No one else cares about this as much as you do

It’s the night before Fat 55, the last race of the season for me. I decided to come down the day before, crash at a cheap motel in town and start the race fresh. After last year’s debacle, I packed every  spare part I could think of and enough food to see me through the Zombie Apocalypse.   Carolyn’s at the opening of Sweeney Todd in Portland, the 25th season of the theatre company we helped start all those years ago. She’s coming down tomorrow so tonight it’s just me, the laptop, 12 Honey Stinger Waffles, 8 packs of Honey Stinger Chews, 5 bananas, 4 home made energy bars, six bottles of Scratch Labs Exercise Drink, 3 hard boiled eggs, 1 large bag of Crasins, one quart of yoghurt and one bag of home made granola.. With little to do but stare at my huge pile of food,  it seems a good time to catch up on last weekend’s racing.

Last Friday, Carolyn and I loaded up the car and headed to Ashland for my 4th Mt Ashland Hill Climb. It's a great excuse for a family visit. Mallory and I do the mountain bike race, Joe and Maddie do the road race. Carolyn ferries us around and cheers for us at the finish. This race is hard, but I've always liked it. The scenery is great. The course is familiar. There's beer at the top. It's also a simple race,  more like a time trial, at least for the mountain bikers. There are no tactics involved. Aerodynamics don't come in to play, and really, there's very little skill involved. You just pedal up a dirt road as hard as you can.

This year is the first year I didn't ride my faithful Bridgestone, my racing bike from the 80’s. I set it up a few days before the race, took it out on a shakedown ride up to the ridge and felt absolutely awful on it. I felt bent over, because I was, and the tires just wouldn’t hook up in the steep bits, no matter how I positioned myself over the bike. I don’t know why this year, after 24 years, it would feel so strange. It’s always been small for me but that never seemed to matter much. Now it does.  So, I switched everything back over to the Yeti, and clamped the Bridgestone back into the trainer where soon we’ll be passing the mid-week winter nights clocking hundreds of stationary miles and dreaming of warmer days. At least I will. The Bridgestone will probably just sit there and get rusty from all the sweat I leave on it. It probably deserves better than that.

This is also probably the last year we’ll do Hill Climb as a whole family. Maddie will be away at college this time next year. That didn’t seem to be at the forefront of anyone’s mind as we lined up in Lithia Park. It was pretty much business as usual. Carolyn took off before the race started to avoid getting caught behind the neutral rollout of the road race. I rode up into the park to find the public restrooms, came back and she was gone.My gloves and heart rate monitor were still in the car but I was thinking of not wearing gloves anyway. Decision made!

The race took off and things went more or less the way they always do for me. I had a good start, dropped my sister, blew up on the first steep climb, and got passed by about half the people I passed before I settled down and began to find my pace.

It took Mallory longer than usual to catch up with me. I was already into the steep section between Toothpick and Four Corners when she got on my wheel. She pulled quite a ways ahead of me by the time we topped out though she was still in view. Then something odd happened. I caught up to her on the short downhill section after Four Corners. Then I passed her. I swung the hard right on to the next climb that starts the easier but less shady and really interminable grind  back to pavement. I train on roads like this, that wind around the shoulders of mountains and climb gently. They mess with your head. Every corner looks like the final turn and every corner looks the same. You just have to ride them until they are done with you and not ask questions like "How much farther?" because the answer is always "Until you crack."

I was feeling pretty proud of myself for getting back out ahead of her for this far into the race. Then I heard her back on my wheel again. She pulled a little ahead but couldn't seem to drop me. We were  pacing each other pretty well. We began to pull in other riders. This is a slow process during a hill climb. Nevertheless, we were getting by people and making good time. This was turning out to be kind of fun! We got to watch each other when one or the other pulled ahead. Mallory looked good! She looked like a bike racer. I imagine I did too. I mean, yes, we've been racing for years, but actually seeing someone race - see how their body shifts as a grade increases or when they get out of the saddle for power to get around someone - usually you only get to see the pros like that when they're followed by camera crews on motorcycles. Though we didn’t talk about it, I know we were both aware of what a remarkable thing this was - a brother and sister in their 50's doing an off-road bike race together. To be able to participate in this event required  hard work and no small amount of dedication and we finally, for an hour or so, got to share it.

