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Groad Trip: Lost and Found

This discipline isn't what it used to be, nor what I expected it to be. I got lost, but now I am found.

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There’s a saying that the body follows the mind, or something like that.

In 2022 that was indeed the case for me. It’s eerie how the arc of my season closely mirrors the trials and tribulations at home and my journey to fatherhood.

A new season brings new hopes

I knew it would be hard to replicate 2021, which was one of the most successful seasons of my life, but as we entered 2022 my wife and I finally got some good news: after years of trying and even some medical intervention, she was pregnant!

We were over the moon and my attitude shifted accordingly: I optimistically created a race with myself all spring. I dearly wanted early success so that when my twins arrived I could happily settle into pure parental focus knowing that 2022 was already a success.

I came out strong, quickly scooping up the wild and rowdy Rock Cobbler, plus three stages and the overall in perhaps the most demanding effort I’d ever done in the form of the Transcordilleras stage race in Colombia.

No hay problema! (Photo: Transcordilleras)

Things began to turn by the spring and my wife’s second trimester, however. Ultrasounds showed something was off with Twin B, our baby boy. Sometimes he was OK, other times they thought he had stopped growing. Once confirmed he was likely to survive, they could see some abnormalities on the screen. Dyanna’s check-ins became weekly instead of monthly, and we got transferred to specialty doctors in San Francisco.

This began to take a toll on precise training, and my plans for early success started to slip away. I kept on the gas for The Mid South without properly absorbing the biggest week I’d ever done in Colombia. That was followed by a broken wrist in Sea Otter. I pushed through that due to pressure in salvaging points in the Life Time Grand Prix, knowing my autumn would be complicated with newborns. I raced Belgian Waffle Ride San Diego while still broken because it’s a race I utterly love, and I wanted to keep in the fight for the Quadrupel Crown.

Looking back, the stubbornness in my racing was an attempt at control — as if through sheer will I could force life on all fronts to get back to how I’d envisioned it in January.

The early summer stabilized as we better understood our son’s situation — he’d be OK despite a planned operation.

I brightened and started to find flow only to catch Covid midsummer between some big races. My case was luckily mild but still knocked a bit off my top end. Weeks after gaining a grip on my health, the birth happened unexpectedly early, and my son’s situation was more dire than doctors had expected; he’d need a lot of procedures before discharge. What we thought was a three week hospital stay and relocation to San Francisco would turn into almost five months.

Riding became my mental escape. I mashed the pedals in frustration, anger, and fear. My rides lost focus and were dictated by what I could fit in before doctor’s rounds. My hours on the bike were effectively halved, and I recovered standing at my son’s bedside.

The LeadBoat Challenge was my first event back after the birth of my twins

At home, the ground was constantly shifting under my feet. My son Emery was enduring procedure after procedure in his own horrible stage race. I was treading water physically and emotionally; attending a race was to be the constant I knew, the escape.

So when the racing tactics at SBT GRVL were different from what I was used to in gravel, it did not provide the comfort I was seeking, and I lost my temper.

Additionally, as the season progressed, the romantic privateer’s journey of extended van trips and bike adventures I previously enjoyed had to be adjusted.

I found myself driving 12 hours straight and only showing up last minute to events, then turning right around and red-eyeing it home, with no time for soul-fulfilling exploratory gravel adventures enroute.

Somehow, I managed to take both BWR Utah and the Quadrupel Crown title late in the year. I’d say it was more from sheer grit than preparation.

Howard Grotts and I in the front, at the end of the season – Big Sugar Gravel (Photo: Wil Matthews)

I honored my commitments through the end of the season, but eventually by Big Sugar my lack of focused training caught up with me and I was just not able to hang with the best in the final races of the season. Can’t say I was surprised given how long I’d been unable to prepare properly.

While my nine race wins in 2022 didn’t stack up to my 2021 season, there were a number of professional successes I was very proud of this year.

After the pandemic and fires, the Stetina’s Paydirt finally happened and was as good as I’d imagined. I completed a slew of fun media projects, sponsored a youth MTB team, and got to travel the country (and Colombia!) with one of my best friends, mechanic Big Tall Wayne.

And my biggest success was that despite the hospital stress I was finally a Daddy to two true bundles of joy whose single smile or coo made any problem insignificant.

Simply put, 2022 was extremely difficult on all fronts. Gravel’s not what it used to be, and my parenthood experience so far isn’t what I expected, either. With those lessons absorbed, I’m damn excited for 2023.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: a happy racer is a fast racer

So, next season will have a continuing theme of balance. I still want to perform in the biggest races against the best riders, but I also want to explore new adventures.

Emery and Layla Stetina (Photo: Courtesy Pete Stetina)

I’m searching high and low, diving into blogs, and Instagram stalking, to find some races that don’t get the limelight but are a promise of a great day on the bike with good people, races where results are still secondary. I also want to return to some FKT hunting — that was a fun Covid project that I’d like to continue.

With balance I can arrive at the biggest races with my proverbial cup already full, and I can flip that competitive switch fully open to the “take no prisoners” mentality that pro gravel racing now requires. I realize that in order to get the most out of myself in the biggest races I need to do things my way, enjoy gravel on my terms elsewhere, and remember why I came to this space in the first place.

And I also have to balance home time with my family. That theme of balance will underlie everything I create in 2023.

I got lost, but now I am found. Let’s go.