Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A few weeks. And now it's summer.

This week last year I was sick and limping through the big "Philly Week" with my KBS team. Form was on, though, just having returned from a gnarly intro to racing in Ireland. This week, however, I'm training in the rain in Harrisonburg. It's been a nice week here in the 'Burg with lots of nice summery things going on. The rides are getting later and later pushing the limit of summer sunlight. I've been happily tired from a dirty weekend at the 20th annual Hoo-Ha! Winning the race comes as a side note thinking back to why I like mountain bike racing. I could feel myself getting excited for the weekend early last week. It had been on my radar all year but after spending the previous three weeks in constant transit with KBS, a root's weekend was in order. To deviate for a moment I'll shed some light on those last few weeks. My last post was all about the adventure and misery of getting out to Oregon. The end of that trip was supposed to be much more trying in the early stages than it ended up being. Part of my last-minute plane ticket punishment was that I endure an extended tour of the southeast before finally landing in DC the day after I left. That was never to be but I didn't end up arriving to a pillow until the following day regardless. The team was up early on monday after the conclusion of a semi-successful Mt. Hood Classic. I was up late the night before enjoying the low tolerance beer buzz that comes after your body is pushed beyond itself during a week-long tour. In the morning, room a mess from strategic energy conservation, I stared at the laundry I had done the night before that remained in a pile at the foot of my bed. To the right of the bed stood half empty cups of water and a pile of new and used energy food. Draped over a chair, my kit from the final stage with the numbers still pinned and pockets full of energy gel. My toiletry kit lay scattered and partially covered by a tipped over suitcase with my name embroidered on it. To steal a much overused quote from the mtb world, my room looked like that of a "small child's". I scanned the work I'd created over the week and sighed thinking about how generally traumatizing these races are. I'd suffered all week and now, standing in the aftermath, it was time to pack and leave. Story of stage racing. Long over the majestic lure of Oregon I only felt truly ready to leave after scouring the Hood River condo of the perishables being otherwise left behind and forgotten by my teammates. Times are tough but I'd do it out of principal regardless. So I packed up my room then stuffed the bags to the limit much to the amusement of my teammates. 222 Campbell St. is now good on olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The van showed up and we drove off the mountain down to Portland to greet a more than full day of travel. Everyone else had their noon departures in hand so I bid them farewell and headed toward the empty ticket desk. Sometimes, it seems, feeling pitiful and prepared for the worst is the best way to make shit happen. So I approached the desk as I was, pitiful, and expressed my need to make it home asap for a family emergency. Kind of low and dishonest, I know, but I'm not sure the airline biz walks a much higher road. Besides, the latest bias crackdown on bike fees warrants the exploitation of loopholes. "20 minutes", she said. Perfect. And thanks! I'm off. I was on the plane by noon and before most of my other teammates. Had a chat on the way to Denver with a "primitivist" sculptor from Portland. We spoke about the eventual and imminent demise of 3/4 of the world's population from lack of fresh drinking water. Some sharp points. Makes you take a closer look at the water in your Evian bottle. I knew I could count on interesting conversation when I looked at the dude. Picture pulled back red hair with sideburns that were carved in a circular orange peel design on the side of his face. They'd mesmerize you if you looked to long without blinking. A hardcore Scotsman of sorts with a kilt and a pair of heavy duty shit-kicking buckled leather boots. He wore a Christopher Columbus-esque billowy shirt and a celtic knot around his neck to boot. He was on his way to Germany to tour the beer and women by bike. No real plans, per se, just a buddy and a safe month to leave town. He said he considers himself retired. Not in a working sense but more of a "fuck the system" sense. We got along well and exchanged contact info. I made it into Dulles by midnight and a full fourteen hours earlier than I'd originally planned. While I was waiting for my luggage my teammate Reid sent a text asking how my airport camp out was going. I wrote back: "lucked out. I'm in DC!". So I grabbed my cumbersome bag and headed toward toward the employee bus stop. Not quite looking like an employee my KBS garb, the Indian driver was skeptical but reluctantly let me on. Of course I was out of my mind from a long week and wasn't able to communicate much other than "employee lot North B?". The guy didn't speak great English so was probably thinking "yeah, no shit. There's only one employee parking lot". I jumped out at the first stop and booked across the dark lot towards the exit gate. I felt like a spy or thief or at least someone doing something shady at night and getting away with it as I ducked under the gate. Felt good to creatively work the system. So much cheaper than the standard route and way more fun. Back down the same long road that was flooding on my way out and a dash over the highway and through the bushes. Made it back and the car was there. At this point it was 1 a.m. My phone rang and it was Jeff calling from Cali. He was all stoked on his first top ten Norba result and wanted to unload to me about his new super mega reason for living crush. Some Mtb/roadie chick from DC. Bla bla so hot. Bla bla amazing. Then my phone died. Hmmm, I thought. Peculiar timing. Just before the battery meltdown I was about to say, "whoa, that's amazing man. And crazy. Guess what? I'm driving to NYC!". Logic says sleep. Logic says be reasonable. But I say, NYC! It's only 4 hours away! I new I needed a phone charge at some point. I went to a couple blood stations and found out how kind and helpful the night staffs were. Not so and to no avail I took off into the night with a full tank of petrol product and what I was soon to find out, only one headlight. I got popped on my way out of a toll booth and informed that I only had one headlight. Right, yeah, of course. Dammit! The officer didn't give me a ticket for burned out bulb but he did capitalize on my lack of awareness. I gave him my VA. address and my WV license. For-the-love. Let me go. fuck. "I'm gonna have to summon you, son". Uh, VA is just where I work. So I've got a date to push forward all summer and into fall at the Loudon county court. I can't help to think that while this country is in an energy crisis and the world is falling apart at the seams, the law is requiring me to use 2 tanks of gas to appear for a misdemeanor. I'll gladly pay the fine. But that's not the system of destructiveness they're looking for. Anything to keep the faulty machine well lubricated I suppose. It also turned out that I had no low-beams at all. When I asked the cop what he thought I should do he said, "nothing to do at this time at night". Ok, so you think I'll get pulled over again? "probably", he said. "show the officer the ticket I just gave you and he might show mercy but I doubt it". So I took off into the night up 95 all paranoid and manic from an entire day of shady travel. NYC was still four hours away so I passed the time jumping from car to car hiding my lack of headlights. I'd get a fresh wind every time I'd see the flickering of lights behind me. I drove mainly with my fog lights that night, giving the allusion of having two lights. It wasn't until around 5 a.m. that it became light enough to feel safe about the situation. As the city lights broke on horizon I thought back to the darkness of the previous 5 hours and felt sure there was no other way I'd rather travel. Under the radar. All grown up but still making and breaking my own rules and ducking under the rest.

