Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Miles

My blood is running past the lungs and into the heart and then the brain. Dirty and clean and oxygenated and pulsed to the limit of the old man that owns it. Past the breaks that tried to kill him and it. Past the houses of the new rich and old southern money. Past the gates I trespass, climbing the hills, up to tasteless monuments of perceived success. Past the people who work harder than me and wonder what it would be like to sweat for fun, instead of need. Past the gates I am poor, down the south streets I am rich. If you ride far enough you see all things.

I am standing, pushing harder than I should, alone on the bike, the place where there is nothing but wind and breathing. The memories flood back and there are still no solutions. No matter how hard I think about the past gaffs and missteps, there is only one more hill to climb and ten more miles before I turn for home. There is a point where I am purified. Where the silence lives and beyond it, peace and absolution. If I just push a little more, it waits for me.

The clock is running in my pocket. Someone will feel like he is better than me tonight, but he knows nothing of my scars. No one knows all my stories. The stories of the times I counted waves and forced myself past the white water. The times I fought to get to class with out a bloody lip. The times I didn't defend the girls on the bus, from the older boys at the top of the food chain. They don't know the moment it all went wrong . I do.

I am rushing for the green light at the top of the hill. I am watching the car that may not stop in time. I am thinking of Dave and his son. I don't want to be another cautionary tale. I have already done that. I don't like the attention or the questions or the looks of pity and fear of contagion. I like the look of frustration. When you realize the poor bastard just beat you. When you are forced to re access. Its okay if I loose. I am the guy that shouldn't be here.

So I am running. I am riding farther than I want to. I am alone in the wind. I am unafraid of getting lost. Because I have made it home from worse than this little ride.

W.B.Z.N.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Somewhere In The New Past

THE FOLLOWING IS A FIRST PERSON ACCOUNT OF MY TRIP TO LIGONIER PA. THE WRITER IS A TWISTED SOUL (PEDRO) WHO SEES THROUGH APRICOT GOGGLES. HE IS THE GONZO WRITER RESIDENT OF THAT TOWN, A CYCLIST AND A LIBRARIAN OF OBSCURE MUSIC TRIVIA. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK..... USE YOUR DECODER RINGS KIDDIES.  
 
 
the irish-floridian brothers were ostensibly in town to help their cousin George pack his worldly belongings (including wife, kids, cats) for their move to Colorado.  But if you were to ask Davey’s guitar, she’d say that everything they do is for the music…Were you to pose the same question to his younger brother Terry, the enfant terrible of a sextet of Clark dudes, he’d pull you into a swirling vortex of explication, positing sound dynamics, voodoo, and marihuanical standard deviations.
 
After 20 hours of Ameri-roading from Tallahassee, the brothers made it to cousin John’s hacienda in the hollow here in the wilds of Pennsyltucky.  John is better known in these parts as Ratzo, Rat, The Ambassador of Boulder (AoB), but his most accurate appellation is  “The Mayor of Unsavory Characters”. It is this phalanx of philosopher-madfolk with whom we would cavort for two evenings of music, intoxicants, and confabulation.

On Thursday afternoon, Rat, el terrible, and I (Pedro) suited up for a mountain bike ride.  Terry’s more of a cross-country/road wheeler while we are of the Genus/species Houndus rockus.  But the kid rode like Pegasus, flew atop tombstones like Icarus, Christ almighty he rode like a serpentining ellipsis…And we didn’t take it easy on him, either, subjecting him to the treacherous Blood n’ Guts trail, the unrelenting Wolf Rocks loop, and the bone-jarring Wraparound.  Back at the car, we traded musical parries, the enfant preferring his southern soulers, me offering Torontonians…we toasted the good life and tried to let the other raconteur finish his story (this is a particular failing of mine)… 

on Friday, we met again, not on the trails, but on the ramp to a moving van.  The brothers, having drunk and sung their souls silly the night prior, evinced bedragglement.  They’ve been at it for hours and the truck is 62.5% full, but the packing of finery will be left to the felines.  They make a quick exit (was it something I said? halitosis? spectral castigators?) and Jorge makes a trip to the bank.  I’m left in the kitchen, alone save for my music files, and it feels like I’m moving.  Last time our family moved was august ’98, a new record for me…16 years in the same house, same town, same socio-scene…George returns. We load some of my shakily-packaged boxes & reduce storage capacity by perhaps 5.8% and wrestle with a glass top display case, an artifact from his former alliance w/Rat in the goldsmythe thing…

