Friday, September 28, 2018

Love Stabs, Trainers, and Politics: longform with my enemy.

Q: Wait. Enemy? That's a bit harsh, isn't it?

A: Is it? Name something good you've done for me.

Q: Ummmm... Kept you alive? You're welcome?

A: Ha! You say that. But you've also tried to kill me. Multiple times.

Q: Please. I was trying to help you.

A: By stabbing me with a screwdriver?

Q: That... was a love-stab. God, stop being so dramatic.

A: A love stab?

Q: Whatever. Look...

A: To the head?

Q: Love... is complicated. Sheesh. You know this.

A: I... I don't know shit anymore. I think I need to disappear. I swear... I'm losing my fucking mind.

Q: Awwww. Sounds like someone needs a love-stab.

A: I hate you.

Q: I know. So... where you been, emo-boy? Literally tens of people have been asking. Alright... maybe just one. And no, it's not who you were hoping.

A: Alas. I don't know. I just...

Q: Ok. Full disclosure. No one's asked.

A: (Sigh)
I've been around. Just weathering them brain fires, you know? Just... playing the game. Distracting myself through one day. Then another. Then another. It's all distraction. All about tricks.

Q: Yep. It's all about turning those tricks.

A: Like... this winter. I'm fucking terrified of it. I barely made it through last winter, right? How the fuck am going to make it through this one?

Q: Not to indulge you, psycho... but what's your plan. How'd you do it?

A: Hmmm. Badly. I mean... I drank. (A lot) Rode my bike. (A little) Traveled. (Not enough) Kissed. (A lot) Turned myself inside out on the trainer. (Too much) Counted cracks in the sidewalk. (So many) Read books to my kiddo. ("I am a sick man... a spiteful man...") Drank. (I said that one, right?) Avoided sharp things. (Everything is sharp when your head is bad) Touched bricks in the right order. (1,5,7,2,3,9,5, fuck... start over) Kissed. (Still not enough) And.... Drank. (A lot)
I know that's not a great long-term plan, by any stretch. But it's what got me to today. So...

Q: Cool story. I hate trainers, by the way.

A: So do I. But I'll tell you something... If I only have one hour to ride? And I can either do an unfulfilling loop through garbage suburbs... full of brick and siding and dying azaleas and Bermuda grass and bitter, unhappy couples and white Audis and mulch and bags of dogshit left on the sidewalk because people are too lazy to carry them to a trash can....
OR I can do a workout on the trainer so hard that I literally can't think about anything AND I cry blood?
Which would you choose?

Q: Hmmmm. Yeah... that blood thing sounds pretty good. So are you on Zwift and all that shit?

A: No. Nor do I see that happening. But who knows? Winter makes you do weird shit, right? I have this Kinetic Trainer and this INRIDE app on my iPad. I scroll through the workouts and say "I wonder which one of these will make me sob and shit my bibs?" And choose that one. Then I pedal hard enough to make a yellow line follow a green line. And cry. And shit my bibs.

Q: Hmmm. Delightful. So why aren't you bonkers strong on the bike if you train so hard?

A: Ha! Train? You mean like... with a plan? Like... a goal? Like... peaking and tapering? Like... paying attention to my diet and having rest days and drinking enough water and getting enough sleep and not getting pass-out-drunk every night to desperately try and hide from demons?

Q: I...guess?

A: Hmmm. I don't know. Apathy? Bad genes? And who says I'm not bonkers strong?

Q: Everyone. Is it fair to point out that it's not even close to winter yet? I think it was almost 90 degrees the other day.

A: Pfffft. I start dreading winter in like, mid-April. So...

Q: Fair enough. Wait... weren't you supposed to be at INTERBIKE last week?

A: Sigh... Yeah.

Q: So....?

A: It just didn't happen this year. Ben, who was my right hand at the shop (And also my brain. And gut. And possibly my left kidney. Among other things...) finally decided to go to law school. Rightly so, because he's (kind of) smart(ish.) And come on. pursuing bike retail as a future? You're either insane....Or dumb... Or both.

Q: So which are you?

A: God, I'm so far off the spectrum of being insane and dumb that it almost doesn't even register. Like a wheel spinning so fast it looks like it's going backwards.
Anyway... I just needed to be at the shop lately. So... yeah. No Interbike.
And yeah... I'm bummed.
Because whatever the fuck people say about "Ugh... Interbike is the worst. I'm so traveled and jaded. I'd rather be making coffee outside in a hot spring wearing my bedrock sandals on a gravel road with my fucking $5000 titanium bike"... or whatthefuckever...
...I never didn't have fun at Interbike.

Q: So you don't like Bedrock Sandals? All your buddies love them.

A: Nothing against Bedrock. I'm just not a sandal person. I'm all about tall socks. Tight kits. Top buttons. No sleeves. Mullets. Neck tubes. None of it makes any real sense.
But mostly? It's having a strap between my toes. (shivers dramatically) It's... unpleasant. Like someone touching my wrists. Or having fabric in my mouth.
Plus this is what happened the last time I wore sandals. So....

Q: Gross. Ummm... Fabric in your mouth. Is that a thing? That happens?

A: Thankfully, no. Because I would puke. The other day I was cleaning up around the house, and to free up a hand, put this t-shirt I was holding in my mouth. I gagged so hard. I would be pretty awful at fellatio, I suspect.
And there's probably no S & M on my near horizon.

Q: That you know of.

A: That I know of.

Q: What about travel? Any of that on your horizon?

A: No. Not that I can see. And yes... I'm losing my fucking mind about it.
I know I'm a broken record and all that... but staying in one place fucks me up. Routine is anxiety. Movement is peace.

Q: Oooohhhh that's really deep. So where would you go?

A: Fucking anywhere.
Usually about this time, I get in the van and head... somewhere. I often don't even know until I'm behind the wheel. Last year I went north. Went to Kingdom Trails in Vermont. The year before I went west. Made it to Palo Duro Canyon in Texas. The year before, headed to Madison, WI. This year? I just wanted to see the Aspens. I've never been there when they were turning. All that yellow and blue. How do people ride there and not just jizz their pants all the time?

Not aspens. But pretty alright. 
Q: What about events? That's a good way to force travel.

A: You think I don't know that? It's why every year I say YES to so many events. Tell myself that I'll be there. Rebecca's Private Idaho. Shenandoah 100. Mah Daah Hey. Tour Divide. Trans North Georgia. True Grit. Landrun. Sea Otter. Keystone Gravel. UnPAved. Baja Divide. That middle of February fat bike race whose name I forget. Fucking anything. Anywhere.
Grinduro is this coming weekend... and at one point, Giro was even going to give me gas money to drive the van there and be a social media dipshit about it.

Q: What happened?

A: What always happens. Entropy and disorder. Decay. The falling apart of things.

Q: That's... really depressing.

A: Indeed it is.

Q: What if you just close the shop for a week or so and just do it?

A: Yeah. Maybe? I need to figure some shit out.

Q: Wait... Is the van ok? Please tell me the van is ok.

