Today was (supposed to be) my day. Lots of dirt road. Long, grinding climbs. Not a ton of single-track. Home last night, I readied the Superfly for service. New brakes. New tires. But--and I so hate to see that word in here like that--I got lazy, figuring I would just be using the bike for one stage, and didn’t take the time to set my tires up tubeless. Which turned out to be a big problem.
So here’s the woe-is-me portion of the race report. Through the last enduro section, just about halfway through the course, I flatted. Pinch flat (the tire compressed hard enough against the rim so as to puncture the tube through pinching). I stopped. Got to work. And then all the dudes I was so excited to be in front of came screaming past.
Tire fixed. About seven minutes lost. But then I flatted again. And again. Three flats in a stretch of just about as many miles. The second because I didn’t get enough air in the tire with my hand pump (thus another pinch flat). The third likely because the tube I had was covered with muck, as was the inside of my tire, and probably there was just too much crap in there and some little something punctured that poor tube.
Fixing the third flat (with a second bummed tube) I took the time to walk down to the creek and wash out my tire, clean the tube, and spent a little extra time getting that tube in there just so with so much tender loving care. Had I flatted one more time I may have just lost it.
When I was 17, I was once driving a lone and dusty highway through southern Idaho. I was rolling along in my little pickup, probably with headphones, most likely with the windows down, feeling good about life and generally happy when my engine began to cut out. ?Cut out? is probably the wrong term to describe what was happening. The engine would lose power, intermittently, and when things weren’t going well I couldn’t get over 45 mph. Forty. Five. Miles. Per. Hour. On the interstate. In there’s-nothing-around-anywhere southern Idaho. What I remember about the whole thing was the frustration. Oh, the frustration. And that word isn’t near strong enough. At one point I stopped on the side of the road, opened the door to the desert, and began to run like a crazed madman through the sand, dodging lumps of sage along a random spaghetti path of insanity. Except I wasn’t running like a crazed madman, I was, indeed, in that moment, quite mad.
That’s where this was going. If I were to get that fourth flat. (And there were a ton of bugs--gnats, mosquitos, and other flying pests--that would congregate around me in a cloud of blackish ire at every stop.)
I made it through, found someone to loan me a floor pump which allowed me to finally get my tire seated on the rim properly, and then enjoyed a lovely 15 or so miles of dirt road riding back home.
Now, however, I’m looking at the results for the day, and realize the guy I was riding with when I flatted, that guy won the stage. By six minutes. There’s no way to say for sure, of course, but I’m pretty confident that I could have stuck with that guy. I was ahead of him early, he caught me through the rough stuff, there wasn’t much rough stuff left, and I was feeling good. At least a podium finish...
So, lost opportunities... What can you do but write about it and sigh?
Ed Abbey said that he and his wife (which one?) lived for a time “in a glassy cabin on a mountain peak.” In the middle of a national forest, it was their job to watch. For forest fires, officially. If they saw smoke, they’d call (on a radio) whomever they are supposed to call, report the details, and then keep them updated on changes as time passed. But of course they spent a lot of time watching other things too, unofficially. Like birds.
Vultures. Apparently a group roosts in one spot at night, like a dead tree, but during the day, when hunting, they split up and each take a territory to patrol. Circling effortlessly high above the ground, they scope out their treats. When one dives in for dinner, the rest take note and join the lucky spotter. How cool is that? Cooperation. Abbey calls it mutual aid.
There’s a little of this in mountain biking. I mean, sure, in all mass start cycling there’s the kind of self-interested cooperation that results in pace-lining and such, but that’s all done as race tactic, and is the sort of cooperation is, ultimately, driven by self-interest. But in mountain biking, you sometimes find yourself out—way out—and in situations where if something were to go wrong you’re looking at a long and uncomfortable hike to safety. And today I thought a little about this as I relied on one, and then two strangers, fellow competitors, for aid. They brought their spare tubes for their use, wisely, as did I. But had they not given them up for me then what would I have done? It would have been a long walk home.
But the thing I like most about the vulture-watching is in the inter-species interaction. Abbey, in his glass-roomed throne. Watching. Observing. Making sense of the nonsensical. What he’s doing seems more like anthropology than biology, even though he’s not observing anthropo. Later in the essay Abbey imagines being a vulture. He muses that he fully expects to be one someday, if only through consumption. Then he wanders on to reincarnation, and being the vulture. So let’s allow that. His flesh was consumed by vultures, perhaps his soul was reincarnated as one. And perhaps he’s circling over these woods*, with his buddies, engaging in mutual aid and cooperation. Watching. What would he make of these anthropos following each other on these odd, wheeled contraptions around a circuitous path through the woods? These sojourners, out of place and ill-equipped for wild living with their exposed skin and tiny teeth.
Maybe I’ll write that essay someday. Do a sort of Horace Miner thing with cycling. It needs to be done. But not now. I’m tired.
Results: Ninth on the stage, dropped to 9th overall, 1:13 (that’s one hour, 13 minutes) down on the leader.
* As far as I know, there aren’t actually any vultures living in central PA forests. Correct me if I’m wrong.