One Day I Decided to Build a Sailboat

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Let me start off by saying that I know little to nothing about sailing — probably closer to “nothing” truth be told. But this morning I was reminded by my friend Liz Clark why I’ve always been fascinated by sailboats. Liz is currently readying her boat Swell to be launched and find herself solo sailing the world again after a brief break.

Before I met Liz, I had some other friends who decided to buy an older sailboat and restore it top to bottom with the ultimate goal of sailing it around the globe. One of these friends had “some” sailing experience, another had less and the other had, well, let’s say they had limited experience.

In the process of restoring it and upgrading its systems, they would of course intimately learn all those systems (even designing and building some of them), get familiar with her handling nuances and understand her capabilities and limitations. It was the most fundamental process of not only building/restoring the boat, but building a personal relationship with her along the way.

Naturally, the restoration of the 37’ Valiant, sailing under the name of Syzygy at the time, was not without its challenges and setbacks. Yet, these three friends championed on for months and little by little Syzygy began to truly become worthy of the adventure they initially had their sights set upon. Not only had Syzygy morphed into what they had dreamed, but I could also tell from conversations with them that they too had personally morphed into something different.

To make a long story short, when the day came to set off, one friend had dropped from the mix, and in his place a new wife of one of the others stepped in. The husband and wife would sail her across the Pacific and the person who was still on board from the original crew would join them in the Tuamotus two or three months later. Syzygy sailed for well more than a year, eventually being sailed solo by the person who joined later in the Tuamotus, and then was ultimately sold in Australia. I might point out here that the couple onboard was expecting a baby and came back to the States to start that adventure — a far more challenging one.

As I watched them transform Syzygy into something they dreamed of and sailed it under the Golden Gate Bridge, I began to realize just how much of a lost art this is — to have an idea or dream and build it from ground zero. It’s just too easy to lay down some cash these days and get right to the “adventure” part. It’s also the reason many of today’s “adventures” mean little more than just ticking off another box on the bucket list.

As romantic and alluring as sailing around the world sounded, I knew that type of thing wasn’t probably going to happen in my world. I think my main obstacles were having no sailing experience at all and my disdain for physically being in the ocean. I like the ocean, but it doesn’t “call to me”. And then there’s the whole shark thing…but I digress. But as a result of them tackling this project and seeing it through, I found myself wanting to build my own sailboat, if only metaphorically.

As the title of this blog suggests, I like to ride bikes. I’ve always had a bike and a few years ago even dabbled in racing them (road racing) in a fairly competitive environment. For the past 25 years though, I’ve only ridden mountain bikes. It’s something I really, really like. It didn’t take long for me to put all the pieces together and decide I was going to build a mountain bike from the ground up and let that be my sailboat.

I spent weeks, probably months, researching and jotting down notes on what features I wanted (and didn’t) and what frames best suited my physique and style of riding. I honestly had no idea how vast the options were until I started looking. Naturally I employed the opinions and expertise of friends who ride casually as well as professionally so I could build a complete picture of the options before I would finally decide. When I had it narrowed down to two or three frame models, I then set about finding a good deal.

Being that I’d always just bought a bike in the past, I’d never really thought too much about the individual parts of a bike up til then. Therefore, I spent a considerable amount of time researching every component associated with the bike — every bolt, cable and link. I wanted to make decisions based on why, not just because it would fit. I wanted to build it with purpose. Time consuming? Yeah, because it was a lot of new territory for me, very much so. But as the project moved forward, the bike and every single component would become a part of me…and me part of it.

After two or three months of patiently shopping the internet, I had all the parts and was ready to build it. I might add that my patience saved me 60% off of MSRP!

There were certainly points where I would sit in my basement working on it, getting frustrated to the point where I’d have to walk away (i.e. hydraulic brakes). But I’d realize it was a learning process and the frustration was just part it. I had to remind myself that sometimes the things we really want, the important things, aren’t always attained so easily. Running a 100k was hard. It was hard to train for it and hard to run it. But I was patient, put in the work and eventually I finished. By doing so, I discovered what I wanted to discover about myself. The bike was my sailboat, a tool I wanted to use to sail off into adventures on, something I may need to depend on at times, so I practiced patience and I learned.

Now, when I go out to ride in the mountains here in Colorado, I believe every mile means something a little different than it would’ve had I just laid out some cash and rode it out of a shop. If it breaks, I know I can fix it. It’s a sense freedom in a way, independence. There is no app and no shortcut for that feeling.

I’ve built other bikes since and the process has admittedly become fairly easy. It’s only easy now because I took the time to understand the details and let them become part of me. There are a couple of things I still want to try like building a wheel from scratch, a true art, but that’s for another day. For now, I’m content to throw my chile pepper red sailboat on my truck four or five days a week and sail off into adventures that mean something, if only to me.

Thank you Liz Clark, Jon Haradon and Matt and Karen Holmes and a special thanks to Jesse Horton.

Climb high, ski hard, pedal far, paddle long, live big.


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