Tour de Tree: Groundhog Day Edition
Day 1: The Excitable Groundhog
“Then put your little hand in mine / There ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb.”
They rise from their beds, excitable and sleep-giddy. The numbers on their clocks are newborn and crisp, while their hearts hum a pure wanton song of anticipation. What will they do in the upcoming days? How shall they meet this challenge? Who amongst them will shovel soul coal into their exhaustion furnace and create pure, kickass Crusheranium? Or a Strava PR at the least?
Stretching limbs into lycra and neoprene, they nibble oats like wide-eyed winter foals, fill bottles, and stash snacks in jersey pockets. They stamp socked-feet into cleated shoes and close and lock their doors behind them.
It is early. Even the birds are not awake.
In the blanketed darkness of her driveway, The Slow One waits, her streetlight shadow stretching sleepy and long onto the road. A vibration tickles her pocket. A message. Her face lights up with the glow as she reads.
“On my way couple minutes late,” says the text, and she forwards the message down the line, to those waiting at pre-agreed upon rendezvous points. Time dominoes fall in her brain as she calculates, and an awareness of their lateness sharpens. The later they are, she thinks, the faster she’ll have to pedal. And speedy isn’t something talent scouts typically scribble into their notebooks when she rides by.
Peering down the murky street, a light swings around the corner and heads towards her. It is Jon. Taco. She clips in and pushes off to ride alongside him.
They make the first right at the end of her street.
They don’t make the second.
A classic blunder of the outside rider turning right and the inside rider going straight. The script simply plays out as the players play it. Their steeds lock horns, and she is vaguely aware of him saying something like ‘aww, no’ as they fall over in a jokey, slow motion crumple. It’s not a panicked ‘aww no’. More of an ahhh-drats note, sung in the key of ‘but I haven’t even woken up yet.’
‘Well, I guess this is happening,‘ she thinks, as the weight of her body yawns towards the earth. It’s a low-speed tumble, and she lays there, sprawled out and dumb on her stomach.
Finally, she decides she should probably get up, and they laugh awkwardly while she brushes herself off. Voices carry and snap in the morning air like wet towels flicked at unsuspecting buttocks in a locker room. A quick parroting of ‘my fault’ ‘no, my fault’ followed by the health check of limbs and heads and bikes. Her Garmin mount has snapped off and the heel of her right hand, at the base of her thumb, is muttering something in swear dingbats. She ignores it and remounts.
A person is only as wounded as their ability to ride away, and they clip in and “take-two” clapper-board it, marveling at the lack of damage to body and bikes.
5:15 AM. Stage 1. Day 1. There’s already been a two-rider pileup, 30 seconds into the ride. It is excitement. It is nerves. It is adrenaline. And if the groundhog sees its shadow, it’s going to be a long winter for sure.
Five minutes later, they swing onto Soquel Avenue and see Greg, The Draft, waiting at the top of a rise. They say their hellos and begin for real. Through Capitola, through Aptos they roll. Heading towards Freedom, both the road and the feeling.
Taco speaks: “Some guy called Erik texted me to say he’s coming. I don’t really know who he is.”
The mention of his name seems to conjure him out of thin air and the mysterious Erik latches on to the trio. The group moves on, chatty and exuberant. The morning is cold, but not freezing. California winters are just the worst. The absolute pits.
By the time Wheezy catches up to the posse, Dirt Diesel has also joined and the group is heading toward the base of Mt Madonna. The Slow One is grinning at the attendance. Six riders. SIX. And if Matador is at the tree, that’ll be seven: a record for a morning Tour de Tree stage.
They fidget and bristle, readying for the toughest part of the ride, the climb up Old Mt Madonna road. The group is already stringing out a little as each rider checks their ride playbook and sets their mind to the uphill lean.
At Egger’s Torment—a Strava segment that features a straight, irritating pitch to torment riders, and thanks to the baying of Egger’s dogs at his house, probably Egger himself—Taco turns and takes a photo of The Slow One coming up. She smiles and tries to look comfortable and at ease, but behind that smile is a looming sense of dread. This week is going to be hard. She can feel it already.
They wait for her under the skirt of The Mother Tree, a giant California Oak that dominates the scene. The group chats and grazes on pocket treasures as The Slow One finally reaches the summit. A quick loop around—the only rule of Tour de Tree is to loop the sassy Mother upon reaching the top—and she pulls up to catch her breath and nibble a sausage rice cake. Matador is there. Seven. Their number is now seven.
