But you already know.

Music – Bill Withers – I Can’t Write Left-Handed

You know the bastards are getting to you when you dream about them.  I see them in my nightmares.  All the veiled threats, the acidic letters full of implied consequence.  Late night phone calls, even.  The fuckers hound me.  The bill collectors and the spies and the rest of the fucking ruthless weasel horde.  I feel them closing in.  I can hear them scraping at the door.

I try not to let them get to me.  Once they’re in your head, they’ve won.  But I dream about them nonetheless, and in my subconscious the subtle evils of day life take on monstrous, unholy proportions.  I curse and spit at them, distorted and mutain, in vain while I sleep.

Shak shakes me awake. I’m asleep on an unfamiliar floor.

“Time to go.”

The clock says 4:54 AM.

I think for a moment about all the shitbags that have manifested themselves in the last few weeks. I think about how they’re all out to get me.

I stand up.

“Time to go indeed.”

——

An hour later we’re doing 95 south, out of San Jose like a shot.  The sun’s coming up.  We’ve somehow crammed a half-ton of gear into Orlando’s Nissan, and every time we hit a bump thicker than the painted lines between lanes, I can hear the tires grate on the wheel wells.

I sit silently in the back, tucked in between the coolers and the firewood.

What the fuck am I doing here. It’s six AM on a Friday.  I’ve got real life problems to deal with here, man.  I don’t belong in this car, off to some epic weirdo freakout in the middle of god damn nowhere. Fucking Wildflower. Twenty-five thousand masochists and their varied retainers gathered at Lake San Antonio for one of the strangest, most nightmarishly unbelievable spectacles in modern sport. And me.

I hate god damn triathletes.

I pull my hat brim down over my eyes and try to sleep.

——-

Ten thousand are already there, camped.  They’ve been trickling in for weeks, practicing the course, looking for an edge.

We find a rare spot on an overlook and set up camp, about two miles out from the starting line and a mile and a half from Beach City.  Our bleary-eyed 5AM pack-a-thon has proved to be a poor idea.  All we have to survive on for the next three days are hotdogs, Nutri-Grain bars, and cherries.  That’s it.  That, and 400 cans of Coors Light.

The tents are up by 9 AM.  Shak’s off being personable and talking to our neighbors, Orlando’s working on his bike.

I sit at the picnic table and look around for a while. I stack some wood, then sit back down.  My phone says 9:10.

Fuck it, must be time to start drinking.

———

Somebody brought a K-mart special sun shade… gazebo… thing… that we decide to assemble.

Turns out the thing is the most complicated freestanding structure ever seen, and takes all three of us the better part of an hour to get it put together.  We swagger up to the little box all cocky with our big money educations and our engineering brains.  Ten minutes later Orlando is attacking one girder piece with a hatchet, I’ve got my graphing calculator out and am on the phone with a Korean friend trying to translate the blueprints, and Shak’s curled up fetal under the picnic table, moaning like an autistic.

We ended up using half a roll of heavy duty packaging tape and twenty yards of spare rope to get the fucker to stand up.

Stupid triathlon.

——

The camp is at capacity by 11 AM and only 1/3 of the athletes have arrived.  The overflow camps fill up quick, and by 3 PM Friday, every piece of flat ground for ten miles, designated spot or not, has a tent or a bicycle on it.

They run by in packs of two or three, reconnoitering the course.  They zoom by on their bikes, wrapped down over the handlebars like prisoners on the rack.

They stop and talk to each other endlessly about breathing techniques and toe cages and fucking carbo loading.

The guys next to us are doing the half Iron Man course.  A mile swim, sixty miles on a bike, and thirteen miles on foot.

Where the hell do these freaks come from?

———-

By Friday night the rest of Shak’s buddies have shown up.  More NASA people, a couple of their respective girlfriends whose names I don’t bother to remember… Millan is there, sort of.  He’s having some kind of marathon conversation with his girlfriend in Chicago, and he wanders around the campground endlessly looking for a stronger cell phone signal.

