I should have never left, and I had my chance to stay.
This is what I am thinking as I am projectile vomitting on the side of a god forsaken road in New Jersey, tucked between what I think is a cement or brick plant and an office building. Being sick in New Jersey is bad, being sick in New Jersey in the middle of a bike ride, 25 miles from home in lycra is even worse. Over the next 1.5 hours I drag myself over the bridge, into a cab (where we pulled over twice for me to eject some more demons) and finally into my Lower East Side apartment. And it is there that I stayed for the next 20 hours.
Night fell, the sun rose and I woke up feeling better. My eyes were sore from bulging out, my throat raw but all in all I was OK. Later that night I did the only thing I could think of to make it better, I got onto my bike.
I was still weak and certainly not strong but riding last night that didn’t bother me at all, instead I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Because, however small a glimpse, sickness shows us what our bodies are like when they don’t work, when they are broken. The pain of being sick doesn’t bother me too much, it is thinking about what if I didn’t get better that gets me.
Our bodies and health are fleeting and they are a gift. I hear people everyday joke that “they can’t remember the last time they ran” “or their idea of a workout is lifting a cheeseburger” and you know what it’s not funny, i’s not a joke and I am so sorry for you.
You see there is dignity and grace in pushing your body. There are lessons in thinking you can be better and learning you can’t be the best. Everyday you do the same things over and over. You become hollow, a receptacle of repetition. You meditate, you pray, you fail, you hurt, you want to quit. Do all of that and eventually you are rewarded. It likely won’t be a trophy or a win that you get but instead, the breifest glimpses of greatness. Those times when your legs don’t feel like you are attached to them, you are flying, you are lightness, you are, can I say, beautiful.
It is these moments that I ride. It’s why I ran, and this is why I will never take my health for granted. You get one body, and one chance to make it worth it. You will never be a pro athlete, but if you take care of your body it will take care of you.
I hear it a couple times a day, “I have just been so busy” and it’s the most boring answer to the simple question of, "how are things going". I have been running Fohr Card with Rich and Holly for 3 months full time now and people ask me all the time, "how are things?" and I make a point to not talk about how busy we are.
Instead I say I am having the time of my life. That I wake up every day and give thanks for my station in life. That I feel like the person I have always wanted to be.
Boring people are busy, the great ones are just having fun.
Worked all night at Fohr Card HQ. I rubbed my burning eyes and watched past my computer screen as the sky turned from oil black, to blue, to pink. I sat there and thought not about weariness but instead about the blessing that is working on something you love.
failure to cut it or how i lost 30 pounds but learned a lot
When I was a junior in Hight School I declared that I would win the 112 pound state championship in wrestling. So, starting that summer I became at first singularly focused, and then completely consumed with putting that medal around my neck in February. I went to camp, ran sprints all summer, I joined the cross country team to keep my weight down, I did drills in front of the TV every night, the same move hundreds and hundreds of times until I would NEVER have to think about how to do that move again. At times I felt like I was fitting wrestling into my life, as I was fitting my life into wrestling. Then something peculiar happened, I grew.
I lost the weight, the season started, I began winning, sometimes beating my opponents so fast my coach would make me take them down and let them up over and over until I got a Technical Pin, just to stretch the match time. I was ranked 2nd in the state, things were good, until they weren’t.
Over the 4 months leading up to and in the beginning of the season I had grown 5 inches and was now near 5’11 and having to cut to 112 pounds.
Every morning now I would wake up at 5AM, my heat had been on for 45 minutes bringing my room to 83 degrees. I pulled spandex, fleece and down over my frail body and got on the exercise bike for 1 hour. Breakfast was Special K, no milk, lunch 3 slices of turkey cold cuts. Then off to practice, 3 hours of drill work and scratch matches, dinner grilled chicken breast. Next to the gym to do a sauna workout, finally home to fall asleep before I could realize how hungry I was. I was working myself to death, but I was winning.
Running up to the Area and State Championships coaches stopped letting their kids wrestle me, there I was gaunt, starving, pacing around our gym only to be told it was for naught, I wouldn’t be wrestling that night.
