Doughnut poem

I got a free doughnut on my ride today
It tasted great and I didn’t have to pay
I said to the lady at the country store,
“How much is them doughnuts? I’d like three or four.”
She said, “Well, mister cyclist guy, they’re 60 cents each.”
“If you’d like, I’ve got one that tastes like peach.”
“But it costs 75 cents, I hope that’s all right.”
I said, “Yeah, I can manage, peach would be tight.”
I went outside to my bike and bike bag
I searched and searched but the only thing in it was a dirty old rag
I went back inside and said, “I aint got no cash.”
“But that’s OK because doughnuts give me a rash.” (not true)
She said, “Oh I insist, take one anyway.”
I said, “No, no, no I’m not a stray.”
“I wouldn’t feel good, I wouldn’t feel right…
…to take a doughnut without paying for one bight.”
“I already used your bathroom and filled my bottles.”
“I’ve got plenty of food and am fueled full throttle.”
But she kept insisting, so I said, “Well thanks.”
I ate it outside by the propane tanks
It tasted good, flavor sweetened by kind favor
I was soon re-thinking our species’ savior
Maybe there’s a chance that people are good
If that’s so, let me not get hit by a truck full of wood
But after riding a minute, my feeling of bliss turned to bitch
For logging trucks galore drove me into the ditch
I cursed, screamed and spat, middle finger thrusting in the air
But it was all to my great despair
It made no difference, they were too big
How could they notice? To them I was an insignificant twig
Uncaring and ignorant, the speeding trucks were shitty
They were all too busy transporting forest to city
Because money makes doughnuts, not a kind woman’s pity

Harden Up

It has become popular belief that the off-season should be spent resting and recovering after a long year of hard training and racing.  After months spent on the road hammering away on the pedals in a never-ending repetition of circles, by the time September roles around the body is a bloodied battlefield and the mind a frail, weeping child left alone in the trenches.  Common sense and modern science say it’s time for a break.  But modern science and common sense are WRONG.  It’s time to thrust that weeping child into a pair of combat boots and give him a bayonet.  It’s time to grow a pair and swing ‘em around in a circle for all to see.  We get to do our sport while sitting down for crying out loud!  The off-season isn’t about taking it easy, doing yoga, sitting in a warm bubble bath and listening to Cheryl Crow (although I don’t frown upon that for other purposes).  NO.  The off-season is about saying, “Hey body, you think you’re hurting now?  Well just wait and see what I have in store for you over the next six weeks, ya damn whimp!”  If done successfully, by the time serious on-the-bike training begins in November, you’ll be so hardcore that cycling will seem like a stroll in the park.  In fact, the off-season is actually those other 11 months of the year that you ride and race a bicycle.  Now is the time to go on an all meat diet, grow a mullet, take up spear fishing and jiu-jitsu, climb a mountain or two, and start a fight with a badger.  Frankly, Nancy boy, it’s time to Harden Up.

I wasted little time when my off-season began a few weeks ago.  My first activity was to go wakeboarding.  This proved to be very un-hardcore.  Wakeboarding, though fun, did not make me any harder than I already was.  Most of my time wakeboarding was spent eating chips and salsa in the back of the boat and staring at the two girls in bikinis sitting next to me.  I guess I hardened up a bit, you could say.

Next up was a stop to the skate park.  I only watched, so that wasn’t very hardcore at all.  But I DID have to stand up for an extended period of time.

A few days later I went on a run.  It was more of a walk, actually.  I ran for a few hundred meters, got a side cramp and had to walk it off.  Eventually I started running again and did a solid mile before I turned around and started walking again, this time because my knees were screaming at me to stop.  I think I did two miles in a little under half an hour.  It was hilly though.  Hardening up takes patience.

The next week I did some cross-training type stuff, which included a bunch of sprints (running sprints) and a few hundred jumps.  It left me really sore for the next couple days (actually I’m still sore).  But that’s what hardening up is all about.  Getting really sore.  My next step to get hard would leave me sorer than I had been all year.  My next task was walking.

