Singletrack Mind

by Jesse D

A Good Cause

Singletrack Mind - A Good Cause: Mountain Unicycles

 

"It's against the laws of nature! It's just not right," someone yelled. Actually, that was me, in total frustration at having encountered something with wheels I couldn't master. Well, only one wheel, if you're counting. Despite the evidence of circus clowns and jugglers to the contrary, trying to balance on just one wheel was clearly impossible! Never mind going forwards and backwards and up and down hills! I willingly handed the unicycle back to its owner after many failed attempts to stay up for more than a few seconds.

"Let me try again," Dave said, undaunted by the prospect of humiliating himself in front of others. I unstrapped the shinguards and passed them over. Andy and I watched as Dave, with one hand clutching the unicycle's saddle and the other using the chain link fence to steady himself, managed to go for ten or fifteen feet without holding on, before falling.

"Yeah, dude. You almost got it!" Jack shouted. "One more time, c'mon!"

The three of us, Dave, Andy and I, were hanging out with a team of crazy college guys from Boston who had entered this 24-hour race on unicycles! Mountain unicycles, with big knobby tires and disc brakes. And they were not only keeping up with the mountain bikers, but passing some of them on certain parts of the trails, even hopping over rocky sections and never losing their balance. We were there having been invited by a team sponsor that was a friend of Andy's dad. He needed riders to fill in for the ones who were off somewhere else doing a "real" race. This 24-hour event was mostly a fundraiser and publicity thing, but there were at least 25 teams and some individual riders entered. The area at the start/finish line was pretty much wall-to-wall party; we were almost ten hours into it, about seven-thirty in the evening, and the place was hopping.

It had been a pretty crazy day, so far. We didn't have any idea what to expect, really. First thing, the team techie guy grabbed our bikes and checked them all over, then gave them a good tuneup. While that was happening, we gathered for a team photo ("Before you get completely covered in dirt."). Then the race rules were explained, and we were assigned a starting order. The three regular team riders would go first, then me, Dave and Andy. Since the loop took about 30 minutes to complete, we'd have two and a half hours between rides, unless someone dropped out. The team that had gone the most laps after 24 hours would be declared the winner, but we were mostly just hoping not to embarrass ourselves or the team.

While waiting for our turns we rode around a bit to warm up, but mostly we wandered through the team area, where Dave and I were ogling all the eye candy, the toned, tanned male bodies in colorful Lycra team kit that left little to the imagination. Not that we didn't try to use our imagination! Hehe! Andy pointed out a couple of girls' teams, so we had to try to look interested in those, too.

Just after Andy had finished his first ride, coming in all dusty and sweaty, a dude from one of the Boston TV stations, complete with cameraman and sound guy, cornered us at the team tent for an interview! Apparently we were the youngest riders there, and he was asking questions about how high school kids got into cycling, and whether we were on a school team and stuff. Dave and Andy did most of the talking - Andy must have his dad's salesman gene and Dave is just Mr. Outgoing Person anyway, so they did all the talking while I just stayed in back and smiled and nodded, mostly.

Meanwhile, Dave was still attempting to get up on the unicycle when I saw Phil, the team member who kinda railroaded us into doing this event, coming from the tent area obviously looking for someone. I called and waved and he changed direction and came over.

"Hey Chris, we need you guys back over there," he said, indicating with his thumb.

I gave him a questioning look since I knew that the three of us weren't due to ride a loop for another hour or so. "What's up?"

"George Marino wants to meet you."

"Um. Who's George Marino?"

Phil looked a little surprised. "Oh, I guess you never met him. He's our main sponsor. He was at the other race with the team, but he caught your interview on TV in the car while driving up. Apparently they ran it as a special interest piece after the news. Anyway, he'd like to meet the three of you." I must have looked hesitant because he continued, "He's a really nice guy. You'll like him."

