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Notes from the Scrum: Fast and slow

A writer and rider struggles with what kind of rider he is and what kind he wants to be

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Fast. Shiny shaved legs, new tires, new shorts, shimmering road bike, new cap tilted just right. Embrocation.

I’m fast today. I smell fast today. I’ll be faster today than I was last weekend. Maybe not pro fast. No, never pro fast. But fast enough to hang on to them maybe. Maybe fast as the laughing group up Ventoux if they’re telling jokes and I grit my teeth. I gotta be. I’m going good. You can see veins in places I didn’t know I had veins. Maybe I could have been a racer. A real one, if I’d tried this sooner.


I am dropped by people a short time later whose names don’t end up in race results. I am not fast. An Icarus who pedaled too close to the physiological sun again and I’ve cracked for my troubles in the howling wind of the plains. I had to counter. People with panache always counter, even if they can’t. Candy bar. I need a candy bar.


I am slow today. I don’t need a light race bike. I need a trail bike. Because I don’t care about going fast; I’m a soul rider. A guy who rides because the rocks and trees and dirt are air and heart and head fresheners. I’ll ride off that drop twice, better the second time. Cleaner the second time.

I’m the kind of rider who carries a beer — or two? — in his pack and drinks it on the rocks looking at the sun as it sets over the Colorado River. That’s me. I don’t do this sport to go fast. Fast people can have it. It’s not for me.

I tell myself I’ll never care about going fast again because I am not fast by nature and should no longer try to be. I should be the rider with tattoos and scars and flat-billed hats. I should be thicker and louder and buy a sweet new freeride bike. And a bigger truck. For sure, a bigger truck.

I bounce off some rocks a short time later, following a rough line in Grand Junction. My shin has swallowed an egg, and it’s bleeding into my sock. But I had to try to ride it. Who comes all this way and doesn’t try? Maybe I’ll try enduro.

Faster now.

It feels good to go fast.

It is dawn and the Leadville 100 is starting and I am fast again in the early morning with the 1,500 others, most of whom can’t be faster than me. Not today. No sir. Pedal pedal eat eat pedal eat drink spit cough cough.

A full workday later I am 201st, I think. Two hundred people better than me. They went hard. I had to go hard. Had to. Can’t let those wheels fade away into the valley with wind like that. I coughed for hours. Woefully ate half a pizza while lying on a hotel bed. Was that fun?

“Hey, let’s just take it easy,” I say to my legs. Nothing wrong with slow. I attack on the downhill 20 feet later. Seeing how much leash he gives the underdog. I’m the underdog. No leash given. Venga.

We are going faster now, faster than I’ve ever gone before on this road, racing. He is better. He is up the road three seconds but I try because one day I might have it. I don’t know what I’d do if that happened. Hasn’t happened yet. Maybe today it happens.

Chasing in the corner. Do not touch the brakes do not touch the bra— my front wheel is gone. Long slivers of time now, time stretching like first light over the plains. Unbearable time.

The tire is back! The tire hooks up again! I sprint and the deadly gravel marbles do not take me, not today they won’t. I try to catch him and fail. But man we were fast. Strava will prove it. Maybe the two fastest?

We were not the two fastest.

It’s time to slow down. Put a heavy bike in the truck and drive to Moab. Maybe I can find a few locals there, just to show me around the new stuff. Maybe there’s a new drop. Maybe I’ll do a few shuttle laps. The bigger stuff.


Or I could race that fondo Saturday morning in the desert. I’ll be going pretty good then, won’t I? Maybe I could fight it out. Could I win? Why not? I’m fast again. Fast in my legs. Fast in my head.

I’m confused as ever. What kind of rider am I? Maybe it all depends. Maybe it depends on what kind of rider you are.