the bad place

the bad place

Friday, October 15, 2021

PMBAR: Back to Playing the Crying Game

My butthole was destroyed.

Nearing a paltry seven hours of constant riding, hiking, pushing, fording, falling, and carrying, with too many more to come, I was already raw. And outside of the rivers and creeks and wet trails, the uncommon fall humidity was ensuring that my kit, particularly my bibs, never dry. So that all of the spandex-filtered trail detritus, grit, and salt I'd been slowly accruing in there was now colluding with that moisture to sand down all my sensitive bits. And I was becoming hyper aware of all the places I'd missed during my application of chamois creme. Places outside the normal purview. Enough so that by the time we finished however many hours from now, some blood stains in my post-race boxer briefs were a given.

So you can imagine my mood. 

Versigtig, ek's nog steeds fokken giftig.

Yes. I realize that it's been almost two years since I've written a thing here. Or anywhere, really. What can I say? My spark went out. Or rather... I let it. For the past few years, like all too many of us, I've just been sleep walking through the days, and through increasingly destructive patterns of intentional isolation, too much work, not enough travel, an excess of empty bottles, and very sporadic pockets of any real quality time on the bike. All of which leads to a decided lack of spirit, much less any feelings of creativity. And the process of crawling back has been a bit like trying to start a fire with so much wet wood. Doable, but difficult. And yet, well... here I am... watching the exhausted Moleskine notepad I just lit with a match burn in a pile of relatively dry kindling. Who knows? Maybe something will catch.

For the first time in too many weeks, things were actually falling into place. The Van of Constant Sorrow was not only drivable, but capably so. Oil leaks were fixed, wiring issues were solved, wheel noise was gone. (I even had fancy new bumpers and a legitimate hitch rack. Like a big boy.) I had full coverage at the shop for the weekend. Childcare was handled. My bike was ready. And I was getting out of town at a reasonable time. What? The? Shit?

Arriving just prior to dusk, I met up with my other life-partner Rich and we secured our usual primo camping spots at the start/finish. Then we rode to the HUB to pick up our numbers, and missing the beer cut-off, headed on over to Oscar Blues Brewing in the pleasant chill of a mountain evening. Even the shit show of a college homecoming and multitude of drunk white yuppies (yuppies are still a thing, right?) and the cringingly loud band covering Steve Miller's "The Joker" that greeted us couldn't dampen my relatively dry spirits. 


"The Face of Chaos"and Dr. Mike. And me.

We drank too much. That's a given. But less in that sad way we've all been drinking too much lately, and more in a pleasant spirit of muted and cautious camaraderie, a thing I've simply not been a part of for a bit. So it felt, if not triumphant, then... totally fine. 

The next morning brought only mild headaches and plenty of time to sip coffee and gather our gear for the 8:30 start. Shuffling around in a state of decadent unpreparedness among what seemed to be too many fully kitted racers all ready to go. At which point Rich informed me that he was wrong, and that we actually had less than 15 minutes to get ready. Not 45. Which, if you've ever seen me before any race start, just meant that I was now completely in my element. Let rapid entropy commence. 

Five checkpoints, three of them mandatory. A few rules regarding off limit roads and glamour paths, but otherwise, bag them however you see fit. Once again, I left navigation completely up to Rich. Not only does he relish such things, but I just have no clue. I should. But I don't. It's like a mental block with Pisgah. Directionally it's less of a nautical star to me and more of a möbius strip. I can no more point north when I'm there than I can tell you which trail is Buckbeak and which one is Bearbutt. (Pretty sure it's the one with the wet, off-camber roots. Wait...)

After a cursory look at the map and some vocalizing of intent to the ether, (or to me, for all the good it does) Rich folded it away and said "Let's go." And thus began an eleven and a half hour day of occasionally riding, often pushing, sometimes descending, but always struggling. During a podcast one time, I erroneously stated that typical PMBAR mileage is in the range of thirty. I was apparently on crack when I said this. We were looking at a minimum of seventy five, and that included teleportation. 

How to Train Your Butthole.

It had rained for over a week in the mountains, so everything was wet. Even the gravel roads had a spicy element of hot, sexy, drag. Soft spots that made you work harder than you wanted to move forward at a snail's pace. Parts of trails were drying, but the roots were still ice-slick with humidity, and staying clipped in and upright on some bench-cuts was proving difficult. For me, anyway. A multitude of micro-crashes and stumbles was getting in my head. During one fast gravel descent, while trying to shove a food in my mouth with one hand, the other slipped off my handlebar. I somehow managed to catch myself and steer my bike into a ditch, thus turning a day-ending and possibly life-changing crash into a minor skirmish. But it did a number. Cuts and bruises on my hip and elbow. My ass. My confidence. And my ego.

"Aren't you, like... @thegravelassassin or something?" Rich asked. 

"No. I say you he dead."

Somewhere near hour nine, Rich broke the news to me: ten hours probably wasn't in the cards. "Do you think we'll make it in before dark?" "Hopefully?" he shrugged, offering me a handful of gummy bears. But by now, I was done with gummies, even if I was out of food. I'd gagged twice on the last handful. I think one of the things that makes PMBAR so difficult comparative to other races is nutrition. It seems to be harder to eat and drink in ways that make sense. I don't know. Maybe some of that is the singlespeed. Those times when you can settle in and spin (and eat) just don't exist. Climbs that on a geared bike would be a great place to soft pedal and root around in pockets or open packets are, instead, full body endeavors:  Out of the saddle exercises in strength and leverage. Flat sections? They don't exist. This is Pisgah. And descents? Don't do it. (See above). And some of it is just stubbornness. We call it "packless PMBAR" and it basically means carrying as little as possible based entirely on our hubris of self-expectation. For example: Lights? If they hadn't been mandatory, I wouldn't have carried them. And I'd have been a very sad boy for the last hour of riding. 

