My first story, completed in early 2020, has been published. Heartfelt thanks to The Write Launch for providing a place for unpublished authors to get their work out into the world.
Which way to the transition area? I guide my bike with one hand, the other clutches a race packet. Which race is this again? What distance? Follow the other athletes in sweatshirts and unflattering lycra across the asphalt parking lot. A man with a prodigious beer belly and bullhorn barks at the stream of people, “…body markings…allowed to enter transition…” Look at left shoulder. 88 written sloppily on upper arm in black magic marker. The adolescent girls at the entrance to the corral nod as I pass.
Are spot assigned? Do they do that at this race? Choose a spot on the edge of a pathway, midway across the corral. Which way is bike in, bike out? Ah, it doesn’t matter. Don’t feel very aggressive today. Legs heavy, mind foggy. Maybe a caffeinated GU would help. Did I do the pre-race routine with the little optimizations, the easy bike spin, the quick run? This wetsuit feels heavy, swim cap tight, sand cool. Shoulder to shoulder with thirty men, restlessly shuffling feet. Stare out at a bright orange sun above curling waves. What distance is this race? Is this warmup or start? An air horn sounds. High step, high step, high step, dive under the wave. Still shallow, high step, high step, high step, dive. Deeper now, swim, a man bouncing off my hip. Thud. This fucker won’t give me space. Under a wave, lost my friend. Sight to the buoy, it came up quick.
Turning at the buoy. Water is calm, flat. Stroke, breathe, stroke, breathe. Breath to one side, need to keep the shore in sight. Distracting to breathe on both sides and see the endless ocean under an orange sun. Must be July for a sun like that. Stroke, stroke. It feels good, strong. Meditative. Must not be pushing hard enough. Sight. Where is the next buoy? Where is my wife? She said we needed to change, to break out of our rut. We agreed to change.
That must be the last buoy. I can see swimmers turning left and heading to shore. The water is flat. Will I do a fancy ninety-degree turn around the buoy, like I saw in that YouTube video? Or just pop my head up and hurl my body toward shore. Hands hit the gravelly surface. Keep swimming even though you can stand, gain those seconds. Swim past the suckers that stand too early. Can’t extend arm anymore, stand. Lightheaded. Run out of the murky pond, pull off my goggles and cap with one motion. Run, run past the fast swimmers who can’t move on land. Zip wetsuit to waist, run, run. The more running, the better. A long path, packed dirt with roots, through scrubby pines. Wives and kids, cowbells and signs for dad’s line the pathway. Sweatshirts and steaming coffee, to fend off the cool of the fall morning. Where are my kids? Farther down? Maybe they are waiting for me at transition.
Hop on one foot. The stubborn wetsuit sticks like glue to my ankle. I thought it was an Orca? This says Roka. Grab a pointed helmet. On the bike, pedal hard. Did my kids see me? Did I slap Brendan’s hand in transition? Is he still in preschool? Pass, pass, pass. Scary guy with a seven-grand bike setup grunts past. What is my wattage? Do I hold 250, 260? What was my last FTP test? Pedal, pedal, pass. Pedal, pedal, sip. Pedal, pedal, pass. Another guy cranks past, maybe eight k worth of kit. I’ll see you on the run. How long until then? I hope Maura holds a sign for me; she wants to race one day. But she is little now.
Man waving in street. Half this way, Olympic and sprint that way. Oh. What race is this again?
Run now. Did I nail the transition? Aggressive into dismount, feet on top of shoes, coming in hot? Running hard and tossing bike, slipping on sneaks with stretchy laces and Vaseline? Stride and pace feel good, shoulders back. Did I see Kim at transition? Did she look angry, were the kids cranky? Did they have to walk far from the car? Run, run, push, push. Hard for the first half mile then hold. No one else pushes hard this early, pass, pass, pass. Look down, Garneau top, DeSoto shorts, New Balance shoes. Did I finally get a sponsor? No, paid full retail, I sponsor them.
Run on the sandy Pine Barren trail. Pass the woman in the pro kit, squatting in the middle of trail. Swerve and avoid the deep puddle, when did it rain? Turn the corner onto a boardwalk, full of people. They scream and cheer as I turn. Wait. No, they scream and cheer for the woman behind me. Everyone cheers for first woman, no one for the eighth man. I see a parking lot; men with race numbers, walking with medals around their neck. The final stretch. Sprint, sprint, pass that guy stopping to grab his kid. Do they announce names? Yes, and places.
In the car. Bike in rear view, number flapping in the wind. I’m in a sweatshirt and I smell like swamp, ocean, sunscreen and wet sneaker. Did I stay for awards? Did I make the podium? Age group? The car is empty, just an empty cup from the morning coffee, a baggie that held a peanut butter sandwich. Where am I going? Is there anyone at home?
We hatched the plan at St. Patrick’s Day clan gathering. With stomachs heavy from Mom’s Irish Soda bread and Guinness, my brother, twin cousins and I planned a barnstorming tour of Ireland.
A crowded municipal bus took us into Dublin around 8am, Ireland time. We jumped off with our heavy bags and heavier jet-lagged legs. This was before roller bags were common, and a solid decade before smart phones.
We walked down a crowded, cobblestone street. I wanted to soak in the atmosphere. Thick Irish accents, shops, bars and the energy of a young, vibrant city. Dublin looked ancient and foreign, yet everyone spoke English and it seemed inviting.
My directions said to follow this cobblestone road, then turn right onto Murphy St. The four cousins walked down the street, half sight seeing, half fighting our tired bodies. I squinted at the cross streets. My cousin Matt noticed a shop that sold the Doc Martens he wanted to buy. Assumedly my brother was sleeping as we walked. He spent most of the trip napping in the car.
We passed a few streets. I thought our not-yet-merry band should have found the cross-street already. Two Garda, Irish police, stood on the street. I waved to them.
“Excuse me, can you please tell me how to get to Murphy street?”
The two men smiled, most likely at my thick New York-American accent. One of them said, “Ah, of course, you head down to the next satellite, turn right. Grand.” I thanked them and went back to report to the cousins.
“He said go to the next satellite and turn right.”
“The next satellite?” Becky asked.
“Yea, I assume he means a satellite phone store. That’s what they call it in Europe. Or, maybe it’s a statue of a satellite. No worries, we’ll find it.”
We headed down the street, eagerly searching for satellites. We passed two more cross streets and didn’t see any statues of space machinery or satellite phone shops.
Two more Garda appeared. I told the cousins I’d ask again for directions, left my with them and approached the pair.
“Ah, excuse me, can you tell me how to get to Murphy street?”
“Where are ya tryin’ to get to?”
I pulled out the name and address of the hotel and showed the two Garda.
“Ah, t’is easy. Go down to the next satellite and turn right. The hotel will be a few meters on the right.”
I thanked them, took a step, then stopped.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry. I’m an American and I just got off of a flight and haven’t slept all night. What is a satellite?”
The two Garda looked at me. One asked, “Satellite? Whatchamean?”
“You said go to the next satellite and turn right?”
We dropped our bags off at the hotel a few minutes later. I’m sure the Garda had stopped laughing by then.
Welcome to Chawner Writes! This is an experimental platform to write and (hopefully) publish some original fiction. And share some thoughts on recent books.