Roxy, my dog, begrudgingly exited the patio door at six in the morning. A balmy dark dawn awaited her entry into the garden, with deep sighs and a stretch, she bounded down the steps off of the wet wooden porch into the grass. She hated the early morning wake-up call as of late. She performed her usual business and I was pushing to encourage her to consider dropping the daily deuce while she had ample time to trot about and work it out. She interpreted as play time and quickly reverted to a younger state to bound through the garden and the grass. We spent fifteen minutes in playful silence waiting for the morning to roll.

I headed out the door with a big expectation in my mind. I fortified my thoughts for a splendid day and the best outcome of the Masters 35-39 race in Madison, WI. I was well rested, kept the training consistent through the most sordid days of work and hectic family schedule, and kept some semblance of racing form for the past six weeks. I felt strong in mind, body, and definitely soul. A-Dub and Eleanor Blick were in the mini-van jetting down the highway to reach the National Championship course. We arrived in time to watch fierce youth battling each other out, our Chicago favorite David Lombardo, and our out of state favorite, Josey Weik, were putting on a performance to be proud of by many standards. The course conditions were ripe for breaking the spirit of the ill-determined. David Lombardo secured a solid 4th place podium finish. The 5th place spot was stolen by meters from Josey who put the entirety of his heart into the sprint. We stood idly by in solemn respect for Josey as he hugged his father and had a year full of emotion scream from his lungs. It pained us to see his disappointment but not more than pride we had for how he clawed his way from an unexpected pile-up start to such a dramatic finish.

I toed the line, appropriately placed in the back of a field that was set to shred the fastest times through the most incredible slop of the day. My moment came to break the 29 minute record from last year when the course was terra firma, and the speeds were blistering. I had told A-Dub in the morning that my confidence felt strong and I had an overwhelming sense of positivity beaming through me. I don’t remember how I managed to not crash the entry into the holeshot – it happened so fast, all I saw was mud flying every which way and my bike sinking into the melee around me. I looked ahead and powered through pedaling, and noticing it was Molly Cameron’s wheel I was following. I politely followed and hung on knowing she was my best way out of the crowd. It worked for a good short while and the climbing began. It was unreal how long it took to spin up the slick snotted hill. I hit the first run up with a grace I hadn’t felt all season and I held onto riders in front of me who had been greater distances ahead of me throughout the season – it felt good to be strong. I trusted my precious green bike to hold true and remain upright under me as best as I could handle her. The thoughts of friends, family, my beloved Roxy all eventually danced in front of my eyes as I gasped for help in hearty gasps of air. I called upon strength to come to me, to help me fulfill this meager goal of 30 minutes without getting pulled. I could see the few riders ahead of me and they blurred as I slid multiple times into a variety of things I can’t remember. I came across one final stretch of pavement and the leaders caught me and I pedaled furiously with a thirty pound bike in a futile attempt to close the ominous fate awaiting me at the start/finish – and my fate surprised me as I kept pedaling. Motivated to see another stretch of mud – I hustled in the only available gear I had working, with a sometimes clank from the cassette to drop even lower into a mystery gear I had no control over, and I muscled harder. I did not get pulled. I was now on a mission and at 30 plus minutes. I won. My heart was singing and my eyes were stinging, my legs felt triumph and my pace held steady. I got to the pit for one last time to kick mud off my bike and two other mechanics saw and took pity on me and raced to help me get mud off the drivetrain and I took off again. A race official pointed at me and with a sweet smile, she pointed me off course a mere few seconds after the pit. I looked down and saw 39 minutes. I beyond won.

I settled after the race to a hot shower and fresh clothes at the hotel looking forward to an evening of beer-filtered fun times. I had laid silently and happily in a bed with a New Glarus Stout waiting for the evening of celebration to begin. A-Dub came back to the room with a few guests she volunteered to have a good time with us. Molly Cameron and Damian Schmitt joined in our evening revelry with a group of Chicagoans at a brewpub. It was elation, the feeling of beating a personal best, surviving the drudge, and enjoying great company talking nothing of cross dreams and the year ahead. Shortly after midnight amidst the revelry, I received a message from Nevada Dave, my Bonebell brother who was house sitting with my dog – stating she had passed on at 11:20PM that evening. I cannot shake the profound weight my head felt as I heard his words over the phone that my dog went to sleep, forever. I remember falling into Stiggity’s and A-Dub’s arms with tears blinding my vision – the room spun around me with the sadness that I lost my best friend moments ago.

The drive back to Chicago that early Sunday was as serene as the grey air coloring the sky on the highway. Stiggity was taking me home to a different reality from just hours ago. In that car trip home, I had settled that the best memory I had was at 6:00AM the day before, in the hushed silence of a morning she gave me strength. The last encouragement I would glean for my duty on Saturday, was from that moment in time. I managed to capture that strength and final stamina from Roxy and take it with me to Nationals. I did not watch the National Championship race – I didn’t miss it either. I couldn’t fathom watching the sport I loved without my best friend curled up beside me on the couch with my laptop on, rubbing her head with one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. The painful silence consumed my thoughts and I cried greatly missing everything about my companion of ten beautiful years.

I cannot comprehend how incredibly high and low my emotions went in a mere few hours, I felt the entirety of my race seasons pass through me and sit heavily in my stomach. Roxy was my mascot having attended numerous mountain biking events, slept in tents with me in the forest, helped me support Nevada Dave for his run at the National 24 Hour Championships, shared hotel floor space with other dirtbags, the list goes on. She was there for me and the dirtbag crew in our MTB hey day. It was no wonder I felt her presence with me at Nationals. She was there with me too. I will never forget Nationals this year for the strength she gave me.

Roxy girl – I am down.

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