By Scott Mercier,
CTS Contributing Editor, US Olympian, Retired pro cyclist
Transitions: passage from one state, place, or subject to another: change (Mirriam-Webster)
My wife and I are in a transitory stage of our lives. About a month ago, we dropped our son off at college. We are now officially “empty nesters.”
When I look at my life, I recognize several important transitions including high school graduation, graduation from U.C. Berkeley, the end of my professional cycling career, marriage, kids, occupational change, and now the empty nest.
Each one of these moments was a meaningful point in my life but I honestly didn’t reflect much on them. I was in the grind, trying to survive. Transitions can be exciting, but they also force us to face the unknown. And sometimes we need to face the fact that we are unprepared for what comes next.
The transition from being a professional athlete to an Average Joe is a particularly stark one, especially if the sport you excelled in is one that has limited financial resources. The demands of professional cycling are immense, and while less lucrative than the major stick and ball sports, it made up for it in terms of the support system. We didn’t have to think about what came next or how to get there. It was structured to help us succeed.
Like many athletes, I floundered during the transition to ‘normal’ life. I lacked direction and had minimal skills, resources, or time. That transition was quickly followed by many others, and I floundered at most of them as well. Sometimes stomping as hard as you can on the metaphorical pedals of life is a recipe for failure.
Eventually, I started to figure it out. I started to be more deliberate. This recent transition–our youngest going off to college–was not unexpected. But it was stark, nonetheless. The contagious energy of a teenage boy evaporated, and the house was eerily quiet.
My wife and I are on both familiar and unfamiliar roads at the same time. We are fortunate we have good health and stable finances. We are taking time to reconnect and do things as a couple, and for ourselves individually. I’m finishing a masters’ degree and a book, and she is training to be a Red Cross volunteer.
When we got our COVID vaccines this spring, I was doing a Google search of places vaccinated Americans could travel and an ad for Iceland came up. As I was booking the trip, she looked at me and said, “You know, in over 22 years we have not gone somewhere together, without the kids, for more than three days.”
This new transition will involve time on the bike, with friends, family, and alone. Changes are already happening. I recently won 2 Strava KOMs. Okay, they are slightly weird and short segments, but they had over 1000 attempts, and I’ll take them.
Our daughter, who lives in Washington DC now and is working remotely, recently came home for 10 days. We rode the Basalt Mountain burn zone and Mt. Evans. She tries to do a 14er every year and hadn’t bagged one yet, so I suggested we ride one together. I dropped her off in Idaho Springs, drove the truck up 14 miles to Echo Lake, got on my bike and rode back down to meet her. We climbed about 20 miles together. I’d raced Mt. Evans in the 90’s and my memories of that ride were clouded by the amount of suffering involved.
But the ride with Mira was spectacular. It was a picture-perfect blue bird Colorado day. We stopped to take photos and rode at a steady, manageable pace. Neither of us knew it at the time, but it was National Daughter’s Day, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a day with my daughter.
Often, we think of the Transition Stages of a Grand Tour as lacking excitement and as unnecessary. But sometimes they lead to some of the most exciting and unpredictable days of the entire race. We’re only a few weeks in, but this life transition has already produced a lot of excitement.
Good Riding, and please wear a helmet!