Several times I spot him climbing low oak branches, or standing on the roof of his Acura, phone held high, like some hairy Spanish statue of liberty.

We hang around playing guitar, those of us who aren’t racing drink beer.  I wander the campgrounds a while, and head over to the starting line.  The tension is a hideous, palpable thing.  Not the giddy, anticipatory feeling before a football or hockey game.  Not here.

I can smell an ugly doom on the wind.

Everyone is sizing everyone else up.  Everything is calculated, every sip of water, every nibble of Powerbar, every contemptuous glance at a competitor.

I stumble around the festival area with a beer in hand, not so much for its effects but as a symbol of separateness.  I’m not One of Them.  I walk through the booths in my flipflops, idly picking through all the fucking triathlon junk.  I watch for a friendly face in the crowd, but no luck.  The college kids are too young.  The athletes are too weird.

I take fifteen cans of peach/mango energy drink free samples and walk back to camp as the sun sets.

The music over at Beach City starts up around 10PM, and I can hear the distant echoes of their giant party well into the night.

—–

Saturday. Race day #1.

The athletes are all up and around by 5.  I can hear them bustling around, talking in strained voices.  I watch our neighbors out the window of my tent.  They’re eating ten-egg omelets and potatoes, drinking weird apothecary-style concoctions and popping all manner of unidentifiable capsules.

There are five or six of them, all early-thirties white guys from Coeur d’Alene and Irvine, prime triathlon demographic.  I watch them medicate, and stretch, and eat their huge, huge meals.  The things these fuckers do to their bodies…  Not the type of drug abuse I’m familiar with, to say the least.  Between the six of them they’ve got every kind of fucking unguent, powder, and illegal pill you can think of.  The tall one shaves his legs under a faucet and rubs prescription strength topical anaesthetic on his soon-to-be blistered feet.  Two of them lay out on the picnic table while a third injects minuscule amounts of cobra venom into their knees, so their legs won’t feel fatigue.  Their medicine cabinet would make Barry Bonds blush.

“YOU CRAZY FUCKERS.” I shout, flopping around in my sleeping bag aggressively, a big pissed off red grub.  They can’t hear me over their blaring techno.  Undoubtedly they read, in Nutjob Multisport Monthly or some shit, that annoying trance music played before sunrise can improve your biking performance.

“I HOPE YOU HAVE ANEURYSMS.”

I jam my head back down in my sleeping bag, hands over my ears.

——

By six, the athletes have cleared the campground.  All is quiet, except for Orlando’s cousin’s diesel-generatoresque snoring. I walk around a bit, and try to wake a few of the other NASA folks up.

“Race is starting, dudes. You guys wanna go see it?”
“Mufflemufflemoan.”
“DAVE. WAKE THE HELL UP. LET’S GO WATCH THE RACE.”
Snore.

I open up a C-, and drink it while I watch the sun come up.  I head down to the boat shuttle alone, hoping to catch a ride with some late athletes over to the starting area.

—–

Crossing the lake on the rusted, trundling boat shuttle, the event begins to take shape.  Last time I was here I was somewhat… preoccupied, and unable to fully appreciate the madness of Wildflower.

Words do no justice to the sheer gargantuan scope of this fucking weirdness.

Twenty five THOUSAND people run this course.  Thousands of people stretched across hundreds of miles of terrain.  They let them out into the swim course fifty at a time, every five minutes, punctuated with a gun shot.  Already I see a half-mile long strip of thrashing swimmers, hundreds and hundreds of them, stretching out across the lake, back towards the huge cattle chute thing they release them from.

The other passengers on the boat, a husband and wife relay team, ask me what race I’m running.

“Olympic course, tomorrow.” I lie, grinning.  “You guys want some beers?” I dig a couple out of my backpack.

They leer at me, wide-eyed and wary, like I’d just offered them severed heads.

The rest of the trip is quiet.

——–

Our boat crashes into the dock, the pilot cursing and howling.  The seven Cal Poly volunteers, in their little yellow volunteer tshirts, have failed to catch the boat properly.  Three of them are passed out, feet dangling in the water.  Four of them are obviously still drunk from the night before.

