Dirt Rag Magazine

Motörhead Trip


Words and photo: Chris “Bama” Milucky
From “On the Road With Bama,” originally published in Issue #191

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 11.26.03 AMMoab. Orange waves of sand, frozen in time, almost like me. I’ve been here six weeks—which is about five too long. Moab’s a great place to live, but I’m getting stir crazy. I’m beginning to feel like I’ve lost the edge.

I miss the humid, greasy truck stops of the Midwest, whose parking lots lie covered in a blanket woven from the threads of 18-wheeler reefer trucks hell-bound for a supermarket near you. I miss the search for cheap gas. I miss cranking out thousand-mile days, one after another, hoping to find fresh flush toilets but settling for grocery sacks and public trash cans.

I’m ready to roll over grassy, green Southern trails marked by washing-machine cairns and lined with mobile homes so derelict, it’s hard to imagine if anyone actually resides in such filth. I’m ready to traverse the barren, brown border of Nevada, traveling beyond, traveling westward, and ride the fern-infested mountainous descents of Oregon and Washington. I want to spend the Fourth of July eating fresh lobster in Maine. I want to smell burnt motor oil—evidence of an overdue ring job.

Sigh …

I promised a local shuttle outfit I’d hang ten another month, driving vacationers into the La Sals till summer hits hard like a face shot in a fast section and triple digits dot the weather report like an SOS code, beseeching an imaginary bartender to blend bottomless margaritas whilst UV rays burn harsher than an Orwellian nuclear experience.

Wisdom asks me to cherish the cash tips, but habit calls for an emergency escape, leaving by moonlight and following the Colorado River through Castle Valley until reaching my riptide: Interstate 70. I call it El Camino del Mal, because surviving the rock slides, avalanches, weather and traffic means you’ll wind up in a deep abyss of small-town highways, mercilessly rolling out mile after billboarded mile, until sleep deprivation wins the fight against caffeine and sunflower seeds, and when you finally come to, your eyes will rise in an unrecognizable town festooned by Chamber of Commerce signs begging for you to “Come Again.”

I feel dissatisfied, yet my heart feels full. I’m charged up and rested. I’m limber from nights in a normal bed. I’m ready to load my bike onto my motorcycle, turn the key and … “P-fissst!” I smell a burnt fuse. Damn it! I’m stuck here! And stuck in my mind is writing my own Motörhead song …

A set of tires to replace,
A claim, a boast, no more disgrace,
A roof rack, fee, I hate to race.
I drink too much, I’m gettin’ rad,
A tent, a leaky thermal pad,
My tank’s on low, my food is bad.
But I was born a rolling stone,
Another berm I’ve gotta own,
Another day that both knees moan,
Road trip is overdue.
My fork is leaking everywhere,
The demo guy—too smug to care,
My tube is fl at; I have no spare,
Another unmarked place to ride,
The ranger’s near, we have to hide,
The camber’s off, and my tires slide.
We’re shredding like an angry teen,
The trail is steep, it’s really mean,
If I don’t die, I’ll ride it clean.
Road trip is overdue.
The second shuttle I want to catch,
Slam a coffee, light a match,
Don’t sweat a carbon-fi ber scratch.
The weather changed, I have a plan,
We have to make it to the van,
Just try to pass me, doubt you can.
My bars are wide, won’t cut ’em down,
I like ’em wide, it’s what I’ve found,
Cased that jump, my wheel ain’t round.
Road trip is overdue.


Chris Milucky (better known as “Bama”), his wife, Tanesha, and their dog, Larry, once logged more than 50,000 miles a year driving across the country. They are now building a new home in Colorado. All they ask is that you keep singletrack single and support your local bike shop. Read some of his other writings here.

 

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Rusch Job: Andiamoi


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Words: Rebecca Rusch
Illustration: Stephen Haynes
Originally published in Issue #192

I was wet, cold and fucking miserable. Riding 500 miles through Italy sounded much more pastoral and heavenly than it was turning out to be.

At home when I looked at the squiggly lined course map for Italy Divide weaving through the hills from Rome to Riva del Garda, I envisioned a “Sound of Music” sort of passage with panini and cappuccino lining the way. Instead it had been days of torrential, freezing rains, vomiting on my top tube, pushing my bike through ankle-deep mud and seriously doubting why I chose to do this to myself. I hadn’t planned to be wearing a plastic trash bag and shower cap, but those became regular necessities for survival.

But the most essential items I would come to cherish in the four days that seemed like 10 were the Italian hospitality and empathy granted toward a cyclist. The Giro d’Italia, Fausto Coppi and Bianchi are just three of the many household names written into Italy’s long and illustrious cycling history. It’s a history that spans generations, races, industry and icons.

You could see and smell that history in the rolling hills of the Chianti region, in the hundreds of bikes parked outside the old city wall of Firenze (Florence), and in the grizzled legs of old men and women passing me along the bike paths near Bologna. Even wearing a skirt or with a dog in the front basket, these folks were often moving faster than I was in all my kit and carbon. Cycling is in their veins.

I was hanging on by a thread. This self-supported, bike-packing style of event meant I was alone and on my own. In my self-induced funk, I began to understand that while I may have felt lonely, on a bicycle in Italy you are never truly alone.

I first started to realize that Italy would embrace my bike and me on the second night of racing. I’d replenished in Siena, and with a looming forecast I wanted to use the final hours of daylight and a break in the rain to cover some distance. Around midnight, just as the rain returned, I rolled into the quaint village of Panzano in Chianti. A robust, friendly woman at the wine bar was sweeping and shooing away customers. I had an emergency bivy and my trusty plastic bag, but sleeping outside in 40-degree temps in the rain was not a sound idea. I needed shelter.

My soggy, desperate appearance spoke to her. She pointed me up the hill and said, “Ask for Mario.” For 15 euros, I escaped the rain and had a warm bed, a steaming cup of tea and Mario’s sympathy. Mario: “You don’t love yourself, do you?” Me: “It doesn’t seem like it right now, does it?” I slept four hours until the rain stopped and continued my journey.