This wasn’t just any walk, though; it was a hike.  My teammate, Spencer, and I set out to do the Wonderland Trail in Washington, which circumnavigates the 14,400-foot volcano, Mt. Rainier.  The trail is 93 miles long and has a total of 22,000 feet of elevation gain.  And 22,000 feet of elevation loss too, which in a cyclist’s mind don’t exist.  In backpacking, they do.  They actually exist twice as much as the uphill.

We failed miserably.  Setting an unrealistic goal of 30 miles a day, we planned on doing the entire trail in three days, carrying 35-pound packs.  Turns out our completely non-impact sport didn’t carry over so well to a sport that is 100% impact.  We made it 19 miles on our first full day (the previous evening we had time for six miles after driving to the trailhead).  After our 19-mile, 12-hour day we woke up completely wrecked.  Even if we turned back, it was going to take the next two days to just make it back to the car alive.  And it did take the next two days.  By the time we got to within a mile of the parking lot, we were going so slow that a legless chipmunk passed us.  Seriously, though, it took us over an hour to do the last mile.  For those math whizzes out there, that equates to less than a mile an hour.  We slept in a hotel that night and cried ourselves to sleep.  Turned out we weren’t as hard as we thought.

If at first you don’t succeed, go and do the exact same thing and expect a different outcome.  I think that’s how that saying goes, or at least that’s what it implies.  And that’s what I did.  First I went on a few more runs, dug out a huge tree stump from someone’s yard, and went dancing.  Yes dancing hardens you up.  If you’re even questioning this you’ve obviously never spent four hours in a static squat, which is the equivalency of grinding all night at the clubs.  So anyways, I ate some steaks, applied gel to my mullet, developed an upper respiratory infection, and set out on my next hike.  This time I was going to harden up or die, which, come to think of it, would be pretty hardcore.

My mom dropped me off at the Timberline Ski Lodge on the slopes of Oregon’s Mt. Hood on an early, cold October morning.  It was still dark when I took off in search of the trailhead of the Timberline Trail, a 41-miler that traverses the base of Mt. Hood.  Like the Wonderland Trail, it involves thousands upon thousands of feet of climbing and descending.  A knee breaker for sure.  But I was ready for it.  My knees had adapted from the last hike and I was going to crush this trail.

My knees started hurting almost immediately as I walked up the paved path under the ski lift on my way to the trail.  “Crap, this is going to hurt”.  Time to harden up.

And harden up I did.  I busted out the first nine miles in a little over two hours, running short sections at times, only stopping to eat “fun-sized” Snickers and drink my ultra low-weight food system made of maltodextrin and whey protein.  I didn’t bring any two-pound cans of corned beef like Spencer and I did on the other hike.  This time I was going ultra lightweight.  Nothing but the essentials.  No tent, no extra clothes, no toothbrush, no stove.  Just 10,000 calories-worth of candy bars, instant pudding, and maltodextrin.  A diet for someone who’s serious about getting hard.

Things went south (actually east) when I got to mile nine and became incredibly lost.  I came to a large glacially carved riverbed and went east when I was supposed to head west.  Unlike the fake world we live in, the outdoors doesn’t mark every intersection with a sign.  I spent hours scrambling over boulders in the riverbed trying to find the trail on the other side.  I finally said screw it and climbed the cliff on the adjacent side of the river and began hiking through the forest in search of where I thought the trail should be.  Long story short…I mean loooooonnnnngg story short, I found it and got back on track after my short, six-mile detour.  I spent no time celebrating, as there was daylight to kill.  Plus I had to drop some imaginary teammates drafting behind me.  I mean competitors.

I dropped them on the next big climb as I put in a hard attack at the base and kept it at threshold for a good 30 minutes before stopping to take a drink of water.  My knees were throbbing pretty good by now but my legs were still fresh.  I had been hiking for seven hours by now and had another five hours of daylight. My legs didn’t stay fresh for long.

Over the next five hours, I went from that one “evolved” image of man on the far right to the knuckle-dragging one on the left.  It got dark at 7PM and I dropped my bag on the side of the trail at the very top of a ridge, which is a good place to spend the night without a tent…only if you want to harden up.  It got very windy and cold.  And I spent most of the night in the fetal position hearing imaginary bears walking in the woods around me, which I’m fairly certain actually existed.

