The Slow Spoke is a place where I put my thoughts to words and hopefully some will read them. Since I'm a major bike geek most entries will be bike related but, not always. I'm also guilty of thinking far too much so you never know what the topic will be. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Friday, 11 November 2011

I'm A Man Of My Word

This is a story that has been typed for a while. I just hadn't gotten around to adding it to the blog until now. It's a long one folks. Sorry :-)

I'm A Man Of My Word.

I wasn’t looking forward to my weekend of riding at all. I know it doesn’t sound like the best way to start a post but it’s the truth. After I spent a bit of time with the idea, I loathed the thought of it. It’s not that I didn’t want to ride or that I’d lost any drive to do so, it’s just that I truly dreaded the thought of suffering the weekend through.

There was a time, when I had time, I approached racing in a different way: more vim! As a 38 year old father of two, naturally, and I know this is so cliche, things take the back seat to my kids. They are everything to me and cycling, whichever genre, comes after. I still ride as often as possible and whenever possible: don’t get me wrong, but, it’s certainly not with the same vigor of days gone by.

No, my “racing” days have all but ended and I enter only 1 race religiously any more. It’s an early season point to point where my objective is only to try and beat my previous best time: and have a blast in the process of course. The race hasn’t failed me yet in the “fun” department so I return each year to kick start my season and shoot for my best-time-target. Any other racing I do throughout the year is just treated as a day out really. My weekend mashups are still ridden just as aggressively as they’ve ever been, it’s just that I’m slower now. I know that. There’s nothing I can do about it.

When I was approached by friend, and bike shop owner, James, to see if I’d care to join him on his 24hr team, I instinctively said “Yes”. Of course I needed to get a green light from the Mrs (she rarely says no to anything like this really anyway) but I was as good as in without even a thought of what it actually meant. I’d committed!

I’d done these many times in the past but it had been several years since my last entry into an all-nighter. I knew what was involved. I had experience. James’ entire team had folded and it was now up to the two of us to come up with a replacement team as quickly as possible. All I could think about was how horrible my condition was and if he put a team of mashers together I was going to be the anchor. I did NOT want to be the anchor. He insisted that this wasn’t going to be that kind of team. This was going to be a weekend for the boys to hang, and ride. “We’re not gunnin’ for shit except fun......”

And with that, I committed with a hand shake. And I’m a man of my word.

We started making calls to everyone we knew and seeing as it was so last minute, our long list got short very quickly. All potential candidates had plans. Everything from weddings, to family BBQ’s to camping trips to surgeries. You name it. We were in rough shape and the date was fast approaching.

A few days later James informing me that he had decided to start going through his customer list calling folks he “thought” would work out alright based mainly on short conversations and what he saw in the shop. I thought it was a little unorthodox but then, really, had we gone to the web, what would have been the difference? Faulk it.

“What ch’a got?” I asked.

He mentioned a guy named Kris who rides road (used to ride MTB until his ride was ripped off) is fully committed and insanely hyped about the whole thing. James knew little of Kris other than some other smaller details but he seemed like a good guy and he DEFINITELY loves to ride. “Cool”, I thought. Kris was going to borrow the shop’s demo Scott (a loaded carbon fiber Genius). A lot of bike for what we were going to do and the trails we were going to hit but, he needed a ride so..... It was far more than capable.

James also received commitment from another customer named Glen. He had known Glen from years of service at the shop and said that he’d been racking up the miles this year so he may be feeling a little competitive out there. The word “anchor” popped into my head again. I repeated my question from days earlier just to be sure, “We’re keeping this cool right? We’re not shooting for any big hits right?” Once again, he assured me we were not.

We cut the team there at 4 members to relieve any stress we were feeling about getting this together in time. It was a regular hodge-podge of dudes who had never ridden together before and, apart from James, had never even met before. We knew nothing of each other. It was going to be interesting indeed.

The plan was for me and James to meet up early on Friday morning and make the 3-plus-hour drive up to where the event was going to be held. We would then set up camp, pre-ride the course and chill for the night. I couldn’t wait for that part. I dreaded the suffering I was going to have to endure but I waited anxiously for a weekend away.

I had just purchased a brand new Forester that I intended on taking up when, on Thursday night, James texted me saying that Kris was asking if he could join us as well on Friday. Glen was headed up early Saturday. Kris didn’t like the idea of driving all that way, stepping out of Glen’s car and pushing pedals soon after. I can’t say that I blamed him either. My problem was that I was a Forester Virgin (a name I dubbed myself as I’d never packed it before) so I was hesitant in saying yes for fear of not having room. In the end however, I agreed. I was still very unsure, but I agreed.

