It starts badly. It gets worse.
My Wednesday flight to Minneapolis is supposed to land at 1:35 in the afternoon. I finally arrive at 2:30 Thursday morning. I stay up the rest of the night watching Infomercials for “Girls Gone Wild” and “Sham-Wow.” The next two days are spent conducting training for middle managers.
On Friday, I take a flight home, go by the house, kiss the dog, grab my bike and hit the road to Boone. Foghat and Edgar Winter keep me company. Late that night, I arrive at the La Quinta. I’m running on fumes and bad coffee. I consider buying cigarettes. Nothing is open.
I get to my room and lay down for a few hours sleep. I discover the LQ is “pet friendly,” and the room next door is occupied by a particularly talkative dog. He has a lot to say. He does not shut up all night. At 5:00 a.m., I give up the fight, get up, and go through my pre-ride ritual. I lather up with Butt Butter, guzzle hotel coffee and scarf down some honey buns.
When I get to the ride, I run into Jeff Poage and Robert Delk. We chat too long. By the time we get to the start, there are at least a million people lined up. The race marshals yell at us to go to the back. Poage will have none of it. He fronts the people who showed up on time and gets a prime spot. Robert and I respect authority. We do as we’re told. We are idiots.
The Hendrix version of the National Anthem is played. Several of us weep openly. After the last note, we’re finally off but not for long. We must slam our brakes repeatedly. It is an obstacle course of “less serious” riders, and many of them stop in the middle of the road to adjust their mirrors and bells. I am fueled by disgust.
We pass a veteran pedaling with two prosthetic legs. People are telling him how inspirational he is. I point out to him that he’s cheating. Out of respect, I do it with kindness.
About a mile into the ride, the road starts its first ridiculous climb. That’s when I decide to put my mark on the BS&G. I fly by hundreds of riders like they’re standing still. They lack my courage. They admire my style. I’m reeling ‘em in one after another. Robert hangs on for dear life. When I look back, he stares at me with what can only be described as awe. Later, I discover he was in shock that anyone could be so damn stupid. He knew my implosion would be of epic proportion.
We catch Poage on the ascent and he too seems amazed by my ability; my ability to ignore my own limitations. We stay together until a little bit after Blowing Rock. Poage eventually separates from us. A few minutes later, we ride by him again. He’s on the side of the road with a mechanical that ends his day. I would not want to be the tattooed mechanic who supposedly “fixed” his bike last week. There is an ass-kicking with his name on it.
We finally hit the Blue Ridge Parkway and that’s where Robert and I see something neither of us has ever witnessed. It is not a rock slide, a rogue black bear or a lost mountain lion cub. It is a female cyclist squatting to take a crap right on the side of the road in full view of everyone.
Several miles pass before we can even talk about it. It’s still not a comfortable memory.
I feel good through mile 50 or so and at a rest stop we run into Chip Howell and his brother, Hampton. We ride together for a while until Chip drops a chain and we drop Chip and his brother.
Fortune shines upon us when Robert and I manage to get in a group with some very “fit” female tri-athletes. We think it’s some sort of cosmic payback for the damage caused by having to witness the roadside BM.
I feel obligated to tell the group to dial it down as we’re approaching the dreaded Snake Mountain. I want these ladies to know I’m in charge of this peleton. I want them to be comforted by my quiet confidence. They respond by hammering it. I’m left in their wake. I tell Robert we should back off a bit. He considers my recommendation. He decides he likes the company of the tri-athletes much better than mine.
I ride alone into the wind.
I hook back up with Chip and his brother Hansen at the Meat Camp rest stop and we begin our death march up Snake. I feel ok until cramps attack both legs like piranhas. They force a painful and untimely dismount. I consider fishing, bowling and video poker as alternative pursuits.
I’m back on my bike, and after some quick soul-searching, I conquer the Snake. When I get to the top, I know I’m in serious trouble. My legs are toast. I’m sick to my stomach and I’m seeing stars. The locals at the rest stop are mumbling something about “next of kin.” I tell Chip and his brother, Hammer Gel, to go on without me. They see the condition I’m in and don’t argue. They suspect I’m contagious.
I make it down the mountain and the ensuing road into and out of Tennessee becomes gloriously flat. I put my tunes on and listen to some Marley. Bob convinces me that “Every Little Thing Is Gonna’ Be Alright.”
The scenery is gorgeous. Creeks meander through rolling verdant hills. The sunlight dances off the top of single-wide trailers. Goats frolic and cows dance. I am as happy as a fat lady at the Golden Corral. I’m hallucinating.
It’s a temporary bipolar delusion.
My bliss is short-lived. There is a horrible mistake. Surely, the organizers wouldn’t put another torturous climb so soon after Snake. A benevolent God wouldn’t allow it. It’s not right.
Despite my protests, the road takes a vicious turn upwards and keeps going and going and going. For most of the climb, I balance precariously at the minimum speed that manages to keep my bike, and me, just barely upright. I am fighting the laws of physics. I am foaming at the mouth.
After what seems an eternity, we finally descend. I assume the worst is over. It isn’t. We are assaulted by a series of nasty climbs, one after another. My suffering is biblical. It is like being gang raped by a horde of rabid gorillas. I break down physically, mentally, spiritually, organically, politically and sexually.
The last 15 miles or so is horrible. At the last rest stop they torment us. They hand us bottles of hot water. We ask if they have any cold. They ridicule our stupid question. “Yea dumbass, we got plenty of cold water, that’s why we gave you the hot.”
I see other riders with my disease. Their dilated pupils stare right through me. We are rolling zombies. We have the plague. We smell of death.
The race organizers place a rotten cherry on top of their misery sundae. At something like mile 98, they give us yet another wall to climb. When I crawl to the top, I have not one shred of dignity. I am a shadow of the cheerful boy who began his ride full of optimism and innocence.
One of the volunteers tells me “it’s all downhill from here.” Later on, I learn he is the town imbecile and a pathological liar. If I knew his name, I’d hunt him down, torture him and kill him.
After 102 miles, I make it across the finish line. I yell angrily at an elderly woman who is volunteering her time to help us. I tell her that “if I wanted to ride 102 miles, I wouldn’t have signed up for a God damn century. She does not respond. She clearly recognizes the merit in what I’m saying. I’m confident this will be corrected.
I’m greeted by Poage, Robert, Chip and his brother Ham Bone. Money is exchanged. They don’t tell me, but it’s obvious they placed wagers on whether I would live. After they settle their accounts, they leave me. I lay in the grass alone with my thoughts. I try to sort out what just happened. Eventually, I limp back to the car with my bike. I try to leave it, but it will not release me. It has become my malevolent black shadow. I loathe its very existence.
On the drive home, I stop several times with a case of the dry heaves. The locals in Yadkinville think me to be a drunk. I speak to them in tongues.
My arrival home is no different than usual. My family fakes mild interest. They are completely unsympathetic. They no longer bother to ask me why I do this. They know I have no good answers.