The next morning I woke up with painful wooden planks attached to my torso where my legs should have been.  I had done 33 miles the previous day and I was feeling it now.  But, as a disciple of the Harden Up Church, I put on my shoes and started trotting down the path, grimacing until the endorphins took over.  Today was only going to be 14 miles anyways.  Not too big of an obstacle.

Except for the small detail that the trail was closed at the next river crossing due to it not existing anymore.  In 2006, the trail had been washed away in a major flood.  The banks had been deteriorating ever since and now there was a 100-foot drop off to the river below, as trail signs had warned me a few miles earlier.  Not to worry, though, I used to be a rock climber so I bushwhacked my way through the over-grown trail and found the edge of the cliff.  It was steeper than I had imagined.  And it wasn’t just rock.  It was a mixture of car and bowling ball-sized boulders cemented into crumbling dirt and mud.  Many of the boulders were loose.  There was a rope that people used to use to get down, but it had been cut half way through by the park service to deter people from being unsafe and trying to climb down the cliff.  Yes, it’s much safer now that there is a rope that goes half way down.  Thanks for that.  Anyways, this didn’t matter to me since I wasn’t going to depend on a rope anyways. I was getting pretty hard by then so I climbed down, avoided the falling rocks, crossed the river, and climbed back up the other side without incident.  This made up for my previous un-hardcore whimpering the night before when the slightest scurry of a mouse would set my mind to bear terror mode.

I won’t bore you with the details since you’ve got a lot of hardening up to do in the next month, but I finished the hike a short five hours later, tore the loose skin off my blisters and gave a middle finger to the bike gods.  “See that?” I said.  “Yeah, this is who you’re going to have to deal with next year.  I’m gonna break some cranks, just wait and see.”

I’ve got a ways to go before I consider myself to be truly hardcore, but I did quite a bit of hardening up over the last couple weeks.  If you haven’t started yet, I recommend doing so now.  Remember, start out nice and slow, and then immediately go as hard as you can.  This isn’t training.  You aren’t supposed to do it intelligently.  So go start a bonfire with a gallon of gas.  Go throw some bricks off a bridge.  Go crash a frat party.  Hell, if you’re up to it, go on a long, long walk.  Just remember one thing: you’re a weak-boned cyclist so don’t get too discouraged if you can’t handle it at first.  Pain is good, though.  It will make you stronger for next year.



“Dude, that’s NOT my car.” What really happened at Stage 1 of GMSR

I started writing this a while ago but never finished. Here it is:

It’s hot and humid out here on the east coast. I’ve never been to Vermont before. I like it. There’s lots of trees, rolling hills (some are pretty big), and lots of rivers. Yesterday we ate at a sandwich shop out in the country and swam in a creek that was right below the patio that we ate on. The serene country atmosphere was all a very nice contrast to the previous 24 hours:

Earlier that night (the night before, so technically the day before) I had gotten a taxi ride from my host house up in Park City Utah to the Salt Lake City airport at 9pm. I checked my bike in and watched some movies on my laptop while the plane was delayed by an hour. We took off at 12:40 am. It was a four and a half hour plane ride. I had the aisle seat, even though I’m pretty sure I reserved a window seat. I dozed but never quite got to the point of sleeping since the flight attendants kept bumping my arm, leg, foot, and head with every pass of their metal cart. I had planned well for the noise though. I had ear plugs AND my carpentry earmuffs. Plus I had taken some tylenol sleeping pills. This all helped block out the screaming baby right next to me. Anyways, we flew to JFK. Then later to Burlington VT (that stands for Vermont, not Vermen, like I originally thought).

My teammate, Alan, picked me up. We also picked up Spencer and our friend Trisha, who had just gotten off a plane as well. We drove to our host house way out in the woods here and then went to eat sandwiches and swim in the river. This is a really poor post so far. I can’t really think and all I’m doing is listing events that have occurred recently. This is where most people go wrong in their race reports/writing about pretty much everything else also. No one wants to hear a boring timeline of events. Like in history. No one wants to learn a bunch of dumb dates of when “so and so” started some boring (and pointless) war 290 years ago. They want to hear about a cool, funny story that happened to “so and so” when he was drawing up the war plans. There’s been a million wars throughout history. That’s a fact, there have been exactly 1 million wars, look it up on Wikipedia if you don’t believe me. And if it says otherwise, you shouldn’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia. Anyways, people don’t want to hear about the date of the war, the reasons it started, which are all the same anyways, or the countries involved. They want to hear about how “so and so” accidentaly stubbed his toe on a table when he was plotting his war plans and how he knocked over a big plate of chicken on the dinning hall floor. The castle dogs ran over and ate the chicken and the combination of stubbing his toe and the dogs eating his chicken made him so mad he burst a blood vessel in his eye. Later that night when he got together with his friends to just go have a good time out on the town, they all made fun of him for hours because they thought he was really really high but he wasn’t. He had just burst a blood vessel but they wouldn’t believe him!! Anyways, that would be a much better story to learn about in history class than all the text book crap they teach.

