Friday, May 30, 2014

2014 trans-sylvania epic, stage 6

Yay.  It finally came together.  Third in the 40+.

Here's your proof:

Aaron said I wasn't smiling.  I thought I was smiling.  I was happy, anyway.

Fun day today.  Forty some miles.  Lots of trail.  Some pretty rough trail, but I rode it ok.  Not awesome, but ok.  And I had a lot of fun, so an all-around cool day.

Was craving a salty snack today like you wouldn't believe...

Won some cool socks from Freeze Thaw Cycles in State College.

One trail in particular, Tussey Mountain Trail, is worth noting.  It was billed as one of the 10 best mountain biking trails in Pennsylvania.  And I think it lived up to the billing.  It's a fun trail to ride, lots of variety, but the thing that make the trail stand out is that it runs along at the northern end of Rothrock State Forest, about 2000' feet above sea level.  (Which, in this part of the country, is high.)  Really cool views on either side of the trail.  It reminded me a bit of the Great Western Trail north of Guardsman Pass.  A bit.  Obviously the majesty of the surrounding terrain pales in comparison to that, but in the Pennsylvania mountains there are so few vista opportunities, and fewer still ridge line trails, that this one really stands out.  There was even that sort of windswept wildness to the flora and terrain along the trail that any Rocky Mountain hiker would recognize, which left this one with a vague sense of deja vu, even though I'm quite positive I've never been anywhere near that trail before.

Another notable section of the course rode along the John Wert Trail.  This section stands in stark contrast to the Tussey Mountain Trail; while the Tussey pretends to alpine grandeur, riding the John Wert felt like a jungle expedition.  Lush greenery brushing your elbows as you attempt to navigate wet and slippery roots and rock gardens.  (I actually passed people through this section.  Proud.)

Anyway, most hiking trails in Pennsylvania I find less than inspiring.  But I would like to hike back and forth on the Tussey Mountain Trail.  We'll add that to the family itinerary when we come up to camp in R. B. Winter SP.

When I was perusing my Facebook feed during lunch, I saw that Valerie (my wife) commented on one of those Facebook pages set up to support a sick someone.  From what I could gather, in this case the sick someone was a kid, and the kind of sick was cancer.  She commented on a picture of the little boy getting his transfusion.  All of the comments--except Valerie's--were of the kind you would expect, thinking of you, we're praying for you, give him our best, be strong, etc.  Valerie's comment?  A conversational nostalgic fondness for the days when she took her kids to get transfusions.  They go in all pale and tired, come out rosy-cheeked and full of life.  The wonder of blood.  (It takes a parent who's been-there-done-that, twice, to make comments like that.  We feel ownership of the sick kid terrain.)

Islands of joy among seas of pain.  Because cancer sucks.  It does.  It isn't something to triumph over.  And having cancer isn't a fight or battle, implying that those who win are strong and those who don't are weak.  Cancer is your body betraying you.  It's your body killing itself.  And cancer sucks.

Today I read a piece Ed Abbey wrote in 1978 about the Rocky Flats Truth Force, a group protesting the Rocky Flats Plant near Golden, Colorado.  The Rocky Flats Plant, built in the 1950s, produced the plutonium triggers used to ignite hydrogen bombs.  "Triggers," they're called, yet each apparently has the explosive power equal to the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The plant was apparently an environmental disaster from the beginning (I'm drawing on Wikipedia research here).  All sorts of leaked waste, in the water, in the air, and of course the ground.  In the late 1980s, the FBI began an investigation of their environmental crimes and, in an episode that should really be made into a movie, served search warrants to corporate executives of Rockwell International, the DOE contractor that ran the site, and DOE officials as well at a meeting disguised as a briefing for a potential terrorist threat.  Simultaneously, FBI agents raided the facility itself, which must have been quite an undertaking, given its intense security and the shoot-to-kill directives of the guards.  (Part of the facility's security included ground-to-air missiles.)

So, yeah, cancer...  Cancer is your body betraying you.  And when you get cancer as a down-winder, well, that's your government betraying you.  In the name of security.  In the name of protecting your liberty.  In the name of patriotism.  Which can be a kind of cancer.  The kind of cancer that Samuel Johnson must of had in mind when critiquing what he considered false patriotism, "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."  And Dick Cheney.  But Oscar Wilde (Reuben's namesake) probably said it better: "Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious."  And isn't it?

