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Part 5 - Dead Indian Summit
We come to a turn-out at the top in ones and twos. First Ben, quickly followed by a not-nearly fast enough Ira. Then me, barely ahead of Ryan, the result of our laughable slow motion up-hill-race-sprint which neither of us won, I just lost less. Then Greg and, finally, a grinning Tony.
The day ostensibly over, with all major efforts either made or unmakeable to start with, the mood was good as we breathed and dried through the last break before the ride finale, a 12-mile descent. We sat in the dirt and hanged about our bikes. We ate fruit, unfurled stowaways and stretched. There was even some innocuous chatter about the nature of the descent. How long exactly, what grade, the road surface?
Then Greg, unintentionally violating the group solidarity beaten into us by two longish major climbs and ninety miles of riding, asked a not so harmless question. “Hey Ryan,” he said, “where’s the town limit sign. Is it maybe at the bottom or somewhere thereabouts?” Where’s the town limit sign, was he serious? A truce had already been called, one signed by my lactic legs and ratified by the late afternoon sun casting our tired, leaning shadows into the dirt.
And with that, an energetic shift was felt throughout our makeshift parking lot, one almost palpable in the air above Dead Indian Summit. Backs straightened, helmets were fastened and pedals went smack, smack, smack. Where previously, a group of friends had been sharing a languid afternoon cool-down before an easy roll into town, all that remained was a still billowing cloud of sunlight-streaked dust. In the distance, almost out of sight, the sound of the sulfur Stowaway, short, tight and tidy, flapping violently, echoed off the hillside.
I descend under the influence of one of two attitudes, they co-exist on opposite sides of the mortality spectrum. The first is rationality; I have a wife and kids and I’m 36-years old. Crashing out at 42 miles per hour is too great a risk simply to earn ‘first one down the mountain’ bragging rights. Unless it’s a race or someone attractive is watching and cares – neither situation I have much experience with – then why bother? Especially considering no major amount of time can be lost or gained when optimal drafting is in effect. I can’t remember when it was exactly but a few years ago, I cancelled my subscription to adrenalin.
The second attitude is primal, reckless and stupid and can’t be reasoned with. When it comes, it comes so completely as to permeate every cell and override every neuron in the pursuit of one thing. Speed. And it’s focus, in this case, is the now mythologized Ashland City Limit sign. It’s a state of consciousness I call “Mongo”. And right now, Mongo is pulling through a banking left turn at 46 miles per hour.
What makes this descent so noteworthy is that with exception of Ben Lieberson, not totally unsusceptible but certainly a bit more reserved, Mongo comes upon us collectively, the whole group possessed by the possibility of a road sign at the bottom of a mountain. Rides ending with a descent and city limit signs are commonplace and in the absence of aggravated chiding while climbing, we don’t generally race amongst ourselves. But whether its was celestial alignment or some kind of infection, we crowd-attacked the road, the hill and each other in a display part feeding frenzy, part Road Warrior, part 12-year old boys in a neighborhood BMX race.
Drafting around bends and into turns with only inches between tires and bars, the classic pace line rotation formed, exploded, and reformed hundred times over. Challenges came from the right, through scree and loose gravel and to the left in the on-coming traffic lane where carless straights confirmed ownership of the road. Elbows brushed and bumped in slow-motion focus, framed in a grey, yellow-flecked warp-speed blur. A rhythm formed between periods of rest, spent coasting in a quiet line, one buffeted on the edges by increasingly warm valley air. The tunneled sound of Chris King hubs buzzing. And just before every turn, the frenetic moments of digging and fighting, measured in wheel lengths, for an inside-line advantage. All of us plotting and mapping, timing the apex. Feeling-out the surface. Leaning further and further with less regard, more confidence or both.
I sprinted until I was raw and burning and sure that I had shaken the field. I did this five times, maybe seven, before I realized that no matter how hard I worked, or what I was willing to gamble, someone was always right behind me with a smile on their face. And if it was Tony, a wink and a grin too, his face hanging over the front of his bike, eyes peering intently, manically from just beneath the brim of his hat.
Near the bottom, I skipped my wheel leaving a turn. It could have been reflective paint or a rock. But whatever it was, I skipped from straight to sideways, 45 degrees, and snapped back to attention, vertical, in the same instant. I looked back, seeking verification that I was still living and for some explanation as to what just happened. Tony’s grin was still there, though now crowded slightly by the surprise and wonder that registered on the rest of his face.
We became colors, coming into and out of focus. A white blur would materialize into Ryan as he passed. Greg would drift back into black. A half-blue, half-Ira, hanging back and to the left. This went on, all of it, for what seemed like hours. Sweaty faces and diminished posture, shorter and shorter pulls and counter attacks, all evidence that the tired we felt before the drop was nothing compared to our current shelled emptiness. We finally landed, mostly together, and in the end there was either no city limit sign; or else we passed it and nobody had noticed.
Greg, feeling robbed, rode off the front and meaninglessly attacked a freeway overpass. Before rolling over the far side he looked back and smiled.
“The top manages to appear and everyone stops on the side of the road to prepare for the 12 mile descent. Fig Newtons, jackets and queuing up new artist on the ipod. I make the mistake of asking about a Town Limit Sign and it get’s a little weird after. We go down fast, really fast, and all bunched up. It’s deathly scary and crazy exhilarating at the same time. With everyone jockeying and Tony’s up front laughing at us all.” – Greg Johnson
“The crew held together charging through the corners at 40mph. And into a crazy hot, sideways headwind. It was so much fun, seven riders leaning all the way over together through countless turns. I may be slow on the climbs but on the descents, gravity is my pal. And you know what, it’s easy to pass people in the corners when you don’t use your brakes.” – Tony Pereira
“I think I ate one big bowl of oatmeal; walnuts, brown sugar, raisins, bananas and whole milk. Three cups of coffee. One Espresso Love GU, a vegan fruit/nut bar, 12 Fig Newtons, one 12oz grape Gatorade, 5 water bottles (tall ones) worth of water, one handful of almonds, one handful of trail mix, two bananas, ½ Everything Bagel with roasted red pepper hummus and a fruit bar. Then some cheese wontons, a small Cesar salad, a plate of fries, an avocado cheeseburger, two Pabst Blue Ribbons, two vodka and sodas, another plate of fries and one glazed donut.” – Greg Johnson