Monday, June 22, 2015

Dirty Pretty Things: Part Two

The car had been tailing me for about five miles.
But then... maybe not? Maybe they were just as lost as I was?
As I pulled into the parking lot, denial gave way to baffled confirmation and began to cascade into full blown defensive hostility as the nondescript black car pulled in behind me and effectively blocked any point of egress.
"What the fuck?!" were the first words out of my mouth, directed at the fat, neck-bearded young man wearing the sleeveless tshirt and jeans, who walked toward me silently, making aggressive eye contact. It was meant to intimidate. But I wasn't intimidated. I was just confounded. And pissed.
He flashed a badge.
"Sheriff's Department. Mind if I ask what you're doing in Bentonville?"
What I'm doing in....?
"Sir...I wanted to talk to you because you left center back there."
Left center....?
The next words out of my mouth were.... "You're fucking shitting me."
I looked at the two un-uniformed officers, one clean cut and fit... one disheveled and fat. Good cop and bad cop. And as they were profiling me, I profiled them. The kind of men for whom homosexuality is the crime of the century... but rape is a way of life.
When the fat cop asked me for the second time what I was doing in town... I took stock.
I had a choice to make.

Dirty Kanza was over. And it was time to head home.
But... I didn't want to head home. I wanted to turn west and drive. I wanted to plunge through prairie until it gave way to jagged rocks. I wanted to wake up in the Badlands with a warm wind rippling the grass like a swell, and watch the ancient eroded hills catch the first rays of the sun. I wanted to descend through Kaibab Limestone and Hermit Shale and touch my fingertips to the Great Unconformity again. I wanted to plunge into the convergence of the Colorado and Green Rivers. I wanted to wander the Vermillion cliffs. Place my cheek against the alternately tight and broad strata of the Wave. I wanted to sit in the minimal shade of a Pueblo ruin, my back resting against a crumbling stone wall in Chaco. I wanted to lay on the trail at Dead Horse Point and look up at the stars. Where I'd lain with a girl and done the same thing many years ago. Where we talked about what would happen when we got home...and she told me it would never work... breaking my heart while she squeezed my hand and stifled my protests with a kiss.

It's probably about a girl.
(The one above it is about me.)

LOVE WILL RUIN YOUR MIND: an interlude of unprecedented emo
When was the last time someone gave you a piece of themselves? And what did you do with it?
When was the last time you gave a piece of yourself to someone? And what did they do with it?
Did they hold it gently... and promise to protect it? Or did they tear it to pieces? Crush it?
Was it sudden? A painful rending. Or was it a slow oppression? Pressed with stones, one after the other... like a witch... until that piece expired.

And if you had the chance... would you give it to them again?
And if given the chance... would you accept that piece of them again? And treat it differently? Not fail in your promises.

One time, in what seems like another life, I loved a girl from.......
I loved her so much that I put my life on hold for her. When she stopped loving me...when she didn't say it, but her actions spoke what her words did hurt so much that when everything was finally over...after I had driven the final nails in the coffin... I was so used to that pain that I barely felt it.
One time, I was loved by a girl from.....
The impossibility of where we were in our lives made us crazy. When my own crazy caused me to distance myself the only way I knew how... driving a wedge of someone else between us...I woke up to life-changing chaos.
One time... I loved a girl from.......
I never told her. But I loved her. Very much. I tried to shrug and smile when she blew me off. Pretend like the sting of her indifference was just an itch. But it wasn't.
And one time, I loved a girl from.......
So much... that I would have undone myself a million times over for a chance at a life with her. So much...that when she had nothing to say to me...after everything we'd done and said... I broke into so many pieces that I often wonder if I will ever go back together right.

I regret nothing. But those cracks... those pieces...fuck.

I used to have this idea...that the cracks healed stronger. Like calcified bone.
But the heart is tissue. And tissue just scars. And my scars... my many scars...The ones on my legs... on my head... on my arms... my forearms... on my heart...
They itch. They throb. They crack. And sometimes... they bleed.

Wishing... and thinking... and feeling... will always make you bleed. But I'll always do it. Because I know no other way to be.

