Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The sweet cool of a shadow

It's the end of the season, training starts for the new year, and you wonder, "is this the year I decide to take drugs?"

There are many books on training and sports psycholology. Some are bibles, accessible to everyone, others appreciate a degree in physiology. There are those for old-timers, new-timers and mid-packers. There are the zen-inspirationalists, the laugh-inducing and the somber. And so, post-prose for a certain brand of running shoe, "Anima sana in corpore sano", we falter, we stumble, we fall. And as the pain of the grit dribbling out of both open wounds and shut-down minds, the medication is suddenly there, where we didn't notice it. No, not "we"... I.

It was just a small bike race, in the industrial district of Guelph-Waterloo. 70km, cat 3/4, 14 loops, I think. I was eighteen, my first year off from any kind of school so I could concentrate on training and racing. My form was coming on, I could feel the front of the pack. So, confidently, I drifted to the back and took a drink of water. We were going down a hill, not much of a hill, with a nice leafy tree at the bottom, the kind you'd stop under for a drink. It was the 4th time around now. The sun was bright and warm, the road almost brand-new. It had one of those concrete shoulders that came to meet the asphalt a foot in. About half-way down though, there was this small pot-hole, enough to break a rim. We all knew it was there, some rode left of it on the concrete, others to the right. No big deal. And then a bunny-hop.

I was 3 bikes back from this guy who thought it would be fun to do a little jump. I get that - going around the Commissioners Street/Unwin loop, I would put in a little speed and jump the tracks. Man, it was never dull. Same on the donut ride - there's something a little special about a bunch of cyclists hopping tracks together, like ants climbing over a branch, but at 50 kph. There's the trust, the mix of skill and serious danger over such innocent play. And then, supporting the occasional one that wobbles. It's such a small gesture, keep the arms strong and straight and bike upright, head up, undistracted, say a few words, "It's ok...I've got you, look straight...lean back up...you've got it, no worries."

And don't lean back. Never lean back - be like a post, stuck in ground, firm, never pushing, never forgiving.

And so, at 73 kph, the bunny-hopper leaned on his buddy, his buddy leaned back. Their bodies folded into the asphalt together and their bikes alighted into the sky. And the next row, and the next row. I veered right...far far right, racing a black Kestrel missile. There was no way I could make it, and remembering my times jumping tracks, I righted myself and jumped. I pulled my bike so high, deep into my crotch, I was soaring, I was in the air, higher than I have ever done before, destined for the clear road ahead.

And then the missile pitched up like a gate springing from the ground. My helmet crumpled into four pieces between the asphalt and my head. A Dura-ace pedal, with its beautifully sculpted nose, sheared through my jersey and through my back. I finally stopped rolling, the lesson of what brakes are for immediately evident, and lay for a while in the shadow of the tree.

The sweet cool of that shadow pulled me out of the pain. In case you need to know, you go farther when you crash mid-air. "If you can brake, brake fucking hard" I thought to myself while waiting for the ambulance to come by. The flicking of sunlight bade me to lift my hanging head up. And then I saw the best Kodak moment - the six other guys standing there, shorts torn perfectly so that their bloodied butt cheeks were mooning me. It was a good moment that shook me out from hearing "what the fuck am I doing this for a cat 3 race" running in my head.

Finally home, I had to deal with a shit load of road rash. The cotton bandages the clinic applied were thoroughly firmed into my wounds after a night of sleeplessness. Popped 3 Tylenol, waited and hour, sat in the tub and ran warm water over everything to loosen that stuff off. It didn't work, it wouldn't free, so I beckoned to my brother for his filleting knife and a pack of ice. I thought of the pain and took my time. The acetaminophen doing its thing, I cut as lightly as I could as awkward as it was with a cast on my wrist, and then poured iodine over it all. I did this for 3 days straight, using up the cotton the clinic gave me. I made my way to the drug store and found non-sticking pads next to the cotton stuff. Fuck.

My body healed soon enough, the broken bones were not weight bearing so it should have been easy to pull myself back on my bike. No, it was not so easy, my mind was still scarred, still cracked on the asphalt under the shadow of a tree...


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