Friday, October 7, 2016

Letting the Light Out

I was surprised to wake up.
It sounds absurd, I know....given how we live or lives: willingly drifting into oblivion every night, ostensibly with the expectation of always waking up... Of always picking up where we left off the next morning.
But... What if...there was no expectation of picking up where we left off? What if that was it? The last night. The last time you closed your eyes and succumbed to that oblivion. Maybe even embraced it.
How would you drift off?
Kicking and screaming? The way children fight sleep?... Something deep inside revolting at the idea of letting go of this day at all costs?

Or with a resigned sigh? Maybe... even a relieved one?

And later, when your eyes slowly opened... to the bathroom floor... and... to blood... all of it...
...wouldn't you be surprised too?

Once, in highschool,..I wrote a long essay on Existentialism. I say long. What I remember as 20 tight but sprawling pages of incisive analysis was more than likely just five doublespaced and over-margined sheets of poorly written shit. I knew almost nothing about existentialism. (It's French, right?) I'd read Camus' The Stranger, partly because the cover art was so compelling... but mostly because it seemed like such an adult thing to intellectual and cultured...

...but I'd failed to understand any of the real themes in the story... my ability to think critically about literature locked in a losing battle with the biological compulsion to try and get naked with girls...

I'd read The Plague, followed by The Fall... and came a little bit closer... but still failed miserably.
And then... I read The Myth Of Sisyphus. And while there was a metric fuckton that I probably didn't get... and still probably don't... all of a sudden, things made sense... The themes of all his work somehow getting past the omnipresence and omnipotence of "blanket time in the field."
All of this talk of "absurdity" and "void" and "taking our clothes off."
Or...was that me?

Sisyphus, doomed by actions in his past life to push a rock up a hill for eternity...always losing his purchase just before the apex and forced to watch the boulder, his current raison d'etre, tumble back to the bottom. Where he would have to begin all over again.


Fuck Everything Ahead.

But that wasn't what stuck with me. We've all known and felt that story press into our lives since...what? second grade? Making it through one miserable day of doing things we didn't want to do...and being powerless to change it..., only to stare down the barrel of a whole life of them...thinking that it never ends. This is the power of myth that "Mean Joe Campbell" was always jabbering about. A story that has all the power of existence complicatedly encased in its simplicity. Abstractions to manifest the ineffable. Or at least give them rough form. Form that the human mind can try to make sense of.

But what resonated...or at least gave me pause...was his take on the struggle. On coping with the fate of some seemingly endless and terrible existence.
"The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."
Is it?
Must one?
His take that there were moments in that hell where Sisyphus found solace. Vista and altitude. Placing his face against the rock... feeling its texture and coolness.

Even if I didn't agree with it all at the time... (you know... as an astute and learned 18 year old)... every sentence in that book was and is thought provoking in all the right ways. The ways that stick with you forever, swirling around in your brain every time you ride your bike... stand in a line... wake to sunshine in your eyes... buy almond milk... lose a friend... slog through a gray day... shop for a stupid fucking dining room table... kiss a girl... tell her you love her... feel her hand slip out of yours as she pulls away... cut yourself open to let all the light out...

I knew the blood was my own.
I didn't want to... but I did. In that way we always do. In that way we wake up everyday...with all the weight we hauled through yesterday still there... waiting to be hauled through today. And tomorrow. And the day after that.
As much as we might wish otherwise.

My head...hurt. A long blood crusted knot creased along my scalp, roughly the shape of the edge of a brick.
My entire body was sore. Bruised, it felt, from the inside out. My hand was split open...either from the windows I'd put my fist through... the impact of the car that didn't quite miss me... or from the ground that embraced me...

And my arms... My arms...
They were a mess.

I don't know why I regained consciousness. Maybe something inside clicked back on. Maybe my body decided to make one last ditch effort at survival, to spite my mind.
And...I don't know why I stopped bleeding. There's no reason I should have. Though mostly... I think I simply never finished.
Honestly, I don't like to think about it. Which isn't to say that I don't. All the time. Which isn't to say that every sharp thing I ever hold in my hands doesn't make something inside me tremble. Which isn't to say that sometimes, when people touch my wrists a certain way, that I don't feel a nauseating sting... a sickening tug run up the length of my arm to wrench the insides of my chest.

I'd never seen so much blood.

With the same sudden and impulsive tendency to action that had brought me to the floor... I would pull myself off it... and move toward the door. As quickly and best I could....fighting to stay conscious.
Stumbling in with my arms wrapped in towels...I would tell the nurse that I had tripped over the open dishwasher and cut my wrists on the knives that protruded from the utensil basket. Not caring if she believed me or not. And not caring that I didn't own a dishwasher. She would glue and tape and stitch me together... x-ray my insides and head for internal bleeding... and later, let out a low whistle as she sat across from me and told me that I had "done a real number on myself." And that I was "lucky." She would look at me pointedly and ask if she needed to make a phone-call. I would stare at the floor in silence... until she asked again. And then I would say "No. Please... No. I'm...ok. I am. I just... tripped. I'm ok," offering a teary and tremulous smile as proof. And she would look at me for a long time...her own wheels spinning. She would scribble a name and number on a piece of paper...and tell me that if I promised to call the number, I could go.
It was the number of another doctor...The kind of doctor who handles people who "do a number on themselves."

Later...maybe it was days... maybe it was weeks... I would sit in a a chair...and tell a man barely older than myself... things. Some of it a repetitive litany of things he's likely heard a million times too many... Some of it maybe not so much....
That nothing made sense...that unlike the vanishing scars on my arms, hidden by thick colors, heavy line work and sleeves... there was a hole inside of me that wouldn't close...that it would be better for everyone if I disappeared... that my legacy would always be damage.