Some people... feel things more acutely than others. The screens through which we filter this world... this existence... they're thinner. Fundamentally different.
Call it what you will. ("Crybaby shit," right?) I don't mind. It's just... what it is.
Sometimes, yes, I wish my filters were like yours. I wish that I could smile casually and calmly about a beautiful sky... instead of fighting tears....digging my nails painfully into the palm of my hand to try and stay grounded...keep my shit together. Because, I mean... who does that? I wish that I didn't see ghosts... and was able to move through this life without wading through a million divergent reflections of you and me. All of them smiling and sobbing and screaming. Because who else sees them?
And sometimes I wish... that I just didn't fall in love. That I was able to keep that distance and hold on to that piece of me...instead of giving it away.
But most times... I'm thankful. And I'll never stop doing it.

"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should be thankful for those people who rekindle our spirit."
                                                                                                      -Albert Schweitzer

I'm thankful. Even when that flame threatens to consume.

As I left Emporia, intending to go to Kansas City to visit an old friend, a moment of distraction coupled with a head a million miles away put me on the Kansas Turnpike heading West instead of East. Taking in the beauty of the Flint Hills, and finally getting the sun and sky and horizon that I'd been seeking, I thought long and hard. Maybe this is right. It was certainly what I wanted, but maybe it was also what I should do. I could dip into Oklahoma, visit Prairie Brewing. Try to find Biker Foxx. Stand in the Center of the Universe. Feel the gravity of nearby stars. And head on to Palo Duro. Wake up flanked by red rock walls. Keep going....

I live... in a place I never expected or wanted. Moving there for the love of a girl...which was fleeting. And staying there for the love of my life... which is forever. That being my son, Milo.

We share joint custody, and while I've resisted digging in anything more than shallow roots, my ex has anchored herself. And split as our time is, I have no intention of ever leaving that boy's side. So I'm here. It's not a bad place. It's a safe and comfortable suburban neighborhood, sprawling across three cities. Round and soft. Bereft of extremes. Sometimes the clouds form peaks at sunset, and I pretend it's a mountain range that I can get lost in.  For me...this place... it's la salle d'attante. The waiting room. And while I often lament both my time here, and raising Milo here... because I think there's a stunting oppression to a safe and comfortable suburbia....I never resent it.
But the fact is that all the decent places to eat and drink and spend money that you can fill a town with never resonate at the same level as river or rocks.
So we get out. And so I get out. Because I have to. And because I want to. And because I need to.
I only get this punk chance once... and I just can't let it be.
Getting out to Kanza was about not letting that punk chance be. On a number of levels.

Despite that westward pull... I ultimately turned around and made my way east to Kansas City. I was going to visit my friend John, who I'd last seen what felt like a lifetime ago. I wasn't wrong. Not really, at least. I hadn't seen him since my wedding, over 12 years ago. Same lifetime... but another life.
We'd grown up together, wandering the woods behind our houses with sticks as swords. Wading through creeks and hunting two-headed snakes. Staying up too late talking about girls and trying to process this life.
It had been too long.
I'm pretty sure he was wearing that shirt for me. 

I arrived at John's house in time to watch an episode of cops go down across the street. Four cops facing down a schizophrenic man. Guns pulled for no reason that I could see. We left, mid-drama, to find some food and beer, and catch up. I liked Kansas City. It wasn't what I expected... which was everything I hoped for on this trip. Finding things that defied my expectations.
We stayed up too late and drank entirely too much. Talked long into the night about all the things. Girls, life, music, and Space Giants. See... I had been nigh obsessed with this show called Space Giants when I was little. It's about the usual stuff: Robot-humanoids that live under a volcano and turn into jets and fight monsters. My memory of it was so... golden. Like one of the primary characters.... Goldar. My memory of Goldar was that he was chiseled and striking, with long blonde hair and a piercing gaze.
I was kind of right... about the hair, at least. But I have a better idea of how fallible memory is after googling him.

I...have no words.
That said... Spectreman is still just as amazeballs as it was when I was a kid.

There are reasons I am the way I am.

The next morning we struggled a bit... and my issues began. My stomach issues, at least. I hoped it was rich food and a hangover. There was a nagging doubt, but I tried to be optimistic. After saying goodbye to John, Jen and Harper, I set out for breakfast and to visit Volker Bicycles. I'd never met Britton, but a little more than a year ago I'd started to see traffic on Revolting Cogs from "bkusiak." My turd of blog had been added to a stranger's blogroll. As I was now less than a mile away.. it seemed absurd not to go.

