Friday, October 18, 2019

Van of Constant Sorrow Part One: The Sads and the Fury

If Rich was panicking, I couldn't tell. But at mile zero of our odyssey, the tone was already set:

"It'll start... it'll start. It just... don't worry... it'll start." Turning the key to a wingey chug with no fire. Backing off and trying again. More wingeing. Giving it a moment and trying once more. Then again. Stressing the starter and eventually just flooding the engine.
"Ok, let's... we just need to let it sit for a while. It'll start."

More like DADventurewagen... amiright?

And it would.
I had full confidence in that. It's... just a cute little phase the van is going through these days.
Not starting sometimes.
It's... cute.

The plan? End up in Bentonville, Arkansas by the weekend. At the very least in time for our event on Saturday.
The course? Errrr....

Despite the ambiguity in our trajectory, I'd actually thought about our potential meandering and where it should take us quite a bit. I just... thought about it in that way that I tend to think about things. Less a linear timeline of sense and sensibility and more an accidental (or intentional?) conflagration in the fireworks store. One thousand points of exploding light. In every direction.

We'd roughly agreed on Knoxville as our first stop, but I'd imposed two very strict caveats on our trip.

One: Avoid rain.
And
Two: Wait for no one.

Number one is a no brainer. If you have fluidity of choice, you seek aridity. If your destination shows unridable wet, but you could find sun and warmth instead... fucking duh!
Knoxville was looking dicey. Potential storms all day. So in my mind was the potential for a chaotic southernly route as well. Head south to ride FATS in Augusta, GA. Then across northern Alabama. Ride Anniston. Ride Oak Mountain. Maybe stop in Oxford, Mississippi for a meal so that I could have a moment of osmotic literary inspiration. Up through Memphis and on to Hot Springs or Syllamo.
Until the moment we got in the van, we didn't know which way we'd even head. Knoxville won out. Lucky.

Caveat number two, btw, is a bit trickier. But... if you grew up with a friend or older sibling who liked to convince you to do things with them, but then, more often than not, couldn't do those things at the time they said, but then said they could maybe do them later, so you waited until they could, but then, as it turns out, they still couldn't... and by then it was too late for you to do fucking anything...
you understand.
Wait... for no one.


Rich had so much stuff.

So much stuff.


It may not look like it... but that's just because I just couldn't get the angle right. That bag... is huge. Rich can fit inside of it. Easily. And I admit, when I saw it, I felt a momentary pang of stress. Yes, more stress than the van not starting. I mean... that's just what vans do. But that bag? It would take up ALL THE ROOM. And there isn't much room in the van. The milk crate got a pass, simply because I could pile my stuff inside of it too. And the chair we never used also gets excused... because you never know. But that bag. That fucking bag.
Meanwhile, while I was stressing about Rich overpacking, Rich was stressing about the bikes. Specifically about my bike maybe kind of touching his bike, and about how, if given a half a chance, it might try to vibra-saw his frame in half as we trundled down the road. I mean... I get it. Finding out at the trailhead that the left ESI grip you were counting on has been sliced in half and you get to ride glove to carbon for the next couple of hours is deflating. But the van don't have no hitch. And I ain't got that hitch money. So trunk rack it is. Eventually he got a system that he was happy with and he was in charge of bikes for the next week.

When we got to Knoxville, without incident, Scott, incidentally, wasn't ready... busy as he was learning how to service an e-bike.
But then, having skipped lunch, neither were we. And we had time. So I gave rule number two a little leeway. And as our friends Gary and Chris had "left the conversation" about riding before we even arrived, there were less balls in the air. Literally. So we ate tamales with Daniel, who had taken the day off to join us. Then piled into the TVB Sprinter and headed to the trails... which are pretty special.
And when we did roll out, even if the pace occasionally hurt so good, and even if Scott kept death-coughing plague into the air ahead of me.... I was very much in my happy place.

Which is to say... riding my bike... somewhere else.






"Make me look bald."
Look for Part 2 wherever you look for things like that. Coming soon.










