Sometimes you just have to reach out to the people who inspire you and see what happens. When I first heard of Lentine Alexis, she had come to Seattle to feed a Rapha ride and my friends we're raving about her food. Lentine is a classically trained chef, cookbook author + former professional endurance athlete. She also lives in Boulder, Colorado where I used to live, so following along on her adventures brings back great memories of my time in Colorado.
I recently had the pleasure to meet Lentine, and below we talk about riding into the unknown, competition, living well, panchakarma, and reshuffling priorities.
But what do food and cycling have to do with fashion? Everything it turns out. As you may know, I took a circuitous route to becoming a designer. Cycling was where I learned to build courage, courage to leave the life I knew and set out to become a designer under my own north star. Which required me to redefine my ideas of what is valuable. Cycling was a way to build it physically in my body before I could express it in my wider emotional life.
I believe we are not one-dimensional beings. So often, when I meet someone new, they confess to me they were so nervous about what to wear since I am a designer. If only they knew! What I value most is creating beauty that comes from being comfortable in our skin, and that doesn’t just happen because of clothes. It’s an inside outside thing, and however we get there feels important to talk about.
And Lentine created a special recipe in honor of our nightdresses, read on.
JF-------I’ve always been enchanted by your easy joyful nature on the bike, and that you were a badass pro lady cyclist. How did you get into cycling?
LA-------I started cycling in earnest when I was living on a tiny island in Southern Japan. It was a remarkably beautiful place, but it was a time in my life where I felt I was navigating through dark clouds: my then-partner was spending a lot of time abroad in dangerous theatres, I had left my professional interests behind in the United States, was learning my place in two foreign cultures at the same time (military culture, Japanese culture.) I felt lost. I bought a used bicycle from a friend and started taking it out on little rides around the island. As I rode into my own unknown, dove into being afraid, and tried to be brave, slowly the place and its people started to unlock. The natural beauty, internal curiosity and sense of wonder within me began to bloom as well. The bike became my tool for navigating a foreign place - inside and outside of myself. For all intents and purposes, my bike plays the same role in my life today - a tool for discovery + exploration - emotions and landscape within, and the big beautiful world outside.
JF-------How do you approach the competitive aspect of riding?
LA-------Competition was a large part of my cycling life at one point in time. The little rides that I went on to explore our island grew longer and longer, my body became stronger and stronger, and out of curiosity I began racing endurance distance events. I unexpectedly won the first triathlon I entered, and quickly found myself competing on the world stage. I raced as a pro for 9 years, competing all over the world and reaching some of the highest echelons of endurance sport, but I was never going to be a reigning world champion because the spark, for me, was never in winning or prevailing over my competitors. It was about discovering new levels of myself, seeing the world through new eyes, challenging myself against the elements.
And the truth is, fixating on someone else being faster or stronger than me, took me ever further from those goals. I don't compete anymore, but I still love finding spots of fear within myself -- then confronting them head on. It turns out, I'm my biggest rival. There's nothing more rewarding than finding a fear or a doubt within and facing it. There isn't a single title that someone else could award me that would overcome that joy.
JF-------I’ve heard you say performing well is the product of living well. What does living well mean to you and how do you create this in your life?
LA-------It's true. If we aren't living well, we won't perform well. If we aren't living our BEST, we won't perform our best. Food is a great metaphor here because literally everything we put on and in our bodies becomes our bodies and brains. LITERALLY. If we put only microwave burritos in, the energy we put out, the shape our bodies take, and the shape of the thoughts we create are a product of that burrito. If we put organic, whole, energy-charged natural foods miraculously sprung from the Earth, our bodies use that miraculous fuel to spring thoughts, actions and, yes, prowess.
This applies to the thoughts we have, and space we create for ourselves too. In my own life, I notice that when I am just going through the motions, checking things off the list, that my work and my performance aren't up to the standard that I want to see. If I don't take time to let my thoughts flush out, if I cram too much into my days, my work lacks creative luster. If I don't take the time to stretch and refuel properly, my riding and physical prowess suffers. And you can't take a "supplement" for any of that. It has to come truly, deeply from an intentional place.
Intentionally carving out time to prioritize - I think this is really the way "living well" takes shape in my life. I feel like the word intention gets tossed around easily these days, but when you're being intentional you FEEL it, and it takes a reasonable amount of energy and focus in our modern lives. For me, that means sourcing and curating the highest quality ingredients to work with, intentionally carving out time to ride or stretch or run so that I can really be in it out there. Creating enough space around my work to let ideas flush themselves out. I guess it means that I check fewer things off the list each day, but the things I'm doing/creating/experiencing -- I'm 100% in, without taking a shortcut.
JF-------These photo of you in the nightdress were taken on a recent trip to Joshua Tree for panchakarma. How was that experience this year? What did you let go of? What did you take in?
LA-------Over the past couple of years, I've started doing bi-annual panchakarma retreats. Panchakarma is a seasonal cleanse in Ayurvedic medicine, meant to unseat deep imbalances in the body and mind. It can be used to address deep dis-ease, but it can also be used as time dedicated to letting go of whatever doesn't serve us anymore as the season shifts...and that's the reason I carve out the time.
This fall was a particularly poignant experience with the pandemic thrown into the mix. There were so many physical and emotional practices that had woven their way into my life as coping mechanisms, and it took me clearing my calendar and leaving my day-to-day life behind - including my bicycles, exercise routines and every single screen and device - at home. I practiced deep silence out there and discovered a lot.
Despite the fact that I had all sorts of organization patterns, rituals and practices in place, I wasn't really good at carving out time for myself. My self-care was the equivalent of junk food, getting squished in wherever I could fit it. On the retreat, I got to repattern that. I recognized that mornings in my home were like falling out of bed into the onslaught; from the moment we woke to the moment the lights went out we were "taking care of business," in a curated and calm way, but we were constantly moving and absorbing.
On the retreat, mornings were completely silent until 8:30am, and in that early morning time, I had the space to do a breathing exercise, short yoga practice, connect with nature and record thoughts and inspirations in a journal. Those practices allowed me to let go of a lot of anxiety, to feel more grounded in the present, and to embrace the fact that I can't control my future right now (and maybe never could), but I can feel more settled wherever I am by really, intentionally setting my feet on the ground and letting my breath in.
Back at home, my breath practice and yoga practice are still strong. I'm sticking to the boundary of not doing anything I qualify as "work" until after 8:30 am, and am feeling so much more spacious, curious, energized, and frankly, happy, free. Connected to my spirit. And to my partners too. It was really just a reshuffling of priorities, a reorganization of the hours in our day. It was easier than I thought, and it was worth the effort to make it happen.
JF-------What advice do you offer women interested in cycling?
LA-------Don't be intimidated by these gorgeous machines, or by the things you find when you get on one. Lots of women I meet learning to ride are nervous about being uncomfortable or being lost, or being unable to climb that hill. The hills will be big, and the learning curve might be even steeper. But it's nothing in comparison to the feeling you'll have when you realize that you're stronger than you think, more capable of pedaling over mountains than you ever imagined, and it's impossible to get truly lost when you're following your heart as a compass. And for all the other times, there's Uber ;)
** And now, for the pièce de résistance, Lentine developed a lovely, luxe twist on a favorite holiday recipe in honor of our nightdresses. Please meet the Molasses Masala Snap Cookie along with her beautiful story on bringing the Jo Nightdress along for a week in the desert. Enjoy!