I'd tell him... that sometimes... it was too much. Not "it." Not some perceived hardship or circumstance... because let's be honest... as hard as my life can feel... it's a fucking cakewalk. That's never what it's about. No... I meant the other "it." The way "it" diffuses into my life. All the noise and chaos of that much movement and that many voices. I'd tell him... that I couldn't process the ghosts... the first time I'd call them that.

And he would nod... and purse his lips...tap his pencil...make notes...pretend to understand...
...and ultimately...write a prescription.

And for too many months, I would take the pills. For "situational depression." I admit, I laughed at the diagnosis. As if there was any other kind... Situation always being a catalyst to unbalance brain chemistry. Situation always being the impetus for a plunge to nadir...
At the same time feeling a surge of relief at the idea that I was just temporarily out of whack... and not permanently fucked. That maybe ghosts were just one more manifestation of this "situational depression"...even though they've been around forever. And not sure-as-shit proof that I'm out of my fucking mind.

Later...I'd throw all of the pills away. Stop taking them in that way you're never supposed to stop taking pills that affect your brain chemistry. My situational depression depressingly deepened by the situation of those fucking depression pills. An ever present numbness. An apathy that wasn't happiness or unhappiness. Too many apologies to girls for a non-existent libido. ("It's not you... it really is me.")
I would steel myself for the aftermath... and weather it. I'd ride my bike further than before. Throw myself into projects. Do burpees in my living room until even walking up stairs and lifting a spoon hurt. Throw myself into being a father. Know that he was the anchor that was keeping me grounded... know that he was the reason I pulled myself off that floor... know that he was and is the best thing I've ever created in my life. Try to convince myself that my presence in his life was a boon... and not a bane.
And when he was away with his mother...I'd drink myself to sleep and hide the sharp things. Because everyone knows the demons come out at night.

I'd wrestle with a Jekyll and Hyde mentality... focused and committed... reckless and nihilistic. Make it through the days. But I'd still feel... extinguished. Like a light had gone out inside of me.
I'd wrestle with that. What the fuck did I even mean? "A light had gone out?"
Trying to put everything into perspective.


A friend once went on a rant in front of me... about suicide. About how pathetic and selfish it was. He didn't know anything about places I'd been in my life... or maybe he did...but I didn't say anything.
Funnily enough, I'd gone on the same exact rant once...long before. In my own narrow, privileged, selfish and myopic worldview, absolutely failing to understand how anyone could ever want to check out of life.
Until I did.
Until it was all that I thought about.
And until something snapped...and tipped the scales.

And then... I understood too well.

I've always been torn on depression. A part of me knows on a very personal level how real it is. How overpoweringly tangible and substantial a thing it is. And a part of me thinks it's just a symptom of boredom. A self-perpetuating sickness we've inflicted on ourselves with the way we live our lives. Too much of nothing and not enough something. Suburban ennui turned malignant... metastasizing into a cancer of the mind.
When we're engaged in the task of surviving... of truly scrapping to make it through a day...there's no time to be depressed. You're present... thinking critically about how to live from one moment to the next. And when you're doing what you want... chasing what moves you, even when it's hard...there's purpose.
It's in the other moments... the in between times, where we seem to spend most of our lives. Limbo... purgatory... salle d'attente... When you have just enough time to say... "Wait... nothing makes sense. This my life? How can that be? That's when the tumors start to form.
And in some of us... that cancer is more aggressive than in others. Genetics. Diet. Disposition. (And apparently gut fauna? This world...)

While there was and always is a selfish part of me that wanted to run from all the pain I was feeling and creating...the overwhelming feeling I had as I collapsed in my own blood was that this was for the best... that disappearing, even in a traumatic way, was the best outcome for everyone. That no one would have to watch me fall, pick me up, deal with my mess...and ever be hurt by the damage I would inevitably gouge into their lives. That the scar I was about to cause was better than the blast crater I'd leave if I persisted in living.
Selfishly selfless.

Because this wasn't a movie. No angel was going to earn his wings by convincing me that I'd ever do any good in this life. Some people might miss me... but they'd still be better off without me.


We've all lost it at times. Some moment that leads to this cascade of slamming doors in our heads...the normal outlets and rooms of reasoning suddenly blocked...and the course of action becoming this running full tilt down whichever hallway we're shunted into. that moment made manifest. Chased by whatever demons we have down that hallway of slamming doors... a hallway that ends in abyss. At keast,,, for me.

I can't say... that I won't always struggle with it. But... I've pause. To reset myself.
You know when you're walking down the street, and for no reason you can think of, you suddenly feel this overwhelming anxiety about that one set of footsteps behind you? Knowing that it's just another hapless moron walking the same direction, but unable to shake some stupid fight or flight panic? So you stop and tie your shoe, or look in a store window, or anything... until the footsteps pass.
It's like that. I let the footsteps chasing me pass. Or I just punch whoever it is in the face. (It's always me, in case you were wondering.) And I've learned...that just because the doors are all slamming shut at that moment, it doesn't mean you have to run full tilt down that hallway. You can stop... sit down. Lean your back against a door, get lost in the grain of the wood on the floor... nod off for a bit... Pass out. Get in bed and pull the sheets over your head for however long you need to. Maybe the doors won't be open when you wake up... but you won't feel that frenzied panic you felt before.
And they might be. One of them at least.

I know... it's infinitely more complicated than that....What goes through our heads as we push our rocks up the mountain. The circumstances... the people... the demons... the damage...
And I know that there is infinitely more to say. But saying this was hard enough. my moment of abstraction. My telling a story to find the meaning in it.
Hoping I'm smart enough to understand the themes... And hoping they're there... and that it's not just a literal story about some scarred wreck lying in a pool of his own blood for no reason.

Fuck it.... Let's get naked together...

Friday, July 15, 2016

Putting Out.

