You know those dreams that jolt you out of your sleep, as if there are priests at your side performing an exorcism? This morning was exactly that. I don't think I was dreaming though- more so realizing I was about to be overtaken.
"He's here." I whispered to myself as I took at quick look at Trackleaders. Jason was less than 10 miles from my location, and closing in fast. I fumbled through a quick pack, and jolted out the door. This was my first stay on a 2nd floor in a motel. I cautiously fumbled down the dark exterior staircase with my bike on my shoulder. 13 days into racing and immediately from sleep I'm asking my legs to do some weight bearing stability exercises. They were not happy.
Resistance was futile at this point. Jason was going to catch me today, but I also knew he had pushed through the night to do so. I suspected he wouldn't ride as far as me today, so my goal was to continue riding my pace and gain a little distance when he clocked out.
Out of Pittsburg, the Missouri line came quick. Another state completed!
The country roads were now lined with houses, about 25 yards off the road. Old trucks littered the lawns, American flags catching glimmers in dim porch lights. Dogs barking everywhere. My ear was constantly tuned in to see how close the bark was, or if it was moving any closer to my proximity.
The morning sun couldn't come soon enough, exposing gentle rolling fields, corn still in view and a few small windmills. Temperatures were comfortable and winds were minimal. Life was good in those moments.
Golden City was about 35 miles in for the day, and was home to Cooky's Cafe, a must stop location for any tourer or racer. Every type of pie imaginable! As I sat there enjoying a coffee, I watched Jason's tracker quickly close in, and before I knew it he was walking in to grab breakfast as well.
Part of me was a little disappointed that I had been caught- still I continued to remind myself that he had worked through the entire night to get here, and I was just coming off a sleep. The other part of me was extremely excited to have some company. Jason and I had been texting back and forth for the last few days, and it was much needed to have a like-minded individual to share some company with.
It had been about 10 days since we had seen each other, so there was a lot to catch up on. We signed the guest book at Cooky's, got some pie to go and made our way back out to our bikes. It's always interesting seeing other riders skill sets. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Jason was skilled at riding big stretches without stopping, including long night stints. I was likely more efficient with my stops than Jason. As we geared up to ride out together, I remember making note of this.
The next 20-25 miles were very peaceful- the two of us riding side by side recapping the events of the past week, trading war stories about road conditions, where we slept and what was happening in the race around us. Traffic was low and the miles were clicking off fast. Jason had been riding through the night and was surprisingly fresh, planning to push through most of the day.
We closed in on Ash Grove, and veered off course to pick up our participation tokens from City Hall, which was a pretty neat experience. As we walked out of City Hall, there was a business owner sweeping up in front of a Mexican restaurant (Mama Loca's Cafe, to be exact). We soft pedaled across the street, only to realize it was not open and he was just preparing to open. Hell, it was probably only 10 am if I had to guess. When you're at it so early in the day, you think everyone should be just as far into their day as you.
The gentlemen realized we were racers, and quickly offered to open up for us. What a cool dude. Jason and I parked our bikes and went inside and sat down.... in what we quickly realized was a very eclectic Mexican restaurant. Festive art, relics and pictures hung from all possible points in this two story building. The owner couldn't have been nicer. Jason and I had been talking about scoring milkshakes somewhere here in town. Without pause he mentions "I can make y'all some milkshakes". What a treat, milkshakes in our own private dining experience at 10 in the morning! We were living luxuriously in that moment.
As we ate, Wendy Davis came over and greeted us. She had been watching our progress and trying to hunt us down in town. We chatted for a minute and then she handed us some sack lunches. Literally food was coming at us from all directions! It's raining calories!
I'm sure we could have sat there forever, getting refills on milkshakes and hell, probably scoring a place to nap if we dared ask. But it was still early, and we both had big ambitions for the day. We were out of the Kansas flats and knew we had some big work in front of us in Missouri. The temps were creeping up as well. Just the day prior it had been over 100 in Kansas, and Missouri wasn't going to be any kinder.