The morning is a crisp packet of biscuits and rather than delay the joy of the descent they press on. The Slow One may have been last up, but she will not be last down. This is HER dirt and her bicycle, Pumpkin Butter (shod with devil-may-care 38mm tires) has been teaching her the finer points of not giving a brass razoo about loose corners and washboard. Together, they are a 38 caliber round from a Mother Tree gun. A cursory glance behind as she reaches the lip where the dirt turns to pavement and she sees just one light, further back. Wonders who it is. Pushes on, using her beer-fed winter weight to bomb the rest of the descent. It is the highlight of her morning.
At Doberman Alley (once home to two angry Dobermans, now just one truly fat one), it is relayed that Dirt Diesel has flatted, so they stop and wait. They jaw and lean on bikes, cold air doing its best to freeze sweat to their bodies in the chilly corridor of Redwood Retreat Road. When he comes, the Dirt Diesel shows no pause and they all chase to get on his wheel. They are really moving now.
Watsonville Road becomes a trail of tears. Faster and faster, the pace ticks up. Stage One of ten and The Slow One hangs on through the Valley of Doom, but just barely. There are alarms going off in her head as her Sensible brain fights her Competitive brain.
“Let them go,” says Sensible. “Save our legs. There are nine more stages, remember?”
Competitive snarls: “You loose that wheel, you’re a putz.”
She holds the wheel. They power on. One stage down. Nine to go.
9 hours later
Pulling up to Door Four for the Stage Two call up, and out rolls a new attendee, Chad. The Draft and The Slow One look him up and down, dressed as he is in his lycra kit. No arm warmers, knee warmers, or vest. Just that kit that in an hour or so will feel as thick on his body as a barely exhaled breath. While it’s not quite a ‘better get your booties ‘cause it’s cold outside’ situation, their looks are enough to make him rethink his garb and he disappears back into the building to grab extra clothing.
The moon is on screaming high beam. Chad is as excitable and fresh as a drop of water on a hot griddle. He surges and slows and waits at the tops of climbs, and although she tries to keep up with the pace, The Slow One is often lagging shamefully behind. She pushes herself but is acutely aware of how much this week is going to hurt if her foolishness—her constant effort to stay in touch with fitter folks—continues.
If this keeps up, she thinks, before the week is out she will kill a man.
Day 2: The Confused Groundhog
“Then put your little hand in mine / There ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb.”
They rise from their beds, confused and blinking. The numbers on their clocks are a yawning and pure groaning chorus of ‘turn that light out wouldya?’ Rubbing eyes with balled fists, they stumble about in their homes, digging through drawers for socks, and beanies, and missing arm warmers. They sit and sigh in front of heaters, chewing on cereals and fruits with a crunch in their ears and blank looks on faces. Sighing, they press play and get this confusion train rolling.
They break attendance records on this morn. A peloton of nine circles The Mother Tree for Stage 3, thanks to the presence of #lucydoingstuff and McKenzie. The Slow One’s heart is buoyed by the numbers, but her legs are hurt by the exuberance of the group and their pace. Summiting, she’s convinced it’s her worst performance ever and she stops, leans on her bars. Breathes deeply.
“That. Was horrible.”
Her body is confused. WHAT IS GOING ON!? WHY ARE WE DOING THIS!? THIS IS DUMB.
Her brain ignores it.
They descend and a sense of unbridled strength grips a few riders. They are strong and wild, so surge on Watsonville. The Valley of Doom inevitably claims The Slow One this day, as she suspects it was always set to do. Shortly after, Taco notices her absence and drops back to hook her on a towline.
“I just can’t go this hard if I’m going to last the week,” she says, feeling the need to explain her extremely high suck factor.
Taco, who could more accurately be called The Cheerful One, is simply positive and cheery and he pulls her back to the group before they reach the edge of town. She silently hates herself for being a weak link in an awesome chain, but is quickly brought back to a joyful state, later at her desk, as she scribbles the AM stage rollcall in her notebook.
Nine. There were nine people on that stage. Sure, she expects rider drop off as the week progresses, but for now she clutches the numbers tightly to her hungry heart.
