Friday, December 13, 2013

Without a doubt this past summer was one for the record books which in some ways left me hollowed out and bare. However, after the Divide I discovered a new fondness for mountain running and slowly my goal list for the next year is filling up with hair-brained ideas that are not solely cycling related. When I discovered backcountry skiing it opened up a whole new world of possibilities and as with mountain running I am able to explore places that a bike simply can not take you.  I had a goal of running a trail marathon before work started but for once I actually made the smart call and realized that my body was still limping along after the summer, so I tucked that goal in my back pocket and now it's winter motivation.

Waking up at 4:30 AM after multiple 55+ hour work weeks outside and then promptly plunging yourself right back into windchills that would make a polar bear shiver isn't easy, but the views and grin inducing skiing make it all worth it.   

Up high in the mountains with the wind whipping away at any exposed skin is where I find pure happiness. Sure, I crave a warm bed as my little headlamp bounces along only exposing the next few steps, but who can deny the power of exploring with only your legs to propel you. 

The sensation of having your breath become rhythmic, your heart start to pound harder and harder, and your legs burn up the skintrack causing your thoughts to narrow to only the next steps or the next ridge line can be incredible. However tunnel vision can lead to tunnel thoughts and since I prefer the natural world to the gym I must remember to look around and relax my thoughts.

At times I let my wandering mind get the best of me and I start to spiral down rabbit holes in my own brain, but if I let the wind and cold air narrow my focus to only the path directly ahead of me and the sensation of being in an incredible environment my mind clears and I realize that in that moment I am as happy as I can be.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Tour Divide: Ups and Downs

Looking through the lens of the 5 months since my Tour Divide attempt this summer it's easy to omit some parts such as shivering in the cold, yelling into the wind, and sleeping in the snow but what remains is a pretty cool adventure that for some reason I have put off writing about.

In Banff at the start line I was bursting with anticipation and nervous energy over the adventure ahead. I have wanted to toe the line for a good number of years and this year the stars had aligned and I was actually there.

Leaving the Banff I knew I was sitting on some pretty decent fitness however there was no way to escape the fact that I hadn't ridden a bike all winter. Living at 9,000 feet and working at a ski resort doesn't provide a whole lot of opportunity for riding in the winter. However, I ski toured my brains out all winter and crossed my fingers that come spring when I suddenly rode 30 hours a week my legs would remember how to pedal. 

After a spring in Grand Junction I felt I was as ready as I could be and my bags were packed. 

Although the Divide is something you can never really feel fully prepared for. You just do what you can and then one day it's time to start. 

The first few days of the race went well and I was feeling strong. I was also aware that I had a long road ahead and I was pacing myself pretty conservatively knowing that a slower start could yield big dividends down the road.

There was some amazing country in the Canadian Rockies and I was fortunate enough to see plenty of wildlife and amazing views. 

For no particular reason I often found myself riding alone which affords plenty of reflection time and self talk. 

As can sometimes happen when you're alone, a tad cold, tired, and in foreign places at night, demons can sneak in. 

I have always felt that if a person has demons to contend with they will surface in a long bike race. Everything from 24 hour races, to tours, to multi-day races are fertile grounds for those negative thoughts to creep in and take over.

I managed them pretty well and was really enjoying my time out there seeing new landscapes and sleeping in completely random places under the stars. 

A friend once told me: "all that matters is that at the end of the day your desire to go forward is greater than your desire to go back" and I really did want to continue each and every day. 

 As the days ticked by I could feel my body start to adapt and push out some of the fatigue.

My already fairly dialed system was getting more efficient every day. 

Even when I slept in a Forest Service bathroom lean to in the rain and snow I was pretty happy, which proves the point that all you really need is some food and a roof over your head. 

Some days the wind was my greatest enemy and left me miles from anybody else, screaming into the wind gusts that repeatedly tried to rip my sail of a bike off the road and blow my jacket into the next state every time I tried to put it on or take it off.

However, after every negative or tough moment something would happen to snap me out of a negative head space. It could be meeting a random hunter on a 4 wheeler who couldn't believe people rode bikes where I was and then promptly offering me a swig of the whiskey in his pocket or a sudden tailwind blowing me down the road or a stunning sunset that left my jaw on the ground. 

