Back when I was chasing down my now semi-useless degree, I took a class about Shakespeare. In this class we talked about the “Green World,” which is where Billy S. tended to send all his characters when they had some growing to do. Basically, this Green World (according to
Wickepedia College) is a mystical place where one can exchange the order and routine of the city with a forested and wild setting… in this loosely structured, fantastic environment, anything is possible.
Of course everyone loves a good escape, and it’s become a pretty popular concept; eco-activists especially have made use of the Green World, and no fewer than three bands, including the Gorillaz, have named albums after it. (See? I’m totally not just making shit up!)
Anyway, I wasn’t reading Shakespeare, hugging any trees or even listening to the Gorillaz this week- but I was thinking about Green Worlds. I’m starting to believe that racing well necessitates some degree of removal- mentally, physically, geographically- and that the place you end up in is not unlike where Shakespeare sent Hemia and Lysander to get messed with by fairies.
That’s right, I just equated bike racing to 16th century comedy.
The Fontana venue is perhaps the circuit’s best example of what I’m talking about; it’s a lone island of uber-trails in the midst of what can only be described as the exact opposite of a Green World. The city is packed with semis, riddled with strip malls, and plagued by the constant odor of burning rubber and tacos. You want almond butter? Forget it. Order some cigarette-flavored coffee and a doughnut or four instead.
It honestly seems like the last place anyone would want to hold or attend a bike race, and the locals (at best) don’t seem to give a damn. Yet out of this urban gnar rises (in my opinion) one of the finest courses on the circuit. Sure the rocks are covered in spraypaint and you feel like you’re literally inhaling cancer with each breath- but somehow it’s all worthwhile.
Just to clarify- the last time I raced in Fontana it was my first “big” pro race. I was stoked, ready, and so slow that they’d already started staging the men by the time I crawled to the finish. It had been windy- so windy, in fact, that I’d literally been blown over at one point- and it had been hot. Just finishing had been epic for me, but I truly cratered after the race; managing to crash at a traffic light as I rode back to the hotel in my shaky, hypoglycemic stupor. I was in another world, for sure, but it was dark and scary there; not Green. I remember feeling totally awed by how fast those ladies could ride, and utterly pessimistic about my abilities to ever keep up.
It’s a year later and I’m still in awe and still mildly pessimistic, but sensing a change in my mentality. See, I’ve been flirting with the edge of the “real world” for the last few months, and I’ve discovered that I don’t like it. It’s like Fontana; gridded out, saturated with corn-leaden fakefoods, and reeking of exhaust. Luckily, as I am armed with a tragic resume consisting almost solely of bike race results, the real world doesn’t seem to agree with me either. We’re still working it out, the Real World and I.
And like I said, everyone loves an escape. I’ve started to savor the two hours every few weeks when I get to focus the entirety of my energy on totally illogical things. I mean really, no one (least of all the residents of Fontana) cares who can pedal their bike the fastest up the local hill. It doesn’t make you a better quality person and it certainly doesn’t bring you inner fulfillment, but at least it’s not as futile as waiting for a job interview.
All it is is what it is. You’re simply riding a bike up a hill as hard as you can, and in Fontana (more than in most places) there’s a beauty in that simplicity. In few other cities is the real world so close or so unappealing, and the escape is sweeter for it. You get to go where the grid ends, where it’s ok to turn yourself inside out for no justifiable reason, and where anything is possible. It’s a simple drama and you can be exactly as much a part of it as you’re willing to hurt- which on some of Fontana’s climbs can be quite a lot.
So as I lined up behind the legendary Marie Helen Premont it was (weirdly) Shakespeare I was thinking about. I’d been doubting hard all week- weather, money, homesickness- all the signs honestly point to no when it comes to a life devoted to pedaling. Yet for some reason when I looked at MHP up there, I decided to put all the negativity on the backburner for an hour or two and green-world the crap out of that course. No fairies, but I was 100% focused and oddly ambivalent about
my almost-cramping legs and puke-feelings. I came out mid-pack, which is not awesome, but not clawing my way to the finish through staging dudes, either. So here’s to focus and climbing ranks, because I sure prefer the green world to the real one.
Speaking of possibilities- My pals Stephen and Chloe deserve big congrats for their stellar riding last weekend. Something tells me those two will be collecting all sorts of wins and podiums before we know it…