“Sorry bro!” One shouts, wobbling on drunken legs.
“You god damn kids!” The pilot shouts, waving his fist.  “My god damn eight year old son can catch this boat by himself.  Wake up and do your jobs!”
“Screw you, gramps.” One of the prone, passed out kids lifts his head long enough to say. Red faced and furious, the old man grabs a long wooden oar, with intent.

I leap off the back of the boat, on to the aluminum dock.   I can’t deal with this kind of craziness so early in the morning.  Watching some old lakerat beat a half-drunk nineteen year old to death with an oar, fuck that.  I take off up the hill.

Above the dock is the transition area.  Fifteen thousand bikes, racked up on endless iron bars.  Already the first waves, finished with their two mile swim, are sprinting up the ramp, peeling off their wetsuits on the run.

I pick my way through the crowds, up onto the hill.  I don’t know exactly what time Shak’s heat starts.  Nine-ish.  I watch for them, but the starting line is chaos.  Thousands and thousands of neoprene-clad people, identifiable only by the color of their heat-specific swim caps, mill around at the waters edge.

Five minutes.

BANG.

Another fifty are off into the water.

BANG.

The crowds roar.  Cowbells and shrieking spectators.

BANG.

Utter chaos.

——

I fight my way down to the fence near the exit ramp, sliding on my ass down a dusty cliff and almost bowling over a bunch of wild-eyed Christian Athlete Association supporters.

“HI THERE!” One says as I dust myself off.  “MY DAD’S IN THE NEXT HEAT!  WE’RE SO EXCITED.”
“I can see that.”
“PRAISE JESUS.  What heat are you watching?”
“Men’s Mountain Bike, under 29s.”
“PRAISE JESUS I HOPE YOUR GUYS WIN!”
“YEAH ME TOO.” I shout back at her.  “TEAM ‘GAYS FOR SATAN‘ HAS NEVER TAKEN FIRST PLACE, THIS WOULD BE A GREAT VICTORY!”

She stares at me for a long moment, gauging my seriousness. Then she begins to laugh maniacally.

“HAHA I LIKE YOU YOU’RE FUNNY. PRAISE JESUS.”

Fucking triathlons.

——

Millan comes out of the water first, at a dead run.  I pick him out of the steady stream of incoming athletes, somehow, and immediately begin shrieking my head off.

“RUN YOU BASTARD RUN! GOGOGO MILLAN AAAAAAUGHAHG.”

As a spectator, it’s important to give 110%.

Orlando and Shak aren’t far behind, and I roar at them as well.  They both come out gasping, but smiling.

“RUN YOU CRAZY FUCKERS.  RUN LIKE YOU MEAN IT. THERE’S BEER AT THE FINISH LINE. AAAAUGHGHHGGHG!”

I look over at the Christians next to me.

“IF YOU LOSE TO THE JESUS PEOPLE WE ARE NOT FRIENDS.”

Seconds later they’re lost in the teeming hordes at the bike racks.  I climb back up the cliff, grabbing handfuls of dirt and shrub roots. Good thing I wore my all terrain flipflops.

——

The bike portion of the race is the most time consuming.  I watch the bike chute for a while.  It’s total fucking insanity.  People kicking at each other, swerving, cutting each other off.  The fast people trying to avoid the slow people, and vice-versa.  Collisions are commonplace.

I watch a twelve-year-old whip past two professional level, spandex-clad bastards who get tangled on the first turn.  They’re cursing each other in Swedish or some shit while they pry their $15,000, carbon-fiber bikes apart.  The twelve year old flips them the bird and hauls ass off up the hill.

Up on the lawn I run into Drew, a guy I knew from school and capoeira.

“Motherfucker! How’s life, dude?” I ask him.

He’s got a volunteer shirt on, but doesn’t appear to actually be doing anything.  No surprise there.

“Good man, I graduated. Just coming back for this thing.”