Later that evening Davey, el terrible, and the Rat sit atop picnic tables under the pavilion behind the Runaway (home to the unsavory lads)…Bridey & I have made the short trip up from town  – she caught a few Davey O’Clark songs the night before and has bravely opted to be on the scene, though she hasn’t been up here since her teens, when it was called Larry’s Lair and Rat and Flip used to serve her coterie of lovely lasses before their time…

The crowd swells to a dozen.  Bridey politely declines when offered pipe, then joint, then pipe.  Never a toker, she opines, “I do like the smell.” Eventually, even stoners get the hint. David O’Clark sports a smile that warms the evening air as happy musicianodos split their time between the fire circle and the pavilion. I remain devoted to the man, listening carefully to his keen choices, occasionally closing my eyes to accentuate the aural. I dutifully detail a list of songs on my phone, and offer them here for your perusal:

 

Song                                                               Composer

Does She Mention My Name? (i)                            Lightfoot, Gordon
Past the Point of Rescue                                 Hanly, Mick
Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain                         Rose, Fred
Pancho and Lefty                                           Van Zandt, Townes
I Was Only Joking                                         Grainger, Gary & Stewart, Rod
Colorado                                                        Roberts, Rick (Flying Burrito Bros.)
Landslide                                                        Nicks, Stevie
Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold)          Seals, Dan
Back Home in Derry                                      Sands, Bobby (R.I.P.)
Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald                  Lightfoot, Gordon
Missing You                                                    Moore, Christy
Natives Grace                                                             Ronan
Here Comes the Sun                                     Harrison, George
Don’t Close Your Eyes                                       Whitley, Keith
Did She Mention My Name? (ii)                  Lightfoot, Gordon
Sweet Baby James                                        Taylor, James
Teach Your Children                                     Nash, Graham
When You Say Nothing at All                      Overstreet, Paul & Schlitz, Don
San Francisco Bay Blues                               Fuller, Jesse
Wayfaring Stranger                                       Trad.
Danny Boy                                                      Weatherley, Fred E.
Amazing Grace                                             Newton, John
Old Man                                                        Young, Neil Trilogy:
On the Way Home
The Needle and the Damage Done
Toby’s Holler                                          
Travelin’ Man                                                           Fuller, Jerry 

The Stevie Nicks cover is delicious, for he has found a way to match his baritone to the loveliness of the melody.  Personally, I favour the Peter Green days when Fleetwood Mac rumbled and roared, so it’s a revelation and I find new respect for the song. The Rod Stewart number has a similar appeal.  You don’t hear it very often in these days of satellite radio, Pandora, Spotify, 180 gram vinyl, and 24/7 access to all the music ever digitized…It’s a remarkable song, and O’Clarkie’s penchant for inhabiting a tune shines on, crazily…the night air is beatified, and we wake to discover was just a faerie tale… 

Saturday, I get a text message: (WE ARE AT RUNAWAY...DAVEY IS PLAYING..GIT YER ASS DOWN HERE!)

I’ve just returned from a hellacious-by-design ride with el otro amigo – Rosco…he had to miss Friday’s fun as his boy was graduating from hs…we pounded thru some rock gardens on our way up and bombed down at speeds we don’t normally attain, but ‘twas a glorious Saturnalia in June… 

I decide I can make an appearance at The Runaway, but after a couple of songs a local Grimm feller pulls a custom dulcimer resonator from a velvet sheath – and I know I can’t leave… 

the afternoon becomes a seisun – and I’m transported to Waterford, Ireland, or Galway, or any of those places where music grows in the spring…Davey trots out some from the night before, the tunes now more alive with an audience of happy hoisters, mild tobacco smoke replaces Friday’s humo… 

Vince, an acoustic bluesman, gives us “Keep on Truckin’”, as though he had made a pact with Jorma to possess the Hot Tuna mojo…Grimm man digs in on “Pancho & Lefty” and the whole bar howls, “all the federales say they coulda had him any day” and “pancho needs your prayers it’s true but say a few for lefty, too” and, for an hour, maybe 90 minutes, we’ve got heaven on earth, dark pub on a sunny day with the neighboring woods’  resplendence buoying our interdependence…but perhaps the music is the sun and we’re the flora, photosynthesizing the heat of the guitar strings and the light of the patrons’ eyes… 

Traveling south on Rt. 81 in Virginia, the irish-floridian’s car engine quits.  el terrible enfant steers it onto the nearest pull-off as semis shake the Volkswagen. Bang, bang goes something in the trunk.  The elder sibling intones, “I’ll handle this, el hermano diminutivo,” and Terradude pops the trunk. “Oh, Jaysus, she’s done it again,” moans the troubadour. The Martin has popped the lid to its case, the tuning keys releasing their strings so they’re able to slither out and pry the clasps open. “I’m gonna have to play her,” Davey announces solemnly as he re-strings her, praying for the patience of a luthier. 
 