Truth is I was barely holding it together. I used to put a piece of chocolate in my mouth, just to taste it and then spit it out. I would do this in a locked bathroom. I was losing teeth, 2 during a match and one more after the season (I ended up with 26 cavities). Malnutrition was ravaging my body, but I was winning.
Until one Wednesday afternoon when my coach peeked his head into my english class and asked to see me, they were pulling the plug he said. School said what I was doing was too dangerous, people were talking, doctors had been consulted. My body fat test came back as inconclusive. Two weeks from me wrestling for the state championship, I was told I had to jump 2 weight classes to 125.
I don’t even know how I lost my matches at area, I was sick, depressed and all I know is I did not even make it to state. After I lost my elimination match, I brushed off the comfort of my coach and left the hot, oxygen starved gym into the crisp Northern Georgia winter. I then promptly sat against a wall and let waves of tears fall from me. Huge racking sobs so uncontrollable I had to lay my face down.
As I lay weeping I thought about everything I had been through everything I had given up, not eating for months, the 3-a-day work outs, the thousands of drills, the torn rotator cuff, skipped family vacations. I felt the unique pain of giving your whole self to a goal only to see it sail slowly away from you.
After five minutes of self pity I stood up, sweat now dying and making me shiver and as I pushed back into that same gym I had a vision of myself next year, and you know what, I was winning.
5AM alarms never get’s easier but you do get faster, you do get better.
It’s hard but sometimes being the one that flies away makes all the difference.
Anonymous asked: Hey James, how does someone find their passion? What if following it seems terrifying and most likely leading to failure?
What if not following it is terrifying and most likely leads to disappointment?
Following your passions is scary because the stakes are so much higher, you are putting your beliefs on display for the world saying, “this is what I love” and allowing them to judge that. it’s terrifying. But in the end you have to go for it becaue it’s better to be a failure than a disappointment.
more on this
Life isn’t all that different from cycling really. When the road tips up you have two choices: sit back and let it hurt you or attack it, and when you think about it, that’s not really much of a choice at all.
hold your friends close and your hustle closer. follow my ramblings on twitter here
I guess I can’t remember the moment it happened, the moment my well being took a backseat to catching back onto the peleton. I had gotten gapped on the first climb, I wasn’t my best self and knew getting dropped was a possibility, but predicting the future doesn’t make it any better. I found 5 motivated guys and pinned my heart rate at 180BPM and chased, chased, chased. We chased down mountains, up false flats and through the feed zones. We chased with heads down, arms tucked and legs a flutter. When we finally caught back on I was torn back down by a short punchy climb up a dirt road and there I was again. Alone. Dropped.
It’s an emotional sport, and those emotions are heightened by the severity of physical and mental stress the riders are under. So as I watched the peleton roll away from me for the second time I lined up my excuses and fractured my dreams, I unfurled my self-pity and got ready to quit. And it wasn’t that hard. That’s the thing about quitting, it’s the most comfortable betrayal you will ever deal yourself. Your excuses, doubt, pity, shattered dreams they will, at first, wear nicely. And it did, it felt good you lay it all down, throw it away.
Then, moments later, you notice the fit issues. Your excuses start to annoy you, your shattered dreams mend themselves and the sweet relief of self-pity burns your tongue, sour and rotten.
The road pitched down violently and he dust from the peleton was still visible, dancing wispy and slow in the stale, hot air. I pegged my eyes to it. I lost perspective. Going 40MPH down dirt roads on 23mm tires is not something most people would do, hell, it’s not something I would normally do, but the on that day it putting my life in danger was the only way I could think of to save it. I needed to be the kind of person who didn’t get dropped. I needed to be the kind of person I convince myself I am.
So I bridled my courage and steered it down that hill as fast as I could and you know what? At 40MPH my chattering tubluars sounded a bit like a victory song. I didn’t win the race that day, but god damnit, I won the battle and sometimes that’s enough, that’s enough.
