Dufur

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It’s 94 degrees and unusually humid. My helmet has been off for most the day and my jersey, splayed and slapping my back, couldn’t be more unzipped. I lost count of water bottles somewhere in the mid-teens and I’ve had at least three Cokes. I’ve been throwing back handfuls of Enduralytes like they were nuts or candy, stuffing them greedily into my crusty cottonmouth. I am now quickly moving from a state of underpreparedness to all-out panic.

It starts with a sticky-tight twinge. A salty torrent has been cascading off the brim of my hat and into my eyes, stinging them, for as long as I can remember. My shifter hoods are swampy and hard to grip. Sweat is flying off my legs, neck and back like an acidic waterfall, a caustic vapor trail for the rest of the pace line to deal with. For hours now I’ve felt submerged or coated but that’s changing. I’m drying up, shrinking back into myself, taut and stingy. Jagged, white chalky lines of salt are starting to show on my bibs and in a ring around my torso, like moraines left by receding glaciers or a high water mark.

I know not to tense up, anxiety is only going to make my situation worse. I need to be fluid and loose, need to shift down and spin. An internal status report suggests things aren’t good . At 64 miles in we’re less than half way done and both the road and temperature promise to climb significantly before the day is over. I fade back, just to the left of the group. Out of the saddle and in too big a ring, I check in with each of the faces and each set of legs as they go by in a pace line. I’m looking for hints of pain and suffering, making eye contact if I can. ‘Nice pull, nice effort Daniel,’ says Aaron evenly and without gasp or effort. I hate it that he’s not hurting and he knows it – he can see it in my eyes. Greg is next, offering a consoling head tilt. He smiles and then easily pulls through. Hahn doesn’t even look up when he rolls by under the power of an absurdly high and graceful cadence. Ryan is caked in salt and looking worked but goes by smoothly nevertheless. Too smoothly. My legs, in contrast, are poorly syncopated pistons, seizing and jerking.

This much I know about myself. When I’m about to ‘pop’ and cramp for good, like for the rest of the day, I needlessly and wantonly attack. Like a big, dumb wild animal that has sustained fatal wounds, one that lunges recklessly at anything and everything in a pointless and counterproductive attempt at survival. Just raw, unfocused rage, panic making a last stand. Like the suspect on PCP who walks through countless police officers wielding mace and shotgun shells as if they were sprinklers on a hot day. Crazy and disconnected from reality. I know that in the moment before I crack, I’ll sprint and charge and force whatever remains from my body. I’ll spit and foam and cry. I’ll bury myself.

And that’s why I jump. Despite the grim forecast issuing from my body, despite the debilitating cramp looming on the horizon, just before lunch and the town of Dufur, on a series of long rolling hills and straights, I jump. At first, my effort is strong but the group’s answers come swiftly and definitively. In less than a quarter mile on a steeper section I’m dropped, left to scramble up the road alone. On the downhill section, I catch up with a struggle and when the road levels out, I resume my attack. Once again, I start a fight I can’t finish and my right hamstring begins to seize for real. This goes on for several miles. The others are laughing at me, they know. Every new attack is more diminished than the previous one, a little more pathetic. I’m riding myself into the ground. Ten miles out, inspired by my increasingly spastic and desperate desire to force pain on to the group, the others counterattack in earnest. And that’s when I pop for good.

On a hill, I have to watch as people-shaped bits of red, blue and pink get smaller and smaller until they finally disappear, with a blink, over the horizon. As soon as they’re out of sight, my eyes roll back into my head and the edges get fuzzy and out of focus, a little dark. My entire left leg and my right hamstring now cramp, over-strung and jerky. I slump in the saddle and slow down uncontrollably. It’s the longest, hottest, quietest 10 miles of my life. I’m starving, out of water and beginning to weave just a bit. Time stumbles. There is nothing but the monotony of turning the pedals, one crank arm at time, like some kind of repetitive hell, parched and blazing, measured in seconds by my now laggard cadence.

Forty minutes later, in a deli in Dufur, I’m lying on the ground next to a row of tables. We’ve all just eaten massive sandwiches and several large bags of chips. The moment I finish my turkey-bacon-avocado and cheese, I’m wracked by cramps and seizures. They seem to be everywhere all at once, in my legs, arms, back, even in my face. I’m rolling around, grabbing kicking and straightening. I pause periodically, frozen in awkward and unseemly poses. Everyone else is standing around me, laughing. I feel like today’s entertainment, and there’s clearly a moral to the story. Don’t drink margaritas the night before 10,000ft of climbing in the high desert; and if you do, don’t charge like a cornered animal at the group.

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