A: The van is fine. I think. I mean... it needs some work. I'm not quite sure that the radiator is operating at 100%. There's an electrical short somewhere that makes the windshield wipers turn off whenever I hit the brakes. Sometimes the lights want to flicker out and the only way to keep them on is to press on the relay a certain way. And there's a rattling noise somewhere around the front right wheel. I'm always driving when I hear it, so can't quite diagnose it. Fun. stuff. But the van is fine. I mean... yeah, the fuel pump shit the bed somewhere in New Mexico on the romp I took with Dorrit and the not-so-younglings... And we spent more than a few hours on the side of the road in 106° heat multiple times as I scrambled to fix shit. But yeah... that van is fine. Everyone's fine here. We're all fine here now, thanks. How... are you?

Q: Meh.
You still writing?

A: Yeah? I mean... I have my ongoing column in Dirt Rag. But otherwise? I've been a in a major rut. Like my muse bailed. I sit down to write just about every night. Sometimes I get something out that I save for later. Some nugget of idea. But mostly I just "select all" and hit "delete."
At some point I just started hating my voice. It became all consuming.

Q: Self-loathing likes to do that.

A: Even now.... This. This absurd little exercise to trick some stupid words out. It just seems like so much self-indulgent bullshit.

Q: Maybe. But no more so than the act of simply having a blog and thinking you have something to say or that people should care.

A: But that's not why I ever write the blog. I write it to try and put thoughts, however poorly formed, into words. Translate energy into matter.

Q: Or just probe your own prodigious mental vomit with a stick to see what the fuck is in there?

A: Yeah.

Q: Shit, I can tell you that. Hot dog. Big unchewed pieces of hot dog.
So I heard you're doing a kit.

A: Yeah. I always wanted to do something that wasn't really tied to REVOLUTION CYCLES. Just because. So I just branded this one REVOLTING COGS.

Q: Oh... because you have a brand?

A: No. I mean....

Q: Do you have any idea how fucking vain that is? Assuming anyone wants to be associated with this shit show of... whatever the fuck it is you do?

A: Ok... Truth? I just wanted a new kit to ride in myself. When I first talked to Stratton at Starlight, I was just going to do a super secret run of like... four kits. Two for me... One for my kiddo. And one for... whoever. He talked me in to doing a "team store."

Q: So what does it mean?

A: What it's always meant... A Revolting Cog. Some part of the machine that isn't in sync. That resists.

Q: So it's political?

A: No. But it isn't NOT political. Because it's me.
It's funny... the other day at the shop some folks were talking about the kit and saying they were probably going to order one. I told them I appreciated that very much. And I do. So much. And the question was posed: Would I be ok with them even wearing my kit? Because we probably don't agree about politics?
And... they're right. We don't.
So the real question is: are they ok wearing my kit?

Because here's some politics:
Fuck every fucking hole in that fucking fuck Kavanaugh's fucking fuck face.

Q: And fuck white male apologists. And men's rights activists. All of them.

A: Exactly. What are you scared of? That you'll suddenly be treated the way you've always treated everyone else? Fuck your fragile and toxic masculinity.
Hmmmm.... you know... maybe calling you my enemy before was hasty. Maybe you're like... a good frenemy. I don't know. It's easy to reduce people to reactions. Take some facet of them and make a narrative of it. It's always more complicated than that, right?

Q: Yeah... What's that stupid word? Sonder? "The idea that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own." That we're all struggling with something.

A: Yeah. But we're also all just ignorant and boring pieces of shit who think more of ourselves than we should.

Q: Indeed we are.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Dirty Kanza: I think of demons

Somewhere in Kansas: now

My legs aired their grievance. Filed their complaint. Gave me the tell-tale shudder of a cramp. One in my left leg, somewhere behind my knee... in a pocket of sinew I didn't even know had room for things to cramp. And one in my right leg. In exactly the spot I'd torn something earlier in the year. Somewhere near my hip-flexor and groin. Doing plyometrics. Jumping around in my living room, trying to tax my body enough to stave off suicidal winter depression. A strange pop. Then tingling pain and bruising. Too impatient to let it heal the way I should have. Now just a dull and constant little ache. But I was used to that. I stood up on the pedals and pushed through the cramps. Once upon a time I would have stopped. Stretched. Whined. Then I figured out that eventually... my body just says "fine... whatever" and the cramps disappear. At least for a little while.
And pending nutritional meltdown or not... it wasn't my body.
Somewhere around mile 80, my head just started doing its thing. Standing on the pedals to navigate some technical crux of some kind... a steep incline... loose gravel... a deep rut... the past...
...the strength just left me. That strange flood of weakness that accompanies those moments when you remember something...  that you didn't want to.
When you scratch off that thin skin of the person you want to be... and expose the person you are.

Somewhere in Florida: before

I woke up to sunshine. Light and heat starting to break through the tattered curtains of the van.
There was bustle now. Voices. Cars pulling in and out of the formerly dark and quiet parking lot I'd found late last night- backing into a spot sometime after midnight... Tentatively setting up the bed and sipping whiskey in the dark... Waiting to see if I got chased off by yet another not-having-it security guard. Until my eyes closed... and I nodded... and drifted.
I peaked out the curtains... noting that I had neighbors: two men sleeping in an SUV parked directly next to me. Seats reclined. Mouths open. I wondered where they were coming from and where they were going.
I turned onto my back and kicked off the sheets. Stretched my feet out and touched the corners of the bed... one of those strange little rituals I've fallen into. Hanging my heels off the end of the mattress.
I could tell I'd slept later than I meant to... but it didn't matter. Things were changing. The winds that had moved me here were shifting. The fog was burning off. New weather.
I liked that. I welcomed it. I needed it.
Whatever plans I'd made were meaningless now. And that... was a good thing.
Because I'd driven down to Florida with a plan to kill myself there.

Wait...  What?

Somewhere in Kansas: now

I'd stopped eating. Or drinking, as it were. Which was a problem, as all of my calories were liquid. My ill-conceived plan. But feeling the last mouthful of whatever fluid was in my bottles press back up against the back of my throat... my body said "No. Please. We're... quite done with that. No more." I tried to force the issue, and it ended poorly - a lingering miasma of grape-flavored bile in my mouth and nose. And on the ground. And on my shoe. Nothing but more grape-flavored bile to try and wash it away. Again... ill-conceived. When I pulled up to the final aid-station, Dorrit had more bottles of grape flavored calories for me. "No." I less said than croaked. "Just water." She promptly dumped them out. Refilled them with water and ice. I pushed chews I knew I wouldn't eat into my already stuffed jersey pockets. She poured water on my head... I gave her a bile-flavored kiss... and rolled out. Unrefreshed and unready. But knowing I could do this. It just... wouldn't be pretty.

It's not hubris to say that I always know I can do this. Riding a bike... is just that. If anything... it's the easy part. Sometimes it hurts, yes. And sometimes it's a complete shitshow. And sometimes... I want to quit. More than anything. But not because I can't go on.
Because going on just seems stupid and senseless.
I never doubt that I can do this. I just doubt... if I should.

Somewhere in Georgia: before

When I was young, I could always tell when I was sick. When I was legitimately sick... and not just fending off allergies or some small cold. Somewhere below the fever. Below the aches. Below the coughing... below whatever symptoms I felt...
...there was a shape.
I could see it, but only if I didn't look at it. More than anything... I could feel it. It was round. Jagged. Soft. Sharp. Fluid.
It pricked and flared. Bit and pressed.
I can remember lying in bed and trying to find it. Trying to find the place it lived. Somewhere in my jaw. Behind my teeth. Somewhere in my skull.

