Cycling Family - Stacey Wilhelm
Words by Reese Ruland | Photos by Adam Concannon
I’m a firm believer that once you leave the safety net of home and college, much of your life is spent finding a way to recreate that feeling of family. Whether that's starting one of your own or surrounding yourself with people who are so close to you that the lines of friend and family become blurred, we all crave that sense of security and familiarity. I’m a huge fan of the latter, which is precisely how I became so close with Stacey Wilhelm and her family.
I met her at a time in my life when I was going through what one might call, a quarter life crisis. I was 26 and generally speaking, I had no idea what I wanted to do. At the time I was working at a bike shop in Fort Collins, CO. As the Outside Rep for Specialized, she helped the shop put on women’s rides and events, among other things. Which is when we first started riding together. Every time she would visit the shop, we would wind up hatching some crazy idea for a new ride or way to get involved with the cycling community. Some ideas went over pretty well, while some went over like a lead balloon. Take our idea to ride to a cafe once a week during the winter. Turns out, not many people want to ride their bike at 7:30 am in four degree weather to get coffee. Weird, right? But, being two stubborn Italians, we met up every Wednesday morning without fail because, well...HTFU, we were going to do this.
Confused with where I was heading in life, I stuck to Stacey because it appeared she had “it” figured out. Plus, I admired her tenacity and drive. No matter what, she could be my guiding light while I was so, so, lost. The first time I went over to her house, I was attacked with “aggressive attention” by her rescue dog, Harper. The 65 pound ball of hair body checked me against the door and then proceeded to twerk against my leg. Meanwhile her other, much older dog, Summit, a stray she rescued off the side of the road while she was in college, didn’t pay much attention to me. As I batted Harper away from me, Stacey shouted, “Don’t engage! Don’t even make eye contact!.”
Since I’ve known her she has become, somehow all at once, my sister, best friend and mom. Despite being just a bit older than me, her varied past of working for Trek, reporting news in Eugene, Oregon and becoming rep for Pfizer Pharmaceutical after obtaining her masters, she has also become my career advisor and at times, life coach/ guru. Her life experiences and well, real talk way of handling problems, gave me guidance and insight into my own life. She’s the person you call when you’re freaking out about a huge decision. She’s that ride or die girl that everyone needs in their life.
After four years, I’d conservatively estimate that I’ve been to Stacey’s house 300 times. It was my safe haven when I moved away from Colorado in 2016 to work for Specialized in California. A job that Stacey recommended me for. During my monthly visits to Fort Collins, her house was my house. The guest room was simply referred to as, “Reese’s room.” When I left California and returned home to Colorado for good, I was back living at her house. Not only did she open up her home for me, but by the grace of some higher being, we wear the same size cycling shoes and ride the same size bikes. So even after I made a massive scratch on the first bike she lent me, she still continues to lend me her bikes and gear.
Fast forward past all of those late nights making Skratch Margs, the freezing bike rides through town, the drives in her tricked out 4Runner and the frequent life advice sessions, I’m still always over at her house. Now though, I know better than to make eye contact with Harper. Though that doesn’t stop her from going insane. Somethings have changed in four years, others not so much. I’m still asking her for advice. We’re still hatching crazy ideas about cycling while being overly caffeinated. And we’re still riding bikes.
Today as I enter her house for our interview, I know something is different. Not only have I not been attacked by Harper, but the whole house is calm. Which is highly unusual. Oddly enough I miss the normal semi-controlled chaos. Usually we can hear her husband Tony, a landscape architect, using a power saw in the back yard because he’s building some gorgeous installment for the lawn. George, her six year old son, frequently interrupts us to show off his recently built Lego set. If we aren’t being interrupted by that, our dogs normally find a way to wrestle each other at our feet, despite the wide open living room adjacent to us. This chaos is part of the deal, right? In a weird way it creates a sense of comfort. Everyone interacting, getting on each others nerves, talking, drinking a ton of coffee. These are the small things that add up to create the whole picture of a family. And while it might be nice, abet odd, to have this brief period of stillness, I like knowing that I’m a small contributor to the Wilhelm picture.
It goes without saying that bikes are machines for freedom, transportation and competition, but they are also facilitators of conversations and friendships. Since I picked up cycling four years ago, this sport has introduced me to what I jokingly call my bike family. People I’ve become so close with that I consider them my extended family. These connections would never have been possible without cycling. Cycling and the people who have ridden into my world have made it so much brighter than it would have been otherwise.