Sometimes, Life laughs at you. Sometimes, Life humbles you. Sometimes, life kicks you square in the ...well, you get the idea. Today was one of those days.
I was riding in the SORBA mountain biking summer time trial series. I sort of promised myself I would ride this Thursday night mountain bike series on Monte Sano. I have been riding mountain bikes on Monte Sano for years. I'm not the best mountain biker, far from it. Most riders have lighter, faster bikes - but I really love riding my old Gary Fisher Joshua F4 on Monte Sano. Most riders have lighter, faster bodies, too. I promised myself I would try to ride the time trials for a few reasons: I need to get less fat, I need to work on my mountain biking skills and I need to defeat a little demon. In 2006 I had a pretty bad wreck on my mountain bike, leaving me in the hospital with a collapsed lung, broken collar bone and cracked ribs. I made myself get back on the bike and have been riding often since then. But I am very cautious and make for a very apprehensive mountain biker. I thought riding the time trial series would help defeat the demon and be fun at the same time.
So, here I am waiting for the second time trial to start. The course is on the Mountain Mist trail, a Monte Sano favorite. There are dozens of riders, all in their spandex riding garb, waiting to start at one-minute intervals. Next to me, balancing perfectly, is a dude on a unicycle, a mountain-biking unicycle. I have never seen such a thing. It had a fat tire, like a motorcycle tire. The rider, dressed in all black and covered in body armor, also showed me he had brakes and two gears! It was a very peculiar ride. I chat with the unicyclist for a while, listening to the peculiar skill set needed to ride a unicycle on a trail.
I was toward the back of the line. The fast riders were dropping down the trail first. I am not a fast rider. I haven't been riding much this year, especially my mountain bike. Last week, in the first time trial, I was just glad not to be last. But to be fair to myself, most of these riders are very good riders. Many of these riders are much younger than me. All of these riders have faster bikes than me. Last week, I finished third from last.
Every sixty seconds a rider plunges down the drop to the Mountain Mist trail. I hate this drop. I always have. I have wrecked on it a number of times over the years. It has a steep drop and then you go into a bouncy turn. I hate this drop. I know if I can get past this drop I can do this and kick the demon in the head. I turn on the Red Hot Chili Peppers' and "The Power of Equality" starts thumping in my ears. A dozen more riders and it's my turn.
I am three riders in front of the mountain unicycle dude. I know I am not a fast rider and I have not ridden this trail in...well, since last year. There are a couple of guys, the unicyclist, and a handful of girls behind me. As we wait the lead riders are starting to come in from the four-mile ride. They look spent, one rider's arm is covered in blood. They collapse on the ground after getting off their bikes. I turn up the Chili Peppers, "Suck My Kiss" is playing.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1...pedal to The Drop. I start down....can't. I slide down the trail and the bike gets squirrly on me. I walk it over the worst part of the drop. Drop Fail. But, after the first part, I do manage to get the bike down to the Mountain Mist trail before the first rider passes me. Really? Already? I pedal as fast as I can as Flea sings "Mellowship Slinky in B Major".
By now, my lungs are on fire, my legs are burning and I'm pouring sweat. I'm riding my heart out but it is vary clear to me my body wasn't quite prepared for this. I'm riding as hard as I can and I hear another rider call out. She passes me and quickly rides the ribbon through the green forest floor and out of sight. I keep pedaling but have a bitch of a time on a rocky climb. My lack of strength and practice are showing. I can barely move. I would drink but that would take time away from my breathing. But I push on through the switchbacks, rocks and roots.
About two miles into the ride, I hear it. A rider is coming up behind me. I count the riders behind me in my head and say a little prayer, "Please, Lord...no." A rider calls out behind me that he is passing me. I have to pull over and let the rider pass. I can't keep a faster pace. The rider is right behind me when I pull over. But I don't want to. I know who it is. It's him, the rider in the black armor. One wheel sounds different than two wheels.
Then it happens. I get passed by a unicycle on Mountain Mist trail. The guy just pedaled past and you couldn't even see his feet he was pedaling so fast. I was passed by a unicycle on my mountain bike. I can't tell you how deflated I felt. "Give it Away Now" plays on my iPod. I watched as the mountain unicycle dude rode over the next ridge, as I am gasping for air and getting on my bike.
After I was passed by the unicycle, I just didn't care. I just wanted to finish. I rode out the trail, the fast part of Mountain Mist before it runs into the closed part of Bankhead Parkway where I was passed by a heavy guy riding his first time on that trail. He filled me in on the details after the ride. Then, while climbing out on Bankhead a much older dude passed me and said some encouraging words. And finally, a few hundred yards before the finish, three kids rode their bikes onto the street form the cabins where they were camping. I was forced to stop while this eight-year-old boy showed me how he could do donuts in his Big Wheel. Briefly, I thought about running over his leg. But I waited the show out and started rolling to the finish, knowing unicyle-rider was probably already packing his one-wheeled cycle into his car. (Come to think of it, I think you have to mount your number on your handlebars. Black-Body-Armored-Unicylist didn't even have handles. He pinned his number to his back. Those mountain-biking unicyclists - cheaters, that's what they are. I think he should be disqualified.)
I did finish the time trail.RHCP's "Scar Tissue" was playing. I didn't even look at the time. The trail kicked me square in the ass today. When a unicycle beats you on your mountain bike, do you really want to look at your time? But maybe, just maybe, I kicked the demon between the eyes once or twice. Next week, maybe I'll be riding without my demon? Then, maybe, I won't be the last rider.