A First Time Racer's Perspective on How it Feels To Be Eaten By the Crocodile by Lewis Henry Bullock
Here I am in my mid-thirties finding myself at the epicenter of poor health. I am a soon to be emphysema poster child if I don't knock off this smoking thing, have the frame and density of Woody from A Toy Story, and have to try really hard to beat my five-year-old daughter at tag. This is not the place I expected to be at this age. Something had to be done, but what. I hate going to gyms and finding myself in the midst of all those buff guys. Although I've only been a couple of times, I understand that they have a plentiful supply of sand located strategically throughout the corners of the facilities. Hunks can grab it, throw it on the floor and then kick it into the skinny faces of emaciated guys like me. So the Gym is definitely out. Running! Thats it. But wait that birth defect thats landed me in the hospital 26 times having my foot reconstructed might be a problem. Nope, running is out. I know, Rock climbing oops, no mountains in Missouri. Hiking, there we go oh, that darn foot thing.
Reflecting on all of this I had a brilliant idea. I could buy a bike! That's the ticket. OK, here we go to Wal-Mart. I browsed the collection of 1000-LB steel-framed bicycles and looked at price tags. Are they kidding, $89.97 for a mountain bike that is highway robbery. Then I went to the local bike shop ooh, they have GIANT bikes. I thought, That's what I need. I'm a skinny guy; I'll look like a noble knight on a huge war-horse doing Capriols around the neighborhood on a GIANT Bike. In I went and met some wonderful people. I told them my saga about how Im going to get fit and need a bike to ride to work everyday and ride after work for 150 miles every night. I also like the trails a bit and might get out once or twice a year. They tell me I would be happy with a Giant BOULDER. It's only $239.99. My conclusion at this point is that these people are nuts. Its back to Wal-Mart where passing customer service, I see seven bikes lined up.
Curious I check it out. The tags say various things like Return bent frame or rust on rims or customer could not climb hill in neighborhood on this heavy-assed piece of crap and went to the local bike shop and got a Gary Fisher Gary Fisher? Who's he?
Intrigued by all this, I was relentless in my research and two weeks later I emerged from the bike shop with a bike that was not the best, and not the worst, but one I could afford without my wife divorcing me and marrying some guy named Gary Fisher. Who the hell is this guy anyway now he's after my wife!
It was a Giant Rincon and she's beautiful; all blue-and-silver and stuff with that awesome looking SR Suntour Fork. I don't know what a fork is, but its awesome. That day I rode. I know what two miles in my neighborhood is and I conquered it. I was exhausted, hurting, and fatigued as hell, but hey, I conquered it. Then I found out about these pristine little trails in Blue Springs called Lendu or Denplau, or was it Landahl. That sounds fun, so I go. After my two-mile ride around the family single-track, I was busted up, bruised, and exhausted. It was awesome and I was hooked.
After riding Landahl all summer and increasing my 2 miles to about 15 miles including some of the more difficult trails, I had accomplished some major goals. I went yet again to Landahl on September 15 to ride and there were all kinds of people there. Ive never seen so many people. Why were they here ruining my fun? Oh, its a race. Mad that I can't ride I decide to stay and watch. How boring, there were all these stuffy bike people with their cute little shorts and shirts that looked like modern artists painting palettes. Then the race started. I just sat there with my jaw on the dirt, watching rider after rider funnel into the woods. The hum and buzz of their wheels skimming over the soil into the single track was like a Beethoven Symphony in a crescendo to the final climax. I actually heard the Vienna Boys Choir singing Ode to Joy at this sight. No, wait, that was that rider that got tangled up with another and went down. I think to myself, I have to do this!
On Monday I went to the bike shop and talked with the owner, who many of you know, Heather Jordan. Reluctantly, I bring the idea of me racing up to her. Oh, you're a beginner and can't do jack-squat. You'll get killed out there. You have no skills was what I was expecting to hear. Instead, I heard Awesome! Theres a race at Perry Lake on October 13th. You should ride. Driving home, I tried to decide whether or not I heard her right. I thought, This is nuts. But wait, how hard can it be. It'll only be three or four miles. I can do that. I got on the Internet and researched Perry Lake. Armed with information and a map, I made the drive from Kansas City North. I rode the Skyline loop and then went up Blackfoot to Twin-Peaks. Coming back down Blackfoot I had my very first endo. On the way down I spun in the air and worried for my beautiful bike's safety. The world spun and I hit, knocking the wind out of me. After seeing Jesus and apologizing to him for all the stupid things I've done, I ran over to my bike who I have now named Lucy (for Charlie Browns nemesis) to make sure she was still breathing. Get up Lucy, Get up! She did, and we rode back to the trailhead, I with a nasty bruise on my thigh and her with her first wound. Lucy and I were determined and we rode Perry two more times before the race.