We talk a bit, sitting out on the lawn with the college kids.  A bunch of the volunteers are waiting around the beer truck, frustrated.  Doesn’t open till 10 apparently. I try to avoid them.  A sober volunteer is a dangerous volunteer.

An hour later or so, we end up at the finish line waiting for Shak and Orlando to come in.  Millan’s been done for twenty minutes, speedy as hell.  I’m convinced he was just that anxious to get back on the phone with his girlfriend.

Finally, I see Shak come trucking down the last stretch.  Out of nowhere, I see one of the other NASA people vault the fence with a huge red funnel in hand.

“No way.” says Drew.  “They’re not…”

Staggering and gasping for air, Shak grabs the end of the funnel and BAM, sucks down two beers.  Drew throws up his arms in triumph.

“HE DID IT. HE BEERBONGED DURING THE RACE.”

Suddenly Drew and I are both shouting, high-fiving Shak as he jogs by over the finish line.

I look in his eyes for a moment and know that willpower alone is holding that beer down.

He comes out of the finish area, and suddenly we’re all cheering and jumping around.  We’re spraying Coors Light everywhere, and screaming like devils.  For a few moments, we’re much younger than our years.

“WOOOOOO FUCKER YES!”

That says it all, man.

Woo, fucker. Yes.

——

Saturday night and the shit really starts getting crazy.  The short coursers and the professionals are all done with the race.  There are fifteen thousand or so Olympic course runners left for tomorrow, and they all get to bed early, trying in vain to tune out the orgiastic, no-holds-barred partying of the competitors who have finished their races.

Beach City, the little tent ghetto they set up on the lake shore for the ‘volunteers’, achieves new heights of hedonistic revelry.  Naked Poly people sprint through our camp on their way back to the college area, bags of Franzia wine in hand.

I can hear the roar of their party from over the distant ridge as the sun goes down.

One of our neighbors, who I was later told once overdosed on PCP and single-handedly took on the entire UC Davis wrestling team in a brawl, is hanging out in our camp.  His father, a lean black man in his late forties, is there as well.  Seeing him the day before, the father that is, I didn’t realize he was a competitor.  Now, with his shirt off, he looks like some skinny African god, a statue carved out of onyx.

“Nobody that age should be that ripped.” I say to Orlando.

“I know. Ridiculous.”

“It’s not natural.  It’s godless, is what it is.”

I walk in on their conversation in time to hear the father say:

“You know, Lil Wayne is a genius.”

The camp goes silent, and I get wide-eyed. Orlando looks at me, and mouths ‘Did he just say that?’

I set my beer down and introduce myself to him.

“You know, sir, I have no idea what the fuck you guys were talking about or the context in which that remark was made, but I’d like to cheers you for it.  A more sublime truth I’ve never heard spoken.”

Lil Wayne is a genius.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Out alone in the middle of the damn wilderness with a bunch of the craziest bipeds on god’s green earth, and I’m sitting here listening to a fifty year old black dude tell me that Lil Wayne is a genius.

What can I say, you know?

Fucking triathletes, man.

——

Shak waits for some chick he knows to show up, and we all get progressively wilder.  Two days of hot dogs, energy gels, and shitty beer has made us crazy.  I had a half-pound of creatine and a chocolate powerbar for lunch, and no dinner, so it’s not long before I’m howling at the moon and threatening to set fire to our neighbor’s RV.  Drunk as much on their own triumph as on Orlando’s gallon jug of pre-mixed margaritas, the three racers dance around the fire like mad savages.

The other folks drink a bottle of wine one of our neighbors gave us as a sort of peace offering, huddling back in their captain’s chairs, terrified by these dangerous and wild freaks they’ve camped with.

“WE HAVE TO GET TO BEACH CITY BY MIDNIGHT OR WE’RE FUCKED.” I shout. Shak, who’s just finished wrestling the hatchet away from Orlando who was threating to ‘Chop off Millan’s god damn ear if he didn’t put the stupid phone down’, rushes up to me.

“QUIET you fool.” He hisses.  “We can’t drag all these people with us to Beach City.  These people are my co-workers.”

