ATOC 2011 stg7: Death on Baldy

Words: Jeremy Dunn | Photography: Dan Sharp | Date:

Whenever you are in the moment, the hardest thing in the world is to take yourself out of it. Distraction is your friend. Distraction is your friend if only you can remember to think that you should be fine.

Right now – bear with me here – I am stuck somewhere near the top of Mt. Baldy. Well, not really stuck, but not really moving that quickly. Slate has gone ahead in his own personal race to the top. Probably to beat us all there and say he was first, but possibly to just get there and start massaging coconut oil into his fiercely burned skin.

Cole and Pierre are somewhere behind me, and I can guess, after the four days that we have just had, that they are feeling the tug and stretch of every fiber in their legs the same way I am. Or at least – in a sadomasochistic way – I hope they are. I would hate to think that I am out here feeling this way on my own.

Click down on the front shifter and stand up I tell myself. Then I sit hard and click back up two. Four.

Tim Johnson is somewhere in between all of us. He keeps circling around and checking on everyone, and while I’m grateful and everything, I am also starting to hate it. How does he do it?

I put the water bottle to my lips and take four quick pulls from it. Four pedal strokes and I want to die.

Somewhere in front of me I can see that Slate is starting to come back to me and I think of Tom Danielson finishing at the top of Brasstown Bald in the Tour of Georgia. What? Really, is that what I’m thinking about? I mean, he did ride with Tim on the Saturn Cycling Team, and it was a mountain-top finish like this, so I guess that counts for something.

Earlier in the day we rode on what Cole has proclaimed is his “all time favorite road” to ride on: Glendora Mountain road. As we turned onto it, it was incredibly easy to see why this stretch of pavement could earn that moniker. When you look down to the left the road looks like a flattened snake and something out of a remote European col. A stage of some long forgotten Tour that no one has ever hear of. Even less so than Adriatico.

Four more sips from the bottle and I’m back to where I was. Going nowhere fast. Going up slowly. I try to think “why four” as I take another four drinks. Jeff Bedward was a friend on my high school track team, an amazing sprinter that would also go on to come close to winning a state title in the Pole Vault as well. He always had to have everything in even numbers. If you were to give him a hi-five, just one, he would chase you through the hallways until he could catch up to you and get the hi-five. But that wasn’t it either.

“I want to die”, I think to myself as my lungs feel like they are about to burn their way through my chest. The blood feels hot in my face and my hands are slippery on the bars. That’s it. That is why the four.

Someone told me once that in Korean culture the number four symbolized death. She said not to buy four apples at the grocery store, or go out to eat with three other people. If you reach for a handful of gummy bears and are about to head out for a group ride, just make sure the sum total doesn’t equal four. Avoid that number four. But at this moment I wanted it so desperately that I was calling out to it. Begging for it to be over.

And then it was. That is always the case, isn’t it.

Just as suddenly as the spike appeared on the topographic map the ride was over. It was over with such a quick finality that we almost didn’t know what to do, or how to talk about things now that there was not a ride to do the next day. We fumbled around with our bags gave each other hugs and even tried a half-hearted attempt at riding down to a bar for a drink. It was almost as if we did not know what to do with ourselves, you get into a rhythm with these long days of riding. Getting up, eating, prepping for the day and then you spend the entirety of the day riding with five other people sharing thoughts and dreams and ideas with them. The routine. Then, like that, it’s over and you’re left standing there thinking about how to get back to the life you led before all of this happened.

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