Drowned with a spike right through my head

I woke up at seven on Saturday to go camping. Two hours of sleep had barely taken the edge off friday’s capoeirista bar-crawl, and I lurched out of bed into the surreal twilight state that exists between Epic Hangover and Still Drunk. Friday-night Trevor, knowing full goddamn well that Saturday-morning Trevor would just reach over and hit the snooze button the second my alarm started blaring, had hidden it expertly under a pile of clothes and CAT5 cables across the room. It took me ten minutes to find the thing, buried as it was, and five more to find a hammer to smash the fucker to pieces.

Curse my amazing drunken foresight.

The headache and dizziness kicked in while I was in the shower, and by the time I finished loading the gear I was hurting bad. Not functioning on any sort of mental level where I could pack effectively, I haphazardly tossed equipment into the truck bed. Toothbrush. Swimsuit. Four hatchets. A plate. A bottle of Pico Pica hotsauce. Rollerblades. Two shower curtains. A cookbook.

What are we doing again? I asked Ellie.
Camping, she says. She watches me warily as I toss a broken lamp into the truck bed.

Oh right. Camping.

Why are you bringing that lamp?

I’m… I’m not sure.

I took the lamp back out.

Christ it’s bright out. I forgot the sun comes up so early. Just work through it. Ignore the pain. Watch the road.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Drive.

———

We made our way down to Lake San Antonio without incident. It’s nice country down that way, once you get off 101 a ways, away from the oil fields and prisons, and stinking mountains of fertilizer. In two weeks or so, though, all those rolling green hills turn an ugly brown. By May the ground is cracked and the heat is unbearable. By June it’s a god damn wasteland.

March, though, March is all good. The creeks are high and it’s still cold enough in the mornings to keep the AARP/RV crowd out of the parks.

Even the mortar-firing range at the Army base looks nice in March. Little wildflowers growing up out of the craters and the tank tracks… very picturesque.

——–

San Antonio is not a particularly memorable camp. The lake is filled with boxy, derelict houseboats, the campsites are poorly maintained. Nitrogen runoff from the neighboring farms has turned the tepid water into a kind of green algae soup, and the whole place smells vaguely of diesel. Two rangers, a couple of nineteen year-old forestry dropouts, are nominally in charge of the place. The gate is never manned and the only time you see the staff is when they leave their air-conditioned quansit hut to buy weed from the Hell’s Angels that pass through on their way to Monterey.

Once a year though, thirty fucking thousand whackos from all over the world come to San Antonio to run the Wildflower Triathlon, the second largest event of its kind, behind the Iron Man in Hawaii.

It’s a nightmarish fucking spectacle to behold, thirty thousand of these nutjobs in one spot. You’ve never seen so many wide-eyed, clench-jawed white people in your life. If not for the spandex and the bicycles, it would be indistinguishable from some Nazi rally in the thirties. Talk about a breed apart, man. Fucking triathletes are the weirdest fuckin bipeds on Earth.

They scare the hell out of me.

——-

How Shak got mixed up with this insane Wildflower crowd, I have no idea. I guess working in the South Bay gives one ample opportunity to contract Triathlism. We went as ‘volunteers’ back in college, along with 1500 other Cal Poly folks, but the race itself was hardly our concern. Like every other warm-blooded college kid there, we came to party ourselves stupid out in the woods for a weekend. The teeming horde of triathletes were just part of the scenery, their shrieking and bellowing just background noise while you tried to lure that blond from your econ class back to your tent with nothing but warm beer and your wits. I remember sitting on one of the docks with Pedro and a couple of the other ‘volunteers’ during the race. Pedro was passed out, one foot hanging off the dock into the water, and the two girls were passing a box of Franzia back and forth talking about their favorite sunscreens. I walked out to the end of the dock and looked out. There was a huge strip of rough water that ran from one end of the lake to the other, a distinct band of whitecaps that stretched for three miles across the lake. I watched it for a full minute before realizing that strip wasn’t a strange sort of wind shadow, it was fucking people, people swimming.

Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of these strange bastards, gasping and kicking, were carving a gash across the width of the lake.