I can't even tell you where we went, save that all of it was familiar. "The wheelchair ramp." The Butthole. Pilot. Clawhammer. Squirrel. Bennet. Some of it was glorious. Some of it terrible. All of it was beautiful. I may not know where we were, but Rich does. And I'm thankful for that. And I'm thankful for him dragging me along when what I want to do is sit in a creek and make cry-y faces. I seriously don't know where he gets his energy. It's not from food, because from a nutrition standpoint, I absolutely consumed more calories than he did, and I was STILL falling apart. I think Pisgah is just one of his happy places. I'm still looking for mine.  

Endurance racing is, in too many ways, just a mirror. And mirrors, for all their simplicity, are complicated things. Because you never know what you're going to get, even if it's all just a spectrum of the same fucking thing. There are those days where the angles align, and some trick of good light presents a you that seems, if not close to, then at least pointing in the direction of the who and what and where you want to be. And there are others, where every grizzled line, shadow, and blemish staring back at you are just another sobering reminder that beneath a veneer of time spent on self-improvement and growth, you are still the shit show you expected.

PMBAR, for whatever reason, has always been the equivalent of me in a gas station bathroom, illuminated by dim but glaring fluorescent overheads, and staring in dismay at my increasingly scabrous face. A juxtaposition of simultaneous gaunt and bloat. In that all of the positive habits and actions I try to cultivate in my life vanish in the face of adversity and I'm laid bare. Pouty, it turns out, rather than pensive. Melodramatic, rather than melancholy. Unstable... rather than stoic. I felt useless, because I had nothing to offer. No wisdom regarding route or pacing. No amazing fitness to carry us through. No sagacity regarding nutrition and hydration. I was Rich's old, fat, temperamental dog who he mistakenly thought would be fun to bring on a ride. And currently I was lying in a manure filled mud puddle refusing to budge. 

Strong boy.

Somewhere on Maxwell, I realized we were done. The final climb before the descent down Black to the finish, I'd been here many times before. Though now Rich was fading. I suspect most of that was the dawning dread that we were finishing after dark. And the emotional exhaustion of having to haul me around for a day. Even with lights that wouldn't stay in place, (because poor planning) the descent down the new Black was a damned treat. A buff and fast bench cut where there used to be a rutted out chute of rooty horror. I approve. And then we were there, crossing the line to a smattering of applause.

"Fourth," Eric told us. Meh... it didn't matter. We were done. Wait, what? Fourth overall? Second singlespeed? Alright, we accept. A minor victory in the face of our decrepitude, especially considering we had rolled across the line assuming that everyone had already finished. A cursory (and very painful) wet-wipe and bottle water clean up next to my van. Podium shots in the dark. Then drinking lots of Crank Arm beer and eating the simplest, but most delicious post-race burritos in the business. Swapping stories of woe with the mud encrusted husks of people crossing the line over the next few hours. 

John Haddock is a bucket.

"Ow. My butthole."

Apparently only 25% of the field finished this year. On a beautiful, clear day in October. That says something. There are longer day-races, to be sure. And harder ones. But not many. And we weren't even "racing." In that while yes, we did ride consistently, we were never in the fight or flight mode that comes from actual competition. Even when we knew that Jarz and Haddock were probably only a few minutes ahead of us. Meanwhile, I've aggressively chased Rich up and down these very same hills in races like the 111k that we're pitted against each other and felt fresher. So I can't quite put my finger on what it is about PMBAR that makes it so challenging. Fuck. I guess I better come back next year to figure it out. 

Incidentally, I tried to snap a few pictures of my butthole in the port-a-potty that night so that I could see the extent of the damage, and I even considered including them here. But they were honestly so visually disturbing that I just couldn't. Imagine taking a close up of your 45 year old butthole on a good day. Now, imagine its worst day ever. Imagine it.

Hey... have a great weekend!

I am awaited in Valhalla!


Monday, October 28, 2019

Van of Constant Sorrow, Part Four: A Nose for Emnity.

I could feel the thread unraveling. And I was compounding it. Worrying the ends with fractured starts and stops. When a dismissive wave of a hand and a "Ha! Nevermind. I'm drunk" would have sufficed, I was starting to expound. Tripping over an increasingly muddled vocabulary. Dyslexically swapping the order of words to create nonsense sentences. Then repeating iterations of the same theme with decreasing levels of coherence. 
All in the name... of an extremely inebriated and bizarrely timed rant regarding "the pathetic and desperate sexuality of men over forty." 


Who even knows why. Maybe it was a thing someone said. Or maybe it was the ubiquitous mirror of middle aged men wandering around, not so discreetly checking out the ass of everything that walked by. Or maybe it was just a thing that often and unkindly occurs to me in those times I overexamine my own august and ripe, and likely suffocating, tendency toward romanticism. But what I was ultimately trying to get at was... 

... god... men over forty are so fucking gross. 

case in point
But I digress.

After forcing Rich to ride with me to Pedaler's Pub for curry fries and beers, we went back to the race start/finish to watch the pros ride their mountain bikes around in circles for the Fat Tire Crit. There we found the beer tent and met up with my friends Thomas and Gabbi, who had recently moved to Bentonville and who were helping out with the event. Incidentally, you might remember Thomas and Gabbi from such films as "That Long-Ass Marriage Proposal at The Dirty Kanza Awards Ceremony One Year." Congrats, you crazy kids. 