I was picking the kiddo up from camp. Sitting in the car for those few minutes before they were let loose. As far as I knew, Tyler had hit "publish" on the Bike Rumor thing. And I was about to be awash in commentary. Some good. Some bad.
I knew that. And I was ready for it.

But maybe...I wasn't? It had been that kind of week. Mixed with that kind of month. In the midst of that kind of year. The kind of year when even getting out of bed or taking care of basic hygiene can be hard.

Tyler had approached me a little while back and asked if I would be interested in going to a product launch for Specialized on behalf of Bikerumor. It seemed absurd. Not least of which because I own a shop that is NOT a Specialized dealer. But also because I really just don't give a shit about the company or their products. But yeah...sure. I'm pretty much game for anything. And the format of this one was compelling, because it would be for their "Adventure Dispatch" series; a thing I've made relentless fun of, but watched repeatedly. And as a shop that pushes that style of riding, seeing the bikes and meeting the people behind their recent push would be pretty interesting. Or not. But beyond that... two days of riding bikes in Pisgah with other members of the media, as well as the Yonder Journal crew and Ultraromance? Probably catered to the nines?
It sounded fun. Who wouldn't go to that? (Oh, you wouldn't? Bullshit.)

So yeah... I did it.

photo cred: Beth Welliver/Specialized

And then...I wrote about that way that I write about things. With a lot of alcohol in me. And with a lot of cursing, self-deprecation, piss-taking, and inside jokes that only I would understand.

The first comment was pretty tame. Negative, to be sure. But fairly pedestrian.
"Can someone that actually has what it takes to read this terrible feature tell me what it said? I feel like there's an angle here but I can't take this writer."
"Ha." I chuckled to myself... and walked in to get Milo. As we walked out and got back in the car... Milo asking if we could listen to the "African American band with the guy with the great voice" (Bad Brains) and singing a snippet of "I against I"... I read number two. It followed suit. "Ha. Well fuck" I said under my breath... "Whatever..."
Not that I hadn't been expecting a ton of negative feedback. Just that maybe right now wasn't the time for it?
I texted Tyler. "Man. I might not be feeling this today." ...Wondering if it was too late to just take it down. To duck out and be nobody for a little longer. Not because I cared what the pundits had to say... but because maybe I just didn't need a preponderance of them saying anything at the moment...good or bad. Not now.

This was the first thing I'd really written in this fashion since early May. I'd finished my Dirt Rag feature and column... but they wouldn't be out until mid July. And as for the blog? I just.. couldn't. Motivation and time seemed hard to come by. I needed to write about Kanza... but Kanza... was hard.

Number two! Like a giant turd.

I needed to write about the 111k and 55.5k... but they just reminded me of Barnabas.

Number three! Like a... giant...douche.

I needed to write about Barnabas. But that just reminded me... of everything. And just...maintaining became my mission.

BJ... I know, man. 

Sometimes...we're ok. And sometimes the demons are just atoms away from taking us out.
I could feel them... and every comment that rolled in was just one more wall between them and me shattering.
It had been that kind of year.

Writing is hard. If you do it, you know. I mean... it's easy, in that it's just words. And sometimes they come out all too easily. Like so much loose stool.
But sometimes they don't. Sometimes they're elusive. Sometimes they dig in their barbs and pull pieces of you with them.

And outside of any of that... there's the struggle of simply putting the words out there. Because to do so opens you up to being torn apart. Not only that, but it seemingly indicates that you have confidence in them. That you have confidence that what you're saying has merit enough that people should be exposed to it.

Do I have confidence in my words?
Yes? No. Not really? I don't know? It's... a strange thing. Do they entertain? Do they provoke? Then there's merit to them. Are they meaningful? Probably not? At least not to you. And the fact is... I don't write for you. (Though I do surely appreciate you taking the time to read it.)

Do I have the confidence to publicly take the piss out of my friends and the companies they work for?... And even the company I'm supposed to write about?
Yeah. Yeah I do. And it's always done with a smile and a wink...whether anyone gets it or not. Morons. (smile and wink) And my question to them is: Did I hurt your feelings? Or did I make a business decision that potentially compromises your future livelihood? Yeah. So shut up? (smile and wink)

Do I have the confidence to talk candidly and self-deprecatingly about what a train-wreck of a person I am?
Always. We don't talk enough about that kind of thing. Everyone is "fine" all the time. Bullshit.

Do I have the confidence to put myself out there?... In such a way that I could potentially be torn to shreds?
Hmmm. You misunderstand. It's not about confidence. It's just...about... not being scared. Less about thinking there's merit to what I do or say, and more about being unafraid to do or say it. Unafraid to be good or bad...right or wrong...liked or hated. Just being... me.

I think... that when you've tried to die... one of the biggest realizations you come to is that in the end, among a life of infinite regrets... the regret of not putting yourself out there far exceeds the regret of doing so. Taking certain risks and reaching for certain things, even if you don't quite know what they really are, is more meaningful than not. Most especially when you realize how meaningless most of what we do with our lives is. What's left to be afraid of?
Ridicule? Being alone? Pain? Shiiiit. That's called yesterday. Welcome to tomorrow.

Which brings us to the real question: Do I have the confidence to anonymously call someone I've never met and honestly don't know at all a "pathetic narcissist" in the comments section of some bike-tech cycling forum?
No. I admittedly do not. Because...Why?

And we all know that if I ever did, it would read: "This guy might even be more of a pathetic narcissist than me."

Incidentally, here's a compendium of the effusive commentary that was cast my way.