He’s all played out. Played out on playin’. Played out on singin’. Played out on collaboratin’.  Played out on drinkin’.  Played out on drivin’.  But, never, never, are these two siblo-conspirators played out on music. 

The first notes remind him of a dream he had sleeping at Casa Linda on their last night in the valley.   “Hey, listen to this. I dreamt this song, chords and lyrics.”  He strums plaintively and sings;

I’m tired
tired of Tallahassee
tired of the city
wanna live up
on a mountain slope
where everyone
grows uber-dope
the fauna are fair
and the people
never despair

 up among
the conifers
and black bears
where the wind
whispers secrets
only the cognoscenti
can hear 

“You put fucking cognoscenti in a song!,” critiques Terry.  “No, I didn’t. She did,” says Davey and he points to his old friend.
 
They get out and find a deer trail that leads to a large boulder by a stream.  Back among the ferns and philodendron, Terra-brother starts to feel the strain of the road slip into the ether…

 

Davey O’Clark looks up, smiles, and begins to strum: “I’m tired…”
 
PEDRO....

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mistral Wind




The week started well with an easy but fun ride with Big Worm and Mighty Mite. A lazy stroll with some minor efforts and a couple hard uncontested climbs. I am like a precocious child to Worm and Mite. They watch me go up climbs and they think; "Isn't he cute? Look at him breathing all heavy." MM is one of the fastest women in the state and could destroy me at will. They were saving their legs for a possible Chaires fest on road bikes. They felt no temptation to swat gnats. 

The next two days were awful. MTB rides with no power in the tank. Those kinds of rides where you just make yourself do it, because not riding would be worse. Labor and discipline. There is no happy to be found on days like these, only questions and doubt. There is a candle forever burning, in the window at home. You always feel better than you would have if you baulked.

Saturday was beautiful. I opted not to ride with the crew because I had no faith in my legs. Lil WB (seems funny calling him that since he's four inches taller than me and in college) said he'd ride with me if we went easy and on the road. I had two goals: keep the pace fun and keep him out of the wind. We took a straight route down to St. Marks Trail with only one real climb. He was talking and we were laughing like the old days. He's been so busy with school and music that we usually only exchange grunts, as one leaves and the other arrives. We were about five miles from the coast when he popped a spoke and dished his rear wheel, into the frame. I offset the skewer enough to where it would turn and we back tracked to Natural Bridge Road, where his Mom picked him up. He made faces at me as they drove off and I laughed so hard I started coughing. 

I thought I might as well head up Old Plank to Chaires and get a real ride in. I figured it was fourteen miles. I had already gone twenty eight, but our pace had been so slow I felt fine. Anyone who has ridden that route is probably already laughing. It was twenty six miles of head wind to Chaires. By the time I got there, I was feeling every inch of the forty eight miles and three hours in the saddle. I knew I had twelve miles (most of it tough climbs) back to the house. I decided to settle in and ride at whatever pace felt good. I felt like a cyclist for the first time (that week) when I got home. Success. I had about a hundred twenty miles in for the week. The Sunday weather forecast looked good.

I got up late again and headed out to look at the new trail section the MTB club cut in, and the new bridge over the tracks, out by the levy. I rode slowly and looked around a lot. I stopped to enjoy views. I smiled at people (lots of them!) on the trail. All was right and good in my head, a rarity to be sure. That was two weeks ago.

The following week had two gigs, cold pissing rain, and no rides. The kicker was a fever laced head cold that arrived Friday. Last night I had LSD dreams about a vacation that never happened. The kids were young and we were at some resort with a spectacular view. People were eating seafood by the shore. Then I noticed the entree's were fighting back. A man had a angry crab in his beard. Big blue crabs were crawling up my legs and shirt. I woke up brushing them off my chest at seven A.M. Just in time to hear the alarm. Time to go to work.

