“I’ll take over.”
The turn passed, and I crawled in front of my teammate. I’m not sure if he actually felt relieved back there, but we had done this several times now and around here was where we did a switch. Gradually, though, it felt like we were slowing down. I had maintained a constant 22, then 22 turned into 21, and 20 was now slipping away. I took the first turn wide, then the second turn close, and here was where he took over.
“We’re about to get killed.”
I slowed, and motioned for him to go on alone. 19, 18, 17, 18, 19. As he crawled ahead, it seemed like I was crawling backwards, and the only indication this notion was not true was that I still saw his rear end, and not the maw of the monster behind me. Perhaps I should not have looked back, should not have reminded myself of how far behind I was. Then I may have been able to summon more strength to push back to 22. But mistakes are mistakes, and less virtue means more subject to fortune. This time, the roll was not in my favor. Another left, another right, but this time both were close.
Crawling, crawling. Then, a figure in the distance. First, it was just there. Then, as I got closer, I see that my teammate had stopped, and the figure had a line extending from it, pointing to the left. I slowed, and stopped behind my teammate.
The monster roared past.
Don’t do anything stupid.
And have fun, this is _________! They had given us warning upon warning of things not to do. Much of it was common sense, some of it was not, but it was fairly standard, “standard” like contracts and newspapers and professors and instructions – overly comprehensive, yet almost intentionally vague. But it was fine, none of the cautions were particularly different from my natural tendencies – even if I was not thinking, I would not do it. In the end, that’s what the goal of learning/teaching is, no? Instinctual correctness? So long as the goal is achieved, it matters not what methods were used to get there. What does it matter that they’re saying stupid things, like coffee cups that come with “CAUTION: HOT”? They’re just covering their ass. This is the kind of culture we live in.
Obviously it’s everywhere but in the people I have relations with, right?
They said we’d all ride as a group, but you’d better have some buddies in case you get mechanical failures or flats. The group may wait for you the first time, but no one is going to wait for you after that. Riding alone is not suggested, and it is also good to have a friend to figure out directions.
In the first minute, someone had a mechanical failure. Two people turned around, the rest of the 60+ kept going. In the next five, another one had a flat. One person waited with him, the rest of the 60+ kept going. On the first hill, eight people were dropped, I was one of the eight. We stuck together for the rest of the day: One of us got a flat and half of us stayed behind while the rest waited somewhere up ahead, one of us lost a chain and two of us stayed with him, while the rest of us pushed on back to get a vehicle to circle back and transport him. Was this because we had paid attention to the teachers’ holy instructions? Were these benevolent, unplanned occurrences due to the great teachings of the instructors? I cannot say what happened with everyone else, but judging from the fact that I cannot say what happened, and from the fact that everyone else came back in groups of one or two, our group was not common.
In the dining commons were the general conversations and pleasantries. It was not yet dinnertime, but where else would you wait? Everyone else will get back eventually. They’ll all be fine. The final round-up car will go and pick them up. They’ll get back before dark. Everything will be fine. Someone will do something about it.
Because our team is the greatest.
The coaches didn’t eat with us on any of the six served meals.
Perhaps I should’ve followed the training plan more?
I was close enough to see everyone else climb to the peak and then disappear behind it, but could not do it myself. It was as if the hill decided to change its steepness when I got there, and rather than fall off backwards I “fell off” manually and walked. The group of eight completely formed at the first time at the summit. Not one of us was a coach. A couple of us had mechanical skills, a different couple of us had a few medical skills, and the rest of us knew nothing. We began the first descent. The first thirty seconds or so was relatively tame. A sudden change in steepness. Was because I had not braked earlier? Where we come from, there are no hills. I called out, and passed someone on their right side. She told me later that this was a big Don’t. At the time there was nothing I knew I could do: I had never ridden on such gravel-filled roads at such speeds. My understanding and skill informed me that anything other than the maneuver I attempted would have resulted in a crash. I was going at 24.
The road straightened out and changed in steepness again. The gravel prevalence lessened, in a 1:1 exchange for three-inch deep potholes a foot wide. Lighting went from bright morning to intermittent,s omeone decided to grow trees on either side of this road. I chose straight down the middle, and held on. What holes came, came. I made no turns. I had no experience in dealing with this amount of potholes, and the general poor quality of the road took all my concentration and strength into simply not falling off. The teammate in front of me was going slower than I was, and I called out that I was going to be passing her on the left. As if in response, she dropped a pink cylinder – it thankfully passed me without incident. The descent passed, I checked my equipment, all was in acceptable ranges.
I later learned that how fast one descends is dependent on how far ahead you can see and how quick your reaction time is – along with, of course, methods of dealing with it. Riding a line which goes around all the holes is one thing, but it’s also possible to “bunny hop” over them. But at that moment I knew nothing. The fastest I had ever gone was 29.8. Flat, 100% visibility, straight road for at least a thousand feet. I pedaled my way from zero.