Paola was the second angel that took me in. Uninvited, but she still took me in. Day four and it had fi nally stopped raining, but I was so depleted that even with a down coat, rain gear and hand warmers in my bra, I couldn’t raise my body temperature no matter how hard I pedaled. My shivering made it hard to keep the front wheel straight. At 2 a.m. in the middle of semi-desolate farm country, I was in real trouble.

I rode by a small, rustic sign that said “La Montina Azienda Agrituristica.” I interpreted the light in the entry as an invitation. Peering through the glass, I saw a couch like a beacon of hope. Tentatively turning the door handle, it opened. Slithering inside, I curled into the fetal position on the couch with helmet and gear on. I vowed to just sleep a couple of hours and be gone before anyone woke. The house cat wandered down and nuzzled up to me. I wept feeling the warmth of a living being for the first time in days.

It was the dog who gave me away before I could make a stealth exit. Paola stood behind her barking dog in her underwear staring at me in disbelief. I took an apologetic posture and muttered, “Scusa, scusa.” There was a long pause as we stared at each other soaking in the scene while the damn dog kept barking. Finally, she smiled and said, “Un caffè?”

She poured me cup after cup of strong coffee and plopped down heavy slices of her homemade cake. She smoked cigarettes and told me about her life, the Italian mafia, her triathlete sister. I showed her the map of where I’d been and where I was going. Paola understood I was on a journey. Unlike Mario, she didn’t think I was crazy. Instead she pointed to her temple and said, “This is where you must be strong. This and my special cake will give you energy to continue on.” The dog had even become my friend by now, too.

With the sun up and Paola’s cake in my belly, I straddled the bike and rolled away from her little slice of heaven. I had typed into Google translator “you are my angel,” and she understood that she had saved me. I also know that she would do the same for any other wayward cyclist who happened to sneak into her house in the middle of the night.

That’s just the way the bicycle breaks down barriers and literally opens doors in Italy. Grazie, Italy! Andiamo!

 

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The Rant: R-E-S-P-E-C-T


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Originally published in Issue #192

“Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be.” — Leo Tolstoy, “Anna Karenina”

Repairing bikes isn’t a great way to make a living. On average, bike mechanics are paid less than the average high school dropout. Pretty sad state of affairs for an industry that seems able to sell multi-thousand dollar bikes on a regular basis.

How did this happen? First and foremost, bike shops are terrible at making money. The profit margin on new bike sales usually hovers right around the break-even point. Parts and accessories are moving more and more to online sales. Considering you can often buy things from brands like Shimano for less than dealer’s wholesale cost, this comes as no surprise.

Bicycle mechanics are also unregulated, meaning any dolt off the corner can selfidentify as a bike tech. No certification, no licensing, no industry-wide educational programs. While there are a few good schools out there offering bicycle repair classes, these aren’t true certifications.

Additionally, the seasonal nature of the bike business in many parts of the country leads to annual layoffs. After a few years of regular wintertime unemployment, many talented people move on to careers that offer better job security. So each year a new round of raw mechanics start at entry-level wages, which drives down the average wage as well.

Add to this the perception by some of the public that fixing bikes can be done by just about anyone. Work in a shop for any amount of time and you’ll hear complaints about the cost to repair something “simple” like a flat tire.

There have been attempts to start a professional organization or union for mechanics over the years, and it seems like one is finally going to stick around. The Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association is brand new, but managed to add 5,000 members to its Facebook group in just a few months.

While that Facebook group is a mixed bag of everything that is good and bad about bike mechanics, PBMA is off to a good start with a board of directors and organizational structure that seems truly professional.

From the PBMA blog: “A major goal of the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association (PBMA) is to help define what certificated training means to an employer and eventually issue professional certification levels as a member benefit. In the U.K. there are cycle mechanic trade schools and those conduits are a major part of entry into the industry. They have a governmentimplemented system in place that is recognized by the cycling industry, the bicycle dealers, but also, and most importantly, by the general public. We are hoping to create programs and systems that could eventually lead to a similar system for the cycling community here.”

As a former mechanic and shop owner I’m entirely behind this idea. With the massive amount of standards and ever more complicated component designs, it is time for the industry to embrace the idea of certification for mechanics. I’d also like to see a push for better pay for those willing to dedicate time and money to becoming educated and experienced. No one that works on bikes for a living is doing it to get rich, but that doesn’t mean they have to work for barely above poverty wages either.

Workers organizing to improve their lot have a long history of positive outcomes for everyone involved. Keeping some of our best and brightest around the shop with better pay and benefits will have a positive effect that will extend far past the wallets of the dedicated grimy guys and gals in the back of the local bike shop. Check out PBMA’s website for more information.

 

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Riders Write: The power of high school MTB racing


This reader submission comes to us from Hannah Heydinger. She just finished her senior year racing in the Texas High School Mountain Biking League where she was team captain for St. Stephen’s in Austin. In 2015, Heydinger was invited to the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) banquet to be awarded the Specialized Student Athlete Leadership Award. In addition to all that, Heydinger wants to study creative writing in college and we’re pleased to have her story. We hope you enjoy her perspective! (Thanks to her mom for the photos.)


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I started mountain biking during my freshman year of high school when the St. Stephen’s mountain biking club decided to join the Texas High School Mountain Biking League. According to the league, a National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) chapter, then in its second year, the riders lacked only one criteria for competing: a girl. I didn’t have any experience mountain biking but was recruited due to the reputation I had gained for riding my bike to school with a lacrosse stick, a backpack, a P.E. bag and an alto saxophone.

Andrew Andres, my coach, told me to record three goals before my first race. They were meager: don’t get seriously injured, meet new people and don’t get last place. I achieved all of these goals and surprised myself—and everyone else—when I wound up first in state for freshman/sophomore girls and was voted team MVP.

25418534005_0f80553bee_oAndrew showed me how important it is to have someone be so dedicated in your success that you strive to push yourself and do the best you can. Andrew moved to Kenya two years after my first race. I was teaching a middle school girl how to ride up a technical climb when I mentioned how much I was going to miss him.

“He knew what I was capable of better than I did,” I said. “When I was struggling to get through a rough part of trail, Andrew would push me to make it, and I would.” She responded by saying, “that’s who you are to me right now,” and I was more proud at that moment than I had been after winning the championship two years earlier.