I started the race with high cortisol levels since my teammate Chris Wingfield drove off with my aero helmet and didn’t get it back to me until about 3 minutes before I started. It was a 9.5K TT. It was a hilly course and I blasted through the first 3K climb, almost catching my 30 second guy right off the bat, but didn’t quite close the gap until a few K later. I ended up taking 10th out of a darn good field of 100 cat 1’s and pros. Ted King took 1st. That’s it for the race report.

Just so you know, our host house is almost directly located ON the TT course. We all either rode our bikes to the TT start or some of us drove there but rode home. This meant all the team’s cars were strewn about all over the place.

Later in the day after the race was over and we had a chance to go home and eat, Lang, Spencer, and I drove the entire length of the final day’s RR course. A very wise move since the final day had some massively steep climbs at the end. On our way back to the house, Lang dropped me off near the start of the TT course so that I could drive Alan Adam’s car back to our house. As they dropped me off, I told Lang to wait for me since I wasn’t quite sure how to get back home. He said OK, then immediately drove off (squealing the tires), both he and Spencer no doubt laughing hysterically as they sped away from me as I stood in the middle of the road. I crossed the street to the gravel pull-out where there were a few cars parked. I took a pee behind a tree. I found a key on the tire of Alan’s car, right where I was told it would be. I got in and began driving home, concentrating on not getting lost. Once I was on track, the drive home was just a short few miles that mainly followed the TT course. As I was driving along, I noticed a lot of strange odds and ends in the front dash of the car. When I had first looked in the back seat before I found the key and got in the car, I had seen a cliff bar and a pump, some shoes and a few other bike-related items. Typical bike racing stuff. Now, as I looked in the front seat area of the car I noticed a bunch of stuff that didn’t seem like it would belong to Alan. Alan is a pretty neat and organized guy, and the front of the car was littered with dozens of pens and pencils, change, pieces of paper, other odds and ends, and a pair of old-man reading glasses. “Hmmm. A lot of crap up here for a rental car that we’ve only had for 2 days,” I thought. I continued on driving.

As I passed the multitude of masters riders currently racing the TT course, a thought went through my head. Apparently the first one in quite some time. “Is this the right car?”

You know where the story’s going from here. I grew more and more paranoid that I had mistakenly gotten into and was currently driving a stranger’s car. My palms began sweating, my heart rate increased a bit, my cortisol levels raised. My eyes were glued to the rear view mirror for a masters rider to pop his head out of his aero tuck and start shaking his fist at me as he realized his stolen car had just passed him. But I kept going, not quite convinced yet that I was driving some random person’s car. No way. That sort of thing doesn’t happen in real life. That only happens to the idiot friend in comedic movies. Plus, I simply didn’t want to believe it. If I did believe it that would mean I’d have to drive all the way back to the gravel pull-out, where I would most likely find out that I was indeed in the correct car and then I would have to start the 20-minute drive all over again. Not worth it. Just keep driving and everything will turn out just fine.

I got to the long gravel road that our house was on and four of my teammates (Alan Schmitz, Alan Adams, Robin, and Winger) approached from the other direction in Alan Schmitz’s car. I rolled the window down as we got closer. They were on the way to the grocery store. They saw me and slowed to a stop.

Me: “Uhhh, hey guys I have a bad feeling that I might be in the wrong car. Is this our car?”
Them (with very confused expressions on their faces): “That’s NOT our car.”
Me: “Shit.”

