The wind pushes through yucca plants, between rocks, over hills and through the peloton. Whole cacti sway like car antenna. We all dive for the right side of the road, ignoring the broken pavement, the swirls of sand and the crushed beer bottles. Though Mexico is visible from the top of the climb and the sun is bright like teen love, temperatures sit in the 50s. The air moves like an assassin. Guys are getting blown off the road, cartwheeling onto beds of nails.
I’m days from the knife, from the general numb, from a vial of tablets. Catgut weaves through my back. As we crest a small rise at railroad tracks yet again, bump over ties, lurch to the pows of tubes and groan at the effort to hold wheels. I realize this effort is the first truly at a pace to shed the pretenders. Between contenders and pretenders I thought I was former, not latter.
But my legs won’t fire. They might as well be ears coming down from the mountain. I wish there was a Eustachian tube for quads.
The group narrows, and that tells me I’m sliding toward the back. And then I realize I’m surfing from one dropped rider to another, diving from one draft to the next to stay in the back of a train that is happy to leave without me.
I make it over the rise but know the real climb is one 90-degree turn away. I can’t change my legs. I can’t change the surgery. I needed the knife, to remove the growth, to set my shoulder right. What the doctor removed was wrong like moldy cheese, and smelled as awful. Without that thing, I ought to be better. Yet treatment lingers. My legs are punched, not punched in.
We hit the climb and I slot between yellow lines before a rider 20 pounds heavier can grab the protection. With him to my right I sit in a kind of shadow, with the Santa Ana causing him to sway, while I focus on staying low, breathing deep, relaxing my shoulders and arms. It’s an entire magician’s bag of tricks, but the rabbit won’t emerge. I slip back, and another rider gobbles my spot.
I realize that I have no say. I did my best. I trained through the winter, rolled secret miles, refused dessert, beer, glasses of wine. And I begin to guess that it’s not enough to seek treatment, but when you seek treatment matters. Eventually, I’ll learn this rule applies in every corner of my life.
It’s too late for today, too late for this goal. Too late for my team, but not too late for the future.
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