We collected the others and walked back to the team tent. Mr. Marino did turn out to be a nice guy! He shook our hands and said how pleased he was we were riding for his team and maybe we could do it again, maybe even come to one of the training camps with the full team. I'm sure he was also pretty pleased about the free television publicity we'd given him because he told the techie to swap out the components on our bikes for the top-of-the-line stuff the team bikes had.

"Phil says he's impressed with how well you three can ride, but that there's no cycling team at your school. I can't make any promises about adding you to this team because you're still too young. But I'd definitely be willing to sponsor a team at your high school, if you think there would be enough guys interested. Or girls! Can't discriminate, these days, haha! I don't know much about racing at that level, but I'll find out. And if you keep in touch with Phil then maybe we can set something up."

We all agreed that a school team would be totally cool, said suitable thank-yous and shook hands again, then the three of us retreated to the other side of the tent. I had to go take a leak, then check on my bike and gather my stuff together because it would be my turn to ride soon. Dave and Andy were discussing which guys in their circle of friends might be interested in joining a bike team. I found my bike helmet and stuff, filled the water bottle with a mix of energy drink and water from the little propane fridge, then went over to where Alex, the techie who apparently never stopped to rest, was sorting though boxes. After checking the size label he handed me a super light windproof jacket with the team logo.

"Here, Chris, you'll need this. Phil says it's cooling off over on the back side. You want arm warmers? Leg warmers? Gloves with fingers? Um. Shorts. Jersey. Better change, you've been sweating in those ones all day." He passed all of these items over his shoulder as he rooted around in the boxes. "I put new tires on, so watch out 'cause they'll grab a lot better than your old ones. And I swapped the front derailleur too, but not the rear one yet. I'll do that when you get back. Oh, and I had to move the computer to make room for the light. Keep it in the second-highest power, it uses a lot less battery. Um. I guess that's it." He checked his watch. "About ten minutes before Parker gets back, so better get out there. Have fun!"

I wheeled the bike back to where the guys were sitting and showed them what Alex had done. The new components were all from those website pages we had often drooled over then checked the price and clicked over to the affordable stuff. Already my bike had had several hundred dollars' worth of parts added, never mind the clothing! After getting changed I went over to the start line to wait. As I left the tent I could hear Andy asking Dave when he was going to move back to his parents' place.

Parker rolled in and I rolled out, both of us making sure the timekeeper had the right race numbers as we went by. I could see only one rider ahead of me when I got to the bottom of the first - and worst - climb. I tried turning on the light, but there was just enough daylight left to see without it, and I found it distracting on the steep uphill section anyway, so I shut it off again. When I got about halfway up the hill, where the dirt trail had been eroded down to rocks and gravel, I found out what Alex was talking about: these tires just gripped the ground like glue! I found I didn't have to pick my way so gingerly through the stones and I'm sure that was the fastest time up that hill I've ever done. I guess you really do get what you pay for, in some cases!

At the top of the hill the trail changed from open fields to a tunnel through dense trees, and it was dark and suddenly much cooler. I zipped up the jacket and turned on the light, the bright beam shining on the tree trunks and branches beside the trail, making hypnotic patterns as I rode fast between them. Slowing down a little, I used one hand to angle the light down a little, so it lit up the trail instead of the trees. It took a minute or two to get accustomed to riding in the pool of light but I knew the trail pretty well and my speed picked up again. And, anyway, there was reflective tape and plenty of warning signs anywhere the direction the racers should go wasn't obvious.

The trail opened up a bit in a non-technical section and I settled into my usual rhythm. I loved riding, and I spent so much time on this bike it was like another part of me. But instead of concentrating on the race I found myself thinking about Dave and Andy, and how they were making plans for when school started, plans that involved their group of friends, a group that had never included me. I briefly wondered if Dave and I were just a summer thing, whether he might get too caught up in school and soccer, and whatever he and his gang used to do, to spend any time with me.

