Monday, May 26, 2014

2014 translvania epic, stage two

On the menu today: forty-one miles of mountain bike racing.  Not all single track miles, but probably half.  At least half.  Lots of tight, twisty single track.  Lots of East Coast Rocks.

If you want to take a drive to do some mountain biking, let me recommend this.  Park somewhere near the checkpoint and go ride some of these trails.  Lovely stuff.
Forty-one miles, 5,200' of climbing.

Neutral rollout for the first 1.5 miles.  I’m tempted to say that was my favorite part.  Nine miles of dirt-road racing followed.  I can do that.  Sometimes, I can do that well, though I would have preferred a different bike.

Then we hit the single track.  Climbing.  Mostly.  At first, anyway.  And that was a lot of fun.  A couple of weeks ago I came up to pre-ride this very stage.  There were two different trails in the tentative course at that time (I had a GPS track to follow, but the course changed since then) that were much, much harder than this section that replaced them.  I’m very glad of that.

Anyway, this first trail was loads of fun.  I had to remind myself that I was, indeed, having fun, and that I enjoy riding this stuff.  That if I were up here with my buddies on a casual ride this would be too lovely.  We would stop and take pictures and talk about how awesome it is to ride bikes, to be fit, to be able to do this sort of thing, to have made the choice to be doing this sort of thing.  I have to remind myself of that because, when it’s race day, when there’s a number pinned on and somebody is keeping score…when that…well, when I’m racing I hate being left behind by dudes that I can otherwise ride with.  I hate being left behind period, but especially by dudes that I can otherwise ride with.  Through those nine miles of dirt road there was a kind of selection.  Really, it was probably half the field still, maybe a little less, but a lot of riders.  The pace had been brisk, but not insane.  But then we get into this single track and I get gapped.  Not immediately.  I can keep the pace for a while.  But slowly—a bit through this rock garden, a bit more down a steep descent—I get gapped, and the folks behind want to come around, and so they do, and I get a bit flustered and sort of pissed off and I have to remind myself that this is indeed fun.

Actually, it’s not that fun.  It’s a bike race, and I hate losing bike races.  Which, of course, is weird, because I’ve spent a tidy fortune over the years losing bike races.  So maybe it’s better to say that I so like winning bike races.  There are, of course, worse ways to spend one’s time and money.  (I hesitate to use the word “worse.”  I mean, who’s to say?)  All the same, I think every amateur athlete, every pay-to-play bike racer, has to ask, occasionally, if not constantly: Why do I do this?

Let’s rejoin Abbey on his adventure:

“Fresh slides appear on the mud banks; a beaver plops into the water ahead of us, disappears.  The beavers are making a comeback on the Green.  Time for D. Julien, Jim Bridger, Joe Meek, Jed Smith, and Jim Beckwourth to reappear.  Eternal recurrence, announced Nietzsche.  Time for the mountain men to return.  The American West has not given us, so far, sufficient men to match our mountains.  Or not since the death of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Dull Knife, Red Cloud, Chief Joseph, Little Wolf, Red Shirt, Gall, Geronimo, Cochise, Tenaya (to name but a few), and their comrades.  With their defeat died a bold, brave, heroic way of life, one as fine as anything recorded history has to show us.  Speaking for myself, I’d sooner have been a liver-eating, savage horseman, riding with Red Cloud, than a slave-owning sophist sipping tempered wine in Periclean Athens.  For example.  Even Attila the Hun, known locally as the Scourge of God, brought more fresh air and freedom into Europe than the crowd who gave us the syllogism and geometry, Aristotle and his Categories, Plato and his Laws.”

He mentions Nietzsche.  I think Nietzsche would have liked that paragraph.  As would Ayn Rand, which concerns me a great deal. 

