I started riding my bike around the neighborhood with my Dad when I was six or seven. I loved it.
We could travel around the block, to the park, ride to the top of the nearby parking garage and race all the way down. We’d ride at our cottage and go longer distances, to the nearby town, through the hills, to places I could never imagine reaching on foot. These journeys opened my eyes to the power of the bicycle. Once I discovered that, I never looked at one the same again.
We moved to a small town in Northern Michigan when I was nine. Our house was downtown in a neighborhood about a mile by a mile wide surrounded by bigger streets. My friends and I could go wherever we wanted in the neighborhood so long as we didn’t venture past the bigger roads.
We’d ride to the park and go off jumps, trying to catch air on our mountain bikes. We’d ride to 7-Eleven and get the biggest soda they had to see if we could finish it (it was a 72 ounce – 2.1 litre Super Big Gulp full of Sprite, and no, we couldn’t). The bicycle took me to my friends’ houses, to everywhere we wanted to go, it gave us a freedom we didn’t have before or wouldn’t have had without it. And it gave us the camaraderie of sharing in the journey together.
I started to grow up and the mountain bike took me to the trails. It took me into the woods, exploring in nature, to the tops of the nearby hills, adventuring through the forest. It took me out in the middle of nowhere, long distances to places that were unreachable without it.
I began to race and it introduced me to new friends, ones who shared the same passion as me. It took me to places around the region, all over the state, and later even the country, to race. It gave me freedom.
When I was 16, I switched to the road bike. It took me even greater distances, I was able to travel through all the surrounding counties in a single ride. It mesmerised me. I loved the social aspect, that you could converse with your friends as you went.
Group rides sometimes had nearly 100 other people to talk to or meet. The road bike took me further than I thought possible, to races and training camps across the country and eventually to Europe with the National Team, all while I was still just a kid.
The bike fed my taste for adventure and I couldn’t get enough.
Eventually, it brought me to Europe more permanently. When I was a kid, I grew up around water and I loved it. But I loved the mountains even more, for their beauty, for their majesty, for their skiing and cycling.
I dreamed of living in a place where the mountains met the sea – I always thought it would be California, but the bike brought me to the Cote d’Azur, where I currently reside. When I became a professional, I achieved a long time goal: I would get to do what I loved for a living. I would get to live this adventure and get paid to do it. It was exciting.
But then came the business side. The pressure to perform, the politics. The constant instability and unsureness of where your next race would be or sometimes your next team. Training, racing, dieting: up, down, repeat.
You go through some highs and many more lows, and keep going. Eventually it starts to wear. I found a rhythm and a way of working that worked: constant training camps, specific and extremely intense training, and a regimented diet.
I became more robotic than adventurous, declining ride invitations with friends in favour of my interval sessions, dinner invitations in favour of controlling my diet at home. I’d hit the same routes in favour of adventure, knowing I could measure my intervals more accurately and hit my numbers more easily on certain climbs or routes. I isolated myself. And I was living a cycling life in the total opposite style to the reasons I fell in love with the sport.
To be clear, I never fell out of love with riding my bike.
I still loved getting out every day, training was rewarding, and even if I was doing the same climbs, they were nice ones. I loved riding with my friends when I had the chance, our coffee rides to Starbucks in Monaco, our ventures into the hills.
I loved watching the races and following the results, and participating in many of them myself. I loved the camaraderie of being on a team with a bunch of good guys and some great staff. But I lost so much of my balance that when I did not perform the way I wanted, I had nothing else to divert my focus or take comfort in, and I isolated myself even more. It turns out, living a spartan existence isn’t actually the best way to perform all of the time, and it’s definitely not the best way to live.
The last few months, this all began to come to a head. I began to question where I was in cycling and life, what I was doing, and why. I wasn’t participating in the races that motivated me. I wasn’t even participating in many races at all. And I was struggling to find motivation for the few small ones that I had. I was searching for a change, but I didn’t tell many people: just my coach, my Mother, my team-mate Stefan [Denifl].