Sadly, I didn't get to connect with Britton, and my plans to descend upon the 8 Lumens boyz like a plague were looking less and less viable. Because.....
I had this nagging fear about my stomach. Eight hours later, I was pretty convinced. I had a fever and was fighting chills. And had needed to stop and destroy at least five gas station bathrooms in the course of a few hours.

I'm pretty sure I remember the moment I got the giardia. I had just finished the second section of unrideable mud. At the end was a right turn onto a hill covered in coarse, rocky gravel. Which just made the peanut butter go from chunky to "extra chunky." I spotted a massive puddle to the left of the road and tossed the bike in, submerging it almost completely. It worked. I took off up the hill with a bike five pounds lighter than before.
I reached down and grabbed a bottle. Without thinking, I squirted the contents into my mouth. Swallowed.
"Wait..." I thought. "Was this open? Fuck, that's probably not good."
I sprayed the rest of the contents on my front wheel to clear out more mud and hoped I was wrong.
I wasn't.

When I pulled into Bentonville, Arkansas I was starting to feel a little better. But not much. That lasted all of about one minute.

I'd pulled into this stupid fucking town because of my hesitation to drive west and my inability to drive east. Going due south instead. That and the recommendation of my friend Cori. Good shop and amazing riding, she'd said. A stellar art museum. Excellent food. As I'd never really spent any time in Arkansas, I was intrigued. I'd dated a girl from there long ago. Had a brief dalliance with her sister. Kissed them both the same night. But otherwise, I had no connection to Arkansas at all.
A big part of this entire trip was seeking out hidden gems. Amazing and beautiful people and things hidden in mundane places.
In Bentonville... I didn't unearth a gem. I found fucking coprolite. (cop-rolite. Get it? It works on a few different levels. Google it.)

At least it was beautiful.

When the other two cruisers pulled up and I had five cops salivating over me and my van, I made my choice. I changed my tact. There was going to be no facing down five, fat, hungry, prejudiced cops with reason or talk of rights. Especially when there had been no legitimate reason to pull me over. I suppose it's possible that I might have left center. But the thing is... I hadn't. And I knew it. What I HAD done was drive slowly through downtown, see my destination and realize I'd missed the parking lot. Turn onto a random neighborhood road to loop back. Have a out of state licence plate. And drive a vanagon. They probably thought they had made their quota for the year.
So... I turned up the charm. Because I can do that, you know. I do have my charms. But not only that... I have the privilege of being able to turn up the charm. Had I been anything other than a white male... everything would have gone very differently. To pretend or claim otherwise belies an ignorance and level of dipshittedness so deep that if you're reading this and disagree...on any level... please do me a favor and fuck off.
In the aftermath, people have told me multiple times that I did not need to submit to an illegal search. That I could have exercised my rights and not consented. But it wasn't like that. Because there was never a choice. While two cops kept me distracted with questions, another approached my vehicle with a dog.
I saw it happen.
I could have stepped in at that point. Protested the search. But that would have been a fight. And when was the last time someone won a fight against five cops?

Here's the thing.... I don't trust cops. Sorry. I don't. Especially not in a situation like this. It's not that I dislike them, because there are some absolutely solid individuals out there. And I try to avoid any kind of blanket prejudice at all costs, regardless of the institution. But... well... I dislike what they represent about our society... how they often conduct themselves. But more than that....I just do not fucking trust them. In the same way I don't trust a politician.... or any other flawed, failing human who thinks they have a good handle on what society needs, or what's right or wrong... and (this is the important part) who has the authority to make being wrong their right... and not yours.

Did you know that MDC and the Dicks played at the shop once.... my dreams?

So instead of fighting them. I just watched.
Because I had nothing to hide. There was nothing in my van. Unless they put it there. Which I considered a distinct possibility.

The next part is a little confusing. I watched the cop instruct the dog on where to look, tapping parts of my van, pointing and talking. The dog sat and looked at him.
"Sir." one of the officers approached me." Do you have anything in the van?"
"Absofuckinglutely not."
"Well... the dog sat. He smells something."
"Huh. It looked to me like he sat because you told him to," I said. And then..."I have nothing in that van, officer... but I do want to understand this situation. You're telling me that your dog sat down because he actually smelled something in my van... presumably drugs. Is that right?"
He explained that he's a "passive drug dog" and that they sit when they smell something. Then the other cops crawled inside my van and started tearing it apart. There was no, "do you mind if we search your vehicle?" They just did it.