Monday, October 7, 2019

The Sweaty Bottom Boys




"Hey Rich... remember this spot?"
From behind me a sad and small "maybe?"
"It's where we almost got arrested."
A sad and small sigh... "i remember."

It was Bill Nye's fault. Or so I tell myself. His eyes had changed. That's how you know. When he stares somewhere past you rather than at you... it means he's about to start arguing with and about things that don't warrant arguing with or about. In this particular case, the cop he'd conveniently crashed his bike in front of.
The cop who had blooped his siren at Rich, Nick and I for riding three abreast down the empty 2am morning road.
"Single file!"
And then... when he sped past us and we saw his cop-lights go on in earnest some quarter mile ahead I turned to Rich and said "How much do you want to fucking bet that's about Bill Nye?" And sure enough, when we rolled up... there he was... standing in front of said cop, doing a completely shit job of defending his thesis, the subject of which appeared to be "This... Is, Like... Bullshit. Or Something." Me going into hyper-reasonable-and-elocutive-to-appear-sober-but-probably-just-making-it-worse mode: "My sincerest apologies, officer, but you'll have to excuse my unruly friend. Our ultimate destination is my humble domicile, which lies just beyond this next traffic light, and once we arrive, you have my word as a gentleman ... we'll... ummm... (shit)... try and... (losing it)... not be... (think, man!)... quite so... umm... (argh!)... drunk? (cringe)
"I could arrest y'all, you know."
Heads hung like chastised children.
"You walk from here. If I see one of you even touch a pedal on those bikes, you're going to jail."
Staring at our feet and nodding.
Shadowed by a police cruiser for the mile long walk back to my house with our bikes.

But wait. That... was literally months ago. Sorry, I got distracted. Let's go back to NOW.

Rich was wearing flip-flops.
Not sandals, mind you, like the usual pocket-tee clad, five-panel-hat doffed, mom-jort, leica-around-the-neck cool-kid-industry-fan-boyz of the now. But flip-flops. Flimsy, shitty department store flip-flops. On SPD pedals.
And while it wasn't a long ride to the first bar... maybe four miles...  it was long enough that flip-flops probably weren't the choice. Probably, in fact, they accounted for the mysterious gash on his foot the next morning.  But nonetheless... there he was.

Christian had joined us. He's been giving me some much needed help at the shop lately. I admit I felt a little bad subjecting him to the insular old-person dumb-speak that Rich and I tend to communicate in, but Christian shares our common thread of being unable to refuse a late night bike ride to a bar for "one more."
We're all healthy bundles of habits here, in case you were wondering.

Now allow me to attempt some math.
By the time we were even en route to the first bar that night, 130 pounds of Rich had, by my exhaustive calculations, already imbibed seven seven percent beers in relatively short time. Myself just beyond five, each at a rough average of six point five. Which, if I'm not mistaken, the sum total of which is less than or equal to: we probably should have just ridden home and gotten a good night's sleep.
And before you vent your righteous indignation at our failed failings in coping with our various vices and addictive personality traits, imagine, just for a moment, being human. And being confined to the awkwardness of a human body, with all its oddity of elbows, toes, and ears. Testes. Tongues. Labia. Buttocks. Uvulas. And a nose. A FUCKING NOSE. Now imagine another human body approaching your own human body and talking to it. Talking to it with all of its strange anxieties and tics, built layer upon layer of 50 years crawling around on this rock trying to create meaning out of nothing. Now imagine not really knowing what to even say, so in the same way that people crack their knuckles or laugh at their own jokes or run their fingers through their hair, or scratch their neck, or compulsively put on chapstick...  you just unwittingly and consistently take another sip of the drink in your hand. And that drink happens to be beer. And in that moment, this simple act happens to help you push past the fact that just behind that nose and beyond those lips, the person talking to you has a skeleton inside their body and is currently pushing air through a voice box somewhere in their throat that makes sound waves that travel through the air into your gnarled, lobed ears where tiny bones tap a message to your brain that translates their honking into some semblance of a thing that kind of makes sense.
So please... fuck you and your righteous sobriety. Because you're just as much a bundle of anxious, shitty coping habits as I am. You just have one less excuse.
(I'm sorry. I didn't mean that. Sobriety is good. It's just that... noses. Right? With nostrils. And we all have them and we act like it isn't the weirdest goddamn thing and some of them are actually quite nice.)

