BASed out of Bellingham, washington, Spencer has been racing mountain bikes since he was 12. over the years he has been a 6x US National Team Member, 2x Olympic Long Team Member, as well as racing with Team kona. NOw, you can still find him racing but he’s also Working in the renewable energy industry, running a coaching business, being a dad and still having a great time. REad along as we find out what his secret is in juggling all these things in his life and why he loves Fritos so much.
MK: What did cycling mean to you growing up?
Spencer: Honestly it was going to fishing holes up the valley from where I grew up in a small town called Trout Lake in Southern Washington, about twenty miles north of the border with Oregon, right in the Cascades. We liked just going further and further up the creek to fish for trout. Bikes were the only way to get around our small world. I didn't really realize that mountain biking was a sport until I was thirteen. I was always into sports as a kid, like track and field and soccer, so cycling kind of meshed freedom and independence into a competition, which I thrived on. It was my own thing that my folks didn't get me into. My buddies and I felt like we discovered it for ourselves!
It’s funny: in terms of the outdoors and food, berries were a big part of my heritage where I grew up. My family was one of the original settlers in the valley where I’m from. My great grandmother would tell stories about the Indigenous people coming through the valley trading berries and goods for items with the town folk, and she would talk about sitting in the garden trading sugar snap peas for buckets and buckets of huckleberries. For me growing up, when it was huckleberry season we would go up to the fields and pick berries a lot. The soil is perfect for the berries because of all the ancient volcanic activity in the area. Foraging was a pretty big pastime, and it really contributed to my biking too with riding out to the fields all the time.
MK: When did you start racing full time?
Spencer: It was always a thing I did consistently in the summertime, but I didn't race year-round until after college, 2008. Until then, I'd focus on school and my race season would only be from spring to fall, which, from an elite standpoint, that's just a part of a season. I didn't start racing until I was much older.
MK: Over the years, how do you find that your experience and approach to mountain biking, cross, and enduro has changed over the years?
Spencer: That's a tricky one to answer. I’ve come to rely a lot more on my intuition and knowledge base, I guess. There’s a big confidence piece that goes along with it, too. I feel like there were a lot of years where I was just increasingly more at ease with the whole pursuit. It's hard to put a finger on anything in particular, other than from the time I was probably fifteen, each year would be just incrementally better than the last all the way up until I hung up the Elite international cycling agenda. I feel like I can remember all the way back to when I was racing in Oregon, I found myself relying more on experience and knowledge from the years of racing that has really given me a huge edge, along with the mental power. I run my own coaching business now, and I'm really big on perceived exertion. In most cases, your perception of effort is what's going to slow you down or hold you back before anything else, and I think that's what has changed most.
MK: What bikes do you have in your stable?
MK: Do you have any recipes or any kind of food for all your training or any secrets that really work for you?
Spencer: I think just being really consistent with food choices while training and competing. But to be honest, at this point, unless it's an epic multi-day thing where I need real food, I think my body is just so used to anything. I can eat pretty procedurally, but I'm not really spending energy on thinking about snacks. But I also have this mentality since I started traveling for competition internationally where I wanted to have a good routine but I didn't want it to be so rigid that it would throw me off my rhythm. If I could only eat a baguette with honey and jam, I would be just fine! I try and keep my engine more like a truck’s than a Formula One race car’s: I can kind of throw anything in it and I'm still able to go pretty hard. Plus, I love eating pancakes with Kerry Werner when we are out riding together in the adventure team. Whenever I eat pancakes, I think of him.
MK: You're doing a lot more bikepacking and exploring in the past few years. What does your messkit look like?
Spencer: The last few years I’ve traveled with a small Jetboil. I've actually been a big fan of Mountain House freeze-dried foods. I think it’s because it reminds me of my childhood. Growing up, our family vacations were backpacking trips, and I hated freeze-dried food – it always made me feel horrible. But then we started using it a few years ago with the Kona Adventure Team, and I was so surprised at how far it has come. Now I like to bring packets of parboiled rice that I can easily heat up and even add some dehydrated veggies. Or if I can plan properly, my wife and I bring fresh veggies on our backpacking trip and make a coconut curry that I really like and it feels like a luxury dinner for two. Some of the best backcountry cooking I’ve ever done is on multi-day sea kayaking trips around the San Juan Islands, because you can really carry a lot of food and gear. It’s just awesome.
My wife and I also have a cargo bike now as well, and it’s like this marriage of bikepacking and sea kayaking in terms of the amount of stuff you can actually carry. We put our kid in the bucket and fill the food and gear in and around him and its completely luxurious. With that bike, we can carry a mix of backcountry food with as much dry food, like grains and staples, as we can, and then we will restock and load up the bucket when we need to. It’s really cool actually, and we've been totally surprised by how mobile it is and what it allows us to cook.
MK: What are some of your favourite gas station meals while you are out traveling?
Spencer: Lately it’s been Fritos. They were a big hit with me last year [laughs]. I was in so many damn hot places that the saltiness of those just works. Cozy Shack rice pudding also makes me a pretty happy guy – especially if I can throw a little pack of berries in it.
MK: How do you balance being a dad, working a full-time job, and being on Team Kona?
