Pro racer Adam McGrath has gone from international racer to local farmer in the past year, though he hasn’t hung up his bikes just yet. He’ll be chronicling his new set of experiences in his new column for Cyclocross Magazine, “For Mud, Beer, Bikes and Barns.” We wanted to start off with a Q&A so readers could get a better idea of where Adam’s been and where he is now. For a similar perspective on achieving balance in life, read CXM’s exclusive interview with Dan Timmerman from last year.
Cyclocross Magazine: I know you’ve been lining in the Northwest for a while. Are you from here originally?
Adam McGrath: I’m not a Pac-N-Dub local through and through. I’m a Colorado boy and come from the “People’s Republic of Boulder,” but I’ve found where I want to spend my days, well, in America at least. I’ve got no plans to leave this wonderful, wet, green playland called Cascadia.
CXM: How’d you get into wrenching? And when along your path did you realize that you’re pretty darned fast at racing yourself?
AM: How does a boy who’s favorite toy growing up is Legos not turn into a wrench once he becomes a bike nerd? I just like tinkering, then I realized you could get paid to tinker, then that you could get paid to travel and tinker, so I got on board with that program. But I guess I always liked to play too, so naturally, I rode the bike as much as possible. I was consistently a fast Junior, and I’ve gotten a bit quicker ever since. They just developed side-by-side, really.
CXM: Why the decision to keep your racing more local this year? Are you only racing cyclocross these days, or doing some MTB or other events too?
AM: Really it all boils down to choice, opportunity and satisfaction. To be honest, this last year, including the past ’cross season, has been by far the most interesting for me. It’s been incredibly busy and also mentally taxing. After putting so much effort into ’cross last year and not exactly seeing what I wanted out of it, I really questioned what I was up to. In lots of ways I realized I was racing ’cross because it’s just what I did, what I knew how to do, I guess. The contradiction of driving a car, to get on a plane, to unbox a bike, to go to a hotel that’s exactly the same as one 2,000 miles away and to ride in circles in a park had started to seem odd. There was just something about it that was so different than the freedom of just riding a bike that I originally fell in love with. The feeling that this was so out of touch with what I really loved has started to get to me.
On top of this feeling, some other very interesting ideas and opportunities have crept into my life. After having finally made the choice to settle into a house and pay rent, I came to love the sense of having a home that I’ve never had in the past. Growing my own food, having a dresser and being outside in my favorite climate really shook my perspective on travel. These things really allowed me to understand my sense of place and the much slower rythms of the natural world around me. You can’t rush food or how the season change, yet somehow, I was always rushing. The idea of slowing down and simplifying began to torment me. Bike racing as I knew it seemed so contradictory to my new ideas, yet I still loved riding and the thrill of competition. Plus, bike racing was my previous “comfort zone,” it was what I was good at and what I had the skills to do, so going back and forth really led me to a point of paralysis. Action in either direction was going to change my future.
Then the biggest opportunity I’ve ever had presented itself. My partner Rebecca and I started talking about our future and what might make us happy in the long run. Growing food and building my own house were the things I settled on. We crunched the numbers and started to look for property. As soon as we started, I knew it was the thing I needed to do, so without a place for our future, I dedicated all my energy to trying to find a place. Instead of planning what to do with bike racing, I went deep into planning and sorting what a homestead might need and look like. But our search was a bit disappointing; we found some good spots but were always a bit shy on money. But we found help and partners that fell in line with our values of a simple homestead focused on growing food and building our own homes, and all of a sudden we had two partners and 95 percent of the money we needed to get the place we really wanted. In the end, we all put in an effort this spring to work to save up the money to pay off the best place we found. Now, more broke than I’ve ever been, I find myself in a position of so much opportunity: debt-free with land to grow and build on. I’ve finally found a direction that makes sense.
