Author Archives: aaronwest

Cola Town Bike Collective – Midlands Gives

As long time followers of the blog know, I’ve had some extremely high highs and some extremely low lows. And until last year, I had been off the bike for several years.

A big part of my return was as a result of joining the board of Cola Town Bike Collective. They’re a non-profit that happened to move into my neighborhood about the same time I was buying a house. They do a lot of different things. In some ways they are a bike shop, which I’ve taken advantage of. It’s a nice luxury having one in your neighborhood! They also do a lot of advocacy, which we could use given how difficult it is to ride in our city. They have special events, many of which are bike related, and some aren’t. The last event that I attended was Tommy Stinson of The Replacements fame doing a solo acoustic show. It was a blast of a time and helped with branding and fundraising.

They are most impactful by helping those in need. This can range from homeless, to people in poverty, or even students that are trying to make ends meet. A big part of the charity is fixing up donated bikes and finding homes for them.

Covid-19 took an immediate toll on the business. Obviously the special events are over. A big question was whether to keep the shop itself open. We are technically an “essential business” during this lockdown, but given the small building, social distancing would be next to impossible. There are many tools around where the virus could live, and frankly, we work with a vulnerable population that does not have access to testing. We didn’t want to be part of the spread of the virus so the shop was shut down.

The shop is currently shut down

That hasn’t stopped us from supporting supporters. A lot of essential workers rely on bikes to get to their place of work. Scott has been doing work behind the scenes to safely help people get back on the road. In that sense we are partially operating but have little income.

Which leads me to the reason behind this post. We have an annual campaign called Midlands Gives. It’s a localized fundraising effort to drive donations to non-profits. This year it is essential because we need the funds to not only continue operating, but hopefully be more effective and impactful. A lot of people need help, but I’m asking readers of the blog and longtime supporters of me as a cyclist to consider a donation. The minimum is $10 and it goes a long way.

I’ve already donated $500 and am matching another $1,000. That’s how strongly I feel about this organization.

Here is the link to our campaign.

I’ll also share that because of the Bike Collective, I rode more last year than ever. The hip is fine with no setbacks. For awhile I was even getting some riding fitness back. We played with the idea of taking a trip to the mountains this summer, which I think would have happened if it weren’t for Covid-19. And if so, it would have been covered here. I’m still riding on a limited basis, more for function than for exercise, but because I have such a strong support group, I will ride and even climb again.

The Week I Came Back

Even though I first put my foot back on the pedals a few weeks ago, I didn’t really feel like it was a comeback yet. Sure, riding a mountain bike through urban roads with friends is a decent workout, it is a casual pace and not an arduous ride. And sure, I had put in a couple big efforts on solo rides. It felt more like the beginning of urban riding rather than a true return to sport, and frankly I didn’t know whether I’d be able to keep up with active cyclists in good shape.

This week I tested that theory. Over the Memorial Day weekend, I had my road bike tuned and cleaned up. I went through old supplies and found enough gear to get me by. The challenge was attending a group ride, finding a riding group that I felt I could keep up with, and sticking with them. I gave it a try on Thursday evening, and the temperature happened to be 100 degrees when we left. The photo above is the parking lot when I arrived as people assembled to ride.

Technically I rode with the C group, but don’t let that fool you. The A group for this ride are nearly pros, and the B ride is very competitive. Back at my peak fitness I could sometimes hang with the A group, but there would be days where I’d either drop back or ride with the B group and that was still an intense workout. The C group is 16-18 mph.

The great part was seeing a lot of familiar faces and old friends. There were a few people happy to see me, and that was nice. One of the guys, Jack, introduced me as “new cyclist Aaron West.”

For the first time in somewhere between 4-5 years, I was soon enough on the pavement, riding in a pace line, and doing my best to not overdo it. To my surprise, my spinning legs still worked and I was keeping up just fine. In fact, there were times when it felt slow. There was one time when I ended up out in front, and since I didn’t have my Garmin charged, I couldn’t monitor my speed to maintain a good pace. So I just rode what felt like a comfortable workout. After a few minutes, I look back and I had left everyone behind. That would not be a good idea with the heat and the miles ahead, but it showed that I still had some fitness. Muscle memory is a remarkable thing.