The race took a left turn and dropped down through a twisty section with loose sand at the switchback turns. I had to pay attention here or I'd wind up sliding over rocks and roots into a tree or something. I could see tire tracks where others had done just that, in fact, but I managed to maintain a good line through all the turns, even with the beam of light swinging wildly across the ground. I could see why some riders preferred a helmet-mounted light - I'd ask Alex about that when I got back to the tent.

I negotiated the last downhill, winding through the boulders that littered what was a ski slope in winter, and, just in case someone was watching, gave a final burst of speed through the taped-off section that led across the field to the finish line. I could see that Dave was waiting and ready to go as I made the last turn heading up to the gate. He sure looked good in his new kit, those shorts highlighting the shape of his perfect bubble butt. He was, of course, having an animated conversation with the timekeeper but he broke off and gave me the full wattage Dave smile as I came across the line. We high-fived, our eyes locked together, as I mentioned a couple of things he should look out for on the trail. As he rode off I had a sudden urge to race after him, to tackle and drag him into the bushes and make wild, passionate love to him! But that would have to wait.

As I left the bike with Alex who was busy wrenching away at full speed on Andy's bike, I noticed several cases of Red Bull and Mountain Dew, and an equal number of empties in a plastic bag stacked behind his rolling toolbox. Aha. That explained a lot! His iPod was cranked up high enough to compete with the party going on all around us, so I didn't try to break through the sound barrier and left him to it. I went over to where Andy was chatting with Phil. There was a pile of sandwiches under plastic wrap on the table. I extracted one and peeked inside it cautiously. Ham, I thought. Smelled okay, so I munched on it as I reached into the fridge and found a can of Coke. It sounded like Andy had been quizzing Phil about college life in general and college bike racing in particular.

After a pause Andy asked, "So, why do all road bike guys shave their legs and only some mountain bikers do?"

"Well, a lot of guys who race mountain bikers are also on road bike teams. And they ride road bikes for training, too. It's just easier to put in the miles on the road than on a trail. And cyclists have shaved their legs for over a hundred years, so it's a pretty deeply rooted tradition, now. All serious roadies shave their legs. That's one reason, and another is that pro cyclists get their legs massaged before and after they ride, especially if they're on a sponsored team that can afford a team masseur. And all that massage oil and all that rubbing just makes a mess of hairy legs, believe me! And it pulls the hairs out, too. It hurts! So yeah, we all shave, but mainly just to be like everyone else, y'know? It's a cultural thing." Phil got up and stretched. "I've got to take a nap or I'm gonna fall off my bike next time 'round."

I took another sandwich from the pile. Andy said, "We figure there might be six other guys who would join a bike team at school, if we started one." I recognized some of the names he mentioned. Chuck was one, of course, I knew he was almost as good as Andy. The others were part of the crowd I tended to avoid at school. I always thought of them as the Cool Kids who probably didn't want anything to do with nerds like me, but then I'd also assumed that Dave was their leader, the Coolest of the Cool Kids, and I'd certainly been wrong about him! Still, the thought of actually socializing with that group was a little bit scary.

Andy stood up and tossed his sandwich wrappings into the trash, then scored three points with each of his Coke cans into the recycling bin on the other side. "I gotta go get ready, I guess," he said, heading over to Alex's area. I just watched the scene outside the tent for a while, then put my head down on my arms on the table and zoned out. I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew Dave was there, sitting down across from me opening a can of Coke and unwrapping an energy bar.

"That was pretty wild out there," he said.

"Um. Huh? What was wild?"

"Riding at night. I've never done that before. I nearly rode off into the trees a couple of times from getting distracted and looking where the light was pointing instead of where the trail went."

"Hehe. Yeah, it takes some getting used to. I was thinking a helmet-mounted light might be better. One that bright would be pretty heavy though, so I dunno. We should ask Alex." I looked over that way, but for once the techie wasn't there. I figured he must be getting rid of some of that Mountain Dew. That stuff goes in one end and out the other.