By the by, check out Thomas' company, Maker and Racer... then buy stuff.

Once the races were over, we jumped in Thomas' "not as cool as mine but maybe it consistently starts" van and headed to a venue called "the Holler" where Gabbi joined us for more drinks. At some point I got up to order more beer and some well-deserved nachos, and returned to find Rich already eating a nearly full plate of them, apparently abandoned by some nearby patrons. FYI, Rich may have a million theories and practicums regarding weight and nutrition and race-performance and recovery... but uneaten-mystery-nachos-left-by-total-strangers-who-might-for-all-we-know-have-the-plague-or-mouth-leprosy is pretty much his go-to once beer four is in his system. 
It was somewhere during this time at the Holler that I delivered my soliloquy regarding the grotesque decrepitude of my cis species. The rest is a blur. We apparently made it back to our hotel that night, because we woke up there a few hours later... pulled on our kits... and headed to the race start.
And started.

It wasn't until mile 20 that my hangover began in earnest. Manifesting itself as a crushing headache, exacerbated by dehydration, the stubborn refusal to drink anything from my bottles, and likely precipitated by a good bit of frustration regarding our current predicament. 
Not angry frustration, mind you. More... exasperation. 

"Hey Rich... a guy just passed us wearing Peloton sweatpants."
No comment.
"Hey Rich... Peloton. You know, like the...
"Like the indoor bike, I got it."
"Yeah. Like that. Like the indoor bike. Peloton...  Sweatpants... "
A groan.

We'd already made the decision not to race. We were just there to fuck around. Stick together. Enjoy a long ride on fun trails. But we'd still kind of fucked up. The start was a long road, greenway, and gravel grind out to the trails of the Back Forty in nearby Bella Vista, where we would work our way back to Bentonville on the very extensive network of amazingly accessible single-track. And I wasn't trying... but a race start is a race start. You just kind of hang on to the train. But Rich wasn't hanging on. He was, if anything, drifting back. Some of it was gearing. I'd opted for the "I'm too lazy to change out my 34x19 and I'm sure it will be fine, whatever, fuck it, I hate everything." While he'd thoughtfully opted for a 32x19. And that's Pisgah gearing. Which is great for climbing, but shite for flat. And this start... was flat. So everyone was passing us as we just putzed along. Including Peloton Sweatpants. At a point, I tried to encourage Rich to step it up. Just because. But...
"I'm pegged," he said (and no, I don't think he knows what that means. Shhhh.). "My heart rate is 170."
"What?! No way. I'm at 136." 
Thus began a consistent and nonsense comparison of our heartrates for the next few hours (and days), wherein we discovered that I tend to operate at almost exactly 30 beats a minute less than him, whatever our effort.
And no... I don't know what that means, if anything. Because Rich has destroyed me at more events than I care to remember. But whatever the case... at that moment, I was barely working, while he was already... ummm... "pegged."
So I backed off... and as we casually cruised along, we watched rider after rider pass us. In various states of overdress, involving large flapping jackets and plastic bags protruding from their shoes. And giant backpacks. So many giant backpacks. Which was fine. Because who cares. Not me. See? I don't care. At all. Hardly. Pffft. It just meant that by the time we hit the trail, we were in a really bad place. Like... really bad. Really. Because as is too often the case, a very curious cross-section of people with seemingly very limited handling skills had seemingly worked very hard to get up toward the front... only to then seemingly display very poor trail etiquette by refusing to let other riders pass. We were now somewhere in the middle of a very long conga line of dabbing and dismounting at any and every root and rock in the trail that maybe looked kind of wet. Or you know... dry.  
Which was fine. If anything it was... funny? We weren't racing. (Oh, did I mention that?) But riding a single-speed really slowly up a hill is wayyyyyy harder than riding one quickly. And this train was riding up hills really, really, really slowly. 
And look... I'm really not trying to be an asshole... but I literally cannot understand what the fuck it was that people were carrying in their hydration packs. This was a fully supported 50 mile race that never passed more than one mile away from "civilization." But throughout the day, as we worked our way on and up, we passed multitudes of riders who looked as if they were doing La Ruta completely unsupported. Daypacks full of picnics and supplies and... what?
It reminded me of this...

Comparatively, Rich and I looked naked. 

Maybe it was a practice run? Getting ready for a big event that required carrying lots of gear. Or maybe... they were all just carrying multiple spare tires. Because from the beginning, we saw rider after rider on the side of the trail, repairing flats. I mean... it happens. And you feel bad. But you also feel judgey. Because maybe they should have considered something a little better, right? Maybe something with some sidewall protection, huh? Maybe they should have thought this through? Maybe they should have... fuck. 
Rich flatted dramatically on a trail called "the ledges." I saw the rock,  just after he hit it... jutting out of the tangled mass of concoidally fractured sandstone and shale. The kind of Paleolithic axe-edge that the thought of accidentally falling on gives you Where the Red Fern Grows shivers. Even with a boot, the aftermath was a mess... a rubber hemorrhoid grotesquely protruding through the sidewall of his tire. It took a while to even patch it.
Fortunately, I was in a good place.

Not long before, we'd turned the corner and found an oasis. The bacon wasn't done yet, but they had these. And more. I was ready to pull up a chair and start heckling for the next hour, but we'd worked our way through A LOT of riders... and the idea of having to pass them all over again... won out. We drank and rolled onward. Until Rich's mishap. 

