Joe Parkin, on cycling, doping and race fixing, and his many adventures in ‘search of that thing that so completely enthralls’ the mind and body
Joe was a pioneering American professional cyclist in Europe in the 80s and 90s. He also has been a professional and/or highly competitive BMX, mountain bike and motorcycle racer.
He’s been an aerobatic pilot. He spent several years as a highly accomplished long-range rifle shooter. He has been on several tours with the rock band of the actress Juliette Lewis. He has published two books and later worked as a magazine editor and writer. He’s owned a bar and bike shop, is a Liege waffle connoisseur and continues to read books in Flemish to stay in touch with his formative years as a cyclist living in Belgium.
Joe shares his inside perspective on the entrenched history of doping in the sport of cycling, the nuances of race fixing, and his levels of participation in both. Among other stories from his many interesting life turns and adventures.
SHOW NOTES, LINKS, CREDITS & TRANSCRIPT
The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment: Office of Health Disparities.
Along with being distributed on popular podcast listening platforms (e.g. Spotify, Apple), Looking Upstream is broadcast weekly at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, on KHEN 106.9 community radio in Salida, Colo., and can be listened to on-demand via khen.org.
We Are Chaffee
Looking Upstream Host, Producer & Photographer: Adam Williams
Looking Upstream Engineer & Producer: Jon Pray
We Are Chaffee Community Advocacy Coordinator: Lisa Martin
We Are Chaffee Graphic and Web Design: Heather Gorby
Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment: Andrea Carlstrom
Note: Transcripts are produced using a transcription service.
Although it is largely accurate, minor errors inevitably exist.
[Intro music, guitar instrumental]
Adam Williams (00:00:15): Welcome to We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream, a conversational podcast of humanness, community and wellbeing based in Chaffee County, Colorado. I'm Adam Williams. Today I'm talking with Joe Parkin.
Now I'm going to get to the descriptors of who Joe is in a moment, but first I'm just going to say that we've got a lot going on with this conversation and I think it's an amazing one because Joe is a guy with a lot of history, a lot of diverse and extraordinary experiences and stories.
There were so many threads to pull with him, and I think we did a pretty good job of doing the thing, of having the conversation while also knowing that he's humbly sitting on so many stories that we still didn't touch. So here we are, some descriptors and highlights about Joe.
(00:00:58): I'm going to somewhat bullet point these just for efficiency's sake. Joe notably was a pioneering American professional cyclist in Europe in the '80s and '90s. He also has been a professional and/or highly competitive BMX, mountain bike and a motorcycle racer.
He's been an aerobatic pilot. He spent several years as a highly accomplished long range rifle shooter. He's been on several tours with the rock band of the actress, Juliettete Lewis. He's published two books and accidentally fell into a period as a magazine editor and writer. And just as accidentally though really, I think that's just his humility talking, he spent most of a decade with an Italian cycling apparel company as a clothing designer among other things.
(00:01:42): He reads books in Flemish to stay in touch with his formative years as a cyclist in Belgium and is a liege waffle connoisseur. He says he is a bartender now, though again, humility, he owns the bar. He has years of bike shop ownership too.
We actually manage to dip into almost all of those subject areas in this conversation. Along the way, I get Joe's inside perspective on the entrenched history of doping in the sport of cycling and the nuances of race fixing and his levels of participation in both. We even talk a little about aerodynamics and some other good things too, but I've said enough for now and I think that you will find that Joe is candid and easy with this story and that we've got another great one here.
So here he is, Joe Parkin.
[Instrumental guitar transition]
Adam Williams: Welcome to the show, Joe. I am excited to talk with you. From what little hints of things I know from your story, I'm just, this is going to be great. So thanks for being here.
Joe Parkin (00:02:43): Yeah. Thank you.
Adam Williams (00:02:45): Given so many different aspects of your story to get into, obviously you're a former pro cyclist and I've read your book, A Dog in a Hat, which was your first book, and that came out in 2008, I believe, at least in the addition that I was holding. So a lot has happened since then.
I think too, I'm going to get into some of the cycling stuff with you, but before we do that, I want to get into things that I don't know so much about because you might have just briefly mentioned it in your book and that stoked so many questions for me. I'm like, I want a book on that. So let's go to the line. The idea that you shared in that riding at the time that said, you've crashed bicycles, of course you were racing, and other vehicles and an airplane. You've crashed an airplane?
Joe Parkin (00:03:35): Yeah, I crashed an airplane. If it was a car, we would call it a fender bender, but since it's an airplane, it's catastrophic, right? The FAA doesn't have a sense of humor at all, and so you really have to look at it with that perspective. But yeah, I landed on a high wind situation and it was my fault, messed up.
You were the pilot, I was the pilot, and I took the airplane off. It was a small aerobatic plane and really wasn't designed for the crosswind situation that I was trying to land it in, and ultimately I just drove it off the runway, drove it through some grass and crashed into a sign. And again, if it was a car, it would've been a fender bender, it would've cost a few thousand dollars. But since it's an airplane, a completely different story and the feds had to be involved. So yeah.
Adam Williams (00:04:35): Well, When we're talking about a fender bender with an airplane, you're talking about crashing into a planet, even when it's gentle, right?
Joe Parkin (00:04:41): Correct. Yeah. I mean it was more embarrassing than anything else, to be honest with you. But I mean, you're crash landing an airplane, that usually doesn't turn out that well. So yeah.
Adam Williams (00:04:55): Well, is it the way that it turned out as what you're calling a fender bender? I mean, was that something that you could predict as you were trying to do it, or, I'm thinking from what you're saying it was unpredictable. How did you know it was going to turn out safe versus flip or whatever else might have happened with the wrong gust of wind?
Joe Parkin (00:05:14): Well, I think that basically when it was a tower controlled airport, so I was talking to air traffic controllers. It was a heavily corporate jet trafficked airport with east-west runways and a north-south runway, and the wind was coming out of the south, I mean dead out of the south at about 20... It was like 20, 22 knots gusting to 30 and beyond.
And I really should have, they cleared me to land on the east-west runways, and I really should have asked to land on the north-south because I would have been a no-brainer. It would've been really, really easy but I thought, well, it's good practice what doesn't kill us. But yeah, I screwed up and I knew that it was going to be, the minute that I touched the ground, I knew that something was going to go south, but I didn't see it as being anything catastrophic. I didn't see flames, I wasn't reliving all the aspects of my life, so everything was fine. It just was a big embarrassment.
Adam Williams (00:06:32): Got you. So another question I have out of curiosity, it comes from that same almost random question type thing was from an article that I read, you gave, I don't know how many years ago this was, and it was almost in passing, they made reference to you having toured, I guess with a band with Juliettete Lewis, the actress, her band.
Joe Parkin (00:06:53): Yeah. Yeah.
Adam Williams (00:06:55): And again, I'm like, wait, what? We didn't get into that. So that's true.
Joe Parkin (00:07:00): That is true. Yeah.
Adam Williams (00:07:01): What does that mean? Are you a musician? Were you playing in her band? Were you dating her? I mean, what were the circumstances here?
Joe Parkin (00:07:08): So I had, my cycling career was over. I had been in working still in cycling, but for a clothing manufacturer. Things were a little bit weird in my life at the time. And my youngest brother, Jay has a, well, he owned or co-owned a record company in Hollywood, and he'd half a dozen bands or something like that on the label, and Juliettete Lewis's band, Juliette and the Licks, they were on that label.
(00:07:45): Anyway, called him out of the clear blue and said, "Hey Jay, I'm having a rough go of it right now. I really need a mental vacation. Could I go tour with one of your bands, sell merch, load in, load out, do whatever? I don't really care. You don't have to pay me, none of that. I just want a mental vacation."