In the Feed Zone mid-morning, The Slow One chats with #lucydoingstuff and explains the Five Moods of Tour de Tree.
“Today is the Confusion Day,” she says. “It’s when your body is like ‘Wait, what? We’re doing this again? Why? Didn’t we do this yesterday?”
“What was yesterday?”
“That was the Excitement Day. Day One is always the excitement day.”
The Slow One continues on to explain that on Day One riders are fresh and amped and excited to get the thing started. That in fact, excitement was the reason there’d been the stupid crash on her street, not 30 seconds into the ride. Too much “shit-yeah!” amplitude swirling around.
After Day Two, the Confusion Day, comes Day Three, the Anger Day. The attitude of that day is: ‘I can’t effin’ believe we’re doing this again and everything hurts and there is no relief.’ Each rider will be grumpy all day. That’s a given.
Day Four is Acceptance Day. Sure, there’s pain and tiredness and all that rough stuff, but bodies are saying: ‘OK, well, I get it. Well, I don’t get it, but I’ll go along with it.’ Riders simply become resigned to keeping those cranks turning. The final day, Day Five, well that’s just the ‘let’s get this over and done with’ day. Ignore how you feel. Let’s just get this done.
The Slow One finds some comfort in her own words. She knows she feels the way she does because it’s the confusion day. Confusion will pass and anger will creep, but until then, just go with it. Let it seep right in.
5pm, door four.
“Is Erik the Red coming?”
The Slow One, not really thinking about it, bestows this new name upon Erik in a heartbeat and her eyes light up. That. Is a great name. It seems obvious, now that she’s said it. Red hair. A bit Viking-like. Would look good in a horned helmet, that kind of thing. It is relayed he will catch up, and he does soon after leaving town. He is, like every stage thus far, wearing a heavy looking backpack. It does not slow his pillage down and they push on to charge hard at far-off coastlines.
On a segment called ‘The Insult’—a stupid nothing climb that happens between the Madonna descent and the top of Hazel Dell—Chad hangs back and rides with The Slow One for a spell. He is evidently doing some market research—or just trying to find out why she does such nutty things—and casually probes her about her motivations in life. About why she does the things she does. These rides. These ‘from out of nowhere’ rides.
“Um. I just like riding. A lot, I guess.”
They chuckle. And then she is promptly dropped by everyone.
Later, at the top of Hames, she calls out to Taco to check if he is OK. He’s stopped on the side of the road and is fiddling with something. He says he’s fine, but when he catches up he explains he had a nose bleed. In fact, it’s still bleeding, and he’s letting it. For artistic reasons, he encourages it to remain in an attempt to dry it into a bloody slug trail down his lip for the remainder of the ride.
“I want to take a photo of it. Let’s stop here,” says The Slow One as they pass under a streetlight. She is thinking only of her instagram feed and not his creative vision.
“No, let’s wait for your driveway. The light’s better there.”
They ride through ten miles of Taco not touching his face in case the blood smudges, laughing about the story they might concoct as to how he got the nosebleed for the caption. Shortly after The Draft breaks off and heads for home, Taco and The Slow One pull up under the light of her garage overhang. They snap shots and giggle conspiratorially as they plot the documentation.
“Give me pain,” she says. “Now happy. Now give me confusion.” Snap, snap, snap.
They say their goodbyes. Their see you tomorrows. They retreat to their homes.
Tomorrow. Yep. Same time. Same routine for day three. Hump day. After tomorrow, there’ll be more behind them than in front of them. After tomorrow, there’ll only be four stages to go.
“What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.”
Day 3: The Angry Groundhog
“Then put your little hand in mine / There ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb.”
They throw their tangled, sweaty blankets from their bodies and rise from their beds. Stepping awkwardly on carelessly discarded house keys and kicking doorjambs with naked toes, they stagger to their bathrooms and look at their baggy-eyed reflections. The numbers on their clocks are typing out strongly worded letters to editor about the situation in the Middle East. Anger simmers.
All of The Slow One’s weaknesses are bubbling to the surface of her, now. Wednesday morning. Historically—based only on two previous tours—this has been the worst stage and she knows it. But the ache in her legs still catches her by surprise.
For the first time in forever The Slow One ‘delivers the mail’ up Egger’s Torment, just to save herself. Just to survive. Her biceps, weak and achy, collect their voice and goat-scream their way up. It’s extremely inelegant. Both Taco and Wheezy dangle themselves slightly in front of her like spandex carrots, and she carries on. But with much anger. With much hatred of life.
