Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Place That Scars You.

Among the many very valid (as well as the vexingly obtuse) criticisms of my writing, the most prevalent regards my logorrhea...or my admitted tendency to be a bit more verbose than necessary.
(A bit?)
This from the (chosen) few who consistently read what I write as well as the (misfortunate) many who find themselves confoundedly and confusedly perusing this blog when whatever google search they were engaged in somehow dumps them here instead. (According to the stats, this month the winners are "Kelli Samuelson," (sorry Ty) "Golden Saddle Cyclery Cap," (sorry Ty) "Jana l Jordan," (sorry Jana L Jordan, whoever you are. And sorry Jana and Jordan!) "Juli Furtado," (Shit! I'm so sorry, Juli!) "Shenandoah 100 blog," (Sorry Chriscottistan!) "Revolting Cogs," (meh) "Watts Dixon,"(???!!!) and "Naked Guys." (sounds about right))

Nevermind my penchant for parentheticals or my stubborn and insistent use of ellipses at every opportunity. (I write my own grammar rules!) And nevermind my questionable ideas about what constitutes appropriate content. What I hear the most, outside of "I have absolutely no idea what you are even talking about" are two simple words: "Too." and " Long."

To this day, my favorite critical comment ever was on my exceedingly witty and mordant indictment of bicycle retail as we know it written for the Biketumor.

"Too long. I'm not reading all that self-indulgent shit."

Ha! Amen, brother. More so than any of you, "Other Zap" gets me. He really gets me.

That particular article began with a sentence that I had written a number of years ago, when I first started thinking about bicycle retail and the current challenges of "winning" at customer service. "Give the people what they want... In lethal doses." I'd said and typed those words a number of times as a kind of cathartic chant, but once I typed them in the heading on the Bikerumor Wordpress site, the sphincter was released and I was unable to leave the proverbial toilet for the next few hours. Every time I'd finish a thought and "wipe" I'd feel that rumble and sit back down.
(Wow. Nice image, Watts. I totally need a shower now.)

There have been a few like that, honestly.
For instance, that last post was a mite bit long.
This one will probably follow suit.
I'm only kind of sorry. I'm just not a fan of the short posts. I'm not good at them, either. (What? I have a lot to share.)
I also don't really care for narratives. Telling you a story about some race I did (as I'll do in a moment), or some event I crashed always ends up being an endless litany of "And then... And then.... and then....."
I like themes. I like concepts. I like emotions. I like all of the things that bike blogs typically aren't. I won't claim that I'm wrestling with anything particularly heady or heavy here, but I'd rather pretend like I am then talk to you about actual "bike stuff."

I mean.... Maybe you really do care what bits and bobs I vajazzle with, or what gear ratio I used to lose the race (again), or what tire I managed to catastrophically flat (again), or which plastic bike with plastic wheels is the most "vertically compliant and laterally stiff" (umm... this one?), or what new products we have in the shop that I think seriously kick honest-to-gawd ass. (Ok... that's actually valid. I should totally do more of that last one. Here's one of them, btw.) But regarding stuff, I'm afraid that my opinions on the various new things that are always pooped out by the industry just aren't particularly strong.
("Yeah... That's pretty neat, I guess. Are we going to go ride bikes or what?")

No. You, my friend, are obviously here for my sprawling reflections on life, thematically and loosely strung together by our shared two-wheeled muse
And if you aren't, then all I can offer you are apologies. (Super sorry!)

For the uninitiated, let me just go ahead and paraphrase every blog post I've ever written and probably ever will write... ever:
I was drunk... I didn't win the race... I'm pretty much a walking trainwreck of a man... I love my son something fierce... something something about Rich Dillen... I tricked a company into thinking I was a VIP... name drop here... name drop there... I was drunk... People ain't no good... my dog Mango ate the panties you left at my house... and did I mention that I'm a mess?

There. No need to even read any further.

And now that that's out of the way, let's ignore everything I just said and get to a narrative about the Wilderness 101.

We all have that unhealthy relationship that despite bringing us nothing but pain, somehow has a deep hold over our life. All it takes is a low cut dress, or well-fitting jeans, or a glimpse of tan-line or inner thigh, or a flash of flirty smile, or a gentle kiss or touch... and we forget every single low point or horrible thing we've endured and dive right back in.
The Wilderness 101 is that 3:00 a.m. booty call that I would willingly self-destruct to answer.

Why? I don't know.
Much of it has to do with Pennsylvania itself. There's something about it... like all of the best aspects of bucolic patchwork and rolling mountains and rivers combined into exactly what I never knew I wanted.
I can't really explain it, but have to admit...I'm totally sweet on PA.
It makes me giddy and reflective, like any good crush should.

