Rapha Films Presents | Peter Hogan

Think about the last race that you did, or the last fondo, or even just that last long ride. Where did your journey to that start line begin, or to that moment when you wheeled your bike out of your front door, clipped in and rolled away? What are the events that brought you to the bicycle, and how did those histories shape you?

15 May 2023

Words:Max Leonard

Photography: Kody Kohlman and Peter Hogan

Peter Hogan, originally from Boston but now resident in Boulder, Colorado, has lived a more complicated history than most. Last year, Peter lined up for the Colorado Trail Race, the legendary unsupported mountain-bike race that winds through the Rocky Mountains along the whole of the Colorado Trail between Denver and Durango – over 500 miles long (850km) and with 72,000ft (22,000m) elevation, topping out at over 13,000ft (4,000m), with well over half of it on challenging singletrack. 

This is where our new film starts, but Peter’s journey began a long time ago. In telling his story – both in the film and when he sat down to chat with Rapha one spring morning recently – he poses some probing questions about how we conduct our relationships with the bicycle, with our friends and with our family, and also with our own needs, impulses and desires.

Peter’s childhood was a happy and unremarkable one. “My parents were always around, they spent a lot of time at home with us,” he says. “I lived a very privileged childhood where, if I wanted to bike, I had access to bikes, or a hockey stick if I wanted to play hockey, and they loved me. They loved me a lot. They did everything they could to set me up for success.” Nevertheless, he says, there was something in him that was not at rest. And when, aged 12 or 13, an older kid offered him some weed to smoke, it quieted that something inside of him.

“The first time that I used drugs, this is so ironic, was actually riding BMX at the local dirt jumps with my friends,” Peter explains. “I think I crashed my bike, and an older friend of mine was like, ‘You should try smoking weed, it’ll make you feel better.’ And I immediately said ‘Yes’. There was no thought process, no consideration of consequences or ‘Should I do this? Should I not?’ It was a ‘Yes’ right away. And because I was doing something else exciting, I associated trying drugs and trying new things with pushing myself in other ways.” 

And, to put it simply, he liked the sensation. “I picked up drugs for the first time because I wanted to, I continued to use them because I liked the way they felt, and I took it too far because I was obsessed with that feeling. I didn’t have any particular trauma or environmental factors that led me into it. I just did it because I liked the way they felt and I wanted to burn it down.”

For a while, Peter was able to maintain a balance with his schoolwork and social life. “For a year or two it was maybe a once-or-twice-a-week thing, I made plans through the week to hang out with my friends and get high, and I felt like I looked forward to using but I didn’t need it,” he says. “But sometime around probably 15 or 16, I started using prescription opioids more heavily, and, quickly after that, intravenous heroin. And once that starts, I think, regardless of how you feel about drugs, you just don’t really have a choice any more. I couldn’t get out of bed without using: I would just be sick, so I couldn’t do anything without it. I think when that happened I resigned myself to being an addict for the rest of my life.”

Peter was first treated for addiction in his senior year of high school, but quickly began using again. Then, when he was kicked out of college, he found himself back at home, heavily dependent on Xanax and heroin. Everything else was falling away, including, as the local heroin supply became laced with Fentanyl – a dangerously powerful opioid – other users. “I knew several people that died,” he says. “I wouldn’t call them friends because they were junkies, just like me, and there was no camaraderie left, but at that point there was no telling if it was going to be your last shot.”

Peter himself overdosed, he thinks, three or four times, though he can’t be sure exactly. But, remarkably, his lowest moment came later on. At a wilderness detox retreat in Utah, after being clean for three months, he came upon some prescription drugs recently confiscated from another addict, and he couldn’t prevent himself from taking them. “That was the first time I ever used after any prolonged amount of sobriety”, he says, “and it was the first time I used when I felt like I didn’t want to. Nothing in me wanted to do it, but I saw it and I had no choice. I thought I’d addressed those behaviours, but really I had not been sober by choice, only by the design of the programme. I’d been in a tent with no cell phone and no money, but at the first temptation to do something, I did it. I’d always had this illusion that I had control, or that I could stop if I wanted to, and then I was presented with that opportunity and I failed. Miserably. Things changed dramatically for me after that.”

Perhaps the detox retreat leaders recognised that he had reached a turning point because rather than kick him out, they gave him another chance. This time, Peter stuck with it. And when he came out of the desert and began a residential programme in Colorado, he picked up a bicycle, as he explains:  “At the place that I landed in Colorado, depending on the season, I had a choice of going skiing with a group of sober people, or climbing, or riding a bike with a group of sober people. I had always biked as a kid and I’d lost that for a handful of years, but I knew I felt pretty comfortable on a bike, and it felt like something I could approach. There was a person working there at that time who was a professional marathon mountain bike racer, and he took us out to ride on the local trails.”

At first it was just a welcome opportunity to get out of the house and get some fresh air. Soon, however, it became more than that: a way of making friends, forming a community, and finding some inner peace. “I’ve always felt like my attention span is really short and I get distracted and discouraged easily,” Peter says. “But, for whatever reason, I felt much more patient on the bike than I felt in other things. The time ticks by quickly, which at that point in my life was important – I wish it were the opposite now, but back then it was a huge plus that the hours rolled by really fast. And the feeling of having just a little bit of fatigue in your legs made paying attention, being present, talking to my family, everything, just a little bit easier. It quickly gave structure to my life. I could base my day around when I wanted to go ride.” The year after those first sober rides, Peter entered the Leadville 50 with a friend, and later began racing gravel. For a while, too, he found work in a bike shop, which was a social and community hub for the small town he lived in.

