Friday, June 9, 2017

Dirty Kanza: Party Crasher

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

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

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

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

I was empty. 

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

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

Like I said... empty.

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

This was one of those times.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My dark place had officially found me.

I wonder if Jason the dog has dark places. 

Who am I kidding? Jason is darkness incarnate.

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

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

Hey guys... we... won?

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

A word or two about Dorrit.

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

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

She was also my crew. And she nailed it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or at least close to the lead group. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And if I don't?

Maybe it's for the best.

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


  1. I was off the whip for a long time, even started to run. It got that bad. But I was the jackfool saying hello at Mulreadys. I'll be there next year looking for the cave o' pain. later.

    1. A pleasure to meet you, Sniffer. I suspect... that I'll see you next year.

  2. Nice work sir.
    I was watching for you at the 2 check points I worked but never saw you. I saw Dorrit at the 50 mile check point and intended to wander over to say hi but no sooner than my crew and I were set up for our riders they all started to arrive. Got busy lubing chains, you must have passed through cause she and your VW vanished.
    Good times this year. I was glad for the riders and myself in my support roll that it was dry.
    Sorry I missed the chance to slap hands with you Friday night. Maybe next time.

    1. Zeke! Bummed we couldn't hook up. Hopefully I'll see you at something soon.

  3. Sounds like you'd enjoy dirtbagging the ride next year. I highly recommend it.

  4. I'm desperately trying to keep this imp of jealousy within... but it keeps poking its little head out of my brain; dancing on my back and saying "see, you should have done it, could have done it and crewed at RAAM." Maybe, maybe not; it's all in hindsight anyway and that's always the best sight; amirite? Keep rocking Watts... I'll get there, eventually.