Saturday, July 21, 2012
Stage 18 - Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde.
"You don't look so good," I tell Jen Jen.
"What do you mean?" She asks, slightly offended.
"Well, you've looked better. You look like you need some sleep. You look all disheveled and stuff."
"God, you're right, look at my hair!"
"Trust me," I go on, digging in deeper. "Your hair is the least of your worries." Pretty soon afterwards she tells me she is kinda tempted to punch me in the nose. I agree that I probably deserve it. But later, as she steps out onto High St, I capture her for Instagram posterity. That's the picture above. It's like Instagram has filtered out all the stress and workweek blues and attrition and just left her standing there on the side of the road, looking alive and brilliant. I take back all that I said.
But I'm not looking too crash hot either. The first week back at work has been rough, the early mornings a shock to the system. There are black rings under my bloodshot eyes, my skin is pallid under the yellow streetlamp glow, and I'm clumsier than usual. A quiet night is order. I text Kate about the Bombers / Geelong game on TV tonight and she tells me she'll be watching it with Rolly at hers. That sounds like something I could handle.
The game, however, fails to live up to its hype. Geelong are checking the Bombers close, ensuring the guys in red and black are always second to the ball, outmarked and outrun and outclassed. The score blows out in the first quarter, then comes back a little in the second, but by the third the result is a foregone conclusion. I suggest that I'd rather watch Gabriel Gate than the final quarter, but we leave it on, not paying attention, talking about everything else. When the final siren sounds we flip the channel and continue in the same vein - there is movement on the television, flashing lights and colours, but no one is paying it any mind.
A long time ago I remember reading some book on Taoism that suggested that conversations that you don't remember the content of are the best kinds of conversations. When you amble from topic to topic aimlessly, no intent or argument, wandering through stories and observations and making each other laugh without effort. I don't know why Lao Tzu thought that this particular kind of conversation was the best kind - probably something to do with the uncarved block, or being like the river, or something like that - but tonight fit the bill perfectly. I don't remember what we talked about. I just remember talking, laughing, enjoying being in the company of good people. I remember being tired, rubbing my eyes, but not wanting to go to sleep. I remember thinking that things were pretty damn good.
And then, about ten seconds before the end of the stage, I remember Mark Cavendish launching into a sprint that captured everyone's attention, flowing around the outside of the breakaway from five hundred metres out, gapping the field and charging across the line like the raging river. For a fraction of a minute we are all stoked on the tour again, the punchy little guy reminding us that this is why we stay up so damn late every night through July, why we torture our bodies with sleep deprivation, why we put up with three hours of a breakaway being reeled back in, stupid commentary and bike dorks and self-appointed experts pontificating about a sport that they hate and disdain for the rest of the year. Because every now and then someone does something that defies our expectation, that leaves us standing there gasping at the extent of human achievement, of physical capability, of what a guy can do on a bike.