From here on I was in a bit of a panic. I flipped the car around and started my paranoid drive back to the gravel pull out. My teammates were in front of me, not really understanding what was happening and in somewhat of a laughing hysteria. They yelled back to me to ask if I was joking. I gave a very serious shake of the head “NO.” They continued their laughing. I continued thinking about what I was going to do if the cops were at the scene of the crime.

Unfortunately the driving was very very slow, since we were still on the TT course and many of the other category riders were either still racing or riding back to the start point. Alan and the other’s in the car decided to go back to the gravel parking area with me instead of the grocery store, just in case the cops had shown up and I needed some backing up. And I bet they also wanted to see me get hand cuffed.

My eyes were now glued to the rear view mirror looking for flashing red and blue lights. After the longest 20 minutes of the day, which any other day would have been during the time trial, I finally got back to the gravel pull out.

No one was there. Not even the owner of the car. He must have still been racing. I parked in the same spot the car had been, got out in a hurry, made sure not to leave any of my stuff in there, and wrote a quick note explaining what had happened. It started like this: “Hi, funny story…(I hope)…” I did not sign my name.

Alan Adam’s car (the car I was supposed to pick up) was sitting just to the right of where the car I had stolen had been parked. The car I had gotten into was a small 1990-something green sedan. The correct car was a new, large, grey SUV. The initials of our team “HB” was written in large capitals in the dust of the back windshield. I had spent the entire previous day driving around in this car. Whoops.

Alan and I got into his SUV and we all drove off, with me sighing many sighs of relief as my cortisol levels slowly declined. I came away from the situation having learned a valuable lesson–If I ever become a crack-addict, at least I know where I can easily find my crack money: stealing cars at bike races.

Walkabout Wonderland

Walking.  It’s boring.  It’s bad for recovery.  It’s a waste of time when you’re used to wheels.  Before this week, I’d probably walked less than 40 miles the entire year.  Mainly to and from the fridge and bathroom.  Cyclists avoid it almost as much as they avoid running.  We have a similar mantra to the Marines’: “don’t run when you can walk, don’t walk when you can stand, don’t stand when you can sit, don’t sit when you can lay down, don’t lay down when you can sleep.”  Except for cyclists, it’s just: “don’t walk…ever.”  Especially up stairs.  With our fear of not being able to exercise while seated, Spencer and I set out on something harder than any other cyclists has done this year.  A long, long walk.

Walkabout Wonderland

Mt. Rainier is a big volcano.  There’s a long hiking trail that goes around the base.  It’s 93 miles long and has 22,000 feet of elevation gain (and loss).  Spencer and I decided to do a little cross training during our mandatory time away from our bikes, and thought doing a short backpacking trip would do us some good.  We’d been talking about it for a few months but didn’t decide on the destination until a few days before the trip.  The Wonderland Trail seemed like a good choice…especially since it was the very first map I found while looking through the map section of REI.

The recommended allotment of time to hike the Wonderland Trail is 10-15 days.  That’s less than 10 miles a day.  Spencer and I quickly decided that distance was for sopping wet wusses and knew that we could do it in about 3 days.  That’s over 30 miles a day.  I’d done some backpacking before, and had done a 50 mile trip in 2 days when I was 15.  I’m 24 now, so if I could do 25 miles a day way back then, I could easily do 34 miles a day now since I’m 9 years older.  Who knows, maybe we’d even do it in 2 days?  Hell, have you met Spencer and I?  We’re absolutely amazing…at everything.  Probably the best all around human beings in every category.  One thing is certain, we don’t lack self-confidence.

I was so un-concerned about the difficulty of hiking 31 miles a day, I went ahead and did a hard plyometrics workout a few days before.  Lots of jumps, running, and sprints and a hard core workout.  It left me extremely sore, and I was still very sore the day we started the hike.  Spencer was so un-concerned about the difficulty of the hike that he decided to get his wisdom teeth removed a few days before.  Spencer, we probably could have used a little of that wisdom—just sayin.

I took the Greyhound up to Tacoma and Spencer picked me up in his really cool yellow car.  We stopped to buy a compass and after an un-satisfyingly medium-sized breakfast for lunch at Sharis, we began our drive out to Mt. Rainier National Park.  But first we stopped at Safeway for a second lunch.  It’s the off-season, after all.  Spencer has already gained 27 pounds.  Mainly in his head.  He’s coming for you, Lang.

