late summer evening and my lifebae, Garrett, and I were hitching a ride to the airport.
Today marks the end of another racing trip that is, seemingly, no remarkable than any of the many trips before it. We arrived late the night before our first of two races, slept, woke up, carefully set out all race-day items, placed said items neatly into the race-day bag, picked Tiff up at the airport after her red-eye travel, ate a hearty breakfast, took a rest nap, gathered ourselves, did some reverse calculations for an accurate departure time, made a desperate stop along a too busy road so I could pee in the long grass on the edge, and made it to the race with what seemed like plenty of time.
The racing was good, fast, made my heart feel like exploding (in the oh-fuck-this-is-an-intense-race-effort sense rather than a sentimental sense), as usual. The sun was low, nearly blinding on the backside of the course. It tucked itself away and we finished our crit in the twilight. The very end of the race saw some dangerous solo moves sneak off the front, but the momentum of our field managed to reel them in in the last seconds and Tiff sprinted to a solid 5th place. She’s a baller.
We got some dinner at an aptly named taco spot; “Let’s Taco About It”. The food was good and the company was better. As we slowly drifted out of our racing haze, we realized we had to get home so we could get to bed and wake up for a too early GRAND FINALE race the next morning at 11:45am.
Our Sunday race was also good. We came to secure two year-long competitions; Tiff’s Individual Overall WIN and our Team Overall WIN for the USA Crit Championships. We did both of those things despite a tough race against some fierce teams with hearty numbers. We were stoked to have Becca (superhuman extraordinaire), her parents (so kind and enjoyable), and a whole Helm Clan (the very best) cheering us on for our last hurrah. We definitely missed the rest of our LA SWEAT squad who couldn’t make it for our FINALE for a few different reasons; bruised tailbone, work, cyclocross, grad school, etc. Despite their physical absence, our teammates were omnipresent thanks to our active team text thread and our recently built history together, thoughtfully and pleasantly formed throughout a year of commitment to each other. This year was special and I couldn’t be more content in my decision to let this season be my last.
Bike racing will always hold a special space in my narrative, my mind, and my understanding of the world and my place in it. As with all worthwhile things in life, it’s likely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I don’t make this claim lightly, and I’ve considered it carefully. It surpasses Architecture school and personal tragedy only because of its unique combination of mental, intellectual, emotional, and physical challenge. All that, and the sheer time in which I entirely dedicated myself to it. It’s an endeavor that feels unique to elite level athletes, but is more likely a widely understood human experience. It seems to me that things like farming, combat, big game hunting, funambulism, etc. send people through a similar sequence of unrelenting mental and physical sensations.
I’ve always been decisive in my practice of doing a candid annual check-in with myself regarding my bike racing career and, remarkably or not, the decision to be done was pretty easily made.
When you’re really fully in a thing, chasing a passion, your focus is necessarily tight, myopic even. You can only see directly in front of you and it has to be this way, for a time, if you hope to get any better than you already are at the thing you’re doing.
Early on, when I decided to see how far I could go in bike racing, it always felt as though I was on a steep scramble, chasing some elusive pinnacle. It felt gritty, it felt relentless, it felt wholly new and fresh. I was learning about my sport and myself and it felt exponential, I was engaged and the process was more appealing than any alternative at the time.
For the sake of sticking with the mountain scramble analogy, I found a viewpoint. Maybe it’s what I could see as the pinnacle in the earlier days, but when I reached it, I saw I’d only made it part way up. I could see the next viewpoint, it looked nice, but it also looked similar to where I stood, maybe a bit cooler and windier. I saw other friends and teammates take off up the next slope with an impressive dedication to their journey. I listened carefully to their stories of what it was like up there, what it took to get there. I loved their stories and my respect for them grew while my personal desire to embark on a similar journey faded. I could see the sacrifice and hardships they endured for their gains. I could understand, with a new clarity that perhaps only time and experience bring, what I would need to do to step off my ever-more-cozy viewpoint and continue up the slope. I wasn’t willing to do it. I couldn’t pause the rest of the things I needed to learn and do and love for bike racing any longer.
So here I am. Flying home, for the last time, from a racing block. I’m not a bike racer anymore. I wouldn’t trade one second of any of it, while, simultaneously, there’s probably nothing that will bring me back.
Before I raced, bikes were my lifestyle. I rode them to school, to the grocery store, to dinner, out to shows. They have always been the way I experience life and the cities where I live. I’ve become much better at them over the last 7 years of racing, and I intend to maximize that indefinitely. I’m looking forward to tons of bike adventures, shredding, casual local singlespeed cyclocross endeavors, and endless commutes on two wheels. I’ll stay involved in the sport I love, but my role as a racer has ended.
Thanks to everyone who supported me over the years. Please know that I noticed and remember all the things you did for me, even the tiniest things, and I am forever grateful to you all. I especially thank those who had a profound impact on my trajectory through the sport, you know who you are.
Much love. AGC OUT. EL FIN.