Why is this man smiling?

There were a few reasons I was smiling in this photograph.
I was about halfway through Pickett's Charge over in Bend last Sunday. It's the last race in the points series and the last short cross country race of the season. I've always loved this one. It's not a great course for racing. Mostly single track that's hard to pass on and it's so short, even a small mistake can cost you positions. Still, the trails are fun and the atmosphere is a bit less intense. So even before the race started, there was something to smile about. This year, the start was cold and rainy which you wouldn't think would be anything to smile about except a guy next to me waiting for our wave to go off asked if I wanted a hug. You couldn't not smile at that. In the cold and rain, snuggling with a guy from Boise did have a certain appeal but I took a pass. Fortunately, just a few minutes into the race, right as the trail turned into the woods, the sun came out. One more reason to smile.
I had new Smartwool arm warmers on. It's a shame people don't wear arm warmers as part of their regular wardrobe. Amazing things. They made me smile even though my right one was slipping below the sleeve which would get you ejected from the Tour de France. Maybe I should start wearing them at work.
Probably the actual reason I was smiling when the picture was taken, was the trails were so unbelievably fun, it hardly felt like a race. Normally, by this time of year Bend's trails are dusty, sandy, and pretty challenging to hang on to. In years past, I've finished covered in dirt, nerves frayed from the dozens of times my front tire washed out in sand, and spent the drive home coughing up a lung. For details, read the post on the Chainbreaker race. That's what I usually look like. On this occasion, the rain made the trails smooth and tacky and about as perfect as you could want. I couldnt get off line if I tried. And I tried! The Yeti and I seemed to be getting along well this race. I think I'm getting the suspension dialed a bit better and, well, I was going faster. This bike seems to handle better the faster you go. After my 50 mile bitch slap of a race on the 16th, this one was only 13 miles so I was happy the pain was going to be over in an hour or so instead of like, eight hours, and I suppose that was another reason to smile.
And though I didn't know it when this picture was taken, I would end up redeeming myself a bit for my poor showing at Test of Endurance. Just a mile from the finish, I caught up to Colonel Reynolds who finished a solid hour ahead of me at TOE. He got off on a rock garden and I pedaled through it, getting ahead of him. This hasn't been a great bike handling year for me so actually getting through the gnarl and pulling ahead was a huge ego boost. I pedaled like I meant it, getting ahead of four more riders and finishing 4th. A podium spot would have been nice but all the fast guys were out today and even Brian Hart, whose beaten me in every race this year, had to settle for 3rd.  Colonel came in 6th but finished 3rd in the points series. I finished 4th which might be disappointing to some but considering that in April I was consigning myself to never reaching the podium, finishing the season 4th overall with two second place finishes was a bit of a shock. Something went right.  We talked a bit at the finish, admiring what we had made of the season. We had all, on our own, decided to move to Cat II next year. We're not beginners any longer. It's unlikely we'll see the podium again any time soon but it will be a new challenge for all of us and I'm glad they will all be there with me. Certainly one more thing to smile about.

 Me, June 24th, 2009, 6 hours after surgery

But the biggest reason to smile, though I didn't realize it until the next day, was that the start of this race was, almost to the minute, the third anniversary of my cancer surgery.
I had forgotten.
I'm still smiling now. Because I have spent so much time berating myself for struggling to finish a 50 mile race, or not getting on the podium one last time, or fumbling in a rock garden, that I had forgotten how hard it was to get out of my hospital bed and walk a few hundred feet that day three years ago. I had forgotten that I had joined the ranks of those whose bodies were re-engineering themselves in ways that would kill them. I had forgotten that a decision to take a test that is now discouraged for men my age, led to treatment that at the very least, saved me much more serious cancer therapy and may well have saved my life.  I had forgotten about the doctors and their assistants, the nurses and nurses' aids who took care of me and eased me through that sudden, strange journey. I'm smiling because I know, the greatest gift they could have ever given me, was to leave me healthy enough that, at least for a time, I could forget they were ever there.
So that's why I'm smiling.


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