The quality of the exhaustion I feel today is pretty epic. On a scale of one to ten, I’m at the ‘loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires and babies’ level. If you know what I mean. You probably don’t, but take a human being - typical garden variety with the legs and bones and brains and awkward silences when the topic of sex comes up – and replace their quads with roughly kneaded, uncooked dough. Then swap out their brain for a piece of soggy sea sponge, and zap all the corpuscles and sinews with a few tracks from a Mazzy Star album. Then, whilst their eyes are glistening and they look to you for sympathy, make as though you’re about to hug them and swiftly turn and walk away without a backward glance.
Which I guess is the long way of saying, I’m toast. I’ve landed butter side down. On a very dirty floor.
I haven’t felt like this since I did that thing with the thing on the map that was oh, I dunno, over 4,000 miles long.
OK OK, we get it McCrae! You’re tired. You’re beat.
Well, I’m glad you get it. ‘Cause I sure as hell don’t. It was only 66 miles. What gives?
Like most things, it all started quite innocently.
“Hey, you wanna do this?”
The ‘this’ was the Country Roads Fall Foliage Bike Tour. Also called the camel ride, because you see camels at one point. And also because it’s a lot of rollers. You know, like riding up and down camel humps?
Whenever I hear the word rollers, I have quite vivid flashbacks to the Bay City Ozarks. (I loved the tartan). No really, just the Ozarks minus the Bay City part. Painful, knee-twisting flashbacks. I can still see those creepy climbs rearing up and Precious groaning and Zimmerman (the bob trailer) trying to give us enough push on the downhill so that his pull on the uphill wouldn’t scupper our boat. The heat of those days. Ugh! Ok, I need to walk away for a bit. It’s a very painful memory for me.
I replied, via email, words to the effect of “Sure. Sounds cool.”
Sure. Cool. Why not? If I’ve learned one thing from living in New Yawk Sit-hay, it’s that you never turn down a chance to get driven out of the city to ride in new places. You HAVE to say, Sure. Sounds cool. It’s the code.
Many things will make you question the code, of course. Like, say for example it’s 6am and you’re riding across Manhattan Bridge in the near dark to go meet that car and you’re yawning like a fish and freezing your lady balls off because of what is accurately called a ‘cold snap’. A thought might enter your mind and that thought might be “Whose idea was this? This is a shit idea. Don’t you like snuggling in your bed?”
I do like snuggling in my bed with Invisible Husband, actually, mainly because he doesn’t steal the blankets. But that night he hadn’t been very snuggly. And there was a reason for that. I kept sending him down the hall to bang on the neighbors door to try get them to keep it down. I guess they couldn’t hear his invisible knocking? At this point, I would like to thank my neighbors for their fabulous party, which I was not invited to but attended through the wall. Your throbbing bass lines were like constant ripples on the custard skin of my trying-to-sleep mind, and many times the cackles of laughter had me imagining well-shod ladies doing a throw-back head whinny at your jokes. Top notch!
So I hadn’t slept much. Tired. Riding a bike in the dark across a bridge into the guts of Chinatown. An SUV nearly clipped me on Grand St. No traffic. I’m in a bike lane with lights flashing brighter than freshly-whitened teeth on the Emmy’s red carpet and still, still you swerve into my lane?
“Holy shit,” said the now wide awake Janeen as she watched it stagger away.
Later, when I told E, he laughed and said “You know they were drunk, right?”
I try not to think of these things. But I suppose sometimes flashing bike lights are like glowing lamps to drunken car moths. Best not to think of these things. Best not to think of these things.
Once on the road and heading toward our destination, we shivered and tried to wake up slowly with our coffees clutched firmly in our grips. I made a derogatory comment to E about his dainty little thermos and his dainty little coffees, but that comment came purely from my jealousy well. My cardboard cup had no personality in comparison, so I lashed out and frowned a little every time I heard him pour himself another cup.
It was one of those drives with conversation, and political chat, and catching up and travel talk. As we passed the Renaissance Faire, E confessed that he had once been ‘into’ that world. I swear, I have never heard a sentence more joyful to my ear than: “We used to do this thing called Fratricidal Combat,” which was apparently conducted using weaponry made from rattan. I tried to sneak peeks over the fence and snagged a glimpse of funny little houses. Hazzah!
