“Often, what may appear as a detour in life is actually the most direct and empowering path to your destination.” – James Arthur Ray

When I think of 2020 thus far, nothing is more real than that quote from James Arthur Ray, so let’s go back to January. I began my season much earlier than I ever have. I needed to acquire valuable UCI points in my lead up to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. I must admit that racing in January was a new and fun experience, let alone stage racing on Lanzarote’s remote island. I had never done a mountain bike stage race in my career, but despite it being new and foreign, I found some success early on and carried that momentum into February, where I continued to stage race and build fitness.

While I traveled the World with my brother Mark during January and February, my husband Adam, my older brother Eric, and world-renown photographer, Chris Burkard, began planning a bike packing trip to ride across Iceland. They touted the trip as a first of its kind, “not the route anyone has ridden across Iceland before” – they said and began selling me on the idea to join them despite my chaotic race schedule, a few conflicts along the way, and I didn’t need much selling.

Although I committed to the idea and loved our initial conversations, there were some challenges to overcome.

Racing bikes is my chosen profession, so why did committing to bike-packing across Iceland feel so wrong? Although slightly different than what I train for, fitness shouldn’t be an issue, support won’t be either, and I couldn’t think of a better group to bike pack alongside. Scheduling, well, we can make that work, and eventually decided that the first two weeks of August would work best. Not ideal preparation for the Lenzerheide World Cup, which has since been canceled, but that was a sacrifice I was willing to make.

As Iceland plans began coming together, my fitness and motivation increased, and those early-stage race results continued to improve. Initially, I had solid momentum going into the year. Then COVID pretty much blindsided the World, and understandably, Tokyo 2020 has been postponed, and nearly every event has been canceled, rescheduled, or affected somehow.

My bike has become so much more to me.

Along with the derailing of those events, so was my sense of purpose and motivation, and like many, my personal goals weave deeply into my professional goals, it was hard not to be affected. Mountain bike racing has required me to have a high level of singular focus over the years, it’s what has allowed me to push my body and mind to this level, but that focus can also be counter-productive. In fact, I have been racing and training with fairly detailed structure and goals since I was 13 years old, so it shouldn’t come to myself without surprise that I was feeling a little lost when the entire race season got canceled.

One could presume I’ve replaced racing goals with riding across Iceland, which may be true to some degree, but I can also say I’ve had more fun riding my bike this past year than I ever have. I’ve typically trained alone in the past, but I’ve ridden more with family and friends these past few months than I ever have.

I’ve had more fun riding my bike this past year than I ever have.

I haven’t done any intervals because we all have that one friend in the group that shreds people no matter how fit you are, and that’s a pretty fun experience when training zones don’t mean anything for the time being. I began to ride my bike as a mode of transportation and a way to maintain a baseline level of health and wellness, and I’ve ridden all my bikes – gravel bikes, mountain bikes, commuter bikes, tandem bikes, and the list goes on.

My bike has become so much more to me. It’s become the pathway to health and wellness both mentally and physically while serving my professional and personal goals. It’s taken me on roads I have never had the opportunity to explore because I’m typically too busy traveling from race to race or the training program was not conducive to the type of riding or distance.

Purpose can be found in all corners of your life.

I see far too many athletes, coaches, and parents becoming focused on the training and fitness components. It’s easy to lose sight of the deeper meaning in sport, this year has presented that to me on a silver platter, and that’s why I wanted to share this link for anyone else who might be out there struggling to find purpose. Having a strong sense of purpose allows us to tap deep into ourselves and find the motivation that we may not see otherwise, and you can learn more here.

Furthermore, I think it’s important to note that purpose is everywhere. It doesn’t have to come from an undertaking experience like bike packing across Iceland or trying to achieve a medal at the Olympics. It can be found in all corners of your life, and sometimes those detours can set you up on the right path. Training to be the best version of myself will always be ongoing; it’s been fun embracing the bumps and learning from the experiences along the way.

Thanks for following along, and here’s to my bicycle for taking me on this incredible journey, both near and far. Be sure to tune into part two of the blog for a bike check and the route and gear breakdown.

Emily Batty

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