The road ahead of me was still long, but the miles were starting to add up and with all the love and support I had received from those closest to me both leading up to the trip as well as in care packages that followed me along the route I was really out chasing a goal I have dreamed of for so long.  

 Whenever I started to feel down I would simply need to glance down at a pin on my handlebars that said "LOVE".

I loved being out there, I loved chasing the horizon, I loved pushing myself and seeing things and feeling things that few will ever understand. 

 I promised myself that I would not return the same person that started in Banff and even though my eyes were often tired, my belly was often hungry, and my body was fatigued a change was happening.

 However, my journey was cut short by a sudden illness that essentially stopped me in my tracks.

Not long after snapping the picture above I went from riding along to being curled up in my sleeping bag along the side of the road puking my guts out. Complete body shutdown. Thankfully I was able to thumb a ride out from a local jeeper and then was able to make contact with a pretty girl who I had met a month or so prior to arrange a ride back to civilization. I was nursed back to health by pedialite and it would take a few days before I could stomach a real meal. 

My adventure was over so suddenly and without warning which is perhaps why I have put off writing about it. Will I return to race the spine of the continent again?  I don't know. For several months I didn't think so, however thoughts of giving it another shot have started to creep back into my head. The Divide really is one of those things that gets under your skin. It's an experience that one can never understand until you're out there in it. As I become more and more removed from the uncomfortable parts of the race what remains are memories of such magnitude that no pretty picture or flowery words can begin to convey. 

So thank you to everyone who both helped me prepare and who gave me encouraging words and thoughts while I was out there.  It really was an adventure of a lifetime and what matters in the end is the person who gets spit out the other end.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Divide Dreams

This story begins 7 years ago on a cross country bike trip with my brother. We departed from the left coast with no real set route and essentially headed east every day for 7 weeks. It was pure and simple magic. After passing through Yellowstone National Park we hung a right and headed South into Grand Teton Park. In a effort to skirt paying for camping in the park, we headed down a gravel road through a thick cloud of mosquitoes in search of a camping spot a ranger had told us about earlier that day. Before long as we were cruising down washboards on road bikes with trailers we crossed paths with a fine French fella on a mountain bike who told us he was touring the Great Divide Route. Our two routes literally only overlapped for a mile or two so it was dumb luck that we even saw each other. However, it was the first time I had heard of the route and instantly I wanted to tour it. We didn't talk long due to an obscene amount of especially vicious mosquitoes, however the seed had been planted.

Not long after, I heard of the race that was held on the route and being a bike racer of the endurance persuasion I instantly wanted to race it. Each fall since then my thoughts would wander to touring and each fall I played with the idea of racing the divide. However, I knew that I didn't have the mental tenacity to keep it together for nearly 3 weeks of long and most likely solo days. Maybe it was an excuse I came up with inside my own head, maybe not. Regardless, last fall when my thoughts drifted to racing the divide as they typically did, something was different. The stars had aligned and I knew it was time to saddle up and give it a shot.

A sign of things to come for the young Carney brothers?

It's a tradition for divide racers to craft a letter of intent as part of their entry into the race, so here is my promise to myself as I attempt to ride the spine of the continent next month as fast as my body and mind will allow. I promise to take it all in. I promise to ride hard each day and smile as much as humanly possible. I promise to not spend my time looking at the glass half full or half empty, but rather take in all the little things, the big views, the big miles, the new places and new people until my glass overflows.  I promise to live solely in the moment and to let absolutely everything soak in, the good weather, the bad weather, the sunrises and sunsets, the new places, the aches and pains, the places I'll go inside my own head, and all the magic and lessons that spending 2,700 miles living on a bike has to offer.

The campsite where the idea started. 

I promise to not come back the same person that started in Banff. After all, if I accomplish my goals on the route, how could I? Each day is a opportunity to either improve yourself as a human or to stagnate. There is no staying the same if you pay attention to life. So, here's to big miles, big smiles, and what I'm positive will be one hell of an adventure!

Excited does not even begin to capture how I'm feeling! 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Little things

It's pretty amazing how the smallest things can make you smile in the middle of a big ride. A big view, a terrible song stuck in your head, gummy sharks, a random memory, a bad joke, a funny looking rock, or even just the simple joy of churning out mile after mile. 

