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Product Testin' and Soul Searching

Product Testin' and Soul Searching

The recipe for a great ride varies from day to day, person to person. A few things are guaranteed to make for a spicy and delicious day on the bike–great company, stunning scenery, new gear, and a .gpx file with no foreknowledge of what lies ahead. 

 

This summer, some of my hometown friends from Texas all congregated in Colorado for a hectic weekend of dusty drifts, thin air, and “product testing.” I am extremely committed to making sure that everything we sell is something I personally use and feel good about paying full retail for. What better way to test both the aesthetics and the durability of The Athletic’s big relaunch than launching ourselves headlong into a big day on the bike? 



It started with breakfast and coffee up at 8,200 feet, a perfect appetizer for a day spent even higher. The conversation and cappuccinos flowed, and I felt my icy soul warming up with the sun and the earnest company. There is something about cycling that draws a variety of personalities who are all committed to youthful exuberance and tackling hard things. In hindsight, I was in the midst of one of my many yo-yos of depression; a time when the brain fog is a little too thick and the penchant for dark humor and FUBAR bike rides is even higher than normal. There is something deliciously satisfying about wholesome friends with cute kids joining me in one of my journeys to the abyss, higher than human lungs are designed for, deeper into the recesses of the mind than many dare venture. We push and pull, we encourage and we provide space for exploring the many thoughts that ebb and flow in a day, a mind, a life. It is safe to be scared, we set off together and commit to going through it and returning depleted and enriched. And also to riding bikes. 



Rides like this often entail a giddy sluggishness at the start. You pedal a little too hard and the mind moves a little slow, trying to knock off the mental rust and settling in for an entire day’s worth of time on the bike. The scenery was absurdly beautiful from the first pedal stroke, and every mile we traveled put us further out there, deeper into the unknown. The boys who drove through the night from Texas were in a world of hurt as we hit 10,000 feet and kept climbing. This was the type of ride where mileage becomes irrelevant. At a certain point, so do all the other metrics. We hiked. We biked. We laughed. We cried. 

 

We wore one-off prototype socks and jerseys before I’d officially photographed them in the studio, a move that felt both reckless and essential to this iteration of the Athletic. Full-send. Crash in the gear, get dust so deep in the fibers it won’t ever come out. We can’t be too precious with things that are made to be worn, no matter how good they look! Trey crashed hard in the dark blue camo cactus jersey and you can see evidence of that in the product photos. As a cyclist who values gear that works and who remembers the days when I’d cry when my hard-earned lycra got mistakenly thrown in the dryer (seriously! But also I didn’t have a therapist back then), I have to shake my head and do a little gratitude dance for reaching a point in life when the crash marks make things better instead of ruin them. We all should thank Trey for proving that this kit can handle abuse and look good doing it! 

 

There were sections of this route that tested our mettle until there was little to do but focus on breathing and putting one foot in front of the other. This was no easy photo ride or thinly veiled excuse to create marketing copy. We dug so deep that a few of us had to stop our friend in the Unimog for a bit of extra water around the 12,000 foot summit of Kingston Peak. As an introspective being, I deal with your standard array of daily existential crises, related to my own soul and certainly to trying to revive a beloved brand in the cutthroat landscape of small businesses and consumer goods. More than a mere product test, we were putting an idea into practice. The stuff has to be sourced and made ethically, to work in all the situations we can possibly throw at it, and ideally, look good doing it–but there is so much more at stake. 

In life, we are given a limited quantity of resources. Time, energy, attention. Things we can earn with our time, things we can buy with what we’ve earned. A day like this, when every second is held in high relief, it seems like we can almost slow down time. A touch of hypoxia and dehydration bring us into a more tactile relationship with our physical beings. Good company understanding the ways you need to be pushed to succeed, offering silent companionship and a few spare gummy worms along the way, bring us into a more vulnerable and honest relationship with others. This community thrives on both. I rely on both. The biggest gift of riding a bike is the way it acts like a time machine, a freedom machine. In all the ways. For me, it helps to slow down the passage of time, to bring us closer to Einstein’s “other” theory of relativity:

 

“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”

 

While this definition is a bit dated in its societal norms, it gives us a hint of the way bikes act as time machines. Sometimes, it all moves so slowly it hurts; sometimes, it flies by so fast that it helps us to lean into the flow state incantation, just this, until we are fully and completely exactly where we are and nowhere else. 


The descent from Kingston Pass was almost harder than the climb; riding gravel bikes down scree fields comprised of golf ball-sized rocks can only be described as “rowdy,” and most every off-road driver we passed gave us incredulous looks and that phrase every cyclist knows so well, “I don’t know how y’all do it! I’ve got an engine and I’m tired just lookin’ at ya.” We stopped in Idaho Springs for snacks and two of the boys decided to coast downhill back to the Front Range on the paved bike path. Hayes and I committed to the original route, incredulous that we somehow had another 4400 feet of elevation gain left on our ride. 

 

These miles could inhabit paragraphs and pages, or they could be summarized by the dirt that’s still in the fibers of the product photos that will populate these pages shortly. We rode through abandoned mining towns that inspired a seminal song by one of my favorite bands, past tourist trap casinos, around private stocked trout ponds, on hard-packed dirt and sketchy highways.

 

This day occupies my mind in an outsized kind of way, especially because I have known for months that I would one day write about it and share the photos more freely. It is tempting to try to live in the beautiful images and rose-colored memories of the past; after all, this is what Type 2 Fun does to our minds. We all agreed afterwards that “after I sleep a couple of times, I’m going to remember this as the best day of the summer.” Prior to that, what do we think? Life is never perfect, though there is always beauty in the trials and the brokenness. We were shelled. I got dinner with treasured company on the patio of a Himalayan restaurant afterwards and slowly figured out how to form complete sentences again as the caloric deficit faded. 

These memories are so good as I reflect, write, share. Like everything, there was plenty of sacred suffering, getting separated and regrouping, pushing our bodies to a state of discomfort and distress that many modern humans spend their entire lives avoiding. When it’s all said and done, we return to stasis and try to learn from the highs and the lows. And we know that most of life happens somewhere in-between. The gear I’m committed to producing can handle the highs and the lows, and it slots right in to a world where most days are neither epic nor awful, but some hazy mix that deserves attention and intention. May we all find slivers of joy, good design, and meaningful connection amidst the madness. 

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