Monday, August 26, 2013
Not just a road
Sometime on the evening of my birthday, May 1 in 2006, I was living in Boulder, and my brother Shawn called me from Virginia with a great idea. To summarize his points, the conversation went something like this:
1) Happy Birthday. You're older but you still suck the same amount.
2) At the end of the summer, you should come East and do a couple of little rides with me on back to back weekends.
3) Those rides are the Blue Ridge Extreme and the SM100
4) I bought you an entry to both.
5) You should put that birthday cake down, HTFU, and start training. This is going to hurt.
6) Happy Birthday.
On a whim, and since he'd already bought my entries, it was easy enough to say yes. In hindsight, that conversation changed my life in gigantic ways. I trained for the summer, became the sort of person that thought XTR was worth it, hopped aboard a plane, and I flew East at the end of August. While here, two miracles happened:
1) Although I'd never ridden an organized century before, I rode two in one week. BRE was in its penultimate year, perhaps at its peak as an organized event, and it was amazing. SM100, #8 I guess it was, had the same crisp September weather, and Shawn and I rode every inch of that thing together, finishing in 10:55 or something like that.
2) I met my wife, the love of my life.
For obvious reasons, I moved back to Virginia from Colorado a few months later.
It's hard, sometimes - especially as an amateur racer with very little palpable reward to actually train for - to explain to people why a bike race is important to you. Ditto that for a period of time - a week of a certain kind of weather in a certain season, for example, can have significance that is not easy to explain. But this week changed my life seven years ago. My brother, my wife, the weather, Virginia changed my life. Shenandoah changed my life.
This will be my 6th crack at the SM100. I've gone around that thing in as fast as 8:48 and as slow as DNS. I've ridden four different bikes. I've chosen twelve different tires. I've toed the start line near the front, and right at the very back. I've eaten everything from gummy bears to pizza at Aid Station #5 (I do not recommend you eat the pizza at Aid Station #5.) I've watched no fewer than four people Cramp-Crash-Cramp on that first rock drop at the top of Chestnut. The panic that ensues is really something. I have seen the very devil.
In my head these days, I can ride myself through the course in about 20 minutes. In reality, given the way that life and time have changed for me since that first trip around the GW with Shawn, if I can crack 9 hours it will be a miracle - which, given my history with the season, is possible. But not likely. Ditto that for the inverse, of course: I've been way more fit, but much slower. There are no guarantees.
Regardless of how it turns out, this week is sort of a monument for me, and so is the race. It's seen me grow older, change a little for the better and a little for the worse. It's been a marker vs. years prior, I think, a comparable point in life where I tend to take stock and see more clearly exactly who I was and who I'm becoming - not so much as an athlete, but as a person. Some people do this on their birthday, I guess. Some do it on New Years Eve. But for me, mostly by circumstance, even though it's just a week and just a bike race, this week is the axis that the rest of my year pivots upon.
Now I'm not your coach. But on Sunday, whoever you are, however good you are, however fast you're going, revert your eyes from that goddamn power meter for a minute on your way up to Aid #5, look up at the sky, and make yourself a moment: you are a part of something bigger than a bike race. You are a better person because of it.
I've ridden this stretch of road alone, in pain. Randomly, I've ridden it with Calvin Cheung twice, both times by fortunate coincidence, trading pulls and thinking about the clock. I've ridden it with Shawn, this same road, telling jokes and wondering how far we've come. In hindsight, we've come a long way.
It's a long haul up this bumpy road.
It's not just a road.
Up, up, up.