Mountain Bikes, Love, and Life

Recently, the New England Mountain Bike Association held an essay contest. Members were asked to write about the importance of mountain biking to their family. My submission didn’t win, but I had fun writing it.

Mountain biking was so integral to the formation of our family that we have a connection with it that others cannot begin to understand. At the 1999 Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run, I met Deborah in the parking lot of the Ascutney Mountain Resort base lodge. It was the night before the big race and I was getting dressed for a quick warm-up ride with my teammate and friend, Arlen Wenzel. We had the great fortune of parking our truck next to a small white car with Vermont plates. We were almost ready to roll out of the parking lot when the owner of the car, a petite woman with a long pony tail, appeared. Arlen amiably chatted her up while I got dressed. He asked her where her bicycle was, noting that there was no rack on her car. She laughed and said, “What bike, I’m running the race. I would never ride 50 miles on a mountain bike.” Huh, we thought. Who is this woman? Arlen shot back, “You are the crazy one, running this thing.” I chuckled and let them spar. She said she was from Connecticut, but was living in Vermont since graduating college a few years earlier. We told her we were from Connecticut too. We exchanged a few more pleasantries, wished her luck, and she ran off.

Arlen was ready to go, but I had grabbed a business card and written a note on it. That card is in a frame on the mantle above the fireplace in my home. It says, “Deb, if you ever want to ride or maybe run, give a call.” I got out of the truck as Arlen hazed me. “What are you doing?” he asked. I said, “Hold on.” I put the card on her windshield. He shot me an evil look and said something like, “You dirty dog.” I hadn’t had a date in a long time, so it had taken some serious courage to act upon this chance meeting. She was fit. She was beautiful. I had never met a woman at a bike race before. My odds were improved by the fact that Arlen was already married. I had nothing to lose.

Arlen had talked me into riding this epic event. He had a couple finishes under his belt and had convinced me that there was no better way to spend the first Sunday in October, than to explore the countryside of southeastern Vermont. Little did I know that the experience would change my life forever. We hopped on our bikes and road down the hill to test those first few turns. He had warned me that a sunrise mass start with 200 mountain bikers with limited group riding skills, would be a recipe for disaster. We had to get the hole shot, and stay out front.

This love story has some twists, just like a challenging section of singletrack. We saw Deb the next day when she finished her first ultra-marathon trail running race. I had my own successful day, finishing first in my division and more importantly, beating Arlen by two seconds. We were hanging out at the finish line, cheering all of our fellow finishers. When she crossed the line after eight plus hours on the trails, and promptly burst into tears, I kept my distance. Arlen and our teammate, Randall Dutton, were pushing me to say hello again, but I gave her space and told them that I was happy to wait for a phone call or e-mail. We packed up and went home, but I secretly kept my fingers crossed.

I was hoping that she saw that card. A week went by without a word. Then, I got an e-mail message from Deborah. She said she didn’t normally respond to overtures like mine, but she figured that since it happened at a special race, she would give it a try. We exchanged e-mails for a few days before she finally sent me her phone number. That first conversation was exhilarating. We both had incredible experiences at the VT50 and found common ground in our love of nature. I was a button downed preppie with business acumen and pants that were too short. She was a hippie wanderer with a love for fitness and yoga who had stumbled across long distance trail running. Her pants dragged on the floor. I had done my fair share of running in the past, and she had done a lot of mountain biking, so our athletic pursuits were a match. She told me that she nearly threw away that business card. She thought it was a bit pompous of someone to make a play like that and had tossed it into her car without ever reading it. Fortunately, she found the card when she was cleaning out her car and noticed the note on the back. Lucky me. Our first date started at Eastern Mountain Sports near the Westfarms Mall. It was the one place we had in common. A month later, we shared our first kiss in the parking lot after a cyclocross race at Winding Trails.

We dated for a year, spending lots of time on the trails. We pushed each other to pursue our passions. After an engagement and second year together, we were married under a big pine tree at the White Memorial Foundation in Litchfield, Connecticut. I rode with the groomsmen in the park before the ceremony while she and bridesmaids went for a run. We have continued to cross over to each other’s sports. As a tandem adventure racing team, we have spent hours on mountain bikes in all sorts of conditions. There have been tension filled rides when Deb, the runner, didn’t take kindly to advice on shifting, braking, or cornering. As our navigator, she is the one that is supposed to hold on to the map. There was a race in New Jersey when she lost it during the bike leg. I always need a map and a plan. She can do without. Somehow, we rallied and went on to win that event. I was stressed out while she was as cool as a cucumber. For the sake of our relationship, I have had to bite my tongue more than once on a ride. I think that lessons learned while riding and racing as a couple can be applied to every other aspect of our lives.