So, here's to paying attention to the little things that cause big dumb smiles to creep across your face even when you're alone!  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Buying the Ticket

Back in my Triathlon days I would often sign up for a early spring marathon or running race to force myself out of my comfort zone of cycling throughout the dark winter months. I bought the ticket so to speak and used that commitment as motivation.

I've always struggled with announcing my intentions in sport too loudly. In an ideal world I would rather show than tell. People who year after year, say they are going to do this or that and year after year find a excuse to sidestep their stated goal get under my skin. Say it to yourself rather, say it until it hurts, say it until you know it in your bones. Talk without action is nothing.

Afterall, if you don't believe in your own goal so deeply that it hurts to not attain it will you have the resolve to put in the work needed to change yourself to meet it?  Goals are great, they are the building blocks of growth, but goals without action are useless. 

So make plans, make goals, make your intentions known to yourself first, however then do something about them, chase them, conquer them, attain them, crush them.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Every since I can remember I have been drawn to exploring outdoors. Maybe it was the time my brother and I bet our Mother that we wouldn't watch TV for a year and all the time outside that started it all (in retrospect I would have bet more than $50 but that was a lot of money as a kid). Maybe it was growing up next to a river, all the days spent wandering around in the woods, or all the trips we took as a family when I was young.  I always want to see what's around the next corner, and then the corner after that. I crave new things for my eyes to gaze upon. New ridgelines, new drainages, new perspectives, new experiences.

I like turning blank spots on my mental map of the world into known territory. 

Personally human powered exploration has always been my chosen mode. The rhythmic trance that pedaling, hiking, climbing, skinning, or climbing produces is a feeling that no motorized transport can ever provide.  Doing the same thing over and over again produces the same outcome day after day. However, introducing some uncertainty means I have no idea how the day will turn out. Maybe I'll get to ski a sweet line off of a peak I've never stood atop of, maybe I'll be forced to turn around and retreat. Either way, I'll spend the day doing something different than the day prior and fill in a few blank spots on my mental map.

So, why not break into song while skinning up a lonely drainage, because in the words of my buddy Kameel today 5 hours into our tour, "Today is a damn good day to be alive".

Of all the places in the mountains, apline ridgelines are my favorite. They are a direct line to the summit, often rather harsh places and only by walking the fine line on the ridge proper can you see both sides dropping away. I like the wind whipping away at me, I let it strip away everything except the feeling of being in that exact spot at that exact moment, and in that moment that's all I need, because today IS a damn good day to be alive.

Red from AMC on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Seasons change. Motivations come and go. Ebb and flow.  

 Some days the bike calls, at times the silent glide of skins on snow calls louder. They are all just mediums of movement, of exploration, of boundary expansion.

It's the shifts in perspective that I chase and crave. They often come after a big eye opening day, a sketchy adventure, and those moments when you're so cracked that your world shrinks to only the next foot step, handhold, or pedal stroke. Sure you can see the summit from the valley, but only after gaining the summit and seeing the world from a different vantage point does your perspective change. 

Get out. Chase the feeling that drives you. Fill yourself up. Getting up at 4 am and heading out into the pre-dawn chill is easy when you're chasing a feeling.

Capture the feeling, store it away for days down the road, learn from it, do what makes you feel alive.

New year, clean slate, new perspective, fresh eyes on old things. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012


There are moments in a bike race or even in a hard effort when the world seems to close in around you and your whole world shrinks to the screaming of your legs, the burn of your lungs, and the lactic acid filling your body. For some that focused pin-hole view of the world is what they crave. Sure, it feels good to strip down to that primal level now and again, it allows for focus. However, all too often as racers we live in that small world too often. We forget to look around and really take it all in. 

My last race of the season was the Crested Butte Classic this past weekend and I spent the first of the three laps trying to get my racing legs underneath me. However the hard truth was that my legs were like the engine in a Honda Civic trying to tow a trailer over Independence Pass. I would stomp on the gas, but nothing would happen. Some days you're the statue, some days you're the pigeon. 