Oh, how funny life is. Mine at least is filled with equal parts joy and regret. My hours are spent in wonder or questioning every word I have ever said, and all the choices that got us here. Here where the view is good, but the crabs are coming.....and they are always angry.

W.B.Z.N.         

Monday, February 17, 2014

Down To Earth


I have played this room million times, or I should say, others just like it. They have a secret factory in South Dakota where they are made and shipped out to tertiary markets around the U.S. They are produced to placate the masses so they can survive and get through the week. The fifth tier contenders come here to drink, play music, and work the bar, trying to erase the big dreams and faces of the ones that got away. The stage is a ten by twelve feet, and is twelve inches high. It was built with all the available technology any ten year old would have, to build a tree fort. It looks like a raft floating on a acid stained concrete sea, among the flotsam of mismatched tables and chairs. There is a small dance floor in front of it. I know it's a dance floor because there are no mismatched chairs and tables there. "Yes" I think to myself in silence, I have played this place a million times, like a reoccurring dream riddle from a video game I can't escape. I never seem to get passed this level of the game for long. I can't defeat the dragon at the gates of the tour bus and limo level. I hear the sad trombone from a seventies game show play the "Whaw, whaw, what wahaaaaaw" as my avatar returns to a different version of this little bar. Somewhere in here, I am supposed to unlock the code of ascension. The good news is; it's relatively quiet. After a brief chat with the owner, we decide to load in. The Shackle backs up the van and we start to ferret in the gear like zombies. As I pull open the door, the sound hits me like a wind from a fucked up hurricane. A loud D rated local bands demo is playing impossibly loud. There is one waitress, the manager and us. This a common phenomenon, all bars must play loud music when mops are being used or bands are setting up or tearing down. It is law.

Last night we played the Tara Plantation of Atlanta's live music scene; Smiths Olde Bar. It was once a must stop for many music icons. It has great sound, lights, technical staff and a authentic vibe you can taste like a popsicle. The walls are covered with stickers and you can hear the ghosts of all the great bands, as you hang back stage. In it's hay day it was your passport to credibility in the south. Now the maiden still has good bones, but her dress is faded and her face shows the wrinkles of one who knows she's is no longer the southern debutante at the ball. Still, you cannot deny the honor you feel in her presence. This place has everything a good bar should have. It seems so simple but like love, it cannot be forced into existence, it just happens. Venues like her are struck by lightning. Legends and myths rise from these temples, like smoke from camp fires. Smith's has been dubbed the C.B.G.B's of the south for very good reason and like me she is hanging onto the denial, that dedication and love will be rewarded, but we both know it's not enough. The most one can do is look around during the glory days and try to remember the stories. The stories we recant after too many beers. Last night we played like the veterans we are, to a thirty percent capacity crowd that wasn't there to see us. The sound was great. We grooved like demons and sang like angels. We were met with applause and accolades and we were promised another date, in the hallowed main room upstairs. As we loaded out our gear, it began to rain. We carried our cases down the wet fire escape to our van. We drove home drinking the beers we took from our dressing room. The rain and cold air hit the van hard from the side like an omen, but I ignored it. These basking moments are few and even though they be drenched in idealism, they must be chewed slowly. You must savor the juice and it let run slowly down the back of your throat. They are rare birds in this game.

The Shackle is pissed about his mix position. It's in a closet/dressing room. Like me, he has come to the realization that this gig is something we never thought we'd do again. The Shackle works at high levels in the sound world. He has mixed stadiums and huge shows all over the nation. He thought his closet mixing days were over. He is perpetually positive and professional in the face of all kinds of indignities, but even he is showing doubt. He is an even share member of our team and a veteran from the days of limos and buses when I was the singer's manager. The Shackle was the front of house sound man I hired to take care of my boys, for a grand a week. We had deep pockets and an account full of record company money. I laugh at his contempt, because nothing will cheer you up like seeing the shared misery of a friend next to you in the quicksand.

We play our two and a half sets. There is about fifty people at the peak and we end with about twenty. Our singer and guitar player are pretty lubed up on Miller Lite and at the end it gets a little sloppy. The minute we finish playing, the local band demo begins to play again louder than hell through a speaker, three feet from my head. We force feed our gear and cables into cases. The bass player passes on load out and drives home separate with his girlfriend. We drag his name through the shit, as we throw cases in the van. I get paid after hearing a positive review from the manager. I know we will be back. We take perfect back roads, through the timeless rural landscape, towards Monticello and eventually Tallahassee. We make way too much noise unloading at three thirty A.M. in my quiet little neighborhood.

