Thursday, May 16, 2019

24 Hours Round The Clock

At noon on May 25th in Spokane, Washington, I will be riding my mountain bike for as long as I can alongside 850 people. These people will be riding a 13 mile looped dirt trail for 24 consecutive hours. 60 will be competing solo, and I will be one of them. Since January, I've been testing my mind and body to prepare for this. Though I think my life has been nudging me in this direction ever since I picked up bike riding. 

I first felt a strong pull to long distance cycling when I rode around the Washington Olympic Peninsula in 2013. Truthfully, it was awful in many ways. I was lonely, hungry, and green. But it also offered me so much escape from the pent up traumas of my cross-cultural and turbulent upbringing. I fell in love with the rhythm of climbing hills, the fatigue in my legs, the aching in my back, soreness in the arches of my feet... I fell in love with getting lost -- mentally and geographically.

And now, having turned 24 six months ago, nothing seems more appropriate than to challenge myself to this race. With a little over a week before this event, I'm fondly looking back on the moments that have made this endeavor possible. Enjoy this collection of formative experiences and [sometimes unrelated] pictures that made me feel strong, broke me down, or were just plain fun.

7.15.2018 Seattle to Portland with Major Taylor Project. Four high school students rode 210 miles in one day with me. Nearly 50 did that same distance in two days.
"For Sugar. For Freedom."

The first time I understood what freedom and strength meant, I was on my bike. 

My parents always suggested that six-year-old Jim should be spending all of his hard-earned cash wisely. Within that suggestion was also a refusal to drive me to the store to buy candy. Something I knew about myself then -- something I'll always know -- is that I if set a goal, or if I want something, I pursue it with unwavering tenacity. I just didn't know how to express it yet. Bike riding never awakened anything new in me. It allowed me a way to be authentic.

So I rode. And walked. And rode. Finally I was able to gawk at the rows of candy at the island market. 

I found the answer to all my problems when I was six. Self-empowerment only costs 99 cents and a two mile bike ride. And it tastes like chocolate wafers.

3.19.2017 Western Washington University Criterium. Who took the cookie from the cookie jar?
"Slow times on Madrona Drive"

My neighborhood is a series of poorly paved rolling hills, and I'm creeping up on five miles for the day. My legs ache and my shoulder hurts from my sling backpack. My momentum dies at the sudden rise in steepness, and I get off my bike. I try convince myself that it's okay to walk... But I've never walked this hill before. It's so short, and home is just around the corner. I knew I was better than this. I was 12 and clinging to my masculinity. A car full of teenagers rolls by. They point and laugh. I hang my head in anger. A small but powerful voice in my head sneers, "you're pathetic."


He advises me to shift down a few gears and spin my legs faster. "Just stay on my wheel," he assures me. I can't hold the pace and my eyes bore into the road with fury. A semi-truck buzzes by violently, spraying me with mist. The shoulder of Highway 97 is not very hospitable.

My body is soggy in places that are uncomfortable. My brother is in absurdly good shape. My dad is waiting at a turnoff insisting that we stay for pictures. I want nothing more than to continue on and ride in anger until I can't feel anymore. 

Gus cracks a dumb joke and convinces me to play along. He makes a good cheerleader. Alright then

4.2011 Cle Elum to Leavenworth, WA -- the longest and hardest ride I had done to date
We reach the top of the mountain pass and I am still burning with intensity to match my brother's strength. The descent starts and I am able to outrun him. 

After that day I knew that I was done sizing myself up to my brother. We were drawing on the same piece of paper -- not big enough for the both of us. It was time for me to create my own vision.

"12.12.2015 Pacific Coast Bike Tour - Manzanita, Oregon"

I’m eager to crest this hill. The rhythm of my pedal strokes is fueled by the vivid memory of the upcoming view. My friend would nudge me awake and I would step out of his car and gawk at the sight. The beach arches slowly and endlessly, each summer home becoming smaller and smaller. The powerful waves crashing on the rocky arches appear only as gentle ripples. I was distanced from the harshness of nature then. I used to look forward to this quiet overlook on the Oregon Coast. To live among all the small people and all of their small concerns. Now I don’t know what to expect.

The grade eases and I can finally breathe. The tree line thins and I feel exposed. In an instant, the sky opens up and releases its payload. The fog obscures the road ahead. The wind here is choppy, unpredictable. It blows strong, and the moment I think I’ve caught a break, a stronger, more vengeful gust mercilessly berates me. I fight with every ounce of strength to pedal on flat ground. My bags act as sails, pointing me downwind and slamming me into the guardrail, or worse -- completely turning me around. Go Home, the wind howls. No.