If you happen to camp at a Texas ranch in the Spring, you might see hundreds of kids in colorful jerseys sleeping in tents, riding mountain bikes, or running along trails and cheering. Riders are shouting, “great job!” while passing each other, and coaches are cheering, by name, kids that aren’t on their teams. The scene is a picture of sportsmanship at its best. It was this environment that enabled me to grow into the leader and athlete that I am. I have NICA—and all of the league directors, coaches, and volunteers who make it run—to thank for making mountain biking truly something special. Attend a NICA race and you’ll witness kids achieve things they didn’t think themselves capable of.

I have heard of no other sport in which the competing varsity girls can be found leaning over their tires chatting, encouraging each other and sharing Shock Blocks in the few minutes before the start of a race. “How did the Calculus final go?” and “Look, the cute rider on the Bowie team is over there” and “You finally replaced Joey! (the name of the rider’s former aluminum hardtail)” are not the sorts of things you hear from competing varsity basketball or volleyball players.

Competitors support each other and this is always something that surprises people who are new to NICA. We race against each other one moment and hug it out on the podium the next. It is this friendly environment that supported my growth as a leader. I am a successful leader largely because of the support I receive from the communities I lead, and this has been evident from my time in NICA. I enjoy introducing more girls to mountain biking because I want to share this experience. Constantly challenging myself shows me what I’m capable of, and teaching beginners, not just racing, enables me to put these capabilities to use in a way that feels truly fulfilling.

Team 3rd place in Troy, tx 2013 (1)

In January, I was honored to attend the 2015 NICA Awards to receive the Specialized Student-Athlete Leadership Award at the Cliff Bar Headquarters in Emeryville, California. I met the recipients of the other awards the night before the ceremony and I can honestly say that I have never made friends so quickly.

The stories of the six other student recipients, especially those of the GU Extraordinary Courage Award recipients, Kade Brantiongton and Esmée DeBarssi, evinced how powerful NICA is in the lives of its student riders. Kade was from a small town in Colorado where he faced rejection and harassment— including getting his car vandalized—for quitting football to start mountain biking in the Colorado league. Mountain biking in the NorCal league helped the Esmée overcome Anorexia and she now educates students and coaches about promoting a healthy body image and overcoming eating disorders.

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We spent the morning of the award ceremony riding Mount Tamalpais with incredible riders like Todd Wells, Lucas Euser, and Gary Fisher before going to the Marin Museum of Bicycling to learn more about the incredible machines that brought us together in the first place. After a memorable evening at the Cliff Bar Headquarters, the other student recipients and I spent as much time together as we could, talking together in the hotel until our exhausted parents called us back to our rooms so we could prepare for the flights that would disperse us back across the country.

Every once in awhile, I’ll get a message from the “Super Awesome Bikers” group text we created before the awards. We still check in to see how each other’s races are going. I don’t always know what they’re talking about—I still don’t know what a bleed port screw or caliper is—but I know that we’re going to get back together to go riding again someday.

Just like there are “theatre people” or “music people,” there are “biking people.” They are, in my opinion, some of the best people there are and I am so grateful that NICA gave me the chance to become one.


Thanks, Hannah, for sharing your story and good luck at the University of Texas! Want to submit words to us? Learn more here.

 

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Rusch Job: Two Wheels Matter


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Words: Rebecca Rusch
Illustration: Kyle Stecker
Originally published in Issue #191

Since you are reading this column, I know that the simple act of moving around on two wheels has changed your life. Riding a bike might elevate your physical and mental health. It might fuel the competitive juices. It might be your social outlet, your escape or even salvation.

The simple invention of the bike in the early 1800s changed how the world moved, but along with transportation came so much more. No matter what the bike means to you, I know it is essential to your well-being. I know you couldn’t live without two wheels.

Have you thought lately about why your bike matters? When I first learned to ride as a kid, my bike meant freedom. It expanded my world beyond the boundaries of Middaugh Avenue and into the rest of the neighborhood. Suddenly I could go farther than my eyes could see or my mind could imagine. I didn’t know what was waiting out there in the great unknown, but I got on my purple Huffy with the banana seat and found out.

Thirty years later I rediscovered the bike, accompanied by that same intoxicating sense of freedom. This time two wheels took me far beyond my suburban neighborhood and expanded my horizons to the entire globe. Recently this was Kenya. I went there to visit World Bicycle Relief facilities to witness what “The Power of Bicycles” (the organization’s tagline) really means. A nonprofit wing of SRAM, World Bicycle Relief distributes and sells its own brand of bicycles, called Buffalo bikes, which are designed specifically to withstand the rigors of transporting heavy cargo over rugged terrain in rural Africa.

I expected to see a well-run assembly facility, a streamlined distribution plan and Buffalo bikes in action in rural villages. What I didn’t expect was to be changed and inspired by the individuals I met. In Mizungu, 600 students welcomed us by singing and dancing. We were swooped into a festive mob, and the whole group danced around the bikes parked at the school.

I was stunned at how dedicated, motivated and full of life these 14- to 18-year olds were. In high school I complained because I had to walk about 15 minutes to school. On rainy or cold days, I’d dawdle and shuffle reluctantly, barely making it to class on time. When I met Andega, a 17-year-old student at the Lwanda Secondary School, her confidence, dedication to her education and desire to become an aerospace engineer blew me away. She used to walk more than two hours each way to school. Now she rides a Buffalo bike and it takes her 30 minutes.

We rode the 3.5 miles to her house past cornfields, along a dusty, bumpy dirt road before turning onto a beaten-down footpath past numerous mud and thatch homes before reaching hers. Her mother, father, sisters, brothers, aunt and family friends were all gathered in their best dress. They welcomed us warmly and showed us around their simple, tidy property. She parked her bike and it fit right in among the chickens, cows and crops. Her parents beamed with pride as Andega sat tall and fielded interview questions in perfect English.

