Saturday, November 18, 2017

Grief's Alchemy: Ashes To Ashes, Dust To Dust, Iron To Gold

Part IV The Hard Way

October 1, 2017

Rural Retreat, VA

Round 12 Virginia Championship Hare Scrambles Series "Iron Mountain GP"

Languishing on the start line, trying not to think about the last few days or the exhaustion creeping its way in to my bones and soul.  Crashed hard at speed in practice yesterday.  Was a good wake up call that I need to pay the fuck attention to what I'm doing.  Today promises lots of dust, mud, rocks, sphincter clenching ascents and descents fit for a billy goat.

And pain.

I just wish it wasn't starting so early.  A 1000 foot long drag race through a poorly mowed field until the first turn.  Engine screaming in 4th gear, brain screaming, begging for common sense.  Ignore it.  Jockeying and jostling into fifth place.  Trying to get my head into go mode.  A steep downhill with an undercut banking at the end puts me on my ass right quick and I wonder if it's going to be one of those races.  Don't think like that, get up and ride the fucking thing, stop whining.

There's a lot of self-wrought pressure weighing down the day.  Some dream of a fitting tribute to Phil, sending him off with a race win, holding that trophy high overhead, wondering if somewhere in the cosmos a little sliver of his soul might see it.  The good always leave us before we are ready, before we've gleaned all their wisdom.  It is then up to us to figure the rest out.  What a bitch.  Shrug off doubt and lassitude and third rate philosophy.  There is work to be done.

Wheedle my way to third place.  Pete Jenkins in second, Jason Miller somewhere out there in front, enjoying the life of the blessed.  I push Pete, but don't do anything stupid.  He catches a downhill rut funny and gets tossed like a bad salad.  Slow just enough to ask if he's OK.  Getting the nod, I carry on, trying to bring the golden calf to slaughter.  Gonna be five laps of this dusty, rocky, hilly hell.  Still got three to go.  With Pete behind, gunning all the time, amped on adrenaline after falling down.

Course deteriorates, ruts lengthen and deepen, air full of fine silt waiting to clog noses and lungs while dropping visibility to zero at the worst moment.  Carrying on at speed like this requires a very good memory to know what's coming next, as well as stupidity.  Body beaten into submission acquiesces, loosening up, performing more like a 40 something than an 80 something.  There is much more ahead.  Guys are stuck all over various dry hills, turning their motorcycles into smoking trench-diggers, falling down.  It becomes a game of thread the needle through steaming bikes and tumbling bodies.  Every instant decision gains or loses.  The good ones pick up tenths of a second, the bad ones cost, big time.  Pun intended.

And somewhere in the dust, I come out ahead.  Scoring screen confirms it after lap four, flashing "P1" at me.  Sinking feeling follows elation.  Never saw Jason.  I can only assume the self-proclaimed "Holeshot King" is close behind, preparing a pounce, to take his rightful place and remind me of mine in this world.

Nothing.  Racing by the timing booth, green fields on one side, cement trout runs on the other, full of fish wondering what the hubbub was.  All the while waiting.  Up the hills, down the hills, sideways across them with rocks skittering, setting off a dozen smoke bombs to obscure.  Through ashen clouds that make Dune look like an island vacation.  Still waiting.  A negative corner anticipates the moment an orange and white KTM XC300 blurrily blows by my faded red heap to dash hopes.

But another part, an idea, begins to grow.  Conquest is at hand.  The will shall hold every nut and bolt on, keep the spark plug sparking, crank turning, engine running, the body will perform well the tasks necessary to ride this outdated pile.  And the mind, a clattery contraption that so often fails, is going to oversee all, and make it happen.  Fuck Jason, fuck Pete, fuck this course and fuck all the blasted bad luck I've had this season.  This one is mine.  And fuck the universe too, if it thinks it's going to take it from me.

There will be no failures this time, mechanical, mental or otherwise.  I'm going to win this race, not because I deserve it, not because it is a nice end to the story.  I'm going to win this race because I can.  And it's high time I proved it.

So I do.  Fifth and final lap ends with a cautious river crossing before the finish line taped off like a crime scene.  I am alone, running the gauntlet to a computer screen that will tell me if I've done it.  "P1" flashes as I roll through, not breathing.  Dust is surely to blame for my watering eyes as realization sets in.  There are no cheers, no pats on the back, just two officials who record the race number, sending me on my way.  The moment is austere and reflective.

No celebration emanates, rather slumping forward on the handlebars a little bit.  A great weight comes crashing down and is lifted off at the same time.  I might have briefly looked up in an unstained sky for something which may or may not have been there.  A moment of great loneliness descends and forces me to face it, stare it down.

Today is the best possible outcome: a victory.  The thing I work for like an idiot with obsessive devotion.  But I'd give it back, all the victories of twenty years racing back, for just a few more hours listening to my friend tell his stories.


Always graceful and mistake free...bloodthirsty spectators love a good crash.  I aim to please.

I know my fucking dignity is around here somewhere, I think it's in the gas tank...

No throng of cheering fans, not even a friend to greet me as I cross the line for the last time.

A dirty selfie, because when you are on your own, you gotta do everything yourself.



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