So without skipping a beat, and he's just like, "Yeah, we're getting ready for a Juliette and the Licks tour, you can come and join us and sell T-shirts." So I ended up going on several tours with them and it was awesome. I mean, it was truly awesome. There's often times where I wished I had learned how to play the guitar instead of ride a bike. It was really fun.
Adam Williams (00:08:28): That sounds incredible. I guess I've always been curious about touring with a band in any capacity. I've never been even a music fan to the point of I'm going to follow somebody all over the country or whatever that would be like a deadhead or something. So I guess I'm really curious about a lot of aspects of that, but we'll keep it moving a little bit.
I do of course want to talk with you about cycling. I'd have to say that, I can't even call myself a casual fan of cycling because it's just not a sport that was ever put in front of me. It's not something I was around. And Greg LeMond as a kid, then you have the whole Lance what would become a saga with Tour de France and all these sorts of things, that drew my attention to paying attention to that particular race.
(00:09:16): But we're talking about in the '80s when you're coming up and at 19 decide you're going to go to Belgium and really what, test yourself, where it's going to be one of the tougher places to come up and to compete and get better and become a pro cyclist. What? There's so many questions off, they can branch off of this. There's the part where your dad wanted you to go to a military academy. I don't know how you buck that. First of all, how do you say to a dad who's a Marine who has been a drill instructor, "No, no, no. I'm not going to follow your instructions. I'm going to go do my own thing." Across the world, pedaling a bike, which is a sport, I assume they didn't understand, your parents.
Joe Parkin (00:09:57): Yeah, it was an interesting progression. I have always been, my very first memory of being alive is being at, to be honest, I don't remember the racetrack, but it was a NASCAR car race oval in somewhere in North Carolina, and I was probably four and a half years old, and my dad worked for Pontiac Motor Division at the time.
My parents are from Michigan. That's what you do. You go to work for one of the car companies, right, and that's what I remember. And I've always had a passion for speed, things with wheels and yeah. My introduction to cycling was really weird because I kind of, maybe not weird, but just not direct. I played baseball. I wanted to be the next Johnny Bench. I wanted to be a great major league baseball catcher. But you look at me, I'm not the build for that necessarily.
(00:11:13): And I thought I was a good baseball player, but once I got into junior high and high school, the coaches were always looking at me going, "Yeah, kid, you're not going to... You're too skinny, you're too small, you won't have the arm," all this stuff. And my hitting wasn't that awesome. So at a certain point, my parents gave me a choice, like you can't be a bum this fall going into your sophomore year of high school or whatever it was. Freshman year of high school, you can't be a bum.
You got to go do something, they give me a choice. You can run cross country or play soccer, and I'm a garbage soccer player, so I thought I would give cross country a try. I turns out I can't run to save myself either. It's a good thing I'm not a criminal because I had never get away from the cops.
(00:12:09): Anyway, but I did run cross country and then started looking at some things to keep myself in shape and all that stuff. I'd always liked riding bikes. I always liked riding motorcycles, race BMX a little bit as a kid. So I bought a bicycle with pittance of savings that I had and started riding it. At the same time I was working for the school newspaper because as you mentioned that my dad had this goal of me going to the Naval Academy, and so I was collecting all those extracurricular things.
(00:12:56): I interviewed this student in my school that he raced bikes. The whole thing was fascinating to me. I'm still that generation that I was a kid when the film Breaking Away came out. So, excuse me. Those kinds of things were still fascinating to me. And anyway, interviewed the kid, wrote a story, and at the same time he goes, "Hey, there's I go do this individual time trial race up north of Minneapolis every..."
I can't remember if it was a Tuesday or a Thursday, something like that. "And you should come along, come check it out." Well, I ended up winning the thing. So that was the light switch, and it's like, well, I actually I suck at running, I'm too skinny to play baseball. Here's a thing that is right up my alley. So I just dove in from that point.
Adam Williams (00:13:58): I like these stories where people happen into their thing that just so clearly is their thing, because I don't know that I have felt the same about anything in my life because, I mean, I've talked about on this podcast my interest in trail running and some things like that with people, but there's no way I'm going to win anything. I'm mid back at best out there.
So to know in your first race that you are going to be at the top of the podium, assuming there was a podium, but you won, I don't know that. That's amazing to have that be a spark in your life that's just like, this is the direction I'm going. And at 19, that took you to Belgium, all right, not the Naval Academy, not to college or to whatever your parents thought should have been an alternative that was acceptable. We're now talking about what, 30, 35 years ago?
Joe Parkin (00:14:51): Yeah.
Adam Williams (00:14:52): Does that feel like a lifetime ago to you? Is that something you ever reflect on? Are you that reflective sentimental type person or is that just like, man, that was a different guy, a different life?
Joe Parkin (00:15:02): I think it's strange to me because I remember everything like it was just yesterday. I know that sounds cliche and everything like that, but I can remember that era of my life so clearly with such level of detail. I mean, it really was my thing. I loved it absolutely wholeheartedly, completely. So I can look at the years, I can do the math and go, "Holy shit, that was forever ago." But at the same time, it really does, it just blends into my everyday life. It's just that that's just what I am, what it was, I guess.
Adam Williams (00:15:49): Yeah. So I've mentioned that your dad was a Marine. You said then when you were pretty young that he was working for the auto industry. What was that Marine Corps connection for him? So it wasn't a career there, it was-
Joe Parkin (00:16:02): No, my dad grew up, his parents were just, they were white trash, and he was very fortunate to have had a mentor in the form of a high school teacher, I believe. And that guy basically, I don't know the complete story. My dad was a slightly tight-lipped, that kind of old school, stiff upper lip and everything.
But whoever the mentor was pointed to him in a direction of like, "Hey kid, go do something different for a little while and get out of this upbringing that you have. His parents were raging alcoholics and fought with each other and not particularly intelligent or curious or creative or anything else. They just... I don't know. It were my grandparents, so I have to care for them that way, but not people I really ever wanted to be around that much.
(00:17:11): And he escaped that life and he went to the Marine Corps. He was built for that. He loved it until the day, my dad had early onset Alzheimer's and ultimately died complications of that, which is typically is pneumonia because they forget how to swallow and things like that. But he stood like a Marine Corps drill instructor until the day he could hardly stand anymore. He had that stance. It was very, if he had not gotten out of the Marine Corps, I might not be here. But at the same time, had he stayed in the Marine Corps, I think he would've been a much happier human being.
Adam Williams (00:17:55): Was he in Vietnam or what was his era?
Joe Parkin (00:17:57): No, he was technically, he is a Korean War vet, even though he saw no time in Korea. And then he got out of the Marine Corps. He went to college and he wanted to go back to the Marine Corps. And this is a weird long story based on some... He had corrected vision and he had asthma.
And when he enlisted originally, the recruiter was like, "You can't hide your eyes, but you can hide your asthma." When he went to re-enlist with the hopes of going to OCS, he wrote down that he had asthma and that recruiter had higher standards or something.
Adam Williams (00:18:41): I went through that myself going into the army. Actually, I had a recruiter who would not put me in because of asthma, but his superior called me up. He just plain wanted the quota. He wanted somebody else to put in. He said, "I'll put you in." So the other guy was just turning his back to it and holding his principles.
Well, the reason I ask when you say you might not be here had he stayed in was, well, was he a war combat service veteran with that experience or why you think that? Why do you think had he stayed in, you might not have come to be?
