I made my editor, Christine Mattheis, laugh out loud.
For once I’d gotten to a race early enough to warm up — thirty minutes of easy spinning plus a half-dozen light sprints that brought out a sheen of sweat that felt like armor to me, cleared my lungs and nose of their reserves of snot, and left my legs feeling a way I could most accurately describe as “open.”
I rolled into the parking lot and over to my truck, clipped out and leaned my bike up against the bed, then took off my helmet and stripped off my jersey and peeled my gloves inside out, laying everything on the hood. I slid the straps of my bibs off my shoulders and just stood there for a second, looking at my race gear all spread out.
Then I grabbed my bike by the stem and flipped it around and did that thing we do when we’re feeling cool, throwing my leg up and around the back of the saddle as I pushed off, the mount and the momentum one inseparable thing. I coasted twenty feet, maybe thirty, not even clicking in, then dismounted and set the rear wheel of my bike against a young tree off in the grass and walked over to the port-a-pot. No one was in line.
I was sitting in there when my cell phone — stashed in the pocket on the back of the bibs where pros keep their race radios — vibrated against my spine. I leaned forward to gain some clearance and twisted around at the waist and flipped open the phone and saw Beth’s name on the screen, and I knew she was calling to find out if, after talking about it and planning for it all week, I’d actually been able to get myself together and get to the race in time to warm up; I’d become convinced that rushing to every race was the reason I wasn’t at the front.
Without waiting to hear her voice, I said, “Oh, baby — I feel great!”
She said she guessed the warm-up had worked.
“I haven’t felt like this all year,” I said. I chortled.
She said she loved me, and, joking around, I said, “I love me today.”
Beth laughed and wished me good luck, and I flipped the phone shut and reached around to stick it into the bib pocket. Someone outside coughed, and some feet shuffled, and that was when I remembered I was sitting in a port-a-pot before a race.
I dropped my head into my hands and replayed what I’d said, trying to figure out whether the racers who’d overhead what must have sounded like my pep talk to myself would judge me overconfident, narcissistic or simply insane.
All three, I decided. Then I decided I should take out my phone before I opened the door so I could hold it up and wiggle it and explain, sheepishly, “Phone call.” Then I decided that deciding all this had turned me into a port-a-pot malingerer.
I finished as fast as I could and stood up. Something long and wet adhered itself to my right calf. Instinctively, I twitched my leg, and the slimy thing disappeared, then fastened back onto me. I twisted my leg around to the side so I could see it and looked at my calf.
The strap of my bibs, hanging loose below my waist, was plastered against my skin. I peeled it away with my hand.
I knew I wasn’t used to getting a good warm-up, but I was still surprised I’d sweated so much — that my few efforts had saturated my bibs. I lifted the strap and rubbed it between my thumb and index finger. The feel was oily, slick, thick.
What kind of sweat was my body pumping out? I lifted the strip of spandex higher, brought it to my nose and sniffed.
I had accidentally dangled my bibs down into the dark abyss of the toilet hole.
I dropped the strap. It suctioned onto my calf again. The left one did the same. I stood there, staring straight ahead at the green door of the port-a-pot glowing like a spring leaf, lit from the outside by sunshine.
When I opened the door and stepped down, I could see a bunch of guys but I didn’t look at any one of them. I let the door bang shut and I said, “Hey.” My straps were affixed to my legs. I realized I was nodding my head for some reason. I said, “Thanks,” for no reason, then I walked over and got on my bike and rode away.
At the truck, I stood there looking at my gear all laid out in the sun on the hood as if somewhere in that past action lay a solution that didn’t involve me strapping myself into bibs soaked with urine and fecal juice. I looked down at the heart monitor on my wrist, too, but all it told me was that that I was pulsing blood throughout my body at the rate of 103 beats each minute.
I formulated a brilliant strategy: I pulled the straps over my shoulders and put on my jersey as fast as I could.
That was four years ago, but I always think about that race right around this time, just as I’m about to start another season. I don’t remember much about the race itself. It hurt, which made me happy. I rode in the pack. I might have tried one ignorant attack, I might not have; I’ve made a lot of ignorant attacks.
I remember that after the race, as we were soft-pedaling and cooling down, Pearson or Torch or Simes or somebody came back beside me and I said, “Hey, do I still stink,” and whoever it was snorted out a single syllable of laughter or maybe just grunted but for sure said, “No, you hung in there tonight.”
I remember smiling about that a long, long time.
And I remember every year now to remember that just when you think everything is perfect and you finally have a chance to do a race the way you’ve dreamed about doing it, you can go to shit in a second. And I remember the detail that is absolutely without moral or meaning but which, for some reason I can never understand, has ended up being my favorite part of the whole story: I never explained to any of those guys I raced with that I’d been on the phone, and I’ve never wished that I had.
Originally published in the March 28, 2008 Sitting In