“Jesus Purple Roosevelt Christ.” I whispered, awestruck. I kicked Pedro awake. “Roll over, fuck. Look at that shit. Look at all those people.”
“What people?”
“Those swimmers man. Look at them all. What the hell are they all doing out here?”
“Swimming across the lake. 2.4 miles, no breaks.”
“That’s fucking craziness man. They’re all thirty-something marketing executives and shit too; I bet at half of them drown. Why? Why do they do that shit to themselves?”
Pedro looked at me for a moment, then shrugged.
“No idea.”
“I hope I’m not that damn crazy and strange when I’m thirty.”
“Amen.”
Pedro then concerned himself with pushing the two chicks off the dock and into the brackish water, and I headed off up the hill. That was the last we thought about it.

Here we are four years later, dragged bodily into the same age and economic bracket as these freaks, and Shak decides to break rank and join them.

I am utterly mystified.

——-

The campground at San Antonio was largely deserted, at least at our end. A couple groups of high-school aged Mexicans, out from Gonzales or San Ardo for the day, were camped up the road a bit. They were blasting Spanish teeny-bopper hits from the trunks of their borrowed Buicks, but other than that, the place was a ghost town.

Shak and his buddies had come down to reconnoiter the course, to do a little training before the Main Event in May. By the time we got there, they were already decked out in their exotic, skin-tight triathlete garb. Padded biker shorts… rubberized neoprene wetsuits… chafeless nipple-guard running shirts… abnormal shit, you know. They rode around and ran up and down some hills and made themselves generally uncomfortable for a few hours while Ellie and I sat around camp and went swimming.

Around four thirty, though, a steady stream of exhausted, stumbling triathletes started pouring down off the hill past our camp. One became ten. Ten became twenty. Twenty became a hundred.

“What the hell?”
“That’s Team in Training man. They’re out here every single weekend starting January 1st getting ready.”
“No shit?”
“Not only that, it costs thousands of dollars to be in that shit.”
“WHAT? What the shit for?”
“Thousands man.”
Shak and his buddies clapped as another group of half-dead, sunburnt white folks jogged by.
“GREAT JOB!” I shouted, giving them a huge, jumping double thumps up. “Get a life, you strange fucks!”
They couldn’t hear me over their own thundering, desperate heartbeats so they just waved half-heartedly and plodded on.
“These people make no sense to me, Shak.” I said.
“It’s not about making sense.”
“What is it about then? Why the hell are you guys out here?”

He had no reply.

“These people make me want to start smoking.” He just looked at me. “I wish I was fat. You bastards.”

I went and sat on my tailgate, a stranger in a fucking strange land.

——

About an hour later, sitting around the fire, I realized we’d only brought five beers. For the five of us.

“No.”
Ellie, always even-keeled, just shrugged.
“This isn’t happening. Unfuckingacceptable.”

Two ground squirrels and a deer looked up as I screamed, broken-hearted and sober, into the frigid night.

——-

Triathlons appeal to a very, very distinct subset of people. They’re affluent, usually white or severely white-washed, manic, and subconsciously self-loathing.

Triathlons have everything white folks look for in an activity; expensive equipment, individual achievement, lots of terminology, smarmy elitism, hip bumperstickers for your minicooper, etc. It gives them something to obsess about for months at a stretch, something to talk about ad nauseum with their triathlete co-workers around the water coolers at Google and Cisco. It’s a gilded, tangible, achievable goal, and there’s nothing white folks love more than achievable goals. Those people that write shit down on To Do lists that they’ve already done, just so they can check it off? That’s Triathlete behavior. Those people who talk your fucking ear off about how well their new Acura SUV handles up in Tahoe? That’s 100% Triathlete. No kids? Thirty-two? Bi-weekly REI shopping sprees? Claim to love the environment and diversity but scared to death of public transportation? Secretly hate themselves and need external affirmation? Own “Life is Good” happy-face waterbottles?

Triathletes.

