A gong begins to resonate through a dark campground. Energy buzzes in the air, crackling from tent to tent as campers emerge to light their stoves, brew their coffee, and stuff as many calories as possible into nervous stomachs. Orbs of light from headlamps bob from bike to bathroom to tent.
For me, the race is a mostly solo activity, at least after the first 10 miles. Sure, there’s the jackass who told me to “watch out” for my Black Sheep titanium fork, because he broke his, probably because he was twice my size and had no business riding an ultra lightweight component like that. (Who SAYS something like that at the beginning of a 100-mile race?)
Then there’s the shirtless guy wearing a giant Mickey Mouse head standing by an awesome section of downhill. I briefly wondered if I was hallucinating.
There was also the cute 10-year-old who patiently held my bike at Aid Station #2 while I scurried into the woods to pee.
Inevitably, when I’m pushing my one-speed bike up a mountain trail that resembles a log flume at an amusement park, I think about my Dad. The Dad that played volleyball and tennis and hiked every day, and seemed to be chiseled from stone, permanent and unwavering. Not the Dad that sat in a nursing home, robbed of his voice and his mobility. I know that on some level, he would understand the impulse to doggedly push that bike in the rain, that it somehow makes sense, even though at the moment, the singlespeed is a bit like an elephant that’s been dropped high in the Himalayas. Experiencing this challenge–these thunderclaps, those torrents of water that spill off the visor of my helmet, this mud that polishes skin as smooth as a newborn–brings his spirit so close it is almost tangible.
There is a purity of purpose in endurance racing that cannot be experienced in a short event. My trusty Spot is unflinching and brave in the face of it, and offers a chance for redemption with every turn of the pedals.