“I almost felt compelled to tell the young lad, ‘don’t buy the van.’”

{This column was written in a sprinter van, parked in an obscure location by a flowing river, mountains in the background, after a long bike ride … just like the author had always imagined}

Enoch the van….in all its glory….
waiting out a rainstorm on Cottonwood Pass…
Ajee realizing she needs to share her bed now.

I’ve wondered, though not as often as I used to — mainly because I have children and wife (and, if you’re ok with it, I’m going to try and make this first sentence as long as possible, no matter the repercussions; I don’t need you to read this and it’s probably best if most people don’t, so what difference does it make now — maybe in another life I would have, or should have cared more about my syntax and sentence structure, but here we are … and as Garrison Keillor would say, “We are who we are.”) — if one facet of eternity will involve us getting to “try out” different life paths.

You know.


How would your life have played out if you had never met your spouse, never lost that third-grade mile, or decided against your parents’ command to NOT steal that candy from Target and then, followed through on your post-spanking threats and actually run away? For me specifically, a few not-taken roads intrigue me, but entertaining them becomes more and more futile the older I get. For obvious reasons. Again, I have a wife, two kids, and a dog who can’t decide if she’s a snuggle bug, a real life coyote, or a vicious, untrained drug-sniffing police K9. It’s a lot to handle and daydreaming takes energy.

Could I have challenged Klaebo had I started skiing and satisfied my obsessive-compulsive urge to endlessly train a randomly favorable upper-body strength-to-weight ratio when I was four instead of discovering these things at 24?

What if I hadn’t sacrificed my fullest collegiate athletic career by studying music, but decided to walk on and play basketball at some small college?

I’ve also always wondered what it would be like to just own nothing. Like, basically live off whatever the local breadmaker chucks in the dumpster every night and every once in awhile, maybe ‘take’ a sweatshirt left on the bleachers of a high school football game, if you need it. By the way, I’ve told my wife that last one before, I think…but definitely not while we were dating. Alas, I now suppress such dark, depraved thoughts, lest I lead my family astray.

So goes the van life dream.

There are two moments I recall where I knew the dream was dead. Both were hot steamy nights. Calm down.

Before the vulgarity of this post turns you away, I’ll throw water on your provocative hallucinations by sparing you the details regarding the first, and shortening the narrative of the second: Basically, Christie, Novi, Ajee and myself were stranded in some random guy’s field in a broken down van in the middle of Montana. It was hot, there was screaming and weeping and gnashing of teeth. Ajee was panting. Even our newly-minted lofted bed was way too small for that restless July night. It was awful.  

It was also pretty much completely my fault. En route to Bozeman to gather data for my Nordic-ski thesis, I’d driven too far into the night and wasn’t able to react fast enough to the hoard of deer flanking the road at 11:30 p.m.

The romantic grandeur of crisscrossing new lands, living out of this cozy space for a week or more at a time, making coffee in old-school tin French presses as the sun rises over the ridge or lake or maybe even ocean, pulling up alongside the gravel bike crowd and their sprinterscapes, and doing training camps wherever I pleased …. None of that was meant to be. Maybe it doesn’t actually exist at all – or maybe it’s just one of those lives I’ll have to try out when I die.

Boy, that makes sense.

Recently, we put Enoch — who has been as loyal as I could have asked — up for sale. The other day, a shy, tall, 21-year-old shaggy hair, smooth-faced boy came up from the front range to look at my van and another as well. As I showed him all the ins and outs, the good and the bad, and let him drive the dream around town, I could see, despite his quiet demeanor, a look of unabashed optimism hidden in his eyes and smile. This guy was looking for the same thing we were when we bought the van.

Adventure, sure, but more than that, I think. He yearned to embrace the paradox of being somehow unique by linking himself to the fast-growing van-dwelling fad. His soul overflowed with inexplicable joy contemplating the very real juxtaposition of practicality and simplicity with the stress of maintaining a highly-complex and intelligent van, capable of crushing any sandal-wearing, mustache donning, Patagonia and Yeti-brand-ambassador-wannabee fool with a single mechanics’ diagnoses.

I scanned his eyes as he prepared to leave and mull his options.

Before he departed, he turned and looked at me.