"Oh look... the children have discovered swearing. (Slow hand clap) Utter rubbish, Bikerumor. Expect much more of you folks."
- "carlos"

"Worst. Review. Ever. Please no more. Having actual factual information in the review is helpful."
- "GB"

"So many thumbs down"
- "b_p_t"

"Far too much time trying to sound "edgy" far too little actual information. And that head-punching thing doesn't exactly establish credibility.
- "steev"

And then, among the deleted comments (though not by me. I deleted nothing (save for a positive review because my fucking finger slipped. Doh)):

"Ten paragraphs into this crap and he's still going on about himself. I'm out."
- "the badavist"

"Just when you think bike bro culture couldn't get any more insufferable you stumble across this piece that is written/seemingly vomited onto a keyboard about a bike that's made for a bunch of tatted-up weenie-havers (presumably tbh I didn't read any more than the 1st paragraph."
- "judy butter"

"It's like the Radavist stumbled into the Bikerumor party and puked a bunch of half-digested word salad over everything.
- "hurf durf"

"Jesus H Christ this makes John Prolly seem like Seymour Hersh. 10 paragraphs in and this guy is the dude at the campfire who wants to tell you about how he got his tattoos even though you didn't ask. I'm out.
- "the badavist"

"Is this supposed to read like a "Diet Radavist" article?? @80... I agree. This writer actually typed out 'like' wayyyy too many times and I rage quit pretty quickly into this article.
- "Whaaaa?"

And then my all time favorites

"people who don't read shouldn't write, and from reading that guy's piece it's pretty clear he doesn't read very often.
- "the biz"

"It's like nonconformity meets conformity to pay the bills. Drink PBR, support corporate scum. Pick a  side man and be on it. Otherwise you're just fake. You're pop punk. You're hot topic. Plastic nonsense folks. This is the worst write up I've ever read. Pure crud."
- "Rick"

Did I reel a little? Sure. Did I require a lot of bourbon in my person that evening? Yeah. Did dorita need to pet my head and tell me that I'm good enough, smart enough, and that doggone it, people liked me? Maybe. Did my son have to ask me what I was sobbing about? No. But in this joke, totally.

Will I do it again?
Yeah. Of course. Maybe next time I can get even more people to unfriend me on facebook. One can certainly endeavor.

A portrait of the fartist as a pathetic, narcissistic, insufferable paragon of bro bike culture. (see "weenie-haver")

Friday, May 13, 2016

PMBAR: go down or go home

I admit... Rich's enthusiasm was a little infectious. Kind of like a laugh that makes you laugh.
And also kind of like herpes.
But all the right pieces seemed to be falling into place. The weather was going to be amazing... our competition was strong, but not that strong... we had good(ish) fitness... and we were going get to ride bikes in Pisgah all day. People have nocturnal emissions about this kind of thing.
And I was getting swept up in the wet dream.

If it had been raining... like my last PMBAR... I don't know.

Sam and I had much sads about having run out of margarita 4 hours ago.

I mean... It's not that I mind getting wet... because... I mean... I get wet without even trying.
And honestly I tend thrive in adversity. Pull together in shitty conditions that make others fall apart. A bizarre juxtaposition to my tendency to fall apart when the going is decidedly not tough.You know...maybe it's too cloudy. Or my burrito fell apart. Or I accidentally caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror. But I have this bizarre aversion to repeatedly crashing my bike on wet roots. Mud? All day Rocks? Whatever. Rain? I needed water anyway. Climbs that never end? Yawn. A never-ending barrage of soul-rending demons?  I call that Tuesday.
But wet roots? Shiiiiit. I might as well just detach my handlebar from the bike and try to steer with my unwavering faith in god... (But you don't...)
No. You're right...I don't.

But we weren't going to have to worry about that. Because it was going to be beautiful.
I worked the morning at the shop, and when Ben came in at noon, gathered my things and took off. Then... I busted back in to grab the things I forgot. Then took off again. Then busted back in to grab the other things I forgot. Then took off again.
Fast forward to an hour later: and I was on the road. Sort of....

"Well that's not it. Hand me the hydrospanner."

I don't care how DIY you are...Cultivating a good relationship with a great mechanic is key to #vanlife. So that when you're on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, that mechanic will talk you through getting mobile again. Or when you're rolling out of town and your check engine light suddenly comes on, you can swing by and he'll dial your shit right then and there.

Ahem...This applies to bike shit too.

In any case, Paul Pearce is a fucking wizard with the vanagons.

I'd considered stopping in Statesville to have lunch and a beer, and visit MOMBAT again... but I could sense Rich's growing agitation.

And honestly, just getting there so we could begin drinking in earnest seemed wise.
We met at the start/finish... parked the cars... got our numbers...and rode our bikes down to the Hub for some beers.
I felt bad, because I hadn't been to their new spot yet. It was insaneballs. Inspiring and disheartening at the same time. Inspiring, because we should all be so popular. Disheartening because we aren't. And instead of living at the gateway to the Pisgah Forest, we live in places like Greensboro... which I'm convinced is the "hookah-lounge capital of the world." I was excited to give Sam and Jordan both highfives and grief, but they were in Portugal or some shit.

We ran into many a friend...

Abby and Andy of New River Bikes.


Rich and Scott Rusinko... doing...I don't know. 

I was stoked to see that the HUB had local Gboro beer from Gibb's Hundred on tap. And to see that we had at least three more taps than they do. So I'm... winning? Or something? 

When the Hub shut down, we made our way across the street to a mexican restaurant... ordered our novelty sized beers... and ate things covered in cheese, swaddled in tortillas and served on molten lava hot plates. And there was much rejoicing. As we exited the building, I heard a commotion behind me and turned to find Rich flat on his ass, a nonplussed expression on his face in stark contrast to that of the terrified family seated in the booth next to him. "Are you all right?" I asked with the words "Why the fuck are you wearing clippy bike shoes anyway?"
He was. I think. Wearing clippy bike shoes, that is. I don't know if he was alright.
Then we rode back to the start/finish (a jaunt I have NO memory of)... found the finish-line beer...helped ourselves (with Eric Wever's blessing)...and hung out with more friends.

