"Are those painted on?"
"They've gotta be."
Cinder Bloch and I are eating fine meat burgers at Shipwreck in Shippensburg. The waitress is wearing the tightest pair of black tights I've ever seen. Ever curve of her vagina is clearly visible. Now she's bending over a table, taking orders from a family with a bunch of little kids. Can't believe that's legal. This place is awesome.
"So should we camp, or stay with JPok? He said that there's one bed, and no floor space, but we could probably make it work," Cinder Bloch says.
"There's no way I'm sleeping in a crusty one-bed motel room with JPok. Let's take our chances camping. Maybe it won't rain," I say.
We finish our meat burgers, then wait for the waitress to take our money. And wait. And wait. So much for setting up tents in the daylight. Finally pay our bills, drive out of the town, out of the ticky-tacky development, and into the big empty forest. Motor around on dark back roads for a while, and thanks to Cinder Bloch's magic phone, we don't get lost.
There's fire at the edge of the big big grassy parking lot. An electric hoola-hoop is flashing around in the dark.
We walk over to the fire. Topher is wiggling around with one of the hoola-hoops. His Osama beard is dancing under his chin.
"Get it up on your belly! Use it like a shelf!" somebody yells. A blonde girl is giving him instructions. The hoola-hoop passes to another crusty stoned dude. She yells at him for his incorrect hooping technique. Buck is talking about his moon mat. It's made out of sheets of leftover ear plug material.
"No! You're doing it all wrong!" the girl yells at somebody else. Cool. That's enough of that. I walk into the dark field. Lay down in my tent.
I wake up. Hit the glow button on my watch. 2:30. Dammit. I'm freezing. I wrap my pillow around my face and slide deeper into the sleeping bag.
Crawl out of the tent at seven. Pretty chilly, but the sun is out and it's starting to look like a good day. I eat a couple pickles, then smear peanut butter on an expired pop-tart.
By start time, it's beautiful. Perfect blue sky, and warm enough to ditch my arm warmers. This is gonna be sweet. We line up on the gravel road. The Open Men's class is released. The single speeders shuffle forward. This is a long race, don't burn up in the first few miles like last year.
Go. A guy in a skid lid and Dickies shorts gets out front. That's fine. I sit on Skid Lid's wheel. We make a right turn. The single track is coming up. I spin fast and shoot around Skid Lid, slid into the turn and start climbing the first hill.
The double track is covered in sharp rock. It looks like somebody shattered a huge limestone window and scattered the pieces through the woods.
Pass some of the guys in Open. Riding well, just stay smooth. I hit a short steep piece of trail. There's some grinding, and a guy on a single speed shoots around me. Fine fine. Just stay with him. He's going hard over the rocks, and climbing well. We cruise through some tight single track that's barely wide enough for my handle bars. Mountain laurel scrapes at my face.
We start a descent. There's some rattling. Then a thud. I look down. Shit. Bottle ejected again. I stop, grab the bottle, and bend my cage back. The guy is gone. Gotta chase him down now. I get a few glimpses of him through the trees. Then we hit a gravel road. I pedal hard. Almost got him.
Swing around a gate on the road, and scrape into a stick. I take another pedal stroke, and lunge towards my stem. Chain dropped. Goddammit. I get the chain back on. The guy is way up the climb now. Settle into this climb, and go get him. You're fine.
I start cruising up the hill. I feel strong. I pass a couple guys, then a couple more, then the guy on the single. Sweet. Keep it rolling.
The climb goes on forever. Up and up and up. Finally hit the top, then start winding through some super rocky single track. I'm riding smooth, and I think I'm opening up the gap a little. I don't see or hear anyone around me. Just rocks and red arrows on the trees.
I pick my way down one of the descents. Big rock drop after rock drop. You have the lead, just ride smart. No reason to risk a flat.
Through a switchback section. They're 180 degrees, with a big rock drop in the middle, and barely long enough to get a bike turned around. Back up to the top of the ridge, over some huge boulders. I dab a foot, stop, then clip back in. I'm half way through a pedal stroke, and flying over the bars. Shit. My front tire was butted right up against a little stump. I push my bike off me, then roll over in the soft dirt.
Flowing down a smoother section of trail. Making good time. I've got this. I'm finally gonna have a good race in Michaux. I roll over a rock. There's hissing.
Stan's is spraying all over the trail. Fuck no. I get off my bike, and shake the tire. Not sealing. I look at it closer. Just a little puncture. I spin the wheel. And an inch-long sidewall cut. Fucking shit. Another sidewall cut. That's the third time this month.
It's fine. Don't panic. Just get it fixed. I undo my stuff strap. JPok rides past towing a single speeder. I get the tube in. The single speeder I was chasing before rides past. Screw in the CO2. Two more guys and TJ on a single speed rip past. I put a Cliff Bar wrapper against the cut, blow up the tube, put the wheel on, set my bike down, and take a pee break.
You've got some work to do, but you can still win this. I get back on my bike and start hammering. I catch TJ at a stream crossing. Then ride a hill that the a few other guys are walking. Keep it going. I'm winding through a pine section, roots going every direction. I see JPok and the other guy up ahead. It looks like I'm closing the gap.
Out onto a steep 4x4 road. JPok is farther up, but I can see the other single speed. Get him on the hill. I spin up until I'm right on his wheel, then give it everything to accelerate past. It hurts, but I keep it going until I have a big gap. Gunnar and the Pflug always drop me like that.
The gaps open. Awesome. It worked. I keep going hard through the single track. I see JPok up ahead occasionally. I stop at the third aid.
"How far to the finish?" I say.
"2.5 miles," he says. He's filling one of my bottles.
"That's it? Just 2.5 miles?" I grab the bottle. This thing's almost over. I grind up the last climb, turn onto another road. There's the finish. Damn. Already. I sprint down the road, and under some red streamers.
"Where's the finish?" I yell to some spectators. They point back to the streamers. That was supposed to be a turn. You dumbass. I sprint back, make the turn, and cross the line.
Won it. I'm stoked. It wasn't a perfect race, but I kept it together.