“Hey man — sweet F%&^% van,” he said with a boldness I didn’t really expect and a sincerity I honestly never felt throughout my entire dealings with anyone — mechanic, roadside AAA guy, salesman, Sprinter-Source messageboard poster, you name it — van-related. I felt vindicated…for something… I’m not sure what. Maybe vindicated in my own original choice to research, save up, contemplate, and finally jump in with both feet on this van in the first place.

I also was suddenly, and truly unexpectedly, concerned.

I almost felt compelled to tell the young lad: “don’t buy the van.”

I’m glad I didn’t.

In one sense, I do regret buying it myself. In another, I very much do not. If you think hard enough, you could probably deduce life to those two sentences. Admittedly, I haven’t used it nearly as much as I’d hoped, but every moment was totally worth any mechanical, emotional, physical or financial headache.

I actually did live out of it 50 days/nights during its first year when it was all said and done. That’s kind of an insane total, but it’s what happens when you work over a mountain pass and participate in ski and bike races, I guess.

I became intimately familiar with the Broomfield City Market, where I stayed on the rarely required in-person meetings for my 2020-2021 Meridian Elementary School 5th grade remote job  — a chapter of my life that really deserves its own 139th Psalm. One time I did back-to-back six-hour road bike rides from the grocery store parking lot, never exiting a 15-mile radius for fear of a flat, before returning to raid the discount area. It is still the finest I’ve ever seen in a City Market (this shopping advice and advertising is totally free by the way). Those nights ended reading books or falling asleep listening to podcasts, something I can’t really do unless I’m by myself. Sometimes I’d just sit and listen to the world stay awake while I laid there and thought deep thoughts.

When I couldn’t make it all the way home, the Walmart at the top of the initial I-70 hill at Exit 253 was a lifesaver. I realized it is a hotspot for other vans and RVs, probably because of the pine trees and campgroundy (is that a word? It should be….) feel and not the 99-cent loaves of fresh, whole-wheat bread I discovered and poached by the half-dozen. Every time I drive by, I’ll remember nights spent there, even the hot one before riding the final Elephant Rock century ride, which I was lucky enough to, and I need to pinch myself here, cover as a writer — and get paid to do so.

In all my life-plan scheming, I can assure you even I never concocted that.  

Perhaps most legendary were the trips to Crested Butte for the sacred Alley Loop. The morning of the COVID-year individual starts (a hated-by-most feature I relished) —  when it fired up at -12-degrees and got me to the coffee shop (the gas station sticker is memorialized on the driver’s side door) at 6 a.m. so I could sip and read my pre-race text: Deuteronomy 8.

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”

…….You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

….If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. 20 Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God.”

The Bible

“Alright everyone, ‘Covenant’ on three, 1-2-3 COVENANT! Now let’s go kick some David Norris-MasterBlaster butt!

Mission accomplished: the Alley Loop three-peat…my first win with a kid!
Ajee, “the SederSkier Logo” gets waits as his owner gets prepped for the 2022 Equinox

After gunning the 42k classic as fast as I could, I rested for an hour in the van before returning for the 21k skate. After loading up on those bread loaves and sleeping in the van, I came back the next day and did the 10k and 5k back-to-back in what will probably be the only “Alley Loop Challenge” ever organized.

Perfecting the most important van-life skill: the cold shower.
The view from the top of Cottonwood Pass, where we camped before I rollerskied the whole thing.
When it was just us….

Then there was the time Enoch got Christie and I through the worst weather event either one of us have ever witnessed. We were driving back from the front range (this column makes it sound like I go there a lot, but I really don’t!! Velo Swap and Olive Garden once a year, basically….) in 55-degree perfect fall weather, when a cloud straight out of Lord of the Rings descended over the mountains. A snow squall.

By the time we reached Idaho Springs, it was dumping and the temperature was down to five degrees. We nervously started up towards the Eisenhower Tunnel. Halfway up, the temperature was below zero — and so was the visibility. Chugging along at stop-and-go speeds in single-file traffic, we cautiously ducked behind a rugged, lifted Jeep Rubicon (the entire time, I thought, “This guy is the only dude who is just totally jacked for these conditions!”) as — and I’m not making this up — cars peeled off left and right like Ironman amateurs suffering through their worst finish-line nightmares. They would — and again, I’m not embellishing here — spend the night on the interstate.