Once again, I could have protested. But I was already on their bad side, for whatever bullshit reason... my hippy van, my faggot bikes, my "ain't from here" strangeness... And I knew that things would go further south very quickly if I fought with them about this. As it was, the only way it could go south was if they decided to fuck me, because there was nothing in that van.
Hence the charm. I got friendly. Chatty even. I told them about the 200 mile race I had just finished in Kansas (truth) and that I was a professional racer (lie). That I'd heard good things about the town and figured I'm come check it out. That I'd pulled into this parking lot so that I could grab some food and go check out Phat Tire Bike Shop. I gave them just enough "you're fucking shitting me" lip that they knew I wasn't scared... but kept it at a "aww man, you guys are bustin' my balls over here!" level. Instead of the "FUCK YOU!" that kept making my fists clench.
Because I could. Because I had that privilege, while others do not. And I honestly don't even know where to start with everything wrong with that.
It worked. And eventually and unceremoniously... they left me alone. They never found any drugs. And I'd apologized humbly for my nonexistent "leaving of center."
One cop said, "Well... have a nice visit. We really do have a nice place here."
"I really don't care at this point." I laughed bitterly. "I just want out of this town."
But instead of leaving, I walked to the bar next to Phat Tire and had a drink. Sat on the patio and watched redneck kids speed up and down the strip and not get harassed by the cops. Because they were the cops.

I spent too long sitting and pondering. Looking at the blue sky, listening to the pretty girls sitting next to me. Thinking about what had just happened. And figuring out what I was doing next.
My stomach wasn't right... but I wasn't a crippled mess. Just... messy. All the symptoms of giardia still churning away and occasionally making me sprint for a bathroom or the side of the road.
With a lump in my throat, I turned east and started driving...occasionally stopping and staring out at the hills.
I decided to make my way to Eureka Springs and find somewhere to camp for the night. I ended up at Lake Leatherwood. I parked by the lake, watched racoons wander around, and drank beer.
The next morning I packed close to a roll of toilet paper into my jersey pockets (just in case) and started riding. It took a while to find the right trails, but once I did... I rode for close to four hours. Looping back and forth, all directions. Until I was pleasantly destroyed. Arkansas.. you may suck. But your trails don't.

Just a turtle eating a baby bird. It's a metaphor for Arkansas.

I cleaned up and rolled to Berryville for some lunch, wandering into a small taco place. "Hola Gringo!" the fiery woman behind the counter greeted me. "Que pasa?"
She brought me a plate of puposa, which was exactly what I needed... even if my stomach didn't know it. By this point, I was fine. By all outward appearances. I was a little weak. But I could keep it together for at least an hour without having to run to the bathroom. It's just that when I did... it was bad. Like.... bad. But I didn't want that to stop me. This was my fucking trip... my punk chance. There was no way I was compromising it for some fucking flagellate in my gut.

If you are passing through Berryville, go here. Just do it.

That night I pulled into Land Between the Lakes sometime after the sun had gone down. I found a spot, drank beer in the van, read The Great Gatsby. And passed out to the sound of cicadas.
The next morning, made my coffee... basked in early sun... pulled on my clothes and went in search of singletrack. I found it... and it was good.
I rode the Canal Loop both directions. It was fun and fast. Then I headed south a ways on the North South Trail, which provided more topography and views, and was a little more what I was looking for. I had a hard time stopping, but eventually turned around and made my way back to the van. Swimming in the lake to clean off.

At the trailhead, I met this fellow, who was on day two of his own cross-country odyssey. I gave him all the intel I could. ("Stay out of Arkansas") Made a few recommendations regarding his set-up and wished him the best.
I had stopped at Land Between the Lakes on my own tour over a decade ago and was totes jelz of everything he had to look forward to heading west. 
My last stop before pressing home was Halcyon Bike Shop in Nasheville. I'd met Andrew and Nick and Stephanie multiple times at various events, but never had the pleasure of seeing their shop.
It was...amazing. There are certain shops out there that embody the indy, DIY ethic of what I feel is everything right about the independent bike shop. Halcyon should, by considered fucking aristocracy.