Oh hey there, cowboy.

You pegged?

Rich wasn't the only casualty. The Ledges took out so many riders. From our vantage point on the bluff, we could see people all along the trail dealing with tire issues. And once we were moving, we passed a slew of the people who'd just passed us (and who had likely had the same judgey thoughts about our tire choice that we'd had of theirs). Less than a mile after spending upwards of fifteen minutes taking in the scenery while Rich fixed his tire, I felt the tell-tale wobble of a flat on my Cysco. Damn. I pumped it up and hoped for the best. Fortunately, the Notubes sealant inside did its job and I had no more issues for the rest of the trip.
I haven't verified it, but I heard a rumor about a statistic that at last year's Oz Off Road, only four of the pro-men didn't get flats. Yeah, you read that right. Only four didn't get flats. 
To Rich this was unconscionable. There is too much money on the line to allow racers to be taken out by one errant rock on a notoriously dodgy section of trail. But to me... that's just riding. The risk is inherent. And if you're in it to win it, you'd consider just running this section. Or... just carrying a giant expedition hydration pack full of enough gear to spend the next week exploring The Ledges.
Apparently locals don't frequent this particular section of trail. Because that's potentially an easy $80 day.

We hit another aid station less than 15 miles from the finish, and once again, I wanted to just sit in the sun and drink beer and eat meat. Which we did for a little while. But eventually that low-level anxiety of having to pass all the riders we'd just passed got the better of us. And we rolled out. So close.

The not-so-many expressions of Rich.

It was beautiful and  sunny, but days of nonstop rain had definitely left their mark. Sections of greenway were still underwater. At least one hub-deep roll through a tunnel that was probably knee deep when the first riders came through hours before. 
The trails, which I have to admit were amazing, alternated between being probably too sloppy to ride to "absolute perfection" (ugh) But the beauty of the Bentonville singletrack is that the money and infrastructure is there to fix them. Even if the event caused some damage, there's resources (cough, Waltons, cough) to put into getting them right again. So that events like this can happen, even when they probably shouldn't. 
We actually rode with one of the Walton sons for a good part of the morning. I'd had this hunch. A rider decked out in full Rapha keeping pace with us as we worked through the sea of massive hydration packs. Connecting random facts in my head. "Huh. Rapha. You don't see a ton of mountain bikers wearing full Rapha kits.. Maybe the occasional classic jersey, but not this full get up. Huh. Didn't the Waltons just buy Rapha? Huh... didn't I hear this group of riders talking about "local knowledge" a little bit ago. Huh... you know what? I fucking bet this is one of the Walton boys. 
And sure enough.
I mean... good to see someone actually put their feet where there money is. (That's a saying, right?)

Though I have complicated feelings about that all. I appreciate what is happening in Bentonville. It makes for an amazing destination and it is inspiring to see wealthy people invest in their community. But... imagine if even just some of that money, instead of being directed at making Northwest Arkansas a mountain bike Mecca, was invested back in communities where Walmart has historically taken a giant shit on the local economy and drained the lifeblood of the community. Helping build a network of trails in, say, some rural South Carolina town where small independent businesses can no longer thrive in the shadow of the Super Center. Helping make these places potential riding destinations where local businesses could take advantage of the sudden flood of entitled white men and their two wheeled mid-life crises. I mean... how hard would it be?

Think about it.

I don't even know what our time was when we finished. Five hours? Six? More? I do know that we were apparently second to last out of the singlespeeds. But I was ok with that. I'm really enjoying this not-racing thing of late. (I forget... Did I mention that?) True Grit. Rooted Vermont. Oz Offroad. I would stop and take pictures. Drink beers wherever they were offered. Not stress about time or place. But still feel a nice tingle in my legs of a long day on the bike. I got nothing to prove these days. I mean... pffft...  until I do.
We basked in the sun at the finish line like drunk little cobras. Until it was time to put some food on top of the multiple beers we'd imbibed, lest things start to go south.

I have no real rituals when I travel... and if I do, I try to change them out of spite, because rituals become routines, and god, I fucking hate routines. But there are still places I like to revisit when I'm on the road. And when I'm in Bentonville, much like my curry fries at Pedaler's Pub... if possible, I like to get coffee at Onyx, eat some food at Tusk and Trotter... and get cocktails at 21c. So I dragged Rich to the former for burgers... and then made him sit with me in the roomy gloaming of the 21c bar while I drank damned good Gin and Tonics... wandered around looking at art...
...and tried not to think about the fact that we were now on the downhill slope of our odyssey.
Reality was nigh.


Thursday, October 24, 2019

Van of Constant Sorrow, Part 3: Get Down, Posers.

I was having a moment.

The kind of moment that...  catalyzed as it may be by the sudden and persistent creaking of a bike, has nothing to do with anything happening in the myopic now.
The kind of moment.... that if you think about it for even a second, has everything to do with the contained multitudes that you're currently running away from (or towards?)
The kind of moment... that is very much the culmination of your very poor compartmentalization of  "life stuffz."
The kind of moment... from which no possible good can come.

The kind of moment... where you pick your bike up over your head and throw it into the woods.