It's much the same... when my head is bad.
There's a shape.
This one is more difficult. It's soft... and prickling.
Like a cloud. Like a hydra. Like heatstroke. Like nettles.
I can see it in my periphery. In the corners of my eyes. Feel it in that space behind my teeth. It has a sound. Like a quiet roar. Like the din of voices in a crowded room. Unmistakable and unintelligible .
It's harder to qualify... because it's always been there. I just didn't know it. Until one day... I woke up, and for reasons... it was gone. I didn't even know what was different. What had changed. Just that, for the first time in what seemed forever... I didn't feel like killing myself.

These things rarely last, do they?

Somewhere in Kansas: now

On a long barren stretch of gravel... my front tire passed millimeters away from the flattened body of a horny toad. Crushed by a succession of preceding bicycle tires. In the self-absorbed passion play of a day at Kanza... I crave those moments. It's like a pinch. A slap. A hard shake. Something to snap you out of ego. There was no meaning in it. No beauty. Just absurdity. Like a possum carcass on  asphalt. Babies still in the pouch. Just trying to cross a thin ribbon of road. Just trying to gather some food. Just trying to live and provide. But ultimately just a body with organs exploded out of its mouth. All because some shithole hairless apes were too distracted by their own meaningless bullshit to pay attention to anyone else's. All because they needed to speed to town to get 50 rolls of toilet paper at Costco. A $5 latte they won't even finish. More caffeine free Diet Coke to drink while they watch Jimmy Fallon make more money lip-syncing to other people's songs than they had made writing them. All because they wanted to ride bikes in a giant circle and wear pants and grow ironic mustaches and say stupid shit about gravel and unlearning and coif their hair and give themselves codenames and share pictures of themselves on some ether plane they barely understand. All because they wanted to pretend like their momentary discomfort was a river... and not just another evaporating puddle that no one ever even knew or cared existed. Some pitiful feint at recapturing the same hungry desperation that the horny toad felt as it crossed a sun-baked patch of gravel in search of some food.
And found its insides on the outside instead.

Somewhere in North Carolina: before

It wasn't until I was physically driving out of Greensboro that I'd even set a tentative destination for that first day. I just got in the van and started moving. Made an impromptu exit. Instead of heading south to Uwharrie and hauling myself up loose, rocky hills.... I'd go to the Whitewater Center in Charlotte. Ride as many miles of trail as I felt necessary. Bask in the sun by a fake river with a beer. Plural. Then later... I could just make more impromptu exits. To wherever. Before ending up on a beach. Listening to waves. Before... making another exit.

I hadn't intended to... but I sent Rich a message. That's... what friends do, right? Visit friends?

Confession: I've never been good at friends. As much as I may let everyone in on some level... Tell total strangers more than they want to know: That I'm suicidal... That I've intentionally smashed a brick into my head until I passed out... That I got hit by a car while out running one morning and shit all over myself (and the car)...
...I don't get close to people.
I have amazing friends all over. Most of whom I don't even really know. And I look forward to any and every chance to laugh and cry and sleep with all of them.
But I'm too selfish. Too strange.
I can count on one hand the people I consider close.

For whatever reason Rich... is one of those people.

Turns out he was around. Just drinking beer in his back yard. And in classic Rich fashion, he convinced me to leave the White Water Center and my dreams of beer in the sunshine by a fake river... and come ride the poison-ivy maze of the Back Yard Trails with him instead. So we did that. Killing an afternoon meandering around the tight and technical dirt of suburban Charlotte. Afterward, as we sat basking in our non-accomplishment, he could tell that I was reluctant to get back on the road. And I was. I had a plan, yes... but that didn't mean I liked it. So without saying more, we just went out and ate food and drank beer. Talked on his porch until I started falling asleep mid-sentence. Then I crawled into my van and passed out. 
Successfully distracting myself through another day.

So much of life seems to be... just that. Distraction. Little games and tricks. This strange, jaundiced engagement. Divert our attention with minutia.  Bolster it with stories about impact. Myths about significance. Anything to keep us from peaking behind the curtain.
Have you ever been watching a movie... and suddenly you're not? Maybe your vision found the edge of the screen... or someone coughed or farted... and your attention slips. You become hyper-aware that you're sitting still in a darkened room staring at moving colors on a wall. Even the images stop making sense. The audio just becomes noise. And you can't snap yourself back into the fugue. Can't put yourself back in that trance. Like trying to fall back asleep in the wee hours of morning and stop your head from replaying every shitty thing you've ever said or done in your life.
That... ever happen to you?
It happens to me all the time.
For at least half of Dirty Kanza I was just staring at my hands on the hoods of my handlebar... peering into the space between atoms and thinking "What the fucking fuck is even happening right now?" Hyper aware that my perspective was trapped in the narrow confines of a body. That bizarre claustrophobia of peering out of your own eyes.

This means something?
Flawed and fucked as he was as a human and a writer... one of the reasons I've always enjoyed HP Lovecraft was his fixation on the ineffable- with things outside of our understanding or capacity to communicate. Be it a color. Or a shape. Or a malignant and indifferent universe. He was obsessed with trying to convey the terrifying reality of our limitations. That there are things outside our ability to fathom. Maybe bad things. Very bad things.

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but someday the piecing together of disassociated knowledge will open up such vast, terrifying vistas of reality, and our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation, or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."

I feel... like humans, alpha species or not... are really just some bizarre middle class of existence. Smart enough to manipulate our surroundings in remarkable ways... but not smart enough to know what that means. Or doesn't. This strange polarized intellect.
We're like that dog who steals everyone's heart with his ability to problem solve his way into the fridge to eat some leftover birthday cake... but then turns around and tears his doggie-bed to shreds. Takes a shit on the sofa and eats it. Barks at a statue in a park.
We can harness the atom and store data in soldered conduit... build bridges that span miles and tunnel through mountains... but we can't get past the absurdity of our own melodrama. Still too stunted to gaze into time without props and abstractions. We have to pretend like we live a narrative. A poem. A thing that has a beginning and an end. A purpose. A reason. One that goes somewhere. Means something....
And doesn't just end with our organs exploded out of our mouths on a road as we set out to try to forage for food one day.

Somewhere in Florida: before

I have this straight razor. Given to me by a customer, for reasons I don't really know.
He dealt in antiques and had just acquired it earlier in the day. Showing it off to me as we finished a transaction. "Oh... look at this. Isn't this a neat piece?" And it was. It is. A polished ivory handle. An elegant and primitive marker of where we've been. Compared to the inelegant sophistication of "Mach 7 swivel blade action! Now with Retsin®!" Folding it up and putting it back in its ornate case. "I tell you what... you keep it. Thanks for all the work. Bike looks great." I hesitated, wanting to tell him... "You shouldn't give this to me. You... don't understand. You really shouldn't." But I accepted. And hid it away.
Sometimes... I pull it out and run a finger along the blade. Press it gently against a pulse. Test the elasticity of my skin.
Most days... I just do my best to ignore it.

It's almost impossible to explain.

It's... like a dull ache. Like the slow rise and fall of a swell. Just something I ride. Like a tide. But sometimes... it picks up. Breaks.

