Bike magazine and Cannondale would like to thank all those who entered Cannondale's Adjust Your Attitude essay contest. We read each and every entry, discussed, disputed and eventually voted on our favorites. In the end it was Stephanie Nitsch, from Park City, Utah, who came out on top. Breathing down her neck for the win were (in alphabetical order) Daniel Cerqueira from Carolina Beach, North Carolina, Mytchell Mead from John Day, Oregon, Dustin Rushing from Hickory, North Carolina and Andy Valentine from Silverado, California.
Please join us in congratulating Stephanie and all of the finalists. Check out their essays below.—Ed.
Frequent rounds of vertigo and mysterious head pains reminded me that I had to take it easy, mentally and physically, and my atrophied legs reminded me that endurance is lost faster than it is earned. Within two weeks of getting out of bed for the first time after a serious head injury this summer, I was heading south for Bend, Oregon's flowing singletrack and resuming my summer travels as an unemployed vagabond. Lungs burned and legs were dragging as I pedaled around Phil's Trail for a few days of warm-up; my first time on a bike after my head injury sidelined me for five weeks. The Cascade Mountains' high elevation promised that I'd gasp for air on any climb and flinch at the stomach cramps after guzzling too much water. And I wanted more.
A loop at the Swampy Lakes trailhead, just a few miles outside of town, seemed like a perfect ride for my less-than-one-year-of-biking experience according to the hand-drawn map and turn-by-turn instructions I had copied onto a piece of paper. Except like any fork in the road, I took the one less traveled and began a euphoric 45-minute descent that wasn't on my route. The swampy Oregon dirt steered me into the direction of gnarly stumps and roots while I flowed through the downhill switchbacks with a tight grip and visions of another hospital stint. Trailside creeks were happily bubbling over with snowmelt and encouraged me back to reality. My quick, two-hour out-and-back became a five-hour choose-your-own-adventure novel. Veer straight and trudge through 10 miles of mud; fork right and seek shelter during a fierce thunderstorm; fork left, ask for directions and laugh when you still have no clue how to get back. It wasn't the most technical challenge, but on the heels of an injury that left me lifeless and my brain disoriented, my ride was a reminder that endurance means nothing when you're lost in adventure and know you've earned it.— Stephanie Nitsch
Chicho hit the berm with a little more speed than he felt comfortable with; his faith in dual compound tires being tested. Time slowed down to the point where multiple childhood memories were displayed. Neurons firing slower as the brain, on a hiatus from controlling duties, shifted to memory lane. That bermed turn did not involve cognitive faculties, it was done purely on instinct and muscle memory developed over years of riding bicycles on dirt. Chicho’s memory bank took him back to the TV town of Hazzard. His BMX taking the place of the General Lee. The chaparral of his childhood home in Baja California mutating into the green moonshine producing enclave of Bo and Luke’s Appalachia. The fact that Chicho made the transition back to a singlespeed years back proved detrimental now, as the supposedly forgiving ride of fine steel pales in comparison to 6 inches of travel fore and aft. The singlespeed felt as out of place in this chase as a glass of Weinestephen at a keg party. Chicho needed quantity, not quality at that moment. As the truck got closer, Chicho began losing hope. The vehicle was not supposed to have made it through the doubletrack. Resilience, Chicho came to find out, was a trait shared by Latin Americans -whether at the border, at Worldcup 24hr races—go Tinker—or, in this case, the drug cartel. Singletrack comes unannounced in these parts, many times sprouting suddenly off a fireroad. Chicho screamed for me to enter the singletrack. I started riding towards the trail. Chicho entered the singletrack first, with me glued to his back tire Top Gun style. The foliage was green and the canopy a welcome relief from the Veracruz sun. Chicho hit the first berm fast, with the carelessness of someone who had been pushing his limits for many miles now. I did too, smiling. In my mind, I had moonshine to deliver and Waylon Jennings just started playing…— Daniel Cerquiera
A beloved but hammered bike, well worn helmet, shorts, shoes. At 37 I was no longer young, but for next two hours, free. Then there they were. Clogging the trail like sands in an hourglass. Dudes on big hit bikes, full-face helmets. Young, fit, dressed by a fashion designer. Damn my luck. Must have been a busload. It was a long narrow drop in, followed by a truly evil rock formation. Like twenty jumbo stairs, angling off in all directions, the section cried "COMPOUND FRACTURE." Riders trickled in, one by one, took a hit then stopped to consider the next. Five minutes per. I had come to escape the crowds, not join them. I asked. Yes it was a bus. Youth group mountain bike club. Dude. "Ah, fuuu….kumbaya…Praise the Lord and let me pass?" "Yo, let this old guy through" a twenty-something yelled from the top, then to me: "You can probably walk it on the left." ARRRGH! I was riding a mountain bike when you were in diapers. I know the sweet rush of freedom, of challenge, of finding the one clean line. Maybe I'm no longer young, but I have something only years of passion can capture…. "Thanks, I'll be quick."