Joe Parkin (00:19:20): Oh, I just think he would've been, I think had he gone, he stayed in, had he just re-upped his enlistment, and then because that period of time you didn't have to have a college education to go to OCS and his superiors were trying to get him to go to OCS, and anyway, I think that he would've different path, wouldn't have met my mom. I mean, they knew each other before he went into the service, but they probably wouldn't have gotten married.
Adam Williams (00:19:53): Got you. Just a different life course, which of course changes everything. Well, okay, so OCS, officer candidate school, he wanted you to go to the Naval Academy, so of course then you would've come out as an officer in the Navy, or potentially Marines I suppose, since the Marines come under the Naval Department–
Joe Parkin: Yeah, Marines.
Adam Williams: –but you didn't. So you go off and decide you're going to give a shot at becoming a pro cyclist, and then of course, I mean you succeed and you're there for several years. Ultimately, did that affect the relationship that you had with your dad in particular because of what he had wanted for you, or did he come around and support that?
Joe Parkin (00:20:26): And that is the great sadness, really. His brain was gone by the time that we would've been able to reconcile. I don't think there was much to reconcile. I think that my dad was getting sick when I went to Belgium. His early onset Alzheimer's, and I'm no doctor scientist by any stretch, but it seems to progress quite a bit quicker the younger that it begins to develop.
Adam Williams (00:20:55): And he was in his 40s when it happened.
Joe Parkin (00:20:58): Yeah.
Adam Williams (00:20:58): Okay. Wow.
Joe Parkin (00:21:00): Looking back in hindsight, we see the signs of it when he was really in his early 40s, certainly by mid 40s he was showing signs, by 50, he was gone. He was still there, but he couldn't work anymore.
My dad had an uncanny knack of sense of direction, and then suddenly he was getting lost coming home from work or going to work or going to the store and back, those kinds of things. He was basically gone in his early 50s. He died when he was 60 or thereabouts.
Adam Williams (00:21:39): That was a long time then to live with the condition, right?
Joe Parkin (00:21:43): It was, and yeah, it was hard. It was hard on my mom, hard on my brothers. I was away, so I didn't experience as much as they did.
Adam Williams (00:21:56): Did anybody resent you for that because you sort of escaped the daily or whatever responsibility that might have come to you in that?
Joe Parkin (00:22:05): Yeah, I don't know. I don't think so. I think everybody, the family was just, everybody was going through it in their own way. He only got to see me race one time in Europe, and I like to believe that there was a faint glimmer of understanding there, but we never talked about it.
There was never got to the point where it was like, oh, I'm proud of what you'd done. And perhaps he told other people that, I mean, he did have a picture of me in my full cycling regalia hanging in his office before he ultimately got an early medical retirement from General Motors, but we never talked about it, and most of that was he couldn't really, so.
Adam Williams (00:22:56): Right. Okay. Well, about the cycling, your writing has been really open about the drugs, the doping and things involved. Of course, we know that I mentioned Lance Armstrong, and it's maybe unfair to single out his name, but if anybody's going to recognize any non fan of cycling is going to recognize a name, that's the one they're going to recognize.
He was not the first by any stretch to get involved in this. It's been prevalent in the sport. And in reading your writing on this, it just blows me away how obvious and open with each other with other cyclists people are. It's almost like it's just a given and it's also illegal and being at least to whatever extent, at least theoretically tested for and tried to weed out.
I don't even know my question at this moment, other than how... I don't understand, I've never understood as somebody who's not in the sport how it's so prevalent and everybody just accepts, “Sure, most people are doping, and if you're not, probably is just assumed that you are because, well, everybody's doping.”
Joe Parkin (00:24:03): I think I've tried to explain this to many, many, many different people because to me it's part of the sport, and if you want to think that the sport is completely pure, you might want to pick a different sport to pay attention to.
Because in my mind, anyway, you can appreciate it for what it is. You appreciate the athleticism. And if you're hung up on the fact that some of, if not most of the cyclists throughout the history of the sport have been chemically altered, you're just going to be banging your head against the wall in frustration. I think it's important to understand that it's a European sport. It's not an American sport. Interestingly enough, it was in the early days. I mean, Madison Square Garden in New York, Madison Square Garden was built for cycling. That was its original purpose.
Adam Williams (00:25:10): For an indoor track.
Joe Parkin (00:25:11): It was an indoor velodrome. And in the early after the turn of the 20th century, the teens and 20s, the number one sport in the United States was for spectatorship, was Velodrome racing, cycling on a board track. All of the fancy people came to Madison Square Garden.
It was the IT event always for sports. And at that time it was very well known. I mean, you have to almost think about professional cycling as if it were boxing. There's nobody that looks at boxers and go, oh, these people are the elite minds of science and technology and philosophy and things like that.
(00:26:03): Now, these are the hard scrabble people who might, if you look, you think about boxing as this is the way out of poverty or family generational poverty, and cycling was very much the same in Europe in its early days. It wasn't the thing that the gentleman did. I like to read Flemish books because it keeps my brain speaking Flemish a little bit at least.
And there's a very famous Belgian cyclist who is the epitome of this concept of Flandery in which is the Flemish hard guy athlete. His name is Breach Gilta, and was, he's dead now. But I read this book about him and it really talks about how when he was getting interesting in cycling, his parents didn't want him to be a cyclist because those were the scumbags of society.
They were not this notion of pure sports fair play and all that stuff. It was a living, and that's all it was, but it was fun to watch. So again, I'd go back to that boxing analogy. The idea was that it was watching people brutalize each other. In this case, it was with a bicycle. It wasn't with fists.
(00:28:00): So anyway, the early days, the really early days of cycling, if you look at the very first Tour de France, the Rider's Handbook said the organization of the Tour de France will not be providing doping products to the cyclists that you have to provide those on your own. So it's been so much a part of the professional sport for so long that it's almost just a given.
And people hate that I dismiss it like that, but it's really what it is. It's really traditionally what it has been. Now, back when the sport became more global, which I relate directly to, when the 7-Eleven Cycling Team from the United States of America went and race bikes in Europe and ultimately did the tour of Italy and then the Tour de France, they brought with them a more educated mindset, a more pure sports mindset, and that was the kickoff of trying to clean up the sport.
(00:29:08): The problem with any thing like that is that you, and I'm not dismissing this notion of wouldn't it be cool if everybody was clean and pure? I'm just saying once you begin to build a lot of rules and a lot of bureaucracy into keeping the sport clean, then you start having a class divide, and the sport, maybe it requires a little bit of background here, but people love to say, well, Lance Armstrong, well, he was just doing what everybody else was doing, kind of, not really.
And that's where this class warfare, class divide starts to come. In the early days of the sport, the only thing that you needed, and early days even up into my era in the '80s and early '90s, all you needed to have to be on a doping program was a doctor with, as William S Burroughs would say, a croker with a good writing arm. You had to have a doctor who was willing to write your prescription for a banned substance. That's all you had to have.
Adam Williams (00:30:15): And then it was okay, then it was permitted?
Joe Parkin (00:30:17): No, it wasn't permitted, but that's all you had to have to access and to be able to be on the level playing field. Once you get into the Lance Armstrong era, the doping controls become so much more sophisticated that you have to have a more sophisticated doctor to be able to help you onto a doping program that's going to allow you to skate under the doping control without testing positive essentially.
Adam Williams (00:30:52): You have described yourself as a conscientious objector related to doping. Did you–
Joe Parkin (00:30:59): To a great extent, yeah.
Adam Williams (00:31:01): Because you have candidly described at least some what I would look at as minimal or even accidental or incidental experiences in which you might have just been given something and not known. But I'm just curious then, how do you make that choice?