Hello, Devil...
At some point, it seemed prudent to get some rest, so we retired to the van to watch What We Do in Shadows until I finally dropped the Ipad on my face for the 3rd time... signalling sleep time.

photo cred: Dirty Biker
This is what passing out in the van looks like...mostly.
Did someone glue their pubic hair to my chest? Again?
photo: darahands
We slept like babies. That is to say... when we finally awoke, it was fitfully and tearfully. (Why was it so cold? I gotta go pee. Want coffee! My livuh huhts.) At least I did. Rich wakes up like a bounding toddler... talking a mile a minute about god-knows-what while my foggy brain is still trying to process where I am. He's the kid that comes running in and jumps on the parents bed at 5am. I'm the kid that needs to stare at the wall and clutch my blanky for a little bit.
We gathered our things... made our respective coffees...ate our poptarts... I took a nice long swig of Mike Pierce's Woodford Reserve... and we gathered at the start to await the doling out of Passports. Contained within would be the checkpoints we needed to hit, as well as the restrictions placed on getting there. Sure... checkpoint A is just up highway 276... but you can't use that portion of road... so how you gonna get there?

This is where the burden fell to Rich. While I could undoubtedly read the map and navigate us to the various points, my lack of familiarity with the lay of the land didn't lend itself to any kind of race confidence. At some point or other, I've ridden just about every trail Pisgah has to offer. But it's always in a marked fashion... or following someone else's lead.
So I deferred to Rich. And honestly... I didn't really care. If he totally fucked it up chances were he was going to be more disappointed than me.

Rich: "So if we head up blah blah blah  and then blah blah...."
Me: "M'kay. Which way is more beery? Btw... I farted."
photocred: Dirty Biker

Incidentally... he totally fucked it up.

As we were climbing, he was processing out loud, and mentioned multiple times the option of cutting over on Turkey Pen. But Turkey Pen is often a mess... and is a difficult trail in good conditions. Chances were it was a mess. So we went another way, bolstered by seeing people who know their Pisgah head our way. People like Thomas Turner and Jason Morgan. When we intersected the Turkey Pen traffic we realized our mistake. The people in front of us should not have been. But they were. Which meant their way was faster. A LOT faster.
Our fuck up was further confirmed as we began to hit the return traffic on the out and back of Bradley Creek. "Waaaaattttsss!!!" Andy Forron yelled as he and his partner barreled by us the other direction. "Rich... how much of a lead do they have?" I asked.
"Don't ask." was his response.
But I was confident. We were riding strong. We could make this up. We charged through every creek crossing (about a million and a half, by my count) and aggressively took lines on the trail. Then we hammered out a bunch of miles rooty, rocky, gnarly and beautiful miles.

There's often a bit of this in Pisgah.
photocred: Dirty Biker

photocred: Brad-O

What happened next? Fuck if I know. Rich has a blow by blow on his blog. That dude is all about the blows.
Suffice to say... we went up and down hills. Through rhododendron tunnels. Babbling brooks. G-nar g-nar. Fast and flowy amazeland. Deathclimbs. Off-camber benchcuts.

Pisgah is pretty amazing. And wonderfully primitive. That is to say, while it's grown to epic proportions... many of the trails haven't changed that much.They were cut long before mountain bike specific trails were even a glimmer in the eyes of the pioneers who first rode them. Back when suspension was in the tensile strength and curve of steel forks. Long before I wrote this shit for BIKE magazine.

Though I seriously doubt that anyone would call Fletcher Creek "unsung"...
And yes... it's pretty funny that I wrote about Pisgah as if I knew Fletcher Creek from Daniel Ridge from Turkey Pen. (They're all the same, right?)
Anyway, here's a snippet of my florid prose from May of 2000.
"There is a sense of antiquity in the Blue Ridge Mountains that isn't found anywhere else. You can actually feel the geologic time that has worn what were once sharp, bare, Andean-sized peaks into the green, rolling slopes that stand today. And with this sense of the immensity of the past, come an odd comfort in knowing that regardless of how fast you are bombing down a trail, things are proceeding and have proceeded here on a scale and at a rate that puts all of our hammering in shameful perspective."

Whatever you say, loser...

One thing I will say... running a 32x20 was an absolute pleasure in Pisgah. It almost felt like cheating. Spin to win? Maybe there's something to that.
I mean...I spun the motherfucking shit out of a 32x18 the week before at Bootlegger. But if I had geared any harder, I'd have been destroyed on some of those climbs. And in a race like that...the question is: be frustrated on the flats? Or have your soul crushed on the climbs? Frustration is frustrating, sure... but you can recover from that. Your soul is less resilient. That race kicked my ass. Maybe not in all the ways I need my ass kicked...(according to the polls)... but it gave me a sound working. 7hrs 40minutes for 100 miles. Considering Shenandoah doesn't take that much longer, and incorporates some dick-kicking trails... that's a hard day.

But not quite rock-hard tasty abs washerboard style....
glistening in the sun.
But more on Bootlegger another time.
On the final stretch, descending Black, I was dying. I had entirely too much pressure in my front tire... to the point where even the fun parts of the trail sucked. The difference between 17psi and 22psi is HUGE on a rigid. Rolling into the meadow...
And Boom!...we was done!
Crossing the finish line, I saw Forron and Sweeney kicking it under the tent. Ok, so THEY beat us. What about Russinko? Yep. Damn.
Well... 3rd ain't bad.
Not long after us Yuri and partner rolled in. Damn. They were that close? That means if we had fiddle-fucked around even more than we already did, we'd have been nipped at the line.