It's easy to whip up a righteous fury in light of such things.  Easy as whipping cream.  But to whom do we direct the fury?  To whom should we yell and scream and point our indignant fingers?

Can we go back to Wendell Berry?  "Bosses are everywhere and all the bosses are underlings."  Ah, the safety and insanity of bureaucracies!  Robert Jackall, in his seminal "Moral Mazes," describes the moral two-facedness that corporate bureaucracies demand of their managers.  Things that would be unquestionably wrong in the private sphere become matters of cost-benefit analysis in the business sphere.  Moral reasoning is replaced with rational decision-making models, and the only ethic worth pursing is self-interest.

Who makes the decision that results in radioactive material leaking from storage barrels?  The answer is no one.  The answer is everyone.

Who makes the decision to live in a world tied in the suicidal knot of nuclear Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD)?  The answer is no one.  The answer is everyone.

Well...  Here's to the kid who got a blood transfusion today.  May his cheeks be rosy, his spirits lifted, and his dreams full of cool dinosaurs or legos or pirates or cowboys or clone troopers or whatever coolness the kid is into.  And hopefully tomorrow there will be less cancer.  Both the literal and the metaphorical, so that we can all live healthier lives.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

2014 trans-sylvania epic, stage five

Today's stage was out of R. B. Winter State Park, at the far north end of Bald Eagle State Forest.  TSE base camp is at the far southern end.  It's about a 45 minute drive.

The stage was billed as "raw."  Meaning, I think, run on less-developed, less-used trails.  And "raw" was also intended to mean, I think, that the trails would be rough, chunky, and a little difficult.  For me, they were not.

This was easily my favorite stage so far.  Thirty-one miles of really, really great riding.  The second half of the course had a bit of fire road, but the rest of the course was on a variety of trails that were just awesome.  There were some challenging bits, to be sure, but nothing insane.  And nothing was very challenging for very long.  Think Michaux Lite.

These trails were so lovely, and in fact the area so beautiful--deep, dark forests the lushest shades of green--that I've vowed to return.  I want to bring my family there, because I'm 100% confident they'll find abundant quantities of fairy colonies in these woods and my goat kids, well, they love that sort of thing.   And I want to bring my mountain bike buddies there (Paul, I'm pretty much looking at you), because I'm 100% confident there will be similes a'plenty after spending some time shredding* this singletrack.

And so...  The trails were terrific.  My legs were feeling good.  It was time to slay some trail.  And I was proceeding to do so until...

How does the saying go?  If I didn't have bad luck I'd have no luck at all?  I think that's how it goes.  But let me tell you what I think of sayings like that.  I think about as much of them as I do as the shivering loudmouth in the parking lot complaining (very loudly) that "if I hear Clinton/Gore say one more word about global warming..."

Anyway, here I am cruising along this fairly flatfish section parallel to the highway, riding with the guys I want to be riding with, and I hear (and feel) something snap.  There's a little metal piece on modern Shimano MTB rear detailers that acts as a sort of second derailleur hanger.  When something goes wrong back there, this piece of metal gives way saving (hopefully) the rest of your gear from disaster.  Well, that's what happened.  That piece bent, and then the bolt holding it in place sheared at the hanger.  For those of you reading this who have no idea what I'm talking about it, let's just say that when this happens you're not riding your bike anymore.

The temporary fix for something like this is to remove your derailleur and shorten your chain so that you can continue to pedal, limping, to your car, your shop, a friendly house, whatever.  So I did this.  It's not a super simple operation, and took me I'm sure 5-10 minutes to complete.  In fact, I felt pretty lucky with how easily it came together.  And lucky that it held together for the next 10 miles.  I came rolling into the checkpoint asking for another bike one.  And so I was able to finish the stage on a loaner.

Washing the not-my-bike.  Major kudos to BMC for coming through with such classy neutral support.  I would much rather not had occasion to use it, but the bike was awesome all the same.