Truth to tell, it was also pissing us both off.

Underneath all the brotherly and sisterly love, we really wanted to crush each other. It’s been an enormous matter of pride for my sister that she can beat me up that mountain and it was bugging the crap out of her that she couldn’t drop me. For my part, I’ve been getting better every year on this race and I was really,  really ready end my sister’s winning streak.

Things didn’t get any better for Mallory when we hit pavement. I expected her to take off, being lighter and running more road friendly tires. But  I stayed right on her wheel, even pulling ahead for a short stretch. Her breathing was becoming more labored but neither of us had cramped up, which usually happens in the last few miles and keeps you at a kind of survival pace. We still had some fight left. With maybe a quarter mile to go, I told Mallory “Let’s finish this.” And attacked on the last bit of hill.

In retrospect, that might not have been the best choice of words.

I meant: "Let us finish this long, tiring race so we can drink beer and bask in the adoration of our fans and family".  I think Mallory took it as: "This lifelong rival has destroyed our lives and everything we held dear. Let's end this now." - followed by the sound of a sword unsheathing.  While I didn't entirely mean it as one, Mallory took it as a challenge and my sister, when challenged, does not back down.

She got on my wheel and we accelerated as the road turned slightly downhill for the last quarter mile to the finish chute. As we came into the parking lot we were side by side still accelerating. Mallory began to yell like she was charging a machine gun nest at the battle of Verdun. This was not going to be one of those kumbaya-arm-in-arm-brother-sister finishes. Oh no. The pedals were to the floor and the cliff was approaching. This was a game of chicken. Mallory was pushing to see which of us blinked before we crashed into the finish line, which really isn’t set up for this kind of photo finish. It’s only about 8 feet wide and there are dozens of people milling around there, many of them children.

I blinked. 

I didn't answer her last burst of speed and gave her half a wheel length. We scrubbed enough speed to not kill ourselves or anyone else as we rolled over the line. Our times were recorded as identical. I had more I could have given, but it was teetering on risky. And if you think it sounds like I went easy on my sister, I want you to understand that I couldn’t shake her for 12 miles. I might have popped ahead of her in the last five feet if I kept pushing. I might not. The truth is, she wanted it more than I did. That’s racing. There’s horsepower. There’s tactics. There’s head games. There’s also just wanting it. She won that race.

Mallory will remember it differently. She will remember that she just pedaled faster than me and I slipped just a little behind her in the last few feet. That’s also true. Racing is funny that way.

However we remember it, there is one uncomfortable truth for Mallory. I’m getting faster and she’s not. I'm 8 minutes faster every year and she's a minute or so slower from her PR. She’s already talking about switching to the road race.

We had the satisfaction of providing the most exciting finish of the day, road or mountain I suspect. As we rolled around back past the finish we realized none of the family were there. Maddie and Joe, who did the road race, had finished earlier and they were busy punching each other. Carolyn was trying to find a warm place free of yellowjackets where she could soak up a few minutes of sun before autumn crushed her spirits. We were both a little put out that nobody noticed that we finished and it was an awesome finish. But Maddie said nobody saw her finish either and it began to hit home that this is really, really, boring for everybody not actually doing it. How many times was Carolyn going to get dragged up this mountain to watch the Pierce and Chaves family demonstrate their athletic prowess. It's not that she didn't want to be there. It's just that every September for four years, it's kind of the same. As she wisely said to me: “Nobody cares about this is as much as you do”.  It’s true. Racing gives us gifts we carry in ourselves and share with others who compete. But it's pretty dull for anyone to watch after the first couple events.

I get that. I'm a little nervous now about inviting Carolyn down to Oakridge to meet me after the Fat 55. More standing around. Lots more as I will run over 8 hours getting through that. For my part, cheering crowds would be nice, but for a mountain bike race, but you pretty much have to pay them or marry them to get them to show up, and marriage will only get you so far.

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