Gads... where even was I?
Oh yes...
Entirely too much to drink the night before a "race." Plus more. Plus midnight fried chicken and cheese fries. Once home, Rich fell asleep on the couch while I sipped rye whiskey and chuckled ruefully to myself about the vast and terrifying emptiness of even the most fulfilled life.

"hey"


The next morning, riding our bikes ten miles to the start of the race, we both had a moment of panic. An effort up a hill that stressed our legs and heart was telling. This was going to hurt. And by panic, I mean... depression. Being sadly resigned to the fact that today was going to be much harder than it should. And that once again in a long line of once agains... it was our fault.

Even though the shop has always been involved as a sponsor, this was my first year getting to actually participate in the JA King and Queen of the Watershed Race. Long has there been the ambition of doing a race that connected all of the trails in Greensboro, but logistically it seemed difficult. Long stretches of greenway. Busy road crossings. Which means the enduro format is perfect. Each trail is a "segment" and you can cruise at your own speed between them.
It also means that you have to ride each segment harder than you probably wanted to.

When I caught Rich on the first trail, after starting 30 seconds behind him, I knew how things would shake out. This would create a cascade of despair that would increase throughout the day, until he was a complete shell of a man... full of regrets and doubts and self-loathing. So... pretty much like any other day, but more, probably. I myself felt ok. A little hungover, but I've been worse. My 40's, while more pervasively melancholy, seem punctuated with less "oh god, oh shit, I'm dying" mornings on the floor tangled up with the toilet than my 30's.

So... winning?

My goal for the day was to ride hard enough to hurt... but not hard enough that I ever felt the panic or pain of "racing." Because I don't know if you got the memo, but that shit is the worst.  I was also still nervous about my butt. I'd injured it a month ago... launching entirely too far and high into the air off a jump, somewhere in Tennessee...  and it's kind of been an asshole ever since. Pun intended. But that's another story. Suffice to say I wanted to test it, but not too much. I already felt ridiculously squirrely, having been off the mountain bike for almost a month. I crept through and across every loose corner and wet bridge like it was my first time on a bike.

The trails? They were fine. I mean... they were great. But these are my backyard trails, mind you. And it's difficult for me to wax poetic about my backyard. My suburban despair is strong enough that even the word "yard" is triggering.
And I've ridden these trails so many times that I like to make sweeping statements about preferring a staple in the cheek or groin to another day out on them. Is that true? I don't know. It's just that there are people out there who crave routine, and relish in consistency. And I just... don't.
But even through my all consuming melodrama about being in one place too long, I'm aware that we have a good thing with these trails and that it's only getting better.

So... winning?

When we were finally done, Rich was as toasted as I've ever seen him. This from the guy who consistently shames me through eleven hours of Pisgah.

Flip-Flops.

The point is... if you have a calendar that you put races on, you should put the JA King and Queen of the Watershed on there. What's a "JA King" you ask? It's a company that makes measuring equipment, owned by a guy named John King who happens to be a cycling fanatic, and who is a great patron of our local scene, and who I, incidentally, once told to eat a bag of dicks.
It was a long time ago.
(You should ask him about it.)

Tomorrow, Rich and I will be getting in the van and meandering our way to Bentonville, AR for the Oz Trails Off Road, where we will be doing a bang-up job of covering the event as "media." Rich is calling it the Van of Constant Sorrow Tour. I'm calling it Old Brother, Where art We. Neither are very inspired or funny. But that's pretty much who we are these days.
We'll be trying to be active on social media, so follow us at @teamdicky and @revoltingcogs if you don't already. We can't promise anything, but if we were, it would be a whole lot of worn-out mediocrity. So if you're into that...

Great.


There, I wrote a blog. Happy?