The next day dawns beautiful at noon. I make breakfast for Neil and I and he leaves to install cabinets on a Sunday with his Dad. I pull on Lycra, pump up my tires, and head out to cleanse my lungs of smoke, and my head from the gigs. I am trying to sweat off the clown paint, from my two nights at the circus. The sky is clear, the air is crisp and cool, as I meander around the east side paths for three hours and twenty eight miles. It is obvious, to me and everything in the woods, another spring is coming. My sins of pride and grandeur are washed away and I am reborn. Tomorrow I will rise like Lazarus, and go to work, like the whole caper never happened. I will cycle my lights out in my office and recharge them for that evenings night ride. Soon the time will change and all my rides will be in sun. The visions of the night will fade and another season will decay. There will be other rides in the woods, and gigs like this weekend. I will string them together, like beads on a rosary, hoping for redemption wherever I can find it.

W.B.Z.N.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Jungleland



She looks how I imagine a buffalo might look with a shaved face and glasses. She has a nasty expression and she is tapping her spoon 3.6 feet from my right ear. The waiter approaches and she grabs his arm, despite the steaming entrees he's holding for table six.

"NO ICE!"

She barks tapping the spoon on her cup. There are three cubes floating in the glass, as he confirms her command. She releases his arm and table six gets their food. Another man in arms reach of my left ear, is nervously crinkling fortune cookies, while he waits for a take out order. He is performing a symphony of sighs and tisks, in between nanosecond time checks.

I begin writing a book in my head about a serial killer, who's victims are Cretans that ruin his dining experiences. She is victim one, found in her yard posed like Al Jolson on one knee, hands out stretched "Mammy" style. Her eyes were tooth picked open, she had three egg roles in her mouth and was found in the early stages of rigor. The police department is stumped.

Even as I surmise, that I am projecting my anger, I cannot stop planning the death of Mr. Cookie. I just awoke from a trauma nap twenty minutes ago. The kind of tormented sleep, only a soul shaking defeat can deliver. Dark fever dreams full of symbols and icons from my greatest hits album. I sip one of the best iced teas in town, as I begin interrogating myself internally about the days events. I am trying to piece together the wreckage into a recognizable form. This will be analyzed for the forth time today; once on the shortcut out of lunch, once on the drive home, and once in retelling to my wife. I now will perform it in a duet, with my abusive inner dialogue....by far my favorite version.

Was it the Mexican food the night before, with the eight pounds of chips, ten different salsa samples and two beers?
Was it the room with the wet carpet, mold lab and suspect bed spread?
Was it the lack of focus on diet and riding the last two weeks?
Was it the elevated hyper-state I could not stabilize, for the last two days?

Oh why must I choose? They are all so good. It's like deciding which child should die, and I'm no Meryl Streep. I decide to let them all live on repeat, in my festering subconscious.

(Earlier today, at the Tour de Felasco 50 mile Eco ride)
 I am having some issues with a mild cough. I take two hits from the inhaler on the car ride from the hotel and a couple more as I unload gear. I'm starting to notice that I'm really not improving, but my Olympic level denial is working overtime, so I ignore it. A few miles in on the first climb, even at the VERY slow pace we are maintaining, so two stragglers can catch us, I am not feeling spry.

About ten miles in, at the base of some of the tougher rooty climbs, I begin coughing for real. I tell some riders behind me to come around, while I  try to pace through, and regulate my breathing. The next set of climbs has some traffic on it, I can't ride the pace I want and the main event takes the stage.

"LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, ARE YOU READY? PLEASE WELCOME TO THE STAGE...
ASTHMAAA ATTTACK! ACK ACK!"

The lights dim, the white noise erupts and I cannot turn one more pedal. My group is gone, I am off my bike and my head is balanced inside my helmet, on my saddle. Rider after rider asks if I am alright, by far my favorite thing about attacks; the question and answer round. I recover and relapse and manage to get moving again when I see my friend Zak, waiting beside the trail. He knows the look, he's a lifetime member of the lung club, and falls in behind me. There are blurry montages of roots and riders and a brutal climb, where Chris was fixing Chad's chain at the top. Zak passes the baton to Chad, and he nurses me through the next ten miles, to the second sag stop. I assure Chad I am OK and tell him to go, which he reluctantly does. I am thankful for my friends, but in my humiliated state, I am good company for no one. I get short cut info from a worried looking volunteer, who asks me three times to get in the "Yellow Truck of Shame". I crawl five miles to the lunch stop, and then take the green arrowed "Route of Tears" back to my car.