It wasn’t because I didn’t know Kris, it was because I had no real idea how much room my vehicle had since it was only a couple of weeks old and I’d never had the opportunity to experiment with it in that respect. Could I fit 3 guys, their bikes, bike gear and camping gear all into my new truck? Faulk! Would someone’s tire leave a stain in my headliner?? The stress I was feeling for lack of condition and letting the team down was only compounded by the thought of a stained headliner! Jesus! I hate new vehicles........

I ran downstairs and started to lighten up on some of the gear I had planned on bringing. This was so last minute. It usually isn’t a good thing when you’ve already packed and gotten ready for the next day. Nevertheless, I had to trim some fat.

The next morning I arrived at James’ place and for the sake of simplicity, Kris had made his way there as well. James makes the introductions and right away, Kris seems as though he’s going to fit in nicely. Perhaps not physically into my truck, but, he seems to be a decent guy for sure.

I look at the piles of stuff we all have and voice my concerns. They, laugh. They’d already been talking about it while I was making my way over. We start to re-consider again what we REALLY need. As Kris and James sort through their stuff and amalgamate some of the food into two coolers, I throw the bikes on the roof of the car. At some point, someone is accused of “.....packing like Snooki......” and this opens the floodgates. The digs are fast and furious in all directions. No one is safe. We’re 5 minutes into the weekend and we’re already laughing about shit. Clearly, we all need this little “holiday” and we’re jelling well already. Not bad for 3 dudes who know pretty much squat about each other.

In the end, there was loads of room. Kris’s spot in the back wasn’t even impeded in the least by any overflow of gear. It was stellar! I'm impressed by the volume in the back of my new Forester.

The i-pod was set to random playing a whole mix of new stuff I had picked up (I’m a big music geek) but we didn’t need it. There was little silence on the drive up as we had loads to discuss trying to get to know each other. Quality conversation and laughs o-plenty to be sure. We arrive a little later than planned but still plenty early to get everything done that we were hoping for.

We decide to quickly set up camp and then head out to pre-ride the course. It doesn’t take long before we find ourselves with lungs full of sweet pine smelling air, twisting and weaving our way through the marked course, climbing aggressively, testing our form.

We complete the course at a nice steady pace and I sort of dissect it section by section. I choose how I will change my lines the next time through. I make mental note of obstacles and/or hazards to watch for along the way. I can’t help myself. I know I’m not here to really race but, after doing it so long, it’s just natural.

At the end of the loop I’m feeling good. We didn’t kill it but we didn’t sit up either. Our heart rates are up but we know we’ll be going around a lot in the next while so we’re all happy. We agree that the course is well thought out and a good length for this style of event. A nice amount of separated singletrack followed each time with some double track to allow for passing in case you are trapped at some point. The course isn’t overly technical but some sections are nicely twisted and tight to make up for some of that. The course hosts a couple of climbs which I thought would eventually hurt after several passes but, I was excited. The conditions were excellent. The trails were dry, dusty and very quick indeed. The making of a good outing.

We head down to pick up our race kit before we are to drive into town to pasta-up.

After receiving our kit and zip-tying the plates on, the team was seriously bummed that we were one number away from that “coveted” number. ;-)

We headed out to a place called Baffos and had a wicked meal. I was so taken by the Lobster, Crab and Shrimp whatever it was (LOL) I ordered a second plate when I was done. No joke. It was awesome. I have never done that in a restaurant before. YUM! YUM!

We headed back to camp for some campfire hang-time and some drinks. Kris and James rocked the beers and I was working my way through a mickey of Forty Creek and ginger (God I love that stuff). We weren’t going hard on the booze though. We were being respectable. None of us wanted to get all rowdy and feel like turds in the morning. It was a good chill night talking about stuff around a fire. It was what these weekends are all about.

We gave Kris, hands down, the award for story of the night though: the details of which, we will keep to ourselves. Suffice it to say, it was freaking hilarious.

None of this fire talk would have been possible without the finest of wood of course. “Aged” to perfection. LOL

WTF?? We got a kick out of that label.

Anyway, we shut down around 2am or so.

The following morning we rise to another lovely day. I fire up my stove, make some coffee and pound back some oatmeal and bananas for a start. James and Kris soon follow suit. Groggy, rubbing sleep out of their eyes and stretching out the stiff sleeping-bag knots. They start to prepare for the day as well.

About an hour later, our fourth member arrives. Glen pulls up in his beat up old Acura and pulls out a backpack and his bike. I quickly ask “You need a hand setting up?” He looks puzzled so I ask, “You got a tent?”