You obviously, it sounds like, embraced and still maintain this idea that if you're going to be part of this sport, you're going to have to accept that it's so prevalent, it's historically rooted in this sport, and if you're going to go clean, that's what you're competing against.
Joe Parkin (00:31:33): And there's been a lot of cyclists over the years have come out and said, "Well, I could have been a contender, but I'm not willing to do all of this stuff." In my case, it was slightly different. I don't come across, I'm not some puritan notion of clean sport. To me, honestly, I skirted the line here and there for sure, but to me, the biggest thing was I was one of the first Americans to go do this. Right?
Adam Williams (00:32:13): In Europe you mean?
Joe Parkin (00:32:14): Yeah, in Europe. There were guys that came along before me. Obviously there's a lot of people that have come after me. There was Greg LeMond that was before me and Jonathan Boyer and George Mount and all these names, Mike Neil, all these people that went over and raced in Europe.
I was just, I guess the difference between me, or take Greg LeMond out of the equation because he already had some notoriety, but these other guys that were on my same level, maybe a little bit better, maybe not, I don't know. There was less, there wasn't any media to speak of when I was racing. There was no social media, there was no internet–
Adam Williams (00:32:57): For sure.
Joe Parkin (00:32:58): But the sport was growing enough in the United States on the fringes where there was still enough media. I didn't want to be the first guy to test positive for drugs. I mean, it boils down to that.
Adam Williams (00:33:13): The first American to make news in America that you went to Europe and you became what many Americans then would say was a cheater.
Joe Parkin (00:33:20): Right.
Adam Williams (00:33:20): And a disgrace or a whatever.
Joe Parkin (00:33:22): Yeah. And that was it. That was my limit. I did several things that were on banned substance lists, and sometimes it was, in the book you mentioned there's parts where I was dosed. Somebody slipped me something and there was a little bit of a wink, wink, nod, nod of that. It's not like, again, I was standing back with some puritanical robes on going, "No, clean only."
But I definitely tried to stay away from a lot of stuff just because I don't want to have that conversation with my parents, I don't want to have that conversation with friends. I didn't want to be that guy that was the first American cyclist to get popped for doping. And not that it would've made me really all that different, it was just I didn't want to be that guy.
Adam Williams (00:34:26): There's one other aspect of this that you have written about that just totally stunned me. When we're talking about the purity of competition, okay, the doping thing, okay, we align that a little bit with cycling. It is in that history, it's so interwoven.
But the idea of selling or buying races from the lead group in the remaining miles and somebody is saying, "Hey, I want to buy this win," and offering to pay the writers around them who also would be in contention then to win, that just blows my mind because that to me, not to cast moral judgment in this moment with you right now, it's more of a curiosity. I did not know such a thing would exist. I mean, that's essentially race or competition fixing in my mind.
Joe Parkin (00:35:13): Yeah.
Adam Williams (00:35:14): How does that also then become just a normal way to conduct this competition, this sport?
Joe Parkin (00:35:22): And I think there's, I have my own justifications for, I made a lot of money doing that, so I don't really, and I completely would understand if people would say, "Oh, well, that's just horrible that you're a total scumbag." I get that. I go back to when I went over to Belgium.
I mean when I got there, it was like I stepped off the plane and was like, "All right, I am going to be a Belgian professional cyclist, even though I've got an American passport and fly an American flag, I am going to be an Belgian professional cyclist. I'm going to do it exactly the way they do it." Up to a certain point. Again, the drug thing scared me to a great extent, but suddenly it was my very first race that I did in Belgium, the guy tried to buy the race from me.
(00:36:19): It was two of us alone, breakaway, one of the two of us was going to win. We had a clear gap on third place, and he offered to give me money for the race. I didn't really understand what it meant at the time, so I told him no, and we sprinted out and he beat me. I was coming apart at the time we were going to sprint.
But again, it goes back to that pro mentality versus the amateur gentleman sports mentality. In cycling, it works a little bit different than, let's say if we're in a golf tournament and you want to win the tournament and you tell me to flub something or you're going to pay me off, well, I'm clearly going to, I mean this is really splitting hairs here, but baseball, you have to throw the game, right? Golf, you would have to throw the game. If you're boxing, you would have to take a dot, take a fall.
(00:37:24): In cycling is a tiny bit different. What you're doing when you buy the race from another rider or riders, typically you're not asking those other riders to not try. You're not asking them to not sprint for the win. You're asking for them to help you in the share of the work. Cycling is big on drafting, just like NASCAR, you need, even if it's your mortal enemy, you have to come up with some sort of an agreement, so you're both working together.
If you're not working together with other riders and your breakaway or whatever it is, you're going to get caught typically, and neither one of you is going to win. So a lot of times it's just a cost benefit analysis equation in your head where there's, okay, it's me and you and I know I'm faster than you in a sprint, I will pay you to not quit helping me get to the finish line essentially. It's still collusion, it's still cheating, but it's a little bit different than just going, "Well, I just won't try anymore."
Adam Williams (00:38:36): That does give me a little bit different take on it for sure. Because then I also wondered in that circumstance, let's say someone pays off the five riders around them or makes those offers and the negotiations happen all while riding, by the way, everyone still is doing what they're doing, and then what if that person doesn't win?
What if somebody else does or what if, just the ways that it can go against the agreements, and well, does that mean nobody gets paid or whatever those things are. It just starts spinning all these sorts of things, and now coming to mind is like, well, what did you not write about? What have I still not learned about in this sport?
I'm sure that there's a lot more to it and it feels like such an obscure thing that's tough to grasp as an American because it's not the NFL, it's not NBA, it's not baseball, it's not all these things that have this history with us so much more that even as fans, those are a lot easier to grasp the way cycling functions, like you were just saying, the physics of drafting.
(00:39:40): I'm not a NASCAR fan either. I might get the gist of the physics, but it's still as hard for me to totally get because it's an invisible thing. When you're talking about the Airstreams and aerodynamics and when you have two cycles or two cars close to each other, the way that affects things and helps both go, it's a whole thing for me that I don't know more than what I just was able to rattle off, I think somewhat successfully without stumbling too much.
Joe Parkin (00:40:05): Yeah, no, it's basically that. There's, and the NASCAR dynamic is massively different because we're talking about as opposed to going between 20 and 50 miles an hour, they're going 200 miles an hour thereabouts. So the aerodynamics and the physics are massively different, but in cycling, you start to derive a draft benefit at, I can't remember the number right now.
It's around 12 miles an hour, 12 to 15 miles an hour. So a rider who is in the slip stream of another rider, I mean, the easiest way to think of it is if one bicycle is behind another bicycle, the rider in front is doing 100% of the work just like that rider would do if they were riding by themselves.
(00:41:03): When you put another rider behind him, then it's that the rider in the second position is doing only 60% of the work that the first rider is doing. So done correctly, if you're doing it as a team or in the idea that the two people that aren't on the same team want to get to the line together, you're sharing the work then. So one rider takes a turn at the front, then you switch off and another type rider, and most of that is nonverbal. You just know what you're going to do.
Where it gets really fascinating to me anyway, is side wind, and that's the beauty of the Northern European countries. Small roads, lots of wind, inclement weather. Belgium, let's face it is it's not Colorado. There are no fourteeners. In Belgium it's a flat country for all intents purpose, but it's like the wind and the ability to race inside wind, that is the mountains for a flatlander. They separate the riders who are truly skilled, talented, fit and strong. That's the benefit.
(00:42:23): It's very easy for an American who've never seen the sport before to turn on the Tour de France when they're in the big mountains. Well, it's easy to understand that that person is winning today because look at they're riding faster than everyone else. For the flatlanders, for the Belgium, Holland, Northern France, that kind of stuff, that the side wind racing, the draft changes when you're drafting, when you're side drafting, as I talk about in NASCAR.
