A Love Story: How I Became an Addicted Cyclist ~ From Mountain Bike Racing to Van Life Road Cycling

A Love Story: How I Became an Addicted Cyclist ~ From Mountain Bike Racing to Van Life Road Cycling

A love affair...
   with my trusty steed
      breathing new life into my soul
          with every twist and turn of the open road

It all started one eventful Mothers Day in 2003 - my love for cycling set me on a path that I am still continuing to this very day as I travel the country in my tiny home on wheels, and ride some of the most epic trails of my life.

As I sit here reminiscing about that momentous Mother's Day, I am transported back to the moment that ignited my passion for cycling. It was a sunny morning in Geneva, FL, as I eagerly prepared for a family outing at the Snowhill (Little Big Econ) mountain bike trails. Little did I know that this seemingly ordinary day would mark the beginning of a love affair with cycling that would shape the course of my life.

That Mother's Day, I found myself yearning for a different kind of adventure, one that involved tackling the twists and turns of mountain bike trails. I'm not even sure why this was my choice of activity for the day. I hadn't even learned how to ride a bike until I was 13, on a trip south from Alaska to visit family in Montana and Nevada. I still clear as day, remember learning to ride, and falling off and tearing up my knee, but I refused to give up, and was soon joyfully riding the neighborhood at my grandparents. Once back home in Alaska, there was nowhere to ride and only rode periodically throughout my life, until that seemingly unremarkable day in 2003. I convinced my family to join me on this new escapade, and soon we were navigating the Snowhill Trails together. The crunch of sand beneath my tires and the exhilarating rush of warm wind against my face created a symphony of sensations that I would never forget - I was hooked.

riding my specialized bike at doris leeper spruce creek trail in florida

My first ever Specialized mountain bike ~ I've been a die hard fan ever since and only ride Specialized bikes, whether mountain or road bike

As I maneuvered through the sandy landscape, the thrill of the ride took hold of me, leaving an indelible mark on my soul. From that point forward, as many  weekends as I could dedicate, became devoted to exploring different trails at Snowhill, each ride fueling my newfound addiction to the sport. Sadly though, it was short lived and I never really graduated from beginner status, or even explored outside of the Snowhill trail system due to running an extremely lucrative, and busy, custom home building business (I was a licensed residential contractor in Florida). In January 2007 my family also decided to leave Florida and move to Ketchikan, AK, where there were no options for mountain biking.

Fast forward to November of 2009, when my family moved back to Florida with nothing but our backpacks and blow up mattresses in tow. We rented a home for 6 months where our only furniture was a kitchen table, mattresses and my art studio; as we looked for a home to purchase.  We did however immediately purchase three mountain bikes, one for each of us, naively thinking that we would take up the sport once again. My daughter Aroon, however, wasn't overly interested any longer as she was immediately immersed in a new school and her passion for indoor volleyball. Sadly, I too was much too busy to really delve into mountain biking the way my heart desired. My art business consumed my daylight hours, as well as hunting for a new place to call home, and evenings and weekends were taken up with my daughter going to volleyball practices, school games and traveling the country with her club volleyball team. My passion for mountain biking, was once again at a virtual standstill, and I pushed it to the back of my mind and focused on the tasks at hand.
my early days of mountain biking at doris leeper spruce creet trail in port orange florida

My early days of mountain biking at Snow Hill and Spruce Creek, FL

Finally in June of 2012 I could no longer deny the burning desire to truly embrace the sport of mountain biking. One day I just decided it was time - my art business was now creating residual income which gave me more time for other hobbies. My daughter had just graduated high school and would be off to college in the fall, on a full-ride volleyball scholarship to Rollins College in Winter Park, FL (proud mom moment). I was living in Titusville, FL at this time and so I decided to branch out to a new trail other than Snowhill, just to mix it up.  After perusing the internet for local trails, I came upon one 40 minutes from my house - Spruce Creek (Doris Leeper Trail), and figured it was worth the drive to see what it had to offer.  This trail changed my life and was the catalyst for driving my passion for mountain biking to the next level - an addiction to the sport of mountain biking was born.