(le sigh)

We were riding Syllamo. And it was actually glorious. Sure, we had discovered at least 1000 different species of spider. Specifically, species of spider that like to build webs across trails. And sure, we'd descended a very long way and were about to pay for that. And sure... my bike really was creaking. Like... a lot.
But the trail was sooooo good. Sometimes tight and claustrophobic. Sometimes exposed bench cuts with views of the Ozarks. Rock slabs.Roots.  Gnarly in places. A goddamn pleasure in others.
Rich had a theory. It was my paragon rocker-dropouts. They were just dry after days of riding in dry conditions. I should take them apart and apply a thin layer of grease. My counter-argument that "Yea, but I already done that!" fading on my lips as I reconciled the fact that yeah... I had... but very, very long ago.

My chagrin at the tantrum was minimal. I mean, I wasn't proud. But I had too many other things on my mind to feel embarrassed by this particular outburst. That's forever the beauty and curse of a longish ride. Even as you navigate the crux of some rocky drop, or technical switchback, or grind your way up a loose, gravely climb, you're still always still processing the stupidity of "ugh... money!" or "I'm failing as a parent!" or "shit... did that order get placed?!" or "what am I even doing with my life?!" or "why don't they fucking respond to my text?!"
(Though I admit, I was disappointed to have lost a water bottle to my stupidity)

Hi Rich.

Rich... Hi.

Hey Rich. Hi.


We finished up just as the sun was going down. Loaded the bikes. Drank recovery beer. Cleaned up. Consulted the Five Apps.* Plotted progress.
*(soon, I promise)
I jumped into the driver's seat and turned the key... to a familiar wingey chug with no spark. Again. Then again.
Then... again.

This time, I'll admit, I felt a bit deflated. I still had confidence that the van would start. I just didn't know when. And it's one thing when it's just me... but other people were relying on me. Not to mention that the cuteness of this "not starting" phase was (pardon me) starting to wear off.
Also it was starting to rain.
Rich ate Spaghetti-o's and drank a Coors in the back, and incidentally, did a marvelous job of not seeming stressed while I rested my head on the steering wheel and said super intense and broody things like "well, poop."
It was dark now. And the rain was getting worse. And my mood was sinking.

Trying again... for no reason that I can discern, the van fired to life... (that'll do, pig).

Leaving Syllamo, we twisted our way through the dark hills and on to a campground at Bull Shoals. Accustomed, as I am, to simply wet-wiping my taint and sleeping in whatever parking lots look quiet and convenient... being in proximity to a bathroom and a shower was a decadent treat. And I availed myself of both; spending too much time trying to stay warm beneath a very weak stream of not-so-hot water, drinking my not-so-cold beer. Not nearly as satisfying as I'd hoped, but alas...
It was raining in earnest now, and that made for good sleeping. There's something immensely cozy about being warm and dry inside a vehicle when it's pouring out. Although... throughout the night, I kept feeling this occasional drop of water on my face. I attributed it to the rubber seals in the sunroof and side windows of the hightop on the Adventurewagen. The ones I need to replace fairly soon. But as it turns out.... I'd simply left the driverside window wide open, and the wet I felt was just the wind blowing rain everywhere. Like... EVERYWHERE. No wonder we had been so cold in the wee morning hours... Rich disappearing into the cocoon of his sleeping bag, and me piling any and all blankets I could find on top of me.

Admittedly, the wet driver-seat and gear was dampening my already dampened morning spirits, but the van-coffee helped. I sat on a tablecloth that lives in the van for no real reason, Rich navigated the labyrinth that is paying for a campsite, and we drove onward to Bentonville.
As we got closer to our destination, I might have asked Rich to check the weather at least 50 times. Because it was still shit outside. Cold and gray and wet. Really wet. He assured me there would be sun, but I was dubious. Just before pulling up to our hotel, we crossed a threshold in the clouds, and suddenly the sun was out. Gloriously so.

Once in the hotel room, I could tell Rich was in his happy place. He was no longer completely out of control of his destiny. I got it. He bustled about, unloading things and organizing, making us cups of shit coffee... while I just stood in front of my pile of things and stared into space.

Off to the pro-meeting... our first obligation of the day. Though there was some confusion as to why it was an obligation, seeing as we weren't pros, and our designation as "media" was extremely loose at best. I mean... does my internationally ignored blog count as "coverage?" We stood around and did our best to put names to faces of various pros. There's Geoff Kabush. Wait... is it? Where are his chops? Is he bald now? He looks so young. Is he younger than us? Then how has he been racing for longer? Was he just a fucking kid back then? And there's Kate Courtney. No wait.. that's Kate Courtney. Nope. Right the first time. And there's... the guy from Red Bull with the mustache. Lachlan McMustache. No. Payson McMustache. No, wait, that's the guy with the mustache. Shit, there are a lot of mustaches in here. So who's that guy? Does Lachlan even race mtb? There's that guy. Long hair O' Houlihan. Have I met him before? Oh hi, Kaysee. Hi Vicki. There's... Wait, that guys a pro? No way.
Knowing that pros were looking at us and thinking the same thing. "Those guys? No way."
Rich did get a call out from the race promoter, Todd, during the meeting though. "Dicky! I've been trying to get you to come to one of my races for years." Everyone turning around and scratching their heads in confusion. Dicky sinking into himself.

Once out, I demanded we go find food and beer at Pedaler's Pub.

Because I needed some fucking curry fries.

Next up: Part... goddamnit, I can't keep this up. How does Dicky do it?
Part something... featuring the night before and the morning after. Promise.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Van of Constant Sorrow Part 2: Oblivion, Oblivion.

