I had a monkey on my back. It was the 10,000-mile monkey, and if you've never seen one, let me tell you: It's a big freaking monkey.
He started out so small. Back in January, I didn't even notice him. He was like one of those sea monkeys, but before you add the water to them. Microscopic. And that's really weird when you consider that, at that point, I had to do 10,000 miles on a bicycle to get that monkey off of my back.
Of course, in January I had 12 months to slay that monkey. A year that included a full series of rides to give me a good chance with my Paris-Brest-Paris registration -- 200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K. Plus, I had the fleche, and I knew that there would be other 200Ks and 300Ks, and maybe the 1000K. Not to mention racing, which meant lots and lots of training.
So I whittled away at the monkey all year, and was on track to throw him out by early December. He was huge, then -- a hoary, bristled, toothy 9,600-mile behemoth, flinging dung into my drive train at every opportunity -- but a mere 400-mile month should be nothing for me.
And then it got cold.
Weekends were filled with rain and snow, so that my best riding opportunities were to and from work. And the mornings were very cold, so that those rides to work were freezefests. Rides home were dark and cold, with holiday shoppers whizzing past in harried search of Christmas cheer. Tidings of comfort and joy ... denied.
My weekly mileage fell below 100 for the first time this year ... then it stayed there for another week. And the monkey began howling in glee and digging his claws into my shredded shoulders, slavering in anticipation of eating my 9,900-mile face.
Last Saturday I had 100 miles to go. The morning brought a tiny window of opportunity, with only cold and heavy winds to fight before the rain set in ... a rain that would become a snow on Sunday that would freeze the roads on Monday and Tuesday. I rode south to College Grove and Bethesda into a stiff wind, then enjoyed spinning through the hills.
After 45 miles, a light rain began. I planned to ignore it, but then my rear derailleur cable broke. I limped home for 25 miles in a steadily increasing drizzle, grinding up the easiest hills that I could find in the small ring.
The monkey grinned.
Friday began cold, but the roads were finally free of ice. I bundled up and rode to work. That evening, I took the long way home. As I pulled into my neighborhood, the odometer clicked over and my 10,000 miles were done.
The monkey sighed and climbed down. He reached up his hand, and I was surprised that I had to lean over to shake it. He who had once seemed King Kong-esque was barely of Cheetah stature ... a graying, stooped, slightly gimpy veteran of too many cheap carnival tricks and a steady diet of popcorn and cotton candy.
"You fought the good fight, kid," he said ruefully.
"You almost had me there at the end," I told him.
He laughed. "No, you got a whole week to go. But I do respect you for not getting on the rollers or trainer at the end."
"That would have been cheating, don't you think?"
He shrugged. "You do what you gotta do." We stood there for a beat, and then he looked around the quickly cooling night and nodded. "Well, I'm out of here."
"Take care. Thanks for ... well, thanks."
He nodded as he turned. He was halfway down the street when he called back from the dark, in a voice that still held a hint of the cruelty that I had learned to love and hate. "Good luck with next year's monkey. I hear he's a real son of a bitch."