Spencer: In my imagination, it seems to be balanced [laughs]. I like to think that I know how to balance them, but it's been a total learning experience and a total weekly evolution at this point with kids in the picture. I actually reflect on this a lot. My career path has been pretty great, but some might say that I'm hedging my bets by not going all-in on one thing in particular. But I've done my best to maintain these parallel paths of cycling and my life and career outside of cycling. For me, it was worth having both opportunities, and I feel like I was growing a lot personally. I'm definitely getting to the point now with a family that forces me to focus more and be a bit more selective with my time. It’s a good question, because you're catching me in a pretty big transition point, I would say. For most of my cycling career, I’ve had a job in wind and solar energy project development. Growing up, a lot of the cyclists who I looked up to would race at the elite level but they were also full-time job people. They had careers outside of cycling and I just I really respected that. I don't know if that was a product of the environment I grew up in or what it was. Nowadays, you don't even have to be an elite-level competitor, but you can command a pretty big audience with an exclusive lifestyle and make it known to other people. There’s a totally new way of doing things these days, which is fine too. But, I’m happy with how I am doing things.
MK: What have you learned about yourself in all these adventures that you've been taking?
Spencer: I think it's been the lens through which I have learned the majority about how I manage uncertainty, decision making, and what I can and can't control in life. Writing about my personal experiences combined with my riding has taught me a multitude of things as well. It really forces me to reflect on who I am and what comes out of that. That’s especially true now, being a dad and having a family to raise, and that aspect of life and responsibility. It reminds me of how good it feels to be able to go out in the woods to ride down a scary trail and having a really binary thought process of “do or do not”. Just being able to get out there and play, letting things get loose on a regular basis is really important for me as well. I’ll have to write a book about it someday!
MK: Do you find yourself wanting to write more about what you're doing and getting your thoughts out that way?
Spencer: Yeah, in a way. I've enjoyed it more and more over the last few years. Part of it was that I finally had the time to sit down and write. I took a sabbatical, so to speak, from my job a couple of years ago. In 2015, I left the company that I'd been working for, and so I had some time to really think. Here I was 30 years old and I had this fairly unique agenda for most people who get in their early thirties. So I had a lot of time to cycle very intensively, but also to reflect on it a lot before kids were in the picture, as well as having a break from demands, in terms of the job. My job became riding and training, and I think that kind of kick-started this reflective phase in my life. I can see maybe putting it all together into some type of memoir or something. But I don't know that I have much to say that hasn’t already been said.
MK: What are you most excited about in the upcoming year?
Spencer: Well, the big one is we're adding baby number two to the family. So that will be really exciting! Honestly, I'm excited about this year. I feel really at ease with the new chapter of my life after this year where I'm blending my personal exploits with my family bucket list. I’m feeling really fortunate that I've had all this time to be an athlete, which is a pretty self-absorbed pursuit. I almost feel like the whole bike agenda is just merging really peacefully into this next phase that’s coming. It's got some sweeteners from the history of racing and traveling, but that's not what it's going to be about anymore, and I don't feel melancholy about it whatsoever. It's kind of a special feeling for me.
For the summer solstice of June 2017, Spencer had an idea. Ride a loop multiplied by 15 laps, just over 10,000 vertical meters (32,000 feet) all in one day. Equivalent to over 10 times up El Capitan, 6 times up and down from Whistler Village to Top-of-the-World trail and back, roughly 1/5th the climbing in the entire Tour de France (2016 route), or more than the combined vertical of the 7-day BC Bike Race.
The Challenge high planned route: a 7-mile loop with an exposed 2,200-foot gravel climb at an average grade of 14%, followed by a steep and formidable singletrack descent.
• Attempt to ride 10,900m (35,800ft) vertical ascent (and descent) on mountain bike, the equivalent of the depth of Challenger Deep, the deepest known point in the earth's seabed
• Gravel road up, trail down
• Begin at first light at 4:24 AM PST and begin the final ascent by the end of civil twilight at 21:59 PM PST...17.5 hours
Total meters climbed on his Kona Hei Hei DL: 10,009 meters (32 837 feet) but also descended 8,050 meters for a grand total of 18,059 vertical meters (59,248 feet over 103 miles in 16:52:57 hours. Crazy!
This ride burned over 10,500 calories, as measured by a Stages power meter and a normalized power output of 225 watts or just over 3 watts per kilogram. This was equivalent to nearly 17 Costco muffins. In reality, over 17hrs he consumed the following items below, which equated to a total of ~5,300kcal, or around 50% of his estimated exercise energy expenditure:
Photos by Paris Gore
the challenger high BY THE food NUMBERS
• 16 bottles of CLIF Hydration (~1,300kcal)
• 2 bottles of regular water (0kcal)
• 1 bottle of coconut water (~150kcal)
• 1 pouch CLIF Organics Beet & Ginger (110kcal)
• 3 packs of CLIF BLOCKS (600kcal)
• 2 CLIF Nut Butter Bars (500kcal)
• 1 can Trader Joe's Dolmas (~400kcal)
• 1 CLIF Builder Bar (250kcal)
• 1 Whole Foods Pork Burrito (~700kcal)* this was the only nutrition mistake of the day, resolved within an hour
• 1/2 PBn'Honey Sandwich w/ Banana (~200kcal)
• 1/8 block of sharp cheddar cheese (~180kcal)
• 1 Mountain House Chicken Casserole pouch (700kcal)
• 1 Banana and PB (~150kcal)
• 1 Cold Brew coffee w/ honey (~30kcal)
• *Breakfast in the morning was a small cup of coffee (to coax the morning BM at 3 AM!) and • • 1/2cup (dry) teff with maple syrup, almonds, berries, cinnamon, and 2 fried eggs
• more pizza and beers at the finish
For more details about the ride visit Spencer’s blog.