Monday, July 07, 2008

No Coastin' for Bold Men: The 24 Hours of Big Bear (Part 2)...

A change of speed, a change of style/a change of scene, with no regrets/A chance to watch, admire the distance/still occupied, though you forget/Different colours, different shades/over each mistakes were made...
—Joy Division, New Dawn Fades

I don't like this arrangement
Your wild schemes are nothing but pipe dreams
I don't like this arrangement
And we can't win without the kid

—Royal Trux, Yellow Kid

[Ed. note 1: Back to the machine gun1...finally. Just when you thought you didn't give a damn anymore about a race that took place a month ago, this fractured mosaic, this tattered patchwork of Indo-European, West Germanic symbols and universal blank space comes along and confirms your feelings. Such is life. You want posts on fresh races? Go here and here and ungrateful, insatiable bastards!]

[Ed. note 2: This post was written variously under the influence of hops, malt, water, yeast, caffeine, ennui, a mysterious sort of literary inertia, and Joy Division's inimitable chef-d'oeu·vre Unknown Pleasures, and likely against the tacit advice of both the caudate and quadrate lobes of a certain bile-producing organ that is far too forgiving for its own good. You've been warned, and now the lawyers have all gone home for the evening to leer lasciviously at their bloated bankbooks and dream of eternal litigation. Yay!]

Seven in the Morning, Saturday (Race Day):

We emerge slowly from our tents, like zombies dreading the dawn. All through the night, the aforementioned newborn pushed his lungs to their limit, wailing and screaming as if in the grip of some unimaginable pavor nocturnus. Each time he paused for breath, his brother, apparently upset by the sudden, frightening silence, would take over in a lower key, but with every bit as much gusto, as if a gold medal hung in the balance. None of us slept well, save Ricky and Jo, who showed up late amid the horror show soundtrack and decided that camping a little out of range might be a good idea. Now that the sun is up, the children are eerily quiet. Mission accomplished.

After breakfast, I decide to forego the parts-swap I'd been counting on to help me get through the nasty stuff. So, instead of installing the shorter Sugino cranks I'd recently acquired, I choose to "run what I brung" and stick with the 175 mm cranks already on the Monkey. I guessed at the correct spindle length when I bought the new bottom bracket a couple days ago. And now, this close to race time, I don't want to break down the drive train only to discover my guess was wrong, then have to cobble everything together and hope I get within the proper torque range to keep it all intact. I figure the current set-up got me through Lodi, it'll get me through this race as well. I'll pull and toss the ISIS2 shit some time post-race, when it makes sense to do so.

One Forty-five in the Afternoon (Race Day)—Introducing "The Kid":

The Kid is tall and whipcord lean, with longish hair that lends him a slight lionine quality. Built for speed, he looks like a cyclist. His racing bio on the team page informs the curious that he is a mere 20 years of age. But looking at him, you'd guess someone somewhere must have rounded up. He's quiet and unpretentious, preferring, it would seem, to let his riding do the talking for him. He's got a good sense of humor. He's new to this group; we met him last year at SSWC in Scotland. He doesn't seem the least bit disturbed by hanging out with a lot of old(er) fucks. Perhaps he feels we've a few bad habits he can adopt by mere association—sort of a mainline approach that gets you there quicker without all the trial and error and, yes, rational thought. Time is on his side, true, but somehow he fits right in with our gearless ad hoc group like a shiny new upgrade. With less than two decades ex utero, he's already a far better rider than me in every way, and right up there in terms of speed and endurance with my other two teammates, the Outlaw and RickyD. The latter two need no introduction. Me, I'm the dark horse, the question mark, the filigree thread (for you third-rate poets) from which Second Place dangles precariously. Bottom line (for you first-rate philistines): I've got nothing to lose, baby.

But it's not my time, not yet, though the hours run away like wild horses over the hills. (Unlike Bukowski's besotted yet prolific imp, my muse is a lazy little bastard, content to corral the fallen fruit with a couple kicks rather than reach for the ripe offerings overhead. Alas, the span between earth below and limb above is the chasm between mediocrity and genius.)

