We don’t have time for this! No time. Tick tock.
I’m not starved for attention, nor do I yearn for affection or the ear of a long-suffering confidant. But if I’ve absorbed anything from American summer camp movies it’s that you need a camp buddy if you’re gonna survive the short-sheeting and underpant wedgies. It should come as no surprise to anyone that I sought one out for Dirty Kanza training camp. It may come as some surprise, however, to discover that in order to find my camp buddy, I had to look no further than my own leg.
That sounds weird. You’re making me sound weird.
Ok, let me clarify. Imagine standing, arms loose and relaxed by your sides. Now imagine taking your right hand, touching the outside of your right leg, and finding a palm-sized lump there. It fits neatly into the palm of your hand—you can cup it like an egg. It’s comforting and very, very warm and you figure ‘hey, I’m going to camp and I’ll want to be comforted and warm’. So you befriend it. Your very own leg lump. Let’s call it your personal emotional support hematoma, that way you can take it on flights and such without being bothered by the authorities. Speak all your troubles into it and it’ll absorb them and turn them to meaningless mush. Well, that’s what the brochure says.
You should tell them how I got on your leg.
Well, to tell that I’d have to go back to the Sceneatoma of the Hematoma and like you said, we don’t have time for that.
There’s no time! No tickety tock time!
What the people should know is that you and I got into the car and drove from Santa Cruz, California, to Emporia, Kansas for Dirty Kanza training camp, and that when we did that, I’d already been sharing leg real estate with the you, dear hematoma, for 5 weeks. You were showing no signs of buggering the hell off at that time, though I do appreciate that you’d thoughtfully changed from purple and black to a yellowish-grey, dead color. Progress. Glass half-full and all that jazz.
You’re right. No time for your rambling. Tick crickety clockus! Tell the story. Tell the world how you showed me America. Hematoma takes a holiday. Get the hell on with it!
Valley of the Dead Doll Eyes
You wrapped me tighter than Trump holds money…
That’s not how the story starts. Let me tell it.
I drive. I drive you for hours and hours and hours. You get all swollen and I flinch every time the seat belt buckle touches you. Why do you have to be so sensitive, bro?
You would be too if you had the hot fire and angry blood flowing through you.
I drive you though Death Valley, all the way to the other side of it, to a casino hotel in Nevada. We walk in together. Straight into a real scene. Karaoke night. A lonely lady sings solo on the dance floor, in front of the bar. Lady in Red. Two people watch.
Yaysus, where the fu…
Hey, hey. Stop it. This is the best part of an adventure. The stuff you see, the people you meet. America!
Cork it, hematoma.
Smoke snakes around slot machines are siren-calling at modern, road-trippin’ sailor. Weird mannequins and knick knacks guard the room. Cowboys and eagles. A buffalo head nods from the wall.
I love this shit.
Shit is a good word for it.
In the hotel room, we luxuriate on a floral bedspread and examine a map of the area, online. Where to ride tomorrow? The wind is howling outside and I think only of my head bashing against it and you complaining. I find a ride segment on Strava. Dante’s View. I want to climb that. That looks funsies.
The next day, I drive us down to Furnace Creek. Down to sea level. Take a photo of you and me and Pumpkin Butter, ready to ride. You seem happy—in fact riding is the only thing that makes you happy. Why is that?
Probably because lycra doesn’t irritate me like jeans. Lycra is lovely and seamless and cuddly. Lycra is a hematoma’s best friend.
Twenty-three miles of climbing ahead. It’s cool and lovely to start and I stop every now and again so we can take selfies together. Awesome Death Valley selfies.
On the last quarter mile of the climb, however, I almost pop a gasket out the side of you with the effort. It’s steep. Irritating. A car passes as I am standing, stomping down pedals with eyes locked on the road straight in front of my wheel. This is the bit I was warned about. But as I was saying, a car passes and I swivel an eye toward the movement of the passenger whipping out a camera to take a photo of me climbing. Dying. Simmering in my own sweat. At the top, after I’ve stopped and while I’m standing looking down at the magnificently desiccated Death Valley below me, the very same shooter comes over to tell me how awesome I am.
They were talking about me, obviously.
No. No they weren’t. It was about us. We were a team and people recognized it. They could see it.
Bah. You have your memories, I’ll have mine. I remember the endless reward of the descent. That was awesome. Rolling rolling rolling.
It got super windy as we descended and it makes me glad we left so early to do this.