So despite being signed up for ORAMM, which disappointingly happened to be on the same weekend this year, I instead decided to drive 8 hours to PA and to spend a brief night in the arms of that crush who will sadly never be mine.

This place sounds pretty cool!
(Just kidding... Sounds like a nightmare.)

I was totally going to rock down to this place... maybe take it higher... but I had other places to be.
Oh no!

Although, there were some snags.
Trying to leave Gettysburg on Friday morning, the Adventure Wagon (ostensibly known as Glenn Vanzig) decided that he (she?) didn't want to start. After about 30 minutes of me pondering what the hell my next step was, a random turning of the key kicked the engine to life. Um... ok.
Stopping for gas in Newport, the she (he?) once again decided not to start. After a half hour of sitting at the pump and turning the key in vain, I pushed the van into a spot and started crawling underneath. Long story short, it has to do with the ignition switch and the starter itself. Lots of heat and fried wires mean that there's no spark to start it.

Pretty sure that's not a good thing.

Playing with the wires and doing everything I could think of, I finally got him (her?) started and made it up to Coburn, snagging a spot next to my friends Shoogs, Jeff, Scott and the other Cadre bastardos.
Naturally, we started drinking beer, and I walked around, greeted the various race friends I have who make the annual pilgrimage to Coburn every year.

Part of my ritual with this race is the Friday night meal at Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks, an amazing little spot in nearby Millheim PA. For the past three years, my partner in this ritual has been the talented and wonderful (and legendarily heartbreaking) Hannah Banana...

...and I admit to being disappointed that she wouldn't be there to join me this year. (Don't tell her I said so.) I'd already failed at one of my rituals, a beery lunch at Otto's in State College, instead having spent that time crawling around under my van. I didn't want to fail again. Knowing that there was a good chance the van wouldn't start if I drove it to Millheim on my own, I solicited a ride with Mike and Laurie Ramponi. I've known Mike for a long while, as we typically trade places more than a few times during these races (that is until he finally passes me for good) and he's thrown up massive quantities of beer right outside my tent at least once.

After a great meal and a few beers, we headed back to Coburn Park for more beers, and eventually and amazingly, I  went to sleep at a surprisingly decent hour. (Shocking(ly))
And after a promising forecast of beautiful blue skies and dry trails, I awoke to this...

Did I say I love you?
I take it back. You're a lying succubus.

Not the first time I've done this race in the rain. Not what I wanted, though.
Alright. Let's go hurt for a while.
As usual, I went out pretty quick, feeling good. Coming down one of the long gravel hills, I couldn't spin my legs fast enough to stay in contact with the lead group, which I'd worked extremely hard to catch up to. I hovered in limbo until the second group came, then hopped on for as long as I could.
I really didn't have any expectations for this race, outside of finishing. I always have hopes of finishing well, but what's the old adage? You can shit in one hand and hope in the other and see which one fills up one of Rich Dillen's drop bags quicker. (Something like that?)
I'd gotten in maybe one month of real riding time, and that was made up of two long rides a week, punctuated by occasional short weekday runs. Sure... I'd like to do well, but the reality was I'd just be faking my way through yet another event, yet again. Whatever. All I really wanted was to steal a kiss from that minx. Maybe nibble an earlobe and cup a cheek.
And I did, as evidenced by the photo of me riding over the very same bridge that left me with a bone-revealing gash on my right leg the first time I ever did this race. This is the first year I've even attempted riding the bridges since then, so shaken was my bridge-riding confidence by that fall. And by the end of this race, when my legs are covered in mud, there's always a void revealing the scar tissue that the mud won't stick to. A nice little reminder.

I weathered some dark times, as usual....  At various points being swarmed by all of the many messes I've made in my life... the people I've hurt and the friends I've lost... my many failings as a person. Demons (and dishes) finding the cracks in my armor and taking every bit of power out of my already cooked legs. At a point, my climbing rhythm became a three-beat cadence, with each downward pedal-stroke punctuated with a word.
The driving mantra becoming:
...repeated over and over. (Good times!)
I don't know what everyone else's "dark place" is like during these races, but that's mine.
It's a therapy session that's just you and a cat-o-nine-tails. Are there any real breakthroughs? Who knows? But there's plenty of blood.
There were other times as well. Fun swooping sections of trail meandering through fern beds... Cresting a hill with a clearing and looking out over the mountains....Dappled sunlight on a rocky trail... Memories of kisses and touches bringing unwitting smiles to my muddy face... Thoughts of someones who either fail to see my failings or see them all too well and still want to know me and share something special making me grin and flush.... Thoughts of a laughing little boyo, dancing and jabbering on and on in a pure little voice about anything and everything, making me laugh out loud...
It's the gamut, and these races... They're the real deal. I'd say you don't know who you really are until you've done a few.