The next girl I rode with was Deeanar. She used to walk three hours to school. There is a slightly shorter route that would only take two hours, but she didn’t like to go that way because in the dark, she and her mother feared for her safety. She had been attacked before. Deeanar seemed like a typical teenager. She gravitated toward me and wanted to take selfies and see pictures of where I live. She was sensitive and inquisitive. She told me the bike gave her confidence and kept her safer going to school. She doesn’t miss class now because she can get to school faster.

As fast as she rides, it’s not always fast enough. Recently, Deeanar was run off the road by a young man on a scooter. She showed me the wounds on her elbow and hand that were thankfully the only reminders of the assault. Now the girls and boys group together when riding to school and look out for each other.

I was moved by how different our lives and challenges were. But I also realized that to all of us, a bike means freedom. In Africa, this simple two-wheeled tool is freedom from the time suck of having to walk hours each way to school. It’s freedom from the threat of attack or rape that the female students face each day. It’s the gift of an extra hour or two of sleep each morning, allowing them to show up to class rested and focused.

The bike is a tool that provides hope for their future. It allows them to finish school and get an education. It allows them to dream of becoming an aerospace engineer or a doctor. The bike is developing strong minds, bodies and community bonding. These things matter for the greater good of our world. And while the reason your bike matters to you might not feel as impactful as the reasons for these students in Kenya, it’s no less important.

Two wheels matter in all parts of the world. The next time you roll out your door, relish in the fact that bikes are changing the world, one pedal stroke at a time.

 

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Ones and zeroes


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Words and photo: Chris Milucky aka Bama
From “On the Road With Bama,” a column in the print magazine
Originally published in Issue #191

A child of the ’80s, I began my photography with a plastic 110-film camera. The pictures were pretty bad, and I think it’s fair to share the blame with both my inexperienced hands and the cheap-o foto gear. These days, I have both a nice film camera and a nice digital one. The film camera has incredible character, but it’s slow, tedious and easy to make mistakes with. The digital camera is small, light and fast. Via super-slick software, most of the pics are winners, and the losers are simply erased—no big deal.

I’ve got the same thang going down in my Bike Nerd Depot: analog and carbon. There’s a steel fat bike and a carbon shredsled. The steel fat bike’s dents and scratches are covered in layers of camo duct tape and spray paint. She’s slow. She’s heavy. She even has a few “aftermarket welds”—a prized statement of her age—holding her trusty, rusty pipes together in a geometric pattern. She’s taken me on ethereal endeavors to the nether regions of my mind and to happy hour at the deserted desert bar in dusty Cleator, Arizona.

On the other handlebar, the carbon shredsled’s got boatloads of high-tech suspension rigged fore and aft. I can ride that bike wildly out of control and still steer ’im back into sanity. He brings safety and confidence to speeds in excess of Mach-looney. He’s light, strong and never gets a flat. He’s happy in the high country, smiling like a sunny-morning marmot. I’ve taken him all over hill and dale—heck, he’s even rolled singletrack strapped with bikepacking gear.

So which is better, full suspension or fi lm? Digital or steel? Of course there’s no way to answer such a query. The brain says digital while the heart says analog.

Personally, I like it all. I like the feeling of an old, heavy mechanical shutter slamming open and closed, followed by tediously winding film from one side of the camera to the other. I like riding a rigid steel scoot across rolling singletrack and sensing every nuance of rock and root from the tires to my teeth in bone-shaking bliss.

I love the carefree nature of digital photography. I can take a zillion pictures in different settings, in all sorts of crazy angles, and easily delete the ones that didn’t work out and post others instantly on social media all from the comfort of my high-tech carbon-fiber radwagon. And since that hoss is light and smooth, I have enough energy to hustle whichever camera I’m in the mood for. I can ride forever and get weird on techy stuff. “Ohh, so there’s a bunch of rocks? I’m-onna jump all of eet!”

Harley, Honda, sandals, steel-toe, floral, flannel, forever, for the moment, make the most of it, move on—ride your bike or turn this page.

 

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Rusch Job: Winning


Words: Rebecca Rusch
Photo: Pat R. Notaro for Red Bull Media House
Originally published in Issue #190

What is winning to you?

Is it KOM/QOM victories that you celebrate alone in front of your computer? Is it a medal or trophy that you take home to show your family? Is it proudly wearing the race T-shirt you earned by suffering through a 50-mile slog?

Recently I gave a speech to Boa Technology’s international annual meeting to talk about how to win. There were employees from Asia, Europe and the U.S. I was asked to speak to them because I’ve won a bunch of races. As I prepared for my speech, I started to realize that all the things I wanted to talk to these people about regarding winning had nothing to do with standing on a podium.

The things I treasure as my personal trophies are teammates, the epic adventures (including epic failures) and the stamps in my passport. Being asked to prepare a speech on winning made me realize that my definition of winning wasn’t traditional at all.

Rebecca Rusch poses for a portait after finishing the ride to Horombo Mawenzi Sadle, on an aclimatization day during her attempt to ascend Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania on 22 February, 2016. © Red Bull Media House

Rebecca Rusch poses for a portait after finishing the ride to Horombo Mawenzi Sadle, on an aclimatization day during her attempt to ascend Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania on 22 February, 2016. © Red Bull Media House

Here’s Merriam-Webster’s definition of winning: 1: someone who wins a contest or prize to gain in a battle or contest: the victor; 2: a very good or successful person, one who is praiseworthy; 3: one who captures a territory in conquest

Boa Technology definitely wants to capture a territory in conquest. They want to win as a company. So, the first thing I did at the speech was to ask all 140 people to write down their personal definition of winning on the top part of a note card. Then I shared with the group my definition and what I’m most proud of.

The big wins in my career are:

  • Longevity: 25 years as a pro athlete
  • Being healthy and injury free
  • Giving back by sharing what I have or what I know
  • Owning a garage
  • I did it my way (I even played a little Frank Sinatra to hit that last point home)

Podiums are fun and are a very public recognition of the hard work and sacrifice that folks make to go fast. But podiums or QOMs don’t fit in my definition. My nontraditional definition instead focuses on things that are experiential—health and quality of life related.