Some friends... had this idea. Boiled down to a hashtag.
I... wanted so badly to be a part of it. To be able to say "Yes. This." To hold each other accountable for our own head-fuckery. But the reality is... that when that tide rises... when that swell comes... there are no pacts. There's barely reason. There's just... maelstrom. A pull hard enough that even mouthing the words "I think I need help" is impossible. And all of the earnest well-wishing and well-meaning "you reach out when you need me"... is just more noise.
Because when I'm like that... I don't want to reach out. I can't. I don't want you to even talk to me. I don't want attention. Positive. Negative. Anything.
I just want to disappear.

It's a mania.
And you can smile and laugh your way through a day... Have a girl tell you how much you mean to her... Kiss your son goodnight and tell him you love him...
...and still feel it. Strong as ever.

The shape... the one in my jaw... had been building. I could feel it. Like biting something with the soft tissue of my gums. In that space where my wisdom teeth would be. Like a color you can't describe. Like having no brakes. My head going down road after road of just... disappearing. Wanting something sharp and painful to puncture me... whelm me... and just let me go.
Unless you know... unless you've ever felt that... I don't know that I can even describe it.
It's a wave.
And like a wave that eventually breaks on your head... holds you under... Sometimes you get up. And sometimes you don't.

Reaching out to Rich... had helped break that static. Broken a chain of thought that was becoming a narrative.
And now... somewhere on a red dirt road near Tallahassee... in rows of live-oaks older than my bloodline... it was subsiding. Once a beam, now little more than a mote.

For me... it boils down to motion.
For me... movement, however banal, recalibrates. Resets. More so than any drug I've ever taken... any talk I've ever had... any work I've ever done. Sitting still, settling in, rooting down... inverts my survival instinct. Creates a feedback loop that makes the voices in my head, the ones that tell me to disappear, echo. From everywhere.
I'm not tortured. I'm not complex. There's no well of pain inside me any deeper than the gaping hole in everyone else. I'm just... not wired right. Like a faulty circuit. Like a compass that can't find north unless it's actually in motion.

Somewhere in Kansas: now

Which is why I was here. Traveling in the van with Dorrit to some tiny midwestern town to ride my bike. Peeing in Tupperware. Exploring exotic places like Ohio and Missouri. Wading into ice cold lakes as big as oceans. Sitting in crystal clear rivers. Watching sun sets under a big sky.

Playing the age old game of: What about here? Could we live here?

I hate racing. So much. I won't lie and say that I don't enjoy "doing well", or that feeling of standing on or near a podium. Showing the world that I'm a solid C+ specimen.

Yay! We passed!

But damn, do I hate racing. Whether it's against myself, or against others. Something about competition kicks in every "fuck it" synapse I have in my body. Maybe I'll dig a little deeper when some kid passes me at mile 130. Or maybe I'll just back off. It just... doesn't resonate. My favorite moments at Kanza, or any event really... are when the field gets so totally blown apart that you might as well be the only person out there. And the dissolution of self that comes from turning yourself inside out for a little while.

Kanza is a double-edged sword. On some level it gives people a glimpse into the void. Because even the most shallow of riders is going to have a moment out on the prairie where things stop making sense. Where they feel the unsettling quiet of a sky that is ambivalent to their spectacle.
And on the other, it gives them meaning. A thing to do, however tenuous and stupid. Something to move through.

Reflection coupled with distraction.
Something to shake you up... and something to pass a day.

The ones who get it wrong think they've accomplished something amazing.
The ones who get it right know they haven't.
But maybe they all went some places they didn't know existed. In their heads. Their bodies. Their aching and blistered taints.
Maybe... they successfully ignored the pull.
Faced some demons.

And for those who didn't?
I got you covered.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Watts' 13 Precepts for Mega-Happiness

See how happy?

1. Ride a heavy steel bike:

(Just so we all remember that this is still a "cycling blog" (such as it was) )

Preferably something made of 4130 chromoly. Sure... it can be nicer, if that's within your means. Columbus tubing. Tru Temper. Reynolds 853. It can be handmade in the USofA by Waterford. By Weaver. By Moth Attack. By Rick Hunter. By your friend who fancies himself a "builder."
Or it can be made... wherever. Taiwan. By Surly. By All City. By Ritchey.
It can be an old Bridgestone. A Univega. A Torpado.
Whatever it is, just ride it.

Ride it... all the fucking time.

Who gives a shit if some carbon frame is 2 to 3 pounds lighter?  Look at yourself. Seriously... look at yourself. You're concerned about two fucking pounds of frame weight? Are... are you shitting me? 
Look, it doesn't matter. Because regardless of where you go in your life... one day you'll realize... that no bike you ever owned rode as well as that heavy ass steel frame.
You'll realize... that no bike was ever that much fun to ride.
You'll realize... that you were never stronger than when you rode the shit out of that bike.
You'll realize... that you were never happier than when you were lost as fuck on that bike.
You'll realize... that no steel frame ever told you you were "full of shit." Ever bailed on you. Ever told you "there was nothing else to talk about." Ever slept with some 30-banana-a-day gobbling idiot after telling you not to come over one night because she "wasn't feeling well."

And you'll wish... you had it back.

2) Ride farther than you think you can:

Because you can. I know... it's a long way. But it really isn't. I mean...yeah, it is. And it's going to hurt. Maybe a lot. Probably. But you've got this shit. I mean it.
You... Me... We've all just all been conditioned to forget that.
No, you might not be the fastest. Who gives a shit? Let the morons duke that shit out up front. You worry about you.
Pack food. Bring money. Bring a phone.
But trust me... you can ride that far. You can. I don't care if you're staring down the barrel of 10, 20, 50, 100, or 300 miles. You've got this shit.
It might not be pretty. It rarely is. I mean... come on... admit it: even at your prettiest, you're a nightmare.
Take breaks. Look around. Look inside. Talk to yourself. Cry.

And when you're done... after you've willingly put yourself through something harder than you thought possible... you'll know. Know that beyond what you just went through, there's real suffering. Suffering the likes of which you will hopefully never know. Real fucking shit... and not just some bike-ride you did one day.
But you'll have gotten a glimpse into a larger world. And hopefully you'll have grown as a result of that. Realized how small you and your stupid bullshit problems are in the scheme of it all.

I mean... unless you're fucking terrible.

3) Travel when you're broke as fuck:

When you can barely make rent. When the power is in danger of being shut off. When you can barely maintain.
When all of your peers are buying boats and renting beach houses in the Outer Banks... and you just got the first NSF notice of the month.

Travel when you're supposed to be putting money in an IRA so that when you're old you can finally see the Rhine River... on a Viking cruise with other old people.
No. Fuck that. Travel now. Because chances are... you're going to die long before you make that happen. Cancer from second hand smoke your parents immersed you in. From the asbestos siding of the house you grew up in. The siding you used to carve your initials (along with the word "fart") into with a knife. From years of not wearing sunscreen. From that cellphone you keep in your pocket... next to your testicles... your uterus.
From some dipshit who was too busy typing "lol" at some other dipshit's rape joke to pay attention while driving... and plowed into you with their Wrangler (complete with a "It's a Jeep thing. You wouldn't understand" sticker.)
And imagine how fucking stupid you're going to feel having put off going to Iceland because "the timing wasn't right."

Flights are expensive, I know. So is one week's worth of shitty, overpriced lattes...
One week of eating $12 white-person bulgogi tacos every day for lunch.