Even when I can feel every wall of the trash compactor that is my life pressing hopelessly in... I'm actually pretty damned good at falling asleep. Wherever and however.
The danger is and has always been in waking up. 
Turning over or getting up to pee... I have to be extremely mindful of remaining mindless. Because if I acknowledge even one of the thoughts that is swarming around my head... it's over. All of the failings and bills and loss and fuck ups that I've been swatting away will find that one little hole in the shelter I built for the night, and come pouring in. And while I can and will (and always do) handle that in the daytime... I really prefer not to knife-fight my existential anxiety at 3am in the morning. Much less from the not-so-high-ground of a blanket on a couch in a friend's grown-up house that already makes me feel like an errant fucking child who will never have any semblance of my shit together. A house complete with non-sagging bathroom floor, windows and doors that actually close all the way, and a kitchen sink that you don't turn on with a screwdriver.

(Yeah... I turn my sink on with a screwdriver. What?)

But while stumbling into walls looking for the bathroom in the early hours, I'd made that accidental eye contact with an anxious thought, so I had a good ol' time dodging and stabbing and blocking and cutting... until Rich and Scott finally woke up.

Hey ice machine.

We weren't moving particularly fast. 
Unknown circumstances were muddling my clarity. I remember a brewery. And I remember... a bar. Next to TVB? And beer. And... a midnight hot dog at said bar. And... then a negroni. And then... more negronis? And then... I remember Rich eating a Tupperware full of mystery pasta from Scott's fridge. And charcuterie. And grapes. And a somewhat drunk collaboration on a word-salad that included such staples as "the bike industry" and "love" and "sex rooms" and "married people" and "sleepy cocaine." Until we all retired to our respective rooms and I wrapped myself in a blanket on the couch and audibly told my head to "leave me the fuck alone" for the umpteenth time.

Drinking coffee and eating a healthy breakfast prepared by Scott, we pieced our night together and I consulted the Five Apps* to plot out the day.
*(more on that next time)

I was eyeing Land Between the Lakes, as I knew the camping and riding was good, but decided to save it for the return trip... so a southern route won out.  Somewhere near Nashville to ride... then somewhere toward Memphis to sleep.
I was underwhelmed. As per Rich, my exact words regarding what we found were "shit trails in garbage woods."
Allow me to explain.
The trails weren't really shit. They were... fine. They were sinuous and technical. Rocky. Rooty. They just were very much like the trails I ride every day. And that just wasn't the epic amazing I was looking for at that particular moment... in my frenzy of escapism. Limestone or not.
And "garbage woods?" That's harsh... I know. All woods are good. I just mean that this was one of those areas that had obviously been clearcut in the last half-century and what was growing was a tangled mess of briers, invasives, and transition. That dense thicket of suburban forest that seems to lend itself to collecting trash. Appliances, Dasani bottles, diapers, and needles. You know?
After riding the twelve mile loop, we sat in the parking lot, debating our next move. I weighed in: "Man... I'd rather not ride that trail again. It wasn't doing anything for me. There's something down the road just a little. Let's go see what that's like."
So we chamois-drove our way down the road.

When we arrived at the trailhead of Montgomery Bell, I realized I'd actually ridden there before. On one of my previous westward Odysseys.
It had been just as perplexing then.
Lots of intersections to accidentally go the way you just came from. I distinctly remembered the trail known as "Downhill" and how it had seemed... a) not particularly great... nor b) particularly "downhill." Nonetheless, we started to ride it this time. Until I noted the leaf cover, caught my fifth spider web to the face in 50 feet, and remarked on how it seemed very... "underused" compared to anything we'd ridden thus far. So we turned around... and finally found the good stuff. Just in time for it to get dark. We rode everything backwards. In the wrong order, apparently.
I was fine with that.

Baffled or not, we'd enjoyed and successfully managed to exhaust ourselves. The trails were similar to our first stop, with no shortage of roots and rocks... but they had more personality. Creek crossings and climbs. Old growth trees.
Mission accomplished?
Nearby Mexican food and big beers won out over parking lot Coors and Spaghetti-O's... and we headed down the road to sleep at Natchez Trace.

That night, listening to Rich semi-snore next to me, I dreamt about meticulously peeling red grapes and convincing my bank to let me date its recently divorced daughter.
No... I don't know what it means either. Sounds important.

The Scream
Next up: Part... whatever. (Hush. We'll get there. I mean... I'm writing. Aren't you proud of me?)


Friday, October 18, 2019

Van of Constant Sorrow Part One: The Sads and the Fury

If Rich was panicking, I couldn't tell. But at mile zero of our odyssey, the tone was already set:

"It'll start... it'll start. It just... don't worry... it'll start." Turning the key to a wingey chug with no fire. Backing off and trying again. More wingeing. Giving it a moment and trying once more. Then again. Stressing the starter and eventually just flooding the engine.
"Ok, let's... we just need to let it sit for a while. It'll start."

More like DADventurewagen... amiright?

And it would.
I had full confidence in that. It's... just a cute little phase the van is going through these days.
Not starting sometimes.
It's... cute.

The plan? End up in Bentonville, Arkansas by the weekend. At the very least in time for our event on Saturday.
The course? Errrr....

Despite the ambiguity in our trajectory, I'd actually thought about our potential meandering and where it should take us quite a bit. I just... thought about it in that way that I tend to think about things. Less a linear timeline of sense and sensibility and more an accidental (or intentional?) conflagration in the fireworks store. One thousand points of exploding light. In every direction.

We'd roughly agreed on Knoxville as our first stop, but I'd imposed two very strict caveats on our trip.

