A friend emailed me this morning and asked for pictures of a ride we did together back in July.  As I dug through a years worth of photographs I was reminded of how much happened in 2014. Has it only been one year? It's hard to believe that only 12 short months ago I had large pieces of poster paper, scribbled with notes, hanging from painters tape from my living room walls.  Or those first samples!  Finding the right manufacturer was one of the most challenging parts of the process and those pictures reminded me why.  Or that only a year ago friends that have become fixtures in my day-to-day routine weren't even part of my life.  Okay, that might sound dramatic, but had I not ventured out on this hair-brained idea would I have met all these wonderful people?  In my old life, I would not have had time for the long rides and thoughtful conversation that were a result.  I also would not have interacted with the creative individuals that came into my life through this process, learning from the insight and experience of each and every one.  The last year has been such a whirlwind there was no time for reflection.  But now that the Christmas craziness is behind us and the year drawn to a close, I am finally able to slow down and look back on a really big year.

This first picture took me way back.  The original MACHINES FOR FREEDOM headquarters - my living room.  This is where we brainstormed how to get this idea off the ground, and it was here that I felt equal parts excited and overwhelmed at the tasks laid out before me.  There were a lot of items in the "have to" category and I was only one person with very limited funds.  Of course I wanted MACHINES to be successful, but I also wanted to keep my sanity.  Leaving the rat-race only to find myself in a self-created hamster wheel wasn't the point.  I had to let go of the concept of "have to" and remind myself of a mantra used over and over when climbing an insurmountable hill - "just put one foot in front of the other".  If I keep making those essential, incremental, steps eventually I'll get to the top.  You forget about being the fastest, or trying to match your friends pace.  You settle into your own rhythm or else you risk blowing up.  And so it begins, climbing that insurmountable hill, just one task in front of the other.


Up first, launching a website.  Easier said than done when you have no product and no photography.  But thanks to the talented Michael Higgins and beautiful Gabriella Loughnot, an impromptu photo shoot got us exactly what we needed.  And this is where lesson two kicks in, the people.  It's something that I'm still reminded of every day, that without my community we would not have gotten as far as we did in our first year.  These wonderfully talented, caring, passionate people would all lend a hand at some point, giving me a gentle nudge up that insurmountable hill.


With the website up, the product development continues.  A major component of that was testing.  If anyone was going to give these bibs a run for their money it was Tracy Chandler and Frankie Holt.  And who better to road test than two girls who not only ride hard, but are thoughtful, insightful, and able to give honest and constructive feedback.  Girls I could bounce ideas off of, and talk me through some of the big decisions.  Between the three of us we logged over 21k miles this year (34k km) with over 1.5 million feet climbed (477k meters).  These bibs set personal bests, traversed the most epic mountain ranges in Europe, and took us on more adventures than I can count. 


And speaking of adventures, then there was that time I packed up my prototypes and headed to Italy.  Billed as the trip of a lifetime, it was just that.  All the trepidation I had about spending a week with a group of girls I had never met before went right out the window after our first spin on our bikes (and that first glass of Rosato!).  I had never laughed so hard as I did with these crazy girls, and at the end of it all, who knew we would end up on the pages of Peloton Magazine! Heidi Swift's "The Joy QOM" hit stands in July and summed up everything that was incredible about that week. That week also made things very clear for me.  This is what women's cycling is all about.  To quote Tracy Chandler, it's the "rolling slumber party" that makes women's cycling unique, and it's a feeling I still reflect back on when I think about the MACHINES community and what we want to build. #bestweekever 


Back at home the adventure continues with our weekly QOM ride.  After lots of trial and error surrounding start times, routes, and level of difficulty, we finally hit our stride and new friendships are formed as a result.  Early morning call times aren't easy but these girls make it worth it.  #lovethesegirls!


And at work an incredible team pulls together our first product shoot.  This might have been my first big lesson in "letting go".  I like to have certainty before making big investments.  It why I'm neurotic about prototyping and will build mock-ups of everything.  (Confession, I even made a paper mock-up of our first cycling cap.)  But our photos, the way we would introduce MACHINES to the cycling world, wasn't something that could be mocked up.  This is where you conceptualize, and rally a great team, but on the day of the shoot there are several elements that you don't have control over that effect the final outcome.  The mood on set, the lighting conditions of the day, these are all things you need to roll with on the big day.  It's not like the slow moving world of construction, where you sketch, plan, draw, build, re-build if necessary.  Here we had one go, and not a lot of time to plan due to overly ambitious timelines.  Lesson learned that day, sometimes great results happen in ways you can't predict.  And that's part of the fun!  To fill a room with passionate, talented, thoughtful people and see what happens.  In this case, the results were better than I could have planned for or expected.


Then came the big day, our launch!  The women's cycling community turned out in force in support of our release, and the gear was met with resounding squeals of joy. Before events like these there is always a good amount of anxiety.  What if nobody shows up?  Or worse, what if they show up and hate everything?  I had visions of being run out of the room by an angry mob of cyclists, because, you know, that's totally what would happen.  You should prepare yourself for the worst-case scenario, right?  So when girls started popping into dressing rooms to try things on, then bounded out with giant smiles on their faces modeling for their friends, it was incredibly rewarding.  And I was touched by everyone who made trips across town after long days at work to attend.  Thank you for getting MACHINES off to a great start!


After the Los Angeles launch, our new site went live and kits were made available worldwide.  With most of our promotional efforts centered around Los Angeles I was curious to see how MACHINES would be received in the rest of the US.  At home I saw support from friends, girls I've ridden with on a regular basis, some from time to time.  For the most part, the people supporting MACHINES were people that knew me and had been watching me work over the last several months.  Many had even been part of the process.  Outside of LA people would stumble on our website without any context.  And from behind the anonymity of a computer screen the world can be critical and harsh.  But then pictures stated surfacing of girls throughout the US stoked on their new gear.  Then something unexpected.  Pictures started surfacing from around the world! Within weeks of our brand launching in Los Angeles, we had gone global!


And as we headed into winter, a time when training plans wain and ambitious rides give way to coffee rides, we closed out the year with our first Winter Clinic Series.  Both the group riding clinic and descending skills clinic had a rad group of ladies in attendance and I had the chance to ride with several ladies I had never met before.  In a year filled with experiments, trying things out to see what works, the clinic series is something we will definitely do again!


So what's next?  We have some exciting things planned but if there's anything I've learned this year it's that sometimes the best parts are the unexpected parts.  The happy surprises you can't predict and don't plan for.  But if 2014 is any indication of what is in store for us, I can't wait to see what 2015 brings.

 Photos courtesy of Jennifer Hannon