It’s been nearly a year since Rudy, the bike racer Rudy, hit the deck at mile 100.2 of an (otherwise) glorious spring training ride on March 19, 2011. It has been a long, difficult year, filled with new exciting adventures, and…challenges…to put it euphemistically. I wrote a bit about my recovery, hiking, etc. on the blog, and then I signed off and “closed the blog”. Or so I thought.
That last post, on July 18, uses the phrase “for now, at least,” several times, talks about my recovery, and when I’ll ride again. Not really a clear message there. Since then I had several people ask me when I was going to write another post. And I can’t blame them. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
It’s been really difficult to let go of racing. That unmatched exhilaration of laying it all out on some mountain road for the sake of glory, fans/friends, shouting your name, living it through you, with you. Raising your hands as you cross the finish line. It’s tough to accept the idea that I’ll never feel that way again. Even now, I don’t think I really have.
It’s like a drug. You can race with just as much courage as a cat 4 as you can as a cat 1. But once you’ve raced with the big boys, the local 5k just isn’t going to do it. Yes it will be lots of fun. More in some ways, because I wont be worried about the exact psi in my left sneaker. But I’ve had fans chase me up climbs, shouting my name. It’s incredible (and later it’s really flattering). But in the moment it makes me want to eat big hairy babies. If your not a bike racer, then that last sentence won’t make sense, and that’s the point — words alone can’t describe it, but racers know. Trying to describe it to someone today had me physically shaking. I can’t get that high from sprinting for 2,000th place in the Boulder Bolder. I might still do it, just to see if that guy will take me on, but it’ll never be the same.
I’ll really miss that feeling, that addicting high that keeps every racer coming back for more, bigger races and better finishes. I’ll miss that most, but there was much more to racing. At Tour of the Gila with Exergy in 2010, we went out every day and fought hard as a team — together. I remember on the Inner Loop day, we were in a chase group not far off the leaders. I was frustrated with the group, and yelled something like, “Come on, just go steady!” And then Kai yelled “Motherfuckers!” It was that tight. We were finishing each other’s sentences. Oh yeah, and this:
I loved the lifestyle. You can’t have your cake and eat it — it’s hard work, and an early bedtime (though nothing like having a head injury), but the joy and satisfaction that come from perfecting that masterpiece, your fitness, through years of toil, is great. I was fortunate to be able to give several years to the effort, and a full year completely to it. It’s not an end-all. But it’s a grand way to spend a few years in your twenties.
Again, it’s something you might not understand unless you’ve done it. One time I went for my favorite Hanover training ride, over Moosilauke and Kinsman, 100+ miles, and drilling it the whole way. I was spent when I got back into town, and I noticed the bus sitting at the stop — the Brown route, which goes through Norwich. I lived in Norwich, which was another mile or so past town. I took the bus home, rather than ride that mile. I had nothing left. That truly was a great day. Or days like this. You wouldn’t understand…
It wasn’t just the long days. Some of my fondest training memories were the days when Patrick paced me on the scooter. Going up the little hill out of Ely, just past 244 heading north on Route 5, sprinting behind him in my 53-15. I could hear my coach: “Your brain may not like it, but your legs love it.” It’s true. It’s a somewhat Buddhist thought. Beyond my mind’s story about pain, I could hear my legs, like puppies wanting to chase the tennis ball. And the pink scooter was my tennis ball. Patrick yelling encouragement from the scoot just made it all click. Those days made me happy. And fast.
I remember learning fast, doing things my own way, and pushing limits: racing the Mogollon, my first big NRC race, the crosswinds were nuts, and guys were everywhere. I grew up as a mountain biker, so I decided that I was going to be more confident than everyone about riding wherever I needed to be in the draft. And I rode in the caravan, in the gravel, and in the grass to do it. I was lucky, but I also had the result of my career. I could see Armstrong cross the line while I was nearing the finish. Yeah, so maybe he wasn’t on form yet. Still counts.
The pursuit was incredibly rewarding over the long run. I remember showing up at Dartmouth as a freshman, and trying out road racing by borrowing a road bike. Mike Barton was a god in my mind. Some six years later I was duking it out with him at the top of Middlebury Gap at the end of the GMSR Road Race. Years of consistent hard work. Yeah, he beat me, and he’s one hell of a sprinter to be beating a guy my size up App Gap, but I’m making a point. That was a big moment.
It isn’t a lonely journey. A team training camp can be one of the most fun bonding experiences of your life. Riding hard all day. Cooking big, fat meals at night. (Maybe scraping lost/dead teammates off the road). Then doing it all again the next day. Sometimes going into town to buy BBQ pork, done right. It’s hard work, but it isn’t really all “hard”.
Not all the joy or satisfaction comes on the road, or from the bike. Even this blog, and all of you, readers and commenters. My life as a racer was exciting enough to read about, or at least it was headed that way in spring 2010 especially, with hundreds of readers on some days. I have to admit, all the attention sure is flattering
All of those years of (joyful) hard work, all of those battles, won and lost, as a team and alone, they are all in the past. Being so good at something just feels so good. It’s interesting to look at where I started — with this blog, at least. ”Thus begins my adventure.” As with any adventure, one can’t plot the course, or it wouldn’t be it an adventure. This truly is an adventure, and not over yet. I don’t regret any of it. Not for a second.
Many of these things I can replace. I can go hard running, and race too, but I’ll never reach the level that I was at in cycling. So I’ll never reach that same level of motivation, weather to sprint for a big race result, chase after the scooter, or push through and hammer the last 10 miles in training. I can go hard, but I’ll never be that absorbed and motivated in sport. What I had is gone. Time to let it go.
It all disappeared in an instant in May 2010. I recovered somewhat after that, but things were never right. I spent a year not myself. Check out this blog post I wrote the morning of my TBI this past March. Reading it gives me the willies. Then, of course, I finally was given the most gentle warning I would heed (I had ignored the doctors). March 2011 I finally started the journey back, and laid bizzaro rudyrides to rest. Today I begin my work in truly saying goodbye to rudyrides.
Thank you all so much for the support. I regret being a flash in the pan as a racer — there were some high times. And it’s all been quite an adventure. Those experiences, those feelings, exist only with me now. I’m never going to have them again. I hope I’m trying to accept this on a really deep level. Only then will I truly find new meaning in my life.
Nothing more to see here.