- These are the elementary school students who recorded the most physical activity in their school for the Virtual World Race. Photo: Ben King
- Dombrowski and Bishop during a Guns, Grits, and Gravel ride. Photo: Ben King
- Little Bro and I as Team King at the Paranormal Halloween MTB relay race. Photo: Ben King
- Trail building at Miller School of Albemarle. Photo: Ben King
- Team King: Jake (brother), Duncle (Uncle Dan), Me, and Dad before a Thanksgiving ride. Photo: Ben King
- New Year's Day Ride. Photo: Ben King
Mid-October, after nine months of strict regime, I swapped my skinny jeans and spandex for Carhartts, camo, and flannel. I finally unpacked my suitcase. Determined to give myself a mental break, I hung up the bike until I felt no urge to train out of habit.
A close friend did not mention cycling when asked to describe me in two sentences, and while I’m happy to have an identity outside of this sport, I found myself passing a fortuitous amount of my free time on the bike.
Instead of driving 25 minutes to meet a friend in town or run an errand, I took the hour-long scenic route by bike. I rode with my dad and little brother, Jake. Navigating the woods on my mountain bike, I met my sister, Hannah, at the top of Carter’s Mountain and filled a bag with Pink Lady apples to bake into a pie with my youngest sister, Sarah. My brother and I competed in a 6-hour MTB relay race in full Halloween costume.
I rode to the Miller School of Albemarle campus and helped their endurance cycling team rake trails and bench out sections of hillside where they will compete this spring.
Without the immediate pressure of racing for one of the best teams in the world, I switched from a bike racer to a bike rider.
While Miller School of Albemarle runs a cycling program for middle school and high school students, a number of elementary schools in Richmond, VA, host city of the 2015 World Championships, are dropping me in a virtual race around the world.
The Virtual World Race is a program designed to encourage health and fitness and combat childhood obesity. The students earn miles for physical activity and chart their progress around the world. I visited the two leading schools and answered questions from “what if you have to pee in a race?” to “how many calories do you burn in a race?” By the way, a calorie, according to one kindergartener, is “the part of a cow where the milk comes out.”
Upon my homecoming, I splurged on a Trek-Superfly 100 mountain bike and a Matthews Z7 Extreme bow for which I had the mechanics at the World Championships measure my draw length. After a season in the fast lane, I enjoyed a slower pace and a routine at home. I read, wrote, and sipped coffee until the sun rose above the mountains heating the atmosphere enough to ride with one less layer.
I rode as far as I pleased, from 45 minutes to 5 hours. Each day I returned home with enough time to disappear into the woods — bow in hand — and watch the sunset.
The cyclist and the country boy in me converged at Raw Talent Ranch in Mid-November. I joined pro mountain biker, Jeremiah Bishop, and Trek-Livestrong U23’s Joe Dombrowski for a weekend of manliness and enduro cyclocrossing called Guns, Grits, and Gravel in Lost River, West VA.
“Ol’ Barn” Jay Moglia hosted us at his ranch, a cyclist’s retreat. We spent all day climbing gravel and dirt roads with more ATVs and wildlife than cars. The enormous bonfire sent sparks a mile high as “Ol’ Barn’s” neighbor, Walt, chased each of them with a note from his banjo.
Walt, a backwoods mountain man and taxidermist by profession has become an avid cycling fan thanks to his neighbor. Walt promised to make Jeremiah some custom rattlesnake skin bar tape. One day, Jay spotted him grinding up a gravel climb miles from home on his new Trek bike wearing work boots, jeans, and a Carhartt jacket.
Incidentally, a team event consumed a big chunk of my break from exercise. Team RadioShack-Nissan-Trek gathered for the first time in Spa, Belgium for three days to have open face-to-face communication about the merger and to be fitted for customized race clothing from Craft. Due to the nature of the camp, I flew in and out without adjusting to the time difference.
One month later, I ventured across the Atlantic for our second team camp in Calpe, Spain. During this camp riders bonded during long conversational rides, directors briefed each of us on our race schedule, doctors did medical tests, media did interviews, everybody did photo shoots for the team website, and somehow the design of our 2012 kit managed to remain a secret for three more weeks until our team presentation, where I am right now.
To complete my fulfilling, albeit brief, off-season, Richmond sent me back to Europe with our Annual New Year’s Day race ride, which we blazed and enjoyed (even on three and a half hours of post-New Year’s Eve sleep).