[WARNING – please read with enunciations of the Queen’s English spoken with a harsh American accent leached with dry monotone and finished with a slight southern drawl.]
[NOTE – All persons are mixed and mashed conglomerations of friends masked by pseudonyms as to respect their identities.]
[FICTION –It actually may be close enough to nonfiction. Every tale is drenched with truth, maybe not all the truths belong to me, I might not even be the eyes telling this tale.]
With another eight to nine-hour drive ahead of me, this time solo because the polluting toots of my automobile fill me with joy—just kidding, hell, felt like an asshole—I had to figure out a way to fuck with my perception of time in order to maintain some level of sanity. Although being a fellow cyclist, y’all get that the bar is set real low when it comes to sanity. So, to risk sounding like a surface-wannabe-cultured-erudite, I tried hooking myself onto classical music with this grandiose nisus of increasing my attention span. Hear me out: not only would being able to melt into a forty-five-minute score enable me to complete long intervals with ease but enduring an entire classical score would help me get through the long drives to get to the long and arduous races those said and absolutely supposed intervals would prepare one for. Leave it all on the trail and go baroque.
Well, I never got past overtures—those short openers that grab people and take them for the abbreviated ride of the complete opera—but god almighty, Rossini’s Berber of Seville Overture literally thirty times in a row had a magical way of legally bending time. This piece works well for heading to a bike race because it’s a farce opera with a melody whose journey begs one to laugh, begs one not to take shit too seriously. It’s crazy, even after hearing it the first ten times in a row the intermediate finale (whatever the hell that is called) still got me jumping in the driver’s seat and hands flying off the wheel, whooping, thinking that the drive was almost over, the bike race running through my head was almost over, but it wasn’t, there was more to the tune. Rossini just tricks you, just like the racecourse does when it says, all downhill from here!
I got to camp, dumped stuff and rolled on my bike into town. Low and behold, Rachel was sitting at the pizza joint with Becky and some folks I did not know.
“Hey! Fancy seeing you here!” Rachel yelled as a soon-to-be-friend poured some beer into a glass and slides it my way.
One of the many beautiful things about Downieville is that there is no cell reception and no internet, so people gather. People leave their cities behind, drop out of routine, sever some of the neurons that bring consciousness into that constructed realm of social media existence and get another shot at just being. We aimlessly run into friends, make new ones, and write notes on dusty car window shields to say hi or to make plans, all while staring into the real world in a place where it still truly exists.
“This is Milhouse and Bart” Rachel points.
“Pleasure, I’m Chuck, and thank you” I lift the glass and take the much-needed sip after that drive.
“How was the drive?” Rachel asked.
“Chill, you?” Later I told her about my successful time-bending ploy. She slides through long drives unscathed by mulling over cars that pass on the freeway and putting a personality to each of them. In a way, personifying cars and drawing character sketches of the drivers and dogs that ride shotgun.
Becky and Bart were in the middle of an argument about what appeared to be sparkly water and altitude. Bart had stayed the previous few days camped at Packer Saddle, providing him enough time to adjust, or acclimatize as he put it, and was drawing what looked like a graph on a napkin explaining why his levels of some molecule would help him crest the hill on Saturday. Becky grabbed the pen and drew another graph explaining how the carbonic and citric acids in flat La Croix and lemon juice ingested during the second half of the climb would help unload enough extra oxygen into her muscles to counterbalance the pass around 8,000 ft we’d all be up against the day of the xc race. Rachel sketched a lemon while chuckling at me—Rachel and I have a mutual love for lemons and lemon flavor anything, who knew that passion could turn productive on a mountain pass if Becky’s take was correct.
Becky comes up with peculiar strategies to capture marginal gains in cycling. She also listens to club music with heavy bass beats in the summer because she is convinced that the vibrations that cause the windows to shake also may vibrate her organs, much like a microwave vibrates water molecules. She says this helps her acclimate to heat while producing enough chi flow to get her race-ready. I think she gets a little nutty and just doesn’t like to admit that the country girl in her enjoys synchronizing her pedal stroke with the beat of hardcore club music.
The conversation turned from weird, idealistic and perhaps delusional theory-based-science meant to ease nervous pre-race minds to full-on analytical, speaking of power, heart rate, and analyzing filmed sections of the course. I see the sly curl in Rachel’s lips. She’s one of the few who does it all by art and feel and takes every opportunity to blend with the natural instead of analyzing another metric. Maybe this is how she’s able to bend time so creatively.
At some point, we looked over and saw our buddy Victoria (Vee) deliberating with some older woman. Vee’s holding her dog, Spot, who looks like a bear cub and has no spots. The woman was pointing to the river. Before she could escape in the direction of the woman’s outstretched arm, I slipped from the table while sending a peace sign to my new friends and bolt out to her.