I am finishing up my solo dinner. Bison head is neck deep in a feeding orgy, showing no signs of pleasure or nourishment. She taps her glass to let the waiter know he is once again derelict in his duties. I finish my meal, which was the only good thing that has happened today. Tea to go. Check and tip. I slip into the wet reflective stream of lights and faceless cars.

I pull into my garage. The house is empty. Springsteen's "Jungleland" comes on, so I shut the car off and sip tea to a song you might hear on the radio, once or twice in a lifetime. Bruce knows the pain of a real death waltz, and what it's like to reach for a moment, and wind up wounded. Suddenly it's all just water colors, on a wall in my head, set to a tune by The Boss.

It's hard to be thankful at times like these, but we never tell the stories of the perfect rides. These are the days you put in your quiver, for the ride that used to be tough, but doesn't seem that bad now. A shit day on a mountain bike, is still better than what ninety percent of the world is doing with their time.

See you next year Felasco..... you Motherfucker.


W.B.Z.N.    

Monday, December 30, 2013

Futile




Two nights prior, I played music with a Grammy winner and a mutli platinum producer. I also played with my long time bass player. No one outside this city knows him, but he could play with anyone. The music is deceptively difficult. Little subtleties that hardly anyone would notice, but they all add levels of texture, that would otherwise diminish the songs. I should be over the moon, but really, I just want it to be over. I live in mortal fear of missing the next syncopated claymore. All ends well. I actually play the only tasteful drum feature of my life. A raised eye brow from the Grammy winner, a knowing smile from the bass man, and a nod of acknowledgement from the Maestro....better than applause or money. Still, all I can think about is getting to the bar.

"Irish handcuffs please. Thanks. Again. Thanks."

 Finally, a breath taken at room temperature and not from the open door of a furnace. 

Saturday; four hours sleep, lunch with my girl, nap, stationary trainer torture, movie, bed. 

Sunday: Tuning drums for a session with the Maestro. All the while twitching like a worm on a hook. The bike is on the car. Munson is surely prefect, gripping, damp clay and white under belly. I escape two hours later than promised. Something with the files and the pre-amps, and a ringing noise in the snare I couldn't eliminate, while maintaining the pitch the Maestro wanted. 

Scramble out of clothes, forget glasses, triple check the car doors. Hammer into paper cup way to fast, way to anxious, and way too pissed off. A thought occurs that, the current meth like state of mind, could lead to a few PR's on Strava. I am full cry in the big ring, railing a corner when I see him. Jeans, flat pedals, no lid, holding his phone attached to his ear buds. Off I go into the thicket to the left of the trail. Thank god it is full of thorns. He says; "Duuude". I ride away from him. Two corners later I run into a couple of riders I know, faces full of teeth, having the ride of a life time. They force me over a berm and yell my name as they blaze by. Instant Karma. Not stoked. I am less than a half mile into the ride. 

I finish the lap and it is getting colder by the minute, but also dark and the lot at the trail head is nearly empty. I try to hit the reset button. This time there will be no traffic. I will hammer out a clockwise lap in total solitude. I can feel my center coming back. The sky is an airbrushed license plate from 1985. I cross the power line to a long set of curving climbs. Still in the big ring, still have legs. Just before coming down the to cross the power line for the last leg of the lap, I see him. His bike is upside down and he is looking at his front wheel like he found a piece of alien technology. He has no tire irons. To my surprise, I don't either. I get the stiff tire off with a screwdriver from my multi tool. I put his tube in and its bad too. I try for ten more minutes to get the tire off, so I can put my spare tube in, but it will not budge. He mumbles something about how he could have walked to the car by now. I hand him his wheel, and ride off.

"Some days you can't do good."
He says. I wish him luck.

I fumble back to the car, in the dark, with no lights. It's the first time in years that the ride was not the cure. It was like running on a trampoline. 

Tour de Felasco looms on the horizon. I should be over the moon, but really I just want it to be over. 

W.B.Z.N.        

