Friday, September 16, 2011

Chasing Pavements

The Tom Brown race has become my fitness barometer. It starts looming on my horizon in May and lurks between my conscious and subconscious like a spy. It  whispers cryptic messages to me as I ride, sleep and try to get through days. I hated the obligation until I was unable to ride last year and like most things when you lose them, it's value became crystal clear.

Leading up to the race I had lured myself into a false sense of bravado. I really thought I was getting fast. Then the BC crew read me the news on a medium pace ride. I fell off the back back like a drunk tourist on a cruise ship and watched in desperation as the wake trailed off into the night. I gave up and posted a desperate blog, thinking I had no chance. I did a few rides solo and picked out some lines and got back to basics. A week before the event things started coming into focus and I had a couple good rides. I knew I had no chance of placing but maybe I wouldn't be last.

The night before the race I crashed on the section of Caddy that I had been obsessing about most. This led to a long night of play, rewind and play again dreams, that robbed me of sleep. I woke up two seconds after my head hit the pillow in a frantic hurry that I could not extinguish.

I got to Tom Brown early but, I just couldn't find a place where the death fidgets would go away. I finally gave in and started warming up (an hour before my wave). On the line I was really jacked up and on the edge of needing defibrillation. A hand hit my shoulder as I staked out my starting spot. Jauncho's smiling face is next to me with (WHAT?) Bike Shop Joey in full Lycra. I hear laughing, indecipherable words, my name and more laughter. I look up to see Big Worm and crew pointing and giving me shit in full cry for all to hear. I realize everything is going to be fine, as I begin laughing uncontrollably.

(side bar) *I had asked the crew not to be encouraging but to pummel me with insults and venom on race day, a detail my damaged little noodle had forgotten till this very second.*

The gun goes off and I get a great start. There are a few really aggressive guys vying for the three foot opening we are approaching at about twenty two miles an hour, five abreast. I blink, hit the brakes, and two squeak by me. I'm fifth into the woods and I settle in and to watch the typical horror show that is the 40-49 beginner class. These guys are all fast but I swear they must never ride dirt. I would not be surprised at all to look up and see a guy in a matching day glow kit, riding at the speed of sound, with a white cane stretched out in front of him. If I wasn't so out of breath I would laugh. We hit the first multi use trail climb and (what a surprise) I go from first to tenth in the first half of the hill. I make it into the woods without losing anymore spots. I get through the tough sections of Caddy upright, despite a few near misses.

On the gravel climb to Tom Brown it is clear I am not going to be able to pace up to anyone, so I go into conservation mode. At the top of the climb, Big Worm and crew are shouting insults (as requested) and it makes me feel better going back to the woods. Once in TB the pack stretches out and I get picked off by a few more riders in and out of my class. I let them all by uncontested. At the BMX track I am considering all the great reasons I should never ride a bike again. I hear screaming. I hear my name. Is it the drill Sergeant from "Full Metal Jacket"? No, it is Big Jim spitting fire and demanding that I do not let him out run me up the hill, to the end of lap one. I am in agony as he screams in my face and I don't have enough air to howl with laughter, so I just pedal harder. I come by the BC crew tents (and the start/finish line) and I am greeted by what can only be described as a blood thirsty mob screaming insults that would make Don Rickles weep for humanity. Red Dragon flips a bird in my face. Men, women and their children yell in slow motion. They curse my family back ten generations. They are going to murder my children. It is as if the villagers that wanted Frankensteins death, are at the bike race. I am laughing as I go by, not at the insults, but at the confused expressions of people (that don't know the BC tribe) recoiling in abject terror. From this moment on, I am having a great time.

My first lap was respectable and on pace with riders much better than me. My second lap is an exercise in survival. I crawl on the climbs and get sloppy on the tight single track. I roll through the finish (in front of eight truly pathetic excuses for MTB racers, who should never darken the door of another event) in 18th place.

Monday felt like New Years Day. It felt like I had slayed a dragon and that I could push hard on rides again. The demon fear had been laid to rest. For the first time in a year I was not defined by some crap hand of genetic cards. I wasn't the "stroke guy" anymore. I was, as I have always been, a slow old guy in a beginner race. Mt. Everest (for better or worse) is where ever you place and climb it. Thank You (Deity of choice) for the great day.

I tacked my race number up in the garage. I know right where it is. I see it every time I pull in on my bike or in my car. Soon it will be just another piece of paper marking a hurdle in distant memory. I'm looking forward to that.