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Project Y

SA-4: Sarah Thomas

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The first thing we noticed when reviewing Sarah’s application is that she made her video while touring through Colombia with her dog.


What you may or may not know is that Colombia does mountains. Colombia is excellent at mountains, one of the best countries in the world at mountains. Take, for example, the fact that they have the world’s longest paved climb. It’s called Letras, we did it, it was so hard. While we can’t imagine climbing Letras pulling a trailer with a dog in it, based on her video we can imagine that Sarah can imagine it (and most likely did it).

We took this as an obvious sign that Sarah was on a mission, that she was searching for something. Why else go through the effort of hauling a pooch up a mountain? [Sadly, we learned from her interview (more details below) that Churro passed away soon after this was written.] Is that something experience, enlightenment, or something yet unnamed—only time will tell. But we’re keenly interested in finding out.

The Seeker

1) What’s your name? Age? Hometown? Current Residence?

I’m Sarah Thomas, I just turned 33. I’m from Providence, Rhode Island. Currently, I’m traveling around Colombia by bicycle with my boyfriend. We were traveling with a dog for the first month, but he tragically committed accidental suicide by excitedly running at full speed into an oncoming car.

2) Do you have a day job? If so what is it?

I’ve currently been focusing all my energy on riding bikes, but have yet to figure out how to make a living doing it. I was a biosafety specialist before quitting to pursue more exciting things like pedicabbing, bike tour guide in Alaska, bike mechanic, and bike messenger. I’m thinking about starting a bike-related business in the future, maybe a mountain biker hostel in Colombia. I find biology fascinating, but I prefer to be outdoors doing something physical than in the lab under fluorescent lighting. I have a B.Sc. in biology and master’s in environmental studies, and am open to suggestions if anyone reading this wants to make me an offer... [Email us at and we’ll put you in touch.]

3) How did you hear about Project Y? What was the central reason you wanted to be a part of this project? You love gravel? Free Stuff? Fame? Etc.?

My friend sent me an e-mail with the link to to application details and the subject, “YOU MUST DO THIS”, so I did it. I actually wasn’t thinking I would apply because I was traveling at the time and have very little experience making videos. I totally didn’t expect to be chosen because my video was pieced together from random clips with inconsistent sound quality, and the internet was barely strong enough to upload everything in a timely manner.

Anyway, I feel like gravel riding, mountain biking and cyclocross have changed my life. I became an instant addict and have almost stopped running (I was a triathlete and marathon runner before. I guess I still am, but my cross bike has gotten a lot more attention than my road bike or running shoes over the past two years). I just need a goal to motivate me to train harder, and the Dirty Kanza 200 is a perfect goal. I’ve never ridden that far in one day before, so when I found out I was selected the reality hit me that I actually have to train now. And that’s good. I need that, because otherwise I would probably become lazy.

I will also admit that the free bikes were a huge incentive. I need a new cross bike anyway, because mine malfunctions every time I race it, which is frustrating. I have needed a new bike since I started gravel riding but could never justify spending the money on a good one when I don’t have a decent paying job at the moment. Also, maybe being part of this project could lead to more cool opportunities in the future… like a job offer or sponsorship or something…

4) You were selected for Project Y in part because you have experience with arduous, endurance-based activities. What has been the single hardest event/activity/pursuit that you’ve engaged in up to this point? Please explain.

Looking back on it now I don’t think it would be as hard as it was for me at the time, but I once did a seven-leg adventure race that included two legs each of road biking, running and kayaking, plus one five-mile segment of mountain biking. I was great at the running and road cycling, but had never mountain biked before and had only paddled around the beach a little in the kayak that I borrowed from my stepmom. Literally everyone passed me on the river during the first kayaking leg, and whoever didn’t pass me there definitely lapped me on the mountain bike trail. I had borrowed a mountain bike that was too big from me from a fellow member of my Crossfit gym, and I thought I was going to break a leg. It took me over an hour to go five miles. The last leg was a lap around a lake in the kayak, and my inner thigh muscles were spasming so badly that all I could do to control the pain was squeeze my water bottle as tightly as I could between my thighs.

Oh I forgot to mention that everyone else did this as a relay race as part of a team, and only a handful of crazy people attempted the whole thing singlehandedly. There was one other woman, and I beat her by an hour. I never drink soda but I remember drinking two cans of orange and grape soda on the grass after I finally finished.

5) Regarding the four pillars of Why: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, which will be your biggest challenge? Please explain?

I think mental would be the hardest, mostly because of the camera! I’m a little camera shy and I hate the way my voice sounds on recordings, so it’s going to be hard for me to make videos of myself every week. As for the race, I definitely won’t want to fail on camera, and I always get pre-race anxiety about failing or injuring myself or just not doing as well as I could do. It’s all mental, really. I can talk myself into pushing through or ignoring the physical discomfort, and I’m not very spiritual or emotionally expressive in general. I’m afraid the camera will make me extra nervous, but this is good for me, right? Maybe it will help me get better at public speaking or something. Normally I just go into my own head and do math calculations during a race, trying to estimate what time I will finish, how far I’ve gone or whether I should slow down or speed up. If I’m being filmed in a documentary I will have to think about other things, probably.

6) Which pillar are you most comfortable with? Please explain?

I think physical is the most straightforward, and I have a lot of practice dealing with physical discomfort for long distances and time periods. And there’s still time to train myself to handle this distance and push myself to go faster. Although rereading the details of the Dirty Kanza, I didn’t realize before that Kansas had any hills. Hopefully these Colombian mountains will be sufficient preparation…

7) Do you have non-bike, non-athletic related hobbies/interests? If so, what are they?

