wrote this for Dirt Rag a few years ago, then I forgot all about
ever doing it, until I ran across it by searching the web for my own
name. Don't say you haven't typed your name into Google.
Anyone who has ever attended a mountain bike race knows about excuses. We can divide excuses into several categories, depending on how we slice them. For example, there are our OWN excuses, which are not really excuses but explanations. And then there are all the feeble excuses offered by others for their own failings.
Or, dividing them another way, there are pre and post race excuses. Post race excuses are further divided into two categories: excuses for good performances, and excuses for poor performances.
All excuses have one thing in common - whatever is going to happen or whatever did happen, it sure isn't MY fault.
Let us move through the magic of text and imagination to the starting line of the Mountain Insanity Hardball Cross Country race, Novice Sport division. Who IS this clown on my left?
"Excuse me, could you move over a little please?" As he moves over you take advantage of the situation to offer a brief explanation of your anticipated performance. "Pukin' all night."
The guy looks at you blankly. "Huh?" With this encouragement, you give him a little of your recent medical history, say the past two or three years, and finish up with an explanation of how it all culminated last night with an hour of dry-heaves.
By now the guy is dry-heaving a little himself, and wouldn't you know it, he comes back with some feeble pre-race excuse.
"Brain surgery last year, artificial leg, liver transplant. Doctor told me I should just go out and have fun, as soon as my hair grew back and the Bubonic Plague let up. Finally got out of bed last week, first race, I don't think I'm gonna beat too many people."
This, of course, is intolerable. No one is permitted to approach the starting line in worse health than YOU are. You turn to the rider on the other side. This time you approach with caution. "How ya feelin' this morning?" If he informs you that he too was puking all night, tell him that he should count himself lucky that it wasn't accompanied by an hour of dry-heaving. Besides, you offer, your bike is last year's model.
At this point it is a good idea to turn your attention straight ahead, and hope that the start is soon. Too much conversation on the starting line has been known to affect performance.
Moving once again through the magic of text to the end of the race, we find a bunch of dirty, exhausted individuals guzzling whatever alcoholic liquids are available. These are the race officials, who have been up all night with the dry heaves themselves. The Sport Novice beginner racers are somewhat fresher as they finish the race. By the time you glide across the line, you have composed a symphony of explanation. After all, you have been working on it since the night before. The first person you encounter is Mr. Brain Surgery, sitting under a tree cleaning the last bit of dirt from his nails.
Might as well start with a victim. "Well, I did better than I thought I would, considering..." Wait two beats. He will offer a conversational opening.
"...considering that I was puking all night and this old bike is such a wreck, Shoot, look how the end of this shifter cable is all frayed. I was lucky I didn't scratch the heck out of my leg. Last year's model. Any kind of good equipment, and I could have kicked a little more butt." Do not, under any circumstances, ask him how he did. You are only setting yourself up for the post-race excuse for good performance, and there is nothing more irritating to listen to.
"Yeah, ya know, I have one of those myself, but it's in the shop, so I borrowed my wife's old bike. It doesn't really fit right and it has these crappy tires, but she wouldn't let me use her new one. Funny how good I felt today, considering what bad shape I'm in. I got lucky right after the gun went off, when I was the first one to get on the singletrack. I could hear a bunch of guys tangling up and cursing behind me, but they didn't get in my way. They must have slowed everyone else down a lot 'cause I could hear some guys right behind me for a while, but when I finally looked back once I got to the top of the first climb, they were gone. Only thing I can figure is they must have got lost. So then I thought I'd take it easy the rest of the way, and if I finished last, so what? But ya know, my luck was pretty good and nobody ever did catch up. It musta been a worse crash than I thought. Can you believe I WON this thing? What a hoot! Nothing but pure, blind luck! If my doctor says it's okay, maybe I'll enter another race next year, after I recover from this one."
Without showing impatience, move as quickly as you can to someone else. By waiting near the finish line you will easily identify your victim, as long as someone finishes behind you. Surely there will be another rider interested in hearing why you didn't do as well as you thought you would, but still beat HIM.
At this point it is a good idea to be cautious, because there is a special category of excuses, the crash excuse. If you see a rider coming in with bloody knees and a damaged bike, DO NOT under any circumstances approach that person. The crash excuse is a narrative rather than a list of symptoms, and any incident takes hundreds of times longer to describe than it took to happen. If you open with, "Whoa, dude, what happened to you?" as a preamble to offering your own story, you will never get in another word. What you will hear is something like:
"Dude! You shoulda seen it! It was most awesome! I was coming around that blind curve, the one right off the top of the second climb, right where that old oak tree puts a lot of shade on the road, and where the light changed, I didn't see this rock until I was right on top of it! And when I saw it, I'm like, 'No way! I'm gonna hit that thing and get launched,' ya know what I mean? So I'm trying to get my front wheel on the inside of it, 'cause I figure if I can get that much of my bike past it, well, my rear end might hit it and bounce around some, but I'll still be in control, right? No way! I hit the sucker dead center, and it twisted my bars to the right real fast, so I try to correct, and I get it over corrected, and then I'm like sliding and sliding, and I'm thinking maybe I'm gonna pull this off, but NO! My rear wheel hits ANOTHER rock, wouldn't you know it? BAM! Flat tire! So now I'm headed right for the trunk of the oak tree, and I'm all 'Whoa, they probably don't give you a t-shirt if you get killed,' and my front brake is totally locked up and the rear wheel is off the ground, and I'm all..."
Walk away quickly. He is only halfway through the story, and he hasn't even reached the truly boring part. What he is offering is the feeblest excuse you have ever heard.