So is a car payment.

If those are the things you want... then by all means, keep on keeping on.
But, to quote the ever-challenging Dead Prez:

"Would you rather have a Lexus or justice?
A dream, or some substance?
A Beamer, a necklace, or freedom?"

Which reminds me....

4) Don't Buy a Car:

See this thing?

I fucking hate it.
Yeah, it gets good gas mileage. Yeah, it has little to no mechanical issues. Yeah, when it has the outdoorsy roof rack on it, it can "Fit" two adults, two kids, three dogs, two bikes, and a cargo box that carries all the gear you need.
But... I just hate it.

Truth be known, I hate all cars.
And not just because they represent our innate laziness as a species. Or how they keep killing us. Or how fuckboys yell "Hey baby girl" at me as they drive by when I'm on a run.
But because they just. Fucking. Bore me.
When I was a kid and we'd play with our Hotwheels... and my friends would all covet the Lamborghinis. The Land Rovers. The Porches. The Mustangs. I could give two shits. As far as I could discern, those cars looked almost exactly like my Mom's beige GM. You know... the one with the seats that faced backward.
The only toy cars I wanted to play with had jet engines or shark fins. Lazer cannons mounted to the top.

I bought the Fit post divorce...When I had this idea that I needed to "adult." To "get my shit together." That somehow, this practical but stylish yuppie hatchback would help galvanize that. Like buying a standing desk at Ikea. Once I had that, I'd have everything I needed to effectively buckle down and work!
This is what adults do, right? Make practical decisions? In impractical ways?

But this car...  it just isn't me.
In fact, it's about one-thousand percent less me than the Ford Windstar I had before that. The one I still have, parked behind the shop. The one I bought when I couldn't find the car I was actively lusting after: A Toyota Previa.
Talk about sexy.

"Oh hey, ladies."
The point is... I'm no happier having bought this stupid fucking adult car than I was before.

Don't buy a car.
If you're going to buy anything, buy a bike. Or a van. One you can live in when you intentionally use your house as firewood.
Or just keep driving that stained ass, hubcap missing Toyota Corolla into the fucking ground.

5) Don't get married:

You see them everywhere. Fighting about everything. About who forgot the boppy at the neighborhood cookout. About who doesn't know how to work the clutch in the car. About who doesn't know what size shoes their  child wears. About who packed the passports in the wrong pocket of the bag. About who doesn't know how to fold fitted sheets. About who bought the wrong brand of Stevia at Whole Foods. About who's had to deal with their own offspring "all day" and how it's "your turn!"
About anything....

Fucking. Spouses.

Maybe... they really do love each other. In a way.
But they certainly don't like each other. Not anymore. To be quite honest... I'm pretty sure they fucking hate each other.

Marriage... changes everything. Whether you believe it or not. I don't know why. It just does.
Maybe... it creates some sense of ownership. Of entitlement. Makes people into other people.
In any case, it definitely creates resentment. Either from feeling "trapped"... or from feeling let down.

I'm not saying not to fall in love. And I'm not saying not to commit to loving a person with everything you have. I'm just saying... that marriage, as an institution... no longer has any relevance. (Unless you've been denied the privilege all your life... and I get that.)
In too many ways... I feel like it's just a copout. A way of forcing an issue. Creating a reason to stay together...
Instead of just fucking doing it.

Turning best friends... into spouses. Which is a toxic fucking thing to be.

Also... if this is you?
In any way....
Whether it's physical... verbal... or mental...
Fuck you.
Fuck you so fucking hard.

7) Have an Affair:

There are two kinds of people in the world:
Those who've had an affair...

And those who haven't... yet.

Whether because they haven't met that person... or whether because the opportunity hasn't been afforded to them.

The sanctimonious fuckers who judge everyone who has? The ones who stand on some high horse of how they'd never do that. How they'd "never go outside of a marriage that way"...
They're full of shit. I'm not calling them liars...  I'm calling them FUCKING liars.

Like homophobic republicans with their male prostitutes.

I assure you... you would. You already have. In too many ways to count. Review your vows... and think about it. Really think about it. All the times you've treated the other person like shit. All the times you've belittled them. Lorded something over them. Manipulated them. Failed to be the person you promised to be.

Crashing into someone else? Yeah... it sucks to be on the wrong end of that. (And I've been on all of them.)
But it's just a part of the equation. You don't get to turn it into more.

I won't pretend to know where you are in your own relationship. Whether everything is golden. Or if it's on the rivet...
But, if the stars aligned such... you would.

And one day... maybe you'll feel dead inside. And you'll hit a breaking point.
Look for ways to sabotage everything.

Or... you'll meet someone. When you don't mean to. Someone amazing. And something will click.
Or for the first time in too long... you'll feel... alive. Dare I even say... happy.

As you should.

And maybe... it will end. You'll realize that's not what you want. Not who you are. You'll realize you just crossed a line you never want to cross again. And you'll end it. Stop responding. Never look back.

But maybe it won't. Maybe it will snap you out of something. Some fugue. And you'll realize... that you want more.

You'll get caught, by the way. (You always do, in case you're wondering.) And you'll hurt people. And likely... you'll get hurt.
But there are two kinds of people in an affair:
Those who don't understand how you could hurt them like this...
And those who want to know what they did wrong. What they did to push you away...
Which one are you?

In any case,  I assure you... you will never know true happiness until you're on your knees in the middle of the street... scrubbing the spray paint that spells your name, along with the words "cheat" and "liar" off the asphalt.

Talk about bliss!

8) Get Divorced:

No happy marriage ever ended in divorce.

And if you're unhappy in the marriage... it's worth it.
It is.

If your soon to be ex isn't a shitty, manipulative person who can't see past their own ass...
...the kind who threatens custody for no reason other than to hurt you
...the kind who threatens to make it difficult for no reason other than some misplaced sense of entitlement
... the kind who is so blinded by their own myopic pain that they can't see anyone else's, much less yours... much less their own children's...'s worth it.

And even then.

I'm quite fortunate, in that my ex and I are, in many ways, the poster-children for how it can be. How it should be. When it could have gone very differently.
That's not to say it wasn't hard. Or that we weren't both angry. Or sad. Or that we didn't say hurtful things. We did.
But ultimately... we both saw past that. Saw our kid. Saw ourselves. Saw each other.
And realized how it could be. How it should be.

You don't go hang out with your ex-inlaws down in the Florida Keys for Spring Break?

My ex and I are very different. To see us now, you would probably never think that we were once married, much less a couple.  We were young. Both bookish. Both introverted in our own ways. I will forever love her for forcing Jane Austen on me. For introducing me to Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. For getting me to truly appreciate Dickens.
We laughed. Danced. Had fun.
But as we grew, our paths... our interests... our expectations of life... just diverged. Quite a bit.
It took too long to realize that.

Post divorce, there's no bitterness. There's still scar tissue, I suppose. But who among you doesn't have scars. Scars... are sexy. heh.
We don't pick at those wounds.

Meanwhile, I watch other people... how they can't even manage the most base level of civility during their split...
How they totally shut down communicating...
How they use their kids as shields and ammunition against each other...
How they try to take things they don't deserve...
How regardless of how badly the other might have fucked up, can't see how badly they've fucked up. Or how badly they're fucking up right now...

Acting like Fucking. Spouses.