I dropped in left, then just before the hateful rock stair braked, pivoted right, hard right. There it was, glowing like the tail of a comet: my line. The first two drops were no problem; I had some speed, some momentum. But the line I saw required two quick switchbacks in a very small space. Dead stop, trials hop, pull up, swing the front end around, perfect. Bam, the drop had to be taken flat, pivot around – on front wheel this time – and bam, another hard bottom. It was easy from here, the drops got bigger, but I could get some forward motion. Thump, thump, thump, thump and poof, a cloud of dust rose as I entered the dirt. From the trail I heard "…what was he riding?" Keep with it kid; learn finesse, control, grace. Let the passion take you, not the bike.— Mytchell Mead
I see photographs and read stories detailing the adventures of others all time. At times I live vicariously through their tales, pretending that I'm ripping some far-flung destination on a picturesque day. My bike is completely dialed in and I'm effortlessly focused on the task at hand. It all comes to me easily and I'm enjoying every breath taking second.
This is fantasy and the truth is that I've barley ridden a trail more than fifty miles from my home. So admittedly I have my reservations about sharing this story. I largely regard mountain biking as a social activity best enjoyed in the company of others, but some of my most memorable rides have been solo excursions. A mountain bike is designed for a single rider and can thus be a vehicle to solitude if so desired. In this mode of thought everything is open to individual interpretation. I often ride at Riverbend Park alone and relish the disconnect it offers from everyday life. Rounding a tight corner and seeing shafts of light beam through the fog of an early spring morning. My tires digging deep into the moist earth as I lean hard into a left-hand turn. Blurred vision as I try to wipe the stinging, mid-summer sweat from my eyes, my head pounding while I climb through the sultry haze of the late evening. The crisp beauty of October singletrack blanketed with what appears to be bits of orange, red and yellow confetti. It's the playful fun I have trying to see if I can remember where every root and rock is hidden beneath the crackling leaves. The stark contrast offered by a forest lightly covered in snow is unmistakable, as is the immense stillness of the surrounding air while the condensation of my stinging lungs billows from my nose and mouth. Are they epic rides by most standards? Probably not. But they're epic rides to me; and I'll never take them for granted.— Dustin Rushing
“No one ever died from being late to school”, I tell her. I shoot her my sternest look, which is hardly stern, but my points made. I have a screw loose, maybe two; one in my brain, one on my bike rack, but looking for the teeny wrench to tighten it will take more time. I’m pretty sure this why someone invented bungee cords. I tighten the bolt with my fingers, look at my hands. I should consider a manicure, but no. Up late last night thinking of the must do-s and the want to-s; how to take things I have to do and combine them with things I long to, remembering a time when I was free. I don’t want to be free, but I wouldn’t mind feeling that way. Kids in car, dog in back, bike on rack. Next stop school. “Are you riding that bike or walking that dog?”, someone questions. “Both”, I say. that dog; something I rescued a year ago, is not small, eats me out of house and home, requires lots of exercise. that bike, an impulse buy which made the boy at the LBS giddy and instantly cougarized, has sat lonesome for weeks. I look at it, stroke it like a neglected pony and promise it I’ll find a female bike club, get a boyfriend who loves to ride, find a way, but I know that pony won’t be ridden any time soon. Or will it be? Today, behind the reservoir, trespassing on the double-track, I jet up until I can’t pump any longer. A switchback gives me the chance to look at the not-small dog behind me; no leash, no kids, no school, no manicure, no girl bike club, no water bag.
Expletive. Dab, stop, look down, smile. No water bottle, no problem. Fly down the hill, washboard earth vibrates my insides. Navigate the boulder garden to the water’s edge. Helmet off, gloves gone, pony on it’s side. Big dog and I put our mouths to the water. We drink. Freedom!— Andy Valentine