"A dream which comes true leads to other dreams." Alpinist Gaston Rebuffat, Starlight and Storm
More Gaston: "In this modern age, very little remains that is real. Night has been banished, so have the cold, wind, and stars...Everything goes so fast and makes so much noise...men hurry without heeding grass by the roadside, its colour, its smell and the way it shimmers when the wind caresses it. What a strange encounter then is that between man and high places..." Gaston Rebuffat, Starlight and Storm, 1953
A couple weeks ago, before our prolonged and lovely fall ebbed toward winter's harsh reality, Leon and I decided we better wrap up the finale of our 2018 Summer Edition of races up Log Hill. The winner would claim bragging rights, while the loser would have to endure the aftertaste of defeat all winter long.
I realized Leon was serious about this race when he decided not to ride with me to the starting line...instead opting to load his bike on to the back of his Jeep and meet me in Ridgway.
So I met him at Ridgway Town Park around at ten AM, after pedaling from home a little after nine. Long shadows and crisp temps made for a cool ride, and I was able to push the ten miles in 36 sweat-less minutes.
It was a quiet and casual 4 mile ride from the park to the start—a Natural Gas Line warning post at the base of Log Hill. We went through the usual pre-race ritual...shedding clothes, sipping secret "go-juice," chewing caffeinated Shot Blocs, strapping helmets to handlebars, zeroing out odometers and chronographs and taking one last-second pee at the edge of the pavement...still astraddle our bikes and in full view of traffic.
I knew my chances were slim to none that I pull off a victory over the "Marathon Man." At nearly five years my junior, Leon's always well conditioned and in training for the "next race...the last one being Imogene, a grueling 17 mile run from Ouray to Telluride over a 13,000 foot pass.
Still, miracles do happen...
Me: Are you Ready?
Leon: (A man of few words) Yep.
Me: Okay, Counting down: 3-2-1-GO!
My strategy was to start out in 5th gear and crank in a standing position for as long as I could sustain it. Standing allows the rider to utilize their entire body...legs, arms, shoulders...and mash pedals with a greater degree of force on long uphill climbs (You know, like on the "Tour D France"). :) While it does make for a faster pace, it is extremely difficult to sustain. It only takes a few minutes and you're questioning the value of Life and cursing the wretchedness of competition and testosterone.
Thus, my legs and lungs were soon going up in flames. But I had achieved the head start I'd hoped for...all of 10 yards. The only question that remained, was How long can I keep this up?
Because standing on the pedals engages nearly every muscle in your body, I was quickly thrown under the "anaerobic bus." Less than 3 minutes out I was forced to sit down. Leon was right behind me. I could hear him cursing the Universe and his uncooperative legs. Except for huffing like a steam engine, I kept silent...hoping his moans and groans were a waste of precious energy.
Approaching the half mile mark, I noticed Leon's front tire creeping into my peripheral view. Damn him! I stood on the pedals again and ever so slowly pulled away. Though the toll was both excruciating and, in hindsight, stupid, it felt so necessary at the time....kind of a Men at War thing.
And so it went, me fighting off no less than four challenges by Leon on Log Hill. Each time I stood on the pedals, I paid a heavy price. Even though I desperately wanted to know where Leon was I never bowed to curiosity...never so much as glancing back. That would show fear and weakness, possibly reveal that I cared or worse, that I was losing confidence, both of which were true...
On the last turn—a quarter mile from the finish—I began to believe. I wanted to look back to be sure, but instead focused on my line and rhythm and breathing. If he passes me now, I thought, then so be it. With nothing physically or mentally left in my tank, I yielded my fate to ZELUS...god of rivalry and competition.
I hit my chronograph as I topped Log Hill, hoping for a PR. But alas, my victory was tainted by one measly minute...60 freaking seconds.
Leon rolled in one minute later...spent as a penny in a candy store. He gasped...speechless...head hung over and dripping sweat on his handlebars. I knew that feeling of defeat well. I had grown used to it racing Leon, Hell, I expected it.
Suddenly, instead of thrusting my hands in the air and shouting, "Yes!" I felt a twinge of sympathy for my pal.
As Leon caught his breath, I pedaled over beside him with the thought of maybe lording my victory in his face. I couldn't do it. Instead, I put my hand on his shoulder and gently squeezed it in a gesture of what I can only describe as conciliatory affection.
Leon was nothing but congratulatory...impressed and pleased with my effort. It was almost like we were on the same team.
It is the mark of a true friend to be as gracious in defeat as in victory. I've yet to meet a man who better represents or demonstrates that etiquette than pal Leon.
Peace Out, Brother...
Love and miss you,
Mark and Bobbie