Sunday, June 3, 2007

Bum flipper meditations

Went--tried to go--for a hike today with everyone up here in Sonoma county and managed to sprain my ankle. It's not a terrible injury, but it sure is a drag. A mile or so into our ascent of Hood Mt. and crunch! over she went. I haven't done something like this in at least 15 years, so I guess I was about due. Still, I'm feeling pretty defective right now. Django bruised his paw, Jodi fought my cold, now this. Maybe this is a cursed trip as Jodi suggested. I'm feeling marooned and useless--no bike, can't hike. I'm going to get to some reading, but the weather is fine and I need to be active. I should get over the sprain in a few days--at least enough to ride, which is the most crucial thing at this point. The injury shouldn't endanger any plans for the big rides--Oregon in July and the TransAm.

I spend a lot of time imagining how things will go for the TransAm. It's still fully two months away, so I've got lots of living to do between now and then, but still, I keep jumping ahead to the day when I board the plane. I've been thinking about a joke I made in an earlier post--at The Bard's expense--about "sticking my courage to the screwing place." The line, from Macbeth, reads: "Screw your courage to the sticking place." The good lady was inspiring her husband to go to bat and kill all the nobles and guards in the castle so that he might take the throne. The inversion of the expression has some interesting implications, ones that climbers, military personnel, and various others can appreciate.

We can, if we dream ourselves into the right frame of mind, attempt some very impressive deeds. But if our luck is bad or our preparation inadequate, this mustering of courage can put us into desperate circumstances, screwing places, i.e., places where we get screwed, whacked, hammered, shown who the REAL daddy is. Arctic explorers (wasn't one of them named Scott?!), Everest climbers, skate boarders jamming some rad flips down concrete steps--all of us can find ourselves in "Oh, shit" moments when our reaches have exceeded our grasps, when nerve alone was not enough or too much. This, of course, was Macbeth's problem, too. Once the spot is in, there's no getting it out, even with Spray 'n' Wash.

Any seasoned adventurer can provide a litany of such experiences, and these tales form the spice of life, the narratives for late nights around the campfire. Since I am here to write these words, I have always been able to escape the ultimate price. I have a number of nerve-shredding tales from my years climbing and some from cycling, too. Like the time, when I was twelve, and I left a friend's house high on a hill above my home. The rain was pouring down, the streets slick, treacherous, but home was close, just a wee bit down this steep hill--I'll be home in no time. No worries. I jumped onto my trusty three speed--a cool lime green number my father had cobbled together with a Sturmy-Archer hub, drop bars, hand brakes, and nice, shiny, smooth, plated rims. I loved that bike. So with the cavalier courage of youth, I pushed off. Faster, faster, and faster still into the stinging rain I plunged, a fine rooster tail of water flinging off my rear tire, splashing my back. Well, it's time to slow down now. Let's just ease on these brakes, shall we? Nothing. Nada. Where there should have been a satisfying resistance, a rubbing or squeaking sound, there was just the increasing rush of the air across my unhelmeted head and the more painful sting of the rain. The grade only got steeper....

My mind, a rat on crack and cornered by a cobra, scrambled about for solutions. Okay, okay, you can stop this thing, right? Drag a foot? Run it out to the bottom? Crap, not that, too much cross traffic down there, not much chance there. Those bushes? Just ram this rig into a hedge? Drag my foot? Too fast, too fast. I'll just try to make my turn. When the road levels out, I'll drag a foot.

There was the turn. My eyes flooded, my heart pounding, slippery fingers still bearing down on the levers, I leaned into the corner...and right into a station wagon that had just pulled up to the intersection. Thump, crunch of steel, snapping spokes, a scream--I was airborne, free from earthly restraint and somersaulting over the wagon. Then, in an unplanned move that would have done Buster Keaton or Jackie Chan proud, I landed on my feet on the opposite side of the car. A 10! Eat your heart out, Nadia. Too shaken to truly stick the landing, I sagged to my knees, a quaking, terrified kid too lucky for words.

The driver, an equally terrified woman, burst from the car to see how I was doing. "Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Are you all right?" I stood up on uncertain legs and surveyed my frame. I was fine. Everything bent in the proper direction. No colorful fluids issued from fresh openings. I walked gingerly around the front of the wagon to survey the damage. I had come in at a sharp angle and hit the side just ahead of the front door. There was a dent in the door, and a strip of plated window trim was bent back. The front wheel of my bike was "potato-chipped," one of the pedals was bent terribly--but I wasn't. The woman followed me home the couple of hundred yards to my door as I dragged my bike through the rain.

I never made that mistake again.

So we experiment, take risks, fail, and get back on to try again. When I get off that plane in Bar Harbor, will I be pushing off a hill, limp brakes and polished rims to stop my fall? Over thirty years of experience between then and now tell me no, but there's always that thread of doubt. Sometimes I tug at this thread, worry the suture of uncertainty. Pull too hard, and the wounds can open up, the garment unravel. Sometimes it's best to ignore it. Or take a razor to cut it free.