Full Circle: A True Story of Love, Risk, and Bicycles.
On Valentine’s Day 2009, I slipped on my media credential and went out to the start line for the prologue of the Amgen Tour of California in Sacramento. It was my first bike race, ever. I had no idea what I was doing and I had no idea what wheels I had set in motion. My life was altered from that instant on… and, thank god, I didn’t know it was happening.
So, let’s back up. For those of you that have been around cycling all your life, going to work at a major domestic stage race might seem like a fun and exciting opportunity – which it was – but not much more. For me, it was quite literally a dynamic shift in my reality. I wasn’t part of any facet of demographic that belonged there. I wasn’t a fan of cycling, I didn’t even comprehend the machinations of how a stage race works. I wasn’t a sports photographer, nor did I aspire to become one. I wasn’t in cycling journalism or PR or marketing. I didn’t work for Versus or Universal Sports or ESPN. I wasn’t in the endurance sport industry at all; in fact, I wasn’t even sporty. Instead I was a rather strong-willed, heady, creative type from Brooklyn, NY, who had spent nearly two decades working around food. I had worked as a chef, as a pastry cook, as a private chef, a bartender, a caterer, a culinary educator, as a food writer, recipe tester and developer, as a food stylist, and most recently as a television producer for – you guessed it – food TV. I was a foodie. But I was bored.
During the tough economic winter of 2008-2009, while I watched lots of freelance jobs disappear and I struggled for work, I was given an opportunity to join a team as a field producer on a documentary film about a cycling team founded by athletes with Type 1 diabetes. I didn’t know the first thing about diabetes nor about bike racing but I knew three vital things about myself: I am a quick study, I crave challenges, and I desperately wanted to try my hand at something completely different. And producing a film around bike racing was as different as I could expect.
Armed with a good dose of moxie and a willingness to be totally in the moment, I dived into a community that revealed itself as both foreign and familiar, intimidating and comforting. I didn’t plan on staying. It was all intended to be just a transition in my life, a period of exploration, and because of that I was completely without guile. Perhaps I seemed naïve because I introduced myself to everyone, regardless of stature or hierarchy, and found intrigue in nearly every interaction.
I navigated the professional divisions between industry ranks, shamelessly, and I allowed myself to be humble and tirelessly curious. I admitted I knew nothing and asked endless questions. I constantly asked for help and I took it when it was offered. I had no title to defend, at least not there. Somehow I left all that back “in the kitchen.” I felt a freedom to absorb the whole atmosphere: What’s the GC? How does a time trial work? What’s the deal with clipless pedals? What is a chamois? How is a sports director different from a coach? Why can’t we shoot from there? How can they dictate what we capture? Who are you?
I met so many amazing people who had dedicated themselves to the industry of sport and cycling in much the same way I had with food – living and breathing it since they were adolescents. They watched cycling films the way I had watched Julia Child. The spent holidays in iconic cycling destinations like Alpe d’Huez and Flanders while I planned trips to culinary Meccas in Barcelona and Rome. I developed friendships with passionate, articulate, well-travelled, and educated individuals that dissolved my ridiculous preconceptions of cyclists as jocks.
There were also two features of this community that equally surprised and delighted me and made me feel completely at home. They loved to eat and eat well; and they didn’t really belong anywhere else. Like all the colleagues I had ever had in the restaurant business and in television production, people in the cycling industry just couldn’t work in traditional jobs. They were misfits, foodie misfits. Just like me.
So back on the start line with all the organized chaos of a bike race, I met someone named Jim Fryer. And then every day for 9 days we met again. The beauty of working bike races is that, for better or worse, you see the same people every day, many times a day. And friendships or rivalries develop at lightning speed… like being at summer camp. I don’t really recall what we talked about, or how much we talked each day, but at the closing night of Tour of California we knew we were going to know each other for a very long time. In hindsight, it didn’t even make sense. I was only on a short-term project with that film and then it was back to life as usual. But life never got usual again.
The very first project we created together, under our new media production company, brought us to the middle of the Arenberg forest on Easter Sunday that same year. Paris – Roubaix would be my second bike race, ever. And I fell in love. Everything I had ever done and ever accomplished or failed at before then had brought me to this new life. I still didn’t know what was in store but it was worth it not knowing.