Then we proceeded to get destroyed... part of the beauty of camping at the start.
We hung with our friends until the wee hours...watching people roll in past dark. And yeah...while it's neat and all to snag all the checkpoints real fast like and finish in 8 hours... it's kind of more hardcore to do it in 13. Those folks are the real winners of a race like that...pushing way past their limits and still smiling at the finish. Because that is a long day in the woods.

Shanna: Singlespeeds are OVER!

"It seemed like a good idea at the time." 

Yuri gets shoe props... but loses all the sock points.
But then he earns all the other points because the next day he ran over 30 miles for PRAR...the on-foot version of PMBAR. 

whutt a bunch of loosers

It doesn't matter if it's good... it only matters if it rocks.

We stayed up until midnight, jabbering with all of our best friends and trying to polish off all of the cases of Oskar Blues that Eric kept appearing with. And eventually..succumbed to sleep.
I miss Pisgah. I miss living in the mountains. I miss the smell and feel of that air. I miss waking up to mist and watching the sun peak up over a hill. I miss crossing rivers and creeks on every ride and run I do. I need to figure this shit out.
Rumor is that we're doing PMBAR again next year. I'm down. Because as strong as those other dudes were... we could have taken this race. Easy. I'll try to bring some fitness and accountability next time around.
Or not.
I'll just shrug and smile and when Rich throws out options, I'll say... "I'm down with whatever."
Because I usually am. That's kind of winning, right?

Friday, April 22, 2016

So Much Whine

When it finally peaked... the hangover was everything I knew it would be. And more.
I bolted from the bed, pulling every sheet with me. Tangled and ricocheting off walls and doors, falling onto my knees just in time to unleash hell into porcelain. 

My morning... had officially become an ordeal.

I knew the formula well enough. This was to be round one. There would be, at a minimum, two more... likely three...spaced about 15 to 20 minutes apart. I had at least one hour of this kind of bolting... as I slowly transitioned from the contents of my stomach... to coughing up bile... to ultimately just dry heaving the last toxic remnants of my soul into that white bowl. 

What. The. Fuck... is wrong with me?

Though... on some level...I know the answer to that. It's just...complex. Complicated.
Or... maybe not? Maybe it's simple.'s just me. I'm just that fucked up.
I fall apart to stay together. Self-destruct to maintain. Hurt myself to keep from hurting myself.
Blackout...rather than spend yet another night wrestling with ghosts. Whatever that means.

Anyway...there you have it.
(Fuckballs... you really are a mess, aren't you.)

You know...I almost didn't go to Frostbike this year.
Because reasons...
But I did.
Because reasons...

(Wait. This... This is about Frostbike?!!! That fucking months ago!!!)

Yeah. Whatever. Look...I've just been...hiding. Thinking. Where I go? I dunno. just need to curl up in a ball and suck your thumb. (For two months?) And anyway...I've said it before, but no one could ever accuse me of being prolific.
Profane? Yes. Problematic? Always. Provocative? meh. Productive? Gods, no. Prosaic? Probably. Profound? Wouldn't that be something. Promiscuous? Hmmm...
And difficult. If you know, you know. If you don't?...I don't know. You know? And the thing is, if I'm not feeling what I'm trying to push out of my brain...I just don't force it. There's nothing worse than sitting on that proverbial toilet for hours to produce little more than a "plink" of what is ultimately still just waste. I'd rather have literary diarrhea and literally shit the motherfucking shit out of my literary and literal pants than be verbally and emotionally constipated.

And then, sometimes... the muse...just...pushes me away. Hard.
I understand. I'd push me away too.

And it isn't about Frostbike, anyway. .
It just isn't NOT about Frostbike.
Like I said... I've been in hiding. I need to purge a few things before I get to current events... like Interbike 2008.
('re still a fucking idiot.)
Yeah... I know.

This time... I attended Frostbike in the capacity of "media." Via Dirt Rag Magazine. To talk with shops and vendors and peoples regarding print that will come out in the near future. A more coherent (or not?) extension of this... and this...  My own musings on the state of bicycle retail, coupled with past, present and future travels... rambling and ramblings to put it all into a perspective that I can live with. ("Live with?" What...does that even mean?) What? Does that seem... dire? Histrionic?
Aye...Perhaps it is. But...have you met me? I mean...
Also... I rarely write sober.

Now... how many of those conversations will ultimately be distilled into usable content remains to be seen. Suffice to say... I'll try.

Once again, I extend a tremendous amount of gratitude to QBP for their hospitality... flying me out, putting me up, feeding me...indulging me... much less simply deigning to allow me to sully their reputation and property with my ill-conceived presence. It means a lot. Because whatever very minute amount of internet fame I have...most of it in the form of unabashedly and relentlessly mocking everything meaningful to everyone... making the occasional spectacle of myself... "racing" bikes or whatever... being Rich's sometime paramour... and actively trying to save bicycle retail, tear theism apart, and very publicly (and embarrassingly) grapple with what it means to live and love in this day and age...
...I'm not one of the popular kids.

I'm just...not.

I'm awkward and sullen... Manic and inappropriate...
Foolish... Distracted... Melodramatic... Drunkety...

I don't whore product. In fact... I rarely talk about it, if ever.
I don't circlejerk with any particular cabal of inclusion or exclusion...and I don't try to. (I jerk alone.)
I don't define my life with inane and vacuous hashtags... (I mean... unless you count #liveferalordie and #everybodythroatpuncheverybody ... both of which are extremely serious business, I'll have you know.)
And...I don't take good pictures. Unless you count this one.

And you should. 
do have a widely read least according to the blog stats (I'm particularly huge in Germany, btw)...but let's be writing is personal and hypberbolic... emotive and hebrephenic at a level as to be nearly incomprehensible. And even when it is readable, it only means anything to me. Which to my mind, is as it should be.

