Friday, September 11, 2015

Hard Road to Follow

Agony and the Ecstacy
"FUCK!!!!" I screamed.
It burst out of me less as the hoarse, angry bark I intended. And more as a shrill, high-pitched yap.

But I still meant it.

Then... I hoisted the bike over my head... and threw it bodily into the woods, punctuating the act with another "FUCK!!!" This time at a respectable octave.
Still frothing at the mouth, and with spittle running down my chin, I yelled at the bike, now lying prone in the woods, to "FUCK OFF!!!" and threw two middle fingers at it.

You know. I can't say that I've ever thrown a bike-tantrum. Ever. Sure... I've been frustrated. Flats. Wheel dings. No brakes. Shitty nutrition. Shitty fitness. But I usually just sigh, shake my head and say "Seriously...what did I expect? This is me we're talking about. I mean... really?"
This time...something just snapped. Which is particularly ironic (is it? I forget) because I went into the race with a nonchalance that bordered on nihilism. There is no race. And even if there was, it's all meaningless.

I kind of know what it was....that thing that pushed me over the edge. But I'm still processing it. Trying to figure out why it meant anything at all.. because I'd gone into the race caring so very little. And honestly, it's a toss-up between two things:
It was either when the guy with the knee-high compression sleeves passed me...
...or when the guy with no shirt passed me.

Two very different sides of a coin that I'd rather flick at someone's head than use as currency.

But we're not there yet.

The Number of the Beast
Here is Wisdom.
Let Him that hath understanding count the number of the beast.
For it is the number of a man.
And his number is Nine after Six.
                                            -Cunnilingus 13:18

This would be year... something for me and Shenandoah. I don't actually know what number. But complicated calculations determined that it was the sixth year that La Dorita has stowed away and joined me. Which just seems insane. If only because it was one more reminder of how long we've been in Greensboro. And of how old we are. And of... all the things. Life's complicated, you know?

Once again, a stop at Blue Mountain Brewing, where we sampled beer and sized everyone up...playing a game of "Hey... See that guy/girl... Would you?"
(ohmygod, you would?! Gross!)
Then on to Stokesville, where we drove a few circles around the campground before deciding on a spot far from the madding crowd. The van was set up, then down to the swimming hole before getting to it.

Dorrit went to volunteer. And me? I just went and found people to get drunk't with. Which happened in pretty short order, as the kegs were hooked up. Naturally I found Rich up there, along with a motley assortment of usual and unusual suspects.
A very casual perusal of who was there and who was running singlespeed had me once again performing in an off-podium production of whatever race it was that I'd shown up for. As per usual. But whatever.. As I mentioned to Rich while we poured our many beers... what did it matter? 5th, 6th, 7th or 11th. We were still character-actors in this Hollywood motion picture.
Yeah... maybe we could snag some semblance of a lead in an indy flick. Wes Anderson if we were lucky... Lars Von Trier if we weren't.
But the fact was... we were either just comic relief or dramatic foils here to flesh out the story.

Shoogs getting some Buck love.

Mike Comer: I'm stwong! Wike the Hulk!

I wish I was stwong! Wike the Hulk!

At this point, even Dar couldn't follow what Shoogs was saying. Born and bred in Queens, NY or not.

Wait.. who is this guy? Was he mentioned in the pre-race brief? He wasn't, was he?
So seriously... who is he?

Don't you have science to be doing, you drunk fool?

Luckily, Shaggy wasn't racing tomorrow. So I had 12th place in the bag.

Once upon a time, long the idle evening hours before a edict was pronounced of 6 after 9. I believe Shoogs was the orator responsible. 6 beers after 9pm.
By this time, math was getting fuzzy, and the only beer still on tap was a Saison... which, sadly, I found to be a great deal less palatable than the delicious pale ale. But while me may not have managed six after nine.... we absolutely managed nine after six. #nineaftersix. Or twelve after twelve. #twelveaftertwelve. Which, considering the gravity of what we were imbibing, is respectable. Or not... because... Why? We stayed up later than we should have and upon retiring, I'm told that I took many unintentional detours en route to the van. Most of them simply a meandering stumble in various directions.

The morning brought... well...exactly what you'd expect. It wasn't a Watts Fappening hangover... but it wasn't a walk in the park. Coffee. A bagel. A rice cake.
And then....after one extremely unsatisfying bowel movement, we were off.

Damn. I shouldn't have chamois-buttered yet.