Thursday, May 9, 2019

PMBAR: This Is Not A Song About Depression.



"This is bullshit."

It's what I had in me at that point.

So I kept saying it. Over and over. I tried to find some other things, I did. Peeked around all the corners in my head and tried to open doors into other places. Into gratitude. Mindfullness. Perspective. But every direction I looked... was just bullshit.
And horseshit.
I'd given up on the possibility of not ingesting horseshit a long time ago. We'd been riding up a muddy river of water (read: trail) peppered with equestrian landmines for what seemed like hours. If it hadn't already been flung into my gaping mouth-breathing mouth by this point, then I'd long since suckled it off the soulless plastic teat of one of my water bottles.

"This... is bullshit." On repeat. Gaining in vehemence and volume. Until Rich could hear me... jabbering baleful noise to myself some perpetual 50 yards behind him. Occasionally peppering it with elocutive variants of "Fuck you, Pisgah. I hate you and your stupid fucking bullshit fuck face."

I was approaching melt-down. Or already there.

It had started out ok, though.

I mean... kind of.

photo: Icon Media Asheville

If I have one piece of advice to offer to future generations of... whatever... it's to never make plans. Ever.
Unless, of course, your ultimate destination is disappointment. With lengthy detours through frustration and anxiety. What's that famous Robert Burns quote? "Fuck plans....And mice?"
I'd been trying to leave the shop for hours. It wasn't happening. So when my ETA in Brevard moved from "sometime before six" to "almost ten o'clock," I wasn't in my happy place. And I could feel Rich's disappointment through the ether. It was almost as palpable as my own.
I try not to dwell on moments... on recreating the past... but I had really been hoping for a chance to hang out. Have beers at the Hub. Eat so-so Mexican food with giant Negra Modelos. Convince Rich to begrudgingly ride to Oskar Blues. Ride back to the campground and have one or a few more with friends before passing out.
As Rich is want to say... "Meh."

Instead, I pulled up late, sat and stood in a circle with Rich and friends.... sipping bourbon as I fiddled with my bike in the dark. Doing my best to let the day slough off me. Eventually I fell asleep listening to sad songs... and dreamed about endcaps and wheels. Boxes full of them, none of which seemed to fit. Hubs rattling back and forth on thru-axles and QR skewers because everything was the wrong size. Damnit. I wanted to dream about girls and sun and skin. About the desert and hoodoos. Surfing and superpowers. Instead I was dreaming about working on a fucking bike?
Come on, man!

To be fair, it was one of the last things I did that day. Swapping rotors in the dark and trying not to lose the bolts in the grass. And endcaps had been front and center in my mind. In that I didn't have them. In that if the ones Rich had brought with him didn't work, I wouldn't have a front wheel to ride on Saturday.
Because I don't know how y'all like to operate, but apparently I like to Frankenstein a completely new bike together mere hours before riding it for the first time ever... in a race... ideally in the most adverse conditions you could come up with.
(Fucking Pisgah.)

photo: Icon Media Asheville


It was multifacted.

For one...the Cysco was creaking. If I'm doing the math right, it's been creaking since Transylvania Epic. Two years ago. I've overhauled the bottom bracket multiple times. Replaced it twice. Cleaned and regreased everything. Taken the dropouts off and cleaned every surface. Swapped QR skewers. Overhauled the rear hub. And it just. Keeps. Creaking. If not for the backdrop, I might have lost my shit during the Samarathon in Israel. And I won't say that it's why I quit at Bootlegger a few weeks ago, because the not being able to stop shaking or move my hands probably had something to do with it. But it wasn't NOT a factor.
I'm starting to wonder if there might be a crack.

And for two... I thought I wanted a dropper post. I think. I had this distinct memory of going ass over teakettle last year. Hurting my arm (which, incidentally, still hurts) and planting my hand in dogshit. All because I couldn't get my weight far enough back on some nameless and terrible descent. Slamming my pubic bone into the back of the saddle. That telltale "this is the wrongest thing ever" cold numbness that comes with trauma, however mild, to our soft bits.
So I started thinking maybe I'd descend a little better if I could get lower.
Forgetting that regardless of what I'm riding, I will probably always suck at descending.