I grab him by the shoulders and stare at him a long moment.

“Shit brother, you’re right. Jesus. I didn’t even think about that.” We huddle down conspiratorially and discuss the plan.

“Millan won’t go, he’s on the phone.  Aaron and Chris are stuck here, their girls will NOT be down to hike two miles in the dark.”  Shak says. I nod.

“Don’t worry. Just follow my lead. Fuck these people, we’re going rogue.”  I get everyone up and we shotgun three beers a piece. That should slow them down considerably.  Next, I subtly slink off into the shadows, filling up Shak’s bag with a twentyfour pack of Keystone Ice.  I put on my black jacket, and start darkening my face with axel grease from the bikes.  Shak’s girl finally arrives, so he’s off talking to her.

“Hey.”
I jump up, startled.
“JESUS christ.  Oh hi, Dave.”

My face is black, and I’m holding a huge backpack full of beer.  We look at each other for a moment.

“What are you up to?” He asks.
“Just…you know.  Gonna go to the bathroom, real quick. You know.”
“Right.”  He glares at me.  “Wherever you’re going, I’m coming.”
Dave you clever motherfucker.  You sat there all quiet and balding, all the while making sure to stay sober enough to follow us to the real party.  Tricksy bastard.  I’ve underestimated you.
“Ok.  Well get your shit together, we leave in half an hour.”

Five minutes later I’m dragging Shak and his girl bodily out across the fields towards the ridge.
“Run! they’ll see us!” I hiss.
Three faces come bobbing up out of the darkness.  Dave, and some other fucker named Elvis, and Orlando.  Dave glares at me.
“Half an hour, huh?”
I shrug.
“Let’s get this fucking fiasco on the road.”
We move silently through the camps.  All the fires are out, the athletes resting up for the run the next day.
We head west into the night.

——

Thirty minutes later we’re lost as fuck. The maze of campgrounds and fire roads between us and BC, easily navigable by day, is an innavigable labyrinth of deadends and cliff faces at night, especially when impaired.

Amanda and Elvis give up and turn back.

“Fuck that.” Shak whispers.  “They were just slowing us down anyway.”

We stop at yet another fork in the road and drink a quick beer.  Dave wanders off into the bushes to piss. I grab Shak and Lando.

“GO. Fucking RUN, you scum.” WHAM, I’m off like a rocket.

Ten minutes later, collapsed spread eagle on the dirt road, Dave catches up to us, obviously pissed.  I see his scowling face outlined in the starry sky above me.

“Very funny, assholes.”

I wheeze, and wave my hand nonchalantly.

“Goddamn… Keystone’s too heavy… can’t run…”

“Get the fuck up and let’s go to this party.”

—–

The hike is brutal.  We stumble through endless brambles and weeds.  The road, when there is a road, is a dusty, ragged-ass path of gravel and rubble.  Orlando cuts his leg badly on a limestone abuttment we’re forced to climb.

He flashes his light down on his leg, showing the bleeding gash.

“Ouch, that sucks man.” Shak says.
“You OK?” Dave asks.

“THERE’S NOTHING MORE WE CAN DO we better just leave him behind.” I shout.  I hand Orlando a beer.  “MAY THIS KEYSTONE ICE EASE YOUR PASSING TO THE NEXT LIFE. Let’s head out bo…”
“Hold the fuck on Trevor, Jesus.” Orlando stands up. “I just needed to rest for a second.”
“Oh.”

We continue on.

——

We come around the final ridge.  In the distance I can see the lights of Beach City, squinting my inebriated eyeballs.  It’s a glorious sight. Maybe the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.  It’s all within our grasp.  Youth.  Joy.  Revelry.  Salvation.

I let out a whoop and sprint off down the hill, the heavy load of cans rattling in my bag.

Suddenly they’re all around us.  Blinding lights, everywhere.  Pickets.  Narcs.

“YOU GUYS HAVE VOLUNTEER WRISTBANDS?!” I hear someone yell.