Take notes.

I reluctantly bid Halcyon adieu and drove home, arriving sometime after midnight. As much as I didn't want to stop. It was time. Whoever else I was missing...I missed my boy. And I wanted to be by his side.

HOLD ON TO YOUR HEART: an epilogue
As much as I wallow in sentiment, I'm vexed by platitudes. And as much as I engage in it, I'm vexed by mundane oversimplifications of what we do and maudlin ramblings on why we do it. Because rarely does someone really say what I'm feeling. Myself included. And waxing philosophical about the whys of pushing ourselves are seldom as poetic as we think, and always as galling we don't. We're not as smart as we think we are. Bottom line. The abstractions we use to understand the world and ourselves are insufficient at best, and the way in which most of us engage those abstractions are always deeply flawed. Thus our nonsensical gods and rituals. Existential truths buried in mountains of literal rubble. Hard, concrete little epiphanies that contradict and corroborate. Oppose and affirm.
A giant pile of gravel. And gravel... is fucking stupid.
But what it means to ride it... is not.
When the pavement ends and you cross that threshold... you're accepting the risk and reward of seeing where that road goes. It might end badly. It might take you somewhere amazing. Both, probably. The same goes for the trail that snakes up out of view.
And me... I've always had an obsession with finding out where those roads and trails go. It's why people are wary of riding with me. Because we might come back hours later than intended... with double the miles we'd set out for.
The thing about turning down that gravel road or onto a trail you hadn't intended to explore is... You just have to do it a little more... and talk about it a little less.
Most of the gravel roads in my neck of the woods are disappearing. An initiative to pave them being passed down by the powers that be. So my days aren't spent riding them. A 100 mile ride will yield 10 miles of gravel roads, unless you're making a concerted effort to be ridiculous about it.

I went to Kanza because I wanted to find some things. Gravel wasn't one of them. Because it's just fucking gravel. But the places I went on those 200 miles...and the places I went getting there...and the places I went on the way back. Physically, mentally, emotionally. That's why I was there.

I'll apologize for the mess of my life for the rest of my life (forever)... but I'll never stop going to those places.
Neither should you.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Dirty Pretty Things

This ain't no picnic. 

visit Adventure Monkey's site for a ton of awesome photos of much better looking people.

I wasn't unprepared for the mud... having watched the weather... having been told multiple times that it would be messy this year.... having heard stories and seen pictures from the Land Run 100... having been in my own mess of mud many times before....
But I wasn't prepared.
It didn't really matter. When it's all punches, you just roll with them... whatever form they take. (I'm a fan of the "self-punch," incidentally. Not so much of the "taint punch.")
And being "prepared" isn't a language I really give a fuck about learning. At least not in the common parlance. 99% of the time, it just means having a random assortment of (hopefully the right) shit stuffed in (hopefully the right) pockets... having been on my bike a handful of times to "train" (I'm a really useful engine).... and showing up on time. Not that those things always happen. Rarely, in fact.

"Are you nervous about tomorrow?" someone asked me the day before. Nervous? If anything, tomorrow was the easiest part. It was another day on the bike. Yeah it was going to hurt. Yeah it was going to be long. But it was pushing pedals. Physically moving forward. Regardless of how much it hurts, I can almost always physically move forward.
Even if I'm not doing it very well.
If I was nervous... it was about my head. About where it would take me. About it's own miring mud, stream crossings and sharp rocks. It was already struggling.... Proximity and distance. Absence and presence.
A head heavy with ghosts.
And...ghosts don't care how far you're riding, or how far you've traveled. The fuckers.

It was misting as we lined up that morning. And a stout wind pressed at our backs. And it was cold. After a false start involving an ill-timed train (decidedly not a really useful engine), I started moving my way up to the front. James and I sat in and pulled accordingly, using one or two of the matches in our book to get closer to the lead group. As we knew we would.
When we hit the mess and the bike went on my shoulder, I heard a spectator say "About three miles of this, guys." In comparison to the 200 miles we were riding, three was nothing. But... damn if this bike wasn't heavy, caked with pounds of mud. And damn if it wasn't awkward, draped across my shoulders like a cross. (I smiled at the grimly amusing thought that, at the moment, the Stigmata would be a more apropos bike than the RLT.)
And damn if my feet no longer resembled feet, but giant mud rafts...As wide as they were long.
But hoisting the bike was the only option. The mud was so tacky that one tire rotation was enough to jam your wheels and stop your show. Once in a while you could get back on, but it rarely lasted more than thirty seconds.
I heard James behind me. "I'm done."
Me too, I thought.
Turns out he really was. His derailleur hanger had snapped and his show had come to a screeching halt.
His chain tool snapped as he tried to rig the bike into a singlespeed.
I can only imagine his frustration.

