Well, here we are on the last day. You know it’s the last day by looking at the fridge. All semblance of healthy eating is gone. We have only Doritos, Coke, beer, wine, cereal, coffee, and cheesecake.
Dinners have become solemn. We stare at our plates like convicts who know that tomorrow will be like today, with the only possible variation being a dropped bar of soap in the shower.
Riding day in and day out has ground us, already feeble, into dust. Even Nikolai, the Norwegian special forces counterintelligence assassin, has begun dreaming of easier days ahead on the Russian border where he only has to worry about two months of darkness, firefights, and guerilla warfare with organized crime.
One of the great things about cycling is mentoring the youth. Nikolai had never ridden a hundred miles before and asked if I would accompany him. “Sure,” I said. “It will be a piece of cake.”
I failed to warn him that it would be nails and broken glass cake.
I traced out a route on the map that looked like it was almost exactly an even century, give or take 50 miles.
“Is it hilly?” he asked. Nikolai is 6′ 4″, 220.
“There is a smallish climb about 20 miles in but you’ll be fine.” Accounting for the rest of the 13,000 feet in elevation would have been problematic so I didn’t try.
In the beginning he yo-yoed a bunch. “Dude quit yo-yoing. Just sit on the wheel and if it’s too fast I’ll slow down.”
“No,” he said authoritatively, “I am following my heart rate.”
“Your heart rate isn’t going to help you 85 miles from now in the headwind.”
“Scientific training is the only way to avoid running out of energy which is why the heart rate monitor is crucial to maintaining awareness of energy conservation so as not to spend time in the zones that will quickly deplete prior to conclusion of the ride.”
“Dude, the only thing that is going to save you when shit gets real is NOT your heart rate monitor.”
“What will, then?”
“A ham and cheese sandwich.”
He laughed nervously. “But don’t you believe in scientific training?”
“Sure, just like I believe in voodoo.”
“But it is proven to work.”
“What works is doping. Everything else is riding, eating, sleeping, rest days, and a good dump before you roll out.”
“So you don’t follow the numbers.”
“Sure I do. I follow them religiously. The number for me is 53. Next year it will be 54. Everything else is an ersatz stat to deflect attention from the fact that I suck.”
After a while it got very hilly and then hillier. Niko began paying less attention to his heart rate monitor and after a while it got hillier. Then, after it got hillier and we were passed by the octogenarians on the tandem, Niko began making strange noises that sounded like “baguette med ost og skinke,” which, it turned out, was Norwegian for “ham and cheese sandwich.”
After about 75 miles the severe climbing gave way to hills and wind. Lots of wind. Buckets of wind. There was little discussion of scientific principles of training as Nikolai became extremely attuned to the scientific principle of sucking wheel and the unscientific principle of suffering like a dog.
After 100 miles we stopped in the town of Anthrax and Niko ate four unscientific ham and cheese sandwiches. As his face turned back from green to healthy third degree sunburn he asked how much farther we had.
“Forty or fifty,” I cheerfully advised.
There was a long unscientific silence. “Well, my goal was a hundred so I’ve achieved my goal.”
“Exactly,” I said.
“I think I’m gonna call a cab.”
“You don’t think I’m being a bitch for quitting, do you?”
“No. You rode great.”
“It’s already 110 miles and 11,000 feet.”
“That’s a lot,” I agreed.
“Any time.” I left him at the side of the road, somewhat sure he’d make it back, even if he had to live off the land for a day or two and Uber.