A Note from Fatty: To read Part 1 of this race report, click here.
In the first installment of this story, I noted that I am a liar. But the truth is, everyone who races is a liar. We lie to ourselves. Whether you’re racing people in real time — like I was in the 6 Hours in Frog Hollow — or racing against other people’s best time-shifted efforts — like everyone does with Strava — you’re lying to yourself.
You’re lying to yourself that the race matters. You’re lying to yourself that the race is somehow an indicator of how fast you are. When, in truth, the race doesn’t matter, and your relative speed is only an indicator of how fast you are in comparison to other people who are also lying to themselves.
And you know what? Those lies facilitate an incredible, wonderful truth. By telling yourself (and believing) these lies, you put yourself in the position of going as hard as you honestly can. And the feeling you get when you do that is as perfect and genuine as any emotion there is.
Racing may in fact be the most beautiful lie we can tell ourselves.
I had lied (to myself) incredibly convincingly during the five mile climb. I believed myself when I told myself that I was having a banner day. And why shouldn’t I believe that? I was passing people. I felt good and strong. I looked back and saw that the people behind me were getting further behind.
And then I began the downhill. On my hardtail singlespeed (34 x 19, for the three of you who care about singlespeed gearing), with only the barest whisper of front-end suspension (a Rock Shox SID).
The thing about the Frog Hollow downhill is that it’s fun. Wildly fun. So wildly fun, in fact, that as you ride you are in real danger of forgetting that you’re racing at all, because the hard-baked desert singletrack is just so good and fast. And fun.
But I did not forget I was racing. I pedaled until I was going so fast that pedaling didn’t make any difference (this happens at a lower speed on singlespeeds than on geared bikes, alas). I was setting up my turns so that I could keep as much speed as possible.
I did the first big drop without slowing as much as I was comfortable with, went into the second drop with speed, and came to the bottom with just a little too much speed. I washed out into the sand at the outside of the turn, put a foot down, and kept going.
“I don’t think anyone could take this part of the trail any faster than I am,” I lied to myself, and then looked back to see if anyone was catching me.
I couldn’t see anyone. I was staying clear.
I got to the most technical section in the race: go over an iron arch, down a rocky ledge, execute a quick hairpin turn, more drops, another hairpin, and then go.
I rode it — not fast, but I didn’t put a foot down. By doing this, I passed a person who had taken a more cautious approach to the ride.
Then, down through the dry river bottom, back up onto singletrack, and more go-as-fast-as-you-dare racing.
I could say that I don’t see how anyone could catch me when I was going as fast as I could, but that would be a lie. The day before, as we practiced the loop, Heather routinely disappeared far in front of me.
“But that’s because she’s on a geared bike,” I had lied to myself that day. Which didn’t really explain anything, because Kenny was dropping me even faster, and he’s on a singlespeed geared almost identically to mine.
The truth is, they were faster than I am because I am slower than they are.
And as I hit the second section of the singletrack — the same kind of terrain, but not as smooth, thanks to traffic on the trail when it was muddy — I could hear two riders approach as they caught me.
At first, I said nothing. “If they want to get by, let them ask me to yield,” I thought.
I kept going; they stayed behind me, saying nothing. “I guess they’re happy where they are,” I thought.
I got to a brief, rocky series of climbing ledges. It’s good stuff. Stuff I like. I weaved through some, wheelied over others, and just powered up some.
I heard the riders (I could hear there were two) behind me. One had a drivetrain problem as he went up one of the rocks — sounded like his chain dropped off — and he stopped, forcing the person behind him to stop.
I didn’t look back. I rode on, alone again, nobody on my tail. I was racing, and racing is very important.
And then they were with me again. Pfff. But still not asking to go by.
Finally, I decided that they might just be being too polite to ask if they could go by, so I asked them myself. “Do you guys want to get by?”
“No,” one of them called out.
“Yes,” the other called out.
“I guess yes,” the first amended.
“I’ll pull over right, pass on my left…here!” I shouted, slowing and veering to the right side of the briefly-wider singletrack.
A guy on an orange bike — geared, so not someone I cared about — went by, saying “Thanks” as he went by.
And then, right on his tail — on what I now saw was a fully rigid singlespeed Spot — was Mike (whose name I did not yet know).
“Nice pass,” I said, respectfully.
And — right then — I stopped caring about all the other singlespeeders in the race. It had narrowed down to just this guy on the Spot, and me. I was (for now) faster on the uphill, he was faster on the descent.
Were we fighting it out to decide who was in fifth place and who was in sixth? Or fourth and fifth? Maybe even second and third?
I didn’t know. And, really, I didn’t care.
But I did know other things: First, I knew I was in a battle. And second, I knew that this battle was important.
Sure, I was telling myself a lie.
But it was as true a lie as I’ve ever told myself.
And that seems like a good place to leave off ’til tomorrow.