Getting Back

Allow me to not bullshit you – when I finished the race at BoB CX two weeks ago, I was done.  And it wasn’t on account of the bad luck or the result.  I had nothing to work with out there.  So tired, completely unfit, and horribly outmatched.  I rolled back to the car and told Kristen I can’t race this year, and I was going to contact Gloucester and try to get my entries refunded.  There was no sense carving out time this Fall for racing bikes if it was going to be like this.  There’s challenging yourself, but that’s not what this was.  It was just self-destructive.

I had looked forward to cyclocross all year long, and now it was here, and I was useless.  And while that should have been really frustrating, I accepted it, because I have a beautiful kid and a beautiful, exceptionally tolerant wife and at the end of the day I don’t need or want anything else.  And while I never quit anything, ever, this felt like one of those times of where the acceptance of reality releases such a weight from your conscience; the relief just overtakes you and it doesn’t feel like quitting at all – it’s just the way it is, and you’re not fighting it anymore, and there’s peace in that.  And that peace lasted about two days.

I trotted myself out to a midweek training race at UNH.  And I was decimated by people I know I’ve hung with before.  Completely gassed and wrung out.  My great accomplishment was shutting the door on a kid who passed me early, had a mechanical, and passed me again.  I was so bombed out and dropped that on a climb, I reached back into my pocket and grabbed my phone to see who that last text was from.  This sucks.  But I figured this was the hard time I needed to do right now – race my way into shape.  I know how good it feels to be racing when you’re actually fit, and I was going to chase that fucking dragon.

After the race, Brad and Steve wanted to ride a little longer, so I led them into the trail system at Kingman Farm.  Which I know well enough at this point.  We noodled along for a few minutes, and emerged into a clearing that leads to Hicks Hill.  I figured I wouldn’t take them out here and not ride the hill.

I rode ahead and for the first time in my life, I’m not sure how many times I’ve tried to be honest, I cleaned the whole thing.  On a cyclocross bike.  How many times over the years at UNH did I put a mountain bike up this hill and never make it.  All of them.  And now tonight, on this road bike with skinny little tires, nailed it.  At the top, I grabbed onto a tree and sat for a moment, waiting for the others.  It was getting dark, it was quiet, it was very reflective.  I’m rarely here anymore.  Hell, I’m rarely even out riding a bike period anymore.  I felt like everything was alright.  I can do that.  My fitness has been taken away, but I can still ride a bike.

A week later I have this realization that in order to give myself the best chance of being fit for Gloucester, I need to race both days this coming weekend on my singlespeed.  I had been on a bike in September a total of three times for a total of about three hours, and this was going to hurt.

At White Park on Saturday, I got nuked.  Making that climb over and over was destroying me.  Every time I would come through the start line, my body knew it would have to heave itself up that thing, and I could feel it shut down, bracing for the abuse.  The paved portion of the hill would drive me insane.  You catch an echo of your drivetrain off the guardrail, as you do on any paved climb, and sometimes you’re not sure if it’s you, or someone right behind you.  I felt like a thousand pounds.  But one thing that was working was the bike.  Stompy was reborn with this new fork; it could actually turn.  And riding on tubulars; it could actually turn.  21 pounds be damned, he could hold it together.  I crossed the line 18th of 27.  Couldn’t have been better, but could have been worse.

I decided that Mr. Stompy, attrition beater, would now be called The Millenium Falcon.  Now clad in vintage Mavic Reflex rims, Fango 33s, a feathery new fork, bearing the same abysmal cockpit.  So much more capable than Stompy ever was when he hit the circuit in ’08.  Wasn’t this a lot of trouble?  YES.  I could have just ziptied my Gin & Trombones, saved a ton of weight, and been done with it.  But this is better.  She (yes she, it’s a she; you can sex this bike by looking at the sticker just behind the bottom bracket on the seat tube, it’s a Sky Yaeger “100% Chick” design, it’s all quite an identity crisis that’s now sorted)….she’s got it where it counts.  I would like to add however that up a hill is definitely one of those places where she doesn’t have it, and it doesn’t count, except against you.

The morning after White Park was something I hadn’t felt in a long time.  It was the morning after a bike race.  The unmistakable fog of fatigue.  Today was going to be rugged.  Just like it was supposed to be.  I hit the coffee, and then plowed through chores around the house, barely eating.  Around 1pm, only three hours out from the start of the next race and little food in the house, I realized I was kind of nutritionally screwed.  We tracked down a bagel around 2, I started Skratch doping in earnest, a Honey Stinger an hour out, and hopefully that would be enough gas.

I knew my gearing for Sucker Brook would be too easy the moment I turned it in my driveway as I packed up the bike.  I had changed the ring the night before (38t to 42t), but I still had the 18 out back.  All of my 16s were mounted on other wheels.  Out of time, the 18 would have to do.

Sucker Brook was a very strange experience as I found myself with a great start and racing in a very unfamiliar location known as MID PACK.  What happens here?  I have no idea.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been.  There are all of these people on bikes, not just in front, but behind?  What do I do?  I’m riding really hard, and it’s very early.  I realize that this is how bike racing works.  This is that “hard part” when the leaders are popping everyone else, before things settle down into their normal order.  Of course, as laps wear on, the “hard part” doesn’t seem to get any easier.  But I feel pretty good.  It’s all very mysterious.  I roll with it.

I’m actually racing today, and it’s a very confusing time where I have this awareness of setting up for corners, planning ahead for various sections; I have no fucking idea what’s going on but I’m doing it.  I’m running the sand, passing people, actually shouldering the bike properly?  Nothing is making any sense.  I’m aware of people on my tail and how racing the person in front of me is allowing that gap behind me to shrink.  This is just like watching NASCAR.  I’m driving the tires right off this bike, and they’re taped, and they’re not going anywhere, and life is amazing.  I come through the line 14th of 24.  When I discover this, all is right with the world.  I feel incredible.  Kristen is here, Stella is here, and she’s happy, and I feel like something is starting to come back together.  A dark couple of weeks getting to this point let me tell you.  I’ve never, ever felt so encouraged about Gloucester, even in the years that I was actually riding.  I don’t feel worn out.  I feel like I’m just getting started.  As long as Stella is only getting up once a night, I think I can do this.  Ride this little wave of consistency as long as we can.  She will destroy me again at some point.  Until then, I got my balls back behind the handlebar of a bicycle.

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