We got on the trail at 6pm and immediately took a wrong turn no more than 30 feet from starting.  Whoops.  We got back on track and burned through 6 miles in 2.5 hours.  We were flying.  It was almost all uphill.  And about an hour of it was in pitch dark.  Shit, if we could do 6 miles in 2.5 hours, we might be able to bust out a 40 miler the next day!  Man, we’re amazing!  No one even compares! We’re unstoppable!

We got up at 5:45 and were on the trail at 7 after a restless night where I dreamt about bears circling our tent all night (we left all the food in the tent with us because we couldn’t be bothered to put it in a tree).  Our pace was brisk.  I was still very sore from my plyo workout but endorphins quickly kicked in and I felt fine.  We treated the course like a race, tearing apart the climbs and trying to rest on the downhill and flat.  Except that there was no flat.  Ever.  And it turns out that hiking downhill with a 35 pound pack isn’t easy.  Our knees, ankles and feet started taking a bit of a beating.  Not to worry.  We can tolerate pain.  F’s sake, we’re bad-asses, right?!

We took turns taking pulls on the uphill, trying to shed imaginary competitors and drop the wheel suckers behind us.  When our imaginary opponents had been dropped, we attacked each other, trying to crack one another—all in innocent silence while pretending we weren’t savagely trying to defeat the other on a hiking trip (right Spencer?  Or was it just me?).

We stopped for a break to take a crap in the woods after 3.5 hours.  We downed food and water and had a glance at the map, expecting to have gone 10 miles or more.  We had done 6.  Crap.  We were drenched in sweat despite the cool, misty mountain air at 5,000 feet.  We had been going fast—we thought.  Maybe this was going to be harder than we thought.

But we were sitting down at the time so our confidence was high while we convinced ourselves that we in-fact could make our planned campsite at mile 35.  And that we could actually make it to the next campsite at mile 40!  Spencer and I brim with confidence when our mouths are full of beef jerky and chocolate trail mix.  We pursued our goal with even more zest.

It didn’t last long.  Spencer’s ankles were taking a beating on the downhill.  He had been rolling them all morning and had taped them up, but the downhill was destroying them.  I dropped him on the descent, taking pride in beating my teammate.  At last we reached the bottom and immediately started the next climb.  We put in a hard attack and were at the top an hour or two later.  A little more cracked than we expected.  In fact, we were a lot more cracked than we expected.  And the upcoming descent ruined us.  At this point, Spencer was employing two walking sticks while grimacing down the hill.  It took us over 2 hours to descend it.  Our knees were wrecked.  My quads were flimsy. Calves cramped.  Still plenty of energy though, so we continued on.  No flat.  We got to the base and immediately started the next climb.  Spencer gave me a great lead out up the lower section of the climb, then I attacked and dropped him.  I was feeling good.  I was tired and sore, but the uphill felt great on my joints compared to the downhill.  We stopped twice on the way up to eat and re-group; Spencer was losing confidence in his knees and legs and wasn’t sure that we’d be able to complete 36 miles that day.  I was still optimistic and feeling pretty good.  So I attacked him again when we got going.

The scenery was amazing.  But enough about that.  I grew my lead.

The top of the climb came at last and we started the descent.  All of a sudden, my ankles and feet cramped up and I became paralyzed like Spencer.  We stopped a half hour into the decent for a rest.  We started up again and I felt worse.  We both hobbled downhill with increasing pain.  The map said we had one long decent and one LONG climb ahead of us before we got to our back-up campsite—the one we decided upon if we weren’t going fast enough to make our goal.  The back up was still 10 miles away.  We had gone…gulp…a little under 20 miles that day.  It was now 6:30.  We came to the realization that 10 more miles wasn’t going to happen, so we compromised and decided upon a campsite 5 miles away.  We slogged on.

20 minutes later we reached a campsite.  We still had 5 miles to go.  We stared at each other, dazed, frowning, torn to pieces.  And without much conversation, both hung our heads low and drug our dead legs and bodies a few more painful steps and set our bags down.  We weren’t going a foot further.

