I want to share some things from Project Adventrus, but probably not the stuff you’d expect. We’re gonna talk about Mike Tyson, chocolate chip cookies, Gordon Gearheart, and Top Gun. If you just whispered WTF, don’t worry. I did too.
Imagine you’ve set out to ride your bike more than 1,000 miles. You’ve given yourself 10 days to do it. It’s a route no one has attempted. Your longest ride to date is 255 miles, and you have never bikepacked more than two consecutive days in a row. The odds are against you. I was in over my head and I knew it – an open invitation to failure. A number of things could end the ride, many of them outside my control. I was ready to the extent I could be and prepared to adapt when required. A lot of things went right, and some things went wrong. I didn’t let the highs take me too high or the lows drag me too low, emotions would come and I’d let them go. Oh, this happened? Ok, cool. Let’s fix it. How ’bout we make this adjustment? That didn’t work? Good, how ’bout this, and so on. Don’t stare at the obstacle; find a way around it. To say I found my limits the first couple days is an understatement. It was slow and tough, pushing us to ride from daybreak to midnight each day. Out of the gate I struggled with abdominal distress and cramping. My body wasn’t ready to go with the lingering effect of CrusherEX a weekend earlier. I knew better than to put them so close together, but I was running out of time and forced it: a decision that would take me to my limits and beyond them.
I left the Keweenaw Rocket Range on a bike ride and wound up in a fist fight. Seven days remained and there was lost ground to gain. Waiting for the rain to end, I listened to a Mike Tyson interview on the Joe Rogan Experience. Rogan asked why he had decided to come back to boxing in his 50s, and Tyson responded: “The gods of war have ignited my ego.” The words hit home, resonating with the fighter in me. Ultra is a constant battle, won and lost in the octagon between our ears. Leverage obstacles to propel yourself forward when they hold others back. Survival mode, a common phrase, signals the early onset of defeat and should be replaced with defiance. I will not quit. You will not win. Is that all you got? Words are important, especially the quiet words whispered to yourself when the space between quitting and moving forward is slim.
People have asked what I remember most from the trip. It’s simple: human generosity and how much I valued stuff I usually take for granted. Put aside all the talk about doing hard things, resilience, finding limits, etc. What keeps drawing me back to this activity and lifestyle? Honestly, it’s what I learn about myself and others – and the contrast between life on and off the bike. Take the following story, for example. I think it was the sixth day. Tara met us somewhere on HWY 13 outside Munising. She had the usual supplies and a surprise: water, carbo rocket, and chocolate chip cookies. This is important, at least it was for me. On an average day in my life this would not have been met with the same level of emotion, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing but an insight to how things that take us out of our comfort zone remind us how damn good we have it. Ultra events do that. You’re vulnerable, uncomfortable, in varying levels of duress. And when you start stringing consecutive days like this, it begins to pull back the veil and reveal weaknesses in the way we live. The cookies weren’t homemade. There was nothing particularly memorable about the ingredients. Yet, it was the best goddamn cookie of my life. And why? Because I was living outside the comfortable bubble I spend most of my life in – and it was amazing to think someone (Tara) made them for us. The whole trip was full of moments like this: Vanea surprising us with Little Caesar’s pizza, Billie with her peanut & honey on white bread, Stacie bringing us cold breakfast sandwiches, Amy making homemade burritos, Christian running support, Tom and Andrea letting us use their garage to dry gear, Matt bringing us gloves in the middle of the night, and Benjamin giving us a warm place to sleep. My takeaway can be summed up in a few words: Live like you have nothing to appreciate everything.
I was introduced to Gordon Gearheart in 2015. He has created legendary awards for Polar Roll, Marji Gesick, and Crusher, bringing raw blocks of iron and steel to life with vivid detail. I placed an order for 25 FIST trophies prior to leaving and thought about it from time to time during the ride. I’d wonder how it was going or if he had started them. My mind would drift to other things and then return to his shop. I pictured him in his small office smoking a cigarette, pondering a plan of attack for production. He’d move to the forge, build his fire, and thoughtfully begin working with the metal. Steel glowing red, taking shape. He’d inspect it, mumble something, and start over. I’ve learned his process is flexible, with inspiration for the project developing as it comes to life. Too much structure stifles the creative process. I’ve haven’t shared this with him. His work inspires me, and I smiled every time I thought of him during the ride, thinking of the bike as a forge, with every climb, hike a bike, and mile of sand shaping me like a blacksmith’s hammer. It’s not that much of a stretch, is it? Viewing life as a work of art, our experiences as tools to shape it. It’s a matter of awareness, intentionality, and patience with ourselves and the process. In this context, the urgency we place on everything seems to fade. It’s not perfect … and that’s ok.
I’ve waited years to weave Top Gun into a cycling post and, finally, the wait is over. I’m kidding. I haven’t waited years, but I do want to talk about wingmen. My partners for Project Adventrus were Marc Salm and Chuck Boyer. Both solid and trusted, experienced and dependable wingmen. Unfortunately, Chuck had setup issues that would force him out when we rolled into Gwinn. Marc and I pressed on. I’m incredibly grateful for him. We may not have been flying Tomcats but we were co-pilots with mission success linked to working together. It (riding with Marc) was as effortless as the ride was demanding. We came to the ride for different reasons and long-term goals, but I believe we left with a mutual desire to see this ride and opportunities it can provide others grow. Folks have asked if I regret not pushing on to the Huron – and the answer is unequivocally no regrets. We started together. We would end together. Doing it any other way would have been a selfish pursuit. I don’t see Project Adventrus as having an end; I see it as end-less. We still have promises to keep.
Since the ride, the project has affirmed the vital importance of providing outlets like Adventure Bike Club for youth and events driven by adventure for adults. Those experiences create a connection between us and the world social media, digital communication, and apps cannot and will not ever achieve. To lose or forgo time spent struggling together, away from the comforts of civilized life, is to lose our humanity.