A word of caution from Fatty: I’m not at all certain that this kind of post belongs in a goofy cycling humor blog, but it’s what I want to write today. For what it’s worth, there is a part about biking, so this story isn’t entirely out of context here. Of course, I understand you may be coming to Fat Cyclist for relief from today’s 9/11 media inundation, in which case I recommend reading Review of Several Items I Recently Purchased from the Hammacher Schlemmer Catalog, which I just posted in the Random Reviewer blog.
A Progressively Bad Drive to the Airport
Back in 2001, I worked at Fawcette Technical Communications. I lived in Orem, UT, but made frequent trips to Seattle to meet with Microsoft. On September 11, I was driving to the airport for just such a trip, listening to the morning show on an alternative music radio station. I had only gone a mile or so — I wasn’t even on the freeway yet — when the DJ said a twin-prop airplane had hit the WTC.
That barely registered with me. I don’t think I thought anything more than, "Stupid pilot," and continued on.
Then, during the next traffic report, the woman said a second plane had hit the WTC. "We already talked about that," said the DJ, thinking she had her story mixed up — there was no way two separate planes had hit two separate towers.
They finished the traffic report and then went on to their "Really Stupid News" segment.
I changed the channel, surfing for a real news station on the radio. Turns out there wasn’t anyone with a better idea of what was going on. Lots of conflicting reports, lots of confusion.
So I finished my drive to the airport.
At the Airport
By the time I arrived at the airport, parked, checked in, and found my gate, it was obvious that something was going on, though I had no idea what. Flights were being delayed, but not — technically — canceled. Everyone was standing around the TV monitor at an airport bar, transfixed.
And that’s where I saw Dug. He also worked for Fawcette, was also scheduled to travel that day, from the adjoining gate.
So at least I was standing by someone I knew when I saw the first tower collapse.
I called my wife, who I knew for sure would not be watching the news at that moment — eight months pregnant with twins and getting two boys ready for school, she’d have her hands full with other things. "Turn on the TV," I said. "Doesn’t matter which station."
I went to the gate counter to confirm what I assumed was obvious: flights would be canceled for the time being. I was behind a woman who was completely panicked — she was demanding a refund immediately; she was never going to fly again, she had to get out of there. I remember feeling bad for her, but also a little bit amused. If my flight had been available, I would have gotten on without concern.
Things hadn’t really sunk in, yet.
I drove home, switching radio channels. Now they were all talking about what was going on, but the quantity of misinformation was incredible. Cars were exploding. The White House was on fire. No, the White House wasn’t on fire, but something in DC was. Another plane had crashed, this time into a field.
I got home, and my wife was crying, watching the towers collapse, over and over. Watching the smoking hole in the Pentagon. Wondering what the deal was with the plane crashed in the field. Wondering what was coming next.
We watched for a couple hours, then I said I may as well go to work; we weren’t going to learn anything else. I got there, and an hour or so later, Dug got there too. Like me, I think, he didn’t have the stomach to watch any more.
Of course, neither of us got anything done. We either surfed for news — I remember that news sites were slow because of being overwhelmed with traffic — or talked about what we knew. Which wasn’t much.
Eventually, I had had enough. "How about we leave early and go ride Timpooneke," one of us suggested — I don’t remember which of us it was, but it sounded good. Of course, we channel-surfed the radio as we drove toward the mountain. Of course, we didn’t learn anything new.
We got to the parking lot, got dressed, and got our bikes ready without saying much of anything. Then we started the four-mile dirt road climb.
And I started feeling better. Somehow, getting away from the media, being in the mountain, on a mountain bike, on a beautiful late-Summer day, helped things. I started going faster. Dug did too. I don’t think we were racing, but we were both going for it.
By the time we got to the top, I felt clear again. I hadn’t forgotten what was going on, but I no longer felt like I was in shock.
The descent down the Timpooneke singletrack requires your full attention. Hairpin turns come out of nowhere. Waterbars surprise you. You’ve got to descend through gauntlets of loose, fist-sized rocks.
It was just what I needed. Forty minutes of insanely good singletrack downhill, punctuated by three gut-bustingly-difficult climbs, is a good reminder that life is good. When Dug and I got back to the parking lot, we were both smiling.
We put away our bikes and started driving home. I didn’t turn on the radio, and Dug didn’t ask me to.