The Curse of Villebois
I should have known better.We’re racing bikes through what is left of a former insane asylum. A few rotting concrete walls and several deadly spikes of rebar growing out of the ground here and there are the only remnants of the building that was Dammasch State Hospital, but the ghosts are out in force.
I should have known better than to mess with the ghosts of crazy people but I can never seem to leave well-enough alone.
At 90 seconds into my race I am 9th wheel in the field and feeling good. The course is technical. Think BMX meets mountain bike short track. Gravel. Lots and lots of gravel.
Heading into the first bit of hard-packed washboard, I am leery of my rear tire. I’m running a tubeless set-up. In theory these tires are money. In practice, they’re making me worry. This course has been eating up tires all day long – especially the tubeless variety.
The first loud “KSSS-AHHHHHHH” comes on an uphill section and the two girls to my left make long vowel sounds with their mouths in the form of ooooooooooos as they fly by. I can feel the ground through the rim.
“How bad is it?!” I call to a woman behind me.
“You’re dead in the water.” She replies. And that’s that.
I dismount, confirm that the tire is finished, release a long string of expletives, and then shoulder the bike and start to run.
“I like running.” I tell myself. So I dig in and off-road through the loose dirt and gravel. I have no idea how far away the pit is, so I settle into a nice pace that only marginally makes me want to vomit. My heart rate is through the roof and my whole race is fucking screwed.
The rest of my field comes around me, offering their condolences and best wishes. It’s a bittersweet respect we have for each other, isn’t it? I want them dead despite their postured support. I want them dead so I can fleece their jersey pockets for Gu and then take their functioning bikes.
Ok, not really. In reality, I love each and every bit of encouragement. But I could sure use a bike right about now.
The pits are three million miles away and along the journey I realize that my cycling shoes are approximately 2mm too short. I wager that I will lose a left big toenail in this battle.
I grit my teeth and huff my way through the flat, fast pavement section as warm blood gathers between my toes.
This is a bike race, right? You wouldn’t know it to look at me. I run at least a mile before I finally reach the pits.
Once there I find my backup wheels amid hundreds of others. I release the rear brake to remove the wheel but the process confounds me. Blood like an attack in my ears. Oxygen so far away I don’t know what it is anymore. I’m fucking wasted. I’m not thinking straight.
In an instant, a competent bystander comes to my rescue and the spare rear wheel is in place. Back in action. What is this bike underneath me? How does this thing work?
The speed is sweet and suspicious.
It doesn’t last long.
200 meters out of the pit and I shear the sidewall of the fresh tire on a sharp rock. I notice a small child to my right only milliseconds before I scream, “FUCK!”
I want to feel bad but, really, kids need to learn about the hard knocks of life, right? Flatting your fucking pit wheel certainly qualifies. At least that’s what I tell myself as I shoulder the bike and run for the next 1.4 miles.
Along the way, I see my friend Gregg on the side of the course and beg him to go back to my tent and get me another bike for the pit. I have no business doing this, I realize, because all hope for a decent result is lost and there is nothing left to win except for post-race beer and agony so I should just give up.
But of course I don’t. Why? Because this haunted course is making me crazy and I am rabid for the cowbell.
Gregg runs for the tent. I run. I cringe as the bottom bracket smashes rhythmically into my lower back. That feels good. Like black skin and tender swelling. Lay it on.
A lap later, I return to the pits and find my boyfriend waiting for me with a spare bike. I hand off my inoperable battleship and pick up his Specialized, a bike I have never ridden. The seat is too low and the bike is too big, so I blow a few corners before I get my bearings. Then I put power into the pedals and set out to make up some time.
But the ghosts have other ideas for me.
The third rear tire of the day flats terrifically on a set of camel bumps and I pull off to the side in disbelief. More expletives. More innocent ears forever marred.
“Bum luck!” a man calls from the crowd.
“Bum luck!?” I call back, “This is my third fucking flat of the race! This is more than bad luck – it’s a curse!.”
I want to cry but instead I run and laugh maniacally. This is past the point of absurd. I set off to finish what I’ve started. Why stop now?
The spare bike is heavier than my own but the top tube is more comfortable on my rapidly bruising shoulder. I note that I can no longer sense the blood in my shoes. It must have dried up. I cheer through gasping breaths as my familiar opponents pass me once again.
My race has lapped me two times over but here I am. Running. Just daring the big toenail to come off. Just waiting for something worse. Just begging for the race to be over. I come by my team tent to a wall of cheers.
I pass by the Ironclad team tent and they offer me beers and rear wheels. A woman I know from the A field passes me and offers me her bike. The spectators cry out, “Good job, 113!!” and it makes me reconsider the luckiness of my favorite number.
Then? All at once. It’s done.
I run my useless spare bike across the line and collapse with my head in between my knees. The women that I usually finish alongside are already done with their post-race banter. Everything is over. This is the glory-less 42nd place finish on foot.
Screw glory. I want a homebrew.
Matt presents me with sacred, super-dark homemade beer in exchange for my heroics. I drink faster (and more) than I should. At 11.4%, the effect of half a 22oz bottle is nearly instantaneous. The world gets soft and colorful as the elite men race past me in a whirlwind.
I cheer. And scream. And wail on a cowbell. And drink. And drink. And drink.
One hour later I am sideways and pissed off and smiling uncontrollably.
This is ‘cross, suckers. This is 42nd place as you’ve never seen it before.
Let the blood dry. Pass the beer.