I'm starting to get warmed up with the whole blogging thing (your muscles put put out 15% more power for every degree Celsius increase in muscle temperature, maybe that works for the brain too), though I think this still counts as setting the stage. We haven't officially told anyone the site even exists yet...
October, the end of the summer racing season, is a time of rest and reflection. There are plenty of options--transcendental meditation, morning walks on the beach, wrenching on your busted ride, cyclocross--but I like to start off by staring my insanity right in the face. Sometime in late September I hang up my race bike, peel off my mud-spattered jersey and stand in front of the mirror to take stock of the scars I've collected from another season of hammering full-bore through the woods. The internal monologue usually goes something like this: "Endo, Endo, Endo, IT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA TO HAVE A FEW BEERS WITH YOUR BUDDIES AND THEN RACE YOUR FIXED GEARS AROUND THE PARK AT NIGHT WITH NO LIGHTS, Endo, Endo." It is at this moment, which often coincides with the arrival of my credit card bill from August, which includes my credit card bill from July, which includes my credit card bill from June--minus the minimum payments--that I question the rationality of my favorite pass-time; and every year, without fail, I manage to convince myself that perpetuating the yard-sale that is my life with racing on top of the task list is a great idea. (thank heavens it's 'cross season already...)
General sentiment seems to be that I wade a little farther into the deep end than your average Joe (plumber), but the thing is, I am far from alone on the bottom of the pool. Globally, adventure sports such as MTB Endurance racing are exploding. When the Jeantex TransAlp began 11 years ago, it was the only major Endurance MTB stage race. Today there are 5 major ones (TransRockies, TransAlp, BC Bike Race, LaRuta, and Cape Epic), with as many as 10 other minor ones, depending on how you define them, along with 24 hour and marathon events in the US and Europe that have been multiplying like rabbits on ecstasy for the last 5 years or so. [EDIT: The La Ruta website now says it is the hardest MTB race in the world. C'mon TransRockies. You gonna take that? Also, LaRuta has technically been around the longest, but those first few years were less than fully organized...]
Better yet, these events are all stepping on each others' faces for the unofficial titles of most difficult (TransRockies), longest (Cape Epic), most technical (BC Bike), most deadly (La Ruta), etc. This year on TranRockies, the 100+ mens' leaders crashed on day 5 and the race organizers were on their sat-phones uploading pictures of the injured guy on a stretcher to the website so fast that he didn't even have time to call his wife before his bloodied self was pasted all over the internet. Seriously, if it's that important to make it look like your race is killing people, marinate everyone's number plate in salmon entrails and take the bear spray off the equipment list. Nobody brings the stuff anyway.
Despite my sarcasm, I'm really not that surprised that so many people will pay good money to go out and push their limits on a solid adventure--especially if it is packaged up neatly with medical support, feed stations, and a big party at the end--when they live with a status-quo so sterile that soccer moms drive 4-ton SUVs for fear of being crushed in car accidents, we use antibiotics on everything from our laundry to our pets, and our government issues a terror alert every time a guy in a turban buys a bag of fertilizer. Heck, if you actually listened to everything you were being told about how big and scary the world is, you'd be cowering in a corner with a mop and a bible 24 hours a day. If you don't, it's easy to be critical.
Maybe I'm just antsy because it's 4pm and I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Madison, WI where I'm drinking hot cider with cinnamon at 4 in the afternoon (this is the first of two coffee shops today). 1,100 miles from my bike I've done nothing but eat, drink, sleep and stare at my laptop for four days (haven't ridden in eight). Although the YouTube mashups of Palin/McCain faux pah are very amusing, I'm genuinely worried that if I don't get stabbed with an epi-pen soon my life is going to become the languid whine of the radiohead-clone indie band playing on the speakers behind the counter.
Make my epi a double.
Bike racing isn't about having a deathwish, or an ego, or needing an excuse to spend $5-10k on something shiny to impress your friends, it's about feeling alive--alive with real pain, real fear, the ecstatic joy of success and the devastation of defeat. It's about learning to appreciate the coffee shop and the hot cider because they're the polar opposite of everything you experience in racing. It's about having your life be more than a flatline of comfortable homogeneity that you trace from office to couch to restaurant until you get married, you have kids, you get old and you die. We race because we love life, and life is best experienced at its limits.
Bring on next season.