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To get our manifests stamped, we had to draw a little picture of our bikes. As we were getting artistic, a checkpoint guard nudged me and said, "You need to go now if you're gonna make it." The final checkpoint was supposedly closing soon.
Several people hopped on their bikes and we began the trek back to Berkeley together. We knew where the final checkpoint was — up the North Berkeley hills near Tilden. We rode in a pack to conserve energy for that final climb. As we were riding, I looked over at Jimmy and could see he had lost his zing. He wasn't complaining about needing cigarettes, telling jokes, or spinergizing. In fact, all he could talk about was sandwiches, Snickers bars, and leg cramps. Then, he defeatedly told me he wasn't going to make the final checkpoint, but would ride with me to the base of the hill and meet me at the finish.
We broke off from the pack and raced along the flats with the wind at our backs. As we rode into El Cerrito, I vaguely made out a familiar-looking posse ahead of us. Who? Yes, the fixed-gear mafia.
It was on.
As they waited to cross the heavily trafficked San Pablo Avenue, Jimmy and I pulled up next to them. We all exchanged menacing glances, then the light turned green and we were off. Jimmy and I dodged in and out of El Cerrito Plaza, through Albany and toward Berkeley.
Something had come over me — just when I thought my tired legs couldn't pedal a block further, I was ready to charge up the hill. And, even though all of us were the stragglers of the day, the only thing I could think about was that I still had the chance to beat that crew once and for all.
As we reached the base of the Berkeley hills, I dropped Jimmy and started to pedal furiously. I silently thanked my bike for having gears. Soon, though, not even gears could help me. With sweat dripping into my eyes, mixing with my sunscreen and blinding me, I dragged my bike next to me as I crawled up the nearly vertical street. As I passed a couple working in their garden, they just looked at me pitifully and said, "We know. We've biked it." Clearly, I'd picked a bad route. But still, the pack was behind me. I had to continue.
I made it to the checkpoint, a small park, at 4:28 p.m. and a checkpoint guard waved me over, "We're closing at 4:30," she said. She made me slide down a cement slide on a broken-down cardboard box then signed my manifest. From that high vantage point, I could see the entire panorama of the Bay Area, stitching together the narrower views I'd seen throughout the day, from the Port of Oakland to the Golden Gate Bridge to Mount Tam. As I caught my breath, I looked behind me and rounding the bend was the fixed-gear mafia coming my way. Their pack had slimmed down to just three, but they were still determined.
I bombed down Spruce Street, with a sudden burst of energy, toward the finish line at Willard Park in South Berkeley. As I breezed into the park, bikes were everywhere, Blake was barbecuing, and most racers were lying in the grass relaxing. There was a huge pile of prizes waiting to be parceled out, including bike frames, messenger bags, and boxes of energy gel. Next to it was a stack of manifests, torn, crinkled, and soggy. I lay mine on top and looked around to see who else had made it. I learned that what took me nearly four hours to ride, the winners did in a little over two. And that a lot of people, like Jimmy, were too tired to make the final checkpoint. I also found out that no one got ticketed by the cops — just warned.
On the outskirts of the crowd, I spotted Jimmy's yellow hat. He was sitting in the sun, waiting for me. As I walked up, he held out a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos and a Bud tallboy as my trophy.
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