Leaving for the second lap was a hard choice as I knew I wasn't really racing, but rather out riding. The ego is a tough egg to crack sometimes. At the base of  Slate Du-Huez I made a deal with myself. The scenery was stunning, the Aspen leaves were peaking, and all I could think about was how the simple experience of being in an Aspen grove can make me smile from ear to ear. It really was that simple. I quit looking at my stem, expanded my world from the ache in my legs, took a big deep breath, and looked around. The deal I made with myself is that I would ride the rest of the route with a giant smile plastered on my face. If that smile ever started to fade to a grimace I would slow down until the smile returned.  Simple.

For the next ~60 miles I grinned from ear to ear and even let out whoops of joy as I carved through Aspen groves along a thin yellow ribbon. It was intoxicating.

For the past past 5 years I've ended the season with either 24 Hours of Moab or 24 Hour Nationals and put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well. That pressure took it's toll on myself, the enjoyment I took from a simple ride in the woods, and those close to me. It was a tough way to end each year. As much as I enjoy trying to ride as fast as my body and mind allows I need to take a step back and remember that I ride bikes because I love the feeling of floating along through the woods, not because I take home a paycheck.  The motivation needs to come from the feeling of riding not from standing on a podium. I can't think of a better way to end this seasons racing than to remember what it feels like to smile so hard for so long that your face is just as tired as your legs. All from the simple action of going for a ride in the woods. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

40 in the Fort

Early last spring I signed up for the 40 in the Fort race in Fort Collins and at the time figured that racing single speed was a good plan. After a few pre-ride laps on the course it was pretty obvious that the course was a very technical one with plenty of climbing. Roughly 7,000 feet in a scant 40 miles.  Sure they were my backyard trails for several years, but dang, that's a lot of up for a short race. When the High Park fire started in June and shut down both parks West of Fort Collins the race date was moved to this past weekend so I made the trip back to town to race.

After the start I made it up to the top of the first climb in 5th position overall, however I've been really good at crashing lately so I was a bit hesitant descending and allowed a bit of a gap to form on the first descent not wanting to push things too hard until I got some confidence back. 

Once back to the valley I noticed that one of my water bottle cages was about ready to fall off. Not wanting to have to pick through the weeds looking for bolts if it came completely off I opted to stop and tighten it thus allowing a few more people past me. Once everything was tight again I chased hard and made up some good ground but also worked myself over as well.

My very good friends Stacy and Dan had once again set up their renegade aid station, Bacon Hill, and were busy handing out bacon, doughnuts, bacon-doughnut sandwiches, and all sorts of other items you really don't crave at the top of a wicked steep climb. Racers would pass through their little slice of real estate 4 times total and would risk getting shot with a marshmallow out of a slingshot each time. 

Even if I had refused the bacon, I'm fairly sure that Dan would of tackled me and forced it down my mouth so of course I took a few bacon handups. From about halfway through the first lap on I would pretty much ride alone and couldn't seem to make up any ground on those ahead of me.

On my second lap I found Sarah helping out at the Bacon station as she was just having too much fun heckling racers. 

In the end I finished up 2nd overall in the SS class and someplace around the top 10 overall I believe. Big thanks to Overland Mountain Bike club for a great race and to Stacy and Dan for running what is perhaps the most amazing aid station ever!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pain in the Aspen

The alarm goes off at 4 AM. Why the heck are you getting up so early my head screams?  Early mornings are never easy, but coffee does wonders and after a 30 min drive to Aspen for even more coffee I was awake.  Downtown Aspen at 5 AM is a little different than usual but I met up with a small crew of like minded folks for the first annual Pain in the Aspen.  

We rolled out of town in the chilly pre-dawn air but quickly climbed through a temperature inversion and spun upwards as light crept through the sky.

Around the Iowa Mill area there were 3 of us riding fast together and I decided to put in a bit of a effort and see what happened. Suddenly I was off the front and would stay there for the next 6 hours.

For the remainder of the day I rode on some amazing trails, some of which had seen my tread before, some with had not, and held on to the lead until the finish.

All told I rode for 6:45 and climbed just a tad shy of 10K, however the highlight of the day was hanging out with everybody after they finished. That just doesn't happen at big events. Put this event on your calendar for next year!