(00:42:52): Now, side drafting in NASCAR is totally different than side drafting on a bicycle, but essentially there is a massive energy savings when you're riding side by side in a staggered formation then called an echelon. It's the fastest that you can go on a bike without going downhill, and it's because once you get into that side draft situation, you're not doing 60% of the work anymore if you're behind, you're doing more like, I don't know the exact number, but it feels more like 10% of the work.
You're basically being sucked along. And then when you add your own punch at the front and then swing back and get back in the rotation, an echelon, a sidewind formation, it's just the fastest that you can go, really.
Adam Williams (00:43:49): This is going to be interesting knowledge for me to have just this little bit when I watch the Tour de France or something the next time. The science of things is fascinating to me, and yet it's also something that is fairly elusive. I struggle with, even for me in the sports that I do with that's running or that's whatever, and just trying to balance nutrition and feeling and hydration and just all the things, that's tougher for me to grasp. We can really get into the intellect of with this.
Joe Parkin (00:44:15): It's a complicated sport. It looks like nothing. I'll admit, if you turn on the Tour de France, you don't know any of the riders. You don't know what you're watching. You don't know what stage and you don't care. You look at it and what you see is a bunch of skinny guys on bicycles wearing Lycra, and they might not appear to be going very fast. It might appear to be nothing at all.
And I'll take it back to NASCAR, if you like NASCAR, if you watch NASCAR, if you know what's going on, if you know the terminology, you know the drivers and you know their talents and strengths, weaknesses, all that stuff, you see a whole lot more in the race than just a bunch of colorful cars going around in circles. It's the same thing with cycling. It's very complex. It is not brain surgery, but it's a very complex sport and it's there's a lot to it, and it's very nuanced.
(00:45:12): People love to argue with me about the Tour de France. I watched the Tour de France or watched the whole thing. One of my best friends in the world is Bob Roll, who's a commentator for American cycling, and I enjoy listening to him call the race, and another friend of mine, Christian Vanderbilt, is on that call as well, and so I will watch it.
(00:45:37): My favorite part of the race is not the mountains. My favorite part is the sprint finishes that the stuff that a lot of American viewers, even cycling fans don't even watch. I like the flat stages and then sprint finishes because those are, that's playing chess. The mountain stages, that's pure physical talent, that's watching the Boston Marathon and that sort of thing.
Like yes, there's strategy and there's a lot going on, but it's very straightforward. The flat stages and the big sprint finishes, that's chess with boxing gloves on in full oxygen deficit. You can't [inaudible 00:46:19], you might not be even be able to see it for moments at a time and you're racing a bike at 40 plus miles an hour around a bunch of other idiots that are all trying to kill each other. I love that part of it. I really, really do.
Adam Williams (00:46:33): I like strategy involved in things, and it's so much in any sport I think that we can overcome. As I've continued to age, you think of, I remember when I was a kid playing basketball with guys that at the time seemed old. They might have been in their 40s like I am now. Being able to have experience and knowledge and be strategic and efficient with what we do has become so compelling to me in any sport. It beats that brute strength idea that we have of athletics sometimes.
Let's move on from cycling a bit. I know that when you return back to the US you tried to continue with road cycling in the US for a few years and there was mountain biking. You continued to be involved in the sport in some way or another, but then there was, I think a 10-year hiatus or so, even just the book, I said your first book A Dog in a Hat was a 2008 print date.
There were a good number of years where before you got back into that story, and I'm just curious what was going on during the hiatus? What was going on in your decision to write a book and all those years later, I mean, what we're talking 15 plus years later, you've already said here that, oh, my memories of this are crystal clear, they're detailed. But I just wonder what it was it like to then re-immerse yourself in it for the purpose of sharing that book with us too.
Joe Parkin (00:48:01): The book, I never in a million years thought that I would be an author or would have my name as the writer of a book of any sort. It wasn't something I set out to do. It was, put it this way. When I moved back to the United States, I was doing basically the biggest race that the United States had at the time, which was in Philadelphia, and there was a New York Times reporter who found me somehow and was curious and asked if he could have a few minutes. We went up to my hotel room and he had his tape recorder with him. We filled up four tapes and he wrote something that you, I mean something of the length that you would see in the New York Times in a special edition or Vanity Fair or something like that.
(00:48:59): It was a huge piece, 10,000-plus words, and he pitched it to one of the prevalent cycling magazines at the time, and the editor of the book at that time said, we will never write a story about a domestique. We'll never write a story about one of these helper riders. Champions only. None of this other crap, we're not interested. And it was at that moment in time that I just figured, okay, well, I'm done with this. Nobody's going to ever be interested in this story.
And how the book came about was just very accidental. And I wrote the book and it was probably a good thing in retrospect because when the deal to write the book came up, I didn't care anymore. I didn't care who I burned, I wasn't trying to go back in the sport, none of that. And it's not like I'm throwing mud in the book, but I definitely didn't pull punches I probably would've pulled if I was trying to stay in the sport.
Adam Williams (00:50:12): Well, you kept it to the truth. It was my feel of it. There's a certain level of truth which we speak otherwise it just seems like you're not credible, because you're not even willing to say the basic truth. But yeah, there was no mud slinging, no trying to take people down. It's just here's the name of the person and that's what it is. I mean, these are the facts as I understand them, the truth is I understand them.
Joe Parkin (00:50:33): Yeah, absolutely. But it's very riders of the way that I did, my job description as a professional cyclist, we don't retire. We just don't ride anymore. There's a day where you just don't ride anymore. There's no fanfare to it. And that was very much, as you mentioned, I was racing road bikes in Europe, came back to the states, raced road bikes a little bit more, and then the money was really going into mountain biking, and I thought that that was cool to me that it was more American version of cycling than road road racing. So I gave that a shot, race mountain bikes for four years, and then it just hung it up.
(00:51:20): And then after that, I got very far away from bikes. I just raced, decided I would start racing motorcycles again, and I shot long range rifle competition and then flew airplanes and all this stuff. I don't like to sit still. So did all this stuff and really never thought I would ever do anything related to cycling again. I just didn't think it was in the cards, and then this opportunity to write the book came up and jumped on it.
Adam Williams (00:51:51): You were also then a magazine writer and editor at some point in here, and I'm trying to piece together this idea of many years of hiatus and what you were doing in your life. Then the book, which you said you've never in a million years thought you would be the author of a book, and you have written more than one. When did the magazine part come in there and maybe what else were you doing during the hiatus? Just how did life come together once you stopped riding one day in Europe and here on mountain bikes?
Joe Parkin (00:52:24): I think I was pretty lucky. I don't think there's very many professional athletes of, in any sports discipline that do retirement well. They don't teach that class in school from giving your everything, your every waking moment to a certain sport craft, whatever it is, and then one day it's just done. I mean, that is your being, and now it's not there anymore. You know what I mean?
But I was pretty lucky because I had the opportunity to basically fall right into a career, I guess, working cycling adjacent. I worked for an Italian bicycle clothing company, and again, it was one of those things that just accidentally fell in my lap. I spent eight years from the time I retired from racing. I spent eight years doing that, working for this company called Castelli, and I stopped riding and racing bicycles because I know what it feels like. I know what it feels like at the top level, and I wasn't going to have the time to dedicate to that feeling anymore.
Adam Williams (00:53:42): How old were you then?
