The Fine Art of Getting My Ass Kicked
Sal and I head out for a post-work ride in Forest Park and I can tell I’m in trouble.
At the Thurman gate we stop so I can shed a few layers and drink water. And then it starts.
I cling to his back wheel for the first mile and then start to slip off the back. Once the gap is open it widens exponentially. My legs feel heavier and heavier as I spin a low gear. My muscles are burning.
I want to stop.
I recognize that I have two choices: continue to let the gap grow and lose all hope of catching him, or get off my ass and run him down.
My mindset instantly switches from, "I’m suffering" to "Hey! I’m not going out like that, bitch!!"
I drop it into my biggest gear, stand up on the pedals, squeeze back a few excruciating tears of agony, and give chase. I have never climbed Leif Erickson at a clip like this before. I want to die until I realize that I am making up ground. He’s coming back to me.
It takes me two and a half miles to get within spitting distance and, just as I think I’m going to be able to bridge to his wheel, he looks back over his shoulder and sees me coming.
And then the hammer drops. Faster than I can gasp, "Wait, you Motherfu@#$er!" he is gone, the gap is back, and my spirit is summarily crushed.
This is not a good day for me. I had no legs to begin with, having done sprint intervals the day before. Watching him spin away from me nearly puts me into tears. My quads feel like someone just threw them on a hot wok filled with sesame oil.
I can almost hear them sizzling.
I’d been stringing myself along, promising myself a nice rest on the back of his wheel once I caught him. Every fiber in my leg muscles had been holding out for that moment.
Time for the mental regroup. I assess my situation.
If Sal is really hammering now then I hardly have much chance of closing the gap. This means I’m either going to fall off the back like a schmuck, or hold my position… somehow.
I resolve to keep him in sight and I do. This time I promise my legs that we will stop at the 6 mile point, before the road turns up Saltzman. I really want this to be true, for me and my muscles, but I’m secretly unconvinced that Sal will stop there.
We reach the junction and he swerves his bike with purpose in the direction of Saltzman. He looks like he’s headed into battle and, so far as I can see, my legs are going to be the only casualties.
If he goes, I go. There was a moment where my inner-pansy thought about stopping and waiting for him to come back down. That little pansy almost had me convinced that the rest was "what I needed" for legs that were thoroughly worked over.
Fortunately, I’m well-schooled in telling her to shut the hell up.
My inner-hard-man takes over, follows Sal’s line up Saltzman, and settles in for the pain.
And the pain comes. The pain comes as I lose him completely around the second or third bend. The pain comes when I realize that it’s not about Sal anymore, it’s about me and this stupid goddam hill. I have to get to the top of it without blowing up.
When every cell in my body screams at me to step off the bike, I know I am getting a good workout in. When I think about the rest of the climb, wonder if I can even, physically do it, and then proceed to scratch and crawl my way to the top, I know my time has been well spent.
He is waiting for me at the gate and is kind enough to let me catch my breath before we make the descent back down.
"That was a great ride," he says.
"I hate you!" is all I can muster.
He laughs. He knows I don’t mean it.
"You needed that. It was good for you."
I resist the urge to slit his throat and dump him in a ditch and we haul ass back down all the way to Thurman, through the city, over the Broadway Bridge and back to the office before heading to a Portland Velo gathering at Madison’s Grill
I hate to admit it, but he was right. I needed that. And I’m lucky to have a hammer around who can kick my ass on command. Someday, I will return the favor.