We are showing you the US version of our site: would you prefer a different location?
Part 2 - Fifteenmile
I know not to tense up, anxiety is only going to make my situation worse. I need to be fluid and loose, need to shift down and spin. An internal status report suggests things aren’t good . At 64 miles in we’re less than half way done and both the road and temperature promise to climb significantly before the day is over. I fade back, just to the left of the group. Out of the saddle and in too big a ring, I check in with each of the faces and each set of legs as they go by in a pace line. I’m looking for hints of pain and suffering, making eye contact if I can. ‘Nice pull, nice effort Daniel,’ says Aaron evenly and without gasp or effort. I hate it that he’s not hurting and he knows it – he can see it in my eyes. Greg is next, offering a consoling head tilt. He smiles and then easily pulls through. Hahn doesn’t even look up when he rolls by under the power of an absurdly high and graceful cadence. Ryan is caked in salt and looking worked but goes by smoothly nevertheless. Too smoothly. My legs, in contrast, are poorly syncopated pistons, seizing and jerking.
This much I know about myself. When I’m about to ‘pop’ and cramp for good, like for the rest of the day, I needlessly and wantonly attack. Like a big, dumb wild animal that has sustained fatal wounds, one that lunges recklessly at anything and everything in a pointless and counterproductive attempt at survival. Just raw, unfocused rage, panic making a last stand. Like the suspect on PCP who walks through countless police officers wielding mace and shotgun shells as if they were sprinklers on a hot day. Crazy and disconnected from reality. I know that in the moment before I crack, I’ll sprint and charge and force whatever remains from my body. I’ll spit and foam and cry. I’ll bury myself.
And that’s why I jump. Despite the grim forecast issuing from my body, despite the debilitating cramp looming on the horizon, just before lunch and the town of Dufur, on a series of long rolling hills and straights, I jump. At first, my effort is strong but the group’s answers come swiftly and definitively. In less than a quarter mile on a steeper section I’m dropped, left to scramble up the road alone. On the downhill section, I catch up with a struggle and when the road levels out, I resume my attack. Once again, I start a fight I can’t finish and my right hamstring begins to seize for real. This goes on for several miles. The others are laughing at me, they know. Every new attack is more diminished than the previous one, a little more pathetic. I’m riding myself into the ground. Ten miles out, inspired by my increasingly spastic and desperate desire to force pain on to the group, the others counterattack in earnest. And that’s when I pop for good.
The Dalles is an honest and proud river town currently making the shift from ‘the way it’s always been’ to ‘the way it’s gonna be.’ From abandoned machine shops, depressing grocery stores and drive-thru espresso stands to micro-breweries and art galleries. Leaving the Columbia, a series of roads with names like ‘Eighteenmile’ and ‘Fifteenmile’ head south, up on to the hot rolling plains that signal the beginning of eastern Oregon. In every direction, brown, golden-green fields of grain shift, from shiny side to dull side, in the heavy oven-like winds blowing steadily out of the east. The occasional creek or stream, indicated by large oaks and tiny wooden bridges, run through the low spots where steep hills merge. From time to time, antique silos, rusty creaking windmills and schoolhouses perch at the edge of the street, watching patiently as we pass. Our advance to Dufur is steady and up, devoid of services or respite, not so much as a filling station. Mt Hood appears as a pointy white illusion, a beacon in the haze coming ever closer, growing bigger and bigger with every mile.