Peter is the first to acknowledge the privilege of the opportunities he was given to get clean, and the love and support he received. And he takes pains to point out that the bicycle is not a magical object that automatically makes you a more virtuous or better person; nor will it miraculously solve your problems, however much some people would like it to be a Band Aid to cover over all ills. It can also be an expensive hobby, and the bike world is still not as inclusive or diverse as it should be. But equally he firmly believes that cycling can be for everyone and, with the right mindset, it can be a tool and a positive force for change. “I mean, that could be true for pretty much anything right? It could be pottery or reading!’ he laughs. “But cycling is a vehicle for friendship. And community and routine and goal setting. I also think it allowed me a safe, comfortable space to try hard at something for the first time.”

Eight years after getting clean, and now a committed rider and racer, Peter felt he had hit a fine vein of form, and decided to enter the Colorado Trail Race. “There wasn’t a day last summer before the Colorado Trail that I didn’t enjoy being on the bike. So I felt like I was in a really good place mentally to take it on. I know that enjoyment really comes and goes, so I wanted to take advantage of the stoke,” he says. Alongside the training came the planning and the prep, the strategising and the fine-tuning. “I made a point of saying to myself I’m going to pack super light for the Colorado Trail, like disaster style – that if I don’t move at a certain pace I’m going to be in the middle of nowhere, totally fucked, with no food and nothing to sleep in,” Peter says. 

He also put it out there that he was raising money for a charitable cause with an Everesting he was doing,  and he had embarked upon the film-making project that would become Rapha Films Presents | Peter Hogan. “So I guess I put a lot of pressure on myself!” he says.

The group start for the Colorado Trail Race took place at 4 a.m. on August 14 2022. And for a while, the race went well. “I rode, I think, 180 miles that day through pretty tough terrain,” he says. “Then the first rain clouds started to roll in after sunset. There was someone who had gone off the front by themselves, then it was myself and one other person in second and third, just sort of working together. We were at 11 or 12,000 feet, and we drew up a peace agreement right away: you know, if we’re going to go into this dangerous section above tree line in the rain, let’s stay together for safety, for the next 25 miles or so, until we get to town. 

“It started pouring when we got to the top of the pass, and so we put on all the clothes we had – both of us were racing in similar style, no sleeping apparatus – and started descending to town. Quickly down that descent the rain changed to partial hail, and the thunder and lightning were clapping really close to where we were – we were counting one or two seconds between flash and noise – so we decided, OK, once we get down to town we’ll hang out in an underpass until it passes and see what happens next. 

“But it was cold, and I started pushing the descent on this hiking trail much more than I should have given the bike that I was on – I was on a hardtail with 100mm of travel, on 2.2” tires – and I crashed. I went over the bars and I hit my front brake lever square on a rock and blew it up. The hose ripped right where it enters the lever, so I fully lost my front brake. It was about midnight and I knew that fixing the hose was going to put me out of contention completely. I didn’t have the kit to go slowly, so I decided, sort of reluctantly, to bail out of the race.”

Peter found a motel, called his girlfriend and waited out the long night until the stores opened and he could get some food. 

“It was intense”, he says, “and very frustrating. It felt like a waste of time. I was very reluctant to tell people that I had dropped out. I texted the race director to let him know I crashed and was out, and he texted back, ‘You were doing great, see you next year.” Now, I realise that it’s a very common thing to drop from these kind of races for reasons that are largely out of your control, but I was really super depressed.”

Will Peter go back to the Colorado Trail? Not this year, but maybe in the future. This year his goals are mainly gravel racing, notably Unbound XL, with a few marathon MTB events to spice things up. But he has also found that his perspective has shifted. In the immediate period after scratching from the Colorado Trail Race, he refocused on the other parts of his life that he had been neglecting. “I think I had put all of my other priorities to the side in preparation for the race. I’d definitely fallen behind at work and I’d been letting friendships and my relationships with my family all go to the wayside in favour of training. That was something I dramatically underestimated. There was this feeling that I was so behind and disorganised I didn’t even know where to start. Do I clean my house first? Do I go grocery shopping first? Do I update the registration of my car first? There was so much shit to sort out, I sort of shut down and recluded… I took a long, hard look at my priorities and realised I had totally lost sight of what I valued in life. With all my training by myself – I’d wanted like a certain level of intensity and I didn't want anybody else to mess with that – I had lost sight of the community.

“I think that before the Colorado Trail experience, I hadn’t comfortably envisioned how cycling could fit into the life that I actually wanted. I wanted a home, I wanted to hang up art on the walls, be an engaged partner and be a good employee. But I hadn’t really been able to figure out how to bike as much as I wanted to and do those other things. Now I feel like I have more hours in the day, I feel a little less overwhelmed.”

It was a realisation that having the health and the time to cycle is a privilege in itself, and that cycling, rather than a be-all and end-all, can be just one part of a full life, a source of joy, a point of connection and a reward.

In 2023 Peter went back to Boston to support his girlfriend running in the Boston Marathon, and while he was there he fitted in a trip to his home town and his old neighbourhood. “I rented a bike and I deliberately sought out all the roads I remember driving or riding a BMX on,” he says. “And I remember that I used to think the hill that I grew up on was huge. It was this monstrous thing with twists and turns, where I had to get off my bike and walk! And last week, pulling up to the base of that hill, I could see the top. It was maybe a minute climb at most.” 

If we’re lucky, that’s the kind of perspective cycling can give us. And in the meantime, we’ve just got to keep on riding up that hill. 

Peter and the makers of this film are donating a portion of the income from the film to the OpiCure Foundation. Created by two brothers, professional cyclists Griffin and Cullen Easter (who are also a psychiatric technician and a registered nurse, respectively), OpiCure’s mission is to use the bicycle as a tool to assist those struggling with opioid addiction in their recovery process. 

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