Sick of it. Sick of riding my bike. Just sick of it. Probably not the best frame of mind to be in, a week out from The Death Ride. The Death Ride, aka The Tour of the California Alps, aka The 100% Surefire Way to Enrage a Saddle Sore Ride.
Sick of it. Sick of riding my bike and the perceived detection of invisible expectation that I’ll always be found on a bike and the pressure I put on myself to Be Out There All the Time and Ride Long for No Reason at All. Except perhaps to find where my breaking point is, one day.
Realizing that perhaps my brain is already there.
My body’s not far behind, if I’m being honest and take the time to turn and look at it directly. If I actually stop for a second and pay attention to how it’s falling apart, little by little. Pieces rasped off in desiccated increments, with aches and niggles that are rarely placated with Advil, seldom soothed with salves. Feet. Hands. Skin. Wrinkles permanently swollen in at the corners of my eyes, like daydreamer hands left in the sink too long.
Sick of it. Fit. Fit and tired. No spark. Nothing.
There is no joy to the thought of getting up early to ride 13 hours for no reason. The joy that usually comes when I go out and explore and see things and ride and ride and hurt and stop in gas stations and drink and eat snickers and go hard and then freewheel and stop and take photos and ride and ride and get home and collapse on the couch and drink one beer and am drunk from it and sleep and sleep and sleep the rest of the afternoon away.
Sick of it. It’s sad.
Reaper at the door.
We camp by the side of the road nearish to the start line. When I examine the atmosphere within me, I detect no fear. This ride is just in front of me and I’ll do it and it will be what it will be. The distance is fine, the elevation gain is doable. Just two weeks ago—was it that long?—on a whim I did a mini-death ride of my own. I survived. Whatever.
Done with it. Sick of it. Sick of riding my bike.
We sit around on campfire chairs with a huge ego of a moon above us. We drink beers. Eat chili lime chips. Salsa. Pretzels. Carbo loading. A small crack forms and for a moment I have hope that the sickness is gone. That I will reform tomorrow, emerging from my tent a rider and not a sick of it whine-y bitch. The crack strains open, but collapses in on itself.
Sleep is somewhere over there in that gully. It sure as hell isn’t in my tent. Hot. Cold. Get up. Who shall I be today? Who shall I be?
There is no choice in it. I shall just have to be me.
Bottles are mixed, food is stuffed in jersey pockets. We roll with lights beaming and 5am air invading lungs. The sun waits patiently for its cue.
Monitor is Monitor. I’ve done it before. It’s long and long and people are continually passing me as though I am standing still. It’s demoralizing as always, but I don’t allow it to get to me as my brain settles in to the task of the now. I climb. I descend. I eat and climb. Considering how sick I am of riding in general, I manage to feel pretty good. Comfortable. Turning to look back down the valley as I climb, I see the ribbon of road below stretching out like some kind of nervous-boyfriend arm across a couch back. It’s hard to hate. It’s rude to be sick of the task when looking at this.
At the bottom of Monitor, I stop for water and see Dan. He describes a lake on Ebbett’s Pass. About how some people stop and dip their feet and I think that sounds lovely and grand and maybe maybe maybe me? He rolls out.
The river keeps me company for a while, but it’s not long before we are all marching up the third pass to that familiar crankarm turning beat.
Before the real climb begins there’s a rest stop. Bored by the taste of water, I find my hand settling on a Pepsi in the cooler. Pepsi, which I have no opinion on other than it’s not Coke and that I wish it were. The day is hot. I’m sweating.
I drink the Pepsi. The Pepsi is gone.
Ebbett’s takes hold. It is so goddamned beautiful that I can’t quite believe it. That this is here. That this exists. I can’t remember the order—lake first or campground—but I think to myself: “This place, I must return to. I will camp. I will hike. I will just be alive in this place. I shall make it so.”
But for now, I just keep going. Climb. I don’t stop. For lakes or anything. I don’t even stop at the top. Just roll over and down.
At the rest stop at the bottom of the descent, I rake my hand through the cooler with the drinks and snag ice for my water bottles. Not sure if that’s kosher, but I don’t really care. It’s a hot and angry day and ice is thwarting a new-mood riot.
I grab a Pepsi. I drink the Pepsi. The Pepsi is gone.
The climb—pass number 4 if we’re counting—grabs my legs and tugs me up. And up. And ever ever up. Over the top. Down the other side.
At the lunch stop, I watch as a sandwich is fashioned for me, then sit on a chair under pines and chew mindlessly. Turkey. Mayo.
I drink a Pepsi. The Pepsi is gone. I have now officially consumed more Pepsi in one day than I have in the last, I dunno, five years?
Away away, I roll away. This amazing and long and lovely and endless descent continues and emboldens my spirit and relaxes my legs. I feel fine. Sort of. There is a niggling…let’s call it an “issue” that’s starting to raise its voice a bit more. I know it’s there—it’s hard not to feel its presence—but what’s the point of even thinking about it? There’s still more miles to ride. Nothing I can do about it.
It’s hot. I mean, really quite hot. The descent is done and everyone is winding their way back to the start, to the long slog of getting over to Carson and the temptation of riding past your car and just saying ‘well, four passes is enough.’ The tease of just being done with it.