"Let's go see how the unicycle dudes are doing. I passed one of 'em on the climb up the old stream bed. Man, he was jumping from rock to rock instead of going in between. I don't know how they manage to keep their balance doing that! Those guys are totally crazy."

"Yeah, and they've gotta have quads like steel, too. I mean, there's no gears or anything! That'd be like trying to ride a kids tricycle up a hill. They have disc brakes, though. Wonder how that works with only one wheel."

We walked up the row of team encampments, a collection of trucks, trailers or motorhomes with awnings or tarpaulins spread out. Some, like ours, had big wedding-size tents with sponsors' logos plastered all over. Some were quiet, with guys in various stages of napping while others were in full blast party mode, although the music had been turned down a couple of notches from this afternoon. When we got to the uni team's area I realized that Dave was no longer beside me; he had stopped walking and was staring at something. I followed his gaze, but it took me a second to realize what he was looking at. In the group of team members and hangers-on who were chatting and eating and drinking were two of the riders. And one was standing behind the other and hugging him tight as they talked. Then the one in front looked at his watch, turned and said something, kissed the other guy briefly, detached himself and went over and started getting ready to ride. And everyone there seemed to be totally cool with it.

"Whoa," said Dave. I just nodded, even though he wasn't looking at me. I was going to say something - my mouth was open - but then Jack spotted us, called and waved us over.

"Hey guys, coming over to the dark side? Hehe. Ready for another assault, Dave? Chris, that was you that passed me on the last loop, right?" Jack told us to sit down, and did quick introductions all around. We stayed and talked for maybe 30 minutes, but the whole time I was stealing glances at the rider who was apparently openly gay. I mean, he acted and looked like a normal college guy, but incredibly fit. Well, he'd have to be to do this event on a unicycle! But, well, suddenly I realized that the world with other gays didn't only exist on the internet, they were here in real life. And kissing right in front of their friends, too. I glanced at Dave, wondering if we would ever do that. I tried to imagine leaning over and kissing him right then! Who would freak out more? Him, me or the people around us? I wasn't ready for that, yet, apparently, and I'm pretty sure Dave wouldn't be, either.

A fresh wave of the uni team's friends arrived and the conversation shifted. Dave caught my eye and tilted his head to suggest we split, and I nodded. We said a general goodbye and walked slowly back to our own team.

"Wow," said Dave, as we threaded our way through the riders, bikes and onlookers, "I wish *I* could kiss *you* right here in public." I think I saw a couple of heads swivel in our direction! "Do you think we'll ever be able to do that?"

"Um. Maybe when we're in college, in some other city where nobody know us." Or in some parallel universe. I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to come out to Dad, or the guys on the work crew. Although, Theo had once said that someone else in our family was gay. Hm. Maybe it wasn't a big deal, since I never heard anything about it. Or maybe Mom or my sister didn't know; they'd for sure broadcast it to everyone.

When we got to the tent, Andy was there eating and talking with the other two team members. Phil was out on the trail and Alex was back, plugged into his iPod. I flopped down on one of the air mattresses to get in a quick nap before I had to ride again. As I drifted in and out of sleep I could hear Dave and Andy discussing the start of school in a few weeks, and the soccer team, who they wanted to see and who they didn't. I wondered how it would work out between me and his other friends. I mean, we didn't interact at all over the last year and a half since I moved back east, so why would they suddenly want me around now? Would Dave and me be something that happened only after school, or on weekends?

Or not at all?

What if Dave wanted to end our relationship when he went back to living with his parents? And what *was* our relationship, anyway? Just a summer thing, or something more permanent? I thought about that for a while, in my semi-awake state. Just the the thought of Dave suddenly not being part of my life gave me a cold chill in the pit of my stomach. Our summer together had been wonderful for more than the awesome sex, although that was definitely a big part of it! Dave filled a huge gap in my lonely life; I realized I didn't want that to change. Did that mean I loved him? I'd never loved anyone like that before, but maybe this was it.

