It was my eight mountain bike race ever and second of the year, and I will be the first to admit that I am not the fastest, and am usually the slowest, rider in my class. Given that my personal goals are socializing and bettering myself, where I place is of only secondary concern to me. If I’ve been able to cheer on my friends at KSD and stay upright, I’ve had a good race and a good day (To be honest, if I’m able to come in “not last,” that’s admittedly even better.).
With that said, in order to make up for my lack of physical prowess, having a little social grace goes a long way towards endearing myself to others in our community. I mean, even if I can’t be a baller like, say, Crow, at least I can be an ambassador for the sport and KSD, right? Today is perhaps some hint that I might not be the Derek Jeter of our hobby, despite my breathtakingly good looks.
I entered this particular race with no small amount of trepidation. I’d never ridden Chestnut Ridge before, and though I’d been told that it is not technical (true), I had also been told that it involved a fair bit of climbing. If “fair bit” is synonymous with, “it’s the M.C. Escher of mountain bike trails,” then I suppose that has some truth to it. It goes in a circle, and always uphill. Always. Fuckers.
But enter it I did, and I endeavored to prepare well for it and do my best. Thanks to Kenny’s book recommendation on training for mountain bike races (The Mountain Biker’s Training Bible, Joe Friel), I knew enough not to blow out my legs the week prior, so I shut it down after Tuesday. On race day, I joined Todd McMillan, Todd Davis, and Vern Yoder (great sour cream, btw) for a little warm up to give me a taste of what was to come. Good plan – it yielded adjustments to my seat (raised it), rear tire (dropped the pressure), and caused some alarm for me about my lungs. Of all the things I ought to have been worried about, I wasn’t expected it to be my lungs. I figured it would be my legs. As it turns out, it was something else entirely.
As high noon approached, I queued with dozens of others, listening to admonishments about trail etiquette (more on that later) and awaiting the start. Interestingly, I developed a cramp in my side. Really? I thought. A cramp? I haven’t even done anything yet. Oh boy. I tried to ignore it, and figured that it would subside once we got under way. Probably just nerves.
And under way we got. Sticking to my proven race strategy, I slipped to nearly the rear of the pack of the 40-69 beginner class. Why keep everyone in suspense, after all. It started off well – five or six of us bunched up for about a mile and a half in a tight little group, and I was feeling pretty good. But the cramp wouldn’t go away. A bit concerning. And it was getting worse. What a mystery.
Eventually, it impacted my riding. I didn’t have the confidence to stick with the group, and soon lagged behind. Then, I was getting passed. First by 11 year old freaks of nature, and later by girls. Yucky! All part of my plan, of course; it had happened before, of course, and will again. But nonetheless disheartening since it wasn’t my legs or my lungs that were hampering me, but my side.
And then I hit the switchbacks prior to the apple barn (aka, “white, non-descript building.” Where were the apples, for God’s sake?). Man, those were tough. No fun. Where’s the upside? And oh, the cramps. But then I had an epiphany. I knew what the cramps were from, and because of that, I knew how to fix them! It was simple, really.
I had to wee-wee.
One more switchback, and I resolved that it must be done. I was at this point all alone in the woods (see race strategy, above), with my race class in front of me, and soon it would be revealed that I had no class at all. I dropped my bike, found a nice, hornet-free nook, and prepared to make tinkle in the woods, as mother nature intended. But not without a brief delay, in the name of Marsha Kramer. Good thing I looked up! Bless her heart, in true mountain biker spirit, she was concerned about my well-being, enthusiastically offering me energy. No Marsha, what I need you can’t help me with. She finally realized what my immediate plan was, and quickly scampered up the path. Offers of help have their limits, after all.
With my business done, I remounted my beloved Yeti (bike, not bigfoot, you pervs) and proceeded on my way. And up. Always up. ‘Bout tired of this shit. My cramp magically disappeared, but I was now well behind not just my class, but all of the beginners. Ah well. Just finish, I thought. By now I was in a foul mood.
Passed the apple barn and the throng of well-wishers, and shortly thereafter, I hit what I realized only afterward was the rock garden about which I’d been forewarned. Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s no rock garden. West Branch has rock gardens. That was, well, what was that? I mean, other than uphill. Tricky, yes, but not intimidating. I just needed to huff through it. As I did so, I cursed the course, cursed the switchbacks. And then, in the depths of my self-pity I was startled by a voice. “Nice job!”
Now, it might have been. I was after all still upright and navigated the line well. But I wasn’t thinking “nice job.” Instinctively, without thinking, I shouted back to the voice precisely what I was thinking. Loudly.
“Fuck your mother!”
Let that sink in. “Fuck. Your. Mother.”
Now, everyone has a phrase, right? I mean, we all have a go-to phrase to express our displeasure. For some it might be “Shucks,” or “Fudge!” or maybe even something racier, like “Gee willickers!!!” For me, it’s “fuck your mother.” It’s just my thing. It’s not personal for heaven’s sake, it’s just what I say. Ask wifey – she knows. She laughs every time I say it.
As I rounded the switchback (uphill, again), I saw the person associated with the voice for the first time. And she was not amused. Not amused at all.
She lay there – actually lay there – in the woods, clutching a camera at an incredibly ill-advised spot, and stared at me. Had she been my mother, she’d’ve taken me over her not-insubstantial knee and swatted me good. As it was, she was all but dressing me down with her eyes. Unimpressed. Remorse immediately washed over me – I mean, what did her mother ever do to me, after all? And after seeing her, I’m fairly certain I’d’ve not wanted to follow through on the threat, in any event.
“Sorry.” She was not moved.
“Oh...hey...um, nice camera. Is that a 5D?,” I said trying to salvage our brief relationship.
“Oh, well, nice camera. Sorry.”
And I was off. Eventually there was a brief respite from the uphill. Too brief, still more switchbacks, and then, thankfully, closure. The end in sight. And as I crossed the finish line, the volunteers knew that the beginner’s class had at last finished. All part of my race strategy, you see.
Later at the tents, I saw my affronted camerawoman, and again made the attempt. Had to be a man and own up to my indiscretions, after all. Again the apology, again the blank stare returned.
OK, I’ve done enough. We’re all human, after all. Mistakes are part of humanity; as is remorse; as is apology. But something else, also, is part of the human spirit: forgiveness. I’d apologized no less than three times and still had not received a glimmer of salvation. I’d done what I could.
Her refusal to forgive me will, I am convinced, darken her soul and overcome her. She will eventually turn into a bitter, old, woman, alone in her life, with nothing more than her camera at her side, taking pictures of her rotting heart that no one will care to see. She will die. She will die – broken, forever unimpressed, eternally damned to a purgatory of vengefulness and grudges. She will die. But she will have no rest.
All because forgiveness is not part of her humanity. Sad, really. Clearly all her fault.
I cannot let it get to me though. I have to busy myself making amends. Elevating the sport. Keepin’ it classy.