In the hotel, we shower, and I run the hottest water I can tolerate over you for as long as possible. It feels great. Then I mummy-wrap you and go to bed. It’s just past lunch and I should go do some sightseeing in Death Valley, but I have an awful headache and simply doze off to a howling wind outside.
You slept for hours
Yes, I did.
I couldn’t. You really are a terribly loud snorer so I just throbbed gently. Pulsed. Hey, when are we gonna get to the Kanza camp part? Are we there yet?
No. Be patient, dear patient.
Capture the Flagstaff
I drive you to Flagstaff, but on the way we stop at Hoover Dam. I’ve seen it before, but not since that bridge went in, and you’ve never seen it.
And when I’m gone, I’ll never see it again.
Let’s not get all moribund.
Sorry, I just call it like I see it. One day, I’ll be gone. Hematoma takes a header into the afterlife, absorbed into you like a vanishing twin.
I get onto Route 66 by stopping at Mr. D’z Diner. We pull up a seat at the counter.
Who’s that on the wall?
There’s a photo of a celebrity holding a glass of brown liquid like it’s a chalice of happiness meant for royalty.
That’s Oprah. Looks like she’s giving their homemade root beer her seal of approval. Oprah’s Root Beer Club.
She looks nice.
Craig Fergusson used to joke that her farts cured people.
Who’s Craig Fergusson?
Just some a vulgar lounge entertainer. I miss him terribly. But tick tock. No time to explain and all that jazz.
Further on, we stop at a roadside general store that seems set up for tourists. It’s in the middle of nowhere and is basically a junkyard with a gorgeous vintage corvette under the awning. Do not touch. The sign says not to. I’m conscious of time and it dripping away, so I let you look at just a few signs with bullet holes in them and then we leg it.
Later that night, in a hotel in Flagstaff, I recline Queen of Sheba-like on a cream-colored bedspread and scroll around a map. Where to ride tomorrow? Look there. See that squiggle?
Yup, switchbacks. I map a route out there and load it to the Garmin. Squiggles on a map have never let me down.
Next day, we set out together, all bright and early and filled with hotel breakfast buffet treats. The road is, well…, if I wasn’t so used to riding on shitty roads, I’d use the word terrifying. No shoulder and a shed load of traffic just to get out to one 3-mile squiggle.
This had better be worth it.
It was. Don’t you remember? We descend into this amazing canyon and wish I could ride for longer today, but need to get back to the car to start driving to Santa Fe.
We turn around.
The climb is delicious as hot cross buns with super melty butter. Not steep, just switchbacky and lovely and with more shoulder than the rough ol’ road getting out here. At the top, you and I wander over to the lookout and get a selfie.
Then we roll the dice and ride back and it’s even worse than getting out there.
You shouldn’t recommend this road to anyone. It’s sketchy.
I won’t. But it was a lovely climb. Perhaps drive out to the lookout and just do that? A guy was doing repeats on it. 89A. On the way to Sedona.
Petrified Forests of a prehistoric Endor
A last minute decision and we swerve off the main road to go to the entrance of the Petrified Forest.
You thought it’d be an actual forest. Like trees and stuff?
I sure did.
You were wrong.
But in the best possible way, don’t you think? What was I saying? Oh, we swerved off at random bit of Holbrook Route 66 awesomeness—seriously, a wigwam hotel?—but no time, no time to stop. A few quick snaps and off again. The plan was to go to the far entrance of the park, to the start of Petrified Forest Road, and work my way back to the highway. A ‘shoot through’, so to speak. But then the world exploded in a petrified jitterbug right inside my eyeballs. Man oh Man Ray—quick drive my ass. No time, no time? Why is there no time?
“Are you seeing this?!”
I wasn’t, I was below the height of the window in the car. I couldn’t see anything down there.
Right. Anyway. At first, we started driving through and you were all ‘no time tickety tock’ so I was still thinking about getting the whole thing over and done with really quickly. Shooting the surface of the moon out my car window, snap snap. But it got too overwhelming and I just had to stop at the first thing that looked even remotely like a pullout. It wasn’t a pullout exactly, but I pulled over anyway. I did the same thing a bit further up the road so I could show you something super cool. Rushed on over to a giant slab of petrified wood. But it was a rock, don’tcha see? A rock tree. No, no, you don’t understand, it was a tree that was made out of rock!
I get it.
My mind was exploding sideways and out the front. Then reassembling and shoving itself back into my head but all jumbled up transporter beam. I couldn’t get over it. Could I?
No, you couldn’t. You were skipping us about like giddy little kids.