They all loop the tree at the top. She sees Matador waiting patiently, joined today by Stephanie, but rather than being overjoyed at a new rider doing a stage of Tour de Tree—hurrah, more people, more success!—The Slow One releases a quiet and private sigh.
Someone with fresh legs, just what she needs. Her grumpiness has no joyful lining. It’s irrational and selfishly out to poop the party, and as she expects, she’s dropped handily in the Valley of Doom. Again. Doesn’t even bother to try catch up.
‘Please. Go on without me,’ she pleads pathetically to herself, projecting her thoughts up the road to the group in some kind of passive aggressive cloud. ‘Forget I ever existed, let alone that I am so awful at an event I organized.’ The anger snarls within in her, rapping firm-knuckled on the door to that part of her brain containing the You Suck liniments and portable Negative Thought misting tents. A fine mist of ‘you’re a waste of time and space and life’ appears before her, and she rides right through it.
“If any one of them slows down,” she thinks, glaring at their backs up ahead. “I will kill them all.” An internal whine monologue begins. “Just leave me be. Just leave me be.”
A head turns. One rider slows. Then another. It is happening. She seethes and seethes and seethes and when she catches them, says sharply: “I didn’t want you to wait. I’m slowing you down, just go,” and she says it mean and angry and knows the grump is cascading out of her like a slinky down a flight of stairs.
But they are kind and patient and accept and recognize the place her mind is in and ride, just simply ride with her. The Slow One will try and laugh about it later, but she knows she is some kind of an asshole right now.
It is tiredness. It is anger. It is a typical Wednesday of the Tour de Tree.
During lunch, Taco drops by her desk and casually slides a small, rectangular graphic onto her desk. It’s an early mockup of a Tour de Tree stem decal and she squees with delight at it. For a brief moment, all lethargy and hate leave her body, because here it is: The Mother Tree. Bill Murray. Together at last.
“I’ve been so grumpy today,” she says, squinting at it and then actually putting her glasses on. “But this has cheered me up immensely.” She then proceeds to give Taco some unsolicited feedback on a couple of ‘tweaks’ to the design and he patiently humors her.
They gather for Stage Six in the fading winter sun. Erik the Red looks strong, as he has looked every stage thus far. Taco is a pure picture of serenity and cheerfulness as he offers stem decals to all riders present. The word ‘tired’ comes from The Draft’s mouth, but to date, there has been no sign that his legs have received any tiredness memo. The Dirt Diesel continues to chug down the tracks with relentless rhythm. The Slow One remains slow, yet resolute.
A huge moon hangs high, a sliver away from full, but totally capable of creating creep-shadows from non-threatening stumps and logs. As they hit the dirt, and Taco turns off his light.
While it could be viewed as daring and thrilling and ‘whaddaguy!’ behavior, as far as The Slow One’s concerned, it’s simply a glorious act of solidarity. By challenging himself to ride using only the beam of her light—so riding several feet in front of her—Taco is forced to keep a pace that keeps them joined by some kind of twisted-lumen rope. To see ahead, he must ride at her pace, and the knowledge of his sacrifice encourages her speed. In this way, they climb together as a team. The suffering is forgotten as the conversation carries.
Later, they part ways and each rider from that day mentally checks a Stage Six box. They shuffle to showers and let water pound their heads for endless minutes. Collapsing on couches with reheated dinners and mindless television programs, they eat quickly and scrape their plates clean and fall asleep with forks still in their hands, eventually jerking awake like startled marionettes.
Pulling blankets to their chins in their body-hugging beds, they fall asleep quickly to sleep like the dead.
“I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned.”
Like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, they are on their way to becoming immortals. They are on the road to becoming gods.
Not THE God. A god.
Day 4: The Accepting Groundhog
“Then put your little hand in mine / There ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb.”
They rise from their beds without comment, and with peaceful, easy movements stretch arms into jerseys and rub life back into sleepy calf muscles. The numbers on their clocks are peacefully humming and content. They chew breakfasts and fill bottles and assemble at meeting places as though a routine has finally been successfully woven into their tapestry. The Pavlovian bell, once rung, sets the world in motion. They crack their necks and stomp feet for warmth as they wait.
