I slept really well at Newton Bike Shop, and more than 4 hours to boot! Their sleep area for racers had nice bunks setup, away from the area for tourers, equipped with personal lights and charging stations. Jason decided to stop about 30 miles back, so I was the only racer in for the night. I meandered out into the common area about 4 am, to find a cup of coffee waiting for me and a freshly tuned bike. I know NBS can be hit or miss for racers, but the hospitality I received was top notch and far above what I was growing accustomed to in recent days.
James had been working on my bike most of the night. He found the issue with the gear hesitation, which was coming from the cassette. The teeth in the middle gear range (my most frequently used few) were all mangled which was causing the hesitation when I would shift in and out of this part of the range. They generously pulled a replacement cassette that had been allocated to another racer, who was far enough away for them to order another in time. A new cassette, new chain and new tires- the bike was looking ready as day one! I had been running Schwalbe Pro One 28 tubeless tires. They had been phenomenal tires... for about 1000 miles. After that, they wore extremely fast, which was interesting because I had been using them in training and hadn't experienced that same issue. By the time I arrived at NBS, I had been riding on square rubber for about 4 days. Every time I turned, the side wall of the tire (still with good grip) would catch sharply, causing an over steer situation. Just one more challenge to throw in the mix when you're riding exhausted, right?
James shared the news that Ashley Sharp had been struck by a car last night. Ashley was the next rider up the road, who I had been hoping to catch but was riding strong each day. I would find later that Ashley was bruised and battered, but doing OK. His bike however was completely destroyed, ending his race.
Heather had recommended a small country buffet in Cassoday for second meal, which was my first target stop of the day. I did a quick interview with James, said farewell and headed back on course. Jason was only about an hour away from NBS, so I needed to get out the door and try and get some buffer while he stopped to take care of business there.
The bike was riding phenomenally- everything was working crisply and the new tires were silky smooth. It's amazing how good working gear will change your perspective and outlook! While the bike was running well, the news of racers being struck left a somber tone to the morning. It puts a little bit of a black cloud on the day while escalating your senses to the same dangers being presented to you each day. It proves that risk is all around us, and that you can only control so much from your end.
I shot Ashley a quick message that morning to check in as I got the wheels rolling. I was only ~180 miles from Pittsburgh.
Cassoday was a bit of a bust. The country store, at one point, had been a busy stop for touring cyclists. In its defense, I was there very early in the morning, waiting on the porch for it to open. The gentlemen opening for the day ushered me in, where I found a few half stocked shelves, a untended to breakfast buffet setup and some scattered booths. I sat down at one of the booths, unsure of how the system worked. Another gentlemen walked in, a local, and the two good 'ol boys began to chat about cattle and ranching. Thick accents and lots of lingo about steers ensued. I politely inserted myself into the conversation to see how breakfast worked, and was guided to the same barren breakfast buffet area which I thought was defunct, to put together my own breakfast. I walked down the line, opening each steel pan to find one after the other empty. Finally, at the end, there was one pan with some semi-hot gravy and a few biscuits. Tough luck, but I ate my share and got on the road as quick as possible. Beggars can't be choosers, right?
On from Cassoday I noticed a few Facebook messages coming through that my tracker had stopped working about 15 miles back the road. Immediate fear from dot watchers and family was that another accident happened. This was the beginning of my spot tracker problems, which would persist to the finish line. I now had a an obligation to check in through Facebook groups to ensure I was safe, and continuing to move. An additional (necessary) chore to add to the list, when every little thing was difficult and complex. With Jason in close proximity, it would appear he would leap frog me, and then I would jump back ahead after I reset my tracker. I must have reset that tracker 4-5 times a day for the rest of the race. I suspected the lithium ions were starting to go, but I hadn't packed another set, thinking I could likely find them along the way. However, they were more difficult to find in these small towns that you would imagine.
When the course turned east in Rosalia, the wind hit my back and the roads gently sloped downhill. This was a blazing fast section of the course, in that moment of that day. I suspect it could also be a bear of a section if the wind wasn't in your good graces. I recall passing several tourers in this section that were slogging west bound, fighting the wind along with the slight uphill, on heavily packed bikes. I felt lucky in that moment, but also knew it was all relative... and that my good fortune would change soon and I'd be back to a similarly tough fight to make mileage for the day. Enjoy it while it lasts, but don't expect it to last long.
Eureka was a good little town with some breakfast options right on the route. With the bad luck of Cassoday, my hunger levels were still high. The restaurant in Eureka was selling massive, homemade cinnamon buns at the cash register. Upon checkout, I added two to my bill, excited for the trail treats in the hours to come.
I remember enjoying this stretch of Kansas. The roads were narrow but quiet, winding through tall cornfields on either side. The constant turning kept your attention and helped the miles pass.
The day was getting hot, but I was more prepared than yesterday. More frequent shade stops. Larger amounts of water for cooling, both in my body and on it. My jersey was now consistently unzipped to allow a breeze for cooling. I had picked up new socks at NBS yesterday to replace the single pair of wool socks I had been using, which was making a big difference as well.
The miles seemed to click by, and before long I was on the outskirts of Chanute. I had noticed a dot watcher, Corina, tag me in a post on Facebook that she was going to try and "catch me" there. I had come across very few dot watchers up to this point, so I really didn't know what to expect. Hell, I'd never done any racing where I was an actual dot! I really enjoy the infusion of dot watching. They are passionate about the racers and race, providing an sense of community and inclusion when a racer can often get lost in the loneliness of the road. When you think no one cares or is watching, it ends up being quite the opposite. I know my family also greatly appreciated the updates they would provide on my status, etc. I was starting to chat more with them through the online groups, as something to help pass the time but also share some insights into what the course was giving in the moment.
I was sitting outside a gas station in Chanute, enjoying a few chocolate milks and out of nowhere someone pulls up, jumps out of their car and approaches with their camera out. Ah yes, Corina! A quick introduction was made, and then it's time to record a video. Wait, what? A video? I can barely form sentences... I'm a little surprised, and in my tired stupor don't really know what to think. I hadn't expected this! I shared a few words as best I could, asked Corina to point me towards any restaurants in the area, and got on my way.
I had been texting with Ashley Sharp through the course of the day, and he was out of the hospital and resting in a hotel in Pittsburg. We made some plans to meet up for dinner and a beer.
Ashley had been racing strong, and would have certainly been in a position to catch a few more racers. I doubt I would have ever bridged up to him. We dressed up in our Sunday bests; Ashley sporting a stunning ensemble recently acquired from the local Wal-mart, and me in some dirty running shorts, mountain bike cleats and a cycling vest. We found an Uber, grabbed a table at a nearby Chili's, and had an opportunity to get to know each other and chat about the race up to this point. It was one of the few moments I had to commiserate with a fellow racer about all the funny little things associated with an event like this, the challenging sections, or the unique aspects of the race. I remember a healthy debate about chocolate vs strawberry milk. He was in good spirits relative to what had just happened, and was already beginning the process of coordinating help with insurance and travel home. Such a large amount to process in that moment. It was tough to see such a great racer's journey come to an end, but there was also a sense of optimism in that he would still be around to race another day.
Dinner concluded, and we both retired back to our hotels- we had each experienced quite a long day in our own regard.
Next stop, Missouri!