Jack and I started up the bottom of Deer Creek, and if you haven’t figured it out by then, you’re going to figure it out shortly: Jack Nosco is a competitor.
Which makes sense, because he’s a firefighter. Not a firecompromiser, or a firemediator, or a fireresolver. He’s not a firetalker, a firestrategizer, a fireologist, or a firetherapist.
He’s a fire-fucking-fighter, and he fights fires until he kills them or they die, whichever comes first.
People who fight to kill do not let up because it’s a big fight, because they’re outnumbered, because the enemy has bigger weapons, or because they got ambushed. Once the fight starts, whatever’s at hand, that’s the weapon. And the fight ends when the enemy is extinguished.
Unfortunately, the fight-to-kill reflex also comes to the fore when the road tilts up, and friendly Jack, happy Jack, kind Jack, merciful Jack, used the weapons at hand, or rather the weapons at leg, and ripped mine off. He floated up the longest, steepest, most miserable climb in the Santa Monicas like he was going down an ice hill on skates, complimenting broken, staggering, huffing, gasping, walking riders who’d bitten off more than they could chew, or, more correctly, who had gotten too much gradient shoved down their throats way too fast, way too soon.
He smiled. He chatted. He attaboyed. He fist-bumped. He high-fived.
He tossed me into the meat grinder, blew over the top, and was gone.
But nothing that mattered went with him, because instead of leaving a trail of burned over destruction in his wake, he left hundreds of riders stuck on a steep ramp in various stages of mental disarray except for this one: the mental disarray of quit.
I have never seen so many people so pinned for so long without so much as a hint of quit.
This is what the Nosco Ride has done, at least on one level. It has shown that the power of unity is stronger than the power of tearing shit down. It has shown that one person’s will do to do a good thing can infect thousands, then tens of thousands of others, can cause them to lay aside their own problems and knuckle down for the benefit of someone else.
On another level, the ride shows, powerfully, that charity is a two-way street. Sure, the foundation raises huge sums and puts them directly into the hands of people who are sick. But the people fighting illness are actually the ones who are really giving, not the people parting with their cash.
The gift is their time at a point in life where seconds, minutes, hours have the value of years. Displaying their mental and physical efforts, and most importantly, sharing their words and bearing in a time of greatest stress, are given to us not for their benefit, but for ours.
The true recipients of the Nosco Ride are those who take the time to ease off the pedals and take note of the lessons that are being offered up by the wisest among us, reflect on those lessons, and be guided by them.
I thought a lot about that throughout the day as I went through highs and lows, riding fast, riding slow, passing, getting passed, stopping, starting, refueling, and finally, finishing. But of all the people who fired me up, no one could match the kid in the blue t-shirt, the beginner bike, the sneakers, and slightly askew helmet, who asked this question: “Where do we turn?”
“Up about six miles,” I said.
“What’s the road called?”
“Latigo Canyon Road. It’s right after a little hill. You go left.”
“That road wasn’t on my map.”
“Which route were you doing?”
“The short one.”
“Oh, man. You wrong-turned and are back at the ocean. You have to go up Latigo or back up the climb you just descended in order to get back to the start.”
He had that “Oh, shit” look, but only for a second. “I guess I’m doing the long route, then.”
“I guess you are.”
A bit later we had a flat and the kid passed us. He looked so tired, pedaling squares, but look as I might I couldn’t see any quit.
About half a mile into the bottom of the 6-mile toil that is the Latigo Canyon climb, we passed him, standing in a gravel turnout, sipping on a water bottle. “Do you need anything?” I asked.
He shook his head. “I’m okay. I think. How long is this?”
“About an hour,” I said.
He remounted and started pedaling. You could tell that wherever his rope was, he was getting near the end of it. “This ride is for such a great cause,” he said, trying to talk himself up the hill.
“It sure is,” I agreed. “Us.”
It took a few seconds for that to sink in. Then he kind of dropped his head a little. I didn’t get a good look at his face, but I suppose I didn’t need to. Because after dropping his head, he dropped us, and was gone.
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