No matter what your definition is, there is a simple path to get you there. To save you the effort of having to come hear me speak about what it takes to win, here are the main points I talked about—free of charge, except for your subscription price to this honorable publication (What? You’re not subscribed? Get on it!):

  • Fail often
  • Surround yourself with a stellar team that’s better than you are
  • Settle in for the long haul
  • Fuel performance with passion

That’s really all you need to know to get where you want to be. It really is that simple. The last thing I did before leaving the stage and heading to happy hour with the staff was ask everyone in the room to pull out their note card and write a new definition of winning. Maybe it was a little remedial asking all of these executives, engineers and professionals to jot down ideas on a card, but self-reflection never goes out of style.

Some of the people in the room shared their definitions with me after the meeting. Like my own definition, the best part of giving that speech was not the applause or the paycheck. The reward for me was the personal interaction that happened and the stories they told me once I stepped off the stage.


Read more from Rebecca Rusch.

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The Rule of the Road


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Words and photo: Chris Milucky aka Bama
From On the Road With Bama, a column in the print magazine
Originally published in Issue #190

It’s somewhere over here—just carry your bike towards that tree. Don’t walk in a straight line, either; we don’t want anyone to find our tracks.”

We holstered our hardtails and hustled on over to a tall ponderosa about 50 yards off the main trail. There it was, lying silently in some shadows: the Poop Extractor, a beautiful brown singletrack flowing smoothly like a fresh turd, leading into a confidence-crushing garden of granite boulders likely to break both bike and brawn.

There was once an elaborate basketry project of trails woven into the foothills of Boulder, Colorado. Some were built by local kids, some by pro racers and some by California insurgents: Gold Hill, Express-O, Santa Cruz, Angry Ranger and Red Shack. If you’re really cool, you might’ve heard about these trails, and if you’re a badass, you’ve actually ridden them. Nowadays, they’re closed, but no “pro trail builder” has ever come close to crafting that level of cool. And none ever will.

“Ohh! This is going to be sick! OK, it wasn’t as sick as I thought; let’s dig it out.”

Those trails were built out of heart and soul, with one unwavering purpose in mind: shredding. Nobody was getting paid to build, so there weren’t any deadlines, design restrictions or anyone to say if something was too steep or too rowdy. If it was fun, it lived; if it was lame, it died. The Rule of Rad governed erosion standards, berms, jumps, rocks and drops. Besides my own contribution (which was insignificant in a trail network the size of Connecticut), I have no idea who built what; land ownership was hearsay at best, and at worst, building trails was highly illegal.

On two separate occasions I was sternly asked to leave by individuals holding what you might call “friendly firearms,” i.e., they weren’t pointed directly at me yet. No one took credit for building or snapped any photos, and nothing out there ended up in a builder’s online portfolio.

Now see here: I, myself, own land and I respect private property. I’m not advocating illegal building, nor altering your current public trail system; I’m simply here to remind you of the Rule of Rad. If you’ve ever ridden something that made you giggle or grin, or if you’ve thrown a post-shred high-five, then you know what good singletrack looks like.

Sure there are folks with years of building experience on you, and some are better at digging than others, but I’ve met plenty of angry “pro trail builders” with sticks up their seat tubes and nary one chain link of building ability. It’s pretty cool that governments want to spend my tax money on making mountain bike trails, and that people are getting paid to do what we used to whore out for free. But don’t think for one pop-a-wheelie that you don’t know the difference between fun and geriatric.

So don’t sit stoker and watch commercial building companies pave a mindless flat track through your ’hood. Grab a shovel and go get some grit under your gnarly nails.


This reads even better in print—and you’ll get it sooner and can leave it in your bathroom—so subscribe to the print mag today.

 

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The Rant: What are we hiding from, anyway?


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From Issue #190

Throughout the evolution of the mountain bike, we’ve seen new technologies and ideas introduced at a very rapid rate. Just 30 years ago most of what we take for granted while riding now wasn’t even on anyone’s radar.

Some of the technology has been discarded along the way, usually with good reason. Dual-control shifters, suspension stems, 1.5-inch knobby tires, toe clips and horizontal top tubes have all been relegated to the waste bin by most riders.

Some technology was a little before its time and returned to wide acceptance. Dropper posts started out with the Hite-Rite, which was tossed out as cross-country racing took hold of the industry. The Gravity Dropper brought the idea back, and now the dropper post is the must-have accessory for any serious trail rider.

Even the current wheel sizes aren’t new ideas. Back in the ‘90s, 700c wheels made appearances on mountain bikes from Diamondback and Bianchi, and rumor has it 650b wheels might have been the dominant wheel size if the Russian government hadn’t purchased all the available stock of knobby tires in that size. But it seemed we needed a few more years to warm up to things, and now 27.5 and 29 inch have replaced 26 inch wheels on probably 95 percent of new mountain bikes.

But, some things stick around, even if they seem to serve no purpose. The biggest offender here? Internal cable routing. Why? Why are we doing this to ourselves? At best, it cleans up the aesthetics of the frame, but does zero to clean up the spaghetti-mess of cables that sprout from our bars. I have a bike I’m testing right now with SEVEN cables coming off the bars, with a few of them going inside the frame, and a few outside. Why? Who knows.

At worst, this stuff can actually be dangerous. Some of the early designs could cause the housing to rub on steerer tubes, and cable housing can cut through an aluminum steerer tube with enough use. I’ve also seen bad routing cause housing to fray and/or rattle inside the frame. And those little rubber grommets that keep the housing in place where it enters the frame? They seem to like to take early retirement in hidden trailside locations.

While this is improving, for many of these bikes you’ve got a serious headache when it comes time to replace your cables. There are all kinds of attempts to make this easier. I’m sure the Park cable routing tool is pretty awesome. But really, on a mountain bike, why?

Even better, on some bikes, you’ve got your cable running through housing (which is a tube), running inside a guide tube inside the frame tube. Tube in tube in tube construction seems to be straight out of the Department of Redundancy Department.

I will admit that internal routing for dropper posts makes a lot of sense. While I still use quite a few external droppers, unless that loop is routed just right, it is forever running into legs, swingarms and/or tires. But I see no need to make this good idea worse by trying to get the cable to make the internal turn in the junction between the seat tube and down tube while having almost no access to it.