At the first aid station, as I rolled through with my quickly exchanged bottles, Justin from Freeze Thaw handed me a Heineken. I'm ashamed to admit that it was delicious and that it hit me harder than I thought possible. By the time I reached the top of the hill, I was feeling really good.. like, really good... even if my stomach was a little pissed. A little way down the road, my brain overrode my stomach once again (or is it the other way around) and I took a Dos Equis from the unofficial beer-station.
My one criticism of the race... they need more of that kind of thing toward the end. Not just the first half.
In years past, I'd used Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem and Sustained Energy. This time I opted to shove half a ProBar in my mouth whenever I could manage it. That and as many Pringles as I could fit in it at at time. Honestly... as easy as sucking liquid calories down is, this worked just as well. (Except for the flax seeds that kept getting stuck in my chipped tooth.

I'd opted for my custom CYSCO instead of the SIR 9 this go round.

I hadn't gotten an opportunity to bring the Cysco to one of the bigger events yet, and was looking forward to it. I felt bad swapping my Watson ti-bar out for the Niner bar, but wanted Ergon grips and some barends for something this long, and those don't really work well with the Watts bar's curvature.
I considered swapping out tires, but instead just left the Conti Mountain Kings on. Flats have been my nemesis at this event for three years straight, and I didn't want to deal with a brand new tire not sealing. Despite running entirely too much pressure, they did very well, and I didn't flat once.
I did, however, get beat to shit.
The overinflation, coupled with the extremely stiff Whiskey fork totally destroyed me. That fork does really well around the Greensboro trails, and in the shorter and faster courses, but it is not the fork to be riding in a 101 mile race on PA rocks. I definitely lost some time having to occasionally stop and manually unclench my hands from the grips. I might even have cried a little coming down the tail end of rocky doubletrack-hell called Panther Run.
(I am "Crybaby," after all.)
I'd been passed many times by many singlespeeders, and had no clue where I was in the running, but with less than a mile to go, I came across at least one of the people who'd passed me pretty early on, and I put in an effort that I didn't really have in my legs to pass and stay away from him. I came across the line in 8:40ish? Something like that?
Pleasantly surprised to have gotten 8th place.

Sure... one day I'd like to do better. Maybe even snag a real podium spot... but whatever. That would mean actual work and training, and ain't nobody got time for that. Except Gordon Quadsworth. But he's not human. (He smiles too much... that's the dead giveaway.)
Anyway... what I really need to work on is training my face to not always look stupid.

photo cred: Jeremy Palermo

Although much like the chances of me scoring a podium at Wilderness....
I think we both know that's hopeless.
Post race, after hanging out in the river with the other singlespeeders, getting a massage from SSWC'05 winner Buck Keich, eating a few burgers and drinking a lot of pints of Elk Creek Copper Ale (I lost count at eight), I sat with the Cadre boys until the wee hours of the night. Mike Ramponi read everyone's collective minds, and utilizing the abandoned PA system, made a nearly incomprehensible announcement about ordering a "shit ton of pizza" from nearby Millheim.
I didn't think we had it in us to coherently form anything close to a cohesive plan to obtain said pizzas, but we pulled it off... and just before midnight, we were stuffing our faces and breaking into our own stashes of beer, having long killed the kegs.
I eventually crawled into my van, full and happy and tired.
The next morning, Vanzig started up with no issues, although to be on the safe side, I left her running every time I filled up with gas.

Rightly so, because the moment I got back into town and pulled up to the shop, I instinctively turned off the ignition. And could not get her started again... for days.

And then.... And then... And then....
... the story was over, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

Having just returned from a time at the beach, I've got a mountain of things to accomplish at the shop. But everyone is finding their footing and things are finally falling into place. The taps are up and running... We're pouring beer... Selling tons of bikes.... Solidifying our already solid niche.
Having underutilized sunscreen as a result of the expected rain, I got a good bit more sun than I intended, just as I had in PA and in Utah.
And as stressed and burnt as I've felt for the past four months, I'm coming back feeling pretty good.
Maybe it's denial, but I'm looking at it all and I can't help but think:
I ain't burnt. Just golden brown.
Let's go start some fights.

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