Five passes. Do I even want to?
If Erick is already at the car, I think to myself, I’m fine with just pulling up and stopping at 4 passes. I have nothing to prove. Four is fine.
If Erick is not at the car, which is entirely plausible since he seemed quite inspired to do all five passes, then there will be no choice but to carry on. To ride through the irritation. To stop being sick of it and start being rad.
If Erick is there. If Erick is not there. It all comes down to this.
“Is Erick here?”
As I pull up to Sean, Dan 1 and Dan 2 chatting in the Westfalia, I peer about.
My shoulders slump. Head hangs a little. Sigh.
“Ok,” I hear myself say.
“You doing it?”
So that’s it. Settled. Pushing off, I clip in and pull back onto the road. You knew this, brain. You knew this all along. This was always going to be the way it played out. Always.
At the next rest stop at Woodfords, I take off my helmet and allow a woman standing on a ladder to hose my head down. It’s hot. It’s so frickin’ hot.
Pepsi. Drink. Gone.
For the first part of the climb I am somewhat shaded by cloud cover, which doesn’t last long but is appreciated. On the other side of the road, cyclists are flying flying down, tucked and smiling in their giddy-up glee, and I grumble at their luck and keep my eyes open for Erick. I think about how late I am to be starting this climb. About how far in front he must be. About how long my friends are going to have to wait for me to finish. About how slow I am at climbing. A slug. A relentless slug.
If I see Erick, I think, if I see him before the 100-mile mark of my ride, I shall simply turn around at that point and follow him back. I shall turn around and be fine with it. Done, I will be done. They won’t have to wait for me to climb this thing and I’ll be done. Done.
And then I see him. It’s mile 92 for me. He is flying and alone. The hyperdrive is engaged and I am glad to have noticed him in his moment of free. To have recognized his jersey. Erick. He’s in the home stretch, the lucky bastard.
There are moments in a ride where an outside force saves you from yourself. For me, that moment is now and that outside force is E. He takes one hand off the bar, makes the shaka hand signal and wiggles it hollering “whoohooo yeah Janeen!” and, man, he’s so happy and amped and absolutely just ON IT and I think well Shit. Shit. That settles it.
There is no turn around now, not having seen that mood. There is nothing to be done but go forward. To feed of his mood and go on. Go upward to the summit.
Carson Pass takes its time with me, and I am suitably patient with it. Head down. Continue. The neck of the climb is thick and hot and open. Cars buzz by and the sun looks on, amused. Over the top finally, down a little and then I pull into to final checkpoint. Complete. I eat my ice-cream and look around. Fill my bottles.
Pepsi. You know the drill.
Leave. I just leave. People are hanging around at the top of the mountain and I just want to leave. To be gone. For this to be really REALLY over. There is no hate in my tone, I am extremely chuffed that I did it—glad I did it—but I just don’t want to be out here for any longer than is completely necessary. Over it.
The descent is extremely fun and fast and over way too soon. Before long, I pull up to the Westfalia and find Sean, Dan, and Erick drinking beers in the shade, comfortably reclined on camp chairs.
Helmet off, gloves off, and with bike taken from me, I accept two things: the offer to take a seat, and the offer of a cold beer.
“I have a saddle sore with its own zip code,” I say, planting myself on the chair.
Averted, uncomfortable darting eyes. We sip our beers in comfortable camaraderie.
Sitting there in the shade, shoes kicked off and a cold beer in my hand, I think about my day and end up settling on a thought. A reason. A why. This part—the finish, the over with, the done and dusted—I’ll never get sick of this.
I stop riding my bike. For 7 days. Zippy the zip code’s population is reduced to zero and I feel like I might possibly want to ride a bicycle soon. During this time, I eat bad things. I drink good beers. On weekends I sleep in and luxuriate in my pajamas, pottering about drinking coffee and kicking my legs up on footstools and writing. I don’t care that I’m not riding my bike. Normally, a missed-a-ride day has me crawling out of my skin. My skin feels fine. It fits.
Once or twice I ride Black Betty up to Wholefoods for wine. It’s a comfortable ride. Relaxed. I smile and let the wind stroke my cheeks and stop to look down at the Capitola pier as I roll home and decide I quite love this feeling. Sometimes I forget that riding a bike can be fun and have no ulterior motives.
Slowly, I begin to come back to me.
Late on a Saturday afternoon, I park my car at the top of Empire Grade and ride my mountain bike over to Mushroom Hunter. It’s the time of day I love to ride up there. Not a lot of trail traffic and I can just teach myself not to be afraid of trees and twigs and switchbacks and poison oak. I skim along Pipeline, nostrils tickled by forest air and dust. On a whim, I decide to drop down through Wilder to the coastline. It’s easy and mellow, and my bike and I roll North, along the long, flat stretch of sea cliffs. I look at the ocean. It looks back at me. We don’t speak, just listen to each other.
On average, a common cold lasts about a week. There’s a period of coming down with it, where you start to feel shitty and feverish and not quite right. It’s followed by a period where the sickness is intense and you feel absolutely miserable and don’t even want to get out of bed. But eventually, you get enough rest. You eat enough chicken soup and watch enough dumb movies from the couch in your pjs and eventually, you feel better.
I feel better.