“Lion Days”by David Stewart
My father hired a one-eyed tracker named Kebgabege when I was a small boy in Africa. Kebgabege would never tell me what had cost him his eye or helped to form the scars on that side of his face. He told me it didn't hurt anymore.
He was a slight man who wore khaki shorts and a shirt with military-style epaulets and an old bush hat with a floppy brim. A string drooped from the hat and under his chin so it looked as though a hearing aid wire ran down his neck. Kebgabege could strike out across barren ground or through deep bush in pursuit of an animal and never miss the signs of passage.
Kebgabege showed me how to track lions. He squatted in the dust alongside the track before we left the Land Rover to start a hunt and, with the long, slender forefinger of his left hand, drew the outline and depression of each pad. And, as I urged him, he showed how the lion's paws would be transformed by the charge, the claws emerging. He stalked around me showing the quickening stride as the moment approached for the final powerful rush. The hair on the back of my neck crawled and I looked into the surrounding bush through the searing tropical light of the sun, fearful one was watching me.
I've been following, euphemistically, the track of the lion across this area's road racing season. It started slowly last Fall, earlier for some, and wove across the brilliantly colored landscape as long slow rides, a chance to rest from the rigors of the previous season. It stalked across the winter through noisy, brightly lit gyms and on more long rides in the chilled, lonely silence of the frigid landscape. As Spring approached, the tempo and intensity picked up. Claws began to come unsheathed in the Spring Race Series. Then, in May and June, there was the full leap into the hunt. The lion prowled the racing venues.
The races are held in places that sound like the names of battlefields: Eagle Creek; McMinnville; Mooresville; Elizabethton; Paducah; Tippecanoe River. Each venue has its own feel about it. The Eagle Creek Criteriums are held in a heavily wooded, park-like setting with competitors' cars bunched one after the other along narrow roads, the lines winding out of sight around forested bends. The Davinci Crit is downtown, with racers searching for vacant parking spots and warming up on trainers on the sidewalk. The Monrovia TT takes off from a lonely corner out in the middle of a vast prairie, the road undulating towards the horizon until it disappears in the early morning mist. The riders lined up at the start look like monks in bright garb waiting for communion, hooded and small in the larger silence around them.
A venue is quiet at first at it waits for the competitors to file in. The first racer arrives and quickly pulls in others, as though they were awaiting some cosmic signal to join the hunt, all in the same short space of time.
Shorts, sandals and t-shirts emblazoned with the names of past races are traded for bike shorts and brightly colored jerseys. Racers wearing team names such as Louisville, Saturn, Rapid Transit, M.O.B. Squad, Tortuga, and Wheel Warriors mill about. People recognize each other, stop to talk in small knots of walkers and cyclists leaning on their mounts. Conversations range from questions about absent competitors to rehashes of past races to complaints of fatigue. I pull up next to an SUV where a tiny child clad only in shorts is working on the headset of a white Kestrel with an Allen wrench.
"Are you fixing the bike?" I ask. He nods with great solemnity, still busy at his job. "It's my mom's bike."
Riders sit warming up on trainers or clip in and head off down the road beyond the course. The day wears on but the scene doesn't change.
The trainers and roads are full of riders cooling down. Shade is taken advantage of for rest and conversation before the next race. The young mechanic with the white Kestrel is stretched out asleep in the shade of the open gate of the SUV.
His parents have been trading between racing and childcare chores. Shadows lengthen, the last race ends, results are tallied and the venue goes back to its pre-race population and peace.
People still come forward, interested in racing. They're searching for a way to merge with the racing culture; their desire is to test an ability or a dream that is no longer challenged by the old order. They venture to the edge of the road, looking for their own one-eyed tracker, baring their own claws a little. Finding satisfaction, they bare them further, feel the surge of the charge. They pick up confidence and with the confidence, speed and skills.
It's an exciting culture to be a part of. There's not a one of us who haven't had a feel of the thrill, whatever our focus in cycling. Just remember one ride finished with a group that used to be faster. Recall one win in the sprint for a green sign. Cherish the satisfaction at the end of a ride longer and harder than ever before. Each Tuesday, each Wednesday, each Saturday and Sunday, these possibilities abound with racing.
July and August stretch out ahead of us. There's still a lot of racing to be done. With a little patience and some driving, there's a race virtually every weekend within a reasonable drive of Louisville. During the week, training programs spell out specific duties and specific efforts, some as simple as resting. But the claws are only partially sheathed. Louisville Motor Speedway* is the venue for weekly, Tuesday night training rides. Some exercises are more like games than races. The track is large enough to accommodate several categories of experience and achievement. Nathan Schickel leads a hilly, 35-mile ride out of the New Albany Holiday Inn each Wednesday evening. It's not a ride on which to rest but it offers some of the best company and the best views in the area.
"Never say never. Never wish for what could have been. Never recall what might have been."
Call the LBC Hotline (329-1848) and go to the racing section. Ride a racer down on a Club ride and find out what they know. Pursue that eternal human quest, to "know thyself." It's all a part of the hunt.
* LBC thanks Louisville Motor Speedway for its support of our racing team and allowing us to use its facilities
Copyright ©2000 Louisville Wheelmen. All rights reserved.
Web posted: 27 June 2000
last updated: 27 June 2000
by Duc M. Do