Adam and his mandolin in Japan. Photo via flickr.
Like the majority of American’s in their early 20s, Adam McGrath is making big transitions in his life as he finds his path. Granted, his transition is from pro cyclocross racer to rural homesteader, but it’s a transition just the same. More focused on sustainable living than podiums and prize money, Adam’s chosen to settle down on a small piece of land on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula rather than continue traveling the country and world to race cyclocross. In Part one of the interview, we talked about Adam’s rise to the ranks of pro cycling and his formative years of nearly-constant world travel. Part two picks up with Adam’s disenfranchisement with professional racing, the balance he finds living on a farm, and his future as a professional cyclist.
After an extended period of living like a nomad, you’re now doing the opposite: settling down on a piece of property in the countryside, racing locally instead of chasing UCI points around the country on the USGP circuit. Why?
After putting so much effort into cross the last years and not exactly seeing what I wanted out of it, I really questioned what I was up to. In lots of ways I realized I was racing cross because it’s just what I did, what I knew how to do. The contradiction of driving a car, to get on a plane, to unbox a bike, to go to a hotel that’s exactly the same as one 2000 miles away and to ride in circles in a park has started to seem odd. There’s something about it that is so different than the freedom of just riding a bike that I originally fell in love with. Feeling so out of touch with what I really loved has started to get to me.
On top of that, some other very interesting ideas and opportunities have crept into my life. Having finally made the choice to settle into a house and pay rent, I came to love the sense of place I’ve never had in the past. Growing my own food, having a dresser, and being outside in my favorite climate really shook my perspective on travel. These things allowed me to understand my sense of place and the much slower rhythms of the natural world around me. You can’t rush food or how the seasons change, yet somehow I was always rushing. The idea of slowing down and simplifying began to torment me.
Bike racing as I knew it seemed so contradictory to my new ideas, yet I still loved riding and the thrill of competition. Plus bike racing was my previous “comfort” zone, it was what I was good at and what I had the skills to do, but it didn’t deal with any of the bigger questions I had started to think about.
Then the biggest opportunity I’ve ever had presented itself. My partner Rebecca and I started talking about our future and what might make us happy in the long run. I figured out that growing food and building my own house were things I could always find some sort of happiness in doing. We crunched the numbers and started looking for property.
As soon as we started, I knew it was the thing I needed to do so I dedicated all my energy to trying to find a place instead of planing what to do with bike racing. I went deep into planing what our homestead might look like and need. But, our search was a bit disappointing. We found some good spots but were always a little shy on money. So, we found help and two partners who shared our values of a simple homestead. All of a sudden we had 95 percent of the money we needed to get the place we really wanted. We all put in an effort this spring to work to save up the money we needed to pay for the best place we found.
With very little capital and so much fulfilling work to do on the homestead, I now know what direction I have to focus. I want to be a farmer and a builder, but also a cycling advocate with bike-racer roots. There is simply so much wrong with the world and one of the only way to change it was to begin with myself. The environmental crisis, the police state, corporate control of everything, gentrification, the debt complex, patriarchy and the unethical control of food and lack of availability of it to all people are all things that set me off. So, I work on a place where these things are talked about daily to help create our own version of the values we want to see put in place. We grow food and share its abundance. We have people over to experience living with nature, not exploiting it. We care for our animals and humanly slaughter them for ourselves, not at some slaughter house. We build houses with non-toxic materials. We have potlucks and dance parties. We’re trying to bring people together to deal with what we feel is wrong and we’re having a blast doing it.
Adam’s new wooly pals. Photo by Adam via cxmagazine.com.
How did you end up in Port Townsend? What do you hope to do with the farm?
We ended up in PT because of the property, no real particular reason beyond that. It’s beautiful forest, very private and has good southern exposure. It doesn’t hurt that we’re only five miles from town, so we can do everything by bike. It feels like you’re luxury camping in the woods, with a great set up for animals and food growing. One moment you can be in the garden, the next you can be completely disoriented, mushroom hunting next to the bog. There’s nothing like having no division between yourself and the natural world.
I’m not exactly sure where the “farm” is headed. Right now we’re aiming for being farmsteaders. Micro-farming homesteader types I guess. So far it’s two donkeys, three pregnant sheep, two fiber goats, and one pregnant dairy goat, who should have kids in the spring and bring us milk. We’ll have lambs from the pregnant sheep in the spring to do something with as well. We just butchered our Ram sheep this past weekend so I missed the Washington State Cyclocross Champs. We’ve also got 45 or so chickens lurking about on the daily. The plans are still tentative, but someday we hope to go to market by donkey cart, sell some product we make (mushrooms? eggs? lamb? teas?) and to build small houses made of mud and straw and sell our crappy plastic box house. But part of the plan is having no plan and making it up as we go.
Now that you’ve settled down with the farm, how much time are you devoting to cycling? Are you still training the way you were a few years ago, or has it taken a back seat to other aspects of your life?
Training? What’s that? I was never that great at proper training even at the height of my racing so I’m way far from that now. I guess that what I do now is ride. Sometimes I get a good day for a long ride, sometimes I ride hard for myself. Sometimes I pick up chicken feed with the trailer and that feels like doing intervals. Some Fridays I’m a professional cyclist and I deliver Bob’s bagels by bike. To farm well you must be fit. I still like feeling strong and powerful on the bike and I still like how much clarity and adrenaline are delivered from suffering up a climb. I’m a cyclist through and through I’ve got no plans on changing that, but now it’s just about working towards a balanced existence. My happiness is no longer contingent on how fast I go, but rather how slow a pace of life I can achieve while pedaling fast.
Do you think professional cycling will ever be your main priority again?
Yes and no. I still want to advocate for the sport, for bikes at least. I don’t see a future with people not traveling so bikes are pretty key. And I like encouraging people to race because for so many it brings joy, purpose, reason, friends and escape which all have their merit. I’d like to think I can still be in the fast guys race, so that makes me a “pro,” but I think I’m over trying to get paid to do it. I’d rather figure out how to live on as little money as possible and still play with the “pros”.
If anything, I’d like to try to raise funds for a cause through racing. I don’t need to be paid, my life is abundant and blessed, but there are others who have much less.