Essay: On the Farewell to Racing
Cover photo by Chuck Rudy.
(2018) I always thought the aroma of Icy Hot as the smell of time gone by. It was one of the odors that would smack one in the face when entering a men’s league hockey locker room. There were guys who would show up to work reeking of the stuff, there bodies held together with an invisible application and convinced no one notices the painful gait. Even a stick of it found its way into my medicine cabinet for as needed use. It was the scent of gunpowder in an exploded bomb of a career.
I write this from the creakybottombracket.com office couch. There is an ice pack on my back where it has been since the Bucks County Classic. I have ridden a total of six miles since the event two weeks ago. With back issues nagging me before the Classic, my mentality was to go out and scuttle the ship as it were. I figured with it being the last competition, it was going to hurt in many places.
I look back and often wonder how the racing career never really took off. There was the whole rediscovering cycling too late thing. There were focus races that caused me to overlook regular crits. I would focus on Battenkill each year and then return to group rides for the rest of the season. Why I did that I have no idea. The last two years I raced more than the six previous years combined.
It might not have been the events so to speak. I often lined up at races on my only bike wearing my only kit, not necessitating walking my extra set of wheels to the bike pit (because I didn’t have an extra set). I felt like crit racing was comparable to auto racing: To win one million dollars you need to spend two million dollars. Considering I wasn’t collecting primes each race, my funding was quite light. I still muse over the loss of winning a tin of anchovies as a prime in Mullica, New Jersey. I don’t even like anchovies, but I digress.
Or perhaps, among other things, life progressed to the point where racing wasn’t center stage. That translated into lost motivation and corroborated results. I used to think, “I’m here; make it hurt,” which morphed into, “Do I really need to hurt that much to keep the wheel?” That thought interfered with motivation and saw me get unhitched with greater frequency as I aged. It was an embarrassing downgrade from my former self. It was also accumulative efforts at odds with desires. I wanted to finish well but no longer wanted to race hard to get it. Unless, apparently, there were anchovies being waved around.
What has changed, or rather unchanged, is my relationship with the road bike. I still stare at it when I walk by. I still love the feeling of getting out, intentionally or unintentionally running into friends, hammering down a favorite road, or stopping at a coffee shop to feel pro. Pinky out on the espresso cup and saucer. I still don’t like hills. I never will. I still consider the bike my mobile yoga mat, a peaceful spot that covers distance.
I have kept the door open for the possibility to race one or two events next year, races I missed due to conflicting schedules in 2018. Smoketown always comes to mind. I can’t imagine a suitable outcome would occur, but now I get why people struggle to leave a sport they love. I’m not trying to leave it proper; I’m trying to come down from its fast-paced, inches-apart, bike-throwing life. I am terrified I will lose all form – after getting much of it back – to searching for a goal for 2019. I have found myself accidentally tuning in to riding buddies who consider a motorcycle more and more each year. But I can see how a pro would struggle to pry his fingers off the doorjamb while being escorted out.
Earlier today I put the equivalent of Icy Hot on my back after coming from the chiropractor to expedite getting back out there. Memories of the locker room came flooding back when players were determined to keep the dream alive they justified the 11pm Sunday night ice slots. I may as well join the desperate crowd fighting to prolong a career. That is a time gone by much like the passing of the peloton as I gave up fighting for the final wheel. Race days may have passed me by, but those will certainly be the days I think of when it comes time to hop up in a group ride to show myself I still have the grit and firepower to win a town limit sign.