And thank you to the many of you who have been so generous with your donations. It’s been a real pleasure to watch Friends of Fatty support The Hammer on this big endeavor, and a lot of fun to watch The Hammer be so excited about how incredibly awesome everyone’s been with their donations.
More often than not, I really enjoy being right practically all of the time. For example, it’s super useful for calling heads or tails on coin tosses (I can choose correctly with near-guaranteed certainty within two (or sometimes fewer!) guesses). It’s also awesome in arguments, in which I am always right. And there are other practical applications, too, such as in always knowing the correct lottery numbers (I just am not interested in winning).
But, occasionally, always being right is a burden. A tragic, heartbreaking burden.
Lap 2, Part 2: My Domain
In the last installment of this story, I introduced myself to Mike from Boise, a singlespeeder on a nice, fully rigid Spot bike, and told him we were likely to see each other a lot that day (this is the part where always being correct is occasionally heartbreaking).
And then I attacked him.
Was it a nice move? Not exactly. Was it a mean move? No, of course not. We were racing.
So what kind of move was it? Well, I’d call it a defensive move. Pre-emptively defensive to be sure, but pre-emptive nonetheless. Because I had spoken the truth to Mike, with no strategic subtlety whatsoever: I had to put enough time on him in the climbs that he could not make that time up on the descent.
And so I went hard, looking back every time there was a bend in the road, checking to see if Mike was visible behind me. At first he was, and then — after a mile or so of climbing — he wasn’t.
I kept the pressure on. I knew it would be close.
And as I pushed myself, I thought about the glorious nature of competition and what it can make us do. Here I was, going harder and faster and more intensely than I had any intention of going before this race began.
It wasn’t because I wanted a spot at the podium; I had no idea where Mike and I were in relation to other single speeders.
It wasn’t even because I wanted to beat Mike. Sure, I wanted to beat him; that’s the nature of racing. But there were lots of other guys out there who I was ahead of, lots of guys out there I was behind. And I didn’t care about them at all.
I was suddenly deeply in love with this race, on this day, because I had chanced upon a guy who had an interesting combination of strengths and weaknesses that overlapped with mine in such a way that we were essentially perfect competitors for each other.
Mike was going to make me push myself to be a faster descender, and I’ll wager that I pushed him to the limit of his climbing abilities.
Lap 2, Part 3: My Domain No More
By the time I got to the top of the five-mile climb, I could no longer see Mike. Maybe, I thought, I’ve done it. And I hit the downhill hard. Going a little faster than I usually would. Being a little more aggressive on the drops. Rolling over stuff I might usually go around. Using a little less brake on the corners.
It was a little bit terrifying, but seemed to be working. Whenever I hit a part of the trail that lent itself to looking back, I couldn’t see Mike.
I was holding him off.
I was holding him off!
I got a surge of adrenaline, mentally picturing my ever-so-slight lead growing into a slight-but-still-safe lead as we racked up lap after lap.
And then, as I exited the first new section of soft singletrack and rode my way up toward the next section—the section that would empty out into the straightaway leading to the timing tent and the beginning of the third lap, I heard a voice from right behind me.
“You’re not an easy guy to catch.”
Mike. Of course. Where had he come from? (That question is rhetorical.)
“You go on ahead,” I said as we approached the turn onto the next section of singletrack. “You’re clearly faster on the descents, and I don’t want to hold you back.”
He went, and I got to watch him build a second’s lead, which he built into a two-second lead…and then a three…and then a four….
Meanwhile, I did everything I could to keep him in sight. To at least not let him get away from me entirely.
And I did it.
I kept Mike’s lead slim enough that during the last short climb to the timing tent I was able to struggle up to his back wheel, hold it for a few seconds while I caught my breath, and then pull up beside him.
We finished the second lap exactly together.
Yeah, we were kind of closely matched.
But the race was still young, and there were a lot of miles for us to battle through.
And unlike the first two laps, I’d be starting the five-mile climb on the third lap right beside him — instead of with a deficit.
I stopped at our tent, grabbed a new bottle of Carborocket 333 and a quick sandwich to go (the first mile of the climb is gentle, a good place to fuel up), and went out fast.
I looked over to my left. There was Mike at his tent, putting a few strokes of air into his tire.
This, I thought, is my big chance. If I’m going to beat Mike, I’ve got to do it now.
Which is where we’ll pick up tomorrow.
PS: I’d like to point out that even as I make poor Mike the unwitting villain in my story, he’s donated enough to buy a bike in The Hammer’s WBR fundraiser. Which sort of undercuts my whole effort to paint him as the bad guy. (Thanks tons, Mike!)