He says “No, I figure I’ll just crash with one of you guys. There will always be one guy out anyway.”

I don’t have an issue with that really but I did think it was odd that someone would go camping without ANY gear and assume that the rest (people he doesn’t know) would take care of it. I just laughed. We all kinda did....

We talked with Glen a while but informed him that the team had voted him in as the lap-one-man. He was cool with that and started to prepare. I did as well since I was to be taking lap 2 and we all figured we would be doing these laps in under an hour.

The start goes smoothly and almost immediately after Glen heads out I start to get that old feeling of butterflies in my stomach. Not sure why, there was no need! I guess, like the dissecting of pre-ridden courses, it too is something that doesn’t change. After a history of competing at different events in different sports, whether it was mtb’ing or whatever, I always got this way. This event wasn’t even going to be a race for us, however, I still felt nervous.

I decide the best course of action is to jump on my bike and ride around the campground to calm the nerves and get comfortable. It proves to be a good idea as my quivering legs and twitchy feeling arms soon recovered and I was ready.

Glen arrives well under an hour and we make our exchange. Within seconds of leaving the start area my heart rate sky-rockets and I know it’s nerves again and not due to effort. I sit up momentarily to allow my heart-rate to drop again and try to calm myself down. I figure, despite being told repeatedly that this was all for fun, I was still subconsciously nervous about letting the team down. It was a real challenge for me to convince myself otherwise.

Eventually though, I finally succeed. After I settled again, I lifted my carcass out of the saddle and buckled down. I pass three riders on the climb and get into the first of the singletrack alone and with no one in front of me. This is surprising at this stage of the race as congestion can always be a problem with short, looped courses.

My speed is up and I maintain throughout my ride. I press the biggest gear I can the entire time ensuring that my pedals are always loaded. My first lap goes without any issues. I am held up on occasion but it is all respectful. People were gracious in moving when they could but I always called up to tell them not to rush. “Whenever you worries.”

While I’m on the subject, this is the first time in all my years of racing that there were ZERO issues with cloggers (people who refuse to move) or hot heads (those who come up behind screaming and bawling to get out of the way). ZERO! The entire weekend was filled with folks who moved over when they could, and folks who waited patiently until i, or someone else, was able to safely move over. It was fantastic really. Perhaps testament to the design of the course.

Anyway, I too come in well under an hour and hand off to James. He’s laughing as he decided to do the race on his fully rigid SS 29er and, as the most senior man of the team, it was sort of an experiment for him. He was looking forward to it. By the time we get to Kris's wait (he’s never attended one of these before) he’s vibrating with excitement. It’s comical. He absolutely cannot wait to get out there and ride with aggression. He wants to CRUSH pedals.

James rolls in with a respectable time as well and Kris is off like a flash. Our laps continue on this way and we make our rounds through the team roster in relatively short time. Lap after lap go by and decent times are being posted by all. The trail, the company, the weather, everything, is a real treat.

Hours Later:

Part way through my 5th time around I’m starting to feel the miles I’d ridden earlier in the day catch up to me. Particularly in my back. I’ve never had issues with this in the past so it was all new to me. I pressed on, refusing to step off the bike, even on the toughest of the loop’s climbs. Not once had I dabbed anywhere in any of my laps previous and there was no way that I was about to start now. Furthermore, I even refuse to switch gears, forcing myself to press on in a big gear to keep up momentum. At one point, I am out of the saddle on a climb and my bars are down along my waist. I’m desperately trying to stretch my back and legs out as I crank over; grunting with each rotation. Sweat steadily streams from my forehead and drips from several location down onto my numberplate. I can hear the drips making contact and catch a few when I look down with my helmet light. I curse my poor condition, the weight of my 163lbs carcass and my back but continue on.

I finish my lap somewhere in the night and still under the 1hr mark. At least I still had that going for me. By now, my head light had pretty much burned out and I was onto strictly bar lights. In retrospect, my battery and light reflected how I felt inside at this point; burned out. Here’s a pic just moments from crossing the finish line again right at that moment. Aching, soaked in sweat, drained, and lights half burned. Get this lap over with.

I get to the transition zone and no one from my team is present. I called for James but I couldn’t see him. Soon after, Kris showed up and asked if I’d wait up for him to finish. He wanted to sit up for a beer. I agreed and headed back to the site. There I find James relaxing in a chair with his feet up and a beer in his hand. He’s in a daze watching the fire.

“Hey, bro.” he says quietly as I dismount and lean my bike against the picnic table. “Good time again it looks like, man.”

