This is a picture that my good friend Andy took at I was rounding the final corner of the 24 25 Hours of Halloween in Santa Ynez on October 31, 2009. I was part of a 4-man team. I was first rider off, so I rode seven laps and the rest of the team only rode six. I was raging on that last lap when Andy snapped the photo. We ended up placing 3rd that weekend. A very good result for my team. It was especially gratifying for me because I was riding amongst 20-30 year-old riders. I was old enough to be a Dad to most of the other riders.

I asked Janet if she could drive the kids down on the final day so they could see me finish. She said no. She lied to the kids by telling them I was spending the weekend in Santa Ynez on some drunken binge. By then I had gotten “used” to her doing this. It wasn’t the first time Janet pushed my kids away from my racing. I ran three half-marathons, all in 6-minute mile times, and the kids missed them all. They missed me racing in the SLO Criterium. Missed several Adventure-series triathlons. Missed plenty of other rides. Janet always had a reason the Kids couldn’t come to see me race.

Yesterday I got out on the Single Speed and rode Montana de Oro with Kevin and Bill, two good friends. It was the first time I had gotten out on the Mt Bike since I broke my hand in a crash last November.

Being that it was the first time on the Single-speed in nearly a year, I was apprehensive. I was thinking about how out of shape I was, thinking about how careful I needed to be on the downhills. And with that, we started riding.

The trailhead starts at the base of a 1,000 foot climb. It’s quite the warmup when your’e in form, entirely a different beast when you’re not. Kevin leads off, followed by Bill, then me. We gain a few hundred feet and re-group. We chat a bit, then Kevin waves me on. I hesitated, saying “you go, I haven’t ridden in a while” Kevin hears none of it, tells me to go ride. I go to the front and an amazing transformation begins.

I start riding “tempo”. For those who don’t ride, that’s at a pace that’s not quite anaerobic. The trail slowly winds uphill. Where it pitches up, I stand up and mash the pedals forward. I feel strangely alive, connected to my primal self. I hit a vertical rocky section of the trail and I totally clean it. It levels out and I start railing the tempo, spinning effortlessly up the entire grade. I don’t worry about Kevin and Bill behind me. They are good friends who won’t take offense with me taking a flyer. By that point I am raging uphill, like I haven’t for years. The sixteen pounds I lost last year is serving me well as a climber. I feel like Robert Millar. Near the top I began to crack the shoreline fog. I can see wisps of the Californian Blue Sky above me. I can feel the humidity of the climb up dissipate, and the scent of Eucalyptus, sage and rosemary fill my senses.

I get to the top and wait for the guys. They come up, and we chat about cool stuff. The conversation is flowing effortlessly, like I’ve been hanging out with these guys forever. Thing is, I haven’t seen them in nine months. We talk about Guy things, about bike parts, the weather, the trail conditions.

Kevin and Bill pad up, and we drop down the backside. It’s fairly steep, some rocky sections, and all loose. I keep Bill in sight but Kevin soon drops away and rides off. I stack up the first few corners and have to unclip. I get back on and catch back up to Bill, who is doing a fine job of railing a nice line. Pieces start to fall in place, and I manage to get down.

We climb back up and top out at Hazard Peak. There was a congregation of riders at the top. I knew many of them. We bullshitted for a good thirty minutes. I wasn’t anxious about getting started again. I wasn’t thinking “I-have-to-finish-the-ride-and-get-home-or-else-Janet-will-get-mad”. For the first time I was at peace, just talking amongst like-minded riders. And it was bliss.

Kevin begins the final descent. I follow Bill. He’s railing but I’m right on his wheel. He pulls over, he’s somehow pinch-flated his front tire. We stop. Kevin’s already way off the front and gone. I go about and help Bill fix the flat when another rider pulls up and asks if we need help. It’s Yishai, a very good rider. We get the flat fixed. and start to push off.

Bill motions me to lead. I take the front knowing that there are two very good riders behind me. The trail is in the flow-style, not steep or technical but nevertheless very fast if you chose to do so. We traverse over to the opposite face of the mountain and I start to pick up a lot of speed. I hit a couple of whoop—de-doos and do a little air but I keep the bike settled, and I stay off the brakes. I carry a ton of speed into a loose right-hander, bleed off some velocity, and come out of it still carrying a lot of speed. For the next two miles, as the trail dips and curves and hops, I barely touch the brakes. I am feeling alive, feeling at-one with the bike, and just flying through the landscape. I am flowing.

I drop into the trailhead at the bottom and I see Kevin waiting for us in the parking lot. Then I turn and look to see Bill and Yishai arrive ten seconds later. Somehow I had managed to not only keep in front, but to extend it out a few seconds.

Yesterday was the first ride in years where I rode in the present. Where I rode without thinking about anything else. Where I was immersed in the sensations of the ride, the endorphin release, and nothing else. I’m back. And I realized that despite my time off the bike, my limits are high. Very high.