Awesome article. Love the bits about farming, please more of that! My good friend is a full-time farmer who just fell into cyclocross. She's trying to figure out how to train and farm. She's wicked good for a beginner and will probably be mashing in the elite ranks in no time.
For Mud, Bikes, Beer and Barns: A Column from Adam McGrath
by Adam McGrath
I’m not sure what happened, somehow in the last year I’ve returned to the junior ranks. You might be asking yourself how has this happened? Did you create a time space continuum up there in the Northwest? No, just the opposite, another year has gone by and while I may have been able to score a couple elite podiums in the bike match, I’ve really entered the junior ranks in the game of life.
You see, when it comes to changing direction and starting a farm, I’ve realized I’m pretty much just like a junior. Excited, nervous, jittery, full of gumption, and making lots and lots of mistakes. For example last season, I though my fall would be awesome, we’d be caring for the farm, I’d race bikes on the weekend, write a bit, read a lot. Wrong! I managed to write twice all ’cross season and every day was just do, undo, redo learn, pick up and start again between every bike race. It’s been a very humbling year, but like a junior who left the house with out his riding shoes, it’s no excuse why I shouldn’t write.
When you’re living your own life day-to-day it’s not very interesting, at least it seems that way to me, but some people are always pretty keen as to know what I’m up to, because for a pro bike racer, I’m not so good at being pro these days. For this first post, it really seems appropriate to tell the tale of the junior farming, the decision to be a push biker, and the world’s biggest bicycle team.
Post-circle-mud-spandex-dance time of year, it gets cold. Cold is pretty interesting, you need to stay warm so after ’cross season I tried to really get our stove operational. My partner Rebecca and I live in separate little house (i.e “the casita”) on the farm, it’s about 350 sq feet and made of mud. Well, to be technical it’s a pole barn frame that’s been converted with natural building materials, sand straw and clay. It’s a process called cob for the most part, the mighty Google can tell you more, or just look at the pictures. Within that small house, there was no heat so I built a stove, or a rocket stove with a pipe running through the bench to help heat the house. It worked, sorta, and it also blasted smoke into the house. So that’s been a project, junior move number 1: thinking you can make shelter in three months, now one year and three months later, still making shelter piece by piece. Top it off with suffering through winter with smokey stove, then tear down, blow to ego taken.
But all in all, rural life really is not about being inside, but much more outside. The shelter did enough for us to really spend our time following our passions outside. This year was a pretty epic one, there was nothing on the farm when we arrived and we’ve managed to do a lot. For example, we did a sheep project. Get lots of sheep to mow your overgrown land, get them pregnant, have babies, sell most of flock, keep some of the lambs to eat. Now all we have left is a couple lambs left to eat. Success, like first junior win!
But with sheep, they need protection, so last time I wrote you might recall I mentioned donkeys. Indeed, the donks are our great property protectors. Saying “yes” to donkeys has proved to be like saying yes to your first stage race or endurance MTB ride and having no idea what those words really mean. It’s been an up and down, and full of all the juicy bits of life. Confusion over feed, escaping donkeys, capturing donkeys, vet bill, braying, over eating, under eating, pooping, hoof cleaning, and more pooping. Then there is how much you eat when you weigh 600lbs. So it’s just like a stage race, and some how we picked ourselves up and plucked away at it day by day and now we are hooked. The donkeys were an experiment, but they are here to stay. Recently we’ve been haltering them up, leading them around and training them to become draft animals, both to pull a cart and to help make hay!
We’re certainly keen on animals and the trend continued on, but this time on a quest for the sacred substance of life, cheese! This year, we’ve gotten into goats as well. They are really neat creatures, albeit feisty and hard on fencing. We got into two fiber goats and expanded into a dairy goat to try our hand at making even more of our own food. That was another experiment, and as a similar pattern emerged filled with growing pains. Some low points being not having enough shelter for mom and kids, so having to work three straight days to get a shelter up with my non-master carpenter skills. It also included having momma get sick: again the confusion on feeding, and of course, running out of goat hay by the end of winter … awesome! But the farming bug still took and even through all the blunders, we still had milk, and cheese, and even some yogurt from time to time. Plus honey goat-milk ice cream is to die for, it would definitely be on my last meal menu.
I could probably just go on and on about little projects here on the land, but I’m thinking you’ll probably get bored and just click over to youtube so we’ll take a turn to the bike side of things. I’m sure it’s pretty clear that I like this farmin’ stuff, it’s like cyclocross for some of you. But for me, it was clear that I needed to do something to keep it balanced, keep my sanity, and honestly to make a little bit of money, because as romantic as living off the land may seem, it take money and many years of work before that can happen. Not being all that well-versed in any of the standard professions, my mind came back a wandering to the bicycle. I was lying in bed last winter pondering: how do you farm and race bike?
Then a few months pass, and I’m still not pro-actively finding the solution, plus spring happens and farm stuff is going full swing. Again, I find myself wondering, “how are we going to keep this farm going?” and also dreaming of mud in my ears for days. Now it is summer and I’m pretty clueless, there seems to be no great answer, two lifestyles seem far apart. Then, the biggest man of them all calls me, the great Steve Fisher. He’s just checking in and saying hello. We speak of ’cross and how it could be fun, and perhaps we should start a team to race locally. Alas, just like the garden, a seed is planted.
We both water the seed, care for it, maybe even gave it a bit of compost, and the scramble to keep it alive last minute through the drought, and then suddenly the seed is now fruiting, and BAM you have Hagens Berman p/b Raleigh Bicycles. Possibly the biggest team ever assembled for Pacific North West CX domination at a combined weight of 240lbs and a height of 10’ 10’”.
Steve Fisher and myself have made a pact to raise the level of ’cross in Washington. We are very lucky to have the support of some great people, who believe in the idea of growing the ’cross scene where their athletes live, and for helping people who have big dreams get along in the world. Lots of appreciation to Mr. Berman of Hagens Berman LLP and Sally (Brian Fornes), the man behind all things cyclocross at Raleigh. We’ve also got great support from sponsors in both our pasts from Feedback Sports Workstands, Fizik saddles, TRP Brakes, JL Velo Kits, and Wheels Manufacturing and Giro Gloves Helmets and Shoes. We are also pretty lucky to bring in someone new, the Pros Closet, and ebay store for buying and selling used gear. It’s cool to have someone who supports another idea of re-using things just like I do at the farm.
Overall putting this team together has been something I’m pretty proud of. I’m now really tied into a place and have no ambition to travel the country to race. There is awesome racing happening here in my back yard, so why not support it? We are very fortunate to have people who love the local scene too and having us be a part of it feels like an honor.
Let’s hope that my second year of farm life I manage to make it to the races with my shoes, the barn with my much boots, and to bed early enough with time to write. I look forward to a fall with less mistakes smoother dismounts, and healthy animals. See you at the races or on the Internet with tales I’m sure are to come.
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