I play trombone in a brass band called What Cheer? Brigade. It’s fun, and I love playing music with people because it gives me a reason to practice an instrument. I also play piano, drums, and trumpet, but the first two are too large to travel with and the latter two are too loud to play around other people, so I haven’t practiced in a while. I also love trail running, hiking, sailing and roller hockey, but those fall under athletic-related hobbies.

8) Do you have a power animal? If not you should, please assign yourself one? What is it?

The wolf. Not only do they have the most adorable puppies, but they are wild and free, good runners, very loyal and caring, social animals within their own pack, but wary of strangers. I’m reserved around people I don’t know very well, but can be a good, caring friend to the people who are close to me.

9) What is your biggest fear?

I think I have an irrational fear of getting killed by a car or truck on the road while cycling or while a passenger in a vehicle. But it would be worse to be paralyzed by one of these vehicles or by a terrible disease like ALS or MS.

10) What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done, or thought about doing? Yes, we are going to publish this but that’s not relevant right now. More importantly, this is therapeutic. We’re asking this for your own good. Please take a solid step outside your comfort zone and tell us something you’ve never told anyone before. Trust, reach deep, it’s part of the process. Do it for Science.

When I was in elementary school, I used to be obsessed with dogs to the point where I chased the mean kids around the schoolyard during recess, barking like a dog. I may have also done this in middle school. I wanted to be a dog. I even brought dog biscuits to school. I was teased a lot and called the dog girl because of this.

I blame this obsession with dogs on a teacher I had in kindergarten who wouldn’t let me draw pigs anymore. Prior to my dog obsession, I was obsessed with pigs and all I wanted to do at school was draw pigs. This teacher made me draw something else one day; so began my dog phase. I thought she was being so cruel at the time, but maybe I should actually thank her. Had I been known as the pig girl in elementary and middle school, I may have turned out a very different person.

11) What happens to you if you don’t do this kind of thing? If you don’t exercise regularly, if you don’t push, if you don’t challenge yourself regularly, what goes wrong?

I would fall into a deep depression. I probably wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. And I wouldn’t have any healthy way to balance my ice cream addiction. I think I would be a lot fatter and a lot less happy, but then maybe I wouldn’t know what I was missing, and maybe I wouldn’t eat so much ice cream. I do know that I can get lazy when I don’t have an attainable goal in sight to train for, and being lazy makes me unhappy and unhealthy. I would probably eat extra ice cream to compensate for the bad feelings, actually.

12) If you’re here answering this questionnaire it’s in part because you have exercise disease. Why do you have exercise disease? What happened to you when you were a child?

In all seriousness, I grew up with a mom who was disabled. She had MS before I was born and I watched her progress rapidly from being able to walk with a cane to a walker to a wheelchair to a hospital bed. I think about how lucky I am to be able to move, and I want to take advantage of that while I can. I think that’s why I started running, and it’s definitely what got me into biking. My first bike experience was training with my dad for the MS150. Then I got a taste of that runners high and all the good feelings that come with hard exercise and achieving your physical goals. Now I’m addicted to that. Bicycling was something I did as transportation for the most part, but now I am tempted to buy a car just so I can get to bike races.

13) Maybe you have a hero all lined up for this question, maybe you don’t. Either way, who is your hero and why? It does NOT need to be an athlete, but it’s okay if it is an athlete.

I think my role model changes depending on what I’m focusing on. When I was stuck in an office job reading books about people who quit their jobs to ride their bikes around the world, those people were my heroes. Now I’m kind of living that lifestyle, and it has opened me up to a whole world of like-minded amazing people doing similar crazy things (like the other participants of Project Y, perhaps). I think my dad is my personal hero because he is always there for me and somewhat supportive, even when he totally disagrees with my life decisions.

14) What does existential you look like? Please tell us about existential you.

I still don’t fully understand this question. I am a crazy person who generally has good intentions, but dreams of doing things that are bigger than what she knows how to accomplish, often preventing her from doing much of anything at all. Simple things like good food and good weather make me very happy, but I also desire to leave a footprint of positive change in the world. Sometimes it’s easier to just take small steps to happiness, like forgetting about all the other important things you need to do and just go out for ice cream after a long ride or run on the trails.

Fun Facts with Sarah!


Ice Cream.


Olive green.


“Pueblo Nuevo” by Buena Vista Social Club or “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin.


Tetris? I don’t really have a favorite movie because I forget them almost immediately after watching them.


I don’t know… Sailor Moon??? I haven’t had a TV since growing up as a kid.


Beet juice and coffee.


A sailor. I’d like to work on a boat circumnavigating the world.


Sleep, bake cookies, drink coffee.


I have lots of family, but am myself an only child.


I like to hang out at expensive coffee shops using the wifi while nursing the same coffee for a few hours. I will eat all the pastries if I’m not careful, though.




My bike collection, which I will need to downsize!


I live on a sailboat when I’m not traveling. I won the sailboat in a raffle two winters ago.


Teleportation. Or the ability to speak and understand any language in the world.


Does Scott Jurek count?


See above. And Tim Johnson.


Coming last in a race, getting lost, being cold, being paralyzed, traffic, pollution.


Waking up too late, showering infrequently, picking at my calluses, eating too much sugar and not enough real food…


Depends on my mood, but I can be.


“Anywhere is walking distance, if you have the time.”


Anything with ice cream and coffee, but I also like to eat my vegetables in smoothie form. A really good combo is kale, coconut, mango and pineapple.


I frequently have dreams before races that I forget something important, like my shoes or my helmet. Or I get lost. I sometimes have nightmares about being back in high school and getting lost or forgetting which locker is mine. The weirdest probably was a recurring dream I had when I was much younger, where a gorilla or chimp or some large monkey pushes me into a swimming pool and when I resurface, I always vomit. Nobody else was in the room with the pool. I have always been afraid of monkeys for this reason.


I can beat most anyone in a burping contest.


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