Being delusional has always been a strong point of mine. One may even go so far as to call it my ‘superpower‘. I have a stunning talent for wrapping my brain around a difficult, largely undo-able task and turning into an insignificant, everyday, routine occurrence. I shrink the world and slip it comfortably into my back pocket. It works quite well, insofar as convincing myself that something like a 142 mile unsupported mountain bike race, or an expert level cross-country race is ‘easy’. And if not easy, then at least something that I can participate in – and with distinction even.
Nevertheless, those delusions are often laid bare in their absurdity by the harsh palpability of reality. That grand finish, the glory and ascendancy, the savvy triumph and the unfettered bliss that so readily occurs in the reels of my over-active imagination are crushed by the legs and lungs of those who have, rather than dreamed a dream, have actually ridden their bikes.
And yet, I continue on in my delusional stupor. Unwilling to match reality with possibility, constantly hoping, wondering, and yes, even working to bridge the gap between the two. Ever in pursuit of that day when they undeniably and unforgettably become one in the same.
When Did Everyone Become So Fast?
Apart from a few minor exceptions, the Hammer Fest at Soldier Hollow was my return to serious cross-country racing. After taking 2008 off, and after racing in the shorter, although very competitive single-speed races in 2007 I decided that 2009 would be a suitable time to move back to the expert category. The races are 30% longer, the field bigger, deeper and perhaps even more serious, and the expectations more delusional than ever. What could possibly go wrong?
It might be said that the expert group in any race series are those racers most deluded, they are the group trapped between racing for money, and racing for ‘sport’. The result of such a state of mind is a very fast, very intense and very serious field of riders. There is, quite simply, no room for experimental journeymen more concerned about the Quixotian effects of mountain biking than he is about the power to weight ratio of each and everyone of his opponents.
But I lined up anyway. It’s not as if it were the first time I found myself grossly over-matched.
I came to the line on Saturday, unsure of what to expect, with unassuming presumptions, and with a secret hope that somehow the leaner, faster, more powerful Adam of past glory would, at the last minute arrive. I had hoped that he would come strolling confidently into the parking lot, saunter down to the start line and just before the gun sounded; offer to ride the race in my place. I’d graciously accept the offer, and then I’d watch my former self race sublimely around the circuit, climbing effortlessly and quickly and admirably while my current self would lean back and sip a smoothie. Enormously pleased at the unannounced guest that so unexpectedly saved me from a humiliating day as an ‘expert’ being passed by all those many, many riders that started the race well after I did.
Alas, my former self lives only in, no doubt, exalted and exaggerated, memory.
And so when the race began I was immediately and unceremoniously spit out the back like an unwanted, empty gel packet is tossed asunder after being devoured and torn apart. I was utterly amazed at how quickly the entire group rode away from me. I watched helplessly, and with some horror as each one of them grew smaller and smaller, until at some undefined point, they were all, everyone of them, gone. Within minutes of the race beginning, I was alone. I wondered how, and when ‘did everyone become so fast‘? Although, imaginably, I was asking the wrong question. It may be that the more accurate, more reasonable inquiry ought to have been ‘when did I become so slow‘?
And, frankly, I know the answer to that.
Fire and Brimstone.
Fire can destroy and consume. But it also can cleanse. And after the race I felt exhausted, but it was a gratifying, satisfying and purifying exhaustion. A sort of euphoria, like that sleepy insensibility after Thanksgiving dinner. The pain of the day settled into a quiet determination, motivation, and hopefully a catalyst for better, faster days. I have a lot of work to do. But I look forward to it with a renewed sense of purpose. An end accomplished by means that are now lucid and obvious. In fact, they have been for days, weeks. But those means have been continually put off, neglected. But no more.
The burn and the pain that I experienced seemed to eliminate the dross that has held me bound in a pattern of mediocrity and ill-suited content. I want to push and expand and burn. I want to be fast again. Like the old days. Like the imagined days. And so, I see that pursuit now as a challenge, a goal, a riddle to be solved and a puzzle to assemble. What will the picture look like when all the pieces have come together? I don’t know. But hopefully the results speak for themselves. Hopefully the pain and the discomfort eventually eliminate being passed as if I am standing still, and become rather the combustion of an engine running free, and at maximum capacity.
And if not, well, there are always the delusions of grandeur to fall back on.