And for three... I missed my steel single speed. Yeah... sure... I like my custom ti frame. It's fine. But I really, really, really liked my old Niner SIR 9. I couldn't even say why. It just worked. I'd taken it apart one day with the idea of painting it... and a customer asked me how much I wanted for it. And I came up with a number, thinking that this was a good opportunity to just EP another. At which point Niner killed the SIR 9. And then brought it back as a slightly different version of what had been the ROS 9. But I didn't want a fucking ROS 9 renamed a SIR 9. I wanted a SIR 9. With all of its stupid angles and ridiculous eccentric bottom bracket.
That's what I wanted.

And for four... For no reason that I can think of, aside from the fact that single speed is ded, (kilt in large part by Rich, mind you) there was this Kona Unit that's been hanging in the shop for over a year.
And it happens to be routed for an internal dropper.
And thanks to winning a thing one time, I happened to have a dropper.
So, in a moment of ill-conceived inspiration, I decided to build it up as my PMBAR bike. Not ill-conceived in that it wasn't a good bike for the job. Just ill-conceived in that it wasn't so much a good idea. Especially with less than 24 hours until the event.
You know.... When "hey, I'll just change out the wheels" turns into "huh, should I change tires too?" turns into "wait, probably best if I change the brakes" turns into "crap, I need a new rotor" turns into "IDK, should I maybe change the crank while I'm at it?" turns into "fuck, now I need a new bottom bracket" turns into "oh man... do I even have endcaps for these wheels?"

And the answer was no. No I didn't.


"I could do this all day."

photo: Icon Media Asheville

That's honestly what I said. Somewhere in the early hours. Climbing a gravel road in dappled sunlight. Sweat dripping off the bill of my cycling cap. Fogged glasses perched on the end of my nose so I could see where I was going. It was a lovely morning. The dome of Looking Glass was visible through the trees. My legs felt good. Hell... I felt good.

But that was before the rain.
And the hail.
And the lightning.
Hiding for a moment in the non-shelter of a tree and asking Rich, "What do we do now?" A shrug. I didn't even know what I meant myself. Just... aren't you supposed to like... get really low and stand on one leg or something?
"We keep going?"
Yeah... fair enough.
I hadn't minded the descent off Pilot. Yes, at that point the roots were getting slick and I was starting to lose my descending nerve. But I made it. I think. And Cove Creek was an absolute delight, I'll have you know. And Bradley Creek? (lightning be damned...) Well, I never mind Bradley. It is what it is: bushwhacking through an endless insanity and hoisting your bike over trees and through the sometimes waist deep water approximately 1000 times. You can't really ride it. Not much of it, anyway. And you can only go so fast. Sure, it's taxing... but it's not pushing-your-bike-up-Black taxing. Or wet, sloppy Buckhorn taxing.

Fucking Buckhorn.

Rich calls it "the wheelchair ramp." A gentle grade of doubletrack that just goes and goes. It can hurt. Late in the day, usually, when you're already on empty. But in light of that alternatives... it's a goddamn pleasure.
Unless it isn't. Unless it's a river of muddy water and horse feces. A fleck of mud in your eye that you can't get out. A sloppy quagmire that saps all of your waning strength and will to live.

Buckhorn was my breaking point.

I talk (frequently, I know) about dark places during racing. Those moments where your head turns against you and you face inner demos and blah blah blah.
This... was none of those. This was as if every layer of myself had been stripped away, and what was left... was just a toxic shit of a toddler. I felt none of my usual melancholy. None of the crushing weight of introspection. All I felt... was a pouty rage. I wanted to yell and throw things. Hurl myself backwards on the ground in some nonsense protest of not getting my way. I don't even know what "my way" was at that point. Just that this wasn't it. I was getting dangerously close to being that kid in the restaurant that makes you mumble under your breath about how parents don't spank anymore... and they should.

