It all began on 5 May 1976 in North Dakota. I was born. I know this for a fact because I saw my live birth certificate. I keep a copy in case there’s ever a disagreement.
It wasn’t much of a shock to be thrust violently into a farm family of six kids (which would swell to seven in another nine years… oops!) outside a small town called Glen Ullin. I didn’t know any better. But now that I do, I still wouldn’t trade it for the world. I learned to play well with others. I learned to eat sparingly when there wasn’t a lot (it’s a proven fact I’d sit under the table when I was three and eat sticks of homemade butter), and I learned that endless days toiling under the scorching sun built character. All this I learned by the time I was five, then by that time I had developed my own opinions and refused to believe any of it.
My hand-me-down clothes were already fourteen years old by the time they got to me, the byproduct of being the first boy after enough years and four sisters. My family will deny it emphatically. I know the real story. I did some moving around, namely to Washington state, went to a few different schools and generally wasted time and space until I was about 16.
Let’s fast forward to Christmas of 1992. I was back in North Dakota after doing some hard time out west, and generally discombobulated. Dad and I were playing the swinging bachelor scene. I’d cook soup or spaghetti some nights and he’d cook other nights by taking us to the local greasy spoon. Ham steak and all you can eat salad bar was the supper of champions.
Our house was 16 miles to town. Some summers I wouldn’t see another soul other than Dad and my boss for a month. It was a simple life. It was a life without internet and email and cell phones and 500 channel cable TV. It was also one without predictable electricity or phone service. We had a furnace we would turn off if we left for the weekend so it wouldn’t back burn into the coal bin and take the whole house down. Our well was gravity fed from a nearby hill. When the storms cut the power we could at least shower. If the storm had stirred up too much sand off the bottom of the holding tank, we’d get a blast of dirt in the face until the pipes cleared and filters picked it up. Even our microwave had big turn dials and would run with the door wide open.
The yard was the warmest place when it turned 70 below with the wind chill, and it was no surprise to look out my basement room window and see cowhide pressed firmly against the glass for warmth. I wore long johns, denim jeans with a pliers on my belt, and five buckle, Lacrosse brand rubber overshoes. My insulated coveralls were the best. With a pocket T, a flannel shirt, and bandanna around my neck, I was prepared for anything the weather could throw at me. I even had the insulated cap with the ear flaps. I was, indeed, my father’s son. It wasn’t about fashion back then. It was about necessity. Function over form.
Things continued in just that way until I graduated. Five months later I had no choice but to do something with my life. I decided college was the answer. I enrolled in Electronics Technology at Bismarck State College and ran with it. I worked, rode my mountain bike, worked some more, and went to school. You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about studying.
I was a prep cook at a truck stop, a cook at a Badlands Bar and Grill, a cook (once again, go figure) at Sergio’s Mexican restaurant, and even did a brief stint at Little Caesar’s before Papa Johns finally took it over a few years later.
It was those crucial college years from ’95-’97 when I fell in love with my cycling. This really was a necessity. I didn’t have a car. I went from those same coveralls and overshoes, to snow pants and a ski jacket, to full gortex by the time I graduated.
When graduation time came I knew that fixing VCRs at minimum wage wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I enlisted in the Marine Corps and shipped to boot camp in late July 1997.
But that’s a different story…