Mile 94.2: I can’t tell if I’m about to crack or if this is just a phase I’m going through. I heard once that if you’re feeling bad you should try to push through it because it could pass. For the past 94 miles I’ve managed to do more than hold it together. I’ve felt like a rock star. Most of this has to do with our average pace. There was one nervy part. Pittsburgh road, but that had more to do with my shitty bike handling skills and not because of the grade, or the length. That climb was long beautiful and fun. This climb is slightly less beautiful and a hell of a lot harder.
I pull my eyes from the clear cut scene off to the left and look down at the picture of Marco Pantani. The beautiful and cursed Grimpeur who died — some say killed himself — because of a cocaine overdose. My thoughts of Pantani have more to do with the fact that I’m climbing, or the beauty of riding through this area.
For most of the day I’ve had Neil Young’s Needle and the Damage Done running through my head and though the song is about heroin, it could just as easily be about Pantani, or any other addict. It occurs to me, that while I never knew the man, that maybe Marco turned to drugs because he couldn’t reconcile the beauty with which he rode and the person he saw in the mirror. He couldn’t understand that they were the same people. Something a lot of people have problems with.
But we’re not the same. Marco and I. Still, right now I feel like I know some of his suffering. Not only because of how I’m feeling right now, but because I can’t reconcile the parts of myself that are beautiful, with the ugliness I see in the mirror. I’m not talking about the physical looks, but what I see when I look myself in the eyes.
I know this road, and its an endless spiral so I focus on the actual, not existential road in front of me. Up the road I see another rider, and though right now the only competition I’m interested in is the one with myself. I stand and pedal my way through a steep section. I’m trying to climb like Marco, but that’s too much to attempt to stand up too, so I think about someone else — a non-PRO.
Then, somehow through the pain it occurs to me that this is the same thing that sunk my enthusiasm for climbing. I was always trying to be someone else. Someone who was “better” than me. Someone who I wanted to be. Instead of using them as examples of hard work, focus and dedication I used them as the path. I wasn’t being me. I wasn’t looking for those things in me.
“Fuck Marco. I’m going to ride like me.”
That next thought powers me up and pass the guy ahead of me. The heavy feeling in my stomach has passed and though my legs still hurt I’m feeling better.
The next mile snakes up through the clear cut to NW Skyline. There is no stop sign at the top, only a yield sign. But once I hit the top I stop. I stop because I’m waiting for the person I’ve spent the last eight hours with. But I also stop because I need a few moments to bask in the solitude that comes from reaching into your core and acknowledging the good things inside of you — despite of the bad things. Some guy is telling me about how his wife does her intervals on Rocky Point, but I’m still lost in myself.