Three of us are heading up Kitzmiller Rd after we took a left from Eagle Fern park. There were four of us, but Tym was doing that thing that skinny guys do when the road tilts up. Ride away from the guys who weigh more than the they do.
We had been out the better part of the day. Big Time was close to cracking, or had cracked I’m not sure which. He was talking about being hungry before we even reached George Rd, which was over an hour and I’m not sure how many feet of gain ago. This is our last big climb of the day.
I had gone through phases, where I was feeling good, like when I followed Tym’s wheel as he did his opener. There were a few phases of feeling bad. I had taken it easy on George and ridden alongside Big Time because he had said he was hungry. No one wants to bonk when you’re far from home, so I rode the climb with him. My helmet strap was wrapped around my stem leaving it to bounce to the disjointed rhythm of the bumps in the road. That was over an hour ago.
I’m feeling good as we head out of the park. Joe, who I had earlier renamed Joemestique because he kept dropping back to pace me while my body worked out the knots I had tied it into the night before. Now, Joemestique and I are taking turns pacing Big Time through the switchbacks of Kitzmiller Rd.
Kitzmiller is tucked in a small river valley where the pines tower overhead, keeping the sun off our covered heads. Joe and I have our glasses tucked into our helmets, like we see the pros do. Joe has raced nearly every stage race that’s come along this year and after Cascades, which was the last one, he’s just excited to be riding bikes for the sake of riding bikes. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m not fast enough to just be defined as a racer, nor do I want to be. I’m somewhere between a guy who only races, or goes on rides so that he can race better. I like the long hard rides for the sake of doing a long hard ride, and because of what it teaches me about my life. It has taken me awhile, but I’m comfortable being somewhere in between. Even if I’m not sure where that classifies me in the cycling world.
The three of us aren’t good friends. I work with Big Time. Joe and I have shared more than a few miles, and some races together. We are all teammates, and right now we’re partners. I’m starting to get the taste of bonking in my mouth, but I need to keep strong so the three of us can get over this last climb together. Which we need to do before we can eat lunch in Sandy.
Joe and I continue to take turns setting the pace and pulling us away from the shoulder to the center line as we go through the switchbacks. The road undulates and goes off camber in some of those switchbacks, making the climb harder than it already is. I haven’t eaten enough today. Three Z bars, that’s it. When I was climbing mountains, not on a bike, but with ice axes and big heavy boots, I let my body tell me when to eat. For close to two years on a bike I’ve been using a computer to tell me when to eat. Now that I no longer do that I have to listen to my body. Something I’ve forgotten how to do. I don’t know how to trust myself. I’m thirty-two years old and I don’t know how to take care of myself.
By design, most of the riding I’ve done has been solo. I’ve always prefered to ride alone, where it is “easier” to work out what ever internal problems I’m dealing with at the time. Or, as the case may be, punish myself. Which is something I wanted to do today.
I’m learning how unsustainable that is. How it blocks me from having the experiences I want to have. How it blocks me from having meaningful relationships with the people I’m close to. How it blocks me from those I love and want to be loved by. its not too much to admit that you want to be loved. That you want to be close to people. Or maybe it is.
Behind us we can hear Big Time struggling behind us. He doesn’t have the base we do. He hasn’t been riding like we have and his body isn’t up to the task of pulling fuel from its most efficient source.
I have nothing to give him, but Joemestique give him his last gel.
Tym waits for us at the top of the hill. Big Time gets a second wind thanks to Joe’s gel. The two of them will go up the road. Joe and I will lag behind until we reach Highway 26. At which point the four of us will hammer downhill together in search of lunch. On the bomb down HWY 26 Big Time will get a flat, but only I will hear him yell. I’ll be the one who turns around and lend him my frame pump so he doesn’t have to use two CO2 canisters. He is capable of changing his own punctures, that’s not why I waited.