By Joe Kurmaskie — We were never far from nowhere, you could see it from just outside the backdoor. And when the magic of the adventure threatened to overwhelm, we didn’t crack because we knew the way with best laid plans, the myth of merciful Gods and America. Better to get lost in the mysteries of leaves and dirt and mesas, long nights and late summer sunrises.
When we taste a shift in the season on the wind there’s that pull. Not to take a stand, but to drop the pedal like a holy roller and turn the corner. Find if the hunger still resides somewhere between head and toes and if the beauty still catches in the throat. The first pedal strokes trace this mantra: a horizon with no one on it, a gift to look upon it. Sun in the saddle – on my way to nowhere but getting there with heaps of joy in my bones, and a hint of a summer breeze in my hair. Someday I’ll be old and bent and devil spent, but thanks to days like today I’ll be that wrinkled as jerky but still going old timer with a grin people will mistake for wisdom. Get at it wherever you’re at.
I’ve always liked criterium races, they make me think of summer and race season, though I’ve only been in one, which I won, but we’ll get to that in a bit. I do a a crit a couple times a week in my neighborhood. I’m the only one in the race and it’s not a square as much as a very long rectangle with a slanted roof on it along the bluff. I like to do five laps because after that i get a little bored and it feels like I’ve gotten the blood flowing enough. I lean into the corners and open it up on the long straight aways and sometimes I narrate in my best color commentator voice, “It’s time to open up the suitcase and see what tricks are stored in there.” “Dig deep, lad. It’s the bell lap.” Sometimes I pass other riders who don’t know they are in a race. Mostly I like taking the air and seeing the angle of the sun across the pavement when it’s beaming through the trees. Mostly I like feeling alive and in motion.
In 1996 I was covering the Tour Of The Gila for the newspaper where I worked. My landlord was one of the race sponsors. He co-owned the local bike shop and he was a pretty chill guy. He partner was a ball of stress. You know how you can actually see stress swirl around some people? It’s a five day stage race with a crit in town on that Saturday. I rode along on the long day out to the cliff dwellings, and appreciated how fast these non body fat lost souls could coax a bike to go.
The Saturday race was in multiple parts. The women raced in the morning, then the citizens crit. Then the men’s cats in the afternoon. My landlord came out at about 5 minutes before noon with a mountain bike and told me he’d signed me up for the citizen’s race. I waved it off and pointed out that I was wearing hiking boots. The gun sounded and he literally ran me to the start line and pushed me forward. I had a few seconds to decide to peel off or dig in… I have this default feature built into the reptile part of my brain… it’s always set on fight. So I did my best to get my hiking boots onto the middle of the pedals and I dug in, hard. so hard I had to back off a bit so as not to blow up, but that was after I’d caught and overtaken the pack. I held me line in my mountain hardware shorts, Suwannee Country Tours tank top and hiking boots. I looked absurd, I felt exhausted. By the third lap I contemplated dropping off the back but half of the town, my friends and neighbors were chanting Joe, Joe, Joe at every corner. Several of their dogs chased after me, mistaken Joe for go perhaps. Much of my life has followed this track… a push from nowhere, chaos, excitement, sound, fury, pain, motion and at some point a big smile turns to laughter because hell, it’s all gonna be over soon enough so enjoy the ride.
A hundred yards out my boot slipped the pedal and I almost went down, but I went loose and completed the motion catching the pedal again. When it was over I was laying on the ground thinking is this what a heart attack at 29 feels like?
The Ilg brothers helped me to the curb where I sat with my head between my knees for an indefinite period of time. “You won,” Craig Ilg said but all I heard was. “You Done.”
“How do you feel?” Craig’s brother asked. Still a bit breathless, I could be philosophical, “Like I will stick to touring for here on…”
When they put the medal around my neck I chuckled, realizing that since I was the reporter, I was going to have to write about my win in the third person when listing the stats for that day.
Since the race was a loop, it somehow made sense, as if seeing myself as I came around to the start.
On stage, I manage to blurt out. “Next year leaving the hiking boots at home…. maybe flip flops.”