Yeah, you'll lose friends. But if you think about it, you'll probably realize that they kind of sucked anyway.

My one word of caution: if you have children, just try to get divorced somewhere you actually want to be. Because otherwise, you might find yourself living in salle d'attente: The waiting room.

9) Reject god: 

It's beyond bizarre to me that in spite of how much we've advanced as a species... how much we've learned about the natural world... about the nature of reality... exponentially our understanding and ideas about the world have grown...
our ideas about "god" have not.

I mean... they have... but very slowly. And within a very narrow confine.
As if we're terrified of letting go of certain notions about who we are in the universe. As if... we might find out... that we're really quite insignificant. And that it means nothing.

Our ideas about god... are still very much mired in a time when we were completely, and dare I say, malignantly ignorant about the world and how it worked. When we knew nothing about matter. About atoms. When we had no understanding of illness or germs. Of geology. Biology.
So mired...that in order for us to move forward, I can't help but feel like those ideas...  have to just die. Like a controlled burn. One that eliminates all of the strangling brush.
Or maybe a flood. (Wouldn't that be something?)
Then... we can revisit. See how we feel. See if those stories still resonate. See what our heads tell us when they aren't bogged down in the detritus of thousands of years of historically inaccurate bullshit.
So many of us grew up tangled in those webs. In the same way we grew up tangled in the various prejudices of our families. Our social circles.
But once you break free... your world grows. Exponentially.

I hate the fucking word, but religion... needs to be "unlearned."


10) Oral sex. Lots of it:

This should be a no brainer.
Oral sex... is about giving and receiving. In ways that other sex isn't.
Intercourse, regardless of position, and regardless as to how much you may "give"... is always about taking.
Oral sex is about paying attention... to someone else.

Do that.
Do that a lot.

(Are you doing it? I'm watching.)

11) Talk shit about people:

What's that Eleanor Roosevelt quote?
"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss places; small minds discuss people."
She's right. But she didn't take into account that whatever the fuck people think they are... they are, ultimately, just ideas. Whether your own ideas about them... or their own ideas about you... or our own ideas about us.
Tear those fuckers down. Drag them through the mud.
Just understand... that when you do... when you're talking shit about the sycophantic fan-boys... about tyrants and visionless coat-tail riders... about smug little fuckers who can't see past their own duck butts...'re just talking about yourself. About some facet of you.
That everyone is just a mirror. And that when you see something inside of them that you despise, it's a reflection of something inside you that you hate.
Whether it's pettiness. Jealousy. A need to be liked. Selfishness. Insincerity.
How they treat people.
It's all you.

Unless you're really so fucking vapid that you can't see that.

12) Have an adult enemy:

It's strange. To know that someone out there hates you. Not only do they not like you.... But they legitimately hate you. Maybe even... as much as you hate them. Or maybe even... as much as you hate you.
To know that someone sees red when your name comes up in conversation. When they see it in a magazine.
That they intentionally avoid looking at you. That when they do... it's daggers. To know that their friends, who have no context with you at all, save someone else's beef... keep tabs on what you're doing.
To know that to someone else... you represent everything fucked up about this world.

Don't shrug that shit off.

Think about it. Really think about it. Think about what they see when they look at you. About why.
And think about whether or not that's who you want to be. Whether or not that's who you are.

13) Try to die:

I can't promise that your head will be any clearer. Or that you'll have any more of an idea how to cope with life. Or that you won't always struggle with that feeling... of wanting to disappear.
But you'll have some perspective.
That's something.

Super Secret Bonus Precept:
Tell people you love them. All the time.

Late addition:
Some of you may have noticed that I omitted #6. It wasn't intentional. Last minute editing gone awry, followed by the absence of proofreading. What? It's a fucking blog... not a thesis. 
In any case... here you go. In case you really cared.

6) Punch yourself in the face:

Or, as I like to think of it... hit the reset button. 
Those times when you feel everything starting to slide out of focus. When you can't get your head right. When you find yourself running down a hallway of slamming doors. When you feel the lightning start to arc in your skull. 
Pull your fist back... and let go. 
Maybe avoid your nose. It's messy. Lots of blood. The high potential for breakage. 
Avoid your temple. It's delicate. The intended "reset" might become a "shutdown." 
Mouth is ok. Just try not to knock a tooth out. 
Cheek and eye socket are preferable. Just be ready to explain your shiner to people. Be ready to tell a girl that you'd prefer she not touch your tender face for a bit. In the same way... you'd prefer she not touch your wrists. 
You know?

And there you have it. #6. Totally worth it.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Be a Blight Unto Yourself

Why I Fucking Hate Gravel:  A Love Story.

"Why... are you making this about you?" she said.

Wherever I was... lost in my own head... that got my attention. I'd heard it before.  

I'd been passively watching her. Unavoidable, honestly, considering how many times she'd walked by my campsite. I was sitting in front of my open van... sipping coffee and poking at my laptop. Trying unsuccessfully to get the stupid words out. She'd flashed me a pretty, if curious, smile on her first pass. Looked back briefly. I'd smiled back. Cocked my head. What... was that?
The next time she passed, she was on the phone. No smile this time. Not even a look. She was somewhere far away. Somewhere she very obviously didn't want to be. Agitated sighs. Hushed talking. The words "you're being so unfair" spilling out as she passed within feet of me. 

"Why... are you making this about you?" 

Ah, I thought... l'amour. Who hasn't been there?

I tried to feel sympathy toward whoever was at the other end of that line. Couldn't muster it. 
I mean... maybe... he was great. A genuinely good guy. Devoted. Loving. Trying to be "fair." Trying to understand.
Perplexed and frustrated by the mercurial temperament of this pretty, leggy girl... but still hopelessly in love with her. 

Maybe... he said things like, "Hey... I'm here. Don't push me away." Maybe he asked her what she needed. Maybe... he told her he loved her. Asked her... to let him in.


Or... maybe not. Maybe he hadn't said those things in a long time.
Maybe... lately... he just told her that she was ungrateful. Maybe he threatened. Berated. Seethed. Couldn't see past his own hurt.  


Regardless of who he was... I'd chosen my side. The girl... with her curious smile. 
With no context, I'd have come to her defense. Fought whoever was on the other end of that line. Told him to love her the way she deserved. Whatever that even meant. 

The next time by, her eyes were wet.


"Why are you making this about you?" she whispered into the phone... loud enough for me to hear.

She wasn't talking to me... but I was listening. And I heard.

I think... that on some level... no one can help it. Everything we do and feel is filtered through ourselves. Our very understanding of the world, in too many ways, is just a flawed and subjective take on whatever our limited senses and brainpower can process. In so many ways... we can't NOT make it about us. 
Us... is the only context we have.

Which is how I knew... full well... that despite what she was saying and feeling...
... the girl... was really just making it about her.  

And that was ok.

I owe some of you an apology.
(Likely many apologies. Regarding many things.)
But focusing on the topic at hand...

If you tend to tune in here with even the slightest semblance of regularity, then, you are:

A) Fucking insane


B) Familiar with the concept of disappointment

Nonetheless...  I'm sorry. As ever.

I don't know how people do it. Churn out content. Most days... lately, especially... I struggle to put one foot in front of the other. My mantra for the next... however the fuck long... is "fake it till you make it."
Make what, you ask?
The fuck if I know.

