by Kyle Woody, Lean Champion, Kraus-Anderson Construction Company
The moment had almost arrived. I was about to launch on the short Enduro mountain bike race at the KA Bike Duluth Festival. The smell of lake Superior coursed through my lungs as I soaked up the incredible view from near the top of Spirit mountain. My race number was 17.
“Number 5! Let’s go! Number 6, 7, and 8 –be ready!” the volunteer yelled out into the sea of mountain bikers. 30 seconds between each rider. “20 seconds……..10 seconds….. 5 seconds…. GO!!” They’d call out to each rider. Then they’d each silently vanish into the woods, like cars into a heavy fog.
I had similar feeling when I went skydiving. That moment when they opened the cabin door of the airplane and people started jumping out. And as each one did my anxiety level ratcheted up another notch.
A million thoughts raced all at once, “how’d they decide 30 seconds between us is enough?”. “Shouldn’t I be wearing body armor like that guy is?”. “How did I decide that I’m an intermediate rider?” “Why does his bike look like a spaceship?”
My nine year old son Merrick and I had been dominating the trails in Rosemount for weeks in preparation for this race. But there is zero similarity between Rosemount’s trails and Spirit Mountain’s. And he and I were separated now – he was off riding on the “Happy Camper” trail. I remembered thinking “Aw, that’s a cute name for a trail” when I registered him. My trail was named “Sprung a Leak” – which was suddenly evoking disturbing images in my mind.
So I turned my imagination to thinking of Merrick squealing with glee as he raced down the “Happy Camper” bunny trail. That instantly made me feel better.
But my daydream was short-lived. Interrupted by a very professional, happy go lucky, and filthy mountain biker, full face helmet, goggles, carbon fiber- everything “How have your practice runs been going?” he asked me. “I bent my rim on this trail yesterday. It was epic.”
“I work for KA, I’m just here to show my support for our Duluth team that put this incredible event together” I said – noticeably not answering his question.
Then I asked him, “what advice would you give someone who’s never done this?”
“Lower your seat down as low as you can, otherwise it’ll get in your way as you lean back – you gotta keep your weight back behind your seat when you’re on those verticals”
“Those verticals?” I kept thinking as he kept telling me more stuff that was probably just as important. I lowered my seat and locked it in.
I reflected on the safety talk at the bottom of the hill by the Race Director. Super impressive guy. His authentic and heart-felt safety talk was awesome. “If you’re the first to come upon an injured rider” he said, “you stay with them no matter what, never leave that rider for anything, send other people for help.”
They laughed when they saw my bike bell
I tried to forget how the guy on the ski lift who loaded my bike up started laughing when he saw my bike. How he started ringing my bike bell as loud as he could. Then everyone else started laughing too. I nervously chuckled, because the joke was clearly on me. I tried to forget how I cringed when the guy that unloaded my bike at the top of the mountain saw the bike bell too. How he rang it even louder than the first guy did. He must’ve noticed my uneasy look.
“It’s just a rule we have here on the lift, we gotta ring the city bike bells” He assured me.
“17, are you ready!?” The volunteer in the bright yellow shirt called out to me. I resisted the urge to ring my bike bell in response.
“20 seconds” she said ……”10 seconds”…… “5”….
Feeling like a beginner
You see, the role I and the other members of our Lean team play at KA is to support our employees as they leave their comfort zones and enter their “courage zones.” Trying the new approach that Lean Construction is for many of our employees isn’t easy. Especially when it’s your first crack at it. Feeling like a beginner when real projects are on the line, real commitments to our clients, can be overwhelming for some. Heck, feeling like a beginner isn’t a feeling many of us in this industry can even remember experiencing.
The heart of KA’s Lean management system is “respect for people.” Only with that firmly in place will we realize our other pursuit with Lean – continuous improvement. We respect our employees in many ways, but perhaps the most important way is by challenging them to grow. That growth only happens in our courage zones. The trick is avoiding crossing into the terror zone– nothing good happens there.
And as I see it, if I’m asking others to leave their comfort zones, as a leader I darn sure better be willing to leave mine.
So there I sat, firmly in my courage zone! Locked and loaded.
“GO!!!” She shouted.
What followed isn’t easy to describe – but let’s just say I was in an old beat up Volkswagen beetle in the only lane of a downhill Audubon. One after another the Lamborghinis and the Ferraris roared past me.
As they swooshed passed I’d usually be struggling to get back on the trail after having flown through the caution tape. Or I’d be trying to get my chain back on the gears it had rattled off of. “Are you ok?!” They’d shout as they passed.
“Yes!” I’d shout back. I took comfort in knowing if I ever said no, that they’d be there to help me.
The smell of smoldering brake pads
I remember the smell of my brake pads smoldering. The little bridges, and countless hills, the banks, the gigantic rocks, all of it was so impressive. I felt like I was going 90 miles an hour. My heart racing, I could barely catch my breath. If you think riding a bike down one of these trails is this relaxing serene experience, think again. Full body workout, every muscle in my body involved, every fiber in my brain too. All at the same time. It was incredible. I was humbled, and I’m hooked!
It was also humbling to see how the Duluth community mobilize for this awesome festival. Thousands came together to make the community they live and work in better. At KA we build strong communities, and the strength of the Duluth community was loud and clear as they showed up in droves to raise funds for COGGS, a 501c3 that maintains over 30 miles of those trails in Duluth, and for the Duluth area YMCA.
I haven’t even checked the results but I’m positive I finished last. And by a WIDE margin. I know because I didn’t tackle the next stage that was the second half of the short Enduro. I didn’t bail out of fear, I bailed out of respect for the real racers that were there. To be safe on any highway ya gotta “go with the flow”.
Instead I tracked down my son. I’ll never forget that look on his face, his big white teeth shinning out of his dirty face. He had taken a few spills himself. He had conquered his courage zone too, and he loved it every bit as much as I did. I asked him if we wanted take another crack at it. Zero hesitation – “Yes! Again! I’ll do better this time!”
Pretty soon everyone at the ski lift got used to the sound of my city bike bell. And it never stopped being funny.