Chivalry is a Beautiful Thing......
February 01, 2013
By Bonnie Crossfurst
The man in the blue jeans was right on my tail. I could hear the sound of snow covered leaves crunching beneath the weight of his tires. We wound through the forest; barren trees jetting up from the ground, their leaves having fallen after the color bled out. I noticed the red ribbon beckoning to make a sudden sharp left and turned hard to stay the course. The world tipped right and the earth rose up to meet me with a crushing thud.
Breaks squealed behind me as the man in the blue jeans did an endo in his effort to keep from rolling over the top of my fallen carcass. I jumped up and heaved my bike to an upright position. “You alright, Bonnie?” I heard over my shoulder. “Never better! Let’s do this!” and off we went, winding our way...
through the single track, keeping a watchful eye for more ice on the trail. He laughed, “I like your attitude!”
Earlier that morning I drove down to the river bottoms and parked amongst the dirty cars. Some still had bikes hoisted on their back sides while others were dark and damp with frost. I got out and lifted the behemoth I had off the bike rack hitched to the rear of my car, running through a quick mental gear check. There wasn’t much snow but the ground was smothering under a layer of ice. Winter was being fickle this year.
When I rode up to the red tents, the Get Phat With Pat race was in full swing and Penn Cycle was ready to roll out the first wave of riders. I quickly signed a waiver and paid my entry fee. Leaning my bike against a wooden post, I heard a voice ask if I was racing. I looked up into the eyes of an elderly man and smiled. “Racing? More like trying not to get hurt! How about you?” He stood tall, well over six feet. I noticed he was wearing Levi’s and had his hands stuck deep in his pockets, fending off the piercing cold. He looked more like a woodsmen than a mountain biker. Maybe those two things are the same. He smiled wide, “Sure am! Never done something like this before so thought I’d come out and see what the young folk are up to these days.” I asked him which division he was riding in. “Beginner”, he replied, same as me. I invited him to ride with me, sort of a collaborated effort to have fun. He accepted with a warm smile. “Poor guy. Probably never rode further than the gas station,” I thought to myself. I admired his spontaneity.
The first wave or racers was for seasoned riders. Fat bikes thudded up to the start line while the announcer introduced the wave and gave out snippets of dark secrets about Pat Sorenson, President of Penn Cycle. Come to find out he used to be a backup singer for Twisted Sister, maybe a dancer as well. I glanced his way and tried to imagine him on stage, screaming out indiscernible lyrics.
The beginner wave was summoned and the man in the blue jeans rode up next to me as I waddled my behemoth toward the red line on the ground. I closed my eyes and prayed for safety. I had only been riding a fat bike for three weeks and this was my first winter race. Pat raised the starting gun high in the air and pulled the trigger, piercing the air with excitement.
My plan was to set a pace at which I could actually enjoy the experience, instead of in a reckless flurry of excitement. I also needed to save some energy for the four hour training ride I had planned for afterwards. But true to race form, we burst out of the gates like captive bulls being released into a fighting ring. After about a half mile at mach five, I glanced back, intending to survey the scene behind me and locate the man in the blue jeans, only to immediately make eye contact with him by my side. “Let’s not blow ourselves up trying to stay with the young and energetic!” I smiled at him, trying to catch my breath and gauge how much the sprint was hurting him. With a perfectly relaxed voice he replied, “That sounds like a good plan, Bonnie. I am in no hurry at all.”
I let up just a touch and we pressed on, my breath rising up like a locomotive charging down the tracks. Finally, in exasperation I had to tell Mr. Blue Jeans to slow down as I was having an asthma attack. This is a great little trick to pull out of the bag when you come to the horrible realization that the guy who looks like he couldn’t tell you what a top tube is is totally smoking your sorry self. He apologized like a gentleman and told me to take it easy. What was wrong with this guy?! Doesn’t he know that riding a fat bike in the winter on snow, ice and single track is hard? Throw some sweat around or breathe hard, for Pete’s sake. I started wondering if he took drugs. And that is precisely when the fast left came up and I found myself on the ground, nose to nose with Mother Nature.
Onward we rode, through forestry, over logs, onto the edge of a frozen river and through ice water a foot deep. A rider went down in the water, a spontaneous ice bath. We crossed a bridge and danced around brush when I caught site of a family of deer keeping pace at a distance. We were totally enveloped in beauty. Smiling wide, I reminded myself to take in as much scenery as the icy course would allow.
After some time we were being passed by another rider so I slowed and rode to the side of the narrow trail, watching him and blue jeans lunge ahead of me. As they began pulling away, a stark reality hit. This old guy in Levi’s, this sand bagger on a bike, was obviously a kook who gets his kicks out of foolery. He probably rode his bike for a living and enjoys kicking racers in the teeth as he rides up covered in humility. Sick. I did my best to stay right on his tail. Some call it drafting. I call it stalking. I wasn’t going to let him out of my sight.
We emerged from the cocoon of forestry like the sudden rising of a hundred birds from the tree tops and cut straight down the dirt road towards the finish line. I gave it some gas and rode up parallel to the man in the blue jeans. Without a hint of weary, he looked over and smiled, “Bonnie, it has been great riding with you. Thank you for sharing this adventure. I want you to ride ahead of me and cross the finish line first.” I hung my head slightly, “Man, I am totally gassed. You kicked my butt out there. Let’s cross together.” He smiled and nodded towards the finish, and we put on a competitive show for the crowd as we barreled toward the line. But just as we were about to cross he glanced over at me and hit the brakes hard, forcing me to cross first.
Chivalry is a beautiful thing.
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