Joe Parkin (00:53:43): I was 32 I think when I quit. I turned pro when I was 20, so I had a reasonably long career. So I quit racing. And it's funny, I wouldn't get a massage. My boss used to, as a gift every once in a while would buy us massage, arrange to have massage for us at the office, and I wouldn't even let the massage therapist touch me because I knew what it felt like because I got massage almost every day when I was a professional cyclist.
My legs didn't feel like that anymore. The muscle structure wasn't the same, the tension wasn't the same. The need for it was like this was a fun little thing to have versus I need this so that I can race tomorrow. And I desperately just needed to put the bike away for a while.
Adam Williams (00:54:38): So you didn't ride at all for a while?
Joe Parkin (00:54:39): I didn't ride at all for a long time.
Adam Williams (00:54:41): How long, do you have any idea? Are we talking that eight years, 10 years?
Joe Parkin (00:54:45): It would come in fits and starts. I would not put on cycling specific clothing and go ride a bicycle. That was an easy eight to 10 years.
Adam Williams (00:55:03): You were working for a company that was still in the cycling world though. So this is interesting that obviously you would've had your street cred as a rider, a cyclist, and all these things beforehand, but then to not be part of it and not riding, did that feel, this is a horrible way to describe it, but the word coming to mind is second class. Did you feel like, oh, I'm not the cyclist anymore that this is for, I'm not that guy? Did it feel like a fall or did it feel natural to you that yeah, you said retirement, we don't know how to do it well, but – were you happy?
Joe Parkin (00:55:39): No, I wasn't. I was not happy at all. I think that as a cyclist at having spent, I don't know, five to 10 hours a day wearing the clothing, sitting on the bike, riding all over the world, that kind of thing, I was uniquely qualified to aid in the production and the marketing and the selling of cycling-specific clothing. So I was very fortunate to be able to fall into something that I just happened to be qualified for. It wasn't my life's work, my life's passion. I wasn't that motivated by it.
(00:56:24): Unfortunately, I'm not, and I really mean this, unfortunately, I'm not motivated by money that much. So the money was good, and I could have made a lot more, and I could have done those things. To me, it was about making a better product or making, and this is going to sound horrible, but I didn't care about our customers.
What I cared about were the people that were like me. I cared about the people that would see that, if it was a piece of clothing that I designed, that there was something very specific to the needs of a pro cyclist versus the thing that's going to make the masses happy.
(00:57:09): So that part was enjoyable, but for the most part, I was pretty miserable. I wasn't in it. I wasn't in the know anymore. I was watching the races on TV, at least the ones we could watch, and seeing these friends and old teammates of mine over there either still racing or behind the wheel of the team car.
And here I was a schmuck, so to speak, just doing a job that I tried hard at, but I didn't care about at the same time. So it was rough, it was very rough. And hence all of these side projects, the learning how to fly airplanes and shoot guns and all kinds of other things, just to keep my mind in a constantly learning or competition mindset.
Adam Williams (00:58:05): Is that trying to search for just– You raced your first road race on a bicycle when you were young and you won and you're like, "This is a thing for me. I actually have something I am potentially amazing at." Was the rest of this stuff going to magazines and things, which I don't know how that came to be yet, but was that all a search for, “What is my next thing that I'm potentially amazing at, at least enough that I can have the rest of my life because I retired from this sport in my early 30s, I need to find something that is satisfying and I'm not always looking backward.”
Joe Parkin (00:58:45): Yeah, it's always been a search to this day. It's a search to find that thing that so completely enthralls your mind and makes the body feel a certain way. I got in to shooting guns, and it was like, "Oh, here's this thing that I can do that actually gives me the same..."
I would go shoot a 20, each rifle match is typically 20 shots. So I lay down on the line, you wear all the weird clothing, you get all slung up, it's prone position stuff, open sites. I didn't shoot scopes. And yet you lay down and it's full concentration. I mean, the world could be ending around me. I am in that place staring at that target, 600 yards down range or a thousand yards down range. And I would get up off the line after one of those matches. It was exactly the same feeling to me as I had after I had finished a classic in Northern Europe.
(00:59:55): Of course my legs didn't hurt, but I was absolutely emotionally and to a great extent physically depleted. I was worked over, I'd usually get up off the line, I'd be sweating. And then when I flew airplanes, that was a similar thing. It's like it took full dedication and full concentration to get that done, to get those licenses. And I flew aerobatics.
So you add a competition, I mean, I didn't fly it competitively, but you add a high performance characteristic or component onto that. I've always looked to find that thing that will satisfy that whatever it is in my brain that needs to be satisfied. The magazine editorship was a different thing. It was very enjoyable. It was a very learning experience. Again, it was one of those things that fell into place. I had no magazine experience. I wrote a book, and-
Adam Williams (01:00:58): So that came after the book. It wasn't-
Joe Parkin (01:01:00): Yeah.
Adam Williams (01:01:01): Okay. So you had no intentions of being a writer until the book thing came about?
Joe Parkin (01:01:07): I was good at it in school, but it wasn't that–
Adam Williams (01:01:09): You were good at it in your first go here with the book. And I mean, this might not mean anything to you or to anyone else, but I am somewhat particular about writing. As a writer, I find most writing to not be up to what I would like it to be as a writer or reader.
So that was one of the first things when I started reading that book of yours and I'm like, this is good writing. I appreciate the writing. And then when I found out that you had worked at magazines, I thought, well, okay, the natural progression here was you were in magazines first and then decided to write a book. So there was some path to that. To find out it was reversed, that's incredible to me.
Joe Parkin (01:01:50): Yeah, it was a very weird experience. Like I said, in school, my path that I had for myself when I came to this tough realization that I was not going to be the next great as catcher of all times and Major League baseball because I'm too small, now what I wanted to be was an English teacher.
I wanted to be a high school English teacher. I wanted to teach literature, and I didn't end up doing that, obviously. But the writing part of it, I enjoyed writing and I enjoyed storytelling. A lot of the stuff that, I mean, I'm a bartender at this point and I do it for the stories, honestly. That's why I do it.
Adam Williams (01:02:38): Well, and you own the bar.
Joe Parkin (01:02:40): Yeah. I don't drink personally and yet I'm hanging out with people in a bar all the time because their stories are fascinating to me. I mean, even their stupid stories that they've already told you three times because they've been in your bar too long. I love stories. Anyway, so I wrote a book because it just plopped itself in my lap kind of.
Adam Williams (01:03:04): And that led to magazine work.
Joe Parkin (01:03:05): And that led to magazine work. And I started a magazine when I was at the magazine group where I was hired on top of the one that I was hired to be the editor of. And then when we, long story, but my wife and I moved away from Southern California for her dream job and I gave up the magazine work for that, but was still involved in the magazine and then went on to do a bunch of other writing storytelling type stuff.
Did a lot with short video things within the mountain bike community. It's all related to me, just stories, and to your point, so much writing. You can see it when the person who's doing the writing is trying to be a writer. And it usually sucks when they try and do that. If they just tell you a good story in their own words, the writing follows. I mean, obviously not quite that simple, but the stories have always been the important part.
Adam Williams (01:04:15): I want to read a quote from something that you wrote related to the shooting, the competitive long-range rifle shooting. You said, "I needed another competitive outlet after hanging up the bike. I became a competitive long-range rifle shooter for five years, getting the highest ranking the National Rifle Association offers. Basically, if you're standing 600 yards away from me, you wouldn't survive no scope. At 1,000 yards, you'd have a 3% chance of survival."
(01:04:41): I wonder how you came to this. I wonder if, well, was your dad still around? Did he know of this piece of your life? And if so, you know what that might have done in the relationship if he had any concept of it. But basically his time in the Marines, he would've been learning some similar skills. Marines tend to target shoot at longer distances than any of the other branches.