I didn’t know what I wanted or what to do, but I knew I needed a change. So it was somewhat serendipitous that a couple of weeks after I began to feel this way, we received the now infamous email that our team would be folding.
It was unexpected, it was devastating, but in a way, it catapulted me into making a change I may not have otherwise had the courage to act on. Immediately I began searching for a new home, but the greatest effect this whole fiasco had on me was even more unexpected than the entire fiasco itself.
A short two weeks later, I was the happiest I have been since becoming a professional cyclist.
Now, that seems like an incredibly strange thing to say from someone who lost their job and at the time didn’t have another, lost their security and a three year contract, and lost the best pay they had ever received.
But what came out of it, Conor and my NoGo Tour, was the best thing that happened to me in years. It rekindled my eagerness for adventure, it brought me back to the original reason I fell in love with the bike.
I was a kid again. Except this time not limited by the city streets of 14th, Front, Union, and Division. I wasn’t even limited by country borders. The only thing that could hold me back was the distance my body could physically take me and that was a lot further than I could go as a child.
I pedaled over the infamous Cols I watched on television growing up: over the Glandon and Alpe d’Huez, over Roselend, Saisies, Agnel, and Bonnette. I remember being a kid, hammering away on my trainer on many a frigid winter day, watching the Tour de France on VHS, dreaming of being in those same mountains.
I finally got there, just maybe not in the circumstances originally planned.
I pedalled and pedalled with my friend, sharing in the adventure, and we still got soda, just not from 7-Eleven or in the Super Big Gulp format. We were older, taller, our bikes were nicer, but other than that, it was pretty much the same.
When I was a kid, I used to come home after spending the entire day on my bike and tell my Mom of my adventures, my travels. I’d tell her how far we went, the things we saw, the people we met. I was excited and returned home full of energy, looking forward to the next day’s ride. After the NoGo Tour, I returned home and did no differently. I was ebullient, effusive. I was so excited to share our adventure with everyone and anyone who would listen.
It made me realise that this is the reason we ride our bikes. We ride it for the adventure, for the camaraderie, the friendship. We ride it for its ability to take us places, to break boundaries and cross borders. We ride it for the exhilaration it provides us, the sense of accomplishment, how far we travelled, how long we rode or fast we went. It’s a feeling you can’t get by car or by foot, only by the most efficient human powered machine available. The bicycle.
As many of you may now know, the bicycle is taking me on a new adventure next season: with AG2R-La Mondiale. It’s one of the teams I grew up watching on those Tour de France recordings, in awe of as a little kid hammering away on my trainer.
It’s one with so much history, and a history I get to add to, being the first American to join the ranks in its 26 years of existence. It’s motivating and inspiring, having the opportunity to continue on this journey of development as a bike rider and human being.
It’s the fresh start I was looking for but too afraid to chase myself. And it’s the opportunity to inspire another little kid hammering away on the pedals somewhere in his neighborhood, on his trainer, hoping to one day be like me.
I’m happy, I’m thankful, extremely grateful. And none of this would have been possible without the support from everyone around the world following along on our journey.
I wouldn’t be in the same place without the NoGo Tour, our decision on a whim that led to the most amazing week of my life. So thank you Mom and Dad for letting me chase my dream as a child. Thank you Conor for sharing the coolest adventure I have ever taken part in.
Thank you Rouleur for letting me write down my thoughts every day, for posting my often longwinded, somewhat blabbering, wandering journals.
And most of all, thank you to everyone out there reading them. To the fellow bike riders, fans, and friends who followed along, inspired, messaged, and supported us the whole way, I think I speak for Conor and I when I say we are truly grateful. What a whirlwind it’s been.
The NoGo Tour has been a resounding success. Here’s to the next one. 😉
Larry and Conor’s Great Adventure blogs