From that point on I was either riding my mountain bike, or dreaming of riding my mountain bike. I became obsessed with the thrill that mountain biking provided me, as well as the haven it provided me to separate myself from the extremely difficult relationship I was in. It was my escape from the realities that tortured my very existence when I was at home. But, again, mountain biking had a short shelf life, as on my 40th birthday, just three months into my obsession with riding the trails, I was nearing the end of the ride, in hot pursuit of a PR on the Strava app - that only helped to fuel my addiction, when suddenly, disaster struck. I took a gnarly corner much too fast, one I had rode numerous times before, and slid across an angled slippery root and was tossed into the air. I had a brief moment of stillness, as I was suspended in air for a millisecond, and time to surmise that this was going to hurt! I landed in the soft sugar sand that comprised most of the trail and gingerly caught my breath.  I quickly surveyed the damage and thankfully everything seemed okay, so I hopped up to get on my bike and eek out that PR, there was still time!  But, alas, my left foot collapsed under my weight and I fell back to the sand, confused as to what was happening. I didn't feel any pain, or hear any noise signaling an injury to my foot, but when I lifted up my leg, my left foot was doing some kind of dangly thing, just hanging there and starting to swell at the ankle. I convinced myself that it was just a sprain, and still felt no pain, but knew there was no way I was walking out of there on my own, with my bike in tow. I heard my fellow mountain bikers in the parking lot chatting to one another, and knew that they would come to my rescue. I called out and they all came running when hearing the panic in my voice. I was quickly driven to the nearest hospital and about 15 minutes into the drive, the pain started, it was excruciating, but bearable at the same time.  

The prognosis was not good - I had broken my ankle in three places and would need surgery the following day to insert a plate and numerous screws throughout my shattered foot. I was devastated to say the least, I had only recently been able to fully embrace my love of mountain biking once again, and now I would be confined to the prison that I called "home", unable to drive or bike, but instead be subjected to the atrocities that awaited me without a place to escape. It was a difficult first month, learning to use crutches and be immobilized. Eventually my partner left for 6 weeks on a work trip, and even though I had no one to help me in my disabled condition the peace was so much more important to the healing process, and brought immense relief. I had never broken a bone before, so this was a new and unwelcome experience I hope to never repeat. But, eventually my freedom was regained and 3 months later I was once again happily traversing my favorite trails and racking up those PRs and sought after Strava trophies and crowns at all the local trails. To this day I still have lingering issues with my foot that will never go away. Nerve damage from either the break, or the two surgeries (I had another within 4 months to remove the hardware) cause me pain in certain situations - most notably my inability to use clips on my cycling shoes, so I am relegated to only using flat pedals, but I don't let it hold me back from being the best rider I can be and enjoying it to the fullest.

holding up my first ever mountain bike race tropy from winning overal men and women novice at the first ever snowhill trail race event

My first race plate and race at Snow Hill, I won the novice category of men and women combined

For the next four years I would ride every chance I could, leaving behind all my worries on the trail and embracing the solace that being in nature provided. I even attempted a couple of races, one at Snowhill and one at Spruce Creek, both of which I was thrilled to make onto the podium. But, I never fully felt comfortable racing and attempting to ride the more technical trails. I lived in a constant state of fear from the relationship I was in, which spilled into all aspects of my life and made me anxious to venture into attempting anything new; I was mentally and emotionally paralyzed. I stayed within my comfort zone simply for the relief it provided without the extra stress of possibly getting injured again, or pressure from my partner to attempt racing and being outside my comfort zone.

2017 rolled around and freedom was in my grasp and I grabbed it with every fiber of my being. This was it, I needed to be myself again, I needed to be free from the shackles that had bound me in fear for far too long. I left the devastatingly controlling relationship and moved to Miami where my daughter Aroon had been living the past several months after graduating college. I had always dreamed of living in Miami (ode to my teen obsession with everything Miami Vice, haha).  This was my chance to make that childhood dream a reality and I full embraced the life it provided. I was dealing with the reality of what life was like living on my terms and the adjustment took some time, but I battled through the fear and trauma that had bound me for decades until I rediscovered myself. It was the end of 2017 and I hadn't rode a mountain bike in 7 months. I had done some road riding, but that nagging need to be racing fearlessly through the woods on two wheels got stronger and stronger, until I couldn't deny the pull anymore and one day bit the bullet. I went to the nearest bike shop and ordered a Specialized Sworks mountain bike, my dream bike. I've only ever rode Specialized and until my dying day that's the brand I will always ride - I Am Specialized for life.

