Monday, November 16, 2009

The Taste of Tears

I knew it was going to be hard. I'd put the route together (with much appreciated help from my friends) and had done the math. 99.9 miles doesn't sound like a lot but real Pisgah miles come slow and hard. The mountains take their toll and my math was telling me 24-30 hours was a realistic finishing time frame for me. I decided to ignore my math and made 20 hours my goal. That would mean averaging 5mph, which is fast for Pisgah, and would mean a 1am finish time. It would be a long day in the saddle and I came into it with a good level of physical fitness but due to the various complications of life was seriously lacking in the mental fitness and confidence in my equipment that it would require to spend 20+ hours with my bicycle in the woods.

I made it to White Pines just before dark and scurried to get my camp set up so I could focus on getting the bike ready. I had a flat tire and only one good tube so I decided to patch an old tube and use that and keep my known good tube in my pack. I had to swap out my grips and tweak my brakes and even lubed my chain. And then finally there was the problem of what to do about my fork. The fancy suspension one was still on there and after one ride I wasn't sold. But it was already on and after polling everyone decided to keep it on. The cooler of beer that I had brought for the weekend was growing steadily empty and continuing to hydrate seemed like a whole lot more fun than switching out a fork. Somewhere in the haze that followed people started talking about how long they thought it would take. 14 hours seemed to be the consensus. That seemed rather ambitious to me and though I didn't mean to I scoffed at the number. The next thing I know I'm the last 5am rider left around the fire and I figure I'd better try and find my tent.

I woke up at 4:51 thinking I was going to miss the 5am start so I scrambled to get dressed and on my bike. There were a few guys standing around and I clanged my cow bell promptly at 5am and jumped on my bike only to find that the tube I had patched the night before was flat. I said fuck it and just pumped it up as fast as I could figuring that I could just stop and change it along the way when I needed to but the main thing was to get on the bike. I was on the bike at rolling out at 5:03 just twelve minutes after waking up and never bothered to ask when everyone else was starting. I hoped they weren't waiting for me.

Shortly up Clawhammer I realized I hadn't tightened my stem bolts so I had to stop and dig out a multi tool and the first riders caught me. Brad Kee stopped and we chatted for a moment and then I did my best to take off up Clawhammer. I made the turn onto Black and Brad and Matt rode off in front of me. During the short hike a bike over the top we were rewarded with an amazing sunrise that had the first rays of light delicately playing off Looking Glass Rock and I started to become concerned that I had left some important pieces of gear out of my pack in my haste so I decided I had better stop and see what all I brought. As I shifted through my stuff Rich Dillen and David Cook both passed me. Emily Brock then came along and we chatted our way to Turkey Pen.

On the descent down Turkey Pen Gap the sun continued to amaze me and I had to stop to try and get a picture. Mike Brown passed me and I was suddenly feeling very slow and wondering if maybe these guys really were going to do it in 14 hours. Damn, that's fast, I thought, and imagined everyone else finishing shortly after dark while I was out there for 20+ hours. That was not a good feeling. Me and Mike Brown passed each other a few times and I was glad to have the company. We caught up to Eric Wever and the three of us rode Squirrel together. This was not a race and it felt good to be riding with friends. Cissy Fowler caught up to us at Laurel Gap and I was starting to have fun again but was secretly wondering when I should bail.

I took off up South Mills River but then hung out at the Pink Beds and waited for the others to catch up to me. They did and then we saw Team Dicky coming down 276. After riding up 276 to the Parkway he had decided to bail and was on his way down to camp. He said he was looking at his watch and doing the math and was calling it a day. I had been doing the same thing, looking at my watch and making mental calculations and they were not pretty. 6 hours in and 25 miles traveled = 24 hours. At that moment I decided to cast my vote for time outside of eternity. I took off my watch and buried it in the bottom of my pack and vowed to give up the idea of bailing this early and continue along the course as far as I could. I had all the gear, light and food I needed so why not? Sure my chances of finishing did not look good but I might as well try.

