Thursday, December 30, 2010

Person of the Year

Nick at VACX state champs, Mt. Trashmore.
 Nick Tempest is bikevoice’s 2010 person of the year. He was a clear favorite because of his cross country ride across the USA June-July, and his cyclocross championship win in Virginia’s Cat 4 men’s cross series October-December. 

The transcontinental pilgrimage is one that every cyclist ponders, seeing the country in “slow motion” as Nick says, undergoing a trip under one’s own pedal power.  Nick, age 35, started his 48-day adventure in Yorktown, Virginia, finished 4454 miles later in Astoria, Oregon, then tacked on 6 extra days to ride up the Pacific Coast to Vancouver for a total of 4873 miles.  Frank Hitch and Nick’s 67-year old father Pete pedaled with him the first 1000 miles to the Mississippi River, and his mother Jo-Anne flew out to Portland to congratulate Nick at the end.  This “bookend” support system is standard operating procedure for the Tempests, a close-knit Virginia Beach family that includes locally his grandfather Ian, sister Sally McMahon, as well as extended family scattered around the world. 

Nick and Surly Long Haul Trucker in Royal Gorge, CO.
According to Nick, it was Sally and her husband Mike who encouraged him to enter the Virginia cyclocross series this fall.  Nick had never raced cross, but the old school mountain biker easily crossed the barriers, racing 8 of 9 events in the series and winning the cat 4 championship.  Nick echoed what many cross racers probably already know:  “Cyclocross is way harder than cycling across the country.” While averaging 97 miles per day across the States, Nick said his head was up, he felt the way, enjoyed the ride whereas he found cyclocross events, held at city parks and small farms, to be 30 minutes of head’s-down “nonstop anaerobic pain.”

Isaac and Nick enter Oregon.
Perhaps every inch of USA landscape has been found, surveyed, claimed.  Even still, to pioneer westward is to start over, remake yourself, to begin again.  Nick captured what it is to be American—to battle Kansas headwinds, tackle the Rockies, navigate the Wyoming dessert, commune with his favorite wilderness, Lochsa River in Idaho.  Don’t we all dream of leaving the East Coast as one person and arriving at the Pacific changed somehow? As with most pursuits like these, one comes out with only a few soundbites, securely anchored in the psyche for life, those he may previously have known in theory but had never submerged in challenges deeply enough to test.  In Nick’s case, two themes emerged over the 54-day trek:  “There is hardly anything we actually need,” and “You are never alone.”

"There is hardly anything we actually need."  In these words, I found a similarity in Nick and Time Magazine’s Person of the Year Mark Zuckerberg, creator of facebook.  Zuckerberg is motivated by the connections people can make through facebook that would otherwise not happen.  His biggest personal goal is “eliminating desire” for material things.  It’s true he’s a billionaire, but also a minimalist who drives an Acura, rents a home and spends most of his time working to improve and perfect the “transhemispheric reach” that facebook affords over 500 million users. 

Despite the apparent similarity, Nick does not have a facebook account.  Add that to his list of things he does not need or have time for.  His carried 51 pounds of gear on his Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike for about 3500 miles of the trip after Frank and Pete returned home to jobs in the vehicle they used to sag him the first 1000 miles.  The 51 pounds were dispersed over 2 panniers and a handlebar bag and consisted of 118 items of clothing, tools, camping gear, journal, and copy of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.”  Living with only 51 pounds of “stuff” helped Nick with “pairing down the excess to get to what’s important.”  Family ranks highest.  Reaching children and exploring the world made the list.  Five years from now, for example, Nick sees himself as an established elementary school teacher preparing to embark on the “big dream” to bicycle from Alaska to Argentina, an 18,000 mile journey.
"You are never alone."  Sally told me that Nick repeated these words several times as he narrated his cycling journey to All Saints Episcopal church’s congregation in October.  He spoke in his family’s church about the generosity of strangers who touched him along the way.  Mom-Dad-two sons driving to a baseball game, pulled over in the middle of a scorching Kansas day to give him cold water and a Granola bar.  And on the 129-mile ride to Lander, Wyoming when the father-son pulled over to offer him a Coke.  On both occasions, Nick was “rejuvenated” and understood the connectedness of events, his dependency on others, the watchfulness of God.  It is worth noting that Nick found himself riding and sharing expenses from Kremmling, Colorado all the way to Oregon with Isaac, an 18-year-old who happened to also be riding solo in the same direction.  Something tells me this union was an answer to at least one parent’s prayer.  He also used his trip as a mode to raise money for the Lymphoma Association after "personally witnessing the suffering that lymphoma can cause." 

DONATE ON NICK'S PAGE to the Lymphoma Association on behalf of Nick's successful transcontinental trip!

Nick’s year is part of a much broader narrative.  He was born in Bradford, England, moved to USA (Virginia) at age 5, and graduated from James Madison University with a BS in Geography and French in 1997.  He ventured back to England after college out of “curiosity,” earned a Master’s in Environmental Management from University of Nottingham, and served as Waste Contract Manager for Cambridgeshire County Council.  He returned to the states in 2009 mostly because of family ties and to pursue an elementary teaching career.  He finished Old Dominion University’s career switcher course work in 2010 before the June-July cross country trip.
For all that he accomplished in 2010, Nick does not see it as a remarkable year.  “We are always changing.  Learning who you are is a lifelong process,” he said.  Another commonality between him and Zuckerberg is nicely summed up by Zuckerberg:  “I usually don’t like things that are too much about me.”  Nick was apprehensive about this blogpost, but never about his focus on adventure and connecting with others.  He has switched careers to more deliberately touch lives and to pass on his perpetual curiosity to children.  He currently works 3 days a week at All Saint’s preschool as a science teacher and hopes to land a full time position with a public school system on the Southside soon. 

(Top photo by BJ Samuel
Past winners:  2009, 2008, 2007, 2006


Unknown said...

Great article and writing, Professor Schleeper!

Unknown said...

good stuff Nick, even though you rode through my state and didn't visit me.