—–

Hey James.
Hey Walter.
You get the updated spreadsheet for the presentation?
Yep, I sure did. Boring stuff. I can’t wait for this weekend.
Going training?
Yep. Christy and I went to Sports Basement and bought some new graphite heat-shielded Shimano toe clips. Can’t wait to try them out.
Sweet.
Darn right they’re sweet. They only weigh 4 grams a piece. The stock ones weigh almost 6. A steal at $300 a pair.
That’s amazing.
Yeah. I read in Triathlete’s Monthly they’re strong enough to survive orbital re-entry.
Amazing. That’s great.
Yeah.
Yeah.
Yeah I think Mark and Darschal and that new Asian guy from marketing are gonna take a ride up Skyline. We’ll probably do 60 miles on Sunday.
That’s great.
Yeah it really is.
We’re great. It’s great to be fit and wealthy.
It sure is. Let’s go get some carrot and guava smoothies.
High-five!

——

Sitting around the fire, some damn fool had the gall to compare triathletes to capoeiristas. A typical thing for a woefully ignorant non-capoeira person to say.
Shiet, I explained. Polar fucking opposites. They might be equally obsessed with their own weirdo activities, but the similarity ends there.

Capoeiristas are poor, universally. By having a four digit bank statement, I’m practically the fucking Donald Trump of the capoeira world. Capoeiristas become absorbed by the community as much as by the activity itself, a community that ranks somewhere between the Mob and a suicide cult in its xenophobia and demands for loyalty. Capoeira groups, families, whatever, are drama-fueled, violent, social to a fault, and loving in the most despicable fashion. A capoeira life is ridiculous and unhealthy in its own beautifully unique way, full of bad food, strong drink, and head injuries. You beat up your enemies, you love your friends, you sing in foreign tongues and you lose touch with everyone else in the world that doesn’t play capoeira, including your family. It dominates your life, like alcoholism, or a terminal illness. That’s capoeira, a really fun terminal illness.

By comparison, triathletes are solitary even in large groups. They feign solidarity and cheer each other on, each secretly hoping the next will stumble and fail so they can shake their heads in concern and say “She tried so hard, it’s too bad.” They trip each other at the starting line and hug each other at the finish line. They never shut up about their fucking bikes. They’re doing three of the most basic, stone-age activities imaginable and manage to spend obscene amounts of money on geegaws and specialized clothing, amounts that make yachting and golf seem reasonable. Their freaky organic diet and strict exercise regimen devastates their sense of humor, often destroying it completely. They’re old, which is gross, and they smell like tigerbalm. They think its fun to swim around a fucking lake, then ride and run around some hills till they puke. They’re weird and awful, and can’t hold their liquor.

A better comparison would be to those self-flagellating Christians in backwater parts of Europe and South America. Those people that whip themselves and crawl over broken glass, carrying crosses and wearing black hoods and crying, bloody and frenzied, to the silent heavens. They torture themselves for love of Jesus. Triathletes torture themselves for love of Fitness.

Not my fucking cup of tea, man.

——

The next day, out on the dock, Ellie and I waited while Shak and Orlando swam out to their race buoy and back. We both had beanies and wool coats on, boots and long pants. It was cold. Shak was in a speedo, Lando was in a seven hundred dollar rubberized frictionless wetsuit. He looked like a seal run over by a steamroller.

“In you go, dudes, it’s fucking cold out here.” I said, looking down over my sunglasses. Other spandex-clad weirdos milled around the dock behind us, stretching exaggeratedly and being annoying.

They jumped in.

“Don’t die. I’m not coming after you.”

They swam out.

I struck up a conversation with one of the Team in Training folks (Dave), explaining that I was not a triathlete but that my dumbass friends were. I told him I had promised to run Wildflower the day that pigs flew out of my ass, and asked if he had any tips in case that scenario came to pass. He missed the joke, talked to me in condescending tones, and told me a lot about how he got in to triathlons and how much his new bike cost. It took him six days to scrape all the decals off it. Gotta get rid of that extra weight, you know.

Those stickers are heavy.

In turn, I explained that I was starting a non-profit called Imperialism Without Borders, which was a sort of support organization for global westernization. The Monoculture is a beautiful thing, I said, and we can teach that to the disenfranchised in the third world at gunpoint if necessary. He nodded silently, utterly confused, as I talked about Sustainable Autocracy with a miraculously straight face.

While I chatted, Ellie hauled my shivering, nearly-dead friends up on to the dock.

“Holy shit, great job guys!” I clapped.
“I swallowed some of that green water. It tastes like leprosy.” said Lando. Shak just stood there and shivered.

I watched them for a minute.

“You crazy motherfuckers. Let’s go home.”

-T.

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