Hard Road to Follow
The beginning went decently well. It wasn't until about mile 5 that I really started to feel the hangover. I was sweating. So much. And not a "it's hot out here and I'm working hard" sweat.. even though I was. More like... "ugh...meat sweats." I felt my legs give tell-tale cramp twitches (Well shit. Already?) and my stomach gave me a "Hey man....we might have to poop soon. And by 'might' I mean 'absofuckinglutely.'Just letting you know" nudge.


This was one of the first years I was really showing up with some semblance of fitness. Not race fitness, mind any stretch. But just general fitness. For the first time in what seemed like years, I'd gotten the chance to get out and ride. Mostly on my Ritte Snob. And on those days, I'd just go and try to get as lost as possible. Usually for a hundred or so miles.  Trying to reconnect with the bike and with the terrain. It was working. But inevitably... as lovely and lonely as the places I found were... all the things I'd worked through would accumulate like clouds as I rolled back into Greensboro. This... is not a pretty city. And don't misunderstand what I mean by "pretty." I'll ride by abandoned and decrepit buildings all day. But the moment I roll though generic suburbs and homogenous houses... I just feel... deflated. But that's a rant for another time.

That fitness... was frustrating. Because it meant fuck all.

The amount of pressure I put in my tires was also frustrating.

"Oh shit," I said, pulling my bike off the rack for the first time since I'd arrived yesterday... just minutes away from the start. "I totally forgot to air up my tires." It was dark at the car, and I didn't have a headlamp... but I could see the little arrow on the pump gauge. The one that is usually set at 20psi.
I'm going to guess that constantly pulling it down and putting it away was what was responsible for moving the arrow to somewhere around 30. And trying to be smart (smrt), I erred on the high side. You know... to make sure what happened at Wilderness 101 didn't happen again.

Yeah. Remind me to tell you about that.
Wilderness... you're a dick.
So I started the race with somewhere around 35 psi in the tires...of my rigid hard tail.
It was great until we hit the first descent and I couldn't control the bike for shit. Then I refused to let any pressure out, because my math said that the time it took to do so would actually be greater than the time I lost careening off rocks. Until finally...I couldn't take it anymore. I couldn't keep my hands on the grips anymore, couldn't see the trail, and my brain was in danger of coming out of my mouth.
And don't even talk to me about my bowels. Or how I knew that if I crashed, even a little... I would shit myself so dramatically that legends would be told for centuries.
Needless to say, my time on most of the descents was beyond miserable.

I often tell myself, "I wouldn't be any faster if I ran a suspension fork."
This... is a lie.
I'd forgotten how unforgiving some of the descents at Shenandoah can be. Especially on a rigid. Especially at 35psi. But I've always liked the aesthetic of a rigid singlespeed. And the fact is... I just don't own a suspension fork... and have no real interest in buying one. So... onward and downward. Painfully, as it were.

Punk's Not Dead... It Just Deserves to Die...
My war with the compression sleeved SSer began at the bottom of the second descent. Where it transitions from gnarly to fun and back to a little gnarly...then fun. Where he came up behind me and said something along the lines of "I'm totally railing this descent!" That alone was irksome, my non-"railing" of said descent aside. Just because..."Railing." Ugh.
Then I let him around, saw that he was SS. Rigid. And wearing compression sleeves on his calves.
And I cried.
It harkened back to the discussion Thom and I were having the night before. About everything becoming a "TRI" or "13.1" sticker. I'd say that "SS" is coming. But we all know that already happened. SS is dead, remember?

"Punk's not dead... it just deserves to die, when it becomes another stale cartoon."
                                                                                                         -Jello Biafra
Fuck. Have we become a stale cartoon? And is it stagnation? Or dilution?

Though honestly... come on...punk is totally dead. It died when Tooth & Nail Records killed it. Here's to a day when it pushes a rock aside and rises. And to a day when the word "truth" doesn't mean "bullshit."
Sorry...what were we talking about?

I forget where the shirtless rider passed me. But when he did my entire race changed. I didn't care about my time (I was pretty sure I'd break 9 hours, regardless). I didn't care about my place (6th, 7th, 11th, whatever....) All I cared about was coming in ahead of both of those riders.


I don't know. I don't that I can even begin to explain it. Not in the coherent, manner I'd like. If there even is such a thing, because the more I think about it, the more flustered and confounded I get. Why do I care if some guy wearing no shirt... work gloves... basketball shorts... and dress socks pulled to different heights beats me in the singlespeed category? I mean... If I was dressed like that, I'd think it was hilarious. But... he wasn't dressed that way because it was hilarious. He just...was.