Taco explains, in low and relaxed tones, that today is the first stage where he hasn’t had to time-trial it to The Slow One’s house. Explains that each morning stage prior to this one has been a race of truth for him, from his house to hers. That knowing her obsession with punctuality had lit a fire in his lungs and bent his body to an aero tuck at an ungodly hour of the morning.
He is relaxed. Limber. Loose.
“I gots the good sensations,” he says, and she can see it in his effortless motion. His quiet peace with his cadence.
The ride collection plate is filled, gradually. First, The Draft, waiting in the usual spot, then McKenzie, #lucydoingstuff and a guest rider, Emily, catch them on Varni road. Erik the Red is noticeably absent and The Slow One fears his perfect attendance record is about to be scotched.
Heading toward the base of Mt. Madonna climb a fox, small and soft-footed, runs out onto the road in front of the group to join them for a few excited seconds. It’s a wow and ooooh moment. Sometimes they forget, these riders. Sometimes they forget they are where the wild things are, and the wild things are everywhere.
They climb, spreading out like power line, tower to tower to tower, as the strongest amongst them are sucked toward the summit and the weaker, dragged.
For the first time this week, The Slow One experiences a legitimate case of Tree Brain. Rounding the second to last corner before the false summit, she begins to daydream about the upcoming afternoon stage, still over 9 hours away. Thinking about how after that stage is finished, there’ll only be two to go. Sweat drips from her chin to the top tube and she is lost in the pools formed there, drumming out her pedal strokes, just going and going and going. Up, up, up. One more ride that afternoon, then two more stages. It’ll be all over. The whole thing will be over.
And it hits her. Suddenly. Panic. Genuine and sharp.
Shit! I forgot to do the lap of the tree this morning! I didn’t do it! I’ve disqualified myself from my own event! Shit shit shit!
The Slow One drowns in a feeling of grief. A real sense of loss.
And then she looks up.
Awareness creeps and she notices where she is. That she’s still climbing that damn hill. She hasn’t even made it to the tree yet, to do that lap she thought she’d forgotten. First relief, and then a little laugh.
“Tree brain,” she thinks, snickering. “You’re such a dumbass, Janeen.”
Later on and the descent is fast and clear, and on Redwood Retreat the morning opens its kimono to give them all a good look at the sexy bits. It’s the golden light that clichés are baked from, and they can’t stop marveling at its deliciousness.
“Light bro” they say, joking. “Man, d’ya see the light, bro?”
The Draft’s tire catches a glass shard on Watsonville, and everyone stops to judge the change. If they’re being honest, they’re really just waiting so The Draft can get back in line and drag them home. There is no hurry. There is no stress this morning. The pace has been accommodating and loose, with no-one dropped, and the jovial mood is infectious as they roll off to finish the last few miles.
At the edge of town, they hear an excited: “I caught you!” as Erik the Red makes amends for missed alarms and rendezvous. Once again, their group is whole.
The afternoon stage sees a smaller assembly, but they function in harmony. They gel. On the fast and mesmerizing Hazel Dell descent, Taco compliments them on their fluidity, their teamwork, their symaptico flow.
“I was just sitting back there,” he says. “Watching the train.” And there’s wistfulness in his voice. An admiration of how beautiful a train of descent can be.
They go their separate ways, some to home cooked meals, others to the takeout counters of strange delis inside of gas stations. The good sensations are coming back. Fates have been accepted, and bodies relent.
Rita: What should we drink to?
Phil: I’d like to say a prayer and drink to world peace.
So say we all.
Day 5: The Motivated Groundhog
“Then put your little hand in mine / There ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb.”
They rise from their beds tingling and happy. The numbers on their clocks are pushing against their backs in eagerness to get going. They check weather forecasts and stick ears out windows to listen for the sounds of predicted rain. Looking skyward at blinking stars and cloudless firmament, they dress for what’s to come, not what is. And what is, is quiet. Serene. Pleasant. Dry.
“I thought it was supposed to be raining?” says The Slow One, as Taco rolls up beside her in her driveway. She is worried she has overdressed, but makes no move to discard any of her carefully chosen clothing.
If it rains for Stage 10, she will need all of it. All of it.