“Mine fell off.” says Shak.  I look around, Dave and Orlando are still up above the tree line, out of sight.
“Mine… also… fell off.” I say.
“You guys can’t come through here without volunteer wristbands.”
“NO.” I say.
“We’re athletes, just trying to get back to the festival area…”
The little pimplyfaced motherfucker looks at Shak disdainfully.
“Can’t come this way.”
“MOTHERFUCKER.” I shout.  I head straight for BC at a dead run, convinced I can outrun the weasel fuckers even with a bag full of beer.  I make it as far as the first bend when I run full tilt into the grill of a ranger jeep.

“HEY.” I hear the ranger shout.
“SCREW OFF, PINE SWINE.” I holler, and scramble off up the hill into the darkness.  I find Shak huddled behind a rotting oak stump.  The lights of the volunteers are scanning the tree line, and the ranger’s spotlight sweeps the edge of the lake.

“Fucking shit ausdufhsglsdgklj.” I hold my head in my hands, near to weeping.  “We were so close.”

“Yeah man that’s lame.” Shak says.  “The stupid redshirts, that’s the problem.  The volunteers in the red shirts are the douchebags, the supervisors.  They’re the fuckwads in charge of the other volunteers, the lowlife nerd bastards that tell you to go to bed when it’s only 3:30 AM.” I moan.  He continues.  “The only reason they’re involved in all this shit is so they feel like they have some kind of authority over the ‘cool’ kids.  Everyone worth a shit is off at BC making out with a 22 year old econ major, while these haters just wait around the edges hoping to ruin somebody’s night.”

Fucking despicable.  Unbelievable.

Below, I see Orlando and Dave make a break for it as the ranger pulls away.  The fascist redshirts, riled up and on full alert after our poor attempt, run them down quickly.  Words are exchanged.  I can see Dave, timid, quiet, 32 year old Dave, kicking dust at them and making a big fuss.

“FUCK YES DAVE YOU TELL THOSE BASTARDS.” I yell down the slope.

Shak and I climb up the ridge back to the fire road.  The moon has set, so it’s nearly pitch dark now.

“Well hell man, this sucks.” I say.  We drink another Keystone.  “Worst day of my life.”

Shak starts laughing.  I start laughing.  We’re overcome, crippled with the kind laughter you can only experience when you’ve hiked two miles, drunk off your ass, in the middle of the night in the fucking wilderness only to not make it to your party.

I wheeze, squeezing my stomach, trying to stop the convulsing laughter.

“Hahaha. Jesus.  Best worst day of my life, man.” I tell Shak.  He highfives me.
“Seriously. Best worst day ever.”
“Let’s go down to the lake and swim over.  The beer bag will float and we can carry our clothes over our heads.”
“We can use little bamboo snorkels. Like ninjas.”
“EXACTLY DUDE LET’S DO IT.”
“Nah man, I’m going back.”
Yeah.
“Yeah. I’ll catch you up in a bit.”
Shak heads off into the darkness, and I lay down.

A half mile below, I see the bright, beautiful tent city.  I can hear the jubilation of its denizens booming out across the black water.

Fuck it, we tried.

I lay back on dusty road, and pass out for a while.

——

Five AM Sunday morning.

Rage Against the Machine booms out across the campsite.  I hear our neighbors packing.  The roads close at seven, for the race, so people are hustling to get out before the gates lock.

Jesus christ my head hurts.

I put on my glasses and watch the silhouettes of bugs crawl across the nylon roof of my tent.

——

Three hours later, I’m slumped down in a chair reading (i) Ham on Rye (i).  The rest of the crew have headed off to watch the start of the Olympic run.  The sun’s up and it’s getting hot already.  Every so often a pack of runners flies by up the road.  There’s an aid station at the turn near our site, where volunteers hand out gatorade and water, and blast James Brown. I give them the courtesy clap.

——-

Shak and I end up at the festival area around 1pm.  Walking around we see scattered volunteers passed out in the bushes.  One girl, a smallish, obviously under-21 co-ed, is curled up around a case of Red Stripe between two Port-o-potties.  I see two dudes in neon pink shorts puking their guts out into a trash can, their volunteer shirts wrapped around their heads like turbans.