"Chris. Earth to Chris! Time to ride, buddy." Phil was gently shaking me awake. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. "Sorry, man, but Parker's due back in about 10 minutes."

I shook off the effects of a long nap and gathered up my stuff. No sign of either Dave or Andy in the tent. Checking out the shiny bits on my bike I could see that Alex had already swapped the derailleur, chain and both shifter/brake levers. I rode over to wait for Parker, shifting up and down the range a few times to test. Smooth! I'd have a whole new bike by the end of this race!

Parker rolled in and I rolled out. I think I could have done the course with the light off and my eyes closed by then. I wound up tagging along with a clump of five other riders; it seemed like nobody was in an aggressive mood in the middle of the night, so it was more like my usual riding speed, which was fine with me. We all arrived together and milled about while the timekeeper sorted out who we were. Dave had already taken off after giving me a high five. I walked back to the tent where Andy and the others were lying around in various stages of sleep. Even Alex had his feet up; but I could hear the beat emanating from his earbuds from ten feet away. I opted for an energy bar - the sandwiches were starting to curl up - and sat at the picnic table, intending to stay awake until Dave got back and anyway I was still buzzed from riding in the cool night air. I had to admit, it was a real ego booster to be keeping up with all these semi-pro and college team mountain bikers! I made a mental note to be sure there was a bike team at whichever college I eventually applied to, and idly wondered what college life was really like for someone like me. If Dave was there, assuming we were still together then, that would be some kind of heaven, on our own and away from our families, it seemed to me.

Alex must have had an alarm set or something, because he suddenly came to life, whistled to rouse me from my thoughts and pointed to Andy. I nodded and went over to where he was crashed out and shook his shoulder to wake him up. At least, I think he was awake - he didn't say anything, but he did get his stuff together and wheeled his bike in the direction of the start line. I hoped he wasn't just sleepwalking! Maybe he'd sleepride the whole way around the course! But it must have been okay, because Dave turned up in a few minutes and didn't ask where Andy was, or anything. I sat with him while he ate, and I must have fallen asleep again because at one point Dave was urging me to go lie down and get some rest. Which I did, and I slept right through until Alex was waking me up for my turn, again. Dave, Andy, Phil and everyone except Parker were all asleep, either on the mattresses or draped over the furniture. When I got back to the finish line Dave was waiting, but not totally awake.

"Don't fall off your bike, dude!" I said, giving him a nudge.

"Nah. I'm good. See ya later," and off he went.

By the time we'd each done two more loops everyone was starting to revive. The sun had come up and was spotlighting the line of mist rising off the river on the other side of the valley. Someone had put on a playlist of bluegrass and Earl Scruggs and I could smell bacon cooking somewhere up the line of tents. It was almost time for me to do my last time around the course. One more ride, then we were done. Yay! Phil had produced some orange juice from somewhere, and there was cereal and bagels, doughnuts, bananas and energy bars out on the picnic table. I dug in. Dave and Andy were still snoring away in the tent and I didn't see where the other rider was. Alex was starting to pack up his toys. After eating, I rode around out to the parking lot and back to get the stiffness out of my legs, then I made my way over to the start line. Parker gave a thumbs-up as he came in, and off I went. By the time I finished the first climb my legs felt fine and the rest of the circuit went pretty well. Once again I wound up in a group; I don't think any of us were too concerned about which team had the most laps! We sprinted for the finish line whooping and acting like it was the Tour de France, Dave and the others who were waiting to go clapped and cheered. Well, that's what 24 hours of caffeine and sugar will do to you! Hehe.

