It’s surprising how often I explain something in my life–some personality trait, some ability I have, some story I relate–by telling people that I grew up on a farm. And yes, I really, truly mean on a farm. A functional farm, with hogs and chickens and acres upon acres of corn and soybeans. Bailing hay in the summer, endless days on a 4 wheeler, hours of work. A childhood spent outside. Driving at an improbably young age. Turning wrenches–or at least handing people wrenches–starting shortly after developing the ability to talk. Taking naps in tractor cabs. Seeing my grandfather, my parents, and now my brother’s endless dedication to their work. Seeing the promise of every coming season. Appreciating, and relying upon the change in seasons and the glory of a gentle summer rain.
I work in an environment where I can control the quality of my work, but so much of what I do is impacted by factors beyond my control that are mysterious to understand at best. I think my tolerance for this environment is growing up and seeing how the weather–something we could not control on any kind of direct basis–could make, or literally break a farm.
I was helping someone disassemble something this weekend, and he asked how I got to be so handy. I responded that I grew up on a farm. He nodded as if that’s a wholly plausible explanation. When you say you grew up on a farm, people make certain assumptions about you. When someone asks why I work long hours, I sometimes throw the same response. When they ask how I know about something mechanical, or how I can fix something…same response. In the realm of cycling, enduring hard efforts in a grain bin or on a hayrack prepare you for many of life’s unpleasantries. And yet, time spent in a grain bin is some of the best time I’ve ever spent.
I’ve told this story before, to some close to me, but one of the formative moments of my life came in a corn crib. It was an old, wooden crib with overhead grain storage. To get to the grain storage, you would climb up a 20′, rickety wooden ladder to an improbably small ledge, then pull out another rickety wooden ladder, prop it on the tiny ledge by your feet, and climb up it into the top of the crib (over the open shaft below you). Once you got to the top, you would see the open tops of the wooden bins used to store the grain. They had flat bottoms, and 2 tiny little doors in the bottom that opened…so you’d drain the grain out of them through the doors until it wouldn’t flow anymore…and then you’d climb up into the crib, then down into the bins, and shovel the grain out of the bins.
My brother is 3 years older than I am. He was always bigger and stronger. We always had informal competitions to see who could shovel faster. He always creamed me. But at some point, I grew up.
On this particular day, I challenged him to a shovel-off, and started shoveling in earnest. I was kicking butt–the grain was just disappearing from my side of the bin. I had my head down, shoveling away, and I looked up…to see my brother. He was shoveling from my side. He saw that it was important to me, on this day, to come out ahead. He came over and shoveled for me. He rose above the competition, and he was my teammate. He “disadvantaged” himself to shovel for me. I recognized, right in that minute, that it was an incredible thing. In that moment, I learned a great lesson–and my incredible friendship with my brother became even closer.
I relate this story because it speaks to cycling as well. When I talk about Axletree, and when I go on group rides, I try to keep my brother in mind. When we’re doing a hard ride, we challenge each other. We try to out-shovel each other. But at the end of the day, we’re a team. I’ve had my brothers on bikes take pulls for me when I couldn’t do it–and on those rare occasions where I can do so, I return the favor. I learned this lesson because I grew up on a farm. Others learned it in their own environment. But everyone–everyone who rides in our Axletree group–we all learned it in some way, and we all ride it. We shovel together.
I grew up on a farm.