What I find fascinating about this passage is Abbey’s apparent embrace of exceptionalism.  Human exceptionalism.  Not human as in humans animals being exceptional compared to bugs and trees and animals and rocks (elsewhere, Abbey tells us even the rocks have feelings).  But exceptionalism a la Nietzsche’s uberman and Rand’s Howard Roark.  Exceptionalism a la “The Incredibles.”  (Remember it was the bad guy in “The Incredibles” that wanted everyone to be super, so that no one would be; the villain believed in the ultimate democratization of humanity via technology.  Transhumanists, what do you think of that?  Is the bad in “The Incredibles” any different than the good in transhumanism?  I ask the transhumanists, because they are very concerned with the matter of human exceptionalism.)

The thing is, I totally get where Abbey’s coming from here.  I would worship at the alter of the uberman (as does every Christian).  There’s something engrained in my psyche, be it by nurture or nature, that adores and revers the exceptional. The exceptional scholar, the exceptional writer, the exceptional orator, the exceptional craftsman (or woman), the exceptional artist, the exceptional cook, the exceptional friend…the exceptional athlete.  I’m repelled by Rand’s objectivism, yet seduced by her uberman, Howard Roark.  Democratize the human race?  Hell no!  Let there be supers!

But oh what examples of the uberman Abbey provides!  Brutal, violent men.  Great because of their brutality.  Respected through fear.  These are not case studies that we use to teach leadership in school.  We don’t tell adoring bedtime stories to our children about these guys. (Confession: I’m thinking more of Attila than Little Wolf here, given that I have no idea who Little Wolf is, and next to nothing of the leadership styles of those with whom Abbey grouped him.  But the point about bedtime stories is accurate nonetheless.)

So why do I race bikes?  I don’t know, but I’ll tell you this: I love to win.  I love to be the strongest dude in a group.  I love to be the first over the line.  I love to feel…superior.  Dr. Seuss told us that when we grow up we would play “games you can’t win / ‘cause you’ll play against you.”  I don’t like those games.  (Although I may be playing one now.)  I like game with winners.

So why do I race bikes?  Abbey seems to prefer Thoreau to Emerson.  The former he judges genuine, the later privileged and sheltered.  But I think I’m an Emerson man, because, among other things, Emerson taught me to trust what I think, feel, and desire as legitimate.  As godly.  As qualities of the uberman.

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion…  The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string” (From “Self-Reliance.)

It’s in me.  What more is there to say?  Only in sex do I feel more human, more alive, more in tune with what millions of years of evolution has prepared…or, if you rather, fulfilling the measure of my creation. 

And yet today I suffered.  Greatly.

I came upon the first checkpoint, mile 18, 1:30 in, having only drank one water bottle and, inexplicably, only taking one more.  Five hundred feet from the checkpoint I realized I’d made a big mistake, but the racing impetus kept me from doing what would have been wise—repenting; turning around and loading up.  Eleven long, hard, mostly East-Coast-Rocks miles and I was back to the checkpoint (first and second checkpoints were the same checkpoint, just at different points on the course).  But I had been out of anything to drink for close to 45 minutes.  And I was dragging.  Clawing up the climbs at a miserable pace.  Frustrated at the time I was sure I was losing at this point, and all the more so knowing that my poor hydration decisions were having a deleterious impact on my finishing time.  At the second checkpoint I drank 30 ounces in one gulp.  I was in a bad place.

I hate race reports full of woe-is-me, but this race was remarkable—to me—in how early and often and comprehensive (every muscle group in my legs, as well as my feet and hands) was my cramping.  And in this case that’s doubly unfortunate, because by the time we hit the final climb I was feeling about 100 times better than an hour earlier, but I couldn’t stand without cramping, and I’m at my best climbing when I’m out of the saddle.

Finishing time, right at 5:00 hours.  Which was good enough for 6th in the 40+ on the day.  The overall winner, Jeremiah Bishop, dispatched the course in under 3:40.  The 40+ top 3 were 20-30 minutes faster than me.


brett said...

Great posts so far, Nate! Enjoying the read.

MTN said...

You're a damn Randian objectivist.... at least you're authentic in your desire to subdue others.

If I were better at my various pursuits, I wonder if winning would become more important. I think a long time ago I decided that winning (in games, in school, in the economy) wasn't important as a way to feel better about not winning. Neitszche would hate me. But I would gladly fist fight him over it.