But back to the mechanical difficulty and its fix.  When you shorten a chain like this, turning a geared bike into, essentially, a single-speed bike, you have to pick a gear, one gear, and that's what you'll have until the end of the ride.  Thinking the course had a pretty aggressive sawtooth profile, I picked a relatively easy gear--28x25, I think--which was cool on the climbs, and fine on the descents (because no pedaling), but did very, very poorly on the remarkably long sections of relatively flat terrain I had to cover before the checkpoint.  I was spinning out at about 10 mph.  So even when I was riding I was losing time.  At least on the flats.

All a super bummer, but I did get to demo a new bike for half the day, which is fun.  And, as I said, the trails were awesome.  I'm not positive, but I think I finished about where I did yesterday...somewhere around 9th or 10th.  So a GC top 5 seems out of the question now, if it wasn't already (that was my goal coming in), but we've still two stages to go, and I've been feeling, really, better every day.  If that continues, then who knows if I can't finally put it together for a decent stage finish.

New derailleur, installed and ready to roll.

On my way back to base camp from the race I stopped in quaint little Centre Hall and ate a sandwich at Brother's Pizza.  Abbey wasn't with me, so I read something else.  On February 7th, sometime in the mid-1990s, Sam Rushforth wrote the following:

"From where Scott and I stand, the sun yellow-gods the valley below and lights the hillsides with a warm memory of fall.  The remaining autumn leaves of the oak and maple turn the slopes auburn in the evening slant.  The color tugs at memory, melancholy and distant.  I brush my mother's hair a hundred strokes on a windy childhood evening, a soothing tradition for both of us.  Her hair is long and auburn, with a slight curl.  I brush nightly for some years, acting also as the grey-and-white hair police, alert for any of the turning hairs, which must be pulled from the beautiful auburn mass.  At some point, through some kind of pitiful masculine conditioning, I come to know that boys don't brush their mother's hair.  What a shame.  It may have been the most meaningful thing I ever did for her (and for me)."

That paragraph was later printed in a local paper as part of a regular column.  Later, the same paper printed a letter to the editor, from the daughter of the columnist.  The letter is long, so let me share just the last paragraph:

"I look up from the column, tears on my face.  I am sitting in a coffeehouse and I am thirty-two years old.  I stand to leave.  Eighteen years after her death, I have encountered my grandmother, through my father's words, as the color auburn.  Cheeks still wet, I walk out of the coffee shop.  I decide not to color my hair today."

I'm exceptionally moved by that.  Wonderfully and exceptionally moved.

I'm not sure exactly why--I can't relate to any of it in any concrete way--except for the inter-generational connection.  I guess that's what I find moving, that a resident of one generation can steal a glimpse through a wordsmithed wormhole and touch the soul of a resident of another.

* Words used more in a day at Single Track Summer Camp than a non-mountain biker might expect to hear in a lifetime include, but are not limited to: shred, rip, rage, slay, crush.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

2014 trans-sylvania epic, stage four

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.

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.

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.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

2014 translvania epic, stage one

Today was the time trial.  Fourteen miles.  I think.  Maybe 15. 

Car mostly packed last night.  Got my family off to church, took a shower, loaded some last few things, then off to Seven Mountains Scout Camp.

It seems most everyone pulled in Saturday.  No spaces left in the big field that’s serving as the RV/tent area.  But I found a nice little area just below the RVs and just above the bathhouse with room enough for my van, my ginormous canvas tent, and my pathetic little shade shelter.  Honestly, there’s probably enough room for that times ten.  When I wasn’t looking, Jeremiah Bishop and his very SoCal SHO-AIR / Cannondale Ford van (it’s the custom wheels and fenders that makes it stand out as SoCal) parked across the way.  Along with a big, beautiful, black Sprinter that says “Pro Tested Gear” on the side, whatever that is.

Keeping my legs up before go time.

A 2:44:30 pm start.  About a 4:00 pm finish.  And the miles in between proved what we already know about me and mountain biking: I can ride fast, except through the curves, and I’m a wuss on the scary descents.  But we also learned this: pro mountain bikers, the dudes whose names you know, who are national mountain bike figures, the guys you don’t very often race with because they’re not at the races you do…well, those guys are fast.  And when I say fast I mean that when they come upon you, and pass you, you feel like a child.  They are fast I’m I’m fast compared to a 10 year-old.  And the thing that kills me, the thing that I can’t quite wrap my head around, is how they can move through those corners so fast.  I mean: So. Fast.  It’s not just that they seem to have an extra gear, it’s like their tires are aligned to a cog railroad track.  I’m in awe. 

