01 March 2012

Just ... Horrible: Stage 2

Stage 2: In Which I Almost Throw in the Towel
I spent about the same amount of time in transition as Charlie did, grabbing food, checking the passport and planning my route. Two of the eight starters were already back at camp, the most surprising of whom was Clay – he washed out his front wheel at the top of Cove Creek (sound familiar? I crashed in exactly the same spot a few months ago!) and took out some spokes. His day was done, so he was content to enjoy the campfire, drink beer and give really bad advice to those of us who were headed back out. Thankfully, after spending time with he and Zach at the campfire during DD, I knew better than to listen to his route suggestions.

Instead, I figured out where I wanted to go, and was pretty surprised when I heard Charlie say that he didn’t see any good loop options – “I guess it’s just going to be out and back,” he said. I saw things differently, and though it would only mean getting three of a possible six checkpoints, I figured out an OK loop that wouldn’t kill me, would keep me on track to finish, and gave me an option for a couple more CPs if I was out there and feeling good. I ate and drank what I could, and I was out of there in about 10 minutes.

477 > Clawhammer > Black (CP at Buckhorn Gap Shelter) > Buckhorn > SMR > Squirrel (Mandatory CP at Cantrell Creek) > Laurel Creek > Bradley > 5015 > 1206 (CP at Laurel Mtn trailhead) > 476 > SMR > Buckhorn > Clawhammer > 477. Left on the table: CPs at Slate Rock overlook, Bennett Gap at Perry Cove, Pilot Rock at Thompson Creek. Oh, and US276 was off limits for this one, as were the hiking-only trails of Thompson Creek and Perry Cove.

Shelter at Buckhorn Gap
The climb to the shelter wasn’t too bad, and I enjoyed a just-before-dawn moment of rice cake and Coke sitting on the wooden bench. My friend the copperhead was sleeping this night, though the rest of the forest was beginning to wake up as the sun began to rise and the sky started to glow. I felt pretty good despite taking my time coming up Clawhammer, and I was really looking forward to doing Squirrel end-to-end as a morning wake up.

Uneventful drop to the river, and I was surprised as I crested Horse Cove Gap to find snow everywhere! It wasn’t much, just a dusting really – maybe 1/4 in. – but it was enough that the already slick, off-camber rocks and roots of Squirrel Gap were even more treacherous than usual. I took it slightly more cautiously than usual – which is to say, pretty dang cautiously – and as I made my way over to Cantrell and beyond, I kept expecting signs of Charlie – he’d either be coming the other way or would have at least dropped in at Horse Cove and left tire marks in the snow. Instead, I was making fresh tracks all along, and as the sun reached full force I crested Laurel Creek Gap and got ready for the fun downhill on the other side.
The cove at Cantrell -- just beautiful!
The biggest debate for me was the river crossing – I was bound to get my feet wet, but how cold would it be and how dangerous? Thankfully crossing Wolf Ford didn’t seem too bad, so I just forged ahead and made my way out to 5015. I knew it would be a slog, but I thought I was ready for it.

I was wrong.

“There are these decisive moments in bike racing. And when the time came, I gave up.” – Kevin Costner as Marcus Sommers in American Flyers

I made it halfway before I fell apart. I walked a couple of the small pitches on the way up, and once 5015 crossed through the ridge, I knew I was almost home free. But then all hell broke loose. In the span of 8? 10? 12? minutes, I went from “I’m OK this is OK” to “Holy Hell, I’m losing it.” Out of the blue, my thoughts drifted back to the long moment lying there in Sumney Cove, and I realized that I might never have seen Kate, Daniel or Kim again. Melodramatic, maybe – but realize that I’d been awake for 26 or 27 hours by this point, and had been riding for more than 8. And then, out of the blue, a snatch of lyric from Les Miserables entered my consciousness, and my thoughts rocketed from my family to my Mom. Before I knew it, I was sobbing uncontrollably, yelling at the top of my lungs to no one and everyone, and this vast well of anger bubbled up inside me. Still I pedaled as the grade gave way to fast, flowing contour, but my resolve was gone and I was ready to quit.

And in a flash, it was gone.

I passed through the gate, and there at 1206 were a couple of riders gearing up for a ride. I didn’t want them to see that I was struggling, so I muttered a quick hello and turned left to drop down the road. Thirty seconds later, I was snapping the checkpoint photo at Laurel Mountain trailhead, and then I was off, dropping down to Bradley Creek and making my way over to the horse camp. I was tired, I was literally falling asleep on the bike, but I was whole again.

Just like that.

I had to focus quite a bit of energy making my way up South Mills River, as fatigue threatened to shut me down right there in the woods. But I didn’t feel bad – just tired – and as long as I planned short walking breaks, I was good to go. There was still a pretty high risk of failure, but I knew what had to be done: Even if it meant losing, even if it meant I might not finish, I needed a nap before I started Stage 3. I was exhausted, and had reached a critical point. Dropping Clawhammer was harrowing as I almost missed a turn after a split-second of inattention, and I rolled into camp resigned to take a break and risk a DNF. I was too tired to be demoralized, though I wasn’t happy about it.

And that’s when I saw Charlie.

Race time at the end of Stage 2: 11:30


1speed said...

This whole (insane) adventure is a really interesting read. I find myself getting pissed that I have to wait for the next chapter. Well done!

Chris said...

Ha, thanks! Glad to hear it. Sorry it's not going any faster -- I do have daily responsibilities and things like work ...

Kurt said...

These are the times when bike racing gets really interesting, no? It's no longer who has the strongest legs, who has the lightest wheels, or who can pump out the most watts relative to their body weight. It's who can keep their ducks in a row when the shit hits the fan, stay the course, and continue to make the wisest decisions through the whole ordeal.

Nice job out there, Chris. I doubt it'll be long before I see your name on the start list for one of the bikepacking races...