As the ride progressed, I naturally got tired. Even at peak fitness this would have worn me out, and I was extremely thirsty. Towards the end, I was a little overcooked and struggled on the hills, but I was pleased just to get up the hills. The total mileage was around 29, which is about a third of the total miles I’ve ridden since coming back. I slept great that night.

The week ended with a ride to the minor league baseball park with Cola Town Bike Coop, drinking beers and eating stadium food with some new and old cycling friends. Life is good.


I’m still pinching myself that I’m able to resume doing what I enjoy.

At this point, according to my Strava, I’ve done 6 activities. And I know that two of them weren’t logged, so that’s not bad for a couple of weeks. According to Strava, I’ve ridden 56 miles this year for an elevation gain of 2,300 feet. In other words, the equivalent of one training ride a few years back.

The nice part is there has been improvement. Even better, there has been no pain. The injury and subsequent surgery will always be part of me, but to this point it has not been an inhibitor. I’ve chosen mostly easy rides. My riding has gotten better and I’ve not been laboring as much, but I’m also not ready to join the A group.

The longest ride thus far was this week’s “Thirsty Thursday” ride. I left from the house with some new, local friends, and then we enjoyed an even paced ride throughout the city of Columbia. This is a beginner ride that goes very slowly, and it was probably a little too slow for me — a good sign given that I was on a mountain bike — and it ended at a local pizza place. I resisted the temptation for pizza because I’m looking to lose some weight (although I did not resist the beer, because that would be a crime against humanity). We then rode back home under cover of darkness. It was a grand 20 miles, and there will be more.

We are now in the hottest part of the year so far with triple digit temperatures hitting this week, and I don’t mind taking a little bit of a break. Rather than push myself, I brought my mountain bike in for a tune-up and today I am dropping off my road bike. I am ready to resume road riding and will probably start with the C group at the next weekday ride where the temperature isn’t insane.

So far I’m pleased with slow, incremental progress as I continue my comeback. Road riding is what I love. There’ll be a temptation to go too fast and too far, but I think my lack of fitness will help curb that as well.


A few weeks ago I walked into Outspokin Bicycles. It had been ages since I’d been in there, maybe a couple of years. The last time I talked with the owner, Brian Curran, it was over email asking if he’d buy the mountain bike back from me because I was too hurt to ride it. He was kind enough to take it back, but I was too hurt to bring it back.

This time I had a different purpose. I had an itch to scratch. I looked around for Brian, and then out from the office I see him, all kitted up, ready to ride. He spotted me immediately, and the first thing he said was, “you need to start your blog back up.” Maybe not a bad idea.

For longtime readers of this website, it has been a journey. It wasn’t lost on me that yesterday was The Assault on Mount Mitchell, a race that I haven’t completed in several years, and the last time I had a broken hip and grunted my way up the mountain. Every year I miss it. And every year I wonder whether I can ever do it again.

For a long while I thought my riding days were done. The doctor said it was safe, but after all that I had endured, no thanks.

Then we bought a house downtown. The biggest barrier (okay, excuse) was that we had bought a new car without a bike rack. We lived out in the suburbs and my bikes had fallen in disrepair. I’ve always been able to ride them; never been able to fix them. So they sat. When we moved, the idea of doing some easy rides crossed my mind and I kept the bikes downstairs … just in case.

By coincidence, Cola Town Bike Collective also moved downtown. Amazingly enough, they are in the same neighborhood and within walking distance. One morning I walked my bike up to them, and they enthusiastically got it tuned up and ready to ride. That was the first day I put foot to pedal in years and found my hip to be a little tight on the 1.5 mile ride home, but it felt good. It was like a muscle that hadn’t been stretched in a long time.

Not to mention, this was the first time I’d ridden the mountain bike after the painful maiden voyage. That was almost six years ago?

Another coincidence is that my neighbor and former co-worker, Debbie, lives just a few houses down. She used to be one of my riding buddies. She’s retired and still rides regularly.

