"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.
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.
|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.
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!
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... 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!"
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.