I was, and I don’t regret it. We got back in the car and drove a bit further to an actual parking lot. I didn’t really have time to walk the loop, but…
But you were all ‘screw this, what if we never come back this way?’ and so we did.
Yup. So many photos. Entire tree trunks snapped like perfect stone pillars, laid out for all to gawp at. Apparently, a lot of the crystals that had once been on this loop had been nicked by unscrupulous wankers, but it was still breathtaking.
You were afraid to touch anything.
I was. It was just so….ancient. Imagine were we are standing in the story—this barren, desolate grey landscape—that this was once a dense and lush forest. Here. And some event had occurred to destroy the forest, and then perfect conditions turned these hunks of wood to glorious, colorful stone.
Shut up. You liked it.
I liked not being in the car.
Everyone should go there.
Santa Feigning Injury
We can skip this bit.
Hmmm. No. No we can’t. I don’t want people to think I took my mountain bike on a 4,000-mile drive and never took it off the Thule rack.
We have no time. Tickety tock on the playschool clock.
Santa Fe is a great little town. Remember? We went in a church where there was this wooden spiral staircase that blew the sidecar off your hematoma brain? And we had some huevos rancheros that made us giggle in the tummy? And then, that afternoon, I took you mountain biking and YOU FREAKED THE HELL OUT? Remember that?
I looked up trail maps to try and find somewhere beginner to intermediate to ride my mountain bike and found this little trail system out of town—the Galisteo Basin Preserve. There was no one around. Not a soul. Just you, the bike, the wind and me.
Very different kind of trails than in Santa Cruz. No foresty shade, no pine needles. Just hard and dry rock, very lose and sketchy. It was fine. Whatever. I climbed for a while—had to walk a few steep bits—but doable. Arriving at a bluff, I looked out and promptly planted us firmly to the ground. Holy hellcats it was windy up there. We began a descent that I would’ve called anything but easy. Terrifying comes to mind, and all I could think about was you, my poor little hematoma. About falling and hitting you and how that would probably make some stars in my eyes should that happen.
Yes, and what was that fear based on?
I’d bumped you a couple of times and those times had rendered me mute and teary.
I walked a lot that afternoon because of you—my fear of landing on you—and the wind would not quit. Riding along ridgelines with a tumble drop-off that was just begging the breeze to push me off into the scrub. Ugh. Rocks that looked sharp, and me trying not to kill myself before camp.
We should move on from this, you see now?
It was pretty there, but you’re not the best mountain biker.
No, far from it.
And it wasn’t my finest hour.
No. No it wasn’t. Let’s go.
Hello mudda, hello fadda
“Janeen, you’ve really got to get to massaging that thing! Get the knuckle in there. Work it out!”
Wait, she’s talking about me! I only just realized! I’m so stupid.
Shhh. Let me tell it.
“I know,” I say. “But… I still can’t touch it, really. I’ve only recently been able to, you know, gently cup it. Like an egg.” I demonstrate, holding my right hand gently over you.
The Queen of Pain watches, kinda horrified—looks askance would be a classy way to put it—and I gently give you a little extra touch for reassurance. My little emotional support hematoma. Later, Mothra will attempt to kill you with Bourbon and a healthy dose of Bugles and Easy Cheese, but for now, we’re being civilized.
Stop the clocks. Camp, we are finally at Kanza camp!? Dibs on top bunk!
There were no bunks, but Mothra kindly volunteers to sleep on the floor like a true champ and so you and I get a room with a bed. I promptly allow our bag to explode contents all over the floor.
You got me tipsy at Mulready’s that night.
Yes, on Fresh Squeezed and you become very pliant beneath my fingertips. Unfortunately because of those three beers—and that Mothra-poured bourbon before we all said toorah for bed—you and I start the first training camp ride the following day with a pretty sizeable headache, remember?
But we battle on and emerge triumphant, yes?
Yes, you know we do. Despite me trying to drop off the back when I finally got back with the group (they stopped at a gas station to get snacks), we finished with everyone.
Mothra pushed you up a couple of hills.
Why’d you have to bring that up? Mothra put a guiding hand on our back, that’s all.
He’s a good egg.
Mothra is fully hatched, but I know what you mean.
Dinner that night was at Radius. We tried to mingle with the other campers.
I tried to start some light conversation, but no one heard me ‘cause I was under the table.
Is that why they were ignoring you? Anyway, I think we were pretty successful at the whole socializing with strangers thing. All sorts of people from different walks of life, mingling in the salubrious confines of a Kansas brew house. How could we not be successful?
And you didn’t get hammered, which always helps my mood.
