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Finding Gravel With Amity Rockwell

Images by Rob Wessels; Video by Taylor Sage

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“I honestly don’t think anyone has a very straight answer to ‘What is gravel?” says 2019 DK200 winner Amity Rockwell. “There [are] certainly no other disciplines of bike racing—aside from gravel—where I can just go push myself for that many hours and see what happens.”

Growing up as an “outsider in suburbia,” Rockwell had athletic parents who ran daily and instilled a healthy lifestyle.

“For a long time, it was running—and running was enough,” says Rockwell. “It was never really about bikes. It [was] about getting outside and having that connection to your environment—I was just lucky that bikes came in and offered me this whole world of opportunity that I could have never imagined back when I was just running in circles…”

Currently residing in Santa Barbara, Rockwell is thankful for the privilege to explore the expanse of Southern California wilderness on her bicycle. “[It’s] pretty incredible to have that escape out my front door,” she says. “I feel like it keeps on going forever…”

Keep reading to learn how cycling—and life—has continued to come into focus for Rockwell amid the 2020 pandemic. 

Question: How did you get started in athletics?

Answer: I can’t really pinpoint it to a specific time or decision. When I was really little, my mom would push me in a baby jogger in front of her when she was out running. I probably got kicked out when my little sister was born—and, as soon as I could keep up, I was running, too. My first “organized” sport was swim team in 6th grade. 

When did bikes come into the picture?

I always had a bike, hand-me-downs from my older sister or older cousins. I relied on it for cross-training in high school when my shin splints got too painful. But, I never saw bikes as more than just a temporary stand-in for running—until I met some good people who were very into bikes in college and they took me on all these cool adventures. I had a cheap road bike, then an old steel hybrid bike, then saved up about $500 from a triathlon coaching job I was very unqualified for and got an alloy [road bike] from craigslist that I raced in some small local stuff. 

And then that fateful day in Kansas—can you tell us more about the 2019 DK200?

This question makes me laugh a little as I feel like I’ve told this story way too many times. I think it all came down to patience in the end, which I can say about every single endurance event I’ve done well in. It exemplified everything I love about long days on the bike, the endless opportunities there are in such a distance to turn a day around. I hope I can win some other things soon so we have more to talk about. 

Has it been bittersweet to not be able to defend the DK crown in 2020, or test yourself in any competitive events this year?

A: Yeah, of course it’s been really depressing at times. I don’t think it is a unique struggle. I don’t know a single person whose life wasn’t in part derailed by the pandemic. I guess it’s just another instance in which patience comes in handy. And I think ultimately I have a better perspective going into next year on where racing fits into my whole life, bikes or no. 

You recently relocated to Santa Barbara—how is the riding terrain?

SB is hard. I think I got a little soft, living in places where trails and gravel were right out my door and I never really needed to plan ahead if I didn’t want to—I could just roll out and go where the wind would take me. Santa Barbara, the gravel only takes you one direction, straight up and into the middle of nowhere. The mountain biking is rocky and you have to fight for any feeling of flow. I will admit I miss things being easier and I miss pine trees, but living here has unquestionably made me a better rider. 

What are your plans for the next six months?

The next four months may or may not include some FKT attempts and a small personal project I’ve been putting together. And, then, hopefully the two months after the next four months include a heck of a lot of bike racing. I’m optimistic. Who knows…

Follow Amity on Instagram

Check out Amity’s bike here.

Supported by: Canyon NA 

Video by: Taylor Sage

Images by: Rob Wessels