I was in the Army, we stopped at 300 yards distance. No scope. I can't imagine doing it 600 and a thousand like you did. I know I just laid a lot at your feet there. But this idea of, I mean this is a thing. In five years, it kept your attention. You described the way you felt in the competitive, which the idea that it compares to cycling is fascinating as well because I would not have guessed that.
Joe Parkin (01:05:29): It was, I actually never really thought about that with, if I had been able to do that with my dad, that would've been a joy. My dad was an amazing shot. He hated guns. They had no purpose for him other than a weapon to be used for hunting if you were actually going to hunt for food, and/or if you were serving in the military or as a police officer or something. They were never in our house, wasn't a thing that we talked about.
(01:06:05): When I was probably 13 or 14 years old and we were living in southern California, we were in the Mojave Desert hanging out with a lot of the LA city, I think there were a few LA County firefighters that rode motorcycles with us. And one of the guys just had bought himself a brand new pistol. I don't remember the brand, but it was a 1911 .45.
And he's showing it around, showing it off and everything. And all of the dads, so to speak, were shooting it. They had a bunch of wine jugs and other garbage that they were blasting away and they were trying to get my dad to come and shoot it with him and he said, "No, I'm good." Very nonchalant. And they kept the peer pressure kept at him for so long. Finally, he was just like, all right, sure, whatever.
(01:07:07): And I watched him, they handed him the pistol and he took three shots. The first shot, he blew the cap off the wine bottle at, I don't know, 30 feet, something like that. It wasn't a super long shot, but it wasn't right next to him either. Blew the cap off of it, then he took the neck and then he took the bottle and then he flipped the gun around and handed it back to the guy and said that's a nice pistol. That was it. So there are parts of me where I wish that my dad could have seen me shoot.
Adam Williams (01:07:38): Had you ever seen him shoot like that before?
Joe Parkin (01:07:40): Nope. That was it.
Adam Williams (01:07:40): So it was a surprise.
Joe Parkin (01:07:41): That was all I ever saw. That's the only time I ever saw a gun in the man's hands, that one time. He grew up hunting but didn't enjoy it. Just all those things. That wasn't his bag. He just happened to be good at it.
Adam Williams (01:07:56): How did you come to it then, and why? Because again, I would not think of lying in the prone position, shooting rifles at a target that I'm thinking, “This is my competitive outlet. This is what's going to come into my life as the new cycling adrenaline.” How did you decide and come to this experience, or guns at all?
Joe Parkin (01:08:16): It just fell in my lap. It's one of those things, it just showed up one day. I had a friend that I raced–
Adam Williams (01:08:22): I think we have a theme here just of how life and you have come together.
Joe Parkin (01:08:26): Yeah. I had a friend that, he raced bicycles when he was younger. He didn't pursue it as a career and really gave up on it after way earlier than I did. But he started shooting rifles. And I think some of the impetus for that was he'd read the book, Marine Sniper about Carlos Hathcock and decided that he wanted to pursue it as a competition outlet.
And he was doing a lot of small bore competition and then really to fulfill that sort of, I guess in his case, maybe a little bit of a snipers fantasy, he went and shot some long-range matches and enjoyed it. And when I quit racing, he and I started hanging out together a little bit and he's like, you got to come out to one of these matches, I'll loan you a gun, blah, blah, blah. It's really fun. You got to try it out.
(01:09:21): I was instantly hooked, just instantly hooked. I thought the people were really fascinating, the people who did it. At the time, we're talking about a lot of airline pilots, master machinists. There was a lot of other people that were, didn't fall in those fields, but characters, really interesting characters. And not to bring politics in it too much, but that was at a time too, where the politics was not quite as polarizing too.
So I was this weirdo skinny bike racer guy with long hair, and I was shooting with former Marine Corps rifle team people, a circuit court judge, the senior 757 pilot for Northwest Airlines, those kinds of folks. It was very interesting. Yeah. Yeah. Fun.
Adam Williams (01:10:11): Okay. So thinking about using the word politics, obviously in guns in this country, there's a thing with this. Of course we have issues with mass shootings and all these sorts of things. So I think the reason the idea that guns are a, well, no pun intended, but a trigger point for emotions and feelings and politics, no matter where you are in the political views of the world, I've thought an interesting question in general, well, what is it that draws people to shooting?
(01:10:40): Now I have my own experience with it. I shot trap and skeet as a college age, Army after college with my dad a little bit. Obviously I shot various weapons in the army and was training on those things. I've not shot much in the last 20 years. So I've lost contact with that trigger and with that feeling and being like, “Why would I want to do this? Why is this a pastime? Why is this a competition thing?”
Do you have a sense of what it is about shooting that might help people who are not gun enthusiasts understand there's a real draw to this, that isn't necessarily about protection or shooting people or even hunting. What is it that would draw a competition shooter who's not necessarily even a hunter?
Joe Parkin (01:11:27): To me, the fascination with it to me was that, okay, here I am laying down on the ground with this thing in my hand, and when I essentially twitch my index finger on my right hand, I'm going to send a projectile down range at roughly a half a mile, right? A thousand yards, and try and hit a target that's the size of a small paper plate. And any bit of wind is going to affect that, and the heat of the day is going to affect that. And how I'm feeling and how I'm actually slung up my position that's going to affect it. And can I do that over and over and over and over again in a situation where there's a lot of other people that are trying to do exactly the same thing.
(01:12:26): That was the fascination to me. It was, I don't know, the physics of it, the mechanics of it, and the can I trick my brain into allowing me to do this aspect of it? I've never hunted, not a day in my life. I fish, but I never hunted. I don't have any, and that's not a statement, that's just–
Adam Williams (01:12:47): No, I got you.
Joe Parkin (01:12:47): I just have never done it.
Adam Williams (01:12:49): I never have either. It just is.
Joe Parkin (01:12:51): Yeah. So there was always, people would ask me when I was doing it, "Well, why do you waste your time doing that if you don't hunt?" Well, and I would, "I don't know. Why do you do so many things?" But again, it was massively enjoyable to me, but thinking that's the way my brain works.
I've never been much of an explorer. I've gone to many places. But to me, it's can I do something over and over and over again? And can each incident be better than the last one based that that's where my life and my passions have gone.
Adam Williams (01:13:31): This feels counterintuitive, but I think what we're talking about here are tools of violence. That's the way we often think of them, whether that's for use against animals, use against other people, whatever it is. But what you're describing is actually a meditative type practice.
Joe Parkin (01:13:48): Yeah. And I've always been hesitant to term it that way.
Adam Williams (01:13:51): Why do you think that is?
Joe Parkin (01:13:53): Well, gun culture is not exactly into meditation most of the time.
Adam Williams (01:14:01): Do you disagree?
Joe Parkin (01:14:02): That it's meditative?
Adam Williams (01:14:03): Yeah, in terms of the focus and the things you're talking about. It's bringing you to a place of central focus in a way. You're having to control your breath and work with your mind. All of these aspects that also factor into things like meditation.
Joe Parkin (01:14:17): It's 100% accurate. That's exactly what it is. It's the most zen thing I've ever done in my life.
Adam Williams (01:14:24): That's why I said counterintuitive.
Joe Parkin (01:14:25): It is very counterintuitive. The machinery of it was interesting to me that the hardware, the gun itself was interesting to me as well. But again, always as a tool, my bicycles have always just been tools to me. I don't celebrate them. And people love to ask me about bike stuff, and I can do it in a educational sense. But in terms of my own personal interest in them, it's a tool. It's a hammer. Some hammers are prettier than others and more complex, I guess. But–
Adam Williams (01:15:04): I think it's been described as the noblest invention. Am I getting the wording on that right?