first day riding my new whip, my sworks specialized mountain bike at santos trailhead in ocala florida

My Sworks (dream bike) maiden voyage at the epic Santos Mountain Bike Trails in Ocala, FL

My maiden voyage ended up riding with a large group of mountain bikers at one of my all time favorite mountain bike trails, Santos in Ocala, FL. There were a couple of bikers I had known from Spruce Creek and Snow Hill, and many more whom I had never met, but a group of them would soon become life-long mountain biking friends, and would end up going on endless epic rides over the course of the next several years with them. This group of friends popped my century cherry, haha (on my road bike). My mountain biking obsession was back, and stronger than ever now that the oppressive weight of my past relationship was no longer a factor. I could now truly enjoy mountain biking without fear, without anxiety - only the pure joy and thrill of taking it to a whole new level - on my terms.

my favorite group of people to mountain bike and road ride with

The guys and I at Santos - the most fun, supportive group of cycling friends who took me on epic rides all across Florida

Within a month of racing through the trails, wind in my hair, covered in dirt from head to toe, I was once again in my element. Living my dream life in Miami, mountain biking, painting and just enjoying the freedom I hadn't experienced in over 20 years. Life was a revelation, seen through a lens I had longed for, but never dare hoped for. All the pent up fear and anxiety left me, and I was a renewed, joyous soul once again. I even decided to really step out of my comfort zone and signed up to test my skill and endurance at a Gone Ridings 30 mile mountain bike race at my new home trail of Amelia in January of 2018.  Little did I know this single race would lead me down a path I would never have dreamed. 

racing in 2018 a gone riding race at the amelia trail in south florida on my specialized Sworks mountain bike first place podium finish

My first Gone Riding race at my new home trail of Amelia in South Florida - a 1st Place Finish!

1st Place! What?!  I didn't realize as I raced my heart out to get to the finish line, with strangers and friends alike cheering me on, that I was in the top spot. I was in literal shock and couldn't fathom how this had happened. Me - always so afraid to race my bike, fear holding me back, I somehow managed to eek out a win!  Needless to say this jumpstarted a whole new lifestyle of training and racing and traveling all over the State of Florida, I was in my element. As I began posting on social media about my new found love of riding and racing in South Florida, I was suddenly inundated with new cycling friend requests and followers. Bike shops were reaching out to sponsor me, and one shop wanted to do a womens only road bike ride using a custom designed jersey with my art to promote the event.  Was I dreaming - pinch me! 2018 was the year I really dove head first into mountain bike racing. I ended up on a bike shop sponsored team of all male riders and we traveled together to race the FSC (Florida State Championship) series put on by Gone Riding.

bike shop sponsored mountain biking team showing off their medals at the rumble in the jungle montain bike race at markham park florida

Racing with the bike shop sponsored team at the Markham Park mountain bike trails

I didn't race all of the races as I hadn't fully trained, or prepared myself for this eventuality.  But, of the races I did compete in, I was on the podium almost every time.  With each race, my confidence grew and I started putting in endless hours of training, sometimes riding for 5-6 hours straight on the mountain bike trails in South Florida, hoping to increase my odds of getting on that podium. My obsession was in full speed at this point and my artistic gears started spinning. 

wearing the cycling kit for giro bella road ride designed with my art south florida 2018

Wearing the cycling kit for the Giro Bella road ride designed with my art 

The Next Chapter - In the southeast, particularly in Florida, Gone Riding Races became a staple in my life. The camaraderie among riders, the adrenaline of the race, and the satisfaction of conquering challenging terrains turned each event into a celebration of my passion for cycling. As I honed my skills and embraced the thrill of competition, a dream began to take shape in my mind. After the success of the womens ride and the demand for the colorful cycling kit (jersey/shorts) I had designed for the ride, I realized I was onto a potential goldmine!  What if I created my own cycling apparel line with my art and had my own team?? Combining my passions of cycling and art was the best of both worlds.