In the last few weeks I’ve gradually taken a couple of spins. My neighborhood has a casual Monday night ride where they ride urban roads and drink beer afterward. The pace is slow enough that I can keep up on my mountain bike, and the beer still tastes better after a few miles. The above picture is us after yesterday’s ride enjoying some beverages.

To my surprise, I found that I have a little bit of fitness and can even spin a little bit up hills. Overall I’ve ridden only 40 miles in 2019, hardly anything, but I already had some base fitness from other activities. The summer heat is out, but I live in a great location for easy riding, and I’ll keep hitting the pavement.

I’m also eyeing that road bike and thinking it needs to be tuned up soon.

I’m back!

A Long Overdue Update: Wellness Champ

The last time I posted on this blog, my future was unclear. I was technically disabled, dealing with excruciating pain, and praying for a surgery that would ease my pain. It was a long road, and after all the fighting, I received a new hip in December of 2015.

The recovery was remarkably swift. I was back on my feet within a couple of weeks, walking on my own shortly thereafter, off the pain pills quickly (could not get rid of that junk quick enough!), and back to work soon. I was working remotely within a couple weeks, and back in the office within a month. Recovery continued to progress. Even with limitations, I worked to take off some of the weight I had gained during the injury process, and to stay healthy despite my physical limitations.

My surgeon had approved riding a bike, but not like before. I have not ridden a bike since. Whether I will in the future is up in the air, but I feel that I could do easy rides — nothing like what has been written about on this blog.

This site remains popular and I’ve kept it going. A couple of people offered to buy it, and while I didn’t say no outright, I wanted to make sure it would be in the right hands and did not let go.

In 2016 I had another life change, and that’s really what promoted this update. I changed jobs. It wasn’t something I was looking for. My employer was terrific and incredibly supportive and patient with my injury, but this was an opportunity too good to pass up. It was a great position working with a Fortune 500 company. I love working here, and I have managed to fit in quickly.

Just recently they published an article about me as a “Wellness Champion” on the corporate intranet. This is a pretty big deal, and as it is on the home page of thousands employees including all of my peers. I’ve heard from some that have been inspired by my story, and that’s all I can ask. Here is the text with some of the company specifics removed.

Wellness Champion: Aaron West

Aaron West has quite the list of accomplishments when it comes to fitness and living a healthy lifestyle.

He successfully finished the Assault on Mount Mitchell three years in a row, rode the highest paved road in North America up to 14,000 feet, and biked 237 miles from Spartanburg to Charleston, South Carolina, in the same day — to name a few.

However, during the height of his fitness, Aaron suffered a mysterious and severe hip injury that required two years to completely diagnose, including an attempt at microfracture surgery and labral repair.

The expectation was a year recovery time with gradual progression and an eventual return to sport without any setbacks. The recovery didn’t go well, and the injury progressively got worse. Underlying problems were never addressed and what was once an injury had become a disability.

Thanks to the American’s with Disabilities Act and the help of Human Resources, Aaron was able to work from home for 8 months. This was the case until he was forced to undergo a total hip replacement — a procedure for which he was nearly 20 years below the average age.

“It required a drastic shift in my mindset and workout routine,” Aaron said. “I transformed from a hardcore athlete to a guy trying to stay fit while dealing with physical limitations.”

As a result of the procedure, he’s no longer allowed to run, can’t bike the way he used to and is limited to low-impact exercises. Despite these setbacks, Aaron hasn’t lost sight of the importance of being healthy.

“My mindset now is to stay within a weight limit, keep my numbers within range and to live a healthy lifestyle without making sacrifices,” he said. “We’re on the verge of opening a new gym on my campus, and I’ve already made it a personal goal to commit to three days per week there, and another two days of some other activity.”

In addition to focusing on his own health, Aaron also serves on the wellbeing committee, where he now hopes to help and inspire others. In this role, he encourages others to start small, do what they enjoy and find an accountability partner to keep each other focused on your goals.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity the company has provided me to share my journey with others,” he said. “It’s truly a blessing to work for a company that understands disability and promotes the value of a healthy lifestyle.”

The article ended with a photo that longtime readers will probably recognize. My triumphant celebration of climbing Independence Pass.

Independence Pass triumphant!