Cormac McCarthy’s Ghost Writes a Door County Triathlon Race Report

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Cormac McCarthy’s Ghost Writes a Door County Triathlon Race Report

Early afternoon, and the white sun hung cold in a slate-colored sky as if the tip of a piece of steel was heated to the torture-point of freezing. The road ran straight and forever-seeming enough that it was like a piece of Illinois highway was ripped up and cast asunder to the north, a haphazard prank on the otherwise scenic byway by some unnamable god whose laugh is like the turning of rusty cogs in a clock carved from the darkness itself, and this day whose indiscriminate humor dictated commerce the target. Our car barreled at 75 mph between two dead raccoons bloating in the midday heat like two sentries whose very existence is a foretelling of a fate to be suffered by all. Under a bridge, the Crawfish River was brown and still.

We pulled into Egg Harbor, Wisconsin around 4:15 after a long stretch of billboards in silent scream hawking cherry wine, cherry picking and Grandma Tommy’s sweet rolls, for feeble does man grow with time, war and trade and death and loss yielding to fanny-packs and iron-on lighthouse patches. Packet pick-up for the 10th Annual Door County Triathlon was on till 6, so we pulled to the side of the road in front of Frank Murphy Park at Horseshoe Bay and set ourselves among the coming and going of the athletes like sinewy phantoms whose blood is Gu and whose in whose dreams steak sandwiches pile thick.

The packet — with race bib, restaurant coupons, commemorative shirt and swim cap — was gotten without incident, save adolescent fascination with a dog so tiny as to be an insult to reason levied onto the general canine race by a gibbering animal control jester god. At the Michelob Ultra tent — which would on the day following transform into a sort of oasis where piss flavor only lightly tainted the flavor of carbonated lake water — Michelle lined up with the other athletes to have her race number temporarily tattooed to her biceps and both calves, for life for man is an eternity of markings and unmarkings as he sloughs off one skin, one identity for another, and also if you drown this is how you are identified. Competitor 802, you embarked upon a fool’s butterfly.

The road to the Augustiner Lodge bucked and yawed the remaining two miles from the park, with such hills heralding the entrance to the lodge so that each one seemed a terrible and simple truth about to be revealed. Our parking space was a mere seven paces from the front entrance, whereupon a life-sized statue of the unholy union between a Finnish troll and the Riccola man greeted us with a wink which functioned in equal capacity as a warning. The check-in desk was manned by a middle-aged woman wearing an orange race volunteer shirt over which her shoulder-length mouse-brown hair draped. In an accent Germanically tinged she directed us toward a large storage shed across the parking lot where one of the groundskeepers would lock up Michelle’s Cannondale bike for her. On our way out, a handwritten sign made it known that VCRs were for rent.

The old man’s name was Hawk, and he wore his black Reebok orthopedics like two charred hams, such was the loping and unpredictability of his gait. When we reached the shed, he was already flinging open one of the garage doors and when he turned to speak the sound was like that of a rock feeding on its offspring.

Ain’t no kickstand on that bike? He sported anywhere from 10 to 16 teeth and the motion of his jaw was like that of an ancient cave cursing Armageddon’s crumbling sky.

No, no kickstand.

Ain’t none these here bikes got kickstands. He gestured to the two dozen other bikes already leaned against sawhorses or boilers and said this without surprise or vehemence as if by speaking a fact it would be automatically etched into the flayed and tanned skin of history.

No, no they don’t, I said. Michelle shifted and added, It would disrupt the aerodynamics.

Hawk snuffed. Bike’s orta’ have kickstands. He then took her name and race number down, and we were sent to arrange ourselves in our room.

The room was premium clapboard, with a 16-inch flatscreen television perched upon a chest of drawers varnished to resemble finer wood. The mattress was sprung and so the bed creaked with each tiny movement like a ghost taking pains to instill a great terror in the night and failing. Our window looked out onto a section of black-betarped roof and then out to Lake Michigan. Michelle assumed the task of arranging her gear for the next day: energy bars, oatmeal, two bottles of water, running shoes, wetsuit, sandals, swim cap and goggles, a purple cavernous bag to carry it all. We were antsy and thirsty both and so made our way down to the game room where I ordered a Spotted Cow and Michelle a water and she won both a game of ping pong and billiards with such ease that she might have instructed her former self 20 lives ago in the art.

After a dinner of cherrywood-smoked salmon and spaghetti, we walked along the shore of the lake where vacationers cooled cans of Grain Belt in the surf at the foot of extravagant summer properties. We skipped rocks against the wind, and I flung with such force in the traditional sidearm motion I could scarce lift my arm the next day to haul the race bag. We turned in before 10 that night the better to greet the long day next, the muffled tinkle and thump of the house band of septugenarians soundtracking the thrice-weekly dance. To a moribund and milquetoast hack at “Kansas City,” pastel-bedecked retirees pitched and tilted to an air only they could register, believing this was a moment they were reliving which in truth was not what they had lived at all.