The better option is out there, and in use by some companies like Turner and Guerrilla Gravity. Just put three or four threaded bosses on the top of the down tube. You can even cheat and use the two bottle mounts that should already be there. Bolt cable guides into those bosses to create customizable routing. Hell put some on the bottom of the top tube, too. More options are better.

One derailleur, two derailleurs, droppers, remote lockouts, moto-style brakes—all this is easily taken care off. Sure, the Di2 whiners will whine that their precious electronic cables are exposed, but there is no stopping that.

Enough with the roadie influence here; there is no need to be ashamed of our cables.

 

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Rusch Job: Zen and the art of fat biking


Words: Rebecca Rusch
Illustration: Chris Escobar

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 9.47.21 AM

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few. – Zen master Shunryu Suzuki

Fat biking is not a fad. It’s here to stay and has opened the doors to a whole new segment of riding, especially in winter climates. I was not an early adopter. I welcome the snowfall and the opportunity to recreate in other ways. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the forced break from two wheels allowed me to avoid potential burnout and greet spring rides with giddy enthusiasm. But when I was gifted a fat bike a couple of winters ago, I halfheartedly swung a leg over it, expecting to be underwhelmed.

I approached fat biking in the same way that I approach most things: by pushing harder when things got difficult. This approach didn’t work. The harder I tried, the more I flailed. It took me many rides stuffing my nostrils full of snow and digging tire trenches before I began to see the light.

Gradually, I gave up on my old tactics and allowed the snow to show me the way. The challenge of riding on this changing, unpredictable medium has become a Zen ritual, a kind of two-wheeled religion. Not the sort of cult religion that makes people crazy, but instead the ancient, contemplative type that develops quiet strength and calmness.

Don’t think for a second that fat biking is easy. You’ll find yourself dripping with sweat and ripping off layers of clothing in freezing temperatures. You have to work for even the tiniest bit of forward progress. The path forward is there, but in order to find it, you must slow down. In order to attain success, you must first forget what you know about riding on dirt and approach fat biking with a beginner’s mind.

In the ancient Zen Buddhist religion, the tenets of the beginner’s mind read like a how-to manual for fat biking.

Fall down seven times, get up eight

It might be more accurate to say “Fall down a thousand times, get up a thousand and one.” You will fall more times in one winter than you have fallen your whole life on two wheels. This is a fact, and you must accept it. The falls rarely hurt more than your ego because the soft, pillowy snow is just waiting to embrace you. Dress accordingly.

Let go of being an expert

So you think you can ride? Forget it and get ready for an education every ride. Snow is an ever-changing medium, tire pressure is king and just when you experience a moment of flow, the snow ruts will smack your ego back into place. You even have to learn how to dress yourself again, and your usual riding attire probably won’t cut it.

Experience the moment fully

Even if you don’t want to live in the moment, the super-slow pace of riding in soft snow will force you to quiet your mind and just soak it all in at approximately 5 mph. You’ll have lots of time here to engage in moving meditation. Let go of all expectations of time and distance and just quiet your mind. You are going to need to embrace mindfulness to keep that 4.5 inch tire inside a 5 inch tire track anyway.

Discard fear of failure

You will look silly, you will dress inappropriately, you will crash on flat ground, you will pack your glasses full of snow and you must laugh at all of it. The beauty of fat biking is it’s hard to take it too seriously. The moment you do, the snow goblins will reach up and smack you right down again because you are not in control here.

Use the spirit of inquiry

Focus on questions, not answers. The beginner’s mind will ask others about gear, tire pressure and whatever else you don’t know. Conditions dictate everything, so what you know one day will be different the next. It’s a blast to be soaking up information like a sponge, and fat-bikers love to talk tire pressure. Just ask them or go cop a feel when they aren’t looking.

For me, fat bike riding is an exercise in practicing mindfulness: a total state of focus that incorporates a togetherness of body and mind. It is an approach to an activity, skill or subject that emphasizes simplicity and intuition rather than conventional thinking or fixation on goals. No fixation on goals? Yeah, that’s a hard one for me, and it’s one of the reasons I now need fat biking.

Zen Buddhism asserts that enlightenment can be attained through meditation, practice, self-contemplation and intuition. I insert “while riding a fat bike” on the end of that sentence. I’m using big fat tires in the snow as a modern way to inch toward my own enlightened state—well, at least until the snow melts.

 

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Essay: Trucks and bikes – dreams of the off-road


I finally got myself a truck.

I didn’t really “need” a truck, nor does its lightweight rear end make it the most practical vehicle in snowy Colorado (doth protest my loved ones), but hauling things like fatbikes and riding gear and sometimes camping stuff and often the dog in a cramped, low-riding hatchback had proved time and again to be a hassle. I can just toss my fat bike in the truck bed without removing a wheel or needing to dry it off after a snowy ride. Holy cow; you have no idea how exciting that is.

Besides, I hail from south Texas. Despite my white-collar suburban upbringing (my mom has owned a succession of practical vehicles with uninspiring names like “Passat” and “Accord”) and a respectful fear of both horses and guns, I am—at heart—a southern girl who appreciates a truck.

I’ll get to mountain bikes in a bit; just hang with me.

In Texas, whether it’s your old diesel pickup or someone else’s, you end up spending plenty of time sitting on a tailgate with friends, cowboy boots swinging in the thick air of warm summer nights. The first boy I ever fell madly in love with was a fellow teenage airplane pilot who drove a black, Harley Davidson edition Ford F-150 with a sumptuous leather interior that he kept in pristine condition. Every time he picked me up to go out for Chinese food, it smelled like Armor All and Abercrombie & Fitch cologne with faint hints of aircraft-grade gas and 15W-50 engine oil.

You can understand why trucks are favorably embedded in my memory. And, since I’m being honest, I hate country music, but I can appreciate its lyricists’ love of their trucks, their beer and their dogs.