Vee and the woman are still talking, so I stand at a weird angle a couple of feet away unsure how to break into the conversation to say hi.
“So, yeah, look for a kid about yay-high, his name is DJ, he does this sorta thing. He’s probably running around with the other kids.” The woman puts her cigarette into her mouth and holds her hand up around her rib cage to show that DJ ain’t that tall.
“Look for DJ, thanks!” Vee said back, clearly slightly hesitant at the clue.
“Yeah, you betcha. And, if that doesn’t work out, I live three houses down on the street up from the shop. Just put him in the backyard and leave a note letting me know when you’ll be back.” She took a drag from her cigarette and pulled it out of her mouth as she headed away with a genuine smile.
Vee and I exchanged the usual greeting while heading to the water to hunt down DJ or another dog sitter so that she could race Saturday. Sure enough, we found a thirteen-year-old-or-so kid running around in the sand.
“Hey, you DJ?” Vee asks
“No. He’s in that blackberry bush.” This little Tom Sawyer kid yelled at us.
We walked into the bushes.
“Did Casey put you up to this?! Be quiet!!! I’m hiding, you’re pranking me, aren’t you!?”
I guess they were in an epic game of hide-and-seek, or maybe capture the flag, who knows, but the stakes were obviously high, as indicated by his blatant repulsion at our loud entrance. It was baking in the sun, so I left for the water; Vee figured her dog shit out. I’m pretty sure she left Spot at Jill’s because the next day we found her holding a pack of organic cigarettes with a note that said “Be back at 4, thank you!!!” on it.
I saw Jacques and Sylvia fishing when I got down to the water. “Yoh, Chuck! Good seeing you here!” We’d all met at a previous Sierra Buttes event. Events like this bring bike nuts together from near and far, fostering great friendships that snowball into grand groups of friends. It’s almost as if these Sierra Buttes’ events allow us city folk to escape the sapping medium of day to day life, by offering a near-vacuum with a dielectric constant so low the friendships stick.
We sat with our feet in the Yuba River, in some sort of serenity amidst the growing Downieville race crowd, admiring the trees and water that we all get to explore by squishy-bike because of the efforts of the Sierra Buttes Stewardship to build sustainable trails and economies together. With mining and timber industries on the decline and the incredible amount of forest service land, which is 71% between Sierra and Plumas counties compared to the national average of 8%, federal income tax support for communities in this area is limited; building trail networks for all users helps to keep communities in the Lost Sierra thriving.
Back from the river, I found Rachel and Vee at a camp that looked a little awkward but fit in just fine with this weekend. The community opens up to the racers and welcomes the hordes of us who arrive. So, nestled in between some official buildings that offered camping, we sat on a picnic table, looking forward to Caitlin’s arrival. The wait is woven with that old-world anticipation where you aren’t continuously updated because you can’t be. It felt unrushed and we accepted the unknown as an offering of time to just sit and observe. We all were squatting on the picnic table next to the embers of campfire admiring the unencumbered stars when Becky got up and wandered around camp smelling trees. No, she wasn’t high, she was searching for Ponderosa pine. She does that up in the mountains. I respect that, I think that’s why we get along.
Before Becky could hunt down the deep vanilla scent of the Ponderosa bark an old VW van stalls on the hill leading up to camp.
“That must be Caitlin!” Rachel yells. “I’m stoked she brought her new van!”
So, we stood up and waited in style. By in style, I mean we turned around and exposed not one but three full moons to light up the dark sky that before only boasted a splinter of the waxing crescent. If that original type of moon was what your grandma may have called God’s fingernail, the next three moons musta been the palms of Mephistopheles’s two hands and one of his feet.
It wasn’t Caitlin in the van, but instead, two random racers who pulled up to the campsite next to us. WHOOPS.
We walked to the other end of camp and continued to sip tea out of tin mugs. Two minutes later Caitlin rolls in with two new folks who’d soon be friends: Sloan and Ferris.
“Traffic was so bad leaving the Bay! Please tell me there is whiskey in there.”
We were just drinking tea but added whiskey for Caitlin, Ferris, and Sloan as they set up camp. They needed it after that drive. Vee, who actually may have had added quite a bit to her tea too, claimed, “At least LA traffic makes you feel connected.” She believes LA traffic is, unlike the soul-sucking bay area traffic, glamorized and notorious to the point that everyone behind a wheel watching a single traffic light cycle through red, yellow, green thirty times is unified. Traffic brings the isolated masses of that sprawl together, humbled by this great equalizer. Bay traffic hasn’t quite yet fostered that same comforting sense of belonging as it has in LA. We all warmed up to LA traffic in that pre-race moment of stillness in the hills. Or, maybe anything sounded good compared to the nervous anticipation that surfaces just before a long, hot, tiring race. The race I prefer to call “the long commute to the river” because it sounds more fun, or at least is more digestible that way.
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