I took off up 276 as fast as I could trying to use the pavement as a chance to gain some time. But climbing 276 and then the parkway to Big Creek does not make for easy miles and I was probably pushing it too hard and could really feel my right knee and groin becoming inflamed. Cissy caught me again at the top of Big Creek and suggested that I try and work through the pain so that's what I did though I'm not exactly sure how. By Fletcher Creek I was hurting again and out of water but decided to keep moving and just do Spencer > Trace real fast and then get some water at the campground. Cissy passed me during the hike a bike up Spencer and then took off down Trace in front of me. She was on a mission to get down Pilot before dark and the sun was hanging low. There was no water at the campground so I had to fill up out of the river and gave Cissy some ibuprofen while I did so. I was fumbling with my ipod and all sorts of stuff so I told Cissy to take off up 1206 without me.

I climb Yellow Gap Rd. all the time and this time it really hurt. I had to get off and walk for a little bit and all I wanted to do was sit down and quit right there. I was choking back tears and on the verge of sobbing. I knew it was going to be hard, but this was absurd. Finishing seemed to be an impossibility and Laurel > Pilot seemed like just an unnecessary prolonging of the suffering. I turned on my ipod for the first time of the day told myself if I got back on my bike and rode to the top and then make the turn onto Laurel Mtn. I could reward myself for making it this far by turning on my phone and calling my girlfriend Terri.

I made it to Laurel and up the trail to some of the first rocks where I stopped and dug out my phone and called Terri. I told her I was at the 50 mile mark to which she congratulated me. But it has taken me 12 hours to get this far and it is really hard, I pleaded. She said yeah, it was taking longer than anticipated but reminded me I knew it was going to be really hard. She suggested I stay on course for as long as I could and pull the plug when I thought was best. I was feeling very lonely and knew that Cissy was far ahead. Emily was still behind me somewhere, maybe, and I just sat there for awhile hoping that she would appear and we could head up the trail together. She didn't, and after procrastinating a little longer I keep going over my conversation with Terri and felt better and continued on up the trail. I put the Grateful Dead's Blues for Allah on my ipod and it was synced perfectly with the setting sun. I watched the sun burn itself out over Pisgah and thought about what a long crazy day it had been. From sunrise on Black to the sunset on Laurel things could not have been better, it was a glorious day and I was feeling better but still going over the options in my mind, trying to ignore the demons.

At the top of Pilot I put both my lights on high and decided to enjoy my squishy fork. I came off a rock a little too hot at the top and took a high speed endo. I went all the way over onto my back with my light taking a good hit but it was fine and so I was so I went on a little more cautiously.

When I pulled into the Pink Beds it was decision time. Bail now or continue on? I was cold and hungry so I put on my warm clothes and started gorging on food. I broke out my safety kit and emergency whiskey and thought about what to do and decided it was time to bail. Down 477 I would go. Confident in my decision I could taste the beer and got down the sign in sheet to state my intentions. I saw that everyone had bailed except for Cook, Brad and Cissy. I realized that I wasn't the only one who was finding it hard and realized that maybe everyone wasn't 8 hours ahead of me like I had been thinking all day. I wrote down that I was bailing down 477 and took off.

Out on the road I was feeling okay and again remembered my conversation with Terri and reminded myself this was a mental game as much as anything and rode past 477 and made the right onto 475B for Cove Creek instead. It was a nice night and there was no reason not to be out riding. I was continuing on but still not sold on Farlow. Maybe I would catch Cissy and just follow her or maybe I would sign in at Cove Creek and then take 475B back up to Club Gap and do all of the route except for Farlow. Or just maybe I would go for Farlow.

I didn't catch Cissy and there wasn't a sign in sheet at Cove Creek so I quit for the final time and headed out 276 for the slow painful spin back to White Pines. I had enough light to burn bright all night, 1000 calories and $4.00 cash for the vending machines, I wasn't suffering from any serious physical or mechanical problems but I quit. I lost the mental game. 17hours15minutes.


It turns out Cissy had skipped Farlow like I was thinking but rode everything else. Cook made it to the top of Farlow before pulling the plug. He came in at midnight just minutes after Cissy. His computer showed he had gone 105 miles. I guess my mapping software isn't 100% accurate. Whoops! Brad Kee stuck it out to 2:37 and finished the whole thing. Very impressive. It turns out Emily was just behind us all day and if only I would have sat a little while longer she would have caught me. All the other riders put forth great efforts and did big rides and though challenging I think fun was had by all at the 99 which makes it a success. Thanks!

Pictures to come tomorrow!

No comments:

Post a Comment