What do you want to be when you grow up? This is a question that I ask myself daily. Vocations I still have on my list are: rodeo queen, astronaut, super hero, and neuroscientist. Yet, here I am, a professional cyclist, well, among many other things. I have worked my entire cycling career, besides just the racing, and have several different roles that are a part of who I am as professional. Just as I was contemplating my next goal, I received a request to speak at Career Day at the high school in my hometown of Redding, California. Talk about “adulting”. Don’t just grown-ups do things like that?
I committed to the event, and packed up the car to head north for a three day weekend adventure of Career Day. Which included riding every terrain, internal and external exploring, and speaking about bikes, science, and education. Yes, all of these are a part of my adult reality.
The first stop was Boonville, the gateway to Mendocino County and giant redwoods hugging the Pacifc Ocean. Besides great pinot noir, there was an organized ride there called Fish Rock, which was 75 miles with 10,000 feet of climbing and 15 miles of unrelenting steep gravel roads. Despite the harsh terrain, the ride was still comprised of 80% pavement. I chose to ride my Cannondale SuperSix EVO with Vittoria Rubino 28 cm clincher tires on Vision Team 35 wheels. You needed your bike to withstand the elements as much as you needed your body to be able to persevere.
It was one of those days on the bike that you suffer so much you become acquainted with a raw and maniacal part of yourself. It was no joke, but you find yourself laughing anyway. We pushed our bikes and bodies to the limit. We all know that addicting level of fatigue that shows you are crazy, but you like it that way. This was only the beginning of Career Day.
The trek continued further north up into Redding, and turned east into the foothills of Mt. Lassen. I took a left and crossed eleven cattle guards. I was home. I grew up on a cattle ranch on the rugged, volcanic terrain of Shasta County about 20 miles from the closest town. I was riding horses and off-road vehicles without even considering bike racing an option. My family moved to Redding from Santa Barbara County when I was in junior high. I was a focused student, daydreaming cowgirl, and aspiring tennis player. I didn’t know the cycling treasure chest that was overfilling on my front doorstep. Good thing for Career Day.
I contacted the local cyclists at Ride Redding and made plans to explore roads that would take me home. I wanted to absorb the beauty of Northern California from two wheels. Two 650b wheels and 42 inch tires to be exact. I took my new steed from the barn, the Cannondale Slate Force CX1 and set off to ride around Whiskeytown Lake, visiting the Oregon Trail and a ghost town. In case you were wondering, there used to be a Whiskeytown. Now, there is no Whiskey and no Town. Don’t let this be a let down. This is one of the most beautifully clear and accessible lakes in Northern California. It connects to hundreds of miles of trails and roads for outdoor adventure. Where I use to swim and sunbathe now became my new spot to discover and pedal.
The Slate was a perfect choice for this as the terrain switched from asphalt to steep forest roads, to rocky single track trails. I loved the ability to transition between different road conditions in order complete a solid loop. I pushed my comfort limits a little as I got used to the more severe dirt terrain. As a “roadie”, I have a long way to go to be a dirt master. However, it is always fun to enjoy the process of getting better at something. Now this is starting to sound like Career Day…
The next morning arrived and I walked into the halls of the high school, wearing a dress and heels, and wheeling my bike. You should dress up for Career Day, right? They escorted me to the Teacher’s Lounge. Talk about adulting. The bell rang and I heard the thundering of footsteps all across campus heading into the auditorium. After my introduction and the advising that their phones needed to be turned off, I quipped that when I went to school the teachers didn’t have to make that rule since I didn’t even have a cellphone until I was 16. Blank stares. I felt old. I then told them their Career Counselor was my date to the Winter Formal my freshman year of high school. The crowd erupted with whistles and hollers. Ok, now I have their attention at least.
At first, I was unsure of what to discuss at Career Day. Of course I would talk about bike racing around the world, but also graduate school, biotechnology, and communications. When I tried to plan the speech, I realized that regardless of which career I discussed, my core values remained the same.
Here are the examples I gave them that I use in my career, regardless if in a race or in business.
Standing on stage in front of hundreds of students and holding my bike, I realized why I was there. I was one of them. I had sat in those same seats before, dreaming of accomplishing incredible feats. I had wanted to challenge myself and do things that people didn’t think were possible. Wanting to explore, see the world, educate myself, and always have a community to call home. I wanted the freedom to leap without the fear of falling.
After I felt like I had tested my limits of attention span, I opened it up for questions and answers. I was impressed with the magnitude responses. Some of the questions were probing and vulnerable, others were goofy and standard teen age humor.
Here are some of my favorite questions:
I bounced out of the school filled with enthusiasm only young students can give you. The future is coming and I was happy to witness such a positive group of individuals. I put on my “other” work clothes and hat, I mean spandex and helmet, and took off towards Shasta Lake from the Sundial Bridge on the Sacramento River Trail. From there, it was over 50 miles of bike trails and paths up and over Shasta Damn and 30 miles of single track back. It was a 4 hour ride on roads completely dedicated to non-motorized outdoor enthusiasts.
I felt like I had been studying for finals all day when I finished. Riding single track is exhausting for this road rider. It was a test of mental strength to focus much differently than I normally do while navigating the unknown. However, I couldn’t expect anything less than a studious and strenuous ride to complete Career Day. It was capped off by a steak on the river at the restaurant that was the favorite pre-prom destination. But this time I could order a glass of wine. Yes, adulting and bike riding and Career Day in Redding is a good thing.
As I traveled home, I was brimming with satisfaction of two wheeled adventures and inspiration from the auditorium. Just as I was sure I got my message of empowerment across, the first note came in. A parent thanked me for going to Career Day and showing what a tough sport cycling is. His son was amazed I had crashed 3 times in one race and still continued racing. Wait, did I really tell them that story? Don’t worry. I am a professional. Even though my whole talk might not have saturated the audience, there was at least one happy parent out there with a little more respect from his teenager on the weekends when the parents don brightly colored spandex to go join the group ride at the River Trail.
I think every day is Career Day for me. I grasp on to things I learn, enjoy what I have, and I still feel gratitude for two wheels to take me back home.