Yes, thanks Aunt Bea. Sheesh.
The reason I held off on the quaff, if you really want to know, was to save myself for the next day’s ride: the 2014 Dirty Kanza 110 mile half pint course. But I’m jumping ahead, which is what happens when you interrupt me. After dinner, I figured we’d go do camp things. You know, like sing a coupla kumbayas, make s’mores, and chuck in a lightning round of the telephone game or something.
Someone’s crying, Lord…
Exactly. But no. We partook in a camp activity that held a little more practicality, in the basket weaving and knot tying vein. We learned how to read a map, I broke a chain on purpose, and then we watched in slack-jawed amazement as the mechanics showed us how to turn a bike into a single speed in an emergency.
Yawn. I’m hitting fast forward. You’re rambling. Pick it up during the Half Pint.
Ok. We ride it at a speed I rarely crank myself up to do. That was always my camp plan—to ride harder than I normally do. Find the cracks. Anyway, the route and speed successfully picks away at the scabs of my weaknesses and they are exposed for all to see. I get dropped on hills. If I’m not at the front of the group when we hit one, I’m spat off the back of it before we even get to the top. It becomes obvious what I need to work on before the actual Kanza.
The wind gusts up and blows and we attempt to hang together as a group. At the final rest stop, I eat PB&J and sit in the sun and wish I could sit there all day, but a small group of us band together and off we go. Off into the wilderness. Off into the gravel.
And most awfully, off into the wind.
Numerous times, in your head you were all like ‘just leave me, please, just let me go’. I heard you.
Yes, and I would start to fall off, and Godzilla would turn his head and notice and slow the group down and dammit I’d be back on and have to try again. A couple of us went through that routine a few times before we held it all together and rolled into town.
You were walking around in a daze at the end. The Queen of Pain lost sight of you and thought you’d wandered into the street like a stray cat to its doom.
Dammit, I went to get the car to drive her back to the house, I told you that. I wasn’t that far out of it. Honestly, you people.
You were pretty wrecked.
Yeah, but I wasn’t delirious, sheesh. I just thought I’d bring the car around for her.
But you were pretty wre…
Yes. I was really tried. But I enjoyed it. Although, the thought of riding that pace for 90 miles more twists my head inside out.
So, was it worth it? Are you ready for the Dirty Kanza?
Whoa, whoa, whoa. You just jumped right to the end. There’s a whole ‘nother day to talk about. The last 50-mile ride, which was into a lot of headwind before we turned for 20 miles of niceness and Godzilla helped a bunch of us get home and even changed a pinch flat on Pumpkin Butter and…
And sounds like you just talked about it, so let me ask again. Was it worth it? Are you ready for the Dirty Kanza 200?
Ready as I’ll ever be. It’s been raining lots. The river crossing is, high, the roads are gonna be loose and flingy. But I think what you’re really asking is if camp changed my plan for racing the Dirty Kanza at all. If it made me rethink anything. Or if I just wanted to write home and say “I hate camp. Come get me.”
It made me rethink things. When we got back to California I started doing intervals twice a damn week and hated it. But I did it. Who knows if that will make a difference? Maybe it’ll help get me up those hills quicker so I can hang with a group and get some rest for any windy stuff. Camp made me switch up to a more structured training week. Super long ride on Sunday, two interval days, two commutes home from Morgan Hill to Santa Cruz (down from four a week) and that’s it. Actually taking rest days. Camp gave me an accelerated view of just what I needed to work on and do to potentially hit my goal this year, and although that’s probably made me a little scared, I’m glad went. Last year, I had no idea what I was getting myself into and this year, I know exactly.
That and I got to hang out with people I love hanging out with, and haunt pubs with locals, and learn the intricacies of making Bugles and Easy Cheese cones. And I got to read the unicorn book about being brave to some people who’ll be digging deep into the bravery chest this Saturday, when they pit themselves against the gravel of the Flint Hills for the 10th edition of the Dirty Kanza.
It’s been raining forever, the creek is up, the roads have soaked up the water and mud-larking may be involved. There’s a good chance that my original goal this year—of beating the sun—is a far-off possibility, and I can’t even say “I wish you were here” to find out, because dammit, two months later and you still are!
Tee hee. But I’m not an egg anymore. Just a disc-shaped, flattish feature under your skin. I love it when you roll me like dough with The Stick. That’s my favorite thing in this world.
Hematoma takes a holiday? More like lobbies the government for squatters’ rights. But whatever. I’m glad you’ll be with me. I might be able to use you as a floatation aid.