By the time we got to the start, I’ll admit we were a bit late but as we pulled into the parking lot at Warwick High School, it was obvious a lot of people were also running late. A heavy fog hung over us as we got bikes off the roof and clomped around in our cleats trying to warm up. You’re probably fatigued just getting to this point in the story, so out of respect for you, I’ll speed it up.
Quick sign in, pick up a cue sheet and off we went, E and I doing the 62 mile loop, and S and R doing the shorter 45 miler because they hadn’t been riding much lately. Different colored arrows pointed at turns. We were following green.
Except for when we weren’t. Eight miles in, E and I got lost. Made a wrong turn because we were too busy gabbing about the usual shit.
“This feels wrong,” I said. “I didn’t see an arrow back there, did you?”
We pulled over at an intersection and dicked around with GPS and a signal-less iPhone. E asked a guy who pulled up, but he didn’t know where the street was we were looking for.
Guts spoke. They said ‘gurgle’. But that’s not all, they also said turn around and go back to the last time you saw an arrow because this is definitely wrong. After back tracking, we found the street name and I turned. E went back a bit further to see if we’d just missed the arrow or it hadn’t been marked. I heard a hollered ‘there it is!’ and when he came back I said “No more talking” and we laughed. Eyes like hawks. Eyes like hawks, I thought, as we sheepishly set about the task of repassing everyone we’d already passed earlier.
The route took us out into open farmland with nice little roads winding through. It was kinda beautiful, The Belgium of New York State, haha. Famous for onions apparently, and everyone seemed to be constantly banging on about ‘black dirt’. There was a lot of it about.
There were some ups and downs, but nothing too painfully Ozarky. It was stiff at times, and flowy at others. But the overwhelming feeling was ‘this is pretty as fek! What what?!’ and general nodding in agreement.
I don’t know why, but this hardened daughter of a sheep farmer got all excited when she spied some Fresians. Got to the top of a climb and yelled ahead to E. “I’m taking a photo!” so he’d stop. I pulled over to verbally communicate with a black and white cow who was thoughtfully chewing on some lush grass near the fence.
‘Oi!’ I said. “Look at me!” I’m pretty sure cows don’t have eyebrows, and yet, I could swear she raised one of hers at me. Kept chewing. I captured the scene. Pastoral. Yeah, nature! Farms!
We pushed on. Some of the rollers were a bit on the irritating side, but nothing too niggly. I was feelin’ fine. And then I wrecked everything by having a sloppy gear change (and I’m still not sure how it happened), where the chain got caught against the derailleur cage and outside of the big ring going from the big ring to the small and bent the cage out of shape. Fine. No big deal. But it kind of was.
When I was in the big chain ring, I could no longer switch to the small. The cage didn’t even touch the chain.
“Ah, today’s a big ring day anyway,” said E, very unhelpfully. I was actually fine with that, since I hadn’t really been using the small chain ring that much and had gone nowhere near lowest gears yet. But still, who knew what was ahead? We rode on and I started to struggle.
The climbs seemed to be kicking up a little harder, though were still short.
E gradually pulled away.
I dropped further and further back.
There were a few angry little rises and I muscled up in the 25-tooth on my big ring. I don’t like doing that. I don’t like doing that AT ALL. There were weird disapproving noises and clicks and I was ‘oh, shit, you actually damaged something else when you had that incident’ and I got to the top and wheezed on for a bit. A few more climbs, a few more wheezes.
I kept looking down at the front derailleur, wondering if I should attempt an adjustment. It was pretty obvious where the cage had bent, but that can’t be the only problem. Still 30 miles to go. Perhaps I should just push it in a little – maybe that would help nudge the chain over without wrecking anything else and making it worse?
And then I pulled over. E was long gone. With the palm of my gloved hand, I bent the bit of metal in a bit. Gingerly rode away and hey presto, it shifted. I shifted it back. It worked. In fact, it seemed to be working fine. Ok. MaGuyvered! Still a bit unhappy with the slight click when in certain gears, but at least I had the small chain ring back.
My legs suddenly alerted me to their fatigue after those tough little climbing efforts, and I realized I hadn’t eaten anything yet, so I reached back into my pocket for a Cliff Bar. Gradually, I came back to life. But I could already tell I’d left it too late to chew on something.
Finally, I caught back up to E and we rolled on through more fields of black dirt and onions, until finally we came upon the camel rest stop.
