April 19, 2005: The wind
Continued from April 12, 2005: The Day
Rain is bad for the riders. So is wind. Wind can be an ally, but it can also be a foe as deadly as any predator. A moderate headwind can slow riders down by as much as 10 MPH, leaving them essentially defenseless against the imperturbable preds. Successful runs were planned and executed according to the wind direction -- runs into a late afternoon nor'wester were deadly.
The wind also reduces riders' options. Good riders know every road, path, trail, deer track, and creek crossing in their territories. They have to if they want to survive. Many is the rider who lived to ride another day because they were able to navigate their way out of trouble. Many is the rider who didn't survive because they ran out of options. The wind takes away many of the more exposed routes, especially the blufftop singletrack. Knowing that riders have to take the interior trails in heavy winds, predators lurk along the main arteries, waiting for their next victims.
Rider #555 was slowly making his way west toward the ocean along the windbreak's internal trail. It was like a World War I battle trench. On both sides of the trail, riders and bikes lay in heaps and pieces. Gear was scattered everywhere, various articles of clothing hung eerily from the trees.
Cooking fires and poor sanitation made the air thick and gamy under the canopy. Rider #555 grimaced as he stepped over a trickle of sewage weaving lazily towards the main runoff ditch in the middle of the windbreak. He flashed back to a time when there to used to be running water and indoor flush toilets. The big collectives and compounds built water towers to provide gravity-feed plumbing, but most commoners had retreated back to the age-old outhouse method. No commoner living alone and scared in the hills used above-ground water tanks because they blatantly announced the presence of a domicile, and that attracted predators.
He moved down towards the end of the windbreak where it connected to the sea. This part of the windbreak was a little more dangerous, but there were fewer riders here. Down here, the stench of death and decay hung heavy in the air. A rider or maybe several riders had just died here from wounds suffered in the last wave. Black ravens cawed and flapped their wings as they waited impatiently for their pieces of the action.
Suddenly, Rider #555 snapped to full attention. A loud ruckus was ensuing from the leading edge of the windbreak about 100 yards to the east. Quickly checking his bike and his gear, Rider #555 readied himself for a break. He wasn't going to join those other fools in the middle of the windbreak, he was going to take his chances on the blufftop singletrack.
The wind was blowing heavily -- poor conditions for a blufftop run -- but he hoped that the terrestrial predators (terrapreds) would be laying in wait along the inland corridors. He might be able to slip past them on the blufftop while they feasted on the pack of riders taking the inside line. The maritime archers (maripreds) would be a problem, but he'd made this run hundreds of times before, and knew how to handle their slings and arrows. He just had to hope that the other riders would hold out long enough for him to get to the Tipping Point before the terrapreds saw him and began their chase.
Quietly, Rider #555 inched the front wheel of his bike into the tall grass at the very edge of the windbreak. He pulled back a cypress branch to see how the main pack was faring. It was a sight that never failed to dismay. Spread out across the coastal plains like a marching band, waves of riders were riding for their lives. Huge swirls of dust blinked and popped across the fields, each one a rider being overtaken by a pack of terrapreds. It seemed so random, so meaningless, so futile.
Rider #555 had his own concerns. Checking the immediate foreground to the left and right, Rider #555 readied to make his break. A massive wall of dust appeared about 50 yards to his left. Now!
Leaping onto the pedals, Rider #555 ripped out of the palos alto and angled hard to his right, making a dash for the opening to the blufftop singletrack. If he could make this 75-foot connecting stretch without being seen by the terrapreds, he could make it to the Tipping Point. He'd take his chances with the maripreds. Lowering his shoulder into a quick sweep in the trail back to his left, Rider #555 was startled by a burst of dust directly behind him. He felt something hit his back wheel and struggled to stay upright while a thick cloud of dust settled over him. At first he thought he was under attack, but as the prevailing wind cleared the dust, Rider #555 looked back to see that one of the younger riders had followed him out and been hit. Rider #555 recognized the fallen as Cuz' Jimmy; this was only his second run, his last run.
"If you can make it here, you can make it, anywhere, . . . " Rider #555 hummed distractedly to himself as he flicked up and gear and made a last sprint to the pampas stalks that marked the beginning of the blufftop singletrack. He'd made it, and now he let up the pace a little bit to collect his thoughts for the upcoming mile of exposed track until he reached the next windbreak. Just then he heard the most terrifying sound a rider can hear out on the plains. Rider #555 felt a spike of panic stab him in the back. How could this be!?!
Continued on April 26, 2005: The escape
|Mileage: 31.0||Time: 2:54:20||Avg: 10.6||Max: 31.5||Weight: 167.5|
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