On Soquel, there is no sign of The Draft. At Varni, no Wheezy or #lucydoingstuff, but McKenzie has joined. On a short climb, still on Varni, both McKenzie and Taco take pity on the tired and sluggish and ‘Flying V’ formation The Slow One up the hill. It is the most majestic and wonderful feeling, and she relishes that V. The feel of their hands on her back, pushing her up that hill. The effortless turn of her pedals. The relief.
Together. They shall get through this together.
It is a truly mild morning, and even though just yesterday they experienced the magnificent ‘light bro’ morning that dazzled and glinted, they all agree this morning is the best one yet. They revel in the ride, soak in the air, and bask in the companionship. After a short break at the summit to catch their breath and celebrate the final morning stage, The Slow One asks them all to ride away from the tree one last time so she can take a photo. This is it. Stage Nine. Just one more to go.
They roll into the office, shower and blow dry, then sit at their desks and twiddle their ravenous thumbs until Friday Bagels are ready. The Slow One eats a bagel, a donut, drink two glasses of chocolate milk and inhales some berries. It is a perfect morning in all regards.
It is nearly over. It is nearly over. Her body tingles with the glory of it.
The rain is bored and falling like a sigh. The Slow One stands at the back door of the garage and looks out at the rain, falling without enthusiasm. There is some excitement at the thought of riding in it, considering it hasn’t rained in a very long time and she’s forgotten what it’s like. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that clap-trap. She decides in that moment what she’s going to wear, and she’s going to wear everything she can. Just because it’s not raining hard now, doesn’t mean it won’t be later. She will not be fooled by bored rain. That’s a trap, and she knows it.
Fifeteen minutes later, she waits on her bike, arms folded and assessing the intensity of the rain. Egger walks past her on his way to the other building and stops to troll her.
“I can give you a lift in my truck if you like,” he says. She instantly takes the bait.
“No! Why would I do that?! It’s the final…” She notices the smirk on his face and realizes she has snarled her jersey on his troll bridge.
“I’m just kidding,” he laughs. “I know you wouldn’t do that.”
She narrows her gaze at him. Attempts to look mad.
“I’m just waiting for Jon,” she says. “He’s getting some road sodas to celebrate at the tree.”
He nods, and they chat briefly.
“Well, ride safe,” he says, and she watches as he jogs over to the door to get out of the rain.
Erik the Red sticks his head out of Door 4 and gestures to her before going back in. McKenzie and Dirt Diesel are leaving later, so she assumes he will ride with them.
“Erik the Red waved us off,” she tells Taco when he comes back from the store, watching as his rips a Banquet from the plastic toggle and hands it to her to put in her pocket. He then rips one off for himself and places the remaining ones under a wooden bench where the boys will hopefully see it on their way out.
“It’s still not too bad,” she says, glancing skywards to the steadily falling rain. “They said it was supposed to be a ‘river event’, whatever that means.”
The tone The Slow One uses is kind of a nervous ‘let’s just hope that doesn’t happen, ‘cause it sounds a little floody’ tone. Zipping up, they push off from the parking lot and get their goddamned show on the road.
In the rain. With lights. And road sodas. Just Taco and The Slow One.
When they turn onto Redwood Retreat some time later, they glance back and see a light coming on Watsonville. A little further on and Erik the Red is with them. The Slow One looks at him and crinkles her brow. He seems to be wearing a simple jacket and bibs and knee warmers not much else in the way of rain protection and she worries a little about the saturation point and how quickly cold typically follows behind that.
As the rain gets heavier, the distance between riders becomes greater due to the simple necessity of protecting eyes from road grit flung mightily into faces by their fenderless bikes. By the time they reach the dirt on the Madonna Climb, the rain consistency it is what The Slow One would classify as ‘cats and dogs.’ She stops just short of entering the canopy and lays down her bike, pulling a hand out of a soggy glove to see how impossible it will be to keep her phone dry while getting a photo. Shielding the screen, she dicks around with it, first shooting through the zip lock it’s in, before pulling it out completely and just throwing caution to the wind. Slippery fingers slide away and she blindly snaps, hoping at least one thing will be in focus.
Drops hurl themselves furiously at the ground, and plops of watery mud-slush rise into the air with each hit. Rivulets of gushing brown liquid and loose forest detritus flow freely down the road. A sly grin is planted upon her face as she feels the water rub across it and the damp warmth inside the neck of her jacket. A secret and guilty pleasure of a word flashes across her brain screen. Fun. This is fun. And thrilling. And wet. And Taco and Erik the Red must be at the top already, she’s been here so long.