What happened next was pretty pathetic.  Or apathetic.  Or both.  I set the tent up while Spencer shit his brains out.  We hobbled around like paraplegics as with third degree burns covering the entirety of their legs.  We set out our sleeping pads and laid them down in the mud.  And lay there.

And lay there.

And finally made dinner.  Ate a beautiful dinner of corned beef and top ramen, crawled in the tent and fell asleep at 9:20.

The alarm went off at 5:45.  We both lay there, incredibly sore.  I don’t think either of us have ever been that sore before.  I moved my leg a little bit in my sleeping bag while the alarm went off and a searing shot of acid-fire was sent through my hamstring.  We had to make up 10 miles today.  That meant a 40-mile day.  Twice as much as we did the previous day.  We both knew that wasn’t happening.  It was raining outside.  And dark and cold.  And we could barely sit upright.  We went back to sleep until 7:30.  10 hours of deep, deep sleep.

We finally got up and started hiking.  Back to the car.  We were defeated.  It only took this conversation to decide it:

Spencer: Kennett, I don’t think we can make it.

Kennett: Yeah I know.

Our new plan was to spend the next two days hiking the 25 miles back to the car.  It would have taken us over a week to complete the 93 miles and we were already getting low on food.  And there was no way our joints could hold up.

But within 10 minutes of hiking, the endorphins kicked in and I felt good.

Kennett: Hey Spencer, maybe we can make it.  At least, we could try.  And if we don’t think we can make it after today we can get off the trail at mile 55 and hitch a ride back to the car.

Spencer: Yeah…maybe.  I don’t know.

The endorphins weren’t running as strong in Spencer’s legs and he was thinking more clearly than me.  We ended up continuing on back to the car.

Basically the next two days went like this: pain, suffering, pain, suffering.  Eating.  Pain, suffering.  Hobbling.

Spencer looked like a little old man with a cane.  A broken little hobbit.  “Bilbo Fucking Baggins” according to Spencer.  I couldn’t stop laughing at his pain.  I would be up ahead on the trail, descending on my own, and I would start laughing by myself from a combination of my own pain, and imagining what Spencer must look like back there on the trail by himself.  Hobbling, grimacing, bent and broken.  Tripping over rocks and rolling his ankles.  Getting angry and smashing his walking sticks on rocks.  Finding new walking sticks.  Walking sticks breaking under his weight.  More swearing.  Possibly a tear or two.  More pain.  I laughed at the thought of this, stubbed my toe on a boulder and cursed.  Rolled my own ankle and limped over tree roots.  Searched for walking sticks of my own.  We weren’t meant for this.  Our bone density showed it.  Being frank, we were fucked.  Our legs were absolutely fucked.

The last mile of the trail took us over an hour.

3 days and one evening of hiking and our legs were more ruined than the Tour of Utah, Cascade, Mt. Hood, and Redlands combined.  We were blistered.  Feet, shoulders, and backs were rubbed raw from the backpacks.  Spencer’s ankles and feet were swollen.  Our knees clicked when we bent them.  We were bow-legged, hobbling, old men.  We got a hotel in Yakima that night.

Backpacking is like a stage race.  You’re completely consumed in the task at hand.  Nothing else matters.  You wake up and eat, pack up the tent.  Hike.  Hike all day and eat all day.  You get to camp, exhausted, and set up the tent and get water.  And sit around and eat until you go to sleep.  It’s an amazing thing.  You do so little while doing so much.  Our hunter-gatherer ancestors had a good thing going.  They didn’t spend time wondering what the point of their lives were or if they were living up to their full potential and ‘making the world a better place.’  They didn’t ponder the meaning of their existence.  They pondered their existence.  Whether or not they’d survive the next day.  Survival in the wilderness is the only thing that matters.  Just like training and racing.  Full concentration and suffering demand every fiber of will and effort in your body and mind.  The action in itself gives life meaning.  Backpacking and racing are all consuming.  And when you’re sitting in the dark on the cold wet ground, little things like a hot cup of apple cider are the cherry on top.

This was heavily contrasted by the comforts (and meaninglessness) of the hotel.  Hot water on command.  Huge soft beds in a warm room.  Food at hand and mind-dumbing entertainment on the TV.  It’s no wonder why people are miserable.  Life is about pain and suffering, they’re the only things that matter and the only things worth living for.