Tacoma Yeti-1

What my modest budget got me is a 2004 Toyota Tacoma with 178,000 miles. If you, dear reader, neither know nor care anything about cars, I’ll give you this: Tacomas are highly coveted vehicles and lose almost no value here in Colorado even when they’re teenaged rust buckets. They’re also generally good for 300,000 miles or more, so don’t worry, mom. My “Taco” features a custom desert khaki paint job, a handful of things that needed fixin’ and an outrageous battering ram on the front end (we call ’em “cow catchers” in Texas) that my husband rolls his eyes at but I somewhat adore. And—joy of joys—it’s a manual.

In my initial days of wedded truck bliss, I have noticed a few commonalities between mountain bikes and trucks (or whatever you drive). In some ways, we choose our bikes and our vehicles based on who we are: sensible and nonchalant about the things (“Does it do the job?”) or as outward manifestations of our inner selves.

Whether our ride is something that we use to show the world who we feel that we are, or we simply require a personal reminder not to lose one’s true, inner identity, a unique and ostentatious bike build or a not-always-practical vehicle can provide enjoyment far beyond its usefulness. (Like how I put a leather Brooks saddle on my rigid singlespeed because I appreciate a little style.) Those are the bikes/cars that feel like winking companions; they are the ones that grab us emotionally because they help us hold onto our core selves. They are the bikes and the vehicles we enjoy—in every outing—as much as we did when we first got them.

Yeti Moab-1

The other link between the two is possibility. My longtime trail bike has been a Yeti SB-66. It’s far more capable than I am and woefully over-built for the local trails I ride from my front door—trails I also frequent on my rigid singlespeed, which should tell you something. But it’s ready for a return to Moab or another trip out east where my favorite thing to ride—rooty trails—are in much more abundance.

Similarly, just like I don’t need a full-suspension bike with 140 mm of travel on a daily basis, I did not really need a truck. I work from home, so it’s going to sit idly in my driveway most days, deserving of the ire some spit when a truck is not used exclusively for bloody-knuckle manual labor. I am also well aware that I could have paid a few hundred bucks for a newer, fat bike-compatible hitch rack and a few hundred more for a roof-top box and called it good with my little hatchback.

But there’s just something about the pull of what is possible.

Years before I knew him, my husband owned a boxy Jeep Cherokee that he essentially bought for the one or two serious off-roading trips he took each year. The thing liked to die on him on deserted, West Texas highways and provided an awful road-driving experience; its nickname was simply “Damn Jeep!” (the exclamation point is important). In short, it was woefully impractical for his big-city suburban existence, but it kept the door open. Every time he got behind the wheel, the possibility of expedition was there, stretching before him somewhere beyond the traffic-snarled road that led from home to work and back again.

The more I find myself spending long hours staring into the mind-numbing glow of a computer screen, between a full-time job and graduate school, the stronger my imagination endeavors to thrill me with adventure ideas now made even more possible by a 4×4 truck with a bed long enough to sleep in and a personality much more bad-ass than my own.

Philosopher Alain de Botton observed this phenomenon in his book “The Art of Travel.” He wrote, “[People] who would have been capable of skepticism and prudence in other areas of their lives reverted, in contact with [certain] elements, to a primordial innocence and optimism.”

The “elements” he wrote of were perfectly composed travel photographs that enticed him to pack up and fly at once to a remote island. The elements rendering my deeply ingrained practicality moot are the Yeti and the Taco. They are conspiring against me—tormenting my stable existence with dreams of Edward Abbey-style ramblings.

Or, at least, of getting the hell out of Dodge on occasion.

 

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The International Van’ers Guild


On the Road With Bama

Words and photo: Chris Milucky aka Bama.
From Dirt Rag Issue #188

The first time I quit climbing the ladder of public opinion, I moved into a house with six other people, three dogs and a cat; the cat was smart enough to soon skip town and live someplace less crowded.

I needed a houseful of roommates in order to afford living given my new occupation as a bike messenger: Work was physically exhausting and I soon fell into a poor-man’s land of tent camping in the backyards of Boulder, Colorado. It was a colorful, romantic lifestyle with solid friends and lots of youthful, wild fun—if you know what I mean.

Bama vanner life-1

The second time I escaped from the dreams my mother once held of my success in corporate America, I bought and moved into a 1970s-era Airstream. I painted over the rotten wood and mildew and called it good. I picked up a job building trails east of Portland, Oregon. Sandy Ridge was the name of the place, and the weather was awful. It was cold and wet and the Airstream didn’t have any heat. After some time, the Airstream made a stop in Sedona, Arizona, and shortly thereafter I took a traveling job with a major bike company, resulting in three years of “van’er life.” After that, I was a mountain bike guide and moved back to the tent. I’ve been traveling for more than five years now, full time, year round.

It’s like this: If you’re going to work in the mountain bike industry, eventually you’re going to end up in a van or camper or something that will make your grandma cry tears of disappointment. I’m not sure how the “tiny house” movement started, but I’m pretty sure ski bums are at least 30 years ahead of us. Before skiers, circus clowns like Emmitt Kelly roamed the West. Before the circus, they were cowboys. The “Indians,” whom I’d rather refer to as Traditional Nomads, lived in campers they called teepees, which leaked horribly.

Everything leaks. Teepees, tents, campers and vans—live in one long enough and you’ll find yourself sleeping under an unavoidable, unfixable leak. They’re all cold, too. Life in a mobile shelter isn’t always glamour and gold, and the sedentary sects of society have always cast judgment against the nomads.

In modern times, we’re fined and ticketed; for the traditional nomads, death, violence and the Trail of Tears were lifestyle treats. In recent times, this affliction, if you want to call it that, is known as wanderlust. But it’s not a counterculture thing, and it’s not strange. The life of a nomad is beyond normal; it’s historical.

Think about that: every day on the road, every day on the trail, every day at the mercy of the wind, the wildlife and the solitude of the sun and stars. A day in the plains, a day in the mountains and another in the desert. That is the traditional way of the West. As humans, many of us have the same wandering spirit of the wolf, the wolverine and the eagle.

Give it a try sometime. Or don’t, but don’t think of me as any less. I may be dirty, but I’m always honest with myself. I don’t know if it’s something in the sand, or perhaps a curse placed by the demons of the desert, but for thousands of years people like me have been fighting to maintain our lifestyle. And this isn’t a lifestyle I chose, but rather it chose me; I cannot escape from it. At times I wonder if I’m running away from my problems or running directly toward them, but I just can’t stop.


