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