This descent read 38.6.
We were told that volunteering for three spots is required.
Last year, I did four. This year, I did four. It is not because I am particularly inclined, but because it was said that having every position manned was of utmost importance – if the person who is supposed to take your position at so and so time is late, you must hold until they show up. I perhaps may have even done five this year, but five hours without going to the restroom is fairly difficult, and I relieved myself after four and simply left the spot with all the equipment given to me. I had done my mandatory “volunteer” work, after all. Even if I were to get on this blacklist/bad terms they speak of, surely the guy who didn’t show up at all would be in bigger trouble. I watched a couple of races as my friend was doing his shifts at another position, and read a book while the group was on the other side of the course or otherwise out of sight.
On having tired my eyes of reading, I find one of my friends enjoying a well-made sandwhich. As the bread was not soggy, I asked him if he went out and bought it recently. He then told me that there was free food – that there was a designated lunch runner, to get food for all the volunteers. It wouldn’t make sense otherwise, right? It’s fairly difficult to do a shift that isn’t back to back to back, and standing out there somewhere for three hours while not really doing anything but watching for people who cross into the race – you deserve some food. Obviously, this happened every year. Obviously also, all the food was gone by now. I ask a couple of people in charge, and they all said it was the “course marshall” who had the duty of informing and delivering food to the volunteers currently on the course. The coaches and team leaders did not mention this at the race overview, it was a pleasant surprise. A missed opportunity. Surely they had bought enough for everyone, because there was a timesheet and we had to sign up to make sure spots were filled. It’s reasonable to simply take food before it spoils if it isn’t claimed after a certain time. They had one for me both years, I’m sure.
All volunteers were given walkie-talkies to report in incidents on the course.
“This team really doesn’t really teach its newbies well. I mean, it’s great and all, and we have great riders, but when [lists some names], and [somebody else] graduates, we’re going to be in a rut. It knows how to attract talent, and that’s about it. Back in [where she came from], we had regimented schedules. People were split up by skill, each person was analyzed, and there were team leaders for each differing skill group. There were maps, cue sheets, the whole kit. One weekend every month we’d do double centuries. Here we have the [something we do once a week], but it’s everybody, it’s messy, nobody’s really watching the newcomers or teaching them anything, and that’s the only thing we have. The rest is all done on your own. It’s great for all of those who know what they’re doing and know what they need, because they self-organize anyways, but for everyone else? They’re hung out to dry.”
“You know what this team is? Trick question, there is no team. They can claim again and again all the time that this is the greatest in the nation, that this team is this city’s greatest secret, but there is no fucking team. It’s a small group of people at the top, who are actually good at [certain kinds of competitive events], and they get all the coaches’ time, and the rest of us are just sitting around doing our homework for other classes and playing card games. That’s what you see every time you’re in here. And where does our money go? Our [amount of money] every year? I could be buying a [something expensive] every year if not for this crap. That money doesn’t go to me – [head coach] can say it goes to me all he wants, but it goes to all the talented people. They don’t train us. We’re told to go and talk to walls to practice our own things, and our large group coaches clearly don’t give a flying fuck. The people who have performed better get individual time, and they get immensely better. It’s a great organization scheme, I’ll admit that openly. Gathering a bunch of high-schoolers under the pretense that being part of this will get them into college, take their money, and use that to fund a handful and get them into really good colleges. Do you actually think we’re all going to Ivy leagues? No, only [certain names] are going to get in. Because they did well in the big events, and that in turn is because they got money. Not even their money, but our money. And then at the end, what happens? They’ll claim that they only got to wherever they’re going because this was a big family. We’re the largest team in the nation! Which other school can brag that it sends this many competitors? But no. It’s just for the show. It’s all a show. We’re not competitors. We’re unwitting sponsors.”
“I need every rider to put one foot on the ground, so you all start equally […] Riders ready.”
A whistle blew. Someone yells, “Attack”. The group spreads out quickly. In the group rides we’d always do, it was a tight pack and one which moved methodically – I did not know how to use this experience to aid me in this race which had riders spread out so far and each with their own jerky movements. Perhaps there was a general draft, but nothing solid. I followed under my own power. The group single-files on the first turn, and from there it is more difficult. After doing that turn one more time, I fall from the group. I had looked at my speed and my heartrate, and slowed down enough so that what little draft there was soon moved out of my reach. The other riders were simply fitter and faster. 27.8? Am I supposed to be able to keep that at a constant?
A coach came up afterwards and said we were doing fine for our first race. We were lapped at 14 minutes to go (a 50 minute race), but he gave us a lot of tips. You can make up a lot of fitness ground while drafting, don’t brake on that corner, be in the front, be more comfortable and more agile on your bike, and you’ll be able to finish. I had originally gotten into this sport because winning seemed amazing. I wanted to learn how to win.
This coach had already mistaken me for someone doing something else twice.
I got sick.
I slept for 20 hours.
It feels good.