One: Avoid rain.
Two: Wait for no one.

Number one is a no brainer. If you have fluidity of choice, you seek aridity. If your destination shows unridable wet, but you could find sun and warmth instead... fucking duh!
Knoxville was looking dicey. Potential storms all day. So in my mind was the potential for a chaotic southernly route as well. Head south to ride FATS in Augusta, GA. Then across northern Alabama. Ride Anniston. Ride Oak Mountain. Maybe stop in Oxford, Mississippi for a meal so that I could have a moment of osmotic literary inspiration. Up through Memphis and on to Hot Springs or Syllamo.
Until the moment we got in the van, we didn't know which way we'd even head. Knoxville won out. Lucky.

Caveat number two, btw, is a bit trickier. But... if you grew up with a friend or older sibling who liked to convince you to do things with them, but then, more often than not, couldn't do those things at the time they said, but then said they could maybe do them later, so you waited until they could, but then, as it turns out, they still couldn't... and by then it was too late for you to do fucking anything...
you understand.
Wait... for no one.

Rich had so much stuff.

So much stuff.

It may not look like it... but that's just because I just couldn't get the angle right. That bag... is huge. Rich can fit inside of it. Easily. And I admit, when I saw it, I felt a momentary pang of stress. Yes, more stress than the van not starting. I mean... that's just what vans do. But that bag? It would take up ALL THE ROOM. And there isn't much room in the van. The milk crate got a pass, simply because I could pile my stuff inside of it too. And the chair we never used also gets excused... because you never know. But that bag. That fucking bag.
Meanwhile, while I was stressing about Rich overpacking, Rich was stressing about the bikes. Specifically about my bike maybe kind of touching his bike, and about how, if given a half a chance, it might try to vibra-saw his frame in half as we trundled down the road. I mean... I get it. Finding out at the trailhead that the left ESI grip you were counting on has been sliced in half and you get to ride glove to carbon for the next couple of hours is deflating. But the van don't have no hitch. And I ain't got that hitch money. So trunk rack it is. Eventually he got a system that he was happy with and he was in charge of bikes for the next week.

When we got to Knoxville, without incident, Scott, incidentally, wasn't ready... busy as he was learning how to service an e-bike.
But then, having skipped lunch, neither were we. And we had time. So I gave rule number two a little leeway. And as our friends Gary and Chris had "left the conversation" about riding before we even arrived, there were less balls in the air. Literally. So we ate tamales with Daniel, who had taken the day off to join us. Then piled into the TVB Sprinter and headed to the trails... which are pretty special.
And when we did roll out, even if the pace occasionally hurt so good, and even if Scott kept death-coughing plague into the air ahead of me.... I was very much in my happy place.

Which is to say... riding my bike... somewhere else.

"Make me look bald."
Look for Part 2 wherever you look for things like that. Coming soon.

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Sweaty Bottom Boys

"Hey Rich... remember this spot?"
From behind me a sad and small "maybe?"
"It's where we almost got arrested."
A sad and small sigh... "i remember."

It was Bill Nye's fault. Or so I tell myself. His eyes had changed. That's how you know. When he stares somewhere past you rather than at you... it means he's about to start arguing with and about things that don't warrant arguing with or about. In this particular case, the cop he'd conveniently crashed his bike in front of.
The cop who had blooped his siren at Rich, Nick and I for riding three abreast down the empty 2am morning road.
"Single file!"
And then... when he sped past us and we saw his cop-lights go on in earnest some quarter mile ahead I turned to Rich and said "How much do you want to fucking bet that's about Bill Nye?" And sure enough, when we rolled up... there he was... standing in front of said cop, doing a completely shit job of defending his thesis, the subject of which appeared to be "This... Is, Like... Bullshit. Or Something." Me going into hyper-reasonable-and-elocutive-to-appear-sober-but-probably-just-making-it-worse mode: "My sincerest apologies, officer, but you'll have to excuse my unruly friend. Our ultimate destination is my humble domicile, which lies just beyond this next traffic light, and once we arrive, you have my word as a gentleman ... we'll... ummm... (shit)... try and... (losing it)... not be... (think, man!)... quite so... umm... (argh!)... drunk? (cringe)
"I could arrest y'all, you know."
Heads hung like chastised children.
"You walk from here. If I see one of you even touch a pedal on those bikes, you're going to jail."
Staring at our feet and nodding.
Shadowed by a police cruiser for the mile long walk back to my house with our bikes.

But wait. That... was literally months ago. Sorry, I got distracted. Let's go back to NOW.

Rich was wearing flip-flops.
Not sandals, mind you, like the usual pocket-tee clad, five-panel-hat doffed, mom-jort, leica-around-the-neck cool-kid-industry-fan-boyz of the now. But flip-flops. Flimsy, shitty department store flip-flops. On SPD pedals.
And while it wasn't a long ride to the first bar... maybe four miles...  it was long enough that flip-flops probably weren't the choice. Probably, in fact, they accounted for the mysterious gash on his foot the next morning.  But nonetheless... there he was.

Christian had joined us. He's been giving me some much needed help at the shop lately. I admit I felt a little bad subjecting him to the insular old-person dumb-speak that Rich and I tend to communicate in, but Christian shares our common thread of being unable to refuse a late night bike ride to a bar for "one more."
We're all healthy bundles of habits here, in case you were wondering.