I'm told... that at some point my name came up in casual conversation at Frostbike... and the observation was put forth that "he's like... super emotional and shit, huh?"
Ha. Hmmm... Yeah. Something like that. And I fear... that I'm only getting stranger with every passing day.
It's not that I don't give a fuck, because depending on the fuck...I give all the fucks.
It's more that...I just don't give a fuck.
(But... you just...)
Yeah. I know what I said. So what? You think I give a fuck? is what it is.
In another day and age, I died penniless and alone. Wracked with consumption. In the heath...on a moor... in a workhouse.
A prodigious, shitty body of unpublished work stuffed in the sack I use as a  mattress. Pining away for the unreciprocated and impossible. Wasting away to nothing as I pen a million repetitive and overwrought missives to thoughts and feelings and absence.

Or I'm killed in a duel.

Or more likely...burned as a witch.

Ahem.... look, what I'm ultimately trying to say is... super thanks, QBP....For taking even the slightest interest in what I'm doing...both as a bikeshop...and as a hyperbolic and raving mess of a human being.
It means a lot.
Because me? Come on...I'm fucking nobody.

Many a day has passed, but I distinctly remember having the conversation with Loose Nuts Chris a few hours after our arrival in Minneapolis, wherein we both earnestly stated that we had "no intention of getting the least bit sideways on the first night," and that, if anything, we would refrain from drinking to excess on any level for the majority of the weekend.

Greggers and Chris

12 hours later, regurgitated margarita still crusted to the corners of our mouths, we were both wondering how we could possibly fake our way through the vaguest semblance of conversation with other people without proving to the world, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we were both damaged in the kind of ways that may never be fixed. But then... that's just my standard operating procedure. (Or SOP, as we call it in the business. (I've never ONCE called it that, btw.))
It began with the hotel bar... meeting and greeting friends from afar over beers...transitioned to joining Greggers and Cori Peplndkdakdajak et al. at a nearby bar, where tequila became a part of our math...and as the night progressed, as did the math... and soon enough we were mired in solving complex and confounding equations. Equations like "what is a pants?"
At least I was.
And then....darkness.

Look... we fight ourselves how we can. And waking up "wanting to die" because of too much drink is probably better than just waking up "wanting to die." Right? Right. So just... Yeah...

Once I'd recovered enough that the smell of anything didn't create a volatile reaction with the very core of my being... I headed downstairs to take part in "learning." Meeting up with Chris, who I found to be in a similar state.
I only bolted from a seminar once... and while I might have been fighting the nausea, it wasn't to throw up. It was because the speaker and I weren't on the same planet. Looking over his theoretical budget for shop renovations and noting how close it was to my annual revenue, I exchanged a knowing look with Chris... got up... and walked out. Then went and had a bloody mary and talked with people who I could relate to.

I'm sure that you don't want to hear the mundane details of sitting in seminars...and honestly, I don't want to talk about it...but one of my big takeaways, and one of the things I've been thinking about for the past few years in particular, is that regardless of my feelings toward retail (fear and loathing)... in order to be viable as a bike shop (or any brick and mortar store) in the coming new world order... you have to offer something... unique. (Yes.) Singular. (Totally.) And possibly...peculiar. (Absolu...Wait. What?) Otherwise... what are you offering that can't be found online?
And if "selling things" isn't the focus of the shop... because fuck "selling things"... in what oblique way do you thrive as a retail store. And what does that even mean to me.
(Umm... wait. That was your takeaway, Watts? Because... I don't know, man...)
Yes. It was. After a fashion.
The things I want to do with retail don't lend themselves to metrics or data. "Turns" and "profit" aren't my world. I mean... they are in that I rely on both to make my modicum of a living. But they are ancillary to what I want to accomplish with the shop. If that makes sense.
(It doesn't)
Yeah... I know.

But more and more... I think that is the current paradigm of shoplife. And I came back from Frostbike thinking heavily about it all...
About all the elements that come together to make a successful and stable store in this day. About the shops I want to visit the next time I get in my van and drive. About the people I want to ride bikes with and share a drink with.

But I won't go into that now. Because that's not this post. This post is just me...pouring the first drink of the night.

Not Greggers. 

And not that I haven't been drinking... But this is the first drink I'm sharing with you.
Some of it is working on other things. I have a recurring column in DirtRag Magazine. Snippets of shop life as seen through my skewed vision.

The feature coming out later in the summer. Other pieces in other places. Some of it is getting to ride my bike. In the way I want. So long and hard that my hands shake when I'm done. Destroyed enough that I pass out the moment the sun goes down.
And some of it is a list of projects. Projects that build with potential energy until they finally can't be contained. And blast out of me... like the effluence of a hangover.

Yeah... It's been a while...So drink with me. We can see where the night goes.
Maybe it ends tangled up and close. William Least Heat Moon's "deep cleave and merge of thigh."
Maybe it ends with a black eye. In an empty bathtub with a bottle of wine.
Maybe it ends with a puddle of blood. Stitches and sutures.
Or never ends.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Everything Fappens For a Reason.

Except this.

#mspaint courtesy of Rich.

Even while my body was tentatively deciding whether or not I was entirely done being sick in Rich's basement bathroom... still deciding which end to be sick out of... and still deciding if it wasn't just done with this tiresome "living" business...we knew Watts Fappening would fappen again in 2016.
Even if we pretended it wouldn't.
In the same way you finish a race...and with sweat, mud, blood, vomit and urine still caked to your face (wait...face?), you swear you will never do this to yourself again. Meanwhile...your head is already plotting a triumphant return.
We learn from our mistakes.(We hope.) Unless I'm mistaken.
And while the Fappening is, in its entirety, a mistake... on every level... There's that part of your brain that says, "yes, but...if certain decisions were or weren't made... could it not be less...mistake, and more "happy accident?"
Less "wetting the bed"... and more "nocturnal emission."

