Paint My Coffin Pink: Rapha Gentleman’s Race Report Part 2
Missed Part One? Catch up and read This is How We Die.
Photo Credit to the amazing Jose Sandoval
Eight miles on Highway 30 lead us to the last bits of civilization before the start of Otto Miller. We pass a bike shop, load up on a hearty supply of spare tubes, and cruise into the Texaco for ice, water, PayDays, Gatorade and granola bars.
Each item purchased feels like extra fortification against what we are about to face. If only I select the perfect snack, the perfect drink, the perfect American flag lighter? I stifle my impulse to acquire classic but unnecessary gas station memorabilia and force Sal to drink an entire bottle of water while I watch.
“We’re almost halfway done!” he says, half smiling.
I shoot a look to a tall, thin climber-looking fellow from another team and he laughs. “Yeah, only a little road called Otto Miller to worry about. No problem.”
He’s being friendly so I resist the urge to throat-punch him and we saddle up and shove off instead.
Otto Miller Eats Babies
By now, the climb of Rapha lunch-ride legend is looming big and dark in my gut, but the ride out to the turn is serene. Country roads flanked by golden fields and lazy trees. We’re in the company of other teams. We’re chatting. We’re calm.
We’re totally fucking bluffing.
Because the truth is, we’re worried. At least I am. My pilot is fried and I know it. I don’t know what to do so I do the only thing I can: I pedal.
And then we turn.
If there was any doubt that we are about to leave a lung and a few years of our lives on this evil road, it is erased by the first pitch which serves as a virtual kick in the teeth to all of our tandem dreams and any hope we may have every foolishly harbored of enjoying this godforsaken ride.
I can hear Sal swearing up front. We are grinding a humongous gear and I am terrified to ask if I can get a fucking shift.
As it turns out, I can’t get a shift. Because our triple isn’t happening. At least not with the derailleur. The bicycle clicks and ticks and groans underneath us as Sal tries to drop it in.
We keep grinding.
“We’ve got to stop and drop it down.” I finally plead. “I can’t push this gear.”
“Goddamit!” We lurch to a halt.
This is the part where my hand becomes a derailleur. I grab the chain and show it to the little tiny ring at the bottom. “And stay there.” I say.
I’m talking to my drive-train now so you can be sure that nothing good is going to happen from here on out. Also, starting from a stop on a tandem on loose gravel in a low gear? Not recommended. Sal is tired of waiting for me to clip into pedals. I am tired of being a human derailleur.
And we are only a quarter mile into the climb up Otto Miller.
And we are so fucking tired of this all. Believe it.
I can’t tell you how slow we climb Otto. I can’t tell you because there are not words to describe that agony.
I can tell you what I saw. Natalie and Bob K on a tandem up ahead, chatting. Happy. Smiling. Ironclad girls next to me looking weary, helmets hung on their bars. Hammer Velo stragglers stopped and resting in the rare shade. Passing cars full of photographers.
Directly in front of me? Pockets full of uneaten food. The top of a cue sheet. Logos.
When we pass riders from other teams, I watch them climb out of the saddle with envy. I wonder how I would be faring on my own bike, a light little sweet ride. I wonder if I am pedaling hard enough and betting that Sal thinks that I am not.
Here on the back of this tandem I am absolutely the biggest letdown of his life. This heavy girl who can’t put out enough power. Dead weight. A bicycle burden.
He hates me.
At least, that’s what I convince myself of. If I’m not pedaling hard enough then why are these rivulets of sweat rolling down my forehead and diving off the tip of my nose onto the top tube? Why are my quads imploding? I have to be doing my part. I can’t do anymore. I resist the urge to translate this whole, painful fiasco into a gigantic relationship metaphor.
This explains nothing. This means nothing. This is just climbing Otto Miller on a bike that was not meant to do it.
“This is ridiculous.” Sal stops the bike.
He has just broken the most important rule ever. Never tell the truth. Doesn’t he remember? You have to lie. You have to make yourself believe that it’s important and possibly normal to be out here on the hottest day of the year on a double-bike on a gravel road. That all makes sense. Getting to the top is inevitable and wonderful. The only thing that matters.
Why did he just shatter our bubble of delusion?
My shoulders drop. It is ridiculous. I have no counter.
But we have to keep going because there is no alternative. You don’t stop. You don’t walk. You don’t turn around. You just keep climbing because you signed up for this shit and now you have to pay for your hubris.
I hate him. He hates me. We hate everyone and everything. But, most of all I think I hate Slate Olson and Natalie Ramsland. This hour is dark and they seem easy enough to throw under the bus. To hell with them.
The top of Otto Miller will appear at mile 80 and we’re at mile 75.
This is the best day of my life. I want a cold beer and a shotgun. I’m definitely losing my mind.
Reaching the top is so hard that when we finally crest, we are so empty and beaten that we are incapable of feeling joy. I make a mistake and think we’re stopping when we’re not and Sal yells at me in front of a crowd to keep pedaling. Ice cold cokes and snickers bars at the Checkpoint are small consolation.
Sandwiches and cold water seem like a gift from god. This would be amazing if I didn’t know that we still faced a ten-mile grind up Dixie Mountain. This would be amazing if we were sitting at the finish line.
Riders and cyclists lounge like corpses, talking quietly. The waking dead. The atmosphere is optimistic weariness. Those with yet-uncrushed spirits attempt to cheer up their vomiting, cramping comrades. Our other two tandem teams look solid and enthusiastic. The couple from Colorado is crushing it. Ryan Trebon comes flying up Dixie Mountain, sits down on a chair and says, “Fuck my life!”
This isn’t going to end well.
Sal is attempting to pull off a rally. He downs a Coke and some water but leaves the sandwich I hand him half eaten.
I recall my own brushes with serious bonking and his stinging advice, “It’s all in your head! You have to be stronger than your body.”
I decide not to offer this particular form of encouragement at this moment in time.
We pedal away. Dixie Mountain awaits.
Read Part Three: Pour My Ashes in Slate Olson’s Coffee