There once was a Queen in Idaho
With a penchant for pain, well dontcha know
She put on a race
With gravelly high pace
And we all fell apart like weak so-and-sos.
There’s poetry to riding a bicycle. A rhythm. A tempo. The percussion of the chain as it reverbs over terrain, the gear-shift melody, the rattling of a loosening bottle cage in a syncopated tick, which amplifies the verse as it flows through your mind.
If there is poetry to riding a bicycle, then my style of riding could be classified as pure dirge. A ballad for the cycling dead. A masterful haiku of epic craptasticness. But closer to the dirge thing. I drag my carcass through town and everyone has to watch.
But hey, this is Idaho. Idaho won’t stand for that kind of poetry. Idaho says ‘cut that shit out’. Idaho’s all about sensual sonnets read aloud with fainting couches near-abouts, primed for the swooning.
Hmm. And here’s me, wearing only my limerick.
The air is crisp.
Shit, what does that even mean?
Ok, picture me standing at the start line of Rebecca’s Private Idaho with my bicycle, breathing in this air, which is appropriate because that’s what humans do. The breathing thing. And whilst breathing in—and out—this air like humans do, I also attempt to blend effortlessly into a crowd whilst wearing a luminously bright jersey. I like crowds. I like to hide in them. To be there but not there, a fly on the wall taking secretive little notes in the pages of my brain. It’s getting harder and harder to do that—to be invisible—and this jersey is not helping.
But I digress. What was I saying?
The air is…
The air is filled with apprehension, to tell the truth. So while you’re picturing me, picture the fearless freedom rider, Jonny Taco, to my right, and ruthless fun-having Mal B to my left. All around us, delightful twanging of nervesong fills the air. From first timers anxious about what to expect, to those whose skeletons are still recovering from the agitating washboard of last year.
Is the dirt really going to be better this year? Or is that just a rumor? I guess time will tell.
Personally, I’m not worried about washboard. I’m mostly just wondering if I’ll burn up on that first climb in a gloriously boring repeat performance of last year. Will my body catch alight, a sad, crumpled piece of tissue paper incinerating from the burn in my lungs? Will Trail Creek Road bust my chops and rip my knitting again? Will my spirit disintegrate? How many different ways can I find to say the same thing?
Here’s one. When I fall apart, I crumble like a packet of Ritz that’s been rudely sat upon. It’s ok to crumble. It’s been my experience in life that the crumbs taste just as good. Put ‘em in a bag. Pour their carb-loaded confetti into your mouth.
The air is…
Thin? Fragrant? Alive?
The air is what it is. Deal with it, donkey.
I see Victor slightly ahead of us in the start corral. He’s seeking revenge for the multiple flats of last year in this event, and I say a little prayer to the Flat God (Flatty? Flats Domino? Flatulentulus?) to give him some good luck. This is the guy who swore he wouldn’t be back. And he’s back. That’s the draw of getting beaten by a ride. You can’t let that defeat sit. Can’t let it settle.
Taco, on the other hand, is fresh meat for the Idaho grinder. He’s doesn’t appear nervous. He’s just his usual happy-go-lucky self. Grinning. Unflappable.
“You,” I say, turning to him. I don’t point in his face, but you should add that for dramatic effect to the picture of us at the start. “Don’t you wait for me on this ride. This is serious. This is a serious business. You go for it.”
“And don’t forget about your Magic Bag.”
The Magic Bag. I have supplied us each with one Magic Bag of deliciosity. If you recall from previous mentions, it is a simple concoction of Sour Patch Kids, Swedish Fish, and Gummies (you can use bears or worms), shaken and co-mingled in a sandwich baggie. Roughly one handful per bag in total. Over the course of a long ride, the heat will turn it magical, the road will chant a spell, and it will turn into a potion of power. I will probably forget that I have mine, but that’s what makes it magic. The forgetting, and the remembering at a crappy time, when you think you’re done for. The spirit revival qualities of it are truly magic.
The air. Crackles. The muffle of a microphone start. It’s on, donkeys.
As spirits lift, we ride.
A headwind, our struggle
Dig deep, head down, push on brave one
The elastic breaks in exactly the same place as last year. The first tickle of an uphill and I go backwards. My world-famous reverse breakaway. We’re not even at the dirt yet. It’s not that there’s a noticeable acceleration, it just seems like the first sniff of up and the excitement fire is lit in the group. Off it goes.
A series of little risers and back, further back, I go until I’m alone, hopelessly alone and caught between groups. I crest a rise and am presented with short down, then a long straight. Way ahead, I see the main group. See that it has split. Ants swarming. Me, marching. The cranking hurdy gurdy of my funeral dirge begins.
Don’t feel sorry for me. I’m fine. I feel fine. Slow is slow. I prefer the term consistent, actually, and if I’m being honest, it seems a shame to judge a rider by speed anyway. Were I to be measured on a scale based on how awesome a person thinks they are, I’m right up the top there. And I’ll willingly shoulder that epic burden of general awesomeness but let me just hip you to this—it’s a heavy weight. You loose at least 5 minutes over a 40 km course with it. I mean, it hasn’t been tested in a wind tunnel or anything, but that sounds about right.
Finally, I’m at the start of the climb proper and oh yes, I remember this from last year. I begin the trudge. My legs warm up, my lungs start to fire. I burn. I blaze. I smoke. I cook with something resembling gas. Just continue to move forward, oh awesome one. It’s all that I can do, really.
