A couple of weeks ago I got a text just before bed ‘had I seen that Mike’s tracker had stopped moving’, this was in the closing stages of the IndyPac bike race, where Mike Hall was riding in 2nd position. I went to twitter to see unconfirmed talk of there being an accident on the road, but it looked as though Mike had missed it. I went to bed hoping that he had. That friday morning I woke up earlier than I would have liked, worried about Mike and hoping that he was ok.
Sadly, Mike had died during the course of an incident involving a motor vehicle on the road.
Mike was, without hyperbole, about as close to a rock star in the bike-packing world as you would get. His palmares include the Trans-am big race, the Tour Divide, and he was, at one stage, the fastest person around the world by bike.
However Mike didn’t carry the pretension of a rock-star, he was simply a fantastic bike rider, who loved riding bikes fast, and testing his own limits in the saddle – and if he crushed his opponents whilst going about his business, then so be it 🙂
News of Mike’s passing shocked the bike community around the world, the Indy-Pac was cancelled, and tears were shed by friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike. Over the last 2 weeks I’ve spoken to many people affected by his death who had never met him, but had been touched by his spirit and attitude towards bike racing, it speaks volumes about his character that strangers would be so affected by this tragedy.
That morning as I travelled into work I held back tears as I rode, but such was the funk I found myself that I happily accepted the offer of a fight from a vehicles passenger who didn’t like being called-out whilst using his phone – my nerves were utterly raw.
Over the following days all over the globe, groups of riders would meet and ride together to commemorate Mike, to #BeMoreMike, and to ride their bikes together.
The bonds formed through the shared exertions of Transcontinental racing were plain to see, with racers sharing pictures and anecdotes of Mike on Facebook and through Instagram – as the founder of The Transcontinental Race, Mike had developed a unique race – that is now emulated around the globe – which had brought these men and women together through cycling and shared experiences.
Everyone had a story of Mike, how he had touched their lives – particularly through the TCR, where he would add in mountain ranges for racing, just because.
It was fascinating to see some of the rides take place, no more so (but also no less than) in Sydney, where hundreds of riders joined with the IndyPac racers to commemorate and celebrate Mike’s life – the story of his passing was being reported on mainstream news channels across the world.
I wanted to ride some miles in my own time, to think about how Mike had impacted upon my own life – I first heard about him the week after I had ridden LeJogLe, Mike rolled into Greenwich with a new global record – this was eye-opening to me in so many ways; I had just done what I considered to be the hardest thing in my own life and here comes a guy who’s just ridden 10x that distance, on his own. WOW!
Over the following years I would race TCR a couple of times, learning about myself more each time. Mike would help me face my own demons by devising a challenge that was just wonderful to be a part of; racing a bicycle across a continent is beyond the imagination of most people, despite it being within their capabilities if they only believed. I would learn what I was able to do, what scared me, and where I needed to literally HTFU.
Last weekend I rode down to Bristol for Bespoked, then over into Newport for a few hours kip before riding the Brecon Beacons. I was, unwittingly, riding the reverse route for the Valleycat bike ride Mike had organised a couple of years ago, and found myself riding uphill for a couple of hours into the heart of the Welsh countryside, the pseudo-familiarity being both comforting and melancholic.
As the day continued I bumbled up and down the hills, meandering around the Brecons on tiny roads and farmers tracks, turning the pedals over as I made my way back towards Nottingham. The route I had chosen was fabulous, physically stretching me (the day would give over 3500 meters of climbing), whilst providing huge amounts of head-space to think about the reason I was out there in the first place.
Mike’s passing affected me quite strongly; it is said that you shouldn’t meet your heroes in real life, but Mike was as close to a hero as I had – he was an incredible athlete who simply loved to be on his bike, yet was affable and understated about his own astonishing achievements.
As the day wore on I realised that I was slower and further behind where I had hoped to be, and I found myself at a train station with 2 choices: catch a train part way home – getting to Birmingham at 23.30 with 60 miles left to ride, or carry on from where I was, a full 170 miles to ride through the night. I was tired and a little on edge, I’d forgotten to take my cache battery with me on this ride so electricity for the phone and Wahoo Elemnt was in very short supply – there was a very real possibility I’d run out of juice at some point and have to navigate from memory.
The decision was made to HTFU and ride home, take what ever happens on the chin, and ride through the night for the first time ever – I’d ridden to 4am, but never gone further so this way going to be a new adventure for me.
As i carried on into the night, with its attendant cold, star-less sky, I was able to think about the why of it all, to meditate on the joy of spinning pedals and overcoming gravity, covering the distance to get me home.
Slowly, almost silently, I made my way through Wales and into England once again, following the arrows on my Elemnt, each passing minute bringing me a little closer to home; to warmth and light as the night ebbed to a close, and dawn would start.
The quiet night was a struggle for me, the lack of music and company made the journey a real challenge to keep on going – stern words were had on garage forecourts and at the side of roads as my spirits wavered and my legs decided that they didn’t want to turn anymore.
Around 5.30am the dawn chorus erupted around me as the birds started to wake. Soon the dawn would come, and with it fresh energy, and renewed spirits. I had done it, challenging myself to do something I should have done during a TCR over the years, but somehow never managed to do.Over those quiet hours I discovered that it’s not about suffering, rather it’s about riding your bike a little bit further than you think you can, and then repeating it again, and again. It’s those small mental battles that we face that defeat us, not the major rides. Rather, it’s those quiet moments where doubt seeps in and our bravery fades away. It’s just riding bikes, but we build it up into so much more.
I’m under no illusions here, riding bikes is a source of great joy for many (myself included), but racing them for 2 weeks across a continent also smacks to some degree of selfishness – we put ourselves into situations that others only dream of, whilst at the same time we force our partners into restless nights, our parents into worry, and our friends can’t but help wonder about us.
We are rewarded with sunsets and sunrises over mountain ranges we didn’t know exist, with a deeper understanding of ourselves and the depths of our capabilities and the strength of our demons, and I think a closer connection to the continent we have crossed – to it’s people and history.
We are changed forever.
Thank You Mike Hall.
Ride In peace Brother.