In the darkness of the forest canopy, she climbs wicked corners, previously festooned with loose and angry gravel now washed away. She is loving it. On the steepest section, she stands and climbs in the dirt, a task previously unthinkable in the dry. There, up ahead, she sees Taco and Erik the Red doing some kind of GQ photoshoot, but by the time she reaches their location, they’ve pushed off again.
Turning the last bend on the climb and racing for the tree, she utters the same phrase she has uttered four afternoons previously: “I win again!” One lap around the Mother Tree and they all pull up under it. They are grinning like loons at the insanity of it.
Taco props two bikes together and sets up an iphone on the saddle, turning on the timer. They all rip the ripcords on their road sodas and hit their cans together with a dull clink to cheer victory. There is such a feeling of achievement and relief and joy. They are laughing at it.
The descent is treacherous at the best of times, but in the pouring rain, the road choked with water, it seems even worse. Erik the Red jokes about needing to go first in case he loses his brakes entirely, while Taco and The Slow One revel in the glory of disc.
Is it getting heavier? Is that possible? The answer is yes. Yes, it is.
Things start becoming comedic on the Hazel Dell descent. The rain is so heavy, the road disappears completely and they fly down in tight formation, guiding each other through and glancing down with squinted eyes to locate the yellow line under a pure sheet of water.
They are piloting Crux canoes.
Taco takes the lead, and visibility is so smudged, so obscured and dreary, that at one tight left following a tight right, The Slow One yells ‘left turn’ and he takes it with a hearty ‘thanks!’ They know this road like the palms of their hands, but it is as though they have entered a raging tunnel of noise with blindfolds on.
It is insane. And fun. The road is littered with life. The rain, needle-pricks on their faces.
As they enter Corralitos, an SUV pulls alongside The Slow One and she braces for the tirade of abuse this usually signals.
“Where did you ride from?” yells a voice out of the window.
“Morgan Hill,” she says, looking over and trying to make out the face of the driver.
“That’s so awesome! You guys rule!” He pulls away and she watches him go, surprised.
The Slow One joins Taco and Erik the Red at the four-way Stop, and they begin their climb up Hames.
It gets real ridiculous real fast. Half the road is a raging river, and they ride through the edge of it, pushing through the torrent. She can’t help but giggle and they all begin laughing like maniacs at how stupid it has become. Rain so heavy, road so… like a river. They are basically riding through a flood but have no choice but to push on.
Further up the climb and the SUV appears next to them. The driver has followed them to once again express his awe.
“You guys are awesome,” he says again. “The most rain we’ve had in forever and you’re out in it! Hardcore!”
It dawns on The Slow One that they are riding in some dumb stuff now. That what one person calls awesome, another would call idiotic. But it is kind of fun. She feels brave and dangerous to know. The smile is back.
Eventually, Erik the Red peels away on Freedom and they congratulate him for completing the tour. Thank him for being part of it. He rides off into the storm. Taco and The Slow One push on together, wondering how McKenzie and Dirt Diesel are doing, probably about half-an-hour back. Did they get to the top of the climb prior to the insanity or get caught in the worst of it at the worst possible moment? Have they split up now? Are they safe?
There will be stories told about this night. About how epic is was.
It’s dark and heavy and both Taco and The Slow One have their heads bent low with eyes peering out from under helmets. Suddenly the road is flooded, but due to the darkness they don’t see it until they’re in it. It’s getting deeper and deeper and The Slow One doesn’t know what to do but follow Taco, so she does. Her feet submerged and surface with each pedal stroke, and to stop would just be pointless, so she pushes on toward a street light up ahead. Eventually, they are out of it.
“Holy shit!” they say to each other, almost in unison. The adrenaline is high, but they are close. There are so close. One more flooded section in Aptos and they’re on Soquel and on and on and on and home.
They high five in her driveway and Taco rides away from The Slow One, home to his own shelter and shower and bourbon in a chilled glass.
It is done. It is over. They have won.
“Today is tomorrow. It happened.”
McKenzie and Dirt Diesel had a wild ride in the rain, but made it successfully. Five riders have now completed all ten stages of a Tour de Tree. We are hoping the next tour will have a commemorative t-shirt.