I. Pass. No-one.
I am passed. By many.
But I just keep my head down and shoveling coal into the fire. The last mile of the Trail Creek climb is glorious. Crest the top, bomb down the other side.
After the first minefield of potholes, I pull over to reattach my saddlebag, which half dislodged from its moorings on the descent.
Pause. Look around. It’s stupid-gorgeous.
Stop it Idaho. Just cut this shit out.
a spray of gravel
hits shins of mountains painted
with Earth’s palette knife
Swiss cheese road, pocked with potholes and it’s a way smoother surface than last year, here. The holes are intense though. Pumpkin Butter—I don’t think you’ve met yet, but Pumpkin Butter is my new bikechild, a machine that’ll knock your socks off and have your heart naked with envy in about two seconds—flies over them with much confidence and it’s fun and glorious and yeehah-y.
At the lollipop rest stop, Rebecca Rusch is hanging out and giving riders encouragement again, as she did last year, and like a loyal subject I say ‘sup Queen?’ and we chat. But time’s a wasting, so I set to rolling out again, heading for the beautiful Copper Basin.
“You might see some wild horses this year,” she says, right before I leave, and I get a little excitable about that. I have visions in my head of horses flat out and galloping, manes flying out and tails like kites. Cross my fingers for the chance of a glimpse. Wiiiiiiilllld horses, couldn’t drag me awaayayaay…
The loop is not as rough as last year, not by any stretch of the imagination, and I ride by myself. Think of Olive, my 2013 ride partner, and wish she were here so we could giggle at each other. And bitch and moan, but mostly giggle. It’s no secret that I ride a lot by myself—I enjoy it—but I will say there’s no better ride than a shared-pain adventure, and she is a good little adventuring buddy.
Another difference this year is that you can actually see the world around you, clearly. The smoke of 2013 really put a crappy Instagram filter on everything, so it’s nice to see the true Idaho. To appreciate it. I have a sudden flash of an opportunity wasted though. It would’ve been smart to take an extra day, think I, to drive through the Sawtooths. To see them for real. A mini-adventure…
But, let that go. That’s for another time. And there will be another time.
On the back side of the lollipop, cattle run hard across my path and I slow pedal so as to not split the herd of nervous beasts. But they hesitate and run and hesitate and look sketchy and a bunch of riders, including myself, do split their indecisive actions with careful piloting. I blast through the world after that, fired up and marveling at everything that’s around me. I’m happy to be slow at times like this. It really lets the landscape soak into your eye sockets when you’re not trying to keep up with anyone.
Again, stupid gorgeous out here. Desolate. Not a lot of quad bikes and RV and gators either, I think. Not as much traffic to throw dust in my face.
Stopping briefly at the lollipop rest stop again after completing the loop, I refuel and push out, intending for this to by my last aid station. Time is dripping by and I want to get back as soon as I can. Get this done with. Enjoy a root beer float and some ice-cream in a sugar cone, and kick back on some hay bales, and watch a yeti catch beer mugs of a well-slippery table.
But Idaho has other ideas. I make a left turn and meet that awful creature most often referred to as a headwind.
Where battles are fought on hard-packed ground
Insolent and grubby warriors scream, defiant.
No weapons, only grit in their hearts
Determined to push their angry bodies through Idaho.
It’s absolutely miserable, this wind, and it brings with it a pretty serious case of the grumps. With no one to complain to, I develop a kind of hard-faced snarl. So hard, that when an unsuspecting rider jumps on my wheel for too long and says something like ‘windy isn’t it?’, I glare back at him and he pulls through immediately.
I’m guessing he wants us to work together but I don’t get on his wheel because I DON’T WANT TO RIDE WITH ANYONE RIGHT NOW I AM ANGRY AND I REALLY CAN’T HANDLE YOUR DAMN CHEERFULNESS AT THE MOMENT!
I am my own worst enemy. Yes, it would be easier to work with someone but everyone, including the guy I just glared at, is going precisely one-click of the throttle faster than I want to go or two clicks slower. I need another me. Dirges unite!
Screw you wind. That’s all I have to say. Just screw you to a front porch and pour hot oil in your face.
O, precious mountain, face raked with scars
Knowing each was etched by life’s tumbling motion
Your cleansing grade makes all see stars
Bodies dunked in, you know, like, an ocean.
Brakes. Who needs ‘em? That’s what I tell myself as I hit the Trail Creek downhill. Brakes just make washboard worse and suck all the fun out of life.
I use them sparingly. As a result, I pass many people and get extremely rowdy on the dirt. Perhaps the most fun I’ve had all day, and only on one gravelly corner do I nearly have to throw out the outrigger. On the fast, paved section, I tuck all aero and kick it, avalanche-style, to get the most out of my momentum.
The descent acts like a glorious bucket of cheer-up-buttercup water dumped on my grumpy head and with my nose smelling the barn of home, I begin to use everything left in the tank. A girl passes me with a word of encouragement and I watch her power off down the road.
With the finish well out of town this year, I don’t slow down when I cross it. Really, really want to beat last year’s time and I can’t really remember what that was exactly, so best to just throttle it right to the end. The end, a few cheers, and I’m done.
My disappointment at the lack of root beer floats is pretty intense, but I make do with a very incredible pizza. And a beer. There is beer. And there sure is poetry in that.
Yep. There is poetry in riding a bike, and Rebecca’s Private Idaho fills this rider’s heart to the brim with it.