I enjoy being useful. Of course, I’m not alone in my enjoyment of being something akin to a tool. Most people find meaning through utility, many of them working anywhere from eight to twenty-four hours a day at a profession that fulfills their need to feel useful. And I am useful when I work also, but I also feel the need to be useful in many of my other endeavors. I change oil. I sand and refinish things. I mow grass. I diligently ensure that the toilet paper is installed in the “over” position—the way God intended. These activities all help fulfill my need to be annoying to my friends and loved ones, but oddly these activities aren’t always enough. And sadly, I also need to feel useful when engaging in my leisure activities as well.
Life would be much easier for me if I just rode my bike and left it at that, but I know now that I do not approach even the most enjoyable activities in that manner. My mangled and distorted psyche demands that my bike activity fulfill my desperate need to be useful. I have recently done four bike races, and my internal rating system for the results of each race goes as follows: fine, acceptable, long look into the abyss of death and darkness, and pretty good. Careful readers will note that one of those results is unlike the others, namely the result where I find myself reassessing all of the life choices I have made to this point in time.
That is because I have hitched my little red wagon of self-esteem to the wildly erratic locomotive of bike racing success. This is a bad idea because, as I have stated before, no one really wins regularly in bikes races—you turn yourself inside out with effort and then retreat to a safe place to concoct excuses for not winning. I am unusually good at doing this. My ability to rationalize away bad performances has allowed me to race bikes for over twenty years without ever riding my bicycle off of a bridge.
Which brings us to the race result that knocked my rationalization system for a loop last Sunday. In the interest of team cohesion and blatant overestimation of my own personal abilities, I signed up for the 2/3 race and the 1/2/3 race at the Zach Koop Memorial Race at Orchard Beach. I am a competent masters race; an acceptable category three racer; a “pushing my luck” category two racer; and a “really, Dan?” category 1/2/3 racer. Yet I persisted in signing up for both races, with my rationalization being that I would be able to help my teammates in the category 1/2/3 race after not embarrassing myself in the category two race.
I was able to deliver on my first promise. After a high-paced race, we came to the final corner at both Orchard Beach and participated in the inevitable last corner mishap (or LCM, as it should be known—LCMs are a regular occurrence at Orchard Beach and the Harlem Crit), which forced racers into the grassy knoll between turns three and four. I was able to prance my way through those heading for the grass and finished a mighty nineteenth—a perfectly acceptable performance. Then the women’s 1/2/3 race hit the course, and I set about readying myself for another race.
As I had driven to the race, I was able to bring along my twenty-five year old Kreitler Rollers (Kreitler Rollers do not die, they may inadvertently ascend to bike heaven, but they do not die) and I was able to spin about until the heavens opened up and reminded us that God really isn’t a fan of amateur bike racing. The women’s race finished, and we had our opportunity to stand at the start line and shiver though a debate about shortening the race to 40 minutes (those in favor of shortening the race won the debate). I was joined by teammates Greg, Chris and Victor, who I was there to “help”. Greg had won the category 3/4 race in a dominating fashion by lapping the field and celebrating on both the bell and finishing laps, and Victor is a racer who actually has a chance to win any race he enters, so my role was clear—do whatever Victor said.
We pushed off and I followed an early move, which didn’t really seem like a big deal at the time, but the pace of the race was heating up just as I was in desperate need of a nice big pack to nestle into. I dropped back to what I thought was a good nestling position, but there was a split ahead of me as the race was lined out, and that was the end of any dreams of either finishing or nestling.
Greg and Victor rode well, and Victor attacked solo on the last lap and missed the win by about 12 inches (the pictures of the finish are up on Facebook, they make for a dramatic sequence), finishing second. By the time the race finished, I had changed into my non-bike clothes and I was watching from the side of the road, wondering whether I completely or just temporarily useless.