I had considered racing for Justin, because that is what one does. Or at least that’s what movies and books tell us we should do. That the best way to honor the memory of those who have passed is to do what they would have done and do it well. Truth is, I’m not fast enough, or ballsy enough to race for Justin. Instead I placed my wheel to the line and decided to race for myself. Not because it was something I needed to do to slay my own demons – to keep them at bay for just a bit longer – but because I was putting off a trip to Seattle because I wanted to be there, and and be in Portland racing. I can’t be in two places at once.
I’d gotten here early enough to pre ride the course twice. It was open and not remotely close to technical. A power riders course, what my teammate views are a “Euro” course. I don’t know if its Euro or American style, I’ve never left the country.
The mud was thick in places on the pre ride, but after the first race its a sure bet that some sections would be rutted and soupy. I’m in the second row, my best starting position I’ve ever had. There’s a chance I can get out ahead on this thing. I should have this, but I have to put all thoughts of racing for Justin, or even myself, and just do the task in front of me. Which is racing my bicycle for the sake of racing it. I’m tired of falling short of my lofty aims.
At the whistle I hold back and let the guys in the front row navigate the first turns till we are on the course proper. I push on the pedals hard in the first muddy straight away and get away from some of the guys who are afraid to lay it down. Its enough to put me out ahead of everyone when we hit the pavement.
I go wide and take the first turn without hitting the brakes. An accomplishment for me. Then I blow it by scrubbing most of my speed before run up. A ninety degree left hander up some steps. My lack of belief allows some to catch up, but I managed to hold it on the remount then through the muddy corners. The hill in front of us is slick, but rideable if you come at with enough speed. Speed I don’t have. I bobble it and get passed by a couple of guys.
I stay with the lead pack through a majority of the first lap until I have to dab my foot at a sharp turn, giving the guys at the front a chance to get away. Still I manage to hang in the top five through that first lap.
Second time through I manage to ride hill I bobbled on the first lap. There is a drop into the which takes you across the road and into the next muddy section. I hear the voice of my friends, “DO THE BIG DROP” “ No brakes, no brakes, no brakes”. They aren’t there, its all in my head, but I dive down, pushing my ass out over the rear wheel, trying to do what they taught me to do. I lose my nerve going into the mud and grab a handful of brakes. This takes me to the right side of the muddy track where the mud has been rutted out by tractor wheels.
The bike swerves, but I manage to keep it under me, or rather out in front of me. My skinsuit, heavy with water has gotten caught on my saddle. The lycra pulls me forward and I slamming my junk into the rear of the saddle. That jerky movement brings me back across the track and off the course. I turn around with a foot dab, put myself back on the course and hammer through the mud. Now I have a few more places to make up.
For the rest of the race I battle with two guys whose skill matches mine. I am able to power away from them on the paved straight aways, but their ability to lay off the brakes, or my over reliance on them keeps them ahead of me. What if I didn’t grab the brakes in the corners? What if I trusted myself enough to just rail it and not worry about falling.
What if I was fully committed to not just racing, but racing to better myself. What would be relieved? Would I suddenly be free of all the self induced shit that holds me back? The clear answer to that is no. Well maybe its yes. Or somewhere in between.
It won’t come if I don’t at least try harder to trust myself. It won’t come if I try to race for someone who is now passed. It won’t come if I keep riding the brakes.
The two guys I was battling with get the best of me when I slide out in a corner and go down. I will finish in the top ten. Which is good for a guy who was pack fodder two months ago. I’m happy with it, but keep the knowledge that I could have gone faster if I just did what I know how to do, which is ride a bike, for the next time.