Monday, November 11, 2013

Wild Horses




It's 5:30, I wake up to the alarm in complete state of forget. It is a haze I stay in for less than two seconds. I rise quietly, grab my phone and head out of the room. The dining room table is covered with a grid work of bike clothing, food and accoutrement's for the Spaghetti Dirt Epic; 62 miles of clay and paved roads. I am ready. I know it. I have done the completely undramatic work. I am surprised by how confident I feel. Fear still walks with me though, and it knows better than anyone all my secrets; How badly I tend to handle mechanical failures, how panicked I change tires, how childlike I become during asthma attacks. It whispers to me at moments like these when I feel good about myself:

"What if you have an issue? What if you have a migraine or asthma attack? What if you get too excited and blow to pieces in the early chaos of the start? What if everyone sees you bent over and retching for breath?"

I have a new answer for all those questions: "Fuck it, I'll ride alone. That's how I got here." Because riding alone was what I have feared most, that's what I have been doing. Long rides on the road, learning to navigate, intentionally getting lost, and making it back, which in many ways describes my life in a perfect little nutshell. I just want to be good enough to ride with my friends. I don't want to beat anyone, or prove anything, I just want to be part of story, instead of hearing the recount.

The start is the typical  mock opera of knuckleheads. Mountain bikers moving to the front and causing all kinds of expansions and contractions in the school moving upstream. Twice I have to speak up to people fighting for Big Worms wheel (which is the most valued piece of group ride real estate in cycling). They want me to give it up and that is not an option.

We turn onto the first section of dirt, the one that Ricky Silk called; "kinda sandy and soft". He said it with raised eyebrows like it was a secret. The underscored subtlety was not lost on me. Once he described Oak Mountains Blood Rock section as "kinda technical". When a guy that can ride anything says something like that, its noteworthy. We hit the sand, I am on Worms wheel, about twenty five people from the front. It's Braveheart on bikes. People and bicycles are performing a dance that would make sub atomic particles blush with envy. The yelling starts behind me as things begin to go wrong. I follow Worm into and ankle deep section of fine brown sugar. Worm shoots far left into a hard part of a little ditch and powers though. I put a foot down and Fred Flintstone for dear life. In the process, I stop roughly fifteen riders behind me. Fifty yards away I see Worm out of the saddle on the first dirt climb, no sign of looking back, no sign of stopping. I am on the edge, breathing like a whipped plow horse, and start running in the brown talcum, with all I have. It is like a bad slow motion dream. I jump on and attack the hill, knowing that if this keeps up I will not stay with the group. I crest the hill and make the catch. We settle back into a hard pace with a little more organization and no talking. There is only heaving breath and the wheel in front of us. As I realize I am going to have to give up and go off the back, Worm tells me, we need to start riding smart and let the leaders go.

 I am saved.

We settle into a rhythm, and the drama resides. Worm  and Storman are pacing us and I recover. We chat about the melee, and laugh about how Cliffy couldn't resist going with the leaders after swearing he was going to "take it easy, have fun and ride with us" (so generous of him). We see a lone rider ahead going the wrong way. The sight of the bright yellow vest, and barbaric beard, sets all laughing. Cliffy comes into view talking to himself as we fly by. He turns and catches us with out any effort we can detect and now the ride is shaping up like we planned. We make lunch, and roll out with a few more strays heading into the second leg for home. I know now, I am going to be alright. I even do a little work at the front (a first in my career on this type of ride, where I hide from the wind for fear of death or getting dropped). Back in the first dirt section after lunch, I am again defeated in the powder and this time I take Jim Smart out. We fight our way through and I pull as back to the group, pissed and exhausted. *I really need sand skills on the cross bike.

Nearing the end of this ride (as all endurance events) when the pack smells the barn, the alliances break and the stronger gently move ahead. The talking devolves to grunts and communication via expression. Future TMBA President, Mike Yaun, stays just off the front of Worm and I and the others are specs in the wavy distance. We are almost home. The three big dirt climbs, come and go, with Worm and I cursing our way over the tops. Back on pavement, we pick off some low hanging fruit from the forty mile ride. I help on the climbs and Worm turns the pistons on the descents and flat tarmac.

We arrive in three hours forty five minutes, a time Worm and I both agreed would be a great number for the day. Beers are opened, spaghetti is eaten and for the first time in four years I am hearing stories about a tough ride, I was actually on. It all seems fine and completely mundane. The best mundane I have ever experienced. A mundane I remember from old days before the storm, before I chose to let anger steal my life. A mundane I hope to keep as long as I am able.


W.B.Z.N.

*Photo Brian Pierce (my nominee for "rider of the day")