GUEST BLOGGER Jeremy Raes, cyclist
I participated in my first gravel ride on the first Saturday of June 2023. I was talking with my friends Erin and Mike at RPI and they asked me to share my experiences. I'll try to keep this short, but if I don’t, just keep reading—I promise it’ll be worth it in the end. Or not. Only one way to find out!
First, my name is Jeremy. I live in southern Utah with my wonderful wife, Tammy. I'm also paralyzed from the waist down. I struggle everyday with the simple things. Getting in and out of the shower, putting on my socks and shoes, making breakfast, opening and closing doors, taking out the trash….I think you get the picture. Being disabled sucks.
It's a part of me now, so I don’t think about these things much anymore. But next time you're standing at the kitchen sink getting ready to rinse that vodka glass out think about those who can’t do that…who can’t stand at the sink or who struggle to reach the faucet. Then take a moment to be grateful for the beautiful gift that you have.
I also don’t have feeling in my glutes, my hamstrings, calves or ankles. My hip flexors are weak, so my toes turn out and my heels turn in like a drunk bow-legged cowboy (which is not as fun as it sounds).
I’d like to compare these things to my first gravel ride. I trained and trained, I rode my bike long distances, short distances, down hills, up hills, around corners. I sucked down gels so when I actually needed that caloric boost my gut didn’t reject them, I packed water, I packed electrolytes, I did everything I thought was right and that I read about.
But just like real life, when a curveball is thrown at you, you tend not to be nearly as prepared as you. think you are. For my Norwegian comrades from North Dakota and Minnesota, Uff-da is the only word that comes to mind. LOL. Uff-da squared in my case.
You see, for me to ride a bike I need something or someone to lean against because I need my feet on both pedals. Then I need a little boost to get started. I can’t just push off and go like a non-disabled cyclist would. Even if I could, I'd still struggle...because I can’t feel my feet. I need to see where they are to ensure my pedal and cleat on the bottom of my shoe are connected correctly.
If I get on terrain that's too rough and I'm going too fast, my left foot will bounce off the pedal and I won’t know it till I get kicked in the nuts by the horn of the bike seat (those I can still feel!)
I also don’t have feeling in my glutes, my hamstrings, calves or ankles. My hip flexors are weak, so my toes turn out and my heels turn in like a drunk bow-legged cowboy (which is not as fun as it sounds). I use flat pedals with clips but I only clip in my right foot so my heel doesn’t turn in and catch the bike chain or the crank arm while I keep my left foot unclipped to give me a sense of security. The thinking here is that at least I can try to catch myself before I tip over to the left! But this 'solution' has its consequences too. If I get on terrain that's too rough and I'm going too fast, my left foot will bounce off the pedal and I won’t know it till I get kicked in the nuts by the horn of the bike seat (those I can still feel!)
If I start to tip to the right I just close my eyes and put my shoulder into it…kind of like a football player knowing he is about to get hit.
Through life, we all learn different ways to adapt to the cards we’re dealt so we can be successful and feel accomplished. I learned in my first gravel race that preparation is super difficult. Did I prep enough, did I prep too much, did I check the air in my tires, did I oil the chain, did I go to the bathroom? These are things all of us encounter, disabled or not.
For me though, there's extra planning. When I get to the race or event I need to know a few things.
How am I going to get my bike off the rack? How am I going to get my hydration pack on without falling over? How am I going to get my sticks strapped to my back for when I need them to stand? Where am I going to park so I don’t get blocked in? Who's going to stare at me? Why did I forget to check the damn air pressure in my tires!? Ugh.
At my first event, I learned that having too much air in my tires bounces me around like a damn basketball…making it nearly impossible to keep momentum or to even keep pedaling. I learned that if you let some damn air out, it’ll smooth out the ride. Just like life, let out what’s causing you the grief and you’ll find you have better control.
The second thing I thought I was prepared for was hydration. I had ROCTANE electrolytes in my bottles (GU Energy and Yuri Hauswald, this plug is for you—picture my smiling face holding a big ole’ tub of Strawberry Hibiscus ROCTANE drink mix with a giant cheesy grin), water in my hydration pack, and extra electrolyte tabs in my pocket.
But I quickly realized that just having the crap with you doesn’t mean you’re prepared. You need to know when to use it, when to drink water, when to drink electrolytes, when to go hard, when to conserve. Again, just like life, you not only need to know what tools are required but you need to know how to use them.
These two lessons are just a couple examples. Now that I've told you some of the more personal details, you and I are friends now! There's more but I don’t want to waste your entire day reading my story….you’ll quickly get bored of me. We'll save more of this trailside chat for later so you’ll want to come back. Maybe we'll see each other at RPI?
I can’t wait until I get to do it again at Rebecca’s Private Idaho in September. I can’t wait for the challenge of climbing a mountainside up a dirt track or a gravel road on my bicycle to see how far I can get. This time I will learn from my previous experience and hopefully be more prepared. I'll be able to go further than I imagined. But if I don’t, that's ok. At least I'm learning. My road has been...interesting. I'm finally figuring out that the glass is always half full, it's never half empty.
If I need to stop half way through because I have nothing left, that doesn’t mean I only made it half way, it means I made it half way!
Always Be Good,