I spent a few days riding around NYC waiting for the signal from those that control my schedule lately. I prefer to keep the future wide open until it looks me in the eye. So that call came mid-day late in the week. I was asked if I could be in Baltimore by noon the following day for the Kelly Cup. I said sure and then cringed as my schedule for the summer was laid out in front of me. I was fine where I was and would like to stay. My insatiable desire to regain control is growing pretty quick these days... The team won that race before the big sprint was revealed. I'm just sayin'. Afterwards we exhausted several cases of wine and toasted the occasion. Our champ threw up. The next day we headed to NJ of the Tour of Somerville. I marked many a move in the first half of the race just like in the Kelly Cup. Couple of guys hit the deck in a couple of the massive pileups. We had to pick up Ben King from the hospital.

Ok, the mtb race, right! The whole weekend was soul-satisfying. Mackie Marcus and a few other friends from the dirt world camped out at 222 for a classic weekend. We all worked on bikes late into the night and rode to the race the next morning. I showed up to a scene that I'd neglected for over a year. I forgot what a good feeling it is to register and spin around get yourself in order before the start. It's a different feeling than the exhausted feeling I get from sitting around waiting for the start of a road race. People park on the grass and set up camp. I was a little anxious about the race. It'd been a while, you know. It took me a lap but I could feel those cylinders really starting to fire near the end. I won the race and reveled in it like a pig in shit. After a novel podium ceremony, we rode home. No cars that weekend.