In the past couple of months, as the world of endurance cycling has rolled on without me, I have found myself more immersed in it more than ever. Chalk another one up to an amount of chair time that is directly proportional to the amount of time I'd rather spend outside. I've found these ways to move on vicariously, learning about these epic rides from afar, and reading the words of the people who participate in them.
One arching quality I've noticed in many of these athletes - some near the top of this ever-expanding game - is an almost anti-competitive introspection. These are athletes who are more immersed in the battle within than the battle outside. They are out there not to prove themselves to the world, but to prove the world to themselves. It is an interesting juxtaposition from everything I was ever taught about athletic pursuits. My teachers, my friends, all drilled it in me that sports were a way to best others. And I was not really interested in that. But I was interested in becoming better than myself.
"I woke up yesterday with an understanding about (Grand Loop Race), which simply put, is that the reasons I want to do it don't have anything to do with anyone else. It really doesn't have anything to do with racing. It's hard to explain. But one thing is for sure: I'd rather do it completely solo than in a race setting. That doesn't mean I won't try to go fast cause of course I will. It is simply more natural and agreeable to make a solo TT effort out of it."
- Dave Harris, April 2007
And so I thought about this today as I was lamenting the fact that I will not be able to enjoy any competition during the summer season. I once had grand schemes and plans to enter races that were harder than anything I have ever tried, to push myself harder than I have ever pushed myself, and therein become a better version of me. But as weeks turned to months and I continued to pick at unravelling pieces of myself, I've tried to figure out why I hold on to this ultimately self-destructive drive.
"As I progress in this world of endurance racing, I am realizing how small it can make the rest of the world feel. After the (Kokopelli Trail Race) last year, I lined up at a local XC race. It felt ... insignificant. I raced, and had fun, but at no point did I ever have to go anywhere near that spot I found on Troy's Loop, sitting in the pseudo shade, eyes blurry, feet numb, and mind foggy. At that point everything was significant. Every forward movement, each pedal stroke, each rock and boulder and passing minute meant something."
- Adam Lisonbee, May 2007
And I thought about the people who do this all the time, the people who are so talented that they can extract at least a small part of their bread and butter from something as obscure as endurance bicycle racing. Fans and sponsors love the loop races, the 24 hours of whatever. We are, after all, a NASCAR society. We like to be where we can sit and watch all the speed and pain happen. I love the 24-hours, too, because they become my chance to master a small piece of the earth. But I'm watching more and more people at the top of this game leave the spotlight and turn to self-supported, often self-imposed, self-suffering rides. And even I, who claims to love adventure and eschew competition, find myself struck back with confusion and respect.
"I love adventure. I want to be lost in the woods looking for arrows and ribbons and what not. I want to leave the car, and not see it again for at least nine hours. I definitely have no regrets on this one. This experience made me realize that I can walk away from the lap/time format and not look back. Just because I can do something well doesn't mean I have to keep doing it. I'd still be a male stripper if that were the case."
- Team Dicky, May 2007
I will never, never be at the top of this game. I will always admire those who are. But at the same time, I find a certain reverence in stories of the races that aren't races, the athletes who struggle but don't win, the people who suffer only to lose themselves in the scope of it all.
"I've had some trying moments in the woods before, but the Kokopelli was a window into a different world. Many times during the day I looked forward to putting the bike away at home and leaving it for a while, and I will. I'm also negotiating to buy Enel's Reba. I think the sickness got worse."
- Dave Chenault, May 2007
And at the end of all this blog surfing, I set goals. Every day, I set goals. I want to pedal 15 miles today. I want to be smart and do all of my stretching. I want to write off my doctor bills as the s*** tax and find new ways to love life and all of the small adventures it brings. And I want to set big goals. Even though I have no idea what my future or my health holds for me in one, two or nine months from now. Because, through it all, what I'd really like to do is get on my bike sometime next February and ride the Iditarod trail 350 miles to McGrath. Not because I am good at it, but because I am at this point so woefully bad at it. And not because it's 3.5 times more difficult than the Susitna 100, but because it is immeasurably more difficult than the Susitna 100. And not because it's a race that might benefit me, but because it's a race that might change me, irrevocably.
And now, as I set my daily goals and hope I can ride 15 miles tomorrow, I close my eyes and believe I can really do it.
"In ultra endurance, it's 90 percent drive and 10 percent everything else."
- Mike Curiak, April 2007