Not to spoil the ending to this riveting tale, but this year, .I emerged relatively unscathed. There was no destroying Rich's bathroom. There was no puking in his neighbors' (plural) yards (plural.) There was no talk of suppositories. There was just... Fappening. Without a doubt, things got sideways. But they didn't spiral.

Here's at least a portion of the motley crew who joined us on our drunken Homeric odyssey...
...complete with sirens and lotus-eaters and monsters and pigs and evil suitors.
photocred: Zac White. aka: New Zac. aka: New Zac City

I arrived at Rich's in time to put on chamois-pants, overthink my layers, and head to Back Yard Trails for a bit of "dirt church." (A vexing phrase, second only to________ in it's tedium.) The weather had promised to be beautiful and warm. And while it proved to be warmish... I was hard pressed to find the beauty. In the same way that snow can transform a landscape.... sun just... helps. I can look at a shitty, patchy yard and find beauty in discarded child's toys... or in the shadows of scraggly grass. The dying black-walnut looks almost majestic against the blue backdrop of a clear day.
But a day of slate gray skies? Then the clouds...just become Xrays. The kind that reveal unwanted masses. I don't see that beauty and majesty anymore.
I just see trash. And telephone poles. And vape lounges. Tumors.

But I digress.
We rode a good portion of the BYT, with Rich's ever-vigilant type-A brain keeping a keen eye on the time. I like BYT. It's challenging in ways that my local trails are not. Narrow bridges and logs and obstacles that make you pucker up and learn to hold your line.
We wound our way through tight, east coast singletrack... jumped off things (or not, in my case)... and then went home to get ready for the bacchanalia.

This is very high in the air when you're Rich's size.
 The ride to Sugar Creek sucked. I don't know if it was the fact that I'd ridden entirely too hard the day before...for reasons that elude me, subjecting myself to the unholy hell known as an "FTP test"...then lifting weights. Or if it was my under-inflated tires. Or if it was the nachos and buffalo wings that we'd just ingested, and which were beginning to seek a point of egress.. (fore and aft.)
But either way, I found myself cursing Rich as we climbed the many hills of suburban Charlotte. We got to Sugar Creek at 2:01 on the dot, and found that only Rachel and Ryan (Bill Nye) were as fashionably on time as us. Soon enough an entourage rode up... and well damn....I guess we had fappening on our hands.

Rich, Ryan and myself... the brainless braintrust of Watts Fappening.
I opted for the relative safety of a pale ale... and from here we carried on to Old Mecklenburg... to imbibe German beer, devour pretzels, warm ourselves by fires, (and subsequently smell like said fires for the rest of the evening.)
By this time last year, I was nigh on my way to total drunkety...Old Meck having been stop 3 and beer 5. This year...with a Dunkel Lager being beer three for the day... I was just pleasantly chatty (annoyingly so, I'm sure.)
As we were plotting our next move, a few of us noted the new distillery that had opened nearby, The Broken Spoke. Projecting a bicycle theme onto the place, we demanded that this be the next unplanned stop. At which point the route and trajectory of the evening fell into chaos.
You know about chaos theory, right?
This will explain it.

I went with the house bourbon, and we all found ourselves mezmerized by what I'm guessing was a very old version of Don Quixote playing on the television.

Skip and Moe had come down from Roanoke for this mess.

Broken Spoke
Photo cred: New Zac City
From the Broken Spoke... I have no idea. I could go and reread Dicky's order of events... but it's late. And you should go read it anyway.
I'm pretty sure it was Triple C. Which is where all the cute dogs are. If getting a beer there hadn't been as much of a clusterfuck as it was... I'd have pet all of them.

We are the crew.

last year.

this year

I...don't actually know where this is. Or who took this picture.
 I have no memory of drinking from such a chalice.

My understanding is that from here we rode to Lenny Boy. Where we accosted some poor couple out on a date.
I quite liked whatever I drankded there, colour of mud or not.

From here to the Sycamore... which was... horrible. Do you like crowds? Do you like crowds of yuppies who literally shit out more money in a year than you will ever make in a lifetime, but who are still somehow almost on the very bottom rung of functional intelligence? Oh... You do.
Then that was your crowd.
But it wasn't for us... as much as I wanted a damn beer from there. So we rode to the Spoke Easy instead. Tis a fine establishment... full of my peoples.

And... from here... aside from eating the best quarter of a bird carcass that I've ever had in my life at some rando restaurant up the street... things begin to slip.
Birdsong was next. I think? But when you hit that point in the evening where you start saying things like... "I totally remember this place." And that particular place has moved to an entirely new location... and, as it turns out, is actually a totally different brewery than the one you're thinking of... you really just don't even know, do you?
(Shhh. No more talk.)


(insert busted nut joke here)

We reached Snug Harbor in time for Gold Sprints. At about the time I'm typically reading bedtime books to my son... falling asleep next to him. So my yawn game was strong. But...that's the beauty of day drinking. You can accomplish a lot (of drinking) by a pretty decent hour, and still get a good nights sleep. But no....Instead... we opted to slog through until midnight.

Rich trounced this poor baggy jeaned soul. 
When we hit the midnight hour, we shrugged our shoulders, said our goodbyes to friends who stood confidently on wobbly legs... bold in their blindness... and rode our bikes back to Rich's.
Where I awoke the next morning without a trace of nausea. So I either won.
Or lost.

But this is how it is with fappenings. Sure... there's the build up to a manic and triumphant peak. But once that crescendo is over, there's that awkward moment of coming to... sheepishly cleaning up... and knowing that as good as it all probably looked pretty ridiculous making who knows what kind of faces and noises while you flopped around.
I'm not above looking ridiculous. As long as it keeps the void at bay.
Keep on fapping, kids.

What a mess.