I'm ammused at moments that feel like a huge contrast. Monday morning at work, and me feeling sore and fatigued from a weekend of vagabond punk bike tomfoolery in Boston - it makes me think of that delightful scene in Fight Club when Ed Norton flashes a bloody set of teeth at a coworker.
Why did I decide to go to Boston? I have a wariness of Boston that, at some point - mixed with fear and ignorance - blossomed into full-blown avoidance. I'm never racing in Boston! But this weekend, I went anyway. A whole mess of NYCers went up Friday night, and Brantley and I caught a Saturday morning Chinatown bus. Our destination? The L Street Beach, starting line for a race based on the movie The Departed. The goal? First Out of Town. The prize? A custom Geekhouse bike.
We got off the bus and popped into Revolution Bikes across the street. A dirty punk rocker with the thickest Boston accent I've ever heard in real life sold me a tube - I didn't want to be the jerk who flatted and had to bum a tube. We called Dan - who spent years in Boston - to figure out where the hell to go. I figured everything was a long ride away - after all, we're talking about going back and forth across the city!
Nope. Ten minutes had us pulling up to a bike shop where Dan and a bunch of folks were hanging out. We pulled up as it started to pour, and we took refuge inside. While hanging out, the rain kept coming down harder and harder, but for some reason, we decided to mobililze anyway, to head to another bike shop a few miles away.
We rode into some of the hardest rain I've ever seen. When you are soaked through (immediately!), you've got nothing else to worry about from the rain, so you might as well enjoy it. I should have photographed Dan skidding through three-inch deep puddles... or the sight of ten of us dripping wet all over Cambridge Bicycles.
We dumped some stuff at Lauren's house - it sucks to ride with a full traveling pack - but my bag was still heavy. You never know when you're going to need a lock in a race. Still, though, I'm looking for ways to lighten the load that I carry. Going fast is much easier when you don't have a ten pound bag on a shoulder.
It's raining less and less, and then barely at all when we roll through Southie to the L Street Beach. I'm a little nervous about this race, because of my New Very Special Plan: to have absolutely no idea where I'm going and just try to stick with the leaders, with Dan Bones, with Gary, with who ever can be fast, show me around town, and get me placing high. High enough to win some sick prizes. Cause let's be honest. I like winning prizes.
It's a huge crowd that gathers around Scott as he introduces the race, and then, with no warning, "NOW GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE!" I'm near the back of the crowd which means I'm early out and I hop with a fast pack that hurtles the wrong way down a narrow street and then turns onto L street, which turns into Summer and will take us out of South Boston. It's just narrow enough to be nervous and the neighborhoods are just quiet enough to make the intersections a little bit hairy. It's the lead pack I'm on and there are about twenty of us. I suck a lot of wheel and work my way close to the front, behind two fast Boston guys, a couple fast NYCers, Gary, and a few unfamiliar faces. The plan is to stick with this pack for as long as possible. These are the guys to beat.
I tightly draft over a bridge and we take some intersections together. I'm working hard and pull into the first checkpoint fourth, but there's no checkpoint worker. The moment of confusion means that the pack catches the leaders, and Dan Bones is yelling, "other way! other way!" and we all turn around and there are way too many riders together again, bombing this hill. I hear somebody go down behind me, and I need to go into oncoming traffic to avoid a traffic island.
At the second checkpoint I get in early enough to reach up to the guy sitting on the wall and hand him my manifest, but by the time it's signed i'm in the middle of a huddle and have to push my way out, not caring about people's bikes or bodies. Gary is just leaving - his green bike is distinctive to follow.
We hurtle through streets for another five or six checkpoints, doing some nasty, hurried traffic work. I'm kicking my ass to keep up to the pack, at times, making guesses at turns, keeping Gary's green bike in sight a block ahead of me. And then, a problem - Gary pulls over. "You okay?" I yell. "I'm out of the race!" he says back. Slowing down to ask that meant I had to struggle to keep the pack in sight. Every now and then I see Crihs a few blocks ahead of me, but it's hard... Luckily a guy catches up to me - I verify that we're going to the same place and that he can show me around. This is good. I can be back on track.
But what happens? Passing an intersection I see Brantley - he was ahead of me with the pack - and I turn with him and follow him to... a checkpoint I've already been to! I look up - that wasn't Brantley! It was Colin, wearing a similarly bright and ugly jersey. Fuck. Where am I, and where do I got?
I have no clue.
And by this time the leaders are very far in front of me, for sure.
I yell for directions back to Summer Street and get them, from riders headed in other directions. I meet up with some locals and follow them, but they are going slowly. No way I'm going to catch up at this pace. A few times going back and forth on Summer Street I see the lead pack - I'm two miles back. Brantley and Dan Bones are with the pack and I'm psyched for them, but realize that I'm out of the race.
With that realization comes fatigue; I'm working hard to stay on the wheel of David, a cheery local who accepts the role of navigator. My manifest is in tatters from being shoved in and out of damp pockets, wet hands, stamps and pens. It's getting dark. I could use some water. I could use to race a little smarter. I could have geared down. I wouldn't mind dry socks and a beer.
It's a long race. We go through Boston again and again, through puddles, out to lonely piers, to Chinatown Alleys. Friends at checkpoints say, "Yeah, you're doing pretty well," but I know it's not as well as I could be doing, or as I want to be doing.
Several times, seeing the leaders heading the opposite way, seeing Dan and Brantley with them, I want to skid 180 degrees and hop on their wheel, I want to pull out my manifest and scribble a signature in a few boxes and consider myself "caught up" - but come on, cheating in alleycats? I won't. Would anybody? I hope not.
Finally, the last checkpoint, climbing up Beacon to the State House and setting in to the ride to the finish line. Two others catch up to me and David, and with my last energies, I entertain a sprint to the finish line and am second in our pack of four to cross the line as Scott is counting off - he writes my name down in 27th place.
I frown, and get a funny combination of elated and disappointed in myself when I see Dan and head his way. "Seventh!" he crows. "Nice!" How'd Brantley do? I look at him. He's tight-faced and supresses a sparkle in his eye. The kind you do when you don't want to be overwhelmed as how awesome you just did... "Yeah, I got it..." he said. "First out of town!" Dan yelled! "Third overall!"
Brantley wins a custom frame! I'm pretty happy for him. He beat a casual rival of ours. Dan is super excited, too - he's got his confidence back, his legs back, and his impeccable navigation of Boston did him well - 7th in a race this size, with almost a hundred racers, is no small feat.
We celebrate with snacks from a convenience store, and a 4 pack of Fin Du Monde. Return to the party for beers, me getting drunk and yelling "I'm takin' portraits!" and snapping my camera in people's faces. Prizes all over the place. Smelly punks. High fives. We ride out to L Street Beach again to pick up Dan's chain lock, do some wheelies and other ridiculous shit before making our way - where? Who knows, but we got yelled at from a sidewalk, joined some other bikers including Scott, Brantley, and Aaronplane, and made our way to a bar for a few hours of recap, shooting the breeze, and me running into somebody from college who I cannot place.
Then we destroyed a bag of Doritos on Lauren's stoop and crashed, hard, smelly, and wet, all over her house.
The next day was brunch, desperately seeking a clean scrap of anything to wear, and long, slightly nauseated hours on the Chinatown bus before I made my way back to the Bronx for a fitful but much-needed night of sleep.
What a weekend.