I decided, somewhere in that mud and shit, that I hated Pisgah. That it was stupid. That people who like it are dumb. That garbage trails that never drain properly and just go in a straight line are the alt-right of mountain biking. That a rooty, rutted, unrideable shitshow is just another neckbeard yelling "heritage not hate." That it's not just Pisgah. It's gravel. It's bike-packing. It's flannel shirts on bikes. Fanny packs. Pocket tees. It's sandals. Mom-jeans. Weed pens. Cargo shorts. CBD. 650b. Low trail bikes with caliper brakes. Social media codenames. Youtube channels of incels playing video games. Peace signs. That everything is just an unironic slingshot tucked in the pocket of a jorts clad farce about who we really are. That we're all just a tone-deaf Facebook post about Trader Joe's and how it will complete us, on the same day as a school shooting. That it's all the same thing!
They're the same face! Doesn't anyone notice this! I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!

(ragged breathing...)

Somewhere on Clawhammer, we came across a family. A dad and his two soaking wet daughters, neither over six years old. Lost. Very. Walking down a gravel road the wrong way and asking how to get back to a place that was many arduous miles away. Very many. The little girls wide-eyed and quiet.
In stark juxtaposition to my seething toddler rage. About something I volunteered for and was damn privileged to get to do.

And I felt shame.

But then I fell face first coming down Black and I was right back to the edge-of-tantrum.
Not even riding. Walking. Stumbling on a root and tripping over the bike. Falling past 90 degrees and sliding down the hill on my knees and shoulder. Which hurt enough that I had to just lie there for a second and listen to Rich laugh at me. Gently, of course.
If I'd been alone, I might have lain there forever. But instead, I had to haul myself up and limp down the hill.

And then... we were done. And we somehow managed third place.
No clue.

No... I have no idea what I'm doing to Dahn in this picture, either.

For the fifth (? sixth?) (fourth?) year... PMBAR had broken me.
I have no clue how far we rode. Or where. Not really. I remember a few trails... But if there was some situation where unless I named at least two of the checkpoints, humanity would be wiped off the face of the planet... I'd have no choice but to sigh and concede that it's probably for the best. That we've had a good run.

No, I leave these details to Rich. And if you want them, you should read HIS blog.
Because the fact is... I am a terrible PMBAR partner.

Imagine dragging a tetherball about twenty feet behind you for 10 hours through Pisgah. Sure, sometimes it would just bounce along behind you without incident. And you'd think... "well, this isn't so bad at all." But all too frequently, it would tangle itself into forever knots around anything and everything it could. And drag you down into an abyss of self-doubt and burnout. I'm a tetherball.
Sometimes Rich will ask me a question about his choice of a route, whether soliciting advice or just using me as a sounding board, I don't know. And inevitably, I will look at him with a blank expression until he just answers it himself. Even when he tries to buck me up with details about what lies ahead, it's just sounds.

"Down Squirrel to Wheelchair Ramp to Pain Cave, then short painful hike-a-bike up Horse Dick to Hot Mess, descend gravel to Hemorrhoid, up Stick in Eye, fall on your ass down Fuck Me Dead and we're done!"

Blink.

I can't pretend I even bring a worthy level of fitness to the table... as for the fourth year in a row, for the final hour, I am a hollow shell unable to even keep Rich in sight. I have no idea how he does it. Maybe he feeds on my anguish.

And the thing is... whatever shitty backhanded things I say about Pisgah have nothing to do with it and everything to do with me. The shame of being a broken shell at 4pm when there are people who aren't going to finish for another 6 hours. The understanding that those rooty fucking shitshow trails are greater than anything I could create in a million lifetimes. That Pisgah wasn't even laughing at me and my bullshit meltdown. It didn't even notice I was there.

And I realize that sitting here typing, I miss it. And it doesn't even know my name.

Yeah, Rich. I'm in for next year.



















Friday, March 29, 2019

Teeth


Confession:

Once upon a time, for almost an entire year...

...I didn't brush my teeth.

Yeah.