The race is winding down.  Most of the athletes have finished or are on their last leg.  The only remaining runners are the slow ones, the 50 year old Team in Training women.  They’re the ones I really don’t understand.

They lumber along, walking or jogging, exhausted.  The spectators are all gone, off to the camps and the beer trucks.  The aid stations are abandoned.

The brutality of the triathlon is visited upon these women ten fold.  They’re the ones who need the support the most, and get it the least.

I give them the thumbs up as they drag by.

Good for you, ladies. You’re all damn crazy, but good for you.

Shak and I walk around the lawns and the booths for a while. We see some more Poly people, and Drew steals us volunteer lunches.  It’s the first real food I’ve had in 36 hours.  I wash it down with two more energy drinks and a Coors.

I come around a corner and bust out laughing.  The lawn in front of the stage looks, literally, like a mass grave.  A thousand Cal Poly volunteers, broken and exhausted, hungover and heat-stricken, are passed out on the lawn.  Three days of non-stop partying and no sleep have laid waste to the poor bastards.  Three sunburned girls in bikinis share a towel, looking at a digital camera. I can hear them trying to reconstruct their night’s escapades from half-memories and blurry photos. A few red shirts pick their way among them, grabbing an unlucky few at random for trash duty.

“OH GOD.” I grab Shak’s shoulder.
“What?”
“Nostalgia attack! It’s a big one!”

Seeing all these pathetic, destroyed kids… man I remember when I was pathetic and destroyed.  I remember seeing Amos fall off a volunteer golfcart at twenty MPH without spilling his glass of white port and lemon juice. I remember Quint laying down on some girl he didn’t even know, then convincing her they had hooked up the night before.  I remember not remembering a damn thing.

Deep breath.

“Ok. It’s passed.”

We sit down on the grass and listen to two ‘senior athletes’, one 39, one 44, talk about their respective recoveries from hip surgery.  Years of remorseless self-discipline and four hours of training a day have left their bodies in shambles before middle age.

“You see this, man? This is why I limit my exercise.  They’ve wrecked themselves with this shit.  It’s as bad as heroine, and if you add up entrance fees and special food and god damn bike derailers it costs about the same.”

Another lady comes up on stage.  Her face is gaunt, her body drained of all excess moisture and fat.  She’s whip lean, and looks at least 36 though she’s only 25.  This shit takes its toll on men, but its even worse on women.

“Blech.  See that man? Poor girl needs a glass of red wine and a Netflix subscription, but all she can think about is her next race. TAKE A YEAR OFF SWEETHEART. Psychos, man.”

“They’re passionate about this stuff, man.  We can’t all be as removed as you.”

“That’s true.  I’m passionate about being dispassionate.”

We listened a while longer, and I gave away a few beers to the moaning, half-dead kids around us.

——-

“Jesus christ look at this one.”  Orlando points to the dashboard of his car.  I lean over the seat to see the big tri-horned green bug thing marching across the vinyl.  We’re stuck in traffic, dead stopped a mile from the park gates behind thousands of other people trying to get back out to the freeway.

“Holy shit look at this one. Fucker’s got little… crab claws… and shit…”

There are bugs all over the inside of the car.  Nobody knows where they came from.

“Wow, here’s a big blue bastard right here… this is some fucking Pan’s Labyrinth shit.  Hand me the hatchet. I’m gonna do battle with this one.”

Thousands upon thousands of triathletes, lined up along the backroads and campgrounds, all popping painkillers and strapping on icepacks.  Miles upon miles of Subarus and Priuses and Winnebagos, with bikes strapped to the back.  A river of freaks.

I’ll bet you can see it from space.

“I’ll never understand these people.” I say.  “I don’t think I even want to.”

“You should try it next year. Do a little training, get in shape, buy a bike…”

“Maybe I will.”

I look at Shak for a minute.

“Right.”

-T.

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