It’s nice to be in the woods.  There are bugs and trees and rocks and things.  So many birdsongs.  But where we are can hardly be described as wild. 

One of the fun things about Pennsylvania is how so much of the landscape is not obviously great land.  It’s rugged.  Hard to navigate.  Expensive to build on.  Yet it’s all crisscrossed with a network of paved and unpaved roads.  However, from the perspective of seeking out The Wild, one of the really crappy things about Pennsylvania is that it’s all crisscrossed with a network of paved and unpaved roads.  There are pockets of The Wild, but for this Western boy, raised on the grand vistas of alpine peaks and deserts the size of European countries, everything seems so small.  Still.  After living here for eight years.  There are trees everywhere and not a forest to be found.

My week’s experience in the woods has more in common with Thoreau’s ventures away from civilization than it does Abbey’s.  He reports:

“We did not go far yesterday.  We rowed and drifted two miles down the river and then made camp for the night on a silt bank at the water’s edge.  There had been nobody but ourselves at Mineral Bottom but the purpose, nonetheless, was to ‘get away from the crowd,’ as Rennie Russell explained.  We understood.”

There are bugs and trees and rocks and things all around me, but a semi-truck’s engine brakes temporarily drown out the sound of the songbirds as it descends the grade into State College.  This isn’t a Wild place.

During the race we got much further away, of course.  But who can stop to enjoy…anything when one’s brain is starved of oxygen and when one’s focus must stay hyper-attuned to the sapling’s trunk around the next bend; catch one with the edge of your handlebars and at worst you’ll smash a finger (happened once today) and at worse it will swing your wheel sideways and send you flying over the bars (also happened once today).  This is not a leisurely float down a wide, calm river.  But Abbey and friends haven’t made it to the rapids yet.  There will yet be moments of adrenaline-infused adventure—those moments that walk the razor’s edge between terrific and terrifying.  On today’s ride there was at least one of those for me.

Camp cooking can be exceptionally satisfying.  I'm I'm happy to report I put everything away washed and dried.

Dinner.  A stir-fry of onions, green peppers, snow peas, spinach, and canned salmon over brown rice.  With a tomato and a little grated cheese.  Others have bought a meal plan.  They eat in the mess hall where the messy scouts will sit three weeks from now.  I prefer to do it on my own. 

Abbey quotes Thoreau as having defined happiness as “simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.”  I’m trying for simplicity and independence.  However, cooking on one’s own, here, is also somewhat isolating.  Food usually brings people together.

It’s interesting to me that those first two of Thoreau’s happiness values—simplicity and independence—contradict the last—trust.  Why?  It takes social interaction—work of a social nature—to develop relationships worthy of trust.  But with social relationships emerge complexity and interdependence.  Or maybe Thoreau is merely suggesting that we trust everyone, regardless of our relationship with them.  The consequences of that course would hardly seem to result in a life of simplicity and very likely a lack of independence.

A day or so into his trip, Abbey says he tries to feel guilty at having left the world behind, but that he can’t.  That’s cute, but I think untrue.  Because he’s developed, perhaps in spite of himself, meaningful social relationships.  His life isn’t simple nor is it independent. Ten pages later he reflects on Thoreau’s disingenuousness in prescribing the simple life, but as he’s free from the complications of family life, it’s an easy prescription to follow.

“How easy to work part-time for a living when you have neither wife nor children to support.  (When you have no payments to meet on house, car, pickup truck, cabin cruiser, life insurance, medical insurance, summer place, college educations, dinette set, color TVs, athletic club, real estate investments, holidays in Europe and the Caribbean…)”

Abbey clearly felt the tension and complexity of living a life with feet firmly planted in two spheres very different from each other and very difficult to reconcile.  Now, that’s an insight I can relate to.

Results: Finished 8th in 40+.  Eighth of I think 25.

Aaron Synder won the endure.  Congrats to him.