That is... I did. But only sometimes. When I would wake up in the middle of the night and feel it. The decay. The sense that something was wrong and I needed to try and make it right. Needed a way to impose some order on a chaos that was getting dangerously close to falling the fuck apart.
Needed a step, however small.

Like taking a shower...
Like drinking some water...
Like changing your clothes...
Like deleting the number of someone who you know deleted yours a long time ago...
Like slapping yourself in the face...
Like putting down the flat-head screwdriver that every ghost in the room is screaming at you to drive into your head...

Like brushing your fucking teeth.

That maybe... this simple step... would be the tipping point toward some modicum of control.

I was fortunate. My teeth didn't rot out of my head. And my breath never became a toxic miasma of neglect. (And let me tell you...  even one unsuccessful jab to the head with a screwdriver will put you on the fucking floor.)

It's so bizarre.
That I can force myself to do all kinds of things:
Endure two hours of turned-inside-out intervals on a stationary trainer...
Do pushups until I can barely lift my arms...
Smile and laugh with a customer when every bank account in my name is negative...
Visit family for the holidays and talk about the future as if I haven't already planned where I'll hang myself in a month...
Post something "fun" to social media when there's still blood on my forehead from slamming it against a wall to keep from hurting myself... (the irony?)

...But that there are times that I can't make myself take two fucking minutes to care for basic oral hygiene.

No, it's fine. You're right.

Depression's a motherfucker.


Confession:

Pisgah... is fine.
It's fine.
It's totally fine.

Hey...  Y'all...          ...It's fine.

But I don't jizz all over myself about it.

Make no mistake... I would rather be in the mountains than the soul-sucking sprawl of the Piedmont, any and every day. The smell of rhododendron. Wet root and rock. The dark pitch and timbre of those hills. Do I really need to tell you how much vastly more moving that is than Greensboro's innumerable telephone poles, garbage creeks, and vape shops?
Pisgah is beautiful. It is. And I appreciate that.
But when I have wet dreams about terrain? When I wake up sweaty and sticky about the swell and press of a landscape...
... It's something spare and stark. Dangerous. With a sky that never ends.
It's confounding. Confusing. A hot breath on my shoulder. An ignored text. Feet touching under a table. Stolen moments in a bar. Sweating in a van.
And for me... that's not Pisgah.

But it's fine.


Confession:

I pee my pants a lot lately. Ok... Maybe not "a lot." But more than I would like. And that's pretty easy math, because even "once" is approximately 1000 times too many. To be fair... I'm not talking a "Oh no! I pee-peed and it's everywhere and I'm a mess and need new pants!" kind of thing. Sheesh, I'm not a toddler. Not completely, anyway. I just mean... that at any given moment, if I were to drop my pants...  there's a solid 50/50 chance that there will be a dime to nickel sized dapple of a little leaked pee in my heather-gray Hanes tagless boxer briefs.
Not a big deal.
Totally not a big deal.
Hey! Guys! Not a big deal!

Except that it didn't used to happen.
Goddamnit.


Confession:

I needed this to be real.
I needed it to be real so hard.


But it wasn't.
I swear to god... fuck everything.


Confession:

I drink too much.
I do.
I know.
It's not a source of pride, as much as I make all the jokes. And while it's not a "problem" (yet).. I know it isn't healthy.
I mean... I don't think I went to sleep sober once during the month of January.
Or December.
And let's not even talk about November.
Or October.
Or February.
Fuck... Can we swear right here and now to never even mention February ever again?
Or March?
I tell myself that it's temporary. That it's just a bad spell. That once it stops raining... That once I stop working so much... That once my chest stops hurting... That once I get over it... That once I'm in the van... That once I'm on the road again...
I'll stop. Or at least cut back.
And there is no doubt that I drink less when I travel. Maybe a beer with dinner. Likely at a bar in a town I don't know. Watching strangers shine, burn, and fade. A post ride beer as I look at the map and plot the next destination. To and from... wherever. Sip some bourbon in the dark as I drift off in a random parking lot. Tangled up. Or alone.
Yeah, sure... I passed out on the floor of a campground shower in Florida once. Woke up naked on the cool tiles...  still-miraculously-hot water pouring over me... curled around a bottle of whiskey and a drain that had likely seen more human frailty than even I could muster that night...

