The baton bracelot is off my wrist, and for a fleeting moment it feels as if a ball and chain has been removed. I fight the urge to flee like an escaped prisoner back to camp, to the hideout in the wide open, and instead have a few words with Butch. I watch a few riders roll in before ambling back, bike strolling listlessly beside me. My lap time (while not exactly criminal) is a bit of a disappointment, given that my speed should have improved significantly from a sense (real or merely wistful) of having somewhat dialed in the trail on the first lap. (Forgive me the many parenthetical speedbumps—I've been reading a lot of "Grandmaster Nabokov" lately. Oh, and the beer is cold).
The sun is rolling on a long arc to the heavens. Slowly, almost impreceptibly, the woods around the camp take on a dusky haze that is the color of morning being born. DT is out getting in the miracle lap, when even the quotidian event just described takes on a majestic aura in the eyes of a weary riding pounding his way through a thicket on a hunk of steel. My disappointment turns to envy as the day seeps in all around, and I climb into the driver's side of the truck for a rest. I close my eyes, kick back the seat, and throw up my legs wherever they'll stick in the cramped cockpit. I don't sleep.
Butch is laying down in DT's Subaru, I imagine. That, or he's wandering about somewhere. It isn't long before Donna and Jo show up, bearing the gift of cold beer like a couple of misguided Magi. It will be two laps more before I get to try my first taste of Flying Dog's Double Dog double pale ale (motivation ID'd and in the crosshairs), the label of which depicts one of Steadman's chimerical curs in a pair of tighty-whities. It is a grotesque image that uncannily prefigures a scene acted out later in the afternoon.
I move to the back of the truck and lay down. This time, I get in a few minutes of shuteye, maybe 15, which is about all I need. Soon I hear DT call out as he finishes up mile three.
I get up, break out a sandwich (peanut butter and ginger jelly—yeah, it tasted exactly like it sounds; what the hell was I thinking?), wolf it down (the bread is dry), then chat with the ladies a bit. Butch and I hang out together, munching on chocolate-covered coffee beans and trying for the third time to predict DT's lap speed. I move to DT's bumper, before giving in and flopping back onto his King-sized air mattress, the lateral edges of which curl up in the tight quarters like the well-thumbed pages of an ancient textbook.
Some 50 minutes after the end of my second lap, we hear "the Big Meats!" above the din of the campground somewhere near the starting line. I do a panicked situp, banging my high forehead on the low sill of the hatchback at the same time that I yell at Butch, "DT pulled a fucking 50-minute lap! Get up there, man, get the fuck up there, get moving!" Butch stands there motionless, emotionless, as shell-shocked as I am galvanized, and simply says "I'm not ready, man. There's no way." But then he's moving fast, grabbing his shit and trundling off on his Voodoo.
As Butch bolts to the start, Gary appears, camera with a lens like an olisbos in hand and sporting a conspiratorial smile. The puzzle pieces assemble themselves in time-lapse: though he denies it, the group consensus is that it was Gary's voiceand not DT'swe heard calling out the team name but a minute ago. False alarm. Fifty-minute lap?...DT? Not impossible, but not the reality here.
DT rolls in at 6:22, laying down a lap time of 1:06. It is full-blown morning and the air is starting to warm. Butch is starting lap three, rolling down the landing strip that splits the grassy field like an ugly scar and disappearing right, into the maw of brush where the trail begins in earnest.
DT seems pretty fresh and is upbeat and looks to be having a great time. That's what it's all about. Competition can put play through the meat grinder; we compete endlessly, for jobs, in traffic and for parking spots (those who drive), for tickets to shows, for restaurant tables and vacation accomodations, with other people for other people, for attention, for recognition, against sleep for wakefulness, against wakefulness for sleep, for vanishing resources and space on the planet, for the shiny brass ring that all too often turns out to be merely stamped tin (some stronger competitor having long ago and in the dead of night absconded with the real deal). The list of banalties or baubles that hold us enraptured is endless. Fuck the Joneses. Sometimes it should be about play, mindless play, that delightful dereliction of adulthood duties where once again one feels the giddy pointlessness of being a child. (Adulthood is the eyeless mask we don for the eternal masquerade party we insist on throwing ourselves when we consent to "grow up.") Indeed, barring certain elements of romance (another kind of play), maturity is grossly overrated. More than Butch, more than me, more than a lot of people who ride, DT knows how to have fun.
We chat it up, filling in Gary and the girls with details, real and those born of a somnambulant imagination that storms the empty spaces where the radar must have sputtered out in the surrounding dark hills. Inertia can get you through times of no sleep better than sleep can get you through times of no inertia (the coming drive home will confirm this).
Then all at once it's time to hit the starting line. I head off, knowing that with the sun out, this will be a faster lap, probably my fastest.
Butch crosses the line at 7:20 with a lap time of 58 minutes. The boy has picked it up a bit. He looks as fresh as DT, a good sign, but not a bit surprising. Butch is a strong rider when he's on, possessed of that rare dyad of talents that yields both speed and endurance in equally generous proportions. But he's a family man now and the "on" times can be tough to muster, as anyone with similar responsibilities knows. Still, he's got a damn good record for pulling it off, and the record stands for now.
The baton grips my wrist and I'm off, immediately laying it down. I pass a couple of geared riders and spin out on the same damn greasy hill, hucking the bike up and over it for a third time. Back on, I pick the good line, a thin, vermiform ribbon that dodges between roots, the same one that, like an inverse incubus, played hard to get all last night. The trail rolls by quickly beneath me as I stick to the smooth stuff and avoid when I can the many scabrous roots that jut out like monstrous phalanges. At mile three I give the signal, and hear nothing in response.
I roll on along a dark stripe that circumnavigates the campground before plunging back into the woods at a banked right-turn. I'm quietly surprised at how much faster I seem to be going, at how strong I feel. I pick off a couple more riders, mostly on climbs, where I'm able to stay planted in the saddle and grind the 2:1 up the steeper stuff, using my legs and saving my Achilles' lungs for later. I utter some words of encouragement by way of ingratiation as I pass the riders, and redouble my efforts to put dirt between us. Then the seed of pain that had been planted in my left triceps on the second lap begins to sprout. It will put forth a massive bloom atop a thorny stalk come lap four, but that is a long way off. For now, it's a minor inconvenience. I take a mental inventory on the fly of all the formerly invisible trail detritus that conspired to slow me down hours ago, and adjust accordingly. In the whoopdies section, I pass two more gearies, trading play for competition, and hammer on, feeling the weight of shaven minutes disappear. Soon I'm up and over the water tank, a whimsical feature tossed into the race purely for the hell of it and a sign that the lap is almost over. A few more narrow-topped, off-camber whoopdies and I'm breaking hard right, through the campground, stomping the pedals with everything I've got to reach the line, calling out "104!" as I skid to a stop.
It's 8:15, and I just pulled a 55-minute lap.
End, Part 3