I look to the road and the wind ripping through sheets of rain. My hands fade from cherry to pale blue. My lips curl at the taste of the salt that has run down my cheeks. I reach the overlook, but what I see tells me what’s left of those summer vacations: nothing. I crack a smile. At this point, glory is only worth one of my wet socks wrung out onto the floor. At this point, the past is only worth a picture that disappears into the void of the internet. There are no welcome home parties or bottomless margaritas to look forward to -- just a plane ticket home to a stack of textbooks and a gray winter. That is when I know: I’m here for the grit. I’m here for me.

I calmly sigh, accepting my charge. Through the sun and spray, pavement and painted lines, I ride on.

12.12.2015 After 9 hours of riding against the rain and wind, the sky starts to clear up over Tillamook county roads

My race is late to line up. The event directors call for everyone to make a circle. Just hours before, I drove by the sickening scene of a collegiate rider having collided with a guard rail during a high speed descent. A man in a blue USA cycling jacket calmly addressed the crowd. I sense what he's about to say, and I bury my eyes in my arm. I weep for his death. I weep because he lost the only thing I could not stand to lose.

Later that night, I drift off to sleep thinking of how everyone else in the conference was coping differently. Whatever would come tomorrow, I only expected to try my best.


Despite winning a category C criterium the previous year, it meant very little to me. Category B just seemed like the next big thing. It wasn't as much goofing off and chatting as it was aggressive competition.

The hill makes my quads feel heavy during the warm up lap. Criteriums are known for being relatively flat... I know I'm about to climb this 24 times. I ditch my jacket and the rain begins to pour. Go time.

I chase down all the accelerations, hungry for a chance at first place. The wheel spray kicks up road grime between my face and glasses. It hurts to blink.

Andrew from University of Washington makes a solo break attempt with three laps to go -- a bold move. He either sticks it, or gets passed before crossing the line. Nobody chases, and a lap goes by. And a second. And a third.

I lose confidence on the last lap. The first person to sprint or chase usually has the wind and fatigue working against them. Have I put in the hours in the saddle? Have I done the proper workouts? The pack crests the final hill, and a choir of gear shifts commences. I make my move. The only things I see are Andrew... and the line.

3.27.2016 Victory at Seward Park Criterium.
From that day on, I promised to never take cycling, my life, or my able body for granted. And I'll never expect anything less than the best of what I am capable of.

"Masochism and Perserverence (Mostly Masochism)"

The darkness of winter and a bad breakup weighs down my morale. I feel like I've lost my motivation and passion for most things -- including the thing that gives me the most liberation. I'm merely performing to meet expectations. Wake up. Go to class. Ride home. Turn on Netflix. Ride inside for an hour and a half. Change shows. Ride more. Fall asleep studying.

Midway through the spring season, I've already recognized how meaningless bike riding has become. The team travels to Walla Walla. I've won there twice. I know that I'm not in winning condition, but deep down I am unable to admit that.

4.7.2019 View from inside of a construction flagger's vehicle, Dufur, Oregon. I withdrew from this race after not being able to see correctly or feel anything past my knees or elbows.
The winds in Walla Walla are unforgiving. The pace surges into a tailwind and the pack leaves me behind. That much was humiliating. I've been dropped before, but not like this. The staging area is only a few miles ahead. I consider withdrawing, which I've never done before.

The four laps to follow were just for self-punishment... and eventually accomplishment. Just 60 more miles. I feel lost and alone, drowning amongst the swells of farmland hills. I don't want rescue. I don't want to show my face at the finish line until I could perform at the level that I did only a year ago.

I recognize my friend Lillian riding towards me. She rides alongside me, clearly having an easier time than me. She takes a shortcut. I stay the course. She offers to let me draft off of her to block the wind and I refuse. "I need to finish by myself," I say.

Another friend cheers me on as I cross the line in last place. The weight of my expectations and the last several months makes my body cave. I collapse against a car and cry. Minutes go by, and I sit perched in the countryside, surrounded by people who I've raced with for four years. And I want nothing more than to be riding inside, only accompanied by apathy and self-doubt.


"What's your favorite candy bar?" He asks out of the blue. 

We pass a lot of time just by talking about food. I had just chugged an Orange Crush soda and eaten half of his PopTart. I stare methodically beyond expansive dry fields of Goldendale, Washington. Mount Hood and Rainier tower at the opposite ends of my periphery. It's been a long day of riding a desolate Highway 97. All I want is more sugar. I proceed to explain my favorite candy and we discuss the nuances of chocolate, nuts, and sweeteners. Our conversation is cut short by an exhilarating descent into the Columbia River Basin.

8.21.2017 Jonathan Lee climbs up to Stonehenge in Maryhill, WA to watch the solar eclipse
He smirks as he pulls out two Pay Days, perfectly intact despite the heat of the day. I shake my head with guilty pleasure, knowing he carried them for 75 miles.

