"working on my faults and cracks..."

7.17.2012

post traumatic

war feet (image by lunar/solar)
The Crusher in the Tushar is not meant to be embarked upon lightly. Claims of its extreme difficulty are far from hyperbolic, as they are confidently verified by olympians and professional cyclists alike. The race format is unique in that riders are allowed to choose the bike upon which the punishment is doled out. There isn't really a wrong choice, because at some point the course will wrest away any potential correctness of your decision by showing you that you can't efficiently ride a mountain bike on the road, or can't efficiently/safely descend a washed-out two-track on a cross bike. And with 10,000 feet of climbing over road, dirt, and sand, there are no winners of the Crusher. Only those crushed.

To most effectively underscore the difficulty of the Crusher, we must explore a different place: one referred to as the "pain cave" (sometimes also referred to as the "hurt locker") by many cyclists. The pain cave is an oft-overused euphemism that reeks of hyperbole which is frequently employed to describe suffering through a particularly difficult part of a ride or race. While unique in its subjective severity, the cave is usually described simply as a distinct and prolonged feeling of discomfort. However, after riding the Crusher three days ago, I can say with a great degree of confidence that the pain cave is in fact a very real place. It has no marked entrance, no clear visage. Only its exit is clear: the finish line. One does not enter the cave willingly, as I did when the course began a slow and tortuous death march back up the mountain for the second time.

Neither purgatory nor hell, deep in the pain cave reside the inner demons that we only speak of in metaphorical terms. These demons socialize with ex-girlfriends and forgone youthful aspirations while guarding the sanity you've long since dispensed. Its walls are decorated with the stolen works of Van Gogh, and once-destroyed Banksy paintings. The melodies of lost Kurt Cobain b-sides fill the air. It is a tortuous, yet strangely solemn and hallowed place. While in the cave, you find yourself confronting your very humanity. You will either summon every last iota of willpower to emerge on the other side, or you will succumb. The journey through the cave is temporary, but the pain of quitting is forever.

I usually try to race with some semblance of conviction to finish ahead of as many other riders as I can. If this is not a strategy you ascribe to while riding your bike, you are either having more fun than I, or simply aren't racing. Somewhere on one of the umpteenth switchbacks around mile 50 where the "20 miles to go" sign popped up, I could hear the demons whispering, now tangible. I looked down at my Suunto—I was climbing at just over 4 miles an hour. Surprisingly, even in a delirious cross-eyed state of exhaustion, I was still capable of calculating the equation that would tell me a great deal of suffering still remained. From that point, it was no longer a race or anything of the sort. It became a mental and physical battle of attrition. I was in no condition to finish quickly, I would only salvage my pride and escape the cave.

You can read my blow-by-blow race report, and see many of the race's "war faces" spectacularly captured by Lunar Solar Creative here. You can also find the course's hateful elevation profiles and other race data from my GPS here.

 
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