Now allow me to attempt some math.
By the time we were even en route to the first bar that night, 130 pounds of Rich had, by my exhaustive calculations, already imbibed seven seven percent beers in relatively short time. Myself just beyond five, each at a rough average of six point five. Which, if I'm not mistaken, the sum total of which is less than or equal to: we probably should have just ridden home and gotten a good night's sleep.
And before you vent your righteous indignation at our failed failings in coping with our various vices and addictive personality traits, imagine, just for a moment, being human. And being confined to the awkwardness of a human body, with all its oddity of elbows, toes, and ears. Testes. Tongues. Labia. Buttocks. Uvulas. And a nose. A FUCKING NOSE. Now imagine another human body approaching your own human body and talking to it. Talking to it with all of its strange anxieties and tics, built layer upon layer of 50 years crawling around on this rock trying to create meaning out of nothing. Now imagine not really knowing what to even say, so in the same way that people crack their knuckles or laugh at their own jokes or run their fingers through their hair, or scratch their neck, or compulsively put on chapstick...  you just unwittingly and consistently take another sip of the drink in your hand. And that drink happens to be beer. And in that moment, this simple act happens to help you push past the fact that just behind that nose and beyond those lips, the person talking to you has a skeleton inside their body and is currently pushing air through a voice box somewhere in their throat that makes sound waves that travel through the air into your gnarled, lobed ears where tiny bones tap a message to your brain that translates their honking into some semblance of a thing that kind of makes sense.
So please... fuck you and your righteous sobriety. Because you're just as much a bundle of anxious, shitty coping habits as I am. You just have one less excuse.
(I'm sorry. I didn't mean that. Sobriety is good. It's just that... noses. Right? With nostrils. And we all have them and we act like it isn't the weirdest goddamn thing and some of them are actually quite nice.)

Gads... where even was I?
Oh yes...
Entirely too much to drink the night before a "race." Plus more. Plus midnight fried chicken and cheese fries. Once home, Rich fell asleep on the couch while I sipped rye whiskey and chuckled ruefully to myself about the vast and terrifying emptiness of even the most fulfilled life.


The next morning, riding our bikes ten miles to the start of the race, we both had a moment of panic. An effort up a hill that stressed our legs and heart was telling. This was going to hurt. And by panic, I mean... depression. Being sadly resigned to the fact that today was going to be much harder than it should. And that once again in a long line of once agains... it was our fault.

Even though the shop has always been involved as a sponsor, this was my first year getting to actually participate in the JA King and Queen of the Watershed Race. Long has there been the ambition of doing a race that connected all of the trails in Greensboro, but logistically it seemed difficult. Long stretches of greenway. Busy road crossings. Which means the enduro format is perfect. Each trail is a "segment" and you can cruise at your own speed between them.
It also means that you have to ride each segment harder than you probably wanted to.

When I caught Rich on the first trail, after starting 30 seconds behind him, I knew how things would shake out. This would create a cascade of despair that would increase throughout the day, until he was a complete shell of a man... full of regrets and doubts and self-loathing. So... pretty much like any other day, but more, probably. I myself felt ok. A little hungover, but I've been worse. My 40's, while more pervasively melancholy, seem punctuated with less "oh god, oh shit, I'm dying" mornings on the floor tangled up with the toilet than my 30's.

So... winning?

My goal for the day was to ride hard enough to hurt... but not hard enough that I ever felt the panic or pain of "racing." Because I don't know if you got the memo, but that shit is the worst.  I was also still nervous about my butt. I'd injured it a month ago... launching entirely too far and high into the air off a jump, somewhere in Tennessee...  and it's kind of been an asshole ever since. Pun intended. But that's another story. Suffice to say I wanted to test it, but not too much. I already felt ridiculously squirrely, having been off the mountain bike for almost a month. I crept through and across every loose corner and wet bridge like it was my first time on a bike.

The trails? They were fine. I mean... they were great. But these are my backyard trails, mind you. And it's difficult for me to wax poetic about my backyard. My suburban despair is strong enough that even the word "yard" is triggering.
And I've ridden these trails so many times that I like to make sweeping statements about preferring a staple in the cheek or groin to another day out on them. Is that true? I don't know. It's just that there are people out there who crave routine, and relish in consistency. And I just... don't.
But even through my all consuming melodrama about being in one place too long, I'm aware that we have a good thing with these trails and that it's only getting better.

So... winning?

When we were finally done, Rich was as toasted as I've ever seen him. This from the guy who consistently shames me through eleven hours of Pisgah.


The point is... if you have a calendar that you put races on, you should put the JA King and Queen of the Watershed on there. What's a "JA King" you ask? It's a company that makes measuring equipment, owned by a guy named John King who happens to be a cycling fanatic, and who is a great patron of our local scene, and who I, incidentally, once told to eat a bag of dicks.
It was a long time ago.
(You should ask him about it.)

Tomorrow, Rich and I will be getting in the van and meandering our way to Bentonville, AR for the Oz Trails Off Road, where we will be doing a bang-up job of covering the event as "media." Rich is calling it the Van of Constant Sorrow Tour. I'm calling it Old Brother, Where art We. Neither are very inspired or funny. But that's pretty much who we are these days.
We'll be trying to be active on social media, so follow us at @teamdicky and @revoltingcogs if you don't already. We can't promise anything, but if we were, it would be a whole lot of worn-out mediocrity. So if you're into that...


There, I wrote a blog. Happy?

Thursday, May 9, 2019

PMBAR: This Is Not A Song About Depression.

"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.
And horseshit.
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.
(Fucking Pisgah.)

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.

Fucking Buckhorn.

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!

(ragged breathing...)

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 clue.

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.