Joe Parkin (01:15:11): The bicycle?
Adam Williams (01:15:11): Yeah.
Joe Parkin (01:15:12): Yeah, it has been. I can't remember who's credited with that quote, but yes.
Adam Williams (01:15:15): It's such a simple tool, relatively speaking, in terms of transportation and it's human powered.
Joe Parkin (01:15:23): And this is a giant leap, but a rifle is pretty simple thing as well. And it was... I don't know. It just from the gun standpoint, it's a very weird one in case I have never really fit in that mold, I guess at least from outward appearance, but anything in my life to give me that thing in the brain that it's itch, that needs to be satiated somehow.
Adam Williams (01:15:56): Do you meditate?
Joe Parkin (01:15:57): No.
Adam Williams (01:15:58): Having brought that up, is that anything you've ever considered or practiced?
Joe Parkin (01:16:01): I have tried. The way that my brain works, I just can't. I start to crawl out of my skin if I trying to do anything. I mean basically anything spiritual, if I am trying to do that, it's not going to work. I am going to lose my mind.
Adam Williams (01:16:18): Is it a matter of you feel like you can't quiet your mind in the way that you think you should?
Joe Parkin (01:16:22): Yeah.
Adam Williams (01:16:23): So here's an interesting thing. I've talked with two people on this podcast. Jenny Davis is a Buddhist practitioner. Eric Lee is someone who has followed his spiritual practices, including meditation for 30 plus years. And I talked about this with both of them. This idea that people who have tried meditation and they say, “I just can't do it, because the thoughts, they're just so intrusive. I guess I'm just no good at it.”
Jenny had an interesting way of looking at this, which I don't know if I had thought of until then. And that is, that might exactly be what you're after is simply that awareness. Someone whose thoughts keep intruding initially, you're going to have a lot of those thoughts. And by recognizing that, that's the first step, I think is fair to say.
(01:17:11): So then over time, we get better at setting those thoughts aside because no matter how great we get at meditating, and I have meditated for 5, 6, 7 years, no matter what the practice is and how consistent we are with it, there's always those thoughts that come in.
So I'm not in any way trying to urge you to try to go back and try this again as if, oh, now I just gave you the magic key. But it's an interesting thing to talk with someone from that other side of it. And I don't know. In my own mind, I'm matching up that, I feel like you still achieved it in your own way with shooting rifles.
Joe Parkin (01:17:51): A very good friend of mine used to, Allan Peiper is the guy's name. And for anyone that's watched the Tour de France in the last few years, Tadej Pogačar, who won, not last year, but the previous two years, Allan was his. Allan found him. My friend Allan discovered this guy. And really, really not to take away from the natural ability of the athlete, but without my friend Allan, there might not be a Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar. But anyway–
Adam Williams (01:18:20): He was a teammate of yours, wasn't he?
Joe Parkin (01:18:23): Yeah, Allan. Yes.
Adam Williams (01:18:24): When you both were cycling together.
Joe Parkin (01:18:25): Yeah. Wonderful human and very spiritual and very into, but I will never forget constantly he would say that there's many different ways to the top of the mountain. It's as long as you're trying to get to the top of the mountain. That's the important part. Whether you get there or not, it's the trying to get to the top of the mountain that was important.
So to your point, I always think sometimes that I have found a somewhat meditative state or that via these various different avenues. I think the end result is the same, just that the pathway is a little bit different. And in many times, the pathway that I've chosen is painful, physically painful.
Adam Williams (01:19:17): What are important things that, I was going to ask you what cycling maybe brought to your life, but that was many years ago. And there are these other experiences. I mean, what'd you say? Acrobatic, flight, flying of plane, these different things you've done, which I'm sure we could go into that for a while too.
But I am going to try to wind us toward our end here for today. But in general, from any of these experiences, do you think have been just really key lessons that you carry with you is while I learned this about life because of cycling or because of being a pilot or whatever.
Joe Parkin (01:19:59): I would, I guess the... I don't even know how to answer that other than–
Adam Williams (01:20:06): I might not have asked it very well.
Joe Parkin (01:20:08): No, no. Trying to be articulate here instead of just a stuttering fool. I think that the biggest thing that my life and cycling and shooting and motorcycles and airplanes and all these various different things, I've told a lot of people this about my relationship with my dad. One of the greatest things that my dad did for me was that he died when he was way too young.
And I don't mean that in the literal sense because I would love to have him here, but he was very much of a generation and a mindset where things have to be a certain way and you work toward an end. And the work is not important, the end is important for him, for his the way that he thought about things. And when he died, that end was never achieved. He never experienced the end, and he never experienced a retirement where he might be able to go explore things. He never got any of that stuff.
(01:21:24): So to me, the end is not important. It's truly not important. It's the, don't want to sound like a hippie here, but the journey, it's the experiences along the way that create that amazing story tapestry that when you're can't see out of one eye and you can't walk and you go to the bathroom 40 times a night kind of a thing, the stories that you have, or ultimately the thing that are important because as they say, you can't take it with you. And nobody remembers that my dad was a good shot other than me, and things like that.
(01:22:14): So I've just tried to just take it as it comes. And then I think the cycling has given me that. My dad gave me a viewpoint, I guess. My mom was always just sort of, that she was always supportive of anything that we, me or my brothers did. So the cycling allowed me to experience a world I wouldn't have otherwise experienced. Introduced me to people who have been the most fascinating people in my life.
The shooting gave me a perspective on things that I might not otherwise have. Flying airplanes, well, my parents, my mom would say that I was that little kid that was pointing up at the airplanes in the sky from, those were some of my first actions. And everything else along the way. It's been a way to amass experiences and just kind of it, I guess, really. I've always made a lot of mistakes, but I wouldn't change it.
Adam Williams (01:23:27): I won't ask what you think might still be ahead for stories, because just again, it sounds like we have a theme here that when opportunities present themselves, you're willing to say yes, you're willing to try something different, do something different. You own a bar and a bike shop now, who knows what lies out there over the next 30, 40 years.
Joe Parkin (01:23:48): Who knows? We'll find out. Yeah, we'll find out.
Adam Williams (01:23:54): I appreciate your time, Joe, and all the insights, all the stories that you've shared here today. So thank you very much for talking with me.
Joe Parkin (01:24:02): Thank you very much.
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Adam Williams (01:24:12): All right. That was Joe Parkin. If our conversation here today sparked curiosity for you, you can learn more in this episode show notes at wearechaffee.org.
If you have comments or know someone in Chaffee County, Colorado who I should consider talking with on the podcast, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite you to rate and review that We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast on Apple, Spotify, or whatever platform you use with that functionality.
And we invite you to tell your friends, tell your coworkers, tell your family about the Looking Upstream podcast. Help us keep growing this community and connection through conversation.
(01:24:47): Once again, I'm Adam Williams, host, producer, and photographer. Jon Pray is engineer and producer. Thank you to KHEN 106.9 FM, our community radio partner in Salida, Colorado, and to Heather Gorby for graphic and web design, to Andrea Carlstrom, director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment, and to Lisa Martin, community advocacy coordinator for the We Are Chaffee Storytelling Initiative.
The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Department of Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority. It's supported by the Colorado Public Health and Environment Office of Health Disparities. You can learn more about the Looking Upstream podcast and related storytelling initiatives at wearechaffee.org and on Instagram and Facebook at We Are Chaffee.
Lastly, thank you for listening. And remember, as we say here at We Are Chaffee, be human, share stories. Share stories, make change.
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