Sometimes, being an athlete is filled with woes. That’s everything you need to know about three days at Tour de Mesa.
Let me start by saying that this trip had all the makings of greatness: Warm weather, awesome scenery, rad race and great company. I was traveling and racing with Primal’s Kirsten Allison, which translates to “FUN WILL BE HAD.” She is totally my partner in crime in all things bike, food and beer related. This is despite the fact that Kirsten was totally undertrained and I had been intermittent with hitting my workouts in the weeks before the event. But WTF ever. We made the classic “cyclist suicide pact,” which goes something like, “Oh, my God! What have I done?? You said you were doing this, too, and you had better not let me down.”
Kirsten and I were totally prepared to be the manatees amongst the dolphins. When they suggested that we think in advance about whether our pace would be A, B, or C, Kirsten and I were all-in to be an army of two in group Triple J.
It was shortly after Kirsten and I checked into the luxurious Baymont Inn and Suites in Mesa, AZ and lugged about 65,000 pounds of gear and bicycles up to the second floor like excited idiots that we both noted we were huffing and wheezing like lifelong smokers. I had that annoying tickle in the back of my throat and kept doing that “UGGHHHHH” throat clearing noise.
But you know, the best thing to do when you have a 100k race coming up and you’ve got to sit at an expo and give out socks like shark bait to happy cyclists while sick with tuberculosis is to IGNORE ALL THE SYMPTOMS and go get a beer.
There was one option in walking distance: Hambone.
I am really trying to capture the mood of this place. I would describe it as “the kind of establishment where you go to get a beer when the guy you’re casually screwing has to take his pet rabbit to the emergency vet after it got into his weed stash while you were casually screwing, and you don’t want to just sit at the vet and wait around because a pot-eating bunny isn’t exactly a Class One trauma situation and you don’t really know him well enough to care, but the sex is fine.” You feel the vibe?
Hambone is a crappy, smoke-filled karaoke bar and “grill” (their description – not mine) filled with “regulars” playing pool. The “bar” aspect is accurate. The “grill?” The bartender was ordering pizzas from Domino’s and selling slices along with individual packages of potato chips. I’m not sure how this meets the definition of “grill,” but I digress.
A half-drunk guy with thinning hair and sequined bicycle gloves approached us with a giant wooden stick. “You ladies come here often?” Kirsten rolled her eyes to the back of her skull and gave me that “eff my life” face, and said, “No, but I’m betting you do.”
Our new friend, Shaggy, proceeded to tell us about how he spends every Thursday and Sunday night at Hambone, singing karaoke and playing pool, and how his newly acquired stick was from the eight-week Renaissance Festival in Mesa, and he now takes it with him everywhere. He provided no explanation for the gloves.
We had a short, captivating conversation in which he explained that you could put a horse in a time machine and no matter what era you sent it to, it’s life would literally be the same before my “wife and I” (as Kirsten was henceforth known to every man in Hambone) made a quick departure.
Smoke-filled Hambone was definitely the nail in the coffin. We woke up wheezing and barely able to breathe. We were going through a new box of Kleenex with the kind of reckless abandon of people in a much higher tax bracket. Kirsten sounded like she had been smoking since she existed in the womb. I turned to her, holding my ringing cell phone, and managed to whisper out the words, “I have lost my voice. If you could resume screaming at my husband for trying to call us before 7am while traveling and likely to be hungover, that would be awesome.”
We set up the expo, met up with some old friends, and ate an empanada platter for eight because cycling. By noon, neither of us had an energy. The two women at the MedSpa table next door kept telling me that I needed to try these magic vitamins made from moonshine and horse hair or something, and I was getting really annoyed. One in particular was quickly becoming my nemesis, and she would have been really sorry if I had the energy to get up from my bean bag chair. I finally told them that we were sick and contagious, and they should just steer away. Her coworker was about eight months pregnant, got the hint, and snarkily told me to “have a nice day.” I told her to “have a nice baby,” and Kirsten proceeded to nearly die from laughter.Neither one of us had a voice left, so we spent the rest of the day basically playing a game of crappy charades.
The idea of racing bicycles was looking pretty unappealing, to be honest. The next morning, we were still trying to decide whether to go for it despite illness, or call it a loss. It would have been an easy decision if we were gearing up for something like a brownie eating contest or a Christmas Story marathon with inappropriate amounts of yuletide booze, but 65 miles of rolling terrain in the heat was another story. But cycling suicide pact.
Somehow, I managed to finish 17th. Kirsten was in the top 30. I have no idea how that happened, to be honest. I think we were both just suffering so much that we went full gas to get it done. I rolled into the finish exhausted and hacking with two empty bottles, and found the first drinking fountain I could. Unfortunately, the fountain next to the bathrooms had such pathetic water pressure that I would have needed to tongue-kiss it in order to get anything out. The second had a broken spigot. I mean, WHAT THE HELL, Arizona? It’s April and 100 degrees.
About that time, Kirsten rolled in and some guy bought us both a beer. He then asked her if her voice was naturally “so deep,” and I replied, “No. She’s a dude.”
We celebrated by going to a fish fry that we were told would be AMAZING. The judgmental guy at the take-out window clearly thought we were ordering too much food. He underestimated our collective ability to cram a lot of fried fish down our respective gullets seeing as how we are of thin/athletic builds and not a pair of morbidly obese hobgoblins who rolled up on a Rascal scooter and prodded him with a fork we brought from home while wearing food-stained bibs from the local Claim Jumper. I tried to assuage his concerns by saying, “We worked out for, like, five hours today.” He nodded. “I am a mediocre endurance athlete. My mama didn’t raise a dainty eater.” I was now trying to eradicate the silent judgment that I am probably bulimic. “I’m not puking. I just want something besides a PowerBar gel in my stomach, you know.” Kirsten mimed for me to stop. I shrugged.
We made it home alive. Barely. I slept like a baby on the plane. Kirsten was seated next to some angry seven-year-old who kept looking at her the way I look at other people’s pancakes in restaurants.
My doctor diagnosed me with bilateral pneumonia and a crappy attitude. I diagnosed me as fricking awesome for surviving the Hundred Woes of Mesa. Until next time.