I was so inspired by my ride with Thunder on Tuesday that when I heard his team was competing in their first race of the season this weekend, I couldn’t help but tag along. I went for support, but also for curiosity. Part of me always knew how wonderful bikes are, but I never knew how much fun road bikes were until our epic rainy mountain adventure.

The race was in Gunma and it was a sort of warm up for the “real thing” next week. I’m not really sure what that means because I asked “does this mean that people aren’t going to ride full out today?” and the answer was a resounding “no.”

I got a chance to ride most of the course during the award ceremony. Oh my goodness it was fun! A twisty windy mountain loop of about six kilometers and no traffic. There were two turns that were pretty tight on a descent — one was an obvious hairpin and the other was what I think people call a composite turn? It starts out with a certain radius and then when you think you’re almost clear, it tucks in harder right at the end and you’re like “shit! I’m going to go off the road here!” Then there’s a section called “the heart burst” which is a short and steep little climb close to the mid point of the race. I didn’t get to ride the last kilometer because my legs were total trash after tuesday (and wednesday, and thursday, and friday), and I couldn’t make the whole six in under thirty minutes. I also had a late start.

The team that raced turned out to be nothing of what I expected. One of the participants is a middle aged guy I rode trails with a few times who I always took for a downhiller, but apparently does some road, too. Another guy who came was pretty quiet and laid back, but apparently races enduros for fun and so surprised all of us with his skill. There was a father-son pair, both riding their first race, and a kid just barely 18 years old by the look of him. And of course, Thunder. The father-son pair both did amazing, twelfth place and first in age class! Enduro-guy, the kid and the downhiller all had a great time, but didn’t place anywhere close to the top ten. They were great fun to cheer, though! Kept switching it up and getting lost in the pack. We never knew where they would be!

Thunder didn’t do so well. He started out with, pardon me, thunderous speed, but started to burn out about half way. At the eighth of twelve laps we thought he had crashed because he had gone from first to a shakey second, to a solid fourth and then to dead last. The lag between him and the leader was so huge we weren’t even sure if he would show up again or not. It turns out that, while he didn’t crash his bicycle, he crashed his legs with serious cramping that was impossible to recover from. What I didn’t know at the time was that it was his first race in three years. No wonder!

Over all it was an amazing day. I got up at three in the morning so we could make the start line by eight. It’s almost eight now as I type this. But I couldn’t help but feel an undeniable thrill being there watching people I know push the limits of their abilities. I found that I wanted to know my limits, too. I have always held back from racing because I know I am not talented. I injure easily and my asthma only leaves me alone if I leave it alone, but not pushing my edge. But today I had a new desire. Of course I would love the chance to win, but I know I will not win, especially when there isn’t even a women’s class. However win or not win, the only way to know exactly how fast I can really move is to get out there and race.

I’m not ready yet, but I feel as if I’ve gotten infected with a new strain of sick. Not just miles, I need speed now.

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