I sat lifelessly in a chair. The commotion of the aid station surrounded me. It was vexing. All the encouragement and cheerleading. And the thick positivity. I wanted everyone to be quiet. To go away. To let me suffer in my own cocoon of self pity and forlorn disappointment. Somebody stuck an orange in my face.
“You’ve got to eat.”
“I’m not eating. I’m not finishing. I’m staying right here.”
“Eat. And then go finish the race.”
“You go finish the race.”
After a few minutes of pouting I found myself watching the riders coming and going from the aid station. It was 60 miles into the race, and at the conclusion of a long, demanding and remote—by race standards—section of technical, twisted, rooted, dusty, singeltrack. It’s the section of the Point 2 Point course that I have always called the crux of the entire route. Two climbs to 9,000 feet. 2 white-knucled descents. And almost 30 miles without resupply or any sort of mental reprieve. It’s a gauntlet of difficult riding, and emotional implosion.
But while I idled in the darkness, others—equally as blinkered and worn and distraught as I was—muscled through the black pain. They pointed their wheels upward and disappeared into the thick hillside and switchbacks of the Spiro trail. I resented them, but only momentarily.
“What do they know. I should have been here an hour ago. Why should I bother finishing, if I can’t finish as fast as I wanted?”
In an instant of realization and revelation, the absurdity of such thoughts dawned on me. I felt stupid. Embarrassed. And though I never voiced those thoughts at the time, having even thought them shamed me into a submission and acceptance of what was actually happening, rather than what I believed should have been taking place.
“Grow up. Man up. Pedal. Pedal dammit!”
And so begrudgingly, I got back on my bike. The darkness that had engulfed me somewhere up above, near Shadow Lake had been eclipsed—if only somewhat—by a shadowy optimism and determination to fight through the blackness and the overwrought sense of self-ordained importance. Nobody else cared about my expectations. Not when they were fighting off their own devils and demons and dark chasms of despair. And yet, none of them were pouting petulantly, or looking for pity and sympathy. And so up the switchbacks, and the point of no return I—we—went.
I knew there was significant risk in anchoring my entire summer on one, rather difficult event. And I knew that that risk increased exponentially with every hyperbolic ambition of heroic and jaw-dropping achievement. But I also knew that I needed those delusions of grandeur. I needed the extra motivation and determination to fuel my preparation and my training. In the end, I used every bit I had. I dug deep—deeper than ever—though not in the context or toward the result I had hoped for. Just finishing became the victory. The end. The delusion. And indeed, there were hours of black contemplation wherein I saw no possible means to that end. I wanted nothing to do with finishing. I wanted nothing to do with anything.
But, and not surprisingly, the means to that end became my fellow riders. Hard men and women that I had seen suffer and struggle and dig in the past. But never like this. Never had so much pride been stripped from so many accomplished and stubborn bike riders. Myself included. And never had I seen so many of them ignore the cold stare of the devil with such brash impunity. One after the other huffed and puffed and pedaled by me as I stood trailside again and again—hoping in vain to somehow pull out of the nosedive I found myself in. Defiant, yet visibly teetering on the edge, they rattled by. And each of them offered words of reinforcment and encouragment.
“Come on Grizzly.”
“Get back on the bike.”
“Jump on my wheel, let’s get this done.”
Damn the shattered “what ifs” or “should have beens” that slipped away suddenly and abruptly. Damn the golden windows or the “race of my life.” None of that mattered. Although, admittedly, those things still persisted in the back of my mind. And still are. But they were never more than possibilities to begin with. And only remained so for a few hours on race day. In the end, crossing the finish line was the only possibility that carried any sort of meaning or tangible understanding.
And when that became an inevitability, especially after the ferocious argument I had with myself—an argument that lasted for hours—the thoughts of what might have been gave way to different, darker thoughts of what might have been had I stayed in that chair at mile 60. In other words, I’m proud of my result. I’m proud I was able to dig my way out of the blackness and fear and angry, bitter hostility that so quickly engulfed me during the race. And I am inspired that so many others were able to do the same. That so many others found themselves conquering themselves. Going above and beyond what was thought possible.
So, yeah. I finished.*
In spite of myself.