Enoch and his snow tires never slipped and somehow, we made it over and down to Frisco, where 50 mph winds forced us to call it a night in the parking lot of the Kum and Go.

There are so many more stories.

Driving to Aspen with my brother Tom on New Years Eve (and making it back in THAT storm….), staying up until 3 a.m. talking before a heavenly powder day, then showing him the van-life ropes by microwaving leftovers in the gas station and stocking up on Propel and fizzy water, and an afternoon mocha for the ride home.

The 2021 Independence Pass hill climb. I came with a pair of skis with grip wax and one without. Christie said five minutes before the race, “Be a man and DP it,” (literal direct quote). I won the race by almost five minutes and never questioned a course’s DP-ability again….

Another Aspen adventure: staying overnight with Christie before the 2021 Independence Pass Climb. That’s her pre-race advice taught me to not doubt myself.

Plus, all the drives home to Minnesota, my three day “work” trips spent at the Edwards rest stop — before I was a sports writer, I literally lived in a van down by the river — our nights at the top of Monarch Pass and Cottonwood Pass (my two favorite bedside views), and snuggling with Ajee on cold, late winter nights at the Vail Daily, right after whipping up a high school gamer.

When I went to Park City in the fall of 2021, I combined every childhood dream into one week: I was living out of a van, training alongside BSF and the U.S. Ski Team, and writing blog posts on sports psychology and a piece for the Vail Daily all at the same time!

Enoch’s lasting legacy: always trying to figure something out….

All in all, how could I tell this guy to not buy the van?

sometimes, guys need to get under a van to really open up about stuff…

Maybe creating his own build is exactly what he needs to learn about using power tools. Maybe Mercedes can force him to take ownership of his mechanical education, or, at the very least, feel the hard gut-punches financially forceful fixes can throw at you. Maybe driving across the country will allow him to see just how big and small the world and himself, really is. Maybe he’ll realize the single-man van life isn’t what it’s all cracked up to be, too.

A mountain view drive fixture…”we live by the Baptist church…the one with the big, white sprinter van….”
Getting ready for a trip to the greatest event in human history: VeloSwap.
I’m sorry, Dad….haha
Getting ready to read after a 3hour DP at Grand Mesa

If nothing else, maybe he’ll look back, 20 years from wherever he is and know, nothing in life is really ever permanent — except marriage. You can always sell the van, leave the job, sign up for next year’s Birkie, or move back to the Midwest.

At the same time, nothing in life is reversible. Every decision we make happens in real time, and we can’t go back. Life keeps moving forward. We live with the consequences of our choices. Real people get hurt, real money gets spent, real days go by.

I guess, then, if I can take anything from all this, it’s this: It’s worth rolling the dice every now and then, taking chances in pursuit of a life lived to the fullest.

I think a lot of people go the van route for a convenient weed-smoking abode, or to hide from reality or to runaway from growing up. For me, it was the exact opposite. Enoch was an inconvenient place to sleep with a crying toddler, reality’s ultimate slap in the face, and my literal transport from the “carefree” chapter to the kid one.

Ajee: “This is my life now.”

Maybe I won’t ever be afforded the opportunity to “live all those other lives” and see what could have been.

But, maybe I don’t really need to after all.

To whatever lies ahead…

Skieologians: being a mom means doing the things no one wants to do, but have to anyway

Happy Mother’s Day

Motherhood embodies many salient sports themes. For example, one cornerstone characteristic of moms — in addition to bringing a life into the world, which we’ll get to — is doing stuff which has to get done even when no one wants to do them. No story better exemplifies this than my mom’s tale of her second pregnancy, my middle school track meet and a driveway conversation with Grandma.

Since this is technically a sports column, let’s start with the running in circles part. Fresh off winning the 800-meters and high jump at a meaningless mid-week spring meet in Fargo, North Dakota, seventh-grade me left for my evening band concert across town. I rushed back to the meet after the final fermata — in concert dress — grabbing a slice of pizza on the way. Exhausted, I left my track bag in the car, thinking in all likelihood the meet was probably over. Even if it wasn’t, I surely couldn’t be expected to race again.

