"He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me, and I in him....The blood is the life." -- Dracula, By Bram Stoker
Living Dead Heads:
He shades his eyes during daylight. Thick dark eyebrows hover over his pointy beak. Thin lips that seldom smile conceal tiny dagger like incisors. He has the frame of a bat and his spine is ribbed with knuckle-like bumps. His carotid arteries appear to throb at the sight of steep climbs and fat sprinters. I have never seen him eat food, but his breath is rank. His eyes burn red just before he attacks. After a kill, his face is crusted with crimson foam.
He does not wear the ravages of time. It is said that he has the brain of a child, the sort who hungers only for sleep and play and sweet nectar, yet his guile and cunning while in full flight cannot be denied. We do not know how his self-appraisal, as his visage offers no reflection. Legend has it that he sleeps in a bungalow no bigger than a coffin in the backyard of a baroque castle, on a site reputed to be an ancient Indian burial ground.
Despite his bony frame, he has unnatural strength. When he has you in his death grip, you submit without a fight, as if hypnotized. By the time he swoops in for the coup d'grace, your will to fight has long since vanished. You merely wish to close your eyes and dream. He sucks not only your life blood, but also your muse. You no longer wish to ride, nor do you wish to write. You become part of the living dead, a zombie if you will. You know that to beat him, you have to be like him, and it's a heavy price. So you retreat and wait patiently for the joy to return, if ever.
The joy hasn't returned. Max Kash left it on a steep climb called the Big Sandy on a blisteringly hot day in early July in a parched wasteland near Spokane. The Masters National Championship Road Race. Max Kash trained for this race. He dedicated his season to this race. He spent one day a week climbing nearby hills. He cut out ice cream and red meat. He had just reached the halfway point in his life and decided, at age 40, this was to be MKA's "break out year." He knew all along he would have to confront a mutant in the one they call "Moon Walker," but it wasn't until just before Big Sandy that he learned just what kind of mutant he was dealing with.
We had always assumed Moon Walker was a freakish human type creature. We were wrong. He's a vampire, a blood sucking remorseless Bavarain born monster. A mutant vampire. As we know, the garden variety vampire frolicks after sun down. But the MoonWalker variant strikes during the day, when the sun is high, and the victims are dehydrated, leaving the blood more gooey, sticky and concentrated. And readers, be forewarned. The saga does not end with MKA standing over the resting beast in a dark Motel 6 hotel room while the lightening storms crackled outside plunging the wooden stake Thor-like into his bony thorax.
No, the Vampire is still at large, praying on anyone with greater than 2% body fat who is fool enough to challenge him on any course with over 100 feet of climbing. Here, you will not read about acts of bravery or heroism. The Vampire destroyed MKA's legs, his lungs, his joie de vivre and his muse. So permit me to recount the last road race MKA will ever do.
40 Plus Road Race, 99 humans, 1 vampire, 100 degrees F, 51 miles, 2 feed zones (water only, plasma optional), Climbs O Plenty, Hegg Star at finish line sporting personal I-V.
From the gun the pack is weaving and throbbing up a grinder and already, within 5 minutes, the roadside is littered with swollen carcasses. MKA hacks through the carnage in pursuit of Moon Walker, who's casually spinning his bony ass up and up and up. Even now it's painful to remember. MKA was gasping on the first climb, with dozens remaining. We crest the first climb and the race has boiled down to six riders: the Vampire of Zombies, Purple Heart (from Colorado), Bugs Bunny of the Fembots, Howard Stern-lick of Pimple Fits and Dr. Lindsey aka Ear Band (also of Pimple Fits).
MKA is pretending. "Great, I can wax these mountain goats in the sprint." Sprint? MKA wanted badly to believe that the dizziness, the swollen throat, the burning lungs and the polluted legs were a temporary phenomenon. Surely the pack would give up and we'd settle in to a gentle rotation like civilized chaps. Not today.
On paper the break looked solid. Sternlick would power the flats and the feather-lights would fly up the climbs and MKA would try not to get in anyone's way and "act" hurt. But 20 mintues into the race we hit a bump and Sternlicked exploded. See guys? Take it easy. Without sufficient recovery, we'll all blow and this will be for naught. MKA is trying to reason with a Vampire -- concerned only with the latter's welfare.