Because this... was only mile 11.

I need a little escape. 
I'd come to Kansas for sun, sky and heat. And other things. Tangible and intangible... but ultimately ineffable.

Why? I have my reasons. None of which make sense. Unless you're me. And I am.... much to everyone's dismay.
Different places move me in different ways. The Flint Hills... regardless of what you think you know... have some gravity. Are there prettier places? Yes. Maybe. Probably. Definitely. But... I needed that. I needed prairie. I needed horizon. I needed this trip. And bizarre as it seems. I needed Kansas.
Sigh...I told you. Ineffable.

I left Greensboro mid morning on Tuesday, intending to meander my way west and arrive in Emporia either Thursday night or Friday morning.
I had a few rules for traveling.
1) No more than six hours a day of driving.
2) No fast food.
3) Stop at shops.
4) Ride good trails.
5) Go wherever the fuck I want.
6) Stop wherever the fuck I want.

My destination for the night would be Knoxville, TN....crashing with Greggers and Yvonne. 
But first, I wanted to stop at First Flight and see Mombat again. It had been a few years. 
It was better than ever, Jeff and Wes having cleaned house in prep for NAHBS last year. If you ever find yourself passing within an hour of Statesville, NC... you need to take a detour. Especially if, like me, you have a boner for old mountain bikes. (Not a weird boner, kook. Like... a morning boner. Ok... maybe it's a little weird.)
I came to cycling in the late 80's, via my brother... and via the relatively new sport of mountain biking. I wanted to be Greg Herbold. I wanted to hang out with Tinker Juarez. I wanted to beat John Tomac. I wanted to kiss Missy Giove. (yeah) I wanted to go steady with Juli Furtado. (still do) Take those things as you will. I was young. Regardless, it all translates into a love for all things early MTB. From the materials, to the geometries, to the colors, to the styles. 
Mombat has done an excellent job of hoarding and preserving all of those things. 

Another reason I like First Flight.
Jeff and I almost went down the same different path.
Hard-ons for hard things.
Boners for bones.

When I started riding... the Tioga Farmer John was the go-to tire.
Doesn't matter how bad it rode.. I will always covet it.

Fuckn Fat Chance.

If it ain't Moto....

Jeff Archer.
It is fairly common knowledge that I am a world class photographer of the bike-cycles.
World. Fucking. Class.
Suck it, Prolly.
I ate some fish tacos next door... drank an AssClown Pale Ale (Hey Reitzel... it's really real!) and kept on down the road. I stopped at a shop in Asheville where a kid with the same haircut as me asked me if I needed help. "Nah man... I'm just passing through." He shrugged in a dickish way and walked back to his station. Huh. Not that I'm super keen when people give me that same answer... but I guess I have a different expectation of how my staff engages customers.

As I was entering Knoxville, I passed a truck. (cool story, Watts!)
I casually noticed that it was carrying a giant backhoe. "Damn" I thought. "That looks sketchy. Those treads are barely sitting on the bed of that trailer. I hope the other side is balanced the same. What am I saying? Of course it is... those dudes are professionals. I'm sure they know what they're doing." At which point the loading arm struck the motherfucking shit out of the bridge we were passing under. I looked into my rearview mirrow and saw only a giant cloud of dust and a lot of swerving cars.
A mile later, my hands stopped shaking.
I rolled into Knoxville in time to walk into Scott's Shop... TVB, right before they closed. So he, Neil and I walked next door and drankded beer.

Then I went and joined Greggers for some fucking awesome grilled meat, beer and... dog.

I'd have stolen the shit out of this dog if I didn't think it would break Yvonne's heart.
Photo cred: Greggers

The next morning, Greggers headed off on his own travels... and I went riding.
Knoxville singletrack... it's pretty fucking awesome. They've got some good stuff going on in that town. You should visit.

