This is a story of boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, boy finds out girl is actually a boy, boy decides to stick it out because he doesn't see a better option available...
Boy #1 in our sad love story.That's the kind of thing that was going through my head as I descended down Dowell's Draft.
I wake up to the sound of the gong at 5:00AM. By "wake up," I mean that I realize the gong means I can end this period of laying on top of a sleeping bag covered in sweat and humidity and start drinking coffee and eating Pop Tarts. I can tell instantly that I did not balance out the beer to Gatorade ratio to match my pre-ride efforts and moments of being awake yesterday. I hear Bono cranking out "Wide Awake" over the PA... yes, I was. Most of the night, thank you.
The coffee and Pop Tarts do their thing, and I line up for yet another Shenandoah Mountain 100 in the 8+ hour corral, based on my 9:07 from last year and my potential to actually break nine hours this year if something miraculously makes me feel awesome.
We go off after the usual amount of line-up banter and shit talking. Five hundred riders (or is it six?) making a break for the bottle neck of twisty rutted driveway to the open road in the predawn light. The only part of the race that makes me nervous. A rider goes down to my right, shutting a third of the available width of the road down. Sucks for him and those right behind him. We hit the pavement and I know what to do... lose as little ground as possible before we get to the first trail.
As always, the lead group of "haves" get away. Riders come by in ones and tens. Watts goes by me. Meh. Why is he faster than my on the road? Right before the left turn off the main road and onto a side road, the tandem team goes powerhousing by. Un unh. That will not do. I decide I will turn myself inside out to stay ahead of them before getting to the first trail, lest I get behind the unwieldy beast when things get tight.
I put my head down and motor on. Taking some risks in the loose corners and hammering up the punchy bits, the entire time feeling chased by the ghost of tandem past. I can feel the sweat already dripping down my nose and a cramp coming on in my right calf. Hmmmm...
I make it into the first trail with a decent group. A bit too much brake on the descents from the leader of our pack, but it allows me to back off on the ups and just coast back into place on the downs. And then the break is over. The right turn and the slight gravel road down.
About the time that the sweat was dripping and the calf was cramping, I knew that I wasn't going to be able to "race." Ninety-three miles to go on this bike ride, and there was no way I was quitting just because I couldn't be competitive. With the thrill of racing gone, I was hoping to spend the next nine to ten hours in my own dark place, alone... nothing but my iPod Shuffle and me. The plan falls apart as soon as six other single speeders coast up to me... and then leave me behind. Chris, Scott, Bob, Wilson, Boyes... my memory is as fuzzy as Chris's quick iPhone snap.
This is when I realize that my hasty fix to a problem that I had the day before that was caused by grabbing a bike that had sat still for three to four weeks without being ridden had made some things better while others much worse. My reach was waaaaaaaaaay off on my brake levers. I could barely hold on and slow down. My forearms are screaming. I'm gonna have to stop at Aid 2 and beg for a 2mm allen or spend the day in absolute agony.
I see Chris standing in the corner of a loose part of the descent. I ask if he's okay... it looks like he's addressing a bike issue and not recovery from a very nasty crash that really just happened. He says he's fine. I finish the descent as he catches up. The pain in my arms is surprisingly incredible... so happy that I didn't take five minutes to check the work I had done the night before.
Things will get even more blurry from here.