I am in a warm place. I feel safe here. I could stay forever. Cossetted, protected, so very far away from the harshness of everything. Let me curl up, slip away, be eveloped entirely. The fading glow from a beautiful implosion washing through each sinew, quieting any suffering and gently pulling any thought from my mind. Oh to stay here, to slip into a hollow centred, weightless sleep forever. The will to care utterly lost. I am not at peace, because peace admits the existance of violence, aggression, anger. I am beyond ethereal. Anything I was, is not here.
Noises in the darkness. No, not darkness, darkness admits to the existance of light. Deep filtered, distorted sounds flow through what remains of my conciousness. A harshness in what could otherwise be the most calming lullaby of white noise. Several tones of noise, each bouncing off the other. Revolving around. One then the next. Not stopping.
Blurring bright whiteness bursts into my cocoon as a dizzying thought begins it’s slow journey from the comforting silence in my head. I should open my eyes.
Distinct shapes begin to appear, firstly flowing from one to another, then seperating into their own identities. The noises continue, but do not appear to be attached to the shapes I can make out. I must move if I am to find the source.
Screeches of coloured movement as the infinite weight of my head begins to roll slowly backwards. Tracers seem to take an eternity to fade as I attempt to seperate the shapes again. Another pause as they tidy themselves up in front of me. The sounds, less distorted now, almost recognisable, fit. I come to terms with the fact that I have discovered their source. Now, to identify what these sounds are.
…ot going t…
..as been pushi…
I feel the muscles in my face tighten in concentration
…it’s normal for him to…
I recognise that voice!
…end up like this.
A flourish of memory bursts forward! I am bent double on a wooden chair, somewhere in Italy. Surrounded by people discussing me. Most of whom are dressed in oddly bright clothing that irritates my freshly reopened eyes, but some of whom are wearing clothes I recognise even through the blurred filters my sight still has. I am the focus of the bouncing conversation. I am…going to hospital?!
Don’t want that.
It becomes apparent to the conversers that I have moved, looked up and am interested in the noises they are making.
..Tell them, Dave. That this is normal..
My voyeristic distance form the conversation ends and I throw everything I have into becoming an active part of the discussion.
..Yeah, sorry, I do do this occasionally..
..I’ll be fine in a bit..
Satisfied with my, as far as I am concerned, foundationally solid arguement. I settle back, hovering somwehere between the two worlds I seem to be inhabiting. Somewhere between the light and it’s utter absense I cast a vague interest in what happens next.
Annoyingly, my interjection doesn’t seem to be enough and the voices carry on as before! Damn it.
..Do you want some ice cream?..
Christ no. I want to get back to floating effortlessly in a pool of non existance. Why the fuck would I want ice cream?!
I amuse myself with this thought, enough for it to show in my face, which is taken as approval by the conversers, and ice cream is apparently brought.
To hopefully quell the still spinning conversation I allow fizzing limbs to roll about, digging at the food and shovelling it into my unsavouring mouth.
It doesn’t take long for the sugar to work it’s way through my system and, almost before time itself reforms as a property needed for the conversation to flow I am “back in the room”. Sat, bent double on a wooden chair, coated in a mixture of sweat, blood, mud and dust, with a bucket semi full of coke coloured sick between my legs and several pots of other people’s piss standing to attention on a table directly in front of me.
Welcome back to reality Dave!
To get here, I stood on the start line of the WEMBO world solo 24hr championships, with a nagging, queasy, cramped feeling in my stomach. Not just nerves. Something far more vital failing almost catastrophically even while simply standing still. Something I had no choice but to ignore, wish away and continue as if it wasn’t there.
Within seconds of starting the run I felt it pulling me down, away from the race just as strongly as the racers stuck behind me were pushing on my back as I found I could not accelerate. Time to turn my back on the tidal wave and pretend it would all just go away.
A few mini-mechanicals on the first few laps offer what should be non-entitity pit stops to flourish and grow. Acting as if I am in a rush to fix them when I would be happy for the solution to never arrive I dither after each completion of the course, firstly on purpose but increasingly, as the race begins it’s lengthy journey, because I just can’t focus at all.
By the four hour mark I am far away from where I should be in the race standings, completely at a loss as to where the course goes after every single corner and totally unable to continue on each arrival at the pit lane gazebo Angela and Michael are making look so inviting. I thrash myself off tree after tree in the singletrack. Grinding myself to a halt over and over again then grinding myself back up in a vain search for race pace.
Never before have I been contemplating, at this point in a race, how I’m just going to survive, let alone take any real part. I eat and I drink, during my increasing retreats into the pits, more than usual, to no avail. No power comes as a result of it. No cure. No focus appears and nothing falls into place. If I was at a “home” race I would already have removed the shackles and retired. I can’t do that here. I’ve trained so hard for this. Travelled so far and asked so much of so many people, unwavering in my belief that I would just “work”.
I am at a loss as to what to do. Neither a racer nor a retiree I continue with my fall apart laps and increasingly withdrawn feeling pit stops. Hollow self promises of “just riding the course to have fun” instantly shatter and vanish each time I creep my way round the route. A desperate, continually lost figure waiting for something to make the decision he can’t come to himself.