So... when I started riding bikes, I consistently wore a tshirt and cut-off shorts. I never ascribed to an "aesthetic." If anything, I shunned it. When I finally discovered shorts with a chamois, I wore them UNDER my cutoffs. I had this tshirt I bought at a thrift store. It was for Semac Truck Brakes and said "them's the brakes" on the back. I did the Athens Twilight Crit in that tshirt in 1990something...striking my toe-clip pedals in every turn and making many a Cat 5 rider shit their pants. Then I bought a....
Fuck. You know what? This is too big a topic to cram into this post. And it's another post entirely that I've been meaning to write. Aesthetics and cliches. Charisma vs Substance. Punks vs skins. Mods vs Rockers. Things vs Stuff.

And for the moment, anyway...I think I just put my finger on it. At least a good part of it. This guy. This kid...(because he was young)...He reminds me of me, long ago. And the thing about me is... rarely is there a moment that I don't want to beat the everliving shit out of myself.
And being beat by myself in a race? Well... now that is completely unacceptable.

I also just discovered that he is Russian. Which makes absolute sense! In all the ways.

Life's A Dirty Rat
It was when the guy at aid-station 4 told me that I was in 5th place... and that there was a cell of SS riders just ahead. That was when things went awry. I should have stuck with my "so what?" plan. But instead... I let myself be coaxed into that moment of expectation. "I have some fitness... maybe I should try to catch them. Holy shit! Maybe I can snag third?!"
The answer is, of course, NO. But...
So... I turned myself inside out for a little while. Put a lot of distance on the people I wanted to. Passed a rider or two. And could see riders tell-tale SS-grinding up hills just ahead of me. Was that Scott? Oh man.
And then... coming down one of the last hills... something speared my tire and I was spattered with Stan's sealant. I thought it might seal on it's own... and it came close... but I lost too much pressure. And... the ONE thing I'd forgotten to bring to the race was a CO2 inflater. I had plenty of cartridges... but no head. So I threw a tube in... watching at least two SS riders fly by as I worked my ass off to put 20 psi in a tire.
Then I rolled fifty feat down the trail... and flatted again. Apparently whatever speared my tires was still in there. This time... I was fucked. Because I had no more tubes. I watched them all ride by. All of them.
At which point... I lost it.
It was a culmination of all the things, really. All of them. Manifesting itself as rage at that moment. And set off by the disappointment of having worked so hard, of having suffered so brutally for some late-made goal....only to have it all mean fuck all. I threw the bike. Cussed. Spit. Flicked it off. Told it to fuck off.
Then... like a pouty child, I stomped into the woods, and dragged it out, hauling it petulantly by the front wheel. Resorting to screaming hulk yanks when it would snag on a branch. Then I rolled it down the hill, and watched it endo its way into the woods... riderless.
I grabbed it again, and alternated between running and walking down the hill until Mike finally rode by and threw me a tube, witnessing one final, querelous huffy-toss on my part.

To be sure. I could have used a hard slap at that moment. Because something had and was unfolding that day that should have put it all into very shameful perspective.

By the time I limped over the line, I had fallen back to 10th place.
I rolled across the line just under 9 hours. Which would have been fine... but now I felt dumb. About everything.

We all went swimming...drank beer... got drunk... celebrated our victories (Dahn) and mediocrites (me). Got interviewed. Rubbed our legs. Pulled up our socks. Laughed. Fought.

H-Ball and Shoogs.

Watts deep Podium. Again.
Congrats to Dahn Pahrs who worked his ass off for a well deserved victory.

Whiskey and champagne.

Dicky creeping on my interview. 
Update: Interview is up.
Or you can watch me squirm during Dicky's.

As we sprawled out on the grass celebrating and struggling... there were whispers that someone had died out on the course that day. No one knew anything, so we couldn't confirm it. And no one knew what to do or say. What DO you do or say? For many reasons... my mirth had gone anyway... and wasn't coming back. I retired early. Ghosting without ever saying goodbye to my friends.

It turns out that a rider did, indeed die. The result of a crash. His name was Ross Hansen and he was from Long Island, NY. From what I'm told, he was, on every level, a solid individual with infectious enthusiasm. I will never dare to say that dying in the pursuit of something you love is worthwhile... because dying, however we do it... is always a tragedy. And the pain that accompanies it... for everyone... is impossible to assuage with some trite summation about the pursuit of those moments before...the moment.
But dying... while living... while not idly sitting still and watching while the things you want pass by... however we do it...
There is no other way.
What I'm struggling to say is...don't let those moments and things you want pass by while you hide from death.
Because all the restraint and control in the world won't keep you from dying. But it might keep you from living.

Here's to Ross.

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