Well, here we are: The first post-mortem in Blogtown's new series, Discomfort Zone, in which Blogtown's sadistic readers send one of the Mercury's esteemed editors to do something profoundly uncomfortable!
You guys voted to send me to Monday Night Bicycle Racing at the Portland International Raceway, so last night, that's what I did. And now I'll answer your questions about it! By which I mean, I'll answer my own questions about it. But they're questions I assume you guys would ask!
Ha! We sent your asthmatic ass to Monday Night Bike Racing at PIR!
I'm not asthmatic.
Wait. When Steve told us what we could vote on, he said you were a "professional asthmatic."
Not a real job.
So you're not asthmatic? At all?
I get bad allergies in the springtime? That's about it.
Okay, fine, congrats on not being asthmatic. But there's still no way you're in good enough shape to do a 12-mile bike ride, right?
Correct! I am in no conceivable way in good enough shape to do what I did last night. Or, more accurately, what I tried to do last night.
Ha! We knew it! You failed spectacularly, right?
I certainly failed, but I wouldn't say it was a spectacular failure. Let's call it "two-thirds of an underwhelming success."
Thanks to traffic, I got to PIR roughly .04 seconds before the "Novice Masters Men (aged 30+)" race started, thus missing the weekly clinic I'd hoped to hit beforehand in order learn some basics. Naturally, last night's clinic was one taught by female coaches and geared toward women, but Monday Night Bicycle Racing's super-friendly organizer, Adam Edgerton, told me that "they generally don't mind if a guy or two sits in as well." Since I've ridden a bike approximately four times since I was 14, a racing clinic before a bike race probably would've been a good thing, especially since I'd already thought of a question to ask: Are the drafting principles I learned in Mario Kart applicable in this race? Also, where are the buttons on my handlebars that let me do that?
Anyway, I used those .04 seconds to fill out a moderately terrifying liability waiver (something about how I was aware that this would be an extreme physical and psychological test, something about how I couldn't sue anyone except myself if I got hurt, and something about how most editors who have jobs at weekly newspapers don't have to risk life and limb in order to keep said jobs), and then signed my name beneath something that said I had rigorously trained and thoroughly prepared for this event. This was, obviously, a lie.
And then it was right over to the starting line, where I joined 20 or so other dudes to listen to a brief safety lecture about how to ride in a tight group. All those other dudes had bikes that cost thousands of dollars; I did not. All of those other dudes were dressed like Spider-Man; I was not. All of those other dudes had calves and biceps the size of grapefruits; I did not. All of those other dudes were good at riding bikes; I was not.
Tell us you at least kept up with them for, like, a minute.
Nope! The whistle blew, and they fucking vanished to a distant speck on the horizon while I tried to figure out how to shift gears. Eventually I got going, and for a few laps around PIR's two-mile loop, I had the whole track to myself. I was thus unable to prove Mario Kart's physics in a real-world test. (The one bit of advice that Edgerton gave me before the race—to stay close and ride with the pack, to cut down on wind resistance, especially since it was a windy day—was obviously moot.)
But c'mon, let's be honest: I was severely outclassed here. That was the point, right? There was no way I was gonna keep up with these guys, so I figured the best I could do was to pedal as hard as I could, stomp my pride down into a sad little puddle of shame whenever I got lapped, and finish the race, even it was at an embarrassingly slow pace.
How zen of you, dipshit. But it was embarrassing, right?
Technically? But not really? Honestly, most of the time I was on PIR's track all by myself, and it's pretty out there, so the bike ride was just difficult, tiring, and draining, but hardly horrible. Beforehand, I kept thinking that the real racer guys who take this stuff seriously might be dicks about me doing it wrong, or pissed about me not being good enough—but the few I actually talked to were all really nice and supportive. Granted, they probably thought I was a cancer kid from the Make-A-Wish Foundation or something—why else would someone so pale and inept be doing this?—but hey, I'll take kindness where I can get it. "Stay tough!" some dude shouted from the side of the track as I finished my third or fourth lap, "finish the race!" "Way to stick with it," one of the other racers told me afterward. "It'll get better."
So yeah, it was kind of like when the weakest, dumbest kid on your childhood baseball team got a standing ovation from all the parents in the crowd just because he managed to make it to first base without getting distracted and rolling around in the grass for 15 minutes. But since that's exactly the sort of praise I deserved, I'm pretty cool with it.
Wait. So you actually finished this thing? We voted on this because we thought you would die trying! Or die in a horrible bike crash!
Well... no. I did not finish it. HOWEVER. I totally could have. I was four laps/eight miles into the race, panting like a motherfucker but in the home stretch and feeling good about things, the pain in my legs finally settling into the back of my mind, when I heard one of the race officials shout out from the side of the track: "76! You're done!" That was me. I was number 76.
At that point, everyone else in my race had finished (like, hours before) and the organizers had started letting other races take over the track. I assume they pulled me off for one of two reasons:
1) They didn't want my amateur ass to keep doddering and weaving around the track for another four miles, where it could conceivably cause all sorts of problems for actual, legitimate racers who had not been sent there against their will; or
2) They did the math on how long it had taken me to do four laps, realized they'd have to stay until I finished two more laps, and then realized that they'd like to see their spouses and children sometime before November.
Both of those reasons are, I think, pretty legit. Still, I was bummed not to be able to finish, even if that meant I'd still be on the track now, wheezing my way to the finish line. I might see if PIR's ever open for free-ride type hours (like swimming pools have "free swim" hours or whatever?); if they do, I'd like to go out there and try the course again, just to do the full 12 miles and get some closure on it.
Yeah, we're sure you'll actually do that instead of just playing Mass Effect 2 for the 4,000th time. You're so full of shit. Anyway, so how long did it take you to go eight miles?
I didn't keep time, but I got back to my Jeep right around 7, and the race had started around 6:20 or so. So something like that.
Please tell us you're in pain today.
Nope! I'm usually a lot more sore when I run, actually, and the farthest I've ever run is five miles—so I expected to be in agony today, but I feel fine.
Are you sure you're not dead?
Yes. Sorry, jerks.
But you were uncomfortable, right? You were in your discomfort zone?
Yeah sure—but in a good way. If I rode my bike a bit more, and took biking a bit more seriously, I would totally try this again. I'd need to get in much better shape in order to do so, sure (and sell somebody's liver on the black market in order to afford a real road bike), but the PIR track was great, it was rad to just ride for a long time without worrying about the stuff in the city that keeps me from biking more (stop signs, traffic, pedestrians, busses, train tracks, those goddamn tall bikes), and the various Spider-Men I talked to were all cool. It was occasionally awkward and embarrassing and all that, sure, but it was also fun. Plus, I had one thought going through my head the whole time—so even at its most challenging, I had a beacon of light shining through the race that kept me going, pedaling as hard as I could and knowing everything was gonna be okay.
Oh, christ. What was it?
"At least those idiots didn't send me to Hairspray."