I carry around my over-stuffed suitcase of non-courage, zippers broken and shit spilling out, handles frayed, two of the casters broken and the other two wobbling frenetically in opposite directions, only to find that it’s too big to be checked, or that there’s an extra cargo charge of $250, or that the best memories inside have fractured in transit into microtiny carbon splinters, or that the TSA has stolen my prized participant ribbons, or that upon reaching my destination the bag has been shipped to Malaysia on a Dutch flight that can no longer be found but is certainly somewhere over, or more likely in, the Indian Ocean.
The suitcase of non-courage is heavy, too heavy for a mortal to lug, and is so mixed with history and life and regret and misremembrance of things past that I wonder why I continue to drag it around from ride to ride, from race to race, from overwrought faux Grand Fondue to overwrought Faux Fondue.
This is precisely where I found myself on Saturday, another wasted weekend spent in search of that which by definition you will never find, and it was exactly at the nadir of the whole experience that the chaff fell away and the kernel lay, revealed.
I’d been relegated to the sidelines, which was fine, because after completing the first four BWR’s I was done abusing myself for the sake of someone else. The exhaustion and wreckage visited upon man and equipment alike by the Belgian Waffle Ride was nowhere more evidenced than in its effect on the ride’s founder, Michael Marckx, who had finally cobbled together the Dual Divinity: A ride so hard that he was afraid to do it, and a companion easier, shorter, flatter ride that he could actually win. It made me happy to see my friend, after so many years of teeth-gnashing defeats and failures, finally declare himself victor of his own event.
But more than the happiness of seeing Michael hoist himself on the shoulders of the myriad volunteers, friends, and admirers who had come together to make the BWR happen, I saw something else, something that penetrated, at least for a few moments, the hardened shell of skepticism that coats what remains of my battered and tattered old suitcase.
It was the incredible happiness of my friends and comrades at Big Orange cycling who launched into the event with full abandon and reaped the confidence and success that comes from lining up and finishing such a monstrously difficult ride. For the first time in my five years of struggle with this terrible day in North County San Diego, I stood at the finish line cleaned and scrubbed and utterly un-tired and un-hungry, watching in awe as my friends pedaled squares past the big banner, their faces as drained and beaten as any historic shower-stall photo from Paris-Roubaix.
Covered in dirt, many of them sported torn-apart clothing, shattered equipment, bloody limbs, and a kind of disbelief that they had managed to ever get back. One friend collapsed on a table, unable to even remove his helmet. I’ve never seen anyone collapse on a tiny round bar table, standing.
But as each rider revived, some after spending twelve hours battling a course that was simply designed to punish, and as they ate, then drank, then plunged their faces madly into the mounds of ice cream-covered-waffles, smiles began to play and the stories began to roll out.
Stories of fellow riders who simply dismounted and quit. Riders who were carted off in an ambulance. Equipment failures of every variety. Mental failures, physical collapse, “the wall” of endurance, pushing beyond, far beyond, anything they’d done before, and conquering this beast of a ride with sheer desire to complete a ride that the ride’s founder himself didn’t dare to attempt.
Although my suitcase of skepticism no longer has room for flowery praise of the “resilience of the human spirit,” the grandpa in me appears to have room for nothing else. These friends have accomplished something–what they’ve accomplished is unique for each of them, and its significance will really only reveal itself over a rather long period of time. Thanks for letting me sit on the sidelines and cheer you on.
Big O Riders (If I’ve left off your name or last name please add it in a comment!)
Stella de la Vega
Big O Cheerleaders
Big O Saints: These two guys spent the day in Dan’s Jeep covering the route and fixing bikes, providing medical aid, getting injured riders back to their hotels, and serving as roving rangers to protect and serve.
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