At six foot four, Bend Oregon’s Barry Wick remains a person you want to draft behind. The former World Championship mountain biker and cyclocross rider still carries many in town on his wings. There’s the fact of the matter tallness, and yes drafting behind him does feel like you’ve got just a little more lift. He’s also the brains behind bike manufacturer Kona’s endurance cycling team, he’s the endurance team manager, and the owner and artist behind Hella Sweet Ink, maker and curator of funky customized gloves and sneakers. This much is true: His vibe will give you a little lift too.
Long gravel grinds, up and down trail runs, skate skis at the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center and big vert ski-mountaineering jaunts are how Wicks now finds balance as a former pro athlete who still feels best when lighting out. Bottom line, he’s got an uncanny harmonic resonance, and sometimes an eclectic buzz. As any person who’s been around an elite endurance athlete without their daily aerobic fix, the buzz can be seismic.
In the months, which are plenty here in Bend, when the biking is unprime and hours too short for a mighty ski tour, Wick can be found sublimely skating Bend’s nordic trails. Wick’s father ski patrolled Mount Hood. His younger days spent tagging along on the volcano’s slopes feeling free. He rode lifts, poked around a bit on touring skis, but never gravitated to cross-country skiing until later.
“Skiing in the bigger mountains is a large part of what I look forward to every year –it’s just from that experience of growing up on the snow and having a love for the mountains and being outdoors,” said Wicks. “I just started Nordic skiing simply as a way to stay fit. But when I moved to Bend, having Mount Bachelor’s cross-country ski trails and their reliable snow was new for me. I picked it up as a side-of-side-benefit of something to do in the winter that would keep me fit. I equate skate skiing to what I love about mountain biking. Flying through the woods on my skis is similar to what I do on my mountain bike.”
His love for skate skiing is derived from the simple combo of the kinesthetics and zooming through old fir tree forest. For the once dedicated pro, now there’s no HRM, Strava, or logging miles. The ski loop and pace dictated by other life and work responsibilities, not priming the pump and conditioning muscles to higher lactate loads.
“I just want to get that feeling now, it’s like a lightness and connection to the world like an escape from like the sort of the trappings of real life as they call it,” said Wicks. “I’m not trying to have perfect form and I’m not trying to look excellent on my skis. For me, it’s about the feeling I get when I’m skiing. If I can reach that feeling where I feel like I’m flying through the woods effortlessly, I don’t really care what I look like. I know that in cross-country skiing, along with cycling, there’s this very finite thing where you have to look a certain way with your form – refined and efficient. I don’t focus on that.”
For years, real-life for Wicks did go round and round at ungodly paces, as he bike-raced against the world’s and nation’s best. Long before his adopted relaxed fit ethos of modern mountain biking, there was a unifying theme for Wicks – Lycra. Wick’s proclivity for soul sport wasn’t always his driving force. To make it to a World Championships, one embraces a singular focus. Wicks was as myopic as the rest.
As he progressed to the upper echelons of the sport, Wicks began questioning the purpose of his endeavor. During his career, Wicks spent three winters racing the cyclocross circuit in Belgium. Add cold mud to the Lycra and a hungry-for-opportunity field and it becomes a free for all.
“It was an interesting experience because I’d be out there racing, battling, and my coach would tell me to give everything for that. It didn’t matter, 15th place or 30th, or second, you have got to go all-in,” recalled Wicks. “I’d be out there on the racecourse battling and seeing some kid from an Eastern Bloc country that was just killing himself to get that spot ahead of me. And I remember thinking, ‘Yeah, that kid probably needs this more than I do.”
The equation to be your best, said Wicks, can be easy to solve: go hard, train and fuel wisely, get proper equipment. As he reassessed his own needs and goals, Wicks explained it took years to extract himself from “the racer mentality”: going hard and aspiring to be the best. Literally, the best.
At 39, Wicks, with horse-mane hair well past his shoulders, has allegedly slowed down.
“There’s so much to the world that you’re missing when going as hard as you can, you’re totally tunnel vision,” he said. “Right now I have this philosophy I call the 60% rule. I try not to go harder than 60% of my hardest. I try not to go harder than 60% at things because I feel like it takes the enjoyment away for me.”
If you find yourself, like this skier did, on a long ski tour recently with Wicks, and you get the sensation you’re slightly pegged, pushing what feels more like the 85% rule, that’s Wicks’ 60%. Take note, that’s likely the same on the ski trails. Even when skating and grinning amongst big old trees at the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center, the Wicks 60% is in fact fast and wide open to possibility.