Between bites of peanutty goodness, we marvel at the explosion of twinkles and dust in the night sky.

"Not too sweet for a candy bar... a very underrated thing."

"Dude, yeah!" His eyes widen. Jon energizes the conversation with the intonation of his voice. 

"It's like the type of candy old people would like!"

"Old people candy," I chuckle to myself, sharply exhaling through my nose.

"5.5.2019 Lafeen's Donut Run (Bellingham and back -- 230 miles)"

5:00 P.M. I gulp down water with a melatonin pill at work. It's concerning how neurotic my sleep schedule has become. I force my body to sleep so that I can leave early in the morning.

6:30 P.M. Sleep.

12:55 A.M. Alarm 1.

1:00 A.M. Alarm 2.

1:05 A.M. Alarm 3. "Okay, I'm up..." I can't decide whether or not to eat something. My stomach is still full from a late lunch.

2:00 A.M. For once, Seattle is calm... quiet. I pedal out from my driveway confidently. No bailouts. No whining

3:00 A.M. My workout playlist keeps me company in the dark. "Pas De Deux" starts playing. It's a song from a horror movie. Poorly timed, I think. Irrational fears flood my thoughts. Fluid shapes shift across the Burke Gilman Trail. I make out what I think is a traffic cone. I get closer, and see straps (it's a tote bag), and a woman holding it. She's perfectly still, facing diagonally towards me. My stomach seizes. Her eyes flash demonically greenish-white as my light shines on her. Still no movement. I stand up and pick up the pace, unable to process if I'm seeing things.

5:45 A.M. Doubt. Regret. Just a few more hours. Just fast forward to the middle of the day. You'll be hot. I ride with my hands shoved into my armpits, which does almost nothing to warm them. My digits have ceased to function, and I can't shift or brake properly, let alone open the packaging of ride snacks. Miraculously, I see the open sign in the window of an espresso stand. On a Sunday? This early in the morning? I hop the curb to the opposite side of the road, but don't see anyone inside. I peek around... Inside, a teenage woman hides in the back, staring at her phone. *knock knock*

I order a decaf. After all, it's to warm my hands; not to wake me up.

9:15 A.M. I climb up the short hill from the roundabout on Forest St. I've done it over a hundred times. My bike computer reads 115 miles. Halfway. I plop down in the Bellingham Food Co-op, thrown off by the time of day and frustrated that I don't have enough time to go to my favorite donut shop before meeting up with my former racing team.

8.18.2016 I rode around Mt. Rainier from Tacoma with my boss. 186 miles / 11,000 feet of climbing
12:00 P.M. The Western Washington University Cycling Team bids me farewell as I turn to go south.

4:30 P.M. I gradually overtake an older gentleman, who is clearly taking his time, whistling. I smile at him, not quite able to muster words. He smiles back, missing one of his front teeth.

The weight in my legs grows and I ease up. I hear a gear shift and a voice from behind me.

"Running out of steam there?" It's him -- just as cheery as when I saw him several minutes ago. He overtakes me.

"Ha, yeah," I exhale humility.

"Keep on chuggin' along, brother!" The gap between his wheel and mine steadily grows.

6:30 P.M. The roads become familiar and my mind is at ease. I gently urge the pedals over along Lake Washington Boulevard, just one "small" hill away from my house. 

7:00 P.M. I hang my head and arch my back. 17 hours. How about another 7? I kid. Sometimes I worry how far I'll push myself next time.


In my childhood, bike riding was escapism, respite, and my greatest method of empowerment. My last years of high school were spent modeling my life after my older brother, who went on to travel globally by bicycle. 2013 and 2014 were years of liminality. I discovered who I was and who I wanted to become. In 2015, I put my identity to the test when I rode down the U.S. Pacific Coast during intense winter storms. In 2016 I raced beyond the level that I expected, then succumbed to my new expectation of victory no matter the cost. I lost nearly every ounce of motivation to ride, to feel the wind in my face, to explore new roads and trails... I spent a year frustrated at my progress and did nothing but continue to do what I hated. In 2017, I quit racing and went on a life changing bike tour along the Cascade Mountain Range. In the process I started to value the work that I was putting in as a youth educator, bike shop employee, and recreational cyclist. In 2018 I re-discovered my self-worth, and approached racing again with a more realistic and healthy attitude. Now it's time to see how much that amounts to.

This race is for the times that I fell short of expectations. This one is for the people who told me I wasn't enough. This one is for the times I was doubted because of my age, my ethnicity, or my introversion, or my awkwardness. Whether it is 15 hours or 24 hours or the top step of the podium, I know I will have implemented every lesson; relived every emotion that I've experienced through a lifetime of bike riding. And that is enough.

Thank you for reading. And thank you to my supporters who have encouraged me, trained with me, fed me, funded this experience, and loved me.

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