After a wonderful Saturday morning taking my 5-year-old daughter to Ballet and her violin lesson, I headed to Perry. When I arrived, there were several people already pre-riding. The first rider I met, who had also just arrived, introduced himself as Terry Spradley. He gave me a very warm greeting and had a friend with him, Josh who rode in the Beginners 19 and under class. Terry quickly explained that he was out of shape and smoked too many cigarettes. All right! My kind of guy! I was going to be just fine! He can't be in any better shape than I am. I pre- rode the course that day with Terry and Josh and it was decided I would go first since I had spoken with Lyle Riedy and knew the course. We set out. Just wanting to keep up with them, I took off down Skyline like a June bug being chased by a duck. Push-push-push I went, and after what seemed to be 5 miles, something happened. My legs burned like fire, my arms were rubber, and what was this thing with my stomach. I braced myself to lose the Pepsi and power-bar I had eaten on the drive in. I knew it was coming up, but it never did. Terry and Josh showed up 3-4 minutes later and saw my condition. I learned that the Spradley-Webster Dictionary described my condition as Bonking. Then I looked at my cat-eye computer to affirm that I had ridden a hard 5 miles. The ODO read 1.25! Oh, my God, I'm gonna die. I have 7.75 or so to go. I'll never make it.
After much encouragement from Terry and Josh, I finished the course and was pumped for the race the following day, although very sore. My only goal is to finish, and I did it today, I'll do it tomorrow, I thought, though something in the back of my mind wasnt so sure.
That night camping at the trailhead, I met many new wonderful friends and had many great conversations and I discovered that there are many other teachers into this. It stands to reason. We deal with abuse and punishment all day in our jobs, so why not bring it into the weekend by risking our lives racing on rocks trying not to break our necks. That way, were well prepared for Monday morning's cranky, whining students.
Sunday, I woke up. It was cold VERY cold. Rather than wrestle with my camp stove and risk blowing up my shivering body, I decided to go into town to get coffee and something to eat. After all, I'm racing today; I need as many calories as I can get. Upon arriving at the café in Topeka 15 minutes away, I realize I forgot my wallet in the tent. Back I went to the trailhead to retrieve it. At that point I was feeling like Slow-Poke Rodriquez from that Loony-Tunes cartoon. Terry, Josh and I then drove back to the café for breakfast. It was nice to have the company. Then we went back to the trailhead to ready for the race.
When we arrived people were showing up with their fancy bike shorts and painters palette shirts. I can't do this I thought. I decided to back out. Then Josh affirms that I did fine yesterday and all I wanted to do was finish. He said that I'd be fine. What did he know, hes just an inexperienced little (bigger than me actually) kid. Then, a phrase from the Bible comes to mind. And a child shall lead them. Thinking this I know if I don't register right now I won't.
Five minutes before the race I lined up with my class. I was the only one in denim shorts. Trying to imagine looking at myself from the other riders perspective, I knew I looked stupid. This was confirmed when Kathy Reidy approached me and said, I thought you were just kidding about wearing jean-shorts. We both had a good laugh. Then I thought, Look at those posh bikes. I'm gonna get killed! I looked back at my truck and waited for it to heroically drive over and rescue me. It didn't. I looked at all my new friends who were about to race. Suddenly, they had gone cold with game faces. I'll get no help from them now, I thought. Then I hear an ethereal voice that sounded as if I was being addressed from above. Youre gonna do great Henry. It was Terry from the group behind us. I felt better. Then something happened, I heard an ominous voice similar to the one in all those medieval movies shortly before they gruesomely executed someone say GOOOOO! What? No count down. I must have missed it. I followed the wheel in front of me into the single track thinking the riders would all slow down on that rocky section and I could catch them. They don't! I was now in last place. I should just back out now. I can't I'll never be able to face my wife and all those students I told I was doing this. I pushed on. Then I passed someone. Then someone else. I found myself climbing a hill that was getting me when I heard that ethereal voice from the pristine woods again. Go Henry, Go. Youre doing great! I pushed forward because God just told me too. Then the voice said Track! Track? What the hell does that mean? Instinctively I pull to the right and a blurring Terry Spradley who started a minute behind me blazes past. Then another 40 and over racer, then another. I'm joyous that Terry is first, but saddened that there was no way I'll even finish.
I kept pushing on and after what seemed like days, I emerged from the woods and crossed the finish line like a meal expelled from the crocodile when it was done with me; Exhausted, stinky, and unrecognizable. I felt wonderful! I had just finished my first Mountain Bike race and was elated. The buzz at the finish line was such a rush, but I just wanted to get to my Turkey on Rye I had waiting. My goal suddenly changed to getting to that sandwich! After many congratulations and salutes, and even a high-five from the lady that beat me at the last second, I found out that I didn't come in last place in my class, and my sandwich tasted even better.
My very few experiences as a Mountain Bike Rider have left me with passion, dedication, and goal-setting skills. One of the things I found about these wonderful people that weekend is that they all share the same passion, determination, and zest for life. I am appreciative to everyone involved for allowing me the opportunity to do this. Terry even let me take a ride on his Sugar. Oh, its a Gary Fisher bike. Sweet! Now I know whom Gary Fisher is and I am overjoyed that this mystery is over. I ask him how much he paid for it and he tells me. What a steal! I thought.
Yes Henry, Gary Fisher is the father of my beloved Sugar2, Oh and he was asking if I had your wife's number.