I tell him that I was again happy enough with my performance and I discuss some aspects of my most recent loop. I make no mention of my back. Staring into the fire, he proceeds to tell me, “I’m done man”. He swigs his beer right after spilling those beans. I thought, perhaps, he might have been expecting me to get upset by the statement or try and convince him otherwise but I did no such thing.

As I mix myself my first Forty Creek of the night I say, “Right on. That’s cool. It’s been great so far bro. Really faulking cool man. Thanks for asking me to join......seriously.”

By then I’d mixed my drink and I was making my way to my place at the fire still in my soaked gear. I reach over, just before sitting and we cheers to a good weekend without saying a word. The only sound was of the fire crackling before us. We’re in a trance for a while.

We talked a while about personal stuff and other random topics before James mentions that Glen needs to be woken up. We give the shout out and out he comes from James’ tent. I now realize why James was still up. He was burnt yet stayed up because Glen was sleeping in his tent and possibly even in his bag. LOL He’s slightly puzzled at how early he is to rise but then quickly learns that James forfeited his lap.

“So who’s going to meet me then??”

Unlike my physical self, my mind races. My back is wrecked, I feel like shit and I’m simply not in the mood. I blurt out “Don’t expect me there. I don’t have lights.” I instantly hate myself for saying that as it was a total cop out. It’s only “half true”. My bar lights definitely still had sufficient juice in them for another round but I was done. There are no excuses: none. The bike was fine. The bar light would have been fine. I had dry gear. No, the weak link in this little chain was me but I was too tired to care. I admit it. Right here and now, I admit it.

James then informs him that Kris had mentioned that he was coming back for a beer after his lap and then he was done as well. Glen, I think a little disgusted says that if no one is there then he would just continue on. I didn’t care. I was beyond that. Had I done this earlier in the day, I’d have never forgiven myself but, times had changed.

As soon as Glen pedals off, James heads to bed (now about 3:30a.m.) Kris roles in shortly after and more than a little disgusted after his last lap. A few crashes had his morale down and he mentioned how sloppy he was getting out on the course. A sure sign of how tired one really is IHO. As promised, I waited up, still nursing that Forty Creek which is now mostly cold water from all the ice that had melted away. It still had some sweetness from the ginger but the cold felt awesome in my throat.

By 5:15 I call it a night and I crawl into my tent. I remember curling up into my sleeping bag but I’m out almost instantly as I don’t remember anything else until I was awoken by some rustling just outside. I opened my eyes to find my tent being illuminated by someone on the site. I light my watch and it’s about 6:30 or so. I figured it was Glen, and, seeing as he’d gone out at around 3:30 he must have done a few laps back to back.

For a second I believe I can get up. I decide at that moment to get out and go again but, as soon as I try to sit up, my back reminds me why I decided to stop. Gutted, I lay back down, eyes wide open staring blankly at nothing but a slight glow of the tent above me. My Thermarest is feeling extremely thin right now. Once again I curse my condition.

I stretch a little, role slowly onto my side and go back to sleep.

Around 9:30am I wriggle out craving coffee. James hears me start my routine and comes out of his tent shortly after. I eat some breakfast and we’re planing on packing some stuff up early. Glen wakes up and, as I had suspected, he’d done a couple of extra laps while we all slept. I felt pretty bad but what was I to do? It was too late now. The time had passed.

I head into my tent to grab my keys and as I reach in without looking I feel a vibration in my hand. Startled, I drop the keys and look in. I’m shocked to see a huge mosquito sitting there unfazed by my actions. It was a big bastard. Big enough I felt I should get a shot (the car keys for scale). I wanted to reach for that panic button but, I think it was taunting me; daring me to reach for it.

The legendary great Canadian mosquito (this was a little bit bigger than normal though). I squashed it.

I back the truck up a little to get some tunes going and notice that the front of the Forester is directly in front of Kris’s tent. I lay on the horn for a good 2 full seconds (it’s pretty freaking loud) which gets the rest of us laughing pretty hard. After hearing nothing, and seeing no movement coming from the tent I was a little concerned he was pissed at me. I was worried I’d crossed the line..........not everyone is a morning person. You know?

I sit eating breakfast when James asks, “Where’s the Scott?” A perfectly good question coming from him as the bike does belong to him. Puzzled we scan the site a second.

Then Glen asks, “Where's the timing card? I left it on the table. It was right here!”

Then it dawns on me.

“Kris’s helmet is gone too boys. He’s out on a lap.” I had then just realized that he had furtively gone out at some point before we had woken up. I sit down chugging back a bunch of milk thinking to myself, “No f...king way am I going out like this.”

“Son of a bitch” I thought....

