"There was a crash?"
"Yeah. His bike went probably 15 feet in the air. There was a huge noise."
"Yeah. Down on corner number one. Just completely underestimated how much turning he needed to do and slammed into the curb almost perpendicular. His bike stopped and he flew straight over the bars. His bike went straight up. I had to dodge it."
"I didn't see any of that."
--overheard at Bunny Hop
I ride out to Suitland yesterday morning with a bit of throwup on my shoulder and a belly full of bananas, boiled eggs and what the kids call "butthurt." My first racing of 2014 and I am running late after being unable to drag myself away from my son, whose fingertip I'd snipped off with nail clippers the previous day.
The nail and the tiny bit of skin still lay on my coffee table, a monument to my complete lack of fine motor skills. I cannot absolve myself and clean the dang little thing up. I sit and hold him and make farty sounds on his belly to try to make him laugh.
Hence, the butthurt.
I make myself look at the little ode to bad parenting: You sit there and look at that tiny flesh you tore viciously from your precious child. Look at it, you dufus. I look, and accept the wave of guilt and remorse.
Then I get on the bike and go. Bunny Hop or bust. A few miles on the bike in the crisp air and, as always, the self-loathing recedes. I look forward to seeing old friends, to pushing a pedal in anger, to racing my first race of 2014.
Anacostia's streets and bike paths (there is one) are paved with broken glass. It was peopled more recently, but the area has the feel of an older DC, the one that has been pushed out of the Sweetgreen/Le Diplomate/$800,000-for-a-one-bedroom DC most of us now inhabit. Anacostia is the same old DC, the one that still shows signs of crack cocaine, segregation, and little sign of political or developmental success. I pass a place called Charlie's Corner [?] possibly selling stuff, but nominally only a corner.
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The ride is eternal and the roads seeded with shards of glass, but it also new to me, and therefore interesting. I'd never ridden that way--every ride I know in DC heads north and west.
The race itself is held in the most industrial of industrial parks, the course itself painted with dozens of fluorescent warning lines: here be shitkickers. One of the ironies of the place: its a dumping ground for gravel, asphalt, and road repair equipment.
Bunny Hop is no name for that forlorn place, MABRA's Thunderdome. There is a tractor trailer meth lab parked on the course, and I'm not just talking about the ass of one of those huge cat 5s that has yet to slim down. I'm pretty sure I see smoke rising from tar pits or barrels of trash, although that could have been Joe Jefferson dishing out the burns. Or maybe it is the coked out cook over at the Red Lobster across the street burning the cheddar biscuits.
I was there, first, for the 35+ open. It was a combined field including the 45+. I now understand better why women dislike the combined fields they are constantly thrown into: the dynamics were impossible to understand. By the time I figured it out, the winning 35+ break was up the road. My own bridge attempt was allowed to stay hanging for all but the last lap. At least riding solo meant I was able to see and avoid the potholes and zombies and one-eyed beasts that slouched out of the nuclear zone near the back.
Between races I sat on the grass and watched the women's race and the front stoop of Red Lobster. A small crash happened, in which the fingertips of one poor girl's fingertips were erased. I helped her put her chain back on, and she actually apologized: "Sorry my bike is covered in blood."
The wind picked up and I sat on the knoll eating a semi-rotten banana and wondering why I was there. I knew I wanted to be there. I just wasn't sure why. I have these kinds of existential questions at least once a race, usually as I'm about to get dropped.
The 3/4 35+ passed by, crowded behind the windbreaking leaders like a wave behind foam. An ambulance whipped past and I checked to make sure my teammates were still there the next time 'round.
I admitted that, left unrestrained by responsibilities, I'd be there every day if there was racing there every day. Just as I'd eat brisket every meal and, if there were limitless episodes of Game of Thrones, I'd watch them until I lost my job, the power was out, and I'd be homeless.
I'm totally capable of sociopathic bike racing. I'm pretty sure almost everyone else out there at Bunny Hop is the same: who but crazy people wander into the Thunderdome of their own free will?
What drew us there, that place of burned out road repair equipment, out there in Suitland? What keeps drawing us back to bike racing?
|p: Igda Warner|
I finished the banana and concluded that, maybe we're all just part of a strange religious cult. We don't have a god, but we sure have religious experiences. Kind of like Buddhism, but way more aero.
As we do circles warming up for the 1/2/3, there is all of DC Velo, all lined up in aero helmets. "There is no way DJ does not win," Big Tony says to me, and I agree. Mark Sommers and Jason Meidhof have world champion stripes on their sleeves, and we debate whether putting track stripes on your road kits is pushing it. We both admit we'd cover every possession, from underwear to silverware, with such stripes if we'd won any world championship.
The field lines up. Some legends are there.
|Jay Moglia and Dave Fuentes (p: Amy Ta)|
|Chris Schmidt, Scott Giles (p: Igda Warner)|
I sit on the grass with my wife and son and contemplate the apocalyptic geography in which this little three-cornered crit whirls about. I think of Terry Pratchett's words: "Geography is just physics slowed down, with a couple of trees stuck in it."
Any confusion I've felt about place and geography are alleviated when after the race Bodge rides by and shouts, "CHECK YOUR ADDRESS BECAUSE YOU'RE IN F*** CITY."
Another ambulance flies by. Someone has overshot the corner and probably been impaled by a rusty piece of a backhoe or something.
I haven't won anything, but I have raced.
And for now that is where I am.