Friday, October 7, 2011

You Can Check Out Any Time You Want ...

There is a place, half-way up Hogpen Gap on the Six Gaps Century in Dahlonega, GA. By the time you get there, you've ridden over 50 miles of the century, the last three and a half on this interminable mountain. The last half mile or so has been 15% steep. You come around a corner ... very slowly ... to see more 15% pain ahead.

But what's that, about 100 yards up on the right? Is it a rest stop? Some place with a little shade, a cool drink, and maybe a snack? A chance to catch your breath before destroying what's left of your knees en route to the landing atop this stairway to hell?

You force your legs to turn the cranks as you all but fall in to this respite. You quads are cramping into solid balls of pain, but you manage to lever a weary leg over the bike's top tube and stand a moment, your legs quivering pillars of Shot Blocks. That's when you realize that there is something wrong about the people here ... cyclists staggering around glassy eyed, arms akimbo, drool lapping over their left lip. It is then that you realize that you have entered ...

The Rest Stop of the Damned.

"Brains," moans the man in the Pink Floyd Primal jersey as he shambles past. "I mean, I wish it would rain," he croaks weakly, dried spittle all but gluing shut his sun-burned lips. His eyes spin a little wildly as he turns and limps towards a table full of fig newtons.

A trim triathlete pushing a blue Cervelo walks towards the road and glances uphill. She gasps, barely, as if startled ... maybe the hill glanced back. She levers her right leg up at the knee and clasps her pristine Specialized shoe to stretch her hamstring, then repeats the process for her left leg. She rolls her head, bunches her shoulders, and then shakes out her arms to loosen up. She glances right again, nods resolutely, and takes a step forward.

But the rest stop is not yet done with her.

The next step is slower ... inexorable. The rest stop has turned the asphalt to molasses, and the triathlete is too beaten down to fight it. The last step never comes. She slumps, sighs. Her walk back to the cool shade is faster, but just as painful.

"Have a banana," the genial man in the volunteer t-shirt and baggy cargo shorts says, waving at the table full of fruit. "Make you feel like a new man."

He hands me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. "Get yourself some gatorade and go sit in the shade a bit. Take it easy and rest up." He smiles knowingly. I turn away, suddenly ashamed.

"There's no need to hurry," he beguiles. "Stay here as long as you want."

I top off my bottles, knowing that ice cold water would restore me. I take a long pull ... the water is, at best, tepid. Somehow, coming from the Igloo cooler, it has picked up an odd copper taste, slightly salty. I fear that it has been cut with equal parts of blood, sweat, and tears.

Checking my bike computer, I am surprised that an hour has somehow passed since my arrival at the rest stop. Pink Floyd is out cold in a folding chair. Triathlete chick is lying in the grass with her legs propped up on a tree, massaging her quadriceps. "Another banana?" the crack-dealer-in-training calls to me.

Without conscious thought, I jump on my bike, clip in, and begin pedaling furiously. As I turn up the hill and begin thrusting the crank with all I've got, I think I hear a banshee wail. "Brains," someone cries, as I zoom away.

If "zooming" can be used when you're only going five miles an hour.

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