Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mary Smiles, But She's Watching Me.

Rest Day.

“At that time, I often thought that if I had had to live in the trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but look up at the sky flowing overhead, little by little I would have gotten used to it."
-Albert Camus; The Outsider.

I haven't read The Outsider in a long time - indeed, I think I last read it in highschool or thereabouts. My copy was stolen from the English Storeroom at Stawell Secondary College, a treasure trove of classic literature that was never stocked in the library shelves or given a place on VCE reading lists, from where I stole a whole stack of novels, plays and collections of poems. As such, a considerable number of my books are tainted by someone else's highlighter marks, annotated by strange handwriting, the dark shade of thumbprints on significant pages or passages.

In French the novel is known as L'Etranger, which is a much better name, far more ambiguous in meaning, and avoiding the inevitable confusion with the also much studied novel The Outsiders. I didn't know this for a long time, however, and when I was sitting in a Canadian Literature class a long time ago and the Quebecois professor started referring to the book by its French name - and pronoucing Meursault correctly - I had no idea of what he was talking about. If my memory serves me correctly, I asked the girl next to me what was going on, and went on to date her for almost six years.

I forgot about the book for a long time after that, but the quote above stuck with me. It's echoed in a line from a Springsteen song - "You get used to anything; sooner or later just becomes your life" - that indirectly convinced me to flip my wheel over from freewheel to fixed, which in turn led me to start racing alleycats, then start racing track, then continue to get deeper and deeper into the whole scene. I often thought of it again when I was on the Cannonball Run - the infamous 6 day singlespeed / fixed journey from Sydney to Melbourne via the coast - when by the third day we knew little other than waking up, riding, eating, drinking and sleeping.

And I wonder if that's where the riders are right now. The cruellest blow of the tour is that you have to ride on your rest day, even if only to tick the legs over for three or four hours. Two weeks in and your body has adapted, and if it doesn't receive the same treatment every day, it will start to shut down. So even today, when there's no racing, riders will have to wake up, get a massage, ride, eat, drink and sleep. Even if their bodies are battered and bruised from two weeks of incomparable suffering, if their hearts are no longer able to fully recover, if their stomachs haven't been able to absorb enough nutrients and their bodies, in desperate need of fuel, have started eating away at their muscles. They'll still be out on the bike, staring at the bike in front of them, tapping away at the pedals. It's just how their lives are now.

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