Most of you know what's up by now. That there are really two people responsible for content on this blog:


and Super-Fucking-Emo Watts...

Be sure to check out my band:
As I Lay Falling on Fire with Airplane Stars

(emoification by @mustacheransome)
To the rest of you... welcome to the shitshow.

A Body:
I've thrown my phone approximately one million times. Across rooms... against walls... into bushes... All the normal reasons: Shitty news... crossed wires... someone making it about them asking me why I'm making it about me...
But while I've wanted to, too many times to count... I've only thrown my laptop twice. Which, I know... is still a lot. Because... laptop.
I forget the details of the first time. Maybe the words weren't coming out... or maybe someone was telling me to "live the uncertainty"... or some shit equally as dumb.
(It survived, by the way. A small crack in the outer casing being the only visible damage.)
The second time? I'd just read something. And I admit... as silly and arbitrary as it may sound... or of all the myriad other legitimate reasons for one to do so... it made me lose my fucking shit.

I'd just read a... I don't even know what to call it... story? And... it equated participating in a gravel event... with "courage."

Fucking. Courage.

I might have roared. This hoarse bark bursting out of me. The laptop slammed shut and tossed like a frisbee to the corner of the room. Like a naughty little fucker who needed a timeout.
(Or... like a dunce. Because... throwing a laptop... Fuck. I was lucky.)

Whatever fucked headspace I was already in... that word just put me over the edge. "Courage." Because fuck me dead, I can't help but feel like this... is what is wrong with cycling right now. With everything... in too many ways.
This wholesale shitshow of self-congratulation. Celebrating our mediocrity and pretending it means more than it does. Means something it doesn't. Confusing selfish endeavor with accomplishment.

If you know me, even a little... you know that I love riding gravel roads. Fucking love it. 
And if you know me, even a little... you know that I love endurance events. Fucking love them. They're how I cope with this world. How I maintain the small and slight grip I have on what is real.
(That and a crippling reliance on alcohol. Judge me all you want... but YOU try being me sometime. Let me know how that goes for you.)
And if you know me, even a little... you know that I like to talk about all of the things we wrestle with while we participate in them. Personal demons. Dark places. Voices that say we're not strong enough to finish. Voices that tell us that the world would be better off if we killed ourselves. And while I'll be the first to admit that dealing with those feelings and overcoming them; pushing past that pain and making it through another event... another day... another year... is difficult in its own way... and exceptional in its own right...
... there is nothing courageous about able bodied white people paying money to ride expensive bikes a long way on gravel roads in somewhat adverse conditions.

There just isn't.

Never forget.

All of the ways we may fall apart during endurance rides... all of the ways we may push ourselves... all of the ways we might potentially grow... use the word courage in relation to this kind of self-serving bullshit... is to misappropriate the term in the most poisonous of ways. In much the same way the word "truth" was misappropriated by evangelical christians to mean approximately fuck all.
There is no courage in what we do... however much it may hurt... and however much it may mean to us. There is just privilege.

Why... are we making this about us?

This... is what happened to Ironman. (Among other things.) How the challenge of a 2.2 mile open water swim followed by a 100+ mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run... became farce. Became the poster-child for tone-deaf entitlement. Became a way for smug and potentially shitty people to be even less humble about being mediocre.

Gravel road racing... is dangerously close to falling into the same trap... if it hasn't already.

I mean... look at this shit. Look at it! It longs for death!

As if you needed any more proof that "gravel™" is the next triathlon.
"Wait... isn't this your bike, Watts?"

We do many things on the bike... Most of them positive in their own way.
We suffer. We work through problems. We learn about ourselves. We find our limits.
We might even inspire others to find their own limits. I hope so.
But with notable and obvious exceptions; living with physical or mental limitations... discrimination... poverty... real adversity...
...we absolutely do not manifest "courage" when we toe the line at an event.

Life... is short. Absurd and painful. Do things you want to do. Go places you want to go. Chase things you want to chase. Tell people you love them. You get to do selfish shit. You need to. Fucking sign up for every event you can this year. Fall apart at Land Run. Implode at Bootlegger. Get washed away at Epic. Kill all the nerves in your hands at TransIowa. Get drunk with friends at Shenandoah. Think the world would be a better place if you killed yourself at Kanza.
Just... don't imbue it with a nobility of purpose that it doesn't have. Don't let humility get twisted into hubris.

We all love our belt buckles. Our pint glasses. Our defacto scars. Proof that we've suffered through something transformative.

But the woman with the double mastectomy... the one who hides her all too real scars. Hides all her fear of dying behind a shirt and a scarf. Hides all her pain behind necessity. The overwhelming need to stay alive to care for her children.
No sense of accomplishment. No finish line. No pride. No recognition.
Just desperation.

That's fucking courage.

Not some ride we did.

Why... are we making this about us?

Eventually, she just never came back. The conversation was over, and she was done walking. Done talking. Done pacing around the campground. As I pulled on my kit and prepped my bike, I absently wondered where she'd gone. Where she was from. Where she was going. What that was even about. I was piecing together my own story based on tiny, one-sided windows into the narrative. On body language and my own experience. For all I knew... I was dead wrong.
I was going to get lost today. Hopefully find some dirt roads and try to untangle the gnarled threads of my head. Selfishly spend the day trying to find something in remote places.
Probably... just make it about me.

And that was ok.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Dirty Kanza: Party Crasher

I said it out loud.
"I hope you fucking die."

I looked up from the chunky expanse of road, out over the prairie... a brilliant rolling green... and felt a tightening in my chest. 
I said it again.

"I hope... that you fucking die."

I heard a rider approaching. As he passed,  I noted his gears, with only a modicum of relief... and made a half-ass effort to get on his wheel. If not to simply try and use his draft for a bit... then at least to motivate myself to pedal harder. If only for a moment or two. To try... just a little. I held on to him for what might have been 15 seconds... and let go.

I was empty. 

Not like last year, mind you. 
Where I ran out of water and couldn't keep any food down. Where I was so devoid of calories and nutrition that, had I happened upon one... I'd have drank from a puddle. Or a cow trough. 
Or just milked the fucking cow. 
Where I kept myself going with Cokes and waters scavenged from spectators and their coolers. Stopping at the behest of one couple lounging in their camp-chairs.. Drinking two of their beers in quick succession before rolling on. 

No... I had plenty to eat and drink this time. I just... didn't have anything inside me. 

Like I said... empty.

And my perspective had... shifted.
In that way it sometimes does. 
Often, actually.
Sometimes, I sit back and watch it. Enjoy the show. 
Sometimes... I just deal. 
Sometimes... not so much. 

This was one of those times.

Have you ever looked at something familiar... and seen something foreign? 
Listened to your language... and heard nonsense. 
Seen time... just fall apart in front of you?


Then nevermind. 
But if you have... then maybe you know what I mean. At least a little.

See... there's a reason... I don't really do drugs. Because I'm already fucked up 1000% of the time.

I reached back... touched the bulge in my back-left pocket. Handed to me by another rider. Wrapped in tin-foil. Occasionally giving off a dank but strangely pleasant odor. 
I considered eating it right then. 
Thought better of it. Maybe just a nibble. Determine its potency. 
You never know with this kind of thing. 
It might make me put my head down and go. Count pedal strokes. Get into a zone.
It might snap me back into me. Instead of watching myself from a distance. Perplexed by how alien and strange I seemed.