We approach the first feedzone. MKA needs water, badly, after loading up on too much Gatorade. I've got that sick, queasy feeling and rejoice at the sight of Billy Bad Boy Stone and Texa Furrball both holding up bottles of the precious fluid. Billy hands me a dose and Furrball who saw I was in deep trouble dumped a bucket of cold ice on me. I liked it so much I wanted to stop and enjoy the moment. After all, it's dishonorable to attack in a feedzone, isn't it? And besides which there's an unspoken camaraderie among break-a-way riders, right? And we've still got a long way to go ... and, Moonwalker and I did talk about joining forces next year ... we're practically blood brothers... but, WHAT THE FRICK? Moonwalker aka Zombie aka Vampire is attacking my bloated, anguished, bereaved, sulking hulk and, well, it's just not fair that he's stronger, fitter and nastier than me.
MKA skiddaddles in hot pursuit after Bugs, Purple Heart and the Vampire. This hurts. And we got a long way to go. When I get there, I declare internally that I'm going to just sit (that'll show ''em, after all, I did take 4really hard pulls over the last 25 miles). The gap is closing but I see this diamond shaped head on the front sort of loop back to see what Hell he hath wrought and I swear I saw the red eyes glow and his eyeteeth extend into razor sharp fangs. Then, like in a dream, it slowed enough for me to catch on. All I can muster is "You ... bastard" but it probably sounded like "Ma Ma."
We barrel onward down a long descent into a river bottom. I had just sworn never to pull again but MKA must have been under the Vampire's hypnotic spell because I found myself on the point as we approached this Category Death climb. MKA is trying to cook up some of his own black magic in the form of a motivational speech goes something like: "This is that moment the separates the living from the ... uh, the undead." At the moment I hear a wolf howl as a bat grazes my helmet. I look to the side of the road and watch in horror as a swarm of rats lustily strip the flesh from a fallen but still kicking horse.
These are omens. Bad omens. But the barrier between good and bad have been forgotten. We are not that much different, he and I. We both want to live forever. We question the existence of a soul. Both have halitosis. Both lust over the prospect of a fat pack to pummel. Seldom do we alight with joy, except when we condemn others to our living Hell. It is time. Time for the Kiss.
MKA in a dream like trance crests the death climb. And there, at the summit, MKA was struck with a sudden chill, as if my blood went cold -- the blood that was left. No more worries about training. No guilt over the hours spent away from the Buck Bear and Moo Mow. No dread over getting dropped. Neither truly alive, nor truly dead, MKA had joined the Undead -- a state which at once rewards us for our desire to live forever and punishes us for having such a pathetic ambition. I must confess it felt good to boil away all the pretensions and ego armor and learn that it would please MKA to quit this sport because no matter how hard I train, no matter how many vitamins I take or hours I sleep, or nimwits I abuse, there will always be a Vampire out there climbing 5000 feet a day every day whose only nourishment is the blood of pretenders, like MKA.
All of which sounds very sad and melodramatic. I floated onward as Bugs, Purple Heart and The Vampire flitted away.
In the end, what was left of the pack ambled up to me and politely spat me out the back. MKA pulled off the road and bid farewell to the likes of Johnny O, Ricky Le Virus, Randy Rusk Never Sleeps and the Kiwi as they marched onward into the inferno. Later, I heard Bugs Bunny met a similar fate when he made the mistake of accepting a water bottle in the next feedzone. The Vampire saw the moment of weakness, attacked, and it was over. He soloed in minutes ahead of the mere mortals. The motorcycle official later reported that he never saw the Vampire take a sip from his bottle.
My therapist has urged me to get back out there, to challenge the mutant offspring of Dracula. "All you need is a Christian cross, a wreath of garlic and strong will to do good," she says. Thanks, but no thanks. MKA is leaving the road circuit -- quitting -- for greaner pastures, in gardenspots like Ontario, Irwindale, Glendale and Dumpertown.
While MKA flailed, fellow Laborites wailed. Genghis placed 2nd in the 35 plus road race and 4th in the criterium, despite the absence of Hoverhawk, who crashed in the first few laps of the crit. Of note, Genghis dropped mountain mutant, cherubic and former pro Michael Carter (who rode the majority of the criterium off the front, effortlessly) in the final few climbs. Texa Furrball rode a gutsy race in the 30-34 crit and muscled his way to 4th place after stubbornly refusing to relinquish his position near the point for the majority of the race. MKA limped in for 7th in the 40 plus crit.