the bad place

the bad place

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.