I have a pretty modest trophy collection for 15 years of mountain bike racing. Here's a picture of it.
 I have four. Technically, I have 5 if you count the 2nd I took at Chainbreaker a couple years ago. I didn't get a ribbon or medal but I did get an awesome pint glass.  It's down in the kitchen.

It's not much to show for all those miles of racing and the time and pain, not to mention the thousands of dollars spent on gear, gas, and race fees. The personal investment for that 2nd place ribbon from the Mt Ashland Hill Climb - the ribbon that looks like a prize from a spelling bee at a Southeastern Oregon charter school with serious budget problems - must have been a couple grand alone.

I suppose because I have so few, they matter more to me. They all have a story, but it's the big one in the back I'm most proud of. First Place First Timer at the Revenge of the Siskiyous. 

It was July 1987. Ronald Regan was President. MTV still played music videos. George Michael's "Faith" topped the charts. I had bought my first mountain bike the previous autumn. My friends told me they did this crazy mountain bike race in July and I should give it a try. I don't remember why I thought that was a good idea. I was probably drunk. There might have been the dregs of youthful enthusiasm involved.

This is what I looked like at the start of that race on Mt Ashland:
I know. Where do you begin? Some of the high points:
  • I'm riding a Trek 830 with toe clips and an air pump mounted to the seat post.
  • I'm wearing a Members Only jacket before irony had even been invented.
  • Underneath that jacket, I'm wearing a Crazy Eddie t-shirt. If you were from NY in the '70's, you knew his prices were "Insane!"
  • We are all wearing hard plastic helmets.
  • I was rocking a mustache that would have made the Village People proud (which might explain why I couldn't get a date between 1984 and 1986). 
  • I was 27 years old.
It was my first race and it was awesome! It was mostly fire roads and double track back in those days and I had no baseline to measure the experience of racing 20 miles down a mountain with hundreds of other riders around me. Nor did I have any baseline to measure the experience of pushing my bike 3 miles up the Revenge Hill along with everyone else. Hardly anyone did. The sport was barely 4 years old.

It was 27 years ago but I still remember what a rush it was. I bonked hard the week before pre-riding the course. But race day I was ready for it and felt great all the way to the finish. When I walked up to the podium they announced my time and heard someone say "Good time!" I felt like I could take on anyone. I could excel at this sport!

This led to some rather unfortunate decisions on my part. This was me two years later:
God, I really miss those tights.

I had also swapped out my riser bars for these weird Scott mountain/aero bars that would not only cement my freak status in mountain biking (that's not breast cancer awareness pink handlebar tape, that's just pink handlebar tape. On a mountain bike), they would also break in half during a race a couple years later.

I also decided to bump myself to an expert class so I could do the full course from the park in Ashland. I'm not sure that was a bad decision, but I was clearly racing outside my class and it was my first taste of being in a race and being on the outside. It was also my first taste of really sucking during a race.  I quietly moved myself back to sport class a couple years later and had a good run as pack-fill for a few more years. My dreams of racing triumph tempered by the reality that while I was fast, there were lots of people who were faster. I didn't get near a podium again until 2011.

I've been wandering down memory lane because  Friday afternoon I'll drive out to Echo Oregon to do the Echo Red to Red race for the 6th time. My racing age is 55. Peak fitness is rapidly disappearing in the rear-view mirror. I don't know what this year will be like. I admit, I'm nervous. I'm feeling the years more than I thought I would and many of the support mechanisms that have made racing so much fun the last few years are gone.

Looking back, I realize it all goes. I never thought those orange tights would go out of fashion. I never thought they'd stop doing the Revenge - but the back of the course got logged off and they lost access to the Revenge Hill. The race is just a memory now.

But I look at that plaque and I remember what it felt like. And I remember that, as great as getting a plaque was, the real reward was the race. I remember that putting on a number and lining up at a starting line doesn't change. It is a pure act, no matter what sport you do. It's something I still need to do. Many of my friends and family wonder why I still do it. I wonder the same thing, sometimes.

I'm just not ready to hang it up.

Not just yet.


Kurstin said…
This is a great post, Jonathan. So funny.

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