We have supported each other at events all over the world, and it has been an amazing ride. In 2006, our son, Shepard, was born. Two days before his birth, we rode with friends at Gay City State Park. Deb had the most active pregnancy you can imagine, commuting to and from work by bike. We built a beautiful home on the Hop River Linear Park (Rail Trail) in Bolton, Connecticut. We cherish the days that we can ride or run on the trails that are right out our front door. Deb is my is my greatest inspiration. Though she prefers to run with our son, we have both ridden with him everywhere. We have lugged our bikes and our Chariot (stroller/trailer) to Acadia National Park, to Quebec, to Northern Maine, and elsewhere around the region. Shepard thinks that spending half a day in his trailer is completely normal. He is nearly three, and he asks to go for rides, runs, and hikes. We knew from the beginning that we wouldn’t change our active ways when we had a family. Our plan was to just keep doing the things we love.

Deb is due with our second child on September 19th. Once again, she is having the kind of pregnancy that other women dream about. Naturally, we are hoping for the best. We don’t think that what she is doing is difficult. Ride and run. Stay active. It is simple advice. She is proof that staying healthy is mostly mental. You have to have the self confidence and drive to remain fit while being a busy spouse and parent. When Shepard sees me getting ready for a ride, his eyes light up. “Daddy, bike ride,” he says. “Yes,” I say, “Daddy, bike ride.” I can’t wait for the day when we can ride side by side together.

Since 1999, we have been to the Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run nine consecutive times. We have had great years and we have had good years, but never a bad year. We have ridden and run in the sun, and we have dealt with the rain and mud. Maintaining a streak like that is sort of like maintaining a marriage and raising a happy family. It isn’t all bliss, and it takes lots of work. This September is going to be very interesting. Our family is going to grow again and we are very excited about that. I’m anxious about missing the VT50. This year will be our tenth anniversary together. That event is our Mecca. We are drawn to it and it gives us energy. Life will go on if the timing of our second child’s birth prevents us from being there. If we miss the race, I know we will find a way to stay connected to the land that we love. Maybe we will drive up to spend some time in that parking lot. It doesn’t have to be on race day. It can be on a Tuesday afternoon. It can be anytime, as long as our family is together to experience the vibe. Shepard wouldn’t understand, and the new baby certainly won’t have mountain biking on his or her mind, but the day will come when they learn about how their parents met. When the story is told, probably on a bike ride, then they will eventually realize how a love of sport brought our family together.

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@trailrunningmom received a nice memento in the mail. #hr100 #hardrock100 #trailrunning #ultrarunning Awesome Day 2 at the @the_ccap #Cyclocross Camp. #teamhorstsports #teamhorstjuniorsquad #horstspikes #crossspikes #googinscross #lifedeathcyclocross #crossiscoming 🚴🏽 Great ride with Tom. #teamhorstsports #madeinusa 🇺🇸 Day one of the @the_ccap Junior #Cyclocross Camp was awesome. #horstspikes #teamhorstsports #teamhorstjuniorsquad #lifedeathcyclocross #crossiscoming @trailrunningmom led another successful #Yoga at #Sunset for the #boltonlandtrust This year's venue was the #BoltonHeritageFarm It's been a tradition to move to a new spot each time. I got my first #cyclocross ride of the year in too! #yogini #yogi #shavasana Sightseeing on my second favorite road in #Connecticut #grassyhill #cycling #bicycle #sevencycles #horstengineering Camp was swell! @thecubscouts @boyscoutsofamerica #cubscouts #boyscouts #junenorcrosswebster I visited the new HQ of the @appalachianmountainclub that is under construction at 10 City Square in #Charlestown I had to ride by the #BunkerHill Monument at the end of the #FreedomTrail #Boston #sevencycles First time at the People's Forest Trail Race since 2011. This first image is the look of a dejected man who lost 25 minutes with a wrong turn on a big descent. That's costly in an 11 kilometer race. Even worse is that @trailrunningmom is the one who led him (and two other runners) off course! They survived. It was a nice day on the #FarmingtonRiver. #trailrunning #teamhorstsports #shenipsitstriders 🏃🏻⛰🏆

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