I definitely didn’t want to.

Slumping into the bleachers, my gut tingled as I nervously observed 4×400-relay teams assembling. My fear fully materialized when Mom, who was also my coach, rushed to me and said, “Ryan, you need to run on this team — their anchor leg left.”

Looking back, it’s not an unreasonable request. Still, here was my logic: I returned to a meet after winning two events and playing an entire band concert out of the goodness of my heart, and you want me to fill in for somebody who signed up for this event but then abandoned the team because things were just inconveniently long?! …And I’m the bad teammate if I don’t run?! How is that fair?

I put my foot down.

I didn’t run. My mom was not thrilled. Now, some backstory.

Thirteen years prior, she was on the way to the hospital to give birth to her second child. This is the kind of woman who ran a sub-3-hour marathon with my older brother in the womb and stair-stepped at the gym right up until the due date this time around. Feeling, and this is a direct quote from her — “HUGE” — she once infamously got stuck upside down during her third trimester … doing sit-ups. This is not my primary example of “you should do stuff even when you don’t want to,” but if it increases an athlete’s post-workout core routine discipline, I guess I’ll take the win.

On April 5, 1991, my mom successfully pushed out my brother, Dan. Ten minutes later, the doctor softly said, and I’m not making this up:

“There’s another one in there.”

Amazingly, my dad didn’t faint under the weight of a camcorder larger than modern-day SUVs, even after my mom responded — and this is another direct quote — “Dave… do something!”

Now, like my track meet predicament, my mom faced a physically demanding proposition, one she was not particularly thrilled about going through with. Though my college roommate might rush to my defense arguing the 400-meters is actually the harder ask, the fact remains that, unlike me, she gutted it out.

She’s a mom, and that’s what moms do. Her surprise-child was, of course, me.

We argued the whole way home from the meet, pulling into the driveway where my grandparents — loyal followers of both my music and sports enterprises — were waiting to share celebratory ice cream with us. I could write thousands of columns on my grandma, so one paragraph here won’t do her justice.

Alas, Grandma Dorothy — still living in Moorhead, Minnesota at 97 and maintaining her morning routine of praying for her 12 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren, individually, by name — was the type of matriarchal figure who mysteriously cloaked her competitive side from all of us. We knew it existed, though. The legendary stories of her state-title-winning shot for tiny Casselton back in the late-40s had a dulling effect on one classic piece of advice, which she constantly was forced to give to the uber-serious offspring trifecta of my mom and older brother before me.

“Don’t get too serious about that running,” she’d warn.

Maybe she knew something about herself and the type-A genes she’d passed down. Maybe she was compelled to reiterate those dangers to her daughter before I got out of the car that day. Thus, I stayed inside, only able to lip-read as my mom got lectured by her mom. Grandma probably should have said, “Look Jane, do you really think Ryan is the type who does something painful and inconvenient when he’d rather not? What do you think he is — a mom?”

That couldn’t have been the topic, though, because both women already knew what motherhood entails.

There’s no sports writer waiting with a cliche question for the first-time mom, lauding her heroic physical achievement of labor and delivery in the next day’s front page. Chris Dillmann isn’t going to capture the perfect cover photo of you dealing with diaper blow-ups, wiping a booger off of your 2-year-old’s face or their vomit off the backseat of your minivan. I’m guessing the New Yorker isn’t looking to feature the stay-at-home-mom who eschewed a business suit for reading Richard Scarry’s “Cars and Trucks and Things that Go” for the 340th time this month…just to find Gold Bug on every page. There’s no company card for the 40 pieces of French toast your teenage boy’s breakfast now requires and there’s no Employee of the Month Award for doing fours loads of laundry after another hockey, baseball, soccer, etc., tournament.

If those things positively resonated with you, you’re probably a mom. If it sounded more like a miserable servant’s life, you probably aren’t.

My mom, who abandoned her CPA career when we arrived, tells me every year, “You’re my favorite surprise, and raising you three boys was the best job I ever had.”

I assume that even includes the track meets, band concerts and car arguments.

And of course, those things most people would rather not do, but know they have to.