Opportunity arises and the decision is made for me. I exit a section of singletrack on the second half of the course, light headed and focussing far too much on the shimmering, flickering movement of the tread on the front tyre rather than what I am travelling towards. Still with no sense of where the course is taking me next I begin to roll downwards as the sides of the race course tighten around me. More singletrack then. And rocks. More rocks than I was expecting. Loose. One side of the course is gone. Odd. Cliff edge trail. Looser still rocks. Don’t remember this bit. Shit, I’m not steering I’m just gently attached to the bike. Shit. Rocks giving way. Too far right…
The edge of the track gives way under the sprawled weight of the front wheel and the spinning feeling in my head infinitely increases, engulfing me before sharply stopping as I realise I’ve crashed off a near vertical slope and begin to strike the crumbling ground. Bouncing and slithering on the loose shale slope I stop myself by grabbing onto bushes sticking out of the steeply angled earth. The bike rushes closely past me and comes to a half some way below my feet, jammed into the dust to create some steadiness.
I glance upwards and see the trail some 20ft up, downwards past the bike towards the sea below and press my forehead into the dirt next to my outstretched arm. Fuck. Me. That was a big one.
With a few deep breaths I glance down to see what damage I’ve done to myself. My knee seems the wrong shape and the side of my right shin has instantly developed an egg like swelling around a nasty looking gash, but the level of pain suggests that I’m still capable of movement. I scrabble around down to the bike and haul myself upwards back to the race course, where I sit for a few minutes waitng for the shaking to calm before remounting the amazingly unscathed Lurcher and soft pedalling my way back down the course to the comfort and safety of the pits.
I sit, head down in the gazebo, watching feet dance around in front of me for what feels like hours as darkness descends and envelops the race. I can’t eat properly now. I don’t even want to. the fact that my stomach has given up completely suits me just fine. I’m losing interst in everything going on around me, so it comes as a shock even to me to realise I’ve stood up. It takes a while to realise I’ve become as sick of haunting the pits as I have of fading away from the head of the race. I notice that I’ve clipped back into the pedals shortly after I set off for another lap as birds start chirping in trees bizarrely early given how inky back the sky still is. I’m completely lost as to how and why I’m riding, but I am, so I focus down on that.
Blackness begins to break, fade and dilute as the first tendrils of light begin to reopen the sky. I complete my lap without crashing. I complete it and see no comfort in dismounting at the pits. Strangely numb I carry on for a second lap, again without crashing I reappear by our gazebo. Light headed again and almost euphoric I quickly swallow an energy gel and a mouthful of water. I feel like my eyes are reaching out on stalks as the light of the second day reveals a twisting, turning race course that I can flow through. I can see how I can let the bike slide when it needs to. I can snap round the tightest of corners, set up perfectly for the next.
I feel an angry snarl spread across my face as I see a rider on a full suspension bike in front of me, struggling down a steep rocky chute. I glide up to him and past him as if hovering a few inches above any struggles the ground can create. My heart is racing as I nonchalantly dismiss a dusty climb hidden within the tight trees with what feels like nothing more than a flick of the pedals. I recognise what’s coming next. No, more than that, I can already see myself clearing it before I get there.
Heat begins to return as the sun rises, but I am running hotter. Burning. Angry at everything that has happened and so alive that I feel like I can turn back time to start again. I begin to scorch the ground around me, anything I focus on is entirely at my will. No rider has a chance against how I’m feeling, anyone who tries to race me barely exists. I tear round the race course. Tear at it. Becoming aware that this feeling can’t last and equally aware that I won’t temper the flames. Burn harder. Faster. Where was this ability when I needed it? Fuck it. Kill it. Outwardly calm to avoid any questions but inwardly seething and relishing it.
I being to love racing again. Voices in the pits shout out at me that I’m in 16th. Burn. 13th. Tear at the course. 12th. I realise that I am only heading in one direction. I will implode. Still can’t eat. Barely a few mouthfuls of drink each lap. Everything within me becoming acidic.
..8 seconds down on 10th! Go!..
It begins to rain. Oh such cold sweetness. The course takes on a new persona and beaneath me the bike begins to act in a way I understand intrisically. Bring on the slither! My heart keps pounding and I gather and unleash the tyres across the fresh mud. Faster. Faster. With a flow that negates the rocks and drops around the course utterly.
Soaked through I race on. Burning myself out in the storm that engulfs the race. As heavy raindrops explode on impact with the now sodden ground I begin to fail. No real energy or drink for hours means my fireburst through the field up into the top ten can’t last forever. I dont care. I don’t slow down. I become ashen faced as my very core runs dry and is consumed. Fucked. Crawling with clenched teeth 9th! There isn’t a muscle or fibre in my body that isn’t ripping itself apart. 8th!
As I start what will be my last lap I become hollow. Charred and used up inside with nothing left to give. Imploding as I once again begin to creep around the course, with eyes pleading to know What. Might. Have. Been.
I miss my ETA at the finish line as racing becomes riding, becomes walking, becomes walking, becomes tripping and stumbling. My fall apart is as quick as my resurgence was aggressive. Fears begin to grow that the racers I have unlapped, caught and dropped might sneak past. They don’t. I spend the last flicker of energy and power I have crossing the line still in 8th, am lead into a room for drug testing and sit down…
Through all of this, both Phil and Jase rode on ahead of me. Beating many other world’s best to end up 2nd and 7th. Nothing makes up for a bad performance at a race like seeing your teammates go out and achieve something utterly brilliant. I am beyond being chuffed for them both. Truly fucking awesome effort, strength and ability.