Or... it might make me get off the bike, disrobe, and press my face into the gravel.

I told you. My chemistry... is not your chemistry. 

I lifted my head and looked for the sun. Hoping it would peak out and burn off this torpor in me. 

"I hope... that you fucking die." I said.

And yeah... by "you"... I meant "me."

My dark place had officially found me.

I wonder if Jason the dog has dark places. 

Who am I kidding? Jason is darkness incarnate.

The Way:
Sitting at the bar in Charleston, WV, the man a few stools down looked over.
"Did I hear you say you're from North Carolina? Whereabouts?"
He'd obviously overheard me talking with the bartender. Answering questions about why I was passing through. "Bike racing." "Girls." "Etc."
He was about my age. Streaks of gray in his long beard. Tattooed and slender.
I told him where I was currently anchored, and he gave a slow nod. A shadow of a smile.
"I saw the Squirrel Nut Zippers play in Greensboro back in '95."
"Ha! So did I. I guarantee we were at the same show."
"Yeah... I was dating this girl. She went to..."
"Katie," I said. Just... knowing.
His eyes got wide. And we exchanged looks. That look of knowing that you shared something with the same girl. Likely at right about the same time.
We both started laughing hysterically and got up and gave each other hugs.
More beers were ordered, and we got to it... swapping stories about all the things we had in common... from pretty Katie and her red dreadlocks... to angry calls from other people's husbands... to growing up punk rock in the south (trying to, at least)... to NoMeansNo.
Turns out... he was as much of a superfan as I was. Which is an odd thing to find anywhere... much less West Virginia.
That night... I camped in his driveway and hung out with him and his wife... watching NoMeansno play a live show in his living room.

The next morning, I headed off to find some trails... my legs feeling surprisingly good after five days of not trying at TSE.

Hey guys... we... won?

(Look for my upcoming epic on Bikerumor. TSE: Singlespeeds not Dead... It just Deserves to Die.)
After wet-wiping clean, I made haste to rendevouz with la Dorita, who'd caught a ride to WV with some Greensboro folks headed out to Kanza.
From there we made surprisingly good time crossing the states... winding up in Lawrence, Kansas on Thursday afternoon. We drank beers at Freestate... ate nachos and weighed our options. We could drive another hour and change to Emporia... drink at Mulready's and see the Reverend Horton Heat. Or we could stay here the night. Camp at Clinton Lake. Take much needed showers. Avoid drama. We opted to stay. 
As much as I may have wanted to be... there were reasons not to spend too much time in Emporia. Some dramatic and complicated. Some simple and pedestrian.
It seemed impolitic to crash a party... that I wasn't wanted at. And as much "fuck you, I do what I want" swagger as I may seem to have (erroneously, mind you)... I don't have to be in everyone's face.
So we looked at the stars instead.

A word or two about Dorrit.

You totally just peed all over the floor of the van... didn't you?
She's fucking crazy.

Hmmm... I guess that's three words.

She was also my crew. And she nailed it.

We finally rolled into Emporia Friday evening. In time to meet a motley assortment of friends for dinner. My plan to sup at Radius was quickly hijacked, and we walked a half mile to a Mexican restaurant down the road.

Ask Chad about "El Diablo" sometime. 
More milk, please.

Last year... I'd stayed up until 2am before Kanza. Drinking at Mulready's. At Radius. At wherever. This desperate frenzy inside. Ready to fight and scrap. Struggle and bleed. 
And I did. All those things.
This year... everything was quiet. Myself included. There was no one to fight. And I had no fight in me. I felt... extinguished. I'd felt this way since November. Like my fire had gone out.  Whatever that means.

Standing at the bar and ordering a beer, I heard my name.
"I read that guy's blog."
"Now why..." I said, grabbing our beers and walking toward a circle of strangers, "would anyone do something that stupid."
Turns out they weren't strangers. They were friends. We just hadn't met in person yet.

Who is le Pubes?
At this point, I'd been drinking steadily since we arrived... missing the "six after nine" pre-race drinking quota... but definitely hitting the "nine after six" mark. And coming damn close to "12 after 12." But I was also pounding water.
Last year, when I finished Kanza... and eventually peed, at around midnight... it had been the color of Coke. A dark brown that should have prompted a hospital visit, honestly. There might have even been gravel in it. This year it was a light yellow. And the pee-tupperware in the van was getting a solid workout.

The race start was fast. Faster than I wanted. In years past, I'd loved that intensity, and enjoyed taking risks to move my way up to the front. Riding with the lead group for however long I could hang on.

Or at least close to the lead group. 

This year the lead group was a shit-show train of around 100+ riders. And making my way up that train just didn't feel fun. So I backed off.
At a point early on, all of the single speeders wound up together... All of us geared almost exactly the same. Except for Addison Zwada, way off the front, apparently.

A secret about me. I hate racing. I love beating people... when it happens... but I fucking HATE racing people. So when everyone kept putting in little attacks... jumping onto trains of riders... I said, "fuck it." I just couldn't.
I had no drive.
I had no motivation.
I had no fitness.

Yes, I know how stupid that sounds. I mean... I was there, riding 200 miles... so I obviously had some level of fitness. But while last year I had a ton of riding under my belt... This year I didn't. I'd spent the past month sick. Coughing my lungs out. Riding once a week, and occasionally doing a race. Which would just make me sick again. But beyond that... I just didn't have anything inside of me. No fire to fuel the chase.
So I just put my head down and turned the pedals.
Eventually I began passing people. Either shelled from going too hard early on... or waylaid by mechanicals. Thomas Adams and I spent most of the race jockeying back and forth.
He'd crashed brutally last year. Broken jaw. Concussion. Helicoptered out.
He wanted this race... more than anything. And I wanted him to have it.
It was enlivening to see someone driven like that. In stark juxtaposition to my resignedness. When he pulled away just before the final checkpoint... as vexed as I was that I couldn't hang on... I was happy for him.
I had other shit to contend with, presently.

"I hope... that you fucking die."

I hear people talk about their dark places during races. But... I don't know what that means to them.
I don't know... if their dark places are the same as mine.
I suspect not.
There's no "you got this!" pep talk. Because I don't really care if I've "got this!" or not. I just... don't.
Finishing the actual race, physically... is meaningless to me... as the race is simply a backdrop to my unraveling. A place... to fall apart.
My head isn't telling me that I'm not strong enough to finish... or to win.
My head is telling me... to die. That I should disappear. That my very presence is a blight. And that the only way to truly let the people I love in this world be happy... is to vanish from their lives.

That's my battle. Not some fucking bike ride.

People look from afar at something like Kanza and say "I could never do that." But they could. And should. Everyone should. As cloying as it is, there is something to the rally cry of #findyourlimit.
Me? I look at everyone else from afar... and say "How do you do it?" How... do you live happy lives?How do you smile when you feel broken inside? How do you talk down those voices that never stop? The ones that tell you where to cut yourself?

I know it seems... dramatic. Maudlin, maybe. Absurdly so.
I know...
But for me... events like this... are about going into that place... and emerging from them. Letting that dark place wash over me entirely. And hoping that I come of out it.

And if I don't?

Maybe it's for the best.

Unfortunately for everyone, however. I did.
So now I have to come back again.