Back to The Kid, who has just banked his first lap. His time is good, especially considering he did the running start. Oh, and he's racing on a Soma Juice with a nice little crack developing at the bottom bracket/seat-stay juncture, a nonticking time-bomb waiting to blow up when the moment is right. The Kid knows this and races it all the same. Like I said, he's young and invincible, and McFate3 doesn't want to McFuck with him right now. There will be time. He's speckled all over with mud, and some of the first words out of his mouth are, "That was tough...well, tougher than I expected."

When Joe returns from his first lap some 83 minutes later, he makes a similar remark, adding that he just couldn't seem to get his legs going. Doesn't seem to matter much—his lap time is the fastest in our class. For the entire race. So much for sluggish pistons. [Ed. note: The Outlaw has since pointed out that, in fact, he had the second fastest lap in the SS/Rigid class. See his comment to this post.]

Sometime After Midnight, Lap 2:

The stream is almost as tricky as the forearm fryer that gave way to it.  Rather than cross it, the course runs through it, following the orphaned artery as it seeks level ground.  The water is deeper than I expect, and the rocks are the size of trolls.  There is no "line" for me; I negotiate my way as much by caroming off obstacles like a hapless pinball as by picking my way through them.  But this section is short, and soon I'm back on more stable ground; "stable" being a relative word.

The trail is degrading by the minute.  Each tire that rolls through the muck acts like a blender, sucking water from the puddles and churning it into the surrounding soil to form an inky batter. The mud tugs at my tires, stealing precious momentum.  I approach and pass a few riders, then settle in on the subtle crests and troughs of the trail, keeping the cranks moving and finding space between islands of rock.

It isn't long before I sense a rider on my ass, or so it seems.  I ask him if he wants to pass.  No response.  A minute passes. I ask again. No response. I ride a little further, and still I hear him behind me, closer this time, I think.  I ask again, and he responds in a frustrated tone, "I'll let you know if I need to pass."   Okay, asshole, have it your way, even if that means pulling my rear tire out of the new gap between your front teeth on the next descent.  I just ain't that fast headed downhill on a fixie.

About five minutes later, I negotiate a tricky section of rocks that are like talons, squeezing the trail edges together so that only a narrow slot remains.  Seconds later, I hear the silverware-set-down-a-flight-of-stairs jangle of sound that announces the spectacular yard-sale of the uptight rider behind me.  Karma, baby.  I call out amid the glow of shadenfreude, asking if he's okay.  No response.  I press my luck again, and this time he replies, "Yeah, I'm fine...thanks, man!"  Huh, change of heart.  I roll on, putting some much-needed distance between us.

A quarter mile later, Karma returns, ponders the previous event, weighs the cause and effect, the action and reaction, the crime and the punishment, and decides to make an adjustment to the cosmic balance.  On a curve hidden from me by a cluster of branches and the limits of a bar-mounted light, I come around too wide, and overcorrect by leaning the bike and jerking on the handlebar.  My front tire washes out in the parfait of mud and pebbles that signals the boundaries of a weak stream.  The bike follows the tire and I follow the bike.  It's not a bad spill, by any definition.  A little trail rash, a flush of embarrassment, and I'm back up and rolling again.  

I cross the shallow stream—hardly more than a trickle, really—and immediately there's a problem.  Something feels off, and in the darkness I'm certain the impact has twisted my stem to the right.  I dismount and check out the controls.  But all is as it should be.  I remount and try to ignore the odd feeling, to make sense of the dubious feedback that reaches me through cromoly conduits.  It's a proprioceptive glitch; a stutter in the flow of nerve impulses that has me questioning the relative position of my hands, the handlebar, and the track the bike takes as I pedal on. Eventually it disappears, and my confidence returns.

The parts of my brain not busy keeping me awake, upright, and moving safely ahead now split the duties of intermittently reminding me that this lap is passing slowly and making sure that "New Pleasure" plays on an endless neural loop in the stadium of my skull.