Meganaroon wearing all the different unique colorful cycling kits for her MAD Shredders brand of mountain biking and road apparel

Wearing several of the different kits for the MAD Shredders brand of cycling apparel

Fast forward to 2019, and I found myself at the helm of my own mountain bike team proudly sporting my MAD Shredders cycling apparel brand adorned with my cycling inspired art. My love for cycling collided with my artistic sensibilities, giving birth to a unique blend of functionality and style that resonated with fellow enthusiasts. The team not only represented a shared love for the sport but also became a canvas for my creative expression. 2019 was arguably one of the happiest, most fulfilling years of my life. Racing almost every weekend and traveling and training with my team - most of whom had been on the bike shop team with me and decided to continue on my journey of creating something unique and joyful with the MAD Shredders brand. Every race we would go to I would have other cyclists come up to me and comment on the gear, where they could purchase it, and even more importantly what an inspiration they thought our team was. The comments we would receive on how positive and uplifting our team vibe was, how we always were so supportive and helpful of everyone at the races, how much fun we brought to the sport of mountain bike racing in Florida, and the colorfulness we brought to the trails. The reward of knowing that I was creating something meaningful to the sport of mountain bike racing was incredibly fulfilling and motivated me to continue to expand and grow my MAD Shredders brand.

mad shredders mountain bike racing team sporting all of their medals and trophies at a gone riding race at carter lake in lakeland florida

Members of The Mad Shredders mountain bike race team sporting all of their medals and trophies at a Gone Riding race at Carter Lake in Lakeland, Florida

it's race time with gone riding moutnain biking and the mad shredders team in their mad stache mustached kits

The MAD Shredders mountain bike team representing in the MAD Stache kit at the front of the line ready to race!

the mad shredders mountain bike team always showing up in bright colors with a positive spirit
The Mad Shredders mountain bike team always showing up in bright colors with a positive spirit

But, alas - this newfound journey was but a blip in my life - 2020 brought a drastic change to the cycling world, halting all mountain bike riding/racing due to the onslaught of Covid. All of the mountain bike trails were closed for months on end.  Which left me to switch gears and immerse myself into the world of road biking. The streets of downtown Miami became my haven. road riding at key biscayne in miami florida on my specialized road bike in the mad shredders zebra inspired cycling kit

Road riding replaced mountain biking during the Covid quarantine months

The apocalyptic scene of empty roads and deserted storefronts provided me with a sense of comfort and peace, knowing that I could safely traverse the streets without the fear of reckless drivers impeding my ride. It was during this time that my daughter Aroon once again decided to join me in cycling, after an 11 year hiatus from her childhood days of mountain biking at SnowHill. Aroon and I spent those first months of Covid, cycling, kayaking and running together, taking advantage of Miami's warm wintery months to get outside and escape the quarantine life cooped up inside. Aroon is now an avid road biker and she and her Fiance Aleem ride in Miami and Reno, and even have met up with me on my adventures to ride in Washington state. 

road riding during covid quarantine in deserted miami streets with my daughter aroon copy
Road riding with my daughter Aroon during covid quarantine in Miami
riding our specialized road bikes at lake tahoe, my daughter aroon and I
Riding with Aroon at Lake Tahoe once I took up van life

Even with the worldwide shutdown of businesses around the world, I was able to continue selling my art and my cycling apparel, as record numbers of people got outside to ride bikes.  But, as the pandemic continued to drag on for months and businesses starting closing up shop left and right, I began to worry that my cycling apparel brand may become a short lived venture. As my inventory began to run out so to did my dream. The manufacturer I was working with to create my cycling kits was overseas, and all shipping from their country was halted indefinitely due to Covid.  As I waited for the world to get back to "normal", and be able to order new kits with new designs, the mountain biking trails finally opened up and Gone Riding was able to put on some races for those of us jonesing to get back out on the trails and compete. I did my final two mountain bike races in Lakeland, FL at the Carter Road trails, with podiums both times - all those endless hours of road biking and doing bridge repeats paid off!

my first mountain bike race back after covid quarantine with a 2nd place finish I was pumped copy

A 2nd place finish behind National Champion Kelly Jones, once mountain bike racing resumed, post Covid quarantine

My MAD Shredders team continued to race throughout the 2020 season with Gone Riding, but I was dealing with some serious fatigue issues that had crept up on me, and I could no longer ignore. I needed to take some time to recuperate and come back even stronger, so I minimized my time on the bike and cheered on my team from afar. I continued to reach out to my manufacturer, and other companies to try and create new products for my cycling apparel, but Covid had a stranglehold on the advancement of my brand. The company I worked with was able to once again start shipping products in the fall, but the backlog for them was so great that my tiny little brand was not a priority and I kept getting pushed back on their schedule. To the point that it was no longer a viable option for me to continue with the brand, without even having any product to offer. So, in November of 2020 I sadly had to disband my team, and hoped to move to an ambassador program at a later date. But, even that was not meant to be.  the mad shredders mountain bike team training at their local trail virginia key in miami