But that was my birthday.
So...

The point is...
I know.
I'm working on it.


Confession: 

Those times when I am traveling in the van...  when I'm moving around and unsure where I'll even be from night to night... I like to listen to audiobooks.

Specifically, audiobooks of Lee Child novels.
Specifically, audiobooks of Lee Child novels about Jack Reacher.
Specifically, audiobooks of Lee Child novels about Jack Reacher read by Dick Hill.
Specifically, audiobooks of Lee Child novels about Jack Reacher read by Dick Hill, procured, exclusively, from a rack at a nearby Cracker Barrel.

They're terrible.

The characters. The plots. The voices. The biscuits.

And I love them. Goddamn, I love them.

It's... kind of a mania.
Like having to buy Foster's oilcans whenever I see them.
Like having to ride every section of trail in whatever system it is I'm visiting. Even if it's just a 1/4 mile out and back to a parking lot.
Like having to re-organize the cart corral at a supermarket because someone put one of the small carts in the same line as the big carts and everything literally might explode unless I set this right.


It's bad enough that I've been known to exit off the highway multiple consecutive times in search of the right Cracker Barrel. Asking the cashier if there's, I don't know, maybe some kind of database of who has what in stock? Spinning the rack three times in case maybe I just didn't see it the first two.
Michael Connelly? No. Harlan Coben? Nah. Clive Cussler? Pffft.
It's bad enough that Dorrit and I have gone down the internet rabbit hole of "Dick Hill." Where he lives. How he looks. What he wears.
It's bad enough that sometimes, when I'm alone walking around the house, I talk about myself in third person... in the best fucking Dick Hill impersonation you've never heard.

Yeah.

Now... for extra credit, tell me which of these images that come up when you google "Dick Hill" is correct.





Trick question. The answer is yes.



Confession:

Enya.

What?

Fight me.


Confession:

I went down really hard at Croatan Buck Fifty this year.
My front wheel hit a log hidden on the tall grass in the periphery of Savage Road and sent me flying. I landed on my shoulder and head. Hard.
After about a minute, I picked up the bike and kept moving, knowing that I was probably mildly concussed, but continuing anyway. Because stopping... would just mean sitting at the race track and drinking beer until Dorrit and the kids got back in a few hours. And I was pretty sure that if I was concussed, I wasn't supposed to drink a ton of beer?
I mean... It worked out?


But that doesn't mean it was the right choice.
My concern wasn't so much the short term. I hurt, but whatever. It was the months to follow.
Because my last concussion... did a number on me. Even if I wasn't aware of it at first.
I've always had a proclivity to self-harm. I just... have. But the aftermath of waking up on a trail in Indiana with no memory of how I got there... turned that up to eleven. When I would get depressed... which is, yes, often... it would get bad.

I remember turning to Dorothy one day while we were driving and asking, "Hey...  Do you remember me ever punching myself in the face before the concussion?" And after thinking for a minute, she said. "No. You're  right. I think that concussion fucked you up."

And in light of how I've felt for the past few years... I didn't need more of that.

Because
Confession:

This winter almost killed me.
Yeah...
Again.

If you know... you know.

And if you don't?
Then maybe I don't know what the fuck to say to you.

If you've never pressed a blade to a vein...
Put a gun to your head...
Nestled a knife into a space between your ribs...
Stepped in front of traffic...
Taken too many pills...
Torn your house apart looking for a length of something, anything to put around your neck...
Unbuckled your seatbelt on the highway and done the math...
Scouted out the bridge or building that you'll step off one day...
.
...then... I just don't know what the fuck to even say to you.

But to those of you who know...

I feel you. Goddamn do I feel you.

So...
Confession:

Hey. It's spring. We made it. Maybe... we're going to actually be alright.
You know?







































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.
Every.
Fucking.
Hole.

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.
Strange.
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.
#nonsuicidepact
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.