It's a funny thing, the feeling one gets as mental faculties begin to shut down. Perhaps it's a bit like the beginning stages of insanity, this sinking notion that something is wrong, but not a damn thing to be done about it until madness swallows you. Two laps into this race and it's all going sideways in a fuzzy, putrescent, disgusting sort of manner. The monster of heat exhaustion prances trailside with a grinning maw. In order to continue, to finish, I have to slow the hell down.
There is no cooling air, sweat cannot evaporate due to the humidity, instead super-saturating jersey, pants, socks and boots so that one is swimming and drowning in their own salty secretions. The trail is littered with those too exhausted to continue. Had I more functioning brain cells at this point I would be among them. Were it not for the electrolytically imbalanced misfiring neurons, this dumbass would have quit.
There is something to be said for those who can walk away. When risk is too high versus reward, a mountain too big to climb, pain greater than pleasure, the switch flips, a safety valve blows, brain and body run safe mode and return to that which punishes less and gratifies more. In short, an intelligent, normal, rational reaction.
My legs are cramping so bad I have to stand up. But this makes the head even more swimmy, so sit back down, feet off the pegs, letting them flail about, dragging in the ruts and smacking into obstacles. Vision is starting to tunnel, things are going to get bad. It's likely I bounced off every tree in that forest. There is no technique, no grace, no skill. The only conscious thought is keeping the wheels turning and the bike from falling over. One rut, one corner, one tree dodge at a time.
Finally, after two grueling, godforsaken hours this thing ends. Still not sure it's over, I have to ask an official, who points to the checkered flag hanging from the scoring computer. I cross the finish line in 6th place, my best of the year, but there is no celebration, no pat on the back, just a rush to get out of sweat drenched gear.
Why do it? Why suffer needlessly for a task few will remember and less will care about?
I'm sure I don't know, except to say that for some of us, to start a race means you damn well better finish it.