I hose-showered on Greg's back patio, giving the neighbors a bit of a show... and started driving toward St. Louis, stopping for the night at Rend Lake, where it rained bugs. And water. But mostly bugs. So many bugs.

Ah yes...the "I'm lonely in some random campground and need validation NOW" selfie.
Forever a classic.

Followed by the "coffee and shoes for no reason save to say "this is my awesome morning in my awesome fucking van. Like me. Please?"" pic.
(It really was awesome.)
From there I set out looking for trails. I ended up at Binder State Park near Jefferson City. (Did you fucking know... that Jefferson City is the capital of Missouri? Oh. You did. Hmm. Well...I'd have failed that test. But then...I do everything I can to avoid thinking about Missouri, so....
The trails were pretty good. Until it started dumping on me. At which point they got treacherous really quick. I fell on wet roots no less than four times. My hip was still pretty damn tender on race day.

Why is this picture even in here? Why?
Because...validation.  Love me?
I rewarded myself with a delicious beer and a mediocre burger from Prison Brews and started heading toward Emporia.
I pulled in at dusk and headed straight to Mulready's. Where I forgot to put a Revolting Cogs sticker on the door. Damn.
There I ran into Tim Mohn (who I called Jim. Multiple times. I'm smrt.) He recognized me, but I was baffled as to where he could possibly know me from. I mean... from time to time someone approaches me and says something like, "Hey... you're the Revolting Cogs guy!" And I say, "You read that shit? I'm sorry." In this case we'd met at Frostbike. (I 'member now.) I got some local lore and next day intel from him... along with some food recommendations... and headed to Radius for some more beer and a salad. Yeah. A salad. It felt like I hadn't eaten anything green in days.
Then I hooked up with Matt Falwell, who was my bunk buddy for the weekend.
Matt and I had met at SSCXWC in Philly a few years ago.... both of us wearing Manwolfs gear. He'd appropriated the Manwolfs logo for his own team, Manwolfs CX.
I knew we'd be fast friends.

And if you need more... (which you most definitely do.)

The next day I hid in a coffee shop, did some email and tried to finish Frostbukake Part 3 (or is it 4?) I didn't, busy as I was watching people. But one day I will... and it will be no less meaningless then, either. I grabbed my packet, ate some barbeque with fellow Greensboroites Will Shore and Jimmy Williams, bought a book from Rebecca Rusch, and went for a ride.

Apparently, we love you. We really, really love you.
I honestly don't know why.

Jimmy, some dick, and Rebecca. 
About a mile into the ride, my rear tire blew off the rim. Well shit. I pumped it up and kept riding, but tentatively. My riding partner laughed at me. I smiled. But less about the flat and more about that laugh.
Later... as I was trying to ride my "drop bags" (a grocery bag full of... whatever) over to James and his wife Regina, who would be my support, the rear tire blew off again. This time I didn't smile.
The Kenda Happy Mediums that I'd chosen for this race were, it turns out, not terribly happy when inflated to more than 40 psi. Well shit. After much debate, I ended up swapping the rear tire for the spare I'd packed. It held, though I was ready to be that guy with the flat 3 miles in.
Instead my flat came 170 miles in.
I never made it to the race-meeting, as I was on the lawn in front of some random house fucking with my tire.
So instead I went to Radius for pizza and beer with Matt. How many beers is too many before riding 200 miles? As long as it's coupled with water, the world may never know.
I slept less than four hours and peed more than 40 times that night.

Don't ask why.
I don't know how many people toed the line at Kanza this year.. but there were 1500 people signed up. 428 finished.
I was the 69th.

Singlespeed was the right choice. Though it would be fun to run gears on a dry year and see what happened.
For those that give a shit about such things....
I was running 39x17, (Endless Bike, of course) which is what I run for cross racing. And Peter Chrapkowski approves, so it's good enough for me. It was pretty close to ideal. A little spinny on flat sections, a little stout for the three big climbs. But otherwise damn near perfectly balanced.
The Kenda Happy Mediums (40s) had all the grip I wanted, though having to run such low pressure (40 max) made for a little drag on the fast sections. Oh well. It was comfortable, at least.
Initially I was going to run a Revelate Designs Viscacha and Gas Tank, with all the emergency shit in the back and my food up front. On a geared bike, where I would be seated all the time, the Gas Tank works great, but I found that it rubbed my legs too much if I got out of the saddle. Which you do on a SS. So I opted for the Tangle, which held everything I needed and stayed out of my way.