Finally it was over. The results were announced in a very short ceremony as everyone was anxious to get packed up and go. Our team didn't win, but we came close and Phil and the others were happy with the result, so that was good. Mr. Pelletier, Andy's dad, pulled up in his truck and with the bikes and stuff loaded in the back it was time to go home. Andy immediately fell asleep in the front seat and Dave did the same in the back, slowly tipping over until he was leaning against me. For some reason I was wide awake. Andy's dad said that his buddy George Marino had called him to say how pleased he was about everything, and he mentioned sponsoring a high school team again, so maybe that would actually happen. Then we chatted about my dad's landscaping business, and where I'd lived before coming back east and stuff. I nudged Dave awake as we were turning off the highway at Theo's house. Andy never budged as we unloaded out bikes and gear, so we thanked Mr. Pelletier for the lift home and he headed back down the driveway. Dad's truck wasn't parked by the house, I noticed.

We hauled our stuff up the steps into the motorhome and Dave flopped down into the nearest chair.

"I'll flip you for who takes the first shower," I said.

"You go ahead, I think I'll just sit still and let the sugar buzz wear off."

I stripped off the stinky jersey and bike shorts and threw them over by the bag of clothes and other loot we'd brought home. Laundry, later! The hot shower felt so good, and I just stood there for a minute letting it cascade over my body. After washing everything and everywhere, I stepped out and dried off. Dave came up behind me as I was drying my hair.

"Unh-uh," I slapped his hand away, "Go shower first! Hehe! You smell like 24 hours of sweat!"

I was lying on the bed in boxer shorts when Dave came out of the shower. I watched as he dried himself off, wondering if this overwhelming attraction I felt for him was lust, or was it really love. Right at that moment I could easily see myself spending the rest of my life with him, but maybe that was because we'd spent the summer exploring nearly every aspect of gay sex together. Maybe he'd go back to being involved with school and the soccer team and his friends and not have time for me...

"Hehe. Why are you staring at me like that?"

"Huh, what?" My thought bubble burst.

"You had a kinda odd expression on your face," Dave said, coming over and dropping the towel as he landed on the bed beside me.

"Um. I was just thinking about stuff." I rolled onto my side to look at him.

"Oh? What kind of stuff?" Dave traced his finger along my hip. This altered my thought process a little.

"Mmm. This kind of stuff," as I leaned over and flicked my tongue across his nipple. Then the other nipple. Then down to his belly button, and further on down the trail of fine, golden hair that led to the prize I was seeking.

"And were you also thinking of this?" he said, sliding his hand down my back until he could gently massage along the crack, pausing to press lightly on the puckered hole. I groaned my agreement. I was indeed thinking along those lines. But before I could reach my goal Dave flipped around on the bed so we could suck each other off, as we usually did at least once or twice a day. I buried my face to lick as deeply into his crotch as my tongue would reach, savoring his smell then working up his balls to the base of his cock. With one hand caressing between his legs and the other holding his straining member upright, I kissed the tip then licked all around it, finally taking the whole length into my mouth, until his pubes were tickling my nose.

I had to pause because what Dave was doing to me sent waves of pleasure that were overloading my brain. He knew all the little moves and places to touch that sent me to outer space. I could feel the orgasm building, and I wanted Dave to cum at the same time so I went back to work on his cock, using all the tricks I'd discovered over the summer. And in another minute we were both pumping our juices into each other, staying on until the skin got too sensitive to bear. We lay back, panting, spent, that wonderful feeling spreading through our entire bodies.

After however many minutes it took to return from orbit, Dave changed position again, and we just lay there with him hugging me from behind. This was where I wanted to be forever! I was sure that this was what being in love was like. It must be. How could I tell if Dave felt it, too? I knew I had to say something, but what if he didn't feel the same way? I could feel my heart beating as I tried to overcome the hesitation. Now! My heart would burst if I didn't say it out loud, right now! Dave shifted position behind me.

"Chris," Dave said, kissing my shoulder.

"Mmm?"

"I love you, Chris."

I think my heart did a backflip. Or something! I remember twisting around and kissing him, pulling him close with all my might, as if that might join us together forever. Fortunately the functioning part of my brain remembered to complete its mission:

"I love you too, Dave."

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