Jeez, what superior beings camels are! Really look all high and mighty and down upon us all. We snapped some pics and I wolfed down and PB&J sandwiches and gave E grief about being such a city boy. He had quite a thing for the goats…
Because there were a lot of different animals there. Goats, camels, alpacas, miniature horses, burros and the like. The camels themselves were Aussies, and I listened as the owner told E the story of how the Afghan camels roamed in Australia and how she’s noticed they seem to have a shorter lifespan than others.
We spent quite some time there, eating and talking to animals and I must have remarked several times how I was enjoying the ride so far. Because I really was. It was really, really pretty and just good to be riding somewhere unfamiliar.
But with legs stiff from resting too long, we set off again. Only 20 miles or so to go.
I can’t work out if the rollers just got worse or I just started to get really tired. But they started to come more often and there were some real bitches in there, including a long one that E said was 11%. Never been happier to have my granny gear, to be quite honest. It was getting warmer and warmer and I’d finally stripped off my vest, arm warmers and knee warmers.
And then it started to really drag on. I mean REALLY drag on. In my mind, I kept thinking ‘ugh, how much more of this?!’ and inevitably, another roller would rear its ugly head. I’d see E approach an intersection and think ‘oh, maybe this will be the last one?’ Then we’d get there and turn and I’d pretty much immediately say ‘are you fucking kidding?’ as we’d see another set.
More and more people from the shorter routes were appearing, and it seemed cruel to us that the people doing the ten mile course were given such tough rollers to do. I passed two young girls struggling up one climb, then watched as one toppled into the grassy ditch at the side of the road from peddling so slowly.
The other girl looked back in alarm.
“Are you ok?”
The muffled response from the grass.
But she wasn’t injured. I could tell from the tone of the No, that she just meant she’d had enough.
You and me both, sister!
The rollers never stopped, and rolled us all the way back to the Warwick High School parking lot. I’ve never been so happy to see school. I’ve also never been so happy to see a hot dog, which was one of the options for the after food. I got a cheeseburger, hot dog, chicken legs and to balance it all out, a corn cob. I ate with the force of a vacuum that’s just had its bag emptied.
Later, in a pub in Warwick, I drained an Oktoberfest beer and felt my cheeks spring to life. It was a happy tired at that stage. I wish it had stayed at that level.
Usually, after a ride like that, you go home. You wash yourself off and put on clean clothes. You kick your feet up and find something good on the tele or play a video game. You recover. You reflect. You pat yourself on the back and think about how kick-ass you are.
But it didn’t quite work out that way and I blame the NFL. On the way back to Manhattan, we got caught in the worst traffic jam I have ever experienced in my life. In New Jersey. At 5pm, we got stuck just past the stadium I guess. It took us about 1.5 hours to get to the Holland Tunnel. To add to the blood pressure, E and I were meeting people with tickets to see The French Connection at 7.30pm. There was no way I as going to get home, showered and back in town in time.
So we dropped everything at E’s caught a cab to the Film Forum, and walked into the theatre right as the beginning credits rolled. Me, un-showered, and starving, but with no time to eat. Just happy to be there in time to see Popeye ‘pick your feet in Poughkeepsie’ Doyle do his anti-hero thang.
Afterwards, tired and dragging my feet with the fatigue of it, we ended up at Arturo’s for pizza, which I very much wanted to sleep upon while eating. Then back to E’s to pick up my stuff and change BACK into my kit.
And that’s how I found myself cycling back over the Manhattan Bridge at midnight. Crossed it in the dark in both directions, this day. I was asleep on the saddle. When I got out of the shower at 12.30am, I felt better. I felt human. I felt like I could rise again.
Until 7.30am this morning, when I felt I’d never rise again. At 8am, I decided I had to, and dragged myself into an upright position. Work needed to be done. I stood under the shower and felt the ache in my legs and the tiredness in my body.
LEGS: There’s no way you can throw me over a bike and ride to work, you know that, right?
BRAIN: Huh? I doubt I’m going to be able to get you out of this shower. Forget the bike.
Ok. So. I guess what I’m saying is this. Long story short.
The quality of the exhaustion I feel today is pretty epic. On a scale of one to ten, I’m at the ‘loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires and babies’ level.
But I can’t wait to do it again. I never can. Milkshake, anyone?
UPDATE: I forgot the best photo. Two buddies!