“Alright, now there’s not gonna be any countdown here,” says Old Man Shogren.
I take a bite of a Clif Bar and pull my bottle out.
Son of a bitch. I fumble to put my bottle back, click in, and get moving. The pack is hammering away up the pavement. The chocolate Clif Bar lumps in my throat, and I wheeze to swallow it and get some air.
“Breathin hard there Montana?” asks Nate Annon gleefully.
“Yeah, hard,” I choke on the Clif Bar.
Sharp left at the top of the hill, over a little dirt rise, then into the single track. I’m behind Birdley the Birdman of Charleston, who’s completely forgotten how to fly over a log. At every log pile, he grabs brakes, squeaks to a stop, and gingerly rolls over the wood. Tim Carson is right behind me, making motorcycle noises and whooping.
“Brap brap brap! Whoo-hoo! Brapity brap!” yells Carson.
Birdley screeches to a stop in front of another log, drops his chain, and swerves on the trail.
“Braaap!” yells Carson behind me.
“Jesus Christ Birdley, if you can’t jump the logs just ram the things,” I yell.
“Vroom-hooo!” yells Carson. He charges into a bush and passes both of us.
Up a short climb, then into another descent. I pump the sharp little rollers, careful to keep my wheels on the ground. I blow past Carson, who’s lying headfirst in a ditch.
“Good man?” I ask.
“Yeah, good,” he says and starts to extract his bike from the hole.
Back up to the top of the ridge, through a tunnel in the rhododendrons, I duck my head under a branch, then through a crevice in the rock that narrows down to a handlebar-width staircase at the end.
Down the descent. I pop off a couple water bars, then sink down into the ditch. Up on the left wall, cross over between rocks to the right bank. And back. Wheelie through a mud pit, the soft soil sucks at my back wheel. Then on the brakes, slowing down where the trail gets too steep to let the wheels roll unchecked.
Up the long climb from the old stone furnace. Birdley and a couple other guys are on my back wheel. I put my head down and pedal as hard as I can up the bumpy grade. I hear something metal clank behind me.
When I look back, Birdley isn’t there.
“What happened to Birdley?” I ask the guy behind me.
“I don’t know, he crashed or something,” he says.
“He crashed on a climb?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says, and then stands up and surges around me.
I’m alone for a while, I finish out the loop, and head back onto the big descent. My rim bangs something hard. Shit. Then again, it sounds like somebody punching a stop sign. Man, that’s definitely gonna go flat. Goddamnit. I make it almost to the bottom of the hill before the front tire is totally out of air.
I try to hide in the woods to fix the flat. TJ Platt flies past. Second single speed now. Damn. Puncture the CO2, hit the tire with a blast of air, and the hole actually seals. Awesome. Wasn’t expecting that to work.
Up the huge climb again. I try to chase TJ, but I know it’s going to be real hard to catch him. He’s moving pretty good. Nate catches up to me, then sprints around. I can’t accelerate fast enough to stay with him. Third single speed.
And I’m by myself in the woods again, nobody in sight.
I finish out the loop, through a few sweet sections of twisty trail, and cross the finish. In second. Nate took a wrong turn, which sucks, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.
I stand on the boxes with TJ and Benji, put my arms up, and Old Man Shogren gives me my winnings, a few bucks to buy dinner with. I hang out with everybody for a while, then we disperse. I drive back home to the Pyle, and spend the rest of the evening on the porch, looking down at the river.
Not a bad day, not bad at all.