Chris Milucky (better known as “Bama”), his wife, Tanesha and their dog, Larry, once logged more than 50,000 miles a year driving across the country. They are now building a new home in Colorado. All they ask is that you keep singletrack single and support your local bike shop. Read more from Bama

 

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The Rant: Empty Ashtrays and Bluebird Hearts


With my apologizes to Bukowski.

Life continues to surprize me, and frustrate me, and bring moments of unmitigated joy.

I quit smoking almost 12 years ago. It was cold turkey, and it wasn’t fun. I fell off the wagon a few times, including a few months of stress smoking involving hand rolled cigarettes and a bad mental space I’d like to never return to. And I will admit to bumming a smoke this summer from an Irish guy in a basement pub in Prague after drinking a lot of wine in a bar named after a cockroach. I can deal with one a year but after the first two puffs, I didn’t want it anymore anyway. I can be a fickle drunk.

Smoking is on my mind, although not because I was wanting one. Rather, I realized how happy I am to not have the cravings anymore, which persisted for years after no longer making daily runs to the corner store for smokes. A recent excursion through some of my former regular drinking establishments had me somewhat dumbfounded that I spent so much time in places that smelled so bad, and how some of the same bartenders were still serving me so many years later. All that secondhand smoke, all those years. It is shameful that Pittsburgh can’t pass a no smoking ordinance like the rest of the civilized world.

What does any of this have to do with bikes? I’m not sure yet, but the ride has started, let’s see where it goes.

bike reflections

Credit: Katherine Fuller

Cigarettes used to be a tool for celebrating happy times, soothing a stressful mind, fighting boredom, suppressing hunger or easing social situations. The bike does these all in a much healthier way. Except hunger suppression. Bike rides suck for that.

According to an online calculator, I’m over $20,000 richer for quitting smoking. I’m not sure where that money went, but I’m sure it didn’t go into the camper van fund. Which is a shame. With a bigger van budget I’d be looking at less rusty E-150s.

This [was written for] the last issue of Dirt Rag for [2015]. And the last issue for our long-tenured art director, who moved on to help art direct the shit out of a bike company in Salt Lake City. And the first issue for a new web editor. And I’m rolling up on my tenth year at the magazine. And, fall has settled into the city with a soft, cool hand on the cheeks.

It is making me all kinds of reflective and introspective and contemplative. Life continues to surprize me, and frustrate me, and bring moments of unmitigated joy. I’m glad they are almost never interrupted by cigarette cravings.

Punkbike Enduro, 2009. Credit: Karl Rosengarth

Punk Bike Enduro, 2009. Credit: Karl Rosengarth

Fall also makes me miss the Punk Bike Enduro. Long before the current enduro craze was even a twinkle in the eyes above Mark Weir’s mustache, Pittsburgh had a true moto-style mountain bike enduro, including mass starts, uphill and downhill stages, costumes, kegs. No waivers, no entry fee and no questions were asked or answered. And more cigarettes smoked than your average bike gathering. I miss that event.

But enough of the the navel gazing. Forward into 2016! Tobacco-free, bad attitude intact, missing some things, glad to be rid of others. I’m always thankful for all the places bikes have taken me and I’m looking forward to where they take me in the future. Thanks for reading. I’m lucky to do what I do and can’t do it without the eyeballs on this page and the subscription checks in the mail. Sláinte mhaith!

 

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Essay: Sharing the Wealth


By Stevil Kinevil

This is the landscape of your standard local ride. You’ve seen it all a hundred times before, but have you really? Taking a friend to your usual stomping grounds and showing them your loop is a fantastic way of blowing the dust off of your proverbial routine. It slows things down and offers a rare chance to look at everything through a brandnew set of eyes.

188 Stevil

Sharing my hometown bounty really has become one of my favorite things about the local trail network. Wide-eyed, friends from near and far get to enjoy that which I have for so many previous years, and more often than not, their enthusiasm becomes infectious. Second to this, it allows me to take a look at views, lines and the beautiful surroundings that I might occasionally otherwise take for granted. While variety is oftentimes considered by most to be the spice of life, it is also equally important to stop and smell those roses, which is exactly what donning a tour guide’s hat provides.

I’ve been very fortunate over these many years not only to have a fantastic array of trails within a short bike ride from my house, but I’ve been equally lucky to have had a revolving door on it, ushering in a regular assembly of friends from all over. With our bikes tuned, or in most cases not, we begin our adventure with anticipation: theirs for riding somewhere new, and mine for sharing that of which I am so proud.

Seeing the standard route with fresh eyes typically opens mine wider to the many memories that have been established upon them. “That’s where I fell into the creek” or “that’s where we once held an outlaw cross race…” Perhaps my companions don’t even hear my perceived points of interest, or if they do, don’t care. It’s akin to flipping through dusty old photo albums and reliving times potentially long forgotten. As you rip through the trees and descend into narrow rocky chutes, you get the chance to pick all the choicest lines, your friends following your lead and marveling at your skill, which of course took years, dozens of attempts, and most likely a fair amount of skin and blood to hone. In the midst of your journey maybe you’ll be reminded of a spot where you still have a sixer of beer stashed, or be inspired to take a left where you usually go right. The world is your oyster, kid, and thankfully there’s enough to share with everyone.

Perhaps it’s a selfish thing in which to revel. Your head might even swell a bit when your compatriots all gush over how well you know the network, or how adeptly you travel across it. You can tell stories of trail maintenance days and how you alone cut an entire section of singletrack that the group enjoyed. This is your jewel, and you’ve worked hard to maintain its luster. Maybe some of these folks will take a bit of that passion home with them and apply it to the health and well-being of their own hometown network. For the proud steward, this is both the goal and the reward.

Every corner, tree, switchback and drop might be as familiar to you as the back of your own hand, but because you’ve put that abundance of time into riding, caring for and learning about all of it, with your crew trailing along behind, you’ve all earned every ounce of pleasure that they provide.

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