The rocks hurt my feet worse than I thought it would and sent me checking and double checking each step before I put my weight down on my city softened feet. I made it out to the end of the rock and stood watching a fisherman placidly looking for lunch. His back was to me, and the crashing waves made it impossible for him to see me, so I put my heads on my head and enjoyed a moment of exposed voyeurism.
I shook my head a bit, amazed at where the turns of this life have taken me. 5 years ago I was just another kid getting off the 6 train at Wall Street for 10 hours of work as a Futures and Commodities broker. I remember sitting in a bar a few months after I started work with a full glass of Jack Daniels in front of me hoping and hoping that life was more than this.
You see, I believe that bad jobs are like degenerative diseases, they slowly, slowly eat away at what makes you unique and ultimately human. A truly bad job strips a person of their dignity, which strips them of their will, which keeps them in said bad job. So I looked into that glass of whiskey and told myself that I would try and cash the checks that I had written to my future. I quit that job, got a better one, then a better one. I started a blog, got a camera, I got fired from a job I thought I loved, got another one and all along kept pointing that camera at things. I met people like Rich Tong, Erika Bearman, Martha Botts, Jamie Beck, Andrew Schmidt, Justin Chung and more. People who told me to be better or gave me a place to try to be.
I guess what I am trying to say is that while I stood on that rock and squinted my eyes in the sun I realized my life is as much (or more) about those people who hold me up, my “lattice of support” as Dave Eggers would say than it ever has been or will be about me. I am turning 28 in six days and you all have already given me more than I would have had the gusto to ask for.
The old man cast his line out one more time, this time impossibly far into the ocean and as I turned around I imagined him pulling in a fish he would talk about for the rest of his life because we all deserve a brush with greatness to remind us to strive for it.
whimsyeffect asked: your photos are delightful, your blog fascinating. i just moved to new york two months ago for a job and have had little time to get to know the city, but your documentation and illustration of it are fueling an excitement that was initially lacking. it's a nice little reminder that this place is the capital of possibility, and i made the right decision. thank you for that!
Thank you! This city is an amazing collection of people who are brash enough to think they can change the world, and talented enough that they just might do it. Never stop falling in love with that and you will do just fine.
We hadn’t spoken to each other in hours.
It had been pouring rain all day, turning the dirt roads of Battenkill into mud and putting us all into a dark and quiet place. There are times when it’s not fun, the times when you can’t feel your hands, your legs are screaming and you are not anywhere near done. There are moments when saliva mixes with vomit and you try, try not to lose that wheel in front of you, the one that is inching forward, forward, forward away from you.
But what can you do? You shake your hands out to get the blood back in them, you get in the drops and back onto that fucking wheel and you let the suffering of the day knock against you like waves. You do this and most importantly tell yourself, “this is worth it”.
Sometimes people ask me what I think about when I am on the bike for that long and the truth is I don’t know. I guess it depends. On a day like this you think about the pain, you think about your heros and imagine themselves tempering themselves in the rain and the mud. You think about love in the form of your riding partners not making fun of you when you can’t lift your head. Shit, you think about cheeseburgers and girls, anything to take you out of the horror that you are currently living, but then even on the darkest days sometimes you think about how beautiful it is.
You lick your lips, crunching the dirt that was on your face, look down at your quivering legs and laugh because it really is beautiful. You keep your head down and attack one more time because when you think about this ride in 10 years (and you will) you want to remember that you didn’t let the darkness win, if only for a moment you didn’t let it win.
I can’t see more than 30 feet in front of me. What started as a bright, blue eyed day had turned menacing and cold. Cold sea fog whipped and rolled across the ridge making it hard to remember which of the seven sisters I was on. We were about 40 miles into famous Alpine Dam ride outside of San Francisco. I had lost my riding partner after the last acceleration and I was alone in the fog listening to the wind mix with my breathing.
On the right day and with the right fitness you can pedal yourself into a trance. 1,2,3,4. 1,2,3,4. Miles tick away and your tempo stays high. You ask you legs for just a little more, just one more hill, one last acceleration and on the right day, and with the right fitness, sometimes you can hear them whisper, yes, finally, yes…
Dylan and I have been getting up at 4:50AM to train with the Rapha NYC boys and strangely I am ok with that.