In the distance, a rider appears, disappears, then reappears as the snaky path my light takes falls in synch briefly with the spectral figure slaloming through the woods ahead. I catch up, and see that it's a chick. She has on a particular outfit for the race. I find out later that she's one of a handful of female racers known as the Live Dirty Girls. Like her teammates, she is dressed à la gamine; in pleated skirt (pink, plaid), black sleeveless top, and white knee-socks, to be precise. Her petite body enhances the illusion. In the grainy circle of light that opens the darkness ahead, I find her image refreshing and energizing, a welcome bit of whimsy amid the dark lumps that sprout from the trail like massive fungi.  She rides with skill, taking the downhills with the kind of confidence that suggests she might have designed the course.   We talk as we ride, and I find out she is one-half of a duo team. I have the opportunity to pass her with each climb, but I hang in behind her instead, talking and riding and mirroring her good moves. She's setting a decent pace and would likely catch me at each downhill anyway. We ride maybe two miles together, and near the end of the lap, I pass her with an effort.

Within the last half-mile of every lap at any race my energy seems to build with every turn of the crank. This lap is no exception. After the last rocky drop-off, where the trail begins to mellow in anticipation of the finish, I lay it down, building enough momentum to climb the ramp seated and at a good clip. I crest, pass over the section where the trail bends back on itself, then relax my legs and let the cranks take over on the descent. A quick arc left at the bottom through loose rock and dirt, around and under the ramp, and I'm through the gate. I locate the baton, hand it over like it's kryptonite, and send The Kid off to war on his third lap. My time is not good, but it's good enough. It's 1:20 in the morning, Sunday.

8:53 a.m., Sunday:

I finish my third and final lap, coming in with just enough time left in the race that, if The Kid and the Outlaw ride true to form, Rick will head out for a fourth lap. It's an evil move, but not one I pursued with malice. I used it only as motivation to keep me moving through my lap. I know where we stand, I know there's no hope for a first-place finish, and also no need to pile up laps to secure second place. We're done, pretty much, as long as Joe and Dan complete their laps in a decent time. I'm done, regardless. Beer time.4

We end up taking Second Place—as the Outlaw had predicted—in a three-team category, Single Speed and Rigid. Or, as someone else pointed out, first place in the unofficial Fixed and Rigid class.

Death or glory, indeed.

All photos by D. Ross, except photos 1 and 12, stolen from R. Deleyos and T. Baur, respectively and respectfully. Special thanks to Jojo and Donna for support above and beyond the call of duty. We couldn't have pulled it off without you. And uber props go out to Team "The Wild Bunch," who dug down deep and gave it everything they had to pull off a second place finish in the Women's Sport class. Belated congrats, ladies!

1. Yeah, I know, the relentless march of technology renders the metaphor as obsolete as the equipment itself. I like it anyway, so it stays.
2. The original ISIS system—a large, splined, hollow bottom bracket spindle coupled with bearings the size of flea shit—was a feeble solution to a problem no one had.
3. Humbert Humbert's term personifying the force responsible for a series of uncanny coincidences that Nabokov throws his way in the literary masterpiece Lolita.
4. A quick thanks to the ale-swilling emissaries from Breckenridge Brewing Company, whose beer station was a welcome oasis in the shade-less camping area, and whose free beer was even more welcome. Hard to beat a nice, cold 471 IPA any time, let alone post-race. Thanks, gents!


Todd said...

You're an f'in wordsmith Spearman. As usual, a spectacularly crafted writeup. I'm still Googling half of the references and when I'm done I bet I like it even more. Thanks!

riderx said...

Good conclusion to your race report.

One small correction though, I only had the second fastest lap for our class. The overall fastest SS lap goes to Gary on The Posse of Moustached Bandits team. Credit where credit is due.

2drunk2shift said...

Are you sure the girl in the knee highs was real? It sounds more like a fantasy in the night. Check out the t-shirt as requested. I just did like 30 shirts. These cost me a little more, but I'll get it to you at cost if you're still interested.

Peace and Carrots.

Icon O. Classt said...

2D2S, yeah, she was real...check out the pic mid-post; it's of her.

I'll check out the shirts...also need to reorder some Speedy's!

Rob said...

Damn-- I sure hope our paths cross one day- maybe 2D2S and I will make it up your way before too long. 2D- I guarantee that you know at least 2 of those girls on that team.