Shakedown rides are important, kids. It's when you find out that you did a super-shit rush-job of wrapping your bar-tape and didn't tighten your chainring bolts enough. Or your stem bolts. Or brake levers. Or your fucking head.
Not assembling your race-bike at midnight with beer as your only calories for the day is also important.
Know what else is important? Falling in... and making love. Fucking is great and all. But making love...Fuck....

With the mud behind us, and the field dramatically diminished, I was alone much faster than I'd expected. I let my head go where it would, alternately smiling and grimacing. Laughing out loud and clenching my jaw. I jockeyed back and forth with Hunter Henry and Wes, and we played 1,2,3 singlespeed. A rider, I still don't know who, passed and stayed away. I wasn't eating enough. I knew it, but couldn't do anything about it. I rolled into the first check-point feeling a little deflated, but serviceable. James and Regina pulled in right as I did. Good timing. I could tell James was bummed about his own ride and still processing it, but they ruled as support and I was extremely lucky and happy to have them. I rolled out and a man in a chair told me that I was in 21st overall position. That seemed insane, but ok. I grimly wondered how long until my calorie deficit caught up with me and tried to choke down a ProBar.
It caught up with me at mile 100, about the time Will caught me...and lasted until the next checkpoint. "Hey Watts," Will said cheerfully. "I'll work for you. I got nothing else do for the next six hours."
Let me tell you a little about Will Shore.

Snagging some numero tres podium.

He is one of the strongest, most unassuming riders you will ever meet. He will tear your legs off without changing expression. He will do it on a 26 inch mountain bike and unshorn legs. He will also leave his house in a tshirt and safety glasses for a short ride and return home 100 miles later. He finishes most rides with more shit than he started.. his jersey pockets full of litter he's picked up along the way.
He's also a hemophiliac. Yeah... like Czar Nicholas' son. Which is one of the reasons his legs are unshorn. If he starts bleeding, he doesn't stop. Which doesn't stop him from going. You should take notes.
Will kindly pulled me along until I stopped to pee orange and a geared-rider train came through. Will hopped on and I never saw him again. It was good while it lasted.

My cadence began to slow. My head began to hang. My thoughts began to darken. And I slogged through 50 miles of doubt and demons and ghosts.
Some people... love themselves. Some people... don't. I'll just say this... when other people love me... I just wonder how long until they pull their heads out of their asses and walk away.

I was a shell of a man when I rolled into the second checkpoint, having tacked on some mileage with a wrong turn a little way back.
When I rolled out, I was a new man. A meat-laden sandwich from Jimmy Johns, a coke, a bike-cleaning-of-the-gods. I was bummed for James and his race. But I was happy as hell that he was my support. His yin-preparation helped balance my yang-whatthefuckever. I felt great. The bike felt great. I was confident that I could catch Hunter and Wes if I dug deep.
That fell apart a little when I got the flat, smacking a rock with my front tire and breaking the tubeless seal. I almost got it to reseat, but ultimately had to put a tube in it. At least one SS rider passed me. When I was rolling again, I went out quick, and passed a left turn. A few miles down the road I came across a closed bridge and a lone fisherman. "Man... I think you're way off course!" He said.
I turned around, the wind taken out of my sails. I glommed onto various groups and finally met up with fellow singlespeeder Derek. By this point he could have soundly rolled away from my defeated and deflated ass, but we stuck together and rolled across the line side by side. I guess I was a millimeter ahead of him, because I took 7th and he took 8th.
We highfived and I shook hands with Lelan at the finish.
Then I ruefully looked around and had a brief moment of sadness...wishing someone could be there for me at the finish... not sure how it could have worked, but still feeling a momentary pang.
The loneliness of the long distance rider.
Then... I filled my pint glass... and walked away... and tried to get my head straight.'s late... and I have too much to do today... so for the moment, I'll stop there. But suffice to say, I have more to say about Kanza. Both about the race... and about the aftermath... and the return trip.
It involves finding secret notes hidden all over my van, dick-head cops, old friends, an overwhelming urge to drive west...and giardia.
Aren't you lucky.

I'm guessing it was the cops.