Top of the Worlds

The Western shirt clung to my back like a rubber rain coat, the dusty trail pointed straight up, and two hairy cheeks tucked inside a pair of grey Fruit of the Looms were staring me straight in the face. Ah, the Singlespeed World Championships – blood, sweat and hopefully a few beers. Call me demented, but there was no place I’d have rather been.

At that most awkward of moments, I dug deep and looked inward for inspiration (my fellow competitor had just reached into his “shorts” for a little scratch and shift, slipped on the trail and nearly fallen into my lap). There, at the thousandth step of hike-a-bike, my cortex reeling after multiple days of bender, I conjured up memories of my pre-race pep talk.

Early that morning, my 7-year-old daughter had sat me down on the couch and given me the closest thing I’ve had to training tips since high school.

“It’s OK if you don’t win, Dad,” Skyler said in her best Chris Carmichael. “Second or third place are OK, too … Just don’t finish last.”

Having turned up the pressure a couple notches, she reached past my pearly snaps, patted my Conway Twitty collar and gave me a big squeeze. “Just go out and do your best,” she said. “But remember, Mom and I will be watching.”

Hours later on “the hill,” the winner’s tattoo seemed as distant as Olympic gold. I was at least 300 people back in the pack (starting 500 back didn’t exactly help my cause), and the multi-colored ants were staggering, belching and moaning in slo-mo up the front side of Raider Ridge. A nearby rider, playfully decked out in S&M leathers, then broke an uncomfortable silence.

“You think we’re going to win?” he called out jokingly.

“There’s more to life than winning,” a man in an Austin Flyers lycra racing kit laughed back.

“What are you talking about?” answered a German school girl with a greasy beard. “We’re all winners! Just look at us.”

Right on cue, the world’s longest sideshow/conga line started moving, a loud cheer went up, and I was actually able to climb in the saddle and do some pedaling. I also celebrated a personal milestone by passing the grey briefs and bidding Mr. Cheeks a fond, and final, farewell.

That hazard behind me, I continued – along with more than a thousand other singles – on a most perilous journey. Twenty-two hardscrabble miles, upwards of 4,000 feet of impossibly steep

climbing and one fairly stiff gear sat between the start and finish. Many of us took the challenge on bikes with little to no suspension and in fabrics ill suited to the task – if only our saddle sores could share their stories. “Hey, it’s the world championships,” the organizers crooned. “It’s supposed to be hard.”

In addition to daunting mileage, unrideable inclines and dozens of collarbone-breakers, riders also had to contend with temptation. In a brilliant move, the D9ers lined the epic course with several “aid stations,” happily manned and womaned by the world’s best volunteers. Dixie cups overflowing with Durango brewed waited atop the Raider Ridge slog. Ice-cold silver cans went into shaky hands at the half-way point. The final big uphill push had a trio of bonus rounds, where the daring could fight off cramping with sips from big, plastic jugs of Canadian whiskey; kill the bonk with shots of tequila and slices of bacon; and sip from frigid cans of Tecate (Mexican beer can save lives) as they set off on their final wild ride down the Secret Trail.

And as we crossed that final line, a booming cheer greeted we weary pedalers. The town turned out in force and cowbelled professionals, trannies, fannies and hometown zeros with equal passion. There at the end, the peculiar pedal behind us, it became obvious the race wasn’t about singlespeeding, world champions or even blended whiskey. The Singlespeed World Championships was about Durango. From the starting gun to the finishing beer, that energy and spirit carried each of us up and over, and the comment “Best Singlespeed Worlds ever” was uttered by more than few pairs of chapped lips and hairy cheeks.

Even though I finished well back of Harriet Tubman (“not the fastest girl but she had some serious shortcuts”) and somehow lost out to second place finisher Chi Chi Rodriguez (who knew Puerto Rican golfers could thrown down like that?), the bearded lady had spoken truly – “We’re all winners.”

My fan base seemed convinced as well. “Good job, Dad,” Skyler said as she planted a second hug around the now sweaty Twitty collar.

“I know you didn’t win,” she added. “But it’s still cool. Today you’re one of the best riders in the world.”

– Will Sands



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January 26, 2024
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January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows