Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pedal Every Inch: The 24-Hours of Big Bear, 2009 (Act 1 of 3)...

Don't push, it'll come.
Everything is gonna be alright, be alright.
Steady now, don't fall apart.
Keep yourself upright.

—Jawbreaker, "Rich," from the B-sides compilation CD, Etc.

There's a moment, lying on my side in the tent just after lap one, when it all comes home to roost. Stretched out, just trying to relax a bit (no hope of falling into the arms of Morpheus), I move my legs up habitually toward my midsection, assuming the classic fetal position.

That's when the cramps set in.

Without warning, the searing pain pierces my adductors like molten talons. And with the pain comes the equally searing truth, burning bright like Blake's tiger. I think—as I pound with both fists at the opposing contractions—without the least tinge of humor, the agony forcing a sort of instant honesty that no amount of alcohol could forestall, an epiphany: Fuck, I'm too old for this shit! It's over, can't even fake it anymore...

The body, you see, never, ever lies.

And this realization, this simple truth, brings on a despair that is alien and wholly unwelcome, not just under the current circumstances. Last year, this shit—this bodily betrayal—didn't happen until after lap 2. And now here it is, early, an ugly, unwelcome bellwether.

Amidst the pummeling, the pain succumbs, recedes. I search frantically around the tent for the bottle of Endurolytes, find it, pop the cap, and gobble a handful of the little white pills like a speed freak in need of a fast fix. I chase them with a couple mouthfuls of water and check the time: "The Kid" will be pulling in within 30 minutes.

Jesus, time undergoes all kinds of distortion during a 24-hour race. Fuck you, you smug physicists, with your glib, facile explanations of how moments pass, running your fingers absently through your graying beards as you speak with the utmost confidence about how seconds become minutes become hours become days become etc., ad infinitum, all of it along an immutable continuum, a nice, tidy, simple, linear progression, following an utterly unsympathetic and wholly indifferent plan set down from some nebulous beginning. That's fine for your models, for your in-class lectures, for simplicity's sake. But outside, amid reality, in the field, I call bullshit. I know. I have experiential data. Are you fucking kidding me?

Out on the lap—in situ, if you will—time is immeasurable. Yes, there's a dubious sense of how you're doing, at least during your later laps, when you have a sample or two under your belt. But you've got it all wrong, you silly tool, and it doesn't matter whether you think you're moving faster or slower. And it's not all simply a matter of subjectivity or even relativity (yeah, Einstein rode a what?...he never raced...and he looked pretty goofy doing it), whatever those are. Don't be so dismissive. It's malleable, this thing we call Time. It lives. It bends and flexes and stretches and contracts and twists and accelerates and slows and inverts and folds and squirms and button-hooks and corrects to the cues from an ever-changing alien script. Take your eye off the second hand—even for an instant—and Time misbehaves. It's easily as fucked up as sister Fate. And like Fate, it'll eventually do us all in. The two conspire.

The only constant here is that I'm getting slower. And older.

My first lap seems (note this word) to fly by. I'm riding in the 4th slot, by choice, by design. Though I falter very early on, at a steep rock slab greased with mud the consistency and color of baby shit, and get pissed at myself for a stupid error, I begin to settle in as the lap begins to play out.

The fixed gear offers a clear traction advantage, instantly feeding unmediated data up my spine and into my mind, letting me correct on the fly. DT's sage advice about riding fixed off-road and avoiding pedal strikes drifts back unbidden to instruct me time and again, as it did last year: Sometimes it's better just to ride over it, instead of around it. This simple but counterintuitive strategy aids me time and again as I approach tight sections where pedal strikes mean a yard sale.

I swap places with other riders again and again, passing gearies on the climbs, only to cede precious ground back to them on the downhills. The 32:18 I'm running on the Monkey is spinny when the trail points south, and I can only pedal so fast over the rocky, muddy terrain with my ass mostly planted in the saddle. It's all a bit frustrating, but on balance, I come out ahead of what I assume are ordinarily better riders, owing to the mostly upward direction of the first half of the course and the sick traction I'm getting from my tires [a Kenda (team sponsor) Nevegal at the stern, a Panaracer Rampage at the stem], both recklessly under-inflated.

As I said, the first lap seems to pass quickly. Before I know it, I'm into the pine grove around mile 6, arguably the most pleasing—esthetically and physically—part of the course. Here, beautiful conifers laid out in a majestic grid pattern crowd out the sunlight as they rub shoulders and try to outreach one another. Years of accumulated needles have left the trail below them like a sponge, and the softness and concomitant damping quality provide great relief to my nether parts. I take comfort in the knowledge that I'm now about halfway through the lap.

Then it's on to the rocky downhill, the "forearm fryer," as I like to call it, the only real question mark on the whole course. Oddly, it seems neither as long nor as brutal as it did last year, but then again, who the fuck knows? I'm all hopped up on adrenaline and not a reliable witness. At the bottom, after an interminable session of skip-jacking (if you ride fixed off-road, you'll understand the neologism) my way down, it all spills into a stream bed that is equally rocky, though much less steep. I realize immediately that I managed to make it down the hell-hill without using my front brake. Bizarre.

I move on, no mishaps, and find my way eventually to the endless climb that starts somewhere (a guess) around mile 10. I ride most of it, sparing myself, however, the humiliation and pain that would come with taking on most of the ridiculous rock gardens (forests?) that add muddy ichor to injury, and, lo and behold, it seems to go by supernaturally fast. Before I know it, I'm past it and slaloming through the rooty, rocky final stretch to the narrow bridge that signals the end of the lap. I rocket up the bridge ramp with a sudden burst of enthusiasm, sucking in cubic yards of air at the start to let out a long "YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE...:" that ends with a predictable "...HAW!"—a clarion call to Baler that I'm coming in—at the crest where the bridge proper begins, carrying me over the dirt road below where the first-lappers began their LeMans style start hours earlier. I skid my way down the ramp on the other side, then it's into the left-spiraling turn that brings me into the start/finish booth. I dig around for the baton, hand it over, slap down my badge on the sensor, and feel a huge wave of relief rush over me. I pull a 1:44. Baler heads off for his second lap, his expression and demeanor betray nothing.

I'm done for now. Lap 1 is in the hopper. And this old man needs a beer. Cue the curtain on Act 1.


Jon BALER said...

another great one, keep them coming!

Todd said...

And you wonder why I skipped over my report. Mine would pale in comparison.

Blue-eyed Devil said...

Thanks, JB. Just need to pick up another bomber of Saison Dupont, ha.

Todd, you've got your own tale to tell, man. Thanks for the kind words.

brett said...

Incredibly discriptive writing. Strong work.

Rob said...

I swear man, you should write a book or a manifesto. I've read about 5 other descriptions of the course and by far this is the best.

I love riding in those pine forest settings. There is a fun little place near Richmond that is all like that. It's a blast.

DT said...

Sounds like the course was easier than usual, hah! Good job out there to you and all the fixie Big Bear veterans. Can't wait to hear about part dos...

Tim Wise said...

Where you at Steve?

Blue-eyed Devil said...

I hear ya Tim; it's been a rough couple months. Be back soon, though.

Thanks for asking. Hope to see you shortly in CO for SSWC09! We have some beer drinkin' to do, man.