The Endorphin Rush: A Story by Dex Tooke
Dex Tooke is an incredible endurance cyclist and he’s here today with a great little story based around the concept of “the endorphin rush”.
Jonathan Livingston Buzzard
By Dex Tooke
I awoke at 1:00 p.m. Not much rest considering I had gotten to bed at 8:00 that morning. My thoughts quickly reminded me of the day of the week and that I wouldn’t have to return to work that night. At least that was good.
I stumbled into the kitchen. Set the microwave on two minutes and started that most important first cup of coffee. Grabbed the half and half out of the refrigerator and went ahead and covered the bottom of my cup with the cream so not only would I be prepared the instant the two minutes had expired but I wouldn’t even have to waste energy stirring.
I peered out the kitchen window to check the limbs on my favorite tree to see how bad the wind was blowing. Bent nearly double. Coming from the southeast again. Must be at least 20 m.p.h. and gusty. Doesn’t the wind ever stop blowing in Del Rio? The countryside was parched brown in color and the temperature was already over 100 degrees. Another beautiful day in the neighborhood. The coffee was ready. 105 p.s.i. in my 23c tires. Water bottles filled. I put on my faded shorts and grabbed my unwashed, salt-caked, body-odored jersey. “Ah, smell that! Isn’t cycling a glamorous sport?” Shoes, helmet, sunglasses, chaps tick. I’m out of here.
The first few miles went slow as I gradually worked the cobwebs out of this ill-treated old body. Living in the “land of manana” for seventeen years on the Texas/Mexico border had taught me it didn’t pay to rush into anything. Easy spinning. 15-17 m.p.h. The wind hot and gusty. The desert hot and dry. The bunch grass brown and thirsty. A lone jack rabbit competing for a small area of shade beneath a mesquite tree.
That first bead of sweat began forming on my temporal region and slowly trickling down the side of my face. The heat rising off the pebbled asphalt as the tar began to melt. Pushing a little. Heart rate near the 150 range.
Then after about 30 minutes a strange transformation started to occur. The wind went dead calm. The temperature dropped. I was headed south toward Tlaloc, the Mexican rain god, and as I topped the railroad bridge near the International Boundary and Water Commission I could see a solid blanket of purple covering the countryside. A sea of purple waves. The Ceniza was in full bloom. And shooting out of the purple sage was the long slender arms of the brilliant red Ocotillo. The large yellow flowers of the prickly pear sprinkled the desert floor. The thick single shaft of a germinating Agave rose 18 feet into the blue sky. And the air was so clear I could see some of the white rock facing on the cliffs of the Sleeping Lady over 70 miles in the distance. The Chihuahuan Desert was at her best.
As I approached the riff-raff of the dam I noticed a small buzzard sitting atop the guardrail. Expecting him to fly off as I got close, he surprised me with his boldness and remained on the guardrail even as I passed. Then I saw several more buzzards ahead. Now believe me, seeing buzzards on Amistad Dam is not unusual, but I had never noticed this many. They were everywhere. And all seemed bold. They all stood their ground. I couldn’t tell if it was in defiance or fear.
As I passed through American Customs and crossed the dam I observed something different about these buzzards. They were all small. No, young. Some of their feathers appeared immature. Baby feathers. As if they were molting. The pigment of their ugly faces was more pink than the dull red of an adult buzzard. These were fledglings.
It didn’t take long to figure out the occasion. These young Jonathan Livingston Buzzards were perched atop this 200 foot dam looking down into the canyons and water of the Rio Grande trying to work up enough gumption to take their maiden plunge into the flight of life. They were there to learn for the first time about wind, lift, velocity, and atmospheric navigation.
It was neat. They were there to discover the essence of their existence, and I was there, too. It was as though I was a part of their world. A world that I had never been curious about or even thought about was suddenly unfolding before me.
I rode atop the dam. A mysterious metamorphosis transpired. My red taped aero bars seemed to grow a projection similar to that of a large ugly beak. My STI shifts expanded horizontally to form a wingspan and my helmet became a cock’s comb. The dynamics of my cycling position molded into the image of my feathered friends. I was bonding with the buzzards.
And then suddenly, No friction! The silence. No longer the sound of chain and freewheel. No click of index shifting. I looked beside me. They were there. Soaring side by side. The wind beneath our wings. I was pack riding with buzzards. The flight. Dipping our wings first one way then the other. Learning navigational tricks. Confidence building. Tucking in close behind one of my compadres and utilizing his draft to gain velocity.
As our skills improved we began to dive down faster and faster, daringly close to the rock cliffs, then banking at the last second to glide back over open airspace. Then, pushing the envelope, we dangerously lowered our latitude and flew wing to wing inches above the cold water of the Rio Grande at speeds that kept the adrenaline flowing. I felt true freedom. I felt the rejuvenation of enthusiasm and passion long lost to the hectic life-style of mere man. I was a buzzard.
As I journeyed home and got within a couple of miles of my house I again felt the hot, gusty, 20 m.p.h. wind blistering my face. I gazed and saw the familiar brown of the thirst ridden desert. No brilliant colors. No cacti in bloom. Not even a jackrabbit stirred. Another dreary summer day.
I opened the refrigerator door, pulled out a 32 ounce grape Gatorade, grabbed two oranges, a banana, some chocolate chip cookies and an Eskimo Pie. The bennies of being a calorie burning tri-geek. I relaxed under the cool, refrigerated air. I picked up the latest edition of Runner Triathlete News and began reading an article entitled ‘The Myths of Endorphins and the Runner’s High’. An eerie presence swept over me. I glanced out the window. A young buzzard was perched on the fence post.
“Exercise physiologists and athletes have long debated the science vs. myth of the ‘runner’s high’. Some scientists stand behind the ’endorphin rush’ while some athletes contend they have been running decades without ever achieving the runner’s high. So I decided to lend my two cents worth.”
– Dex Tooke
Dex Tooke is from Del Rio, Texas and is one of only six cyclists over age 60 to complete the Race Across America (RAAM)…and he’s done it more than once. Dex is also the author of “Unfinished Business“, an inspirational story about his attempt to conquer the RAAM. This October, he is holding the first ever No Country for Old Men bike race and continues to promote cycling and endurance sports. For more on Dex, visit his website at www.ultradex.net.