The MAD Shredders team representing the brand at races and local trails

Life continued to unfold in unexpected ways, and my passion for the outdoors and cycling led me to embark on a new adventure – van life. 

happy place at the beach or on my mountain bike, or why not both. sporting my team cycling kit for the mad shredders art inspired brand

 Contemplating my lifes journey and the decision to leave behind everything I knew

As 2021 rolled into the horizon of my life, I continued to battle fatigue issues and was unable to ride but once or twice a week, usually on my road bike as the mountain bike would severely drain what little energy and endurance I had. Going almost overnight from cycling up to 20 hours a week to barely managing 2 hours was one of the most depressing periods of my life. Not only was my health waning, so too was my cycling apparel brand. I felt lost, as though I had lost a part of myself, and I had, the part of me that was healed by cycling, that gave me new life after decades of oppression. My bike was my safe space, where I felt most free, where I dreamed up new ideas for art and business - and suddenly it was all but gone. I battled through the fatigue and spent the first part of 2021 working on regaining my health slowly and surely. As summer rolled around I was finally able to start riding more frequently, but I had this nagging feeling of not fitting into the life I was living any longer. Something was calling to me, to experience a new way to live. And then one momentous day in August I had an epiphany - I needed a change, I needed adventure, I needed to answer the call of the wanderlust spirit that had always existed within me. The open road answered my call and I decided that very moment that I wanted to live a nomadic lifestyle and experience new adventures and places that I had only ever dreamed about. And all while riding my bike in some of the most epic places I could only have ever imagined.

my love of cycling turned into an epic journey of van life traveling the country and riding amazing places

My four wheel and two wheel counterparts on this new adventure of solo female van life

Cue Van Life - Read my blog posts on being a solo female vanlifer here.

Within six weeks of making this life altering decision, I had sold almost everything I owned and bought my trusty Ford Transit cargo van and headed across the country to Washington state to build out my tiny home (van build blog posts here). The hardest part of this newfound life was leaving my daughter, but I've been fortunate to see her frequently as she now commutes from Miami to Reno, and we make a point to connect in person as much as possible. The second hardest parting was with my beloved mountain bike - I made the tough choice to only bring my road bike on my van life journey. I felt the mountain bike was not the best choice in the off chance I could hurt myself on some remote trail, and be laid up in my van with broken bones, or worse! It wasn't a choice made out of fear, but rather practicality and sensibility. My road bike also has a smaller footprint and with space at a premium in my van, it was the smart choice to make, and I haven't regretted it once in the two years I've been living on the road.

van life has taken me on epic road rides around the country here I am at white sands with my specialized road bike

The epic rides van life has taken me ~ here at White Sands National Park with my Specialized road bike

My tiny home on wheels became a portal to exploring the beauty of national parks and everything in between. The open road, with my trusty road bike in tow, became a canvas for the continued narrative of my cycling journey. From the Snowhill Trails to the vast expanse of the country's National Parks, my love for cycling has not only become a personal odyssey, but a way of life. As I pedal through the varied landscapes, I am reminded of that long forgot Mother's Day in 2003, where a simple desire for adventure blossomed into a lifelong passion. The journey continues, and with every pedal stroke, I discover new horizons, both within myself and the world that unfolds before me.  

my specialized road bike overlooking  bryce canyon national park solo female van life blogger artist meganaroon

My trusty companion on two wheels ~ my Specialized road bike overlooking Bryce Canyon National Park

Subscribe to immerse yourself in stories of cycling and van life adventures.  I will be detailing the rides I've done and epic places I've visited in future blog posts. And creating some new travel cycling inspired art soon!

original cycling inspired heart paintings by traveling artist cyclist blogger meganaroon
Shop AROON ~ The New Boutique Cycling Brand for Women by Women

Here is a link to my Amazon shop with many of the products I have used in my cycling journey. 

*This blog is a participant in Amazon's Associate's Program" 

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