This leaves me in an interesting position and one that has more or less sorted out my dilemma of slowing down and simplifying. With very little capital and so much fulfilling work to do on the homestead, I now know what direction my focus has to be. I want to be a farmer and a builder, but with bike racer roots and a cycling advocate. I’m going to focus on my life and growth at home, but still ride my bike and invigorate the spirit of competition. I’m not trying to be the “working class pro,” but rather the living embodiment of a happy cyclist who can go fast and inspire others to push themselves to achieve their goals. I’m going to ride simply to ride, be fast because I like it, and to race when it makes sense, not be a slave to results.
So I’m doing it based out of passion these days. I love riding off-road, so some MTB racing could happen in the future, but for now there is simply a ’cross season to look at.
CXM: You’ve gone from traveling the world to race, including a trip to Japan with Barry Wicks to shoot Brian Vernror’s Cyclocross Meeting film, to staying relatively close to home. Did you find it hard to be a traveling bike racer and have what you see as a well-balanced life?
AM: No, not really. At the height of my time traveling and racing, I felt very fortunate and pretty balanced, but again that’s because it was the choice I was making with the opportunity at hand, and during that time it was providing me with lots of satisfaction. I learned so much, saw so many interesting things and met some incredible people. I wouldn’t trade it for anything; it’s a huge part of where I am at today.
CXM: Are you going it alone this year, or do you have sponsors on board for your retooled, localized cyclocross life?
AM: Incredibly enough, I still have the same fantastic support as last year, and from many seasons before that too. I’ve been working with some of the same companies and people for a long time, I explained to all of them where I’m coming from, and I was met with resounding support. This year I will continue to race under the “Feedback Sports/Van Dessel” banner with lots of help from Port Townsend Cyclery, Fizik, Reynolds, Verge, FSA, Giro and TRP.
CXM: I really want to hear about this farm you’ve bought! Where is it? Are you growing food to eat, trying to make enough to sell? Planning to put in a little ’cross course, or any kind of dirt trails?
AM: Well, it’s hard to call it a farm. We’ve only been here just under two months, and lots of that time has been reclaiming, so a “farm” is a stretch. To be exact, it’s a five acre parcel, half-wooded, with a big two acre clearing at the north end, which also has the house and shop on it, about five miles outside of Port Townsend, Washington. We’ve put in a decent winter garden with lots of little things poking up now. There are also 16 chickens, two goats, four sheep and two donkeys that we’ve aquired since we moved here. Just yesterday, I finally finished converting the old carport into a barn. Plus, I finally just got all the electric fencing dialed, so there are four mini-paddocks for all the creatures. So far, it’s just about feeding ourselves this winter, but we want to bring a donkey-pulled cart to market next summer, but that one is still in the works.
A bit too much reclaiming work at the moment, but post-cyclocross season, there will be a pumptrack in the woods.
CXM: I know you’re still pretty young, but do you have a sense of what you want your life to look like over the next five, ten or even 20 years? Do you think bikes, and maybe even racing, will continue to play a role over that time span?
AM: I’m still a ripe young pup at 23. A good thing that I heard is that it’s good to have plans, just don’t plan on keeping them. I’ve got no idea what will come next. I’m just going to keep looking at finding some balance and satisfaction. Bikes have played a huge role in that, so I don’t see that stopping, but in what form is not worth fussing about right now. Donkeys live to around 40 years old, and ours are seven, so I’ll probably still be hanging out with them in 20 years.
CXM: I saw you up in Seattle at StarCrossed. Will you be doing some other big races like that in the Northwest? What other races are on your radar?
AM: I’m not focused on any particular bike races, just the good ones that fit in with life. I’ll be at a Crusade or two, some Seattle Cyclocross races and MFG races, and maybe a trip up to Bellingham for Cascade Cross and to hang out with Steve Fisher. Then I’m sure I’ll make the pilgrimage down to Bend for USGP Finals, I’ve got to see the circus again.
McGrath will be chronicling his experiences in the new “For Mud, Beer, Bikes and Barns” column. Questions can be sent to [email protected]