Tuesday, May 27, 2014

2014 trans-sylvania epic, stage three*

Stage three.  I woke up thinking that’s when these things usually end.  With three stages.  I’ve done a couple of four-day stages races.  One of them twice.  But the most we usually get is three.  But I woke up this morning thinking ok, well, stage three…after today, four more to go.  Not even half done.  Crazy.

Today we rode enduro.  What is endure, you ask?  Well, let’s start with the race profile.

Lots of up and down.  Only the down mattered today.

While the entire course is 20+ miles, the only parts that count are those light green sections.  Those sections are timed—we swipe a little card past a reader at the beginning and end of each segment—and placings are determined by your combined time through those five sections.  The rest doesn’t matter.  You can ride fast, slow, walk, crawl, whatever.

The kicker here, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is that those five timed segments are all downhill.  They can all be ridden very fast.  In fact, are supposed to be ridden fast.  And, for me at least, can be terrifying. 

Enduro day brought out the big bouncy bikes, a lot of POC helmets, and a noticeable decrease in the number of Lycra-clad legs.   What’s that, you say?  You thought a mountain bike was a mountain bike was a mountain bike?  You thought you'd dress the same no matter what you were doing on the bike?  Oh no.  Perhaps you’ll find this instructional video…instructional.

Culture, kids.  There are rules everywhere, and the playaz know the rules.

Anyway, today was a fun day.  Even the one, terrifying, saw-the-face-of-God moment I had on Wildcat, now, with the passing of multiple hours, seems like it added to the general feeling of having had an awesome day on the bike.  But let me back up and mention that moment.  On Wildcat.  The fourth segment of the day.

Most people, when talking about this trail, will savor the bottom portion of the trail in their telling.  How the trail sort of descends into this creek bed, and how there are drop-offs and large rocks and how the water makes it all the more hard to ride.  That part was gnarly, and I’m not ashamed to say I walked it (dudes with skillz far beyond mine also walked it).  However, it was a section much further up, where the trail dropped off from steep to insane, with largish loose rocks and nowhere to bail and where it would be impossible to stop even if you wanted to (and believe me I wanted to) that I saw the face of God.

Imagine you’re driving a two-lane country highway, you’re tired, and your eyelids droop just a bit.  The next thing you know you’re halfway in the other lane with a semi-truck barreling towards you and death seems a very real and very present possibility.  Imagine your heart skipping a beat, and then drumming out 100 beats or so in the next five seconds to make up for it.  That’s how it felt.

Now, had I known that the cliff (I’m struggling to think of a better word, though those with more descending bravado will roll their eyes if they know the trail) had a fairly comfortable run-out near the bottom, and that it’s reasonable, even for a guy like me, to go mach zillion down this bit and then recover shortly--or, to put it another way, had I ridden this trail before--I likely would not have been so pale faced.  But I didn’t, I hadn’t, and the few half-thoughts that I was able to process during that moment involved what would likely happen—how it would look, and how much it would hurt—if I went OTB (over the bars).  I would not have escaped serious injury. 

As today was a short stage, I finished up, jumped in the car, and drove straight back to Shippensburg.  My family missed me.  I missed my family.  I was intending to go to a T-ball game, but the rain cancelled.  An early day tomorrow, to get back up and back at it for stage four.

The two-hour drive cut my reading time.  To exactly zero minutes.  So without Abbey’s help priming the pump, I’ll return to yesterday’s theme and add just one more thought on being exceptional.

The insurmountable problem with competing, with the measuring of one’s own performance to the performance of others, is that no matter how good you are, there is always someone better.  Win a high school track meet?  Great.  There’s still a hundred people faster than you in your state.  Win a state meet?  That’s something, but there are legions in college that could trounce you.  Win a collegiate national title?  That’s downright awesome, but you didn’t even meet the Olympic qualifying time.  You’re on the Olympic team?  That’s truly noteworthy, but you’re not even going to crack the top 20 at the games.  Win a gold medal?  You’re on top of the world!  For exactly one day.  Tomorrow, someone will topple you.

I’m reminded of something Wendell Berry wrote about bureaucracies:

“Corporate life is composed only of underlings and higher underlings.  Bosses are everywhere, and all the bosses are underlings.”

As true in athletics as it is in our work lives. 


* I realized late yesterday I’ve been misspelling the name of this race I’m doing.  It’s “Trans-Sylavnia Epic.”  There are two s’s, a hyphen, and a capital.


brett said...

You misspelled your correction, too! Wildcat is a gnarly trail, indeed. The last time I rode it was on a 26" wheeled SS at the 2005 SSWC. I'd like to see how it flows now!

vfg said...

Alas, goat was pressed into put-the-kid-to-bed-the-other-kid-needs-serious-homework-help duty, and unable to edit his post. Blame his brief sojourn into family life this week :). --goatwife