I get up right then and drop my plans of packing. I B-line for the tent and get into the last of my riding gear. I was done with the sausage-suit-racer-boy attire of my previous laps and covered myself in a pair of baggies and a loose fitting sport-T. Pain or no pain, I was headed out again. I was going to mash those pedals as hard as I possibly could. No way am I taking it easy.

Just as I finish up, Kris roles into the site. He’s got a big smile on his face. “Had to do it. Last night’s lap sucked and I had to make it right.” He’s laughing. “Got up and went.” he says.

He sees me putting on my helmet.

“Going again??” He laughs.

“Yeah....... Give me the God damn chip.” I say, totally disgusted.

They all laugh. We chat a minute or two longer and I head out.

I role up and right through the transition zone. I look at my watch and it’s 10:30am. I’m headed for my 6th time around this freaking place for the weekend. I pound through the course feeling surprisingly fresh. My back is a little sore but it’s actually not that painful. The deeper I get into the lap, the less and less it aches.

A pic of me taken somewhere on this final lap and lovin' life again. YEE HAW!!!

I seem to be on my game this morning and flow through the singletrack with the clean lines of a fresh minded rider out for a Sunday ride. My legs are certainly stinging after such a long period of arduous work but I press on. I’m gasping deeply on the climbs but once again, clean them all. I recover smartly, I think, whenever I can as I am at the cusp of exploding on a few occasions. But, I persevere. All I can hear is my King hub whir as always as I rapidly coast through twisty sections of singletrack and the sound of my chain slapping against steel in the rougher stuff. The air is fresh, the trails are fun and I’m through once again finishing the lap at 11:22am. The official clock doesn’t reflect the lap time as we made our exchange at the site but I was stoked to have finished well under an hour once again.

I look around and no one from my team is waiting. My mind races again. The last laps are good to go until noon. Anyone finishing before 1pm is counted. That gave me a full hour and 30(+) minutes to do another lap. I knew I could easily make that time even if I walked parts. I walked back and forth debating with myself. I really felt great! I wanted to go! What about the other guys? What if they’re just late?

I decide to head back to the site to see if anyone wanted the last lap but, just as I leave the transition zone and begin to pass the BBQ/beer area I hear the collective yelling of my name by my three teammates.

They’re all showered, fresh, revitalized, and eating burgers and I’m sweating heavily, sticky feeling, dust covered and starving. I see them biting into their burgers and I explain the situation. None are interested.

Again I’m back to debating but now my stomach joins in the debate. Should I go? Should I stay? I head back to the transition zone and look out at the start area for at least a full minute and, in that time, I make my final decision. I lay my bike down in the grass, call over the fence to one of the officials and turn in our chip. It’s over.

The moment that chip left my fingers I regretted my decision. I should have done that lap. I should have done that lap. I REALLY should have done that lap. I thought about that for days afterward and it was my only regret all weekend. I vow, that if I’m ever in that position again, I will always do that last lap. No matter how painful it may be or how hungry I am. NEVER again will I turn that chip in if faced with the same dilemma. I’ll say it again, I’m a man of my word.

I head back to the BBQ area and down a burger with the guys. It’s nice to be off the bike just hanging out together. We chat about the highlights of the weekend and how much it sucked that it was already over. It had been far too long since I’d done one of these events.

I said this years ago and it certainly applied again this year.

“We may not have been out there to try (not that we could have) and win this thing or even place anywhere special. Your place on the board is just a number. Who really cares? However, if the objective of this event was to capture the joy of hanging with your buds (even if they’re new), ripping some singletrack and having a straight-up GREAT freaking time then, I declare, no contest!! WE WON!!”

Thanks to James for the invite and getting this all started. I’ll see you soon on our next night ride.

Thanks to Kris for making me laugh so freaking hard all weekend and just being a fun-as-hell guy to be around. We’ll catch up soon dude.

Thanks to Glen for joining up and taking up some the slack when we were all sleeping.
You da man! We suck for crashing on you.

Stuff that was great about the weekend for me:
- no hotheads
- no crashes
- new friends
- no dabs
- temperatures = perfect
- the taste of dust
- my times were strong and right in there with me mates
- everything fit in the new rig and NO stained headliner!!

In the end, I’d realized that I’d ridden 117kms (around 73miles) of trail, for the duration of the weekend. I have no idea how much climbing exactly but it was enough. My bike, which I was still getting used to, was a flawless work of art and gave me 0 issues the entire way. I was tired. I was hungry. I missed my kids and I hurt everywhere. I freaking loved it. I will chalk this one up as one of the best riding weekends in a very, very long time and I wish it could have been longer. I will return.

I’m a man of my word.

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