As we left Ashgrove, the miles were still good but the traffic was picking up a little bit. The rollers certainly had started, exposing some of our different skills on the bike. I would climb a little faster than Jason, but he was an exceptional descender and would close gaps (and some) when the roads turned down. I found Missouri to be one of the most dangerous states for riding, simply because of how the roads were laid. As a cyclist on very hilly and winding terrain, it's difficult for a car to calculate your speed. One minute you're cruising at 30 mph down a hill, only to slow almost instantly to 5 mph on the next steep pitch. Pair that with blind turns and it made it very challenging to ride with traffic.
As the temps crept up though, I could tell Jason wasn't enjoying himself. Jason was close to making a full switch to night riding to avoid this intense heat. I couldn't blame him, it was pretty miserable. I was already doing about 3-4 hours in the dark each day, but wasn't too interested in adding more, especially in these parts with the potential for wild life and dogs.
We yo-yo'd for the next 30 miles or so, until we hit Fair Grove. At this point, it was pretty much high noon and a roast fest. Jason indicated he was going to take a break under some shade, and I set out to find yet again another meal. This was my 3rd sit down restaurant of the day- the hunger could not be satiated.
As I rolled out of Fair Grove, I caught a glimpse of Jason at the park. He didn't seem to be sleeping, and I wondered how long he would park it for the day. Like any good racer, I tried to inconspicuously ride by, trying to shrink myself on my day-glo orange bicycle. I'm pretty sure he saw me.
How long did he rest? Apparently not long. Only a few miles later his tracker picked back up progress. I got the sense that he didn't want to lose the ground that he had worked so hard for the last week to make. I get it- I would hate to let a gap open just hours after fully closing it. But there was no strong acceleration coming from my side. I kept at my own pace and continued to monitor Jason's. I had no misconception that I was going to spread it any further while he was riding- Jason was too strong of a rider to do that, and the weather and this terrain was no time to start pressing the gas. Holy fucking rollers! One after the other, pitches easily in the 10-12%.
I think the next place I stopped in was Bendavis. A nothing town with a little corner pantry, which barely looked to be keeping the lights on. I was struggling at this point, a bit plastered from the heat and constant steep climbs. It was maybe 5:30, and I had progressed 160 miles. I remember this store vividly for two reasons- first, I think there was more Pennzoil and various lawn mower parts here than actual food. The woman who owned the store also had her child with her, who was about two and apparently fascinated with strangers. I bought some crackers, chocolate milk and a coke and asked if I could sit down inside and just hang out. I remember that little kid sitting down next to me and just staring at me. Want to talk about a trippy experience? I haven't communicated with more than 10 people in the last 15 days, and this little man wants to have a staring contest. Sure thing kid, bring it on. I will carve lines in your soul with these dull, lifeless sockets. It's that 1,000 yard stare, which takes me back to memories of watching Mike Hall master it in Inspired to Ride. Images like gave you a true sense of how absolutely shattered one can get out here. In that moment, watching that film, I wanted that feeling. Sitting here at my computer, I look forward to that feeling again. A dimension that can't be achieved without pouring the entirety of your energy out, day in and day out. My buddies and I refer to it as "transcending PSI" and it's one of my all time favorite things to do.
Shaking myself out of the trance battle with this child, it was time to do some mapping chores. I needed to begin looking for a target to call home for the night. How much daylight is left? What are the upcoming towns that might have sleeping arrangements? Where is Jason? Where might he stop tonight? It was a pretty complex calculation in the moment, one that I likely ruminated on for too long. Summersville? Ok. I stumbled back to my bike and petered on down the road.
Earlier in the day, Jason had mentioned targeting Houston for the night, which was another 30 miles down the road. I didn't want to stop at the same place as him tonight, but knew I didn't have much more in the tank.
I made it to Houston, and found a Subway for dinner. I remember watching the local high school kids coal roll up and down the main drag. It was Friday night in small town Missouri. I was nervous to get back on my bike and ride alongside reckless kids in big trucks.
I noticed Jason roll into town from a far, only a few miles behind me. He had an impressive day, pushing close to 300 miles in a single session. It certainly gave me an itch for my own large push, but I decided to keep the consistency. There was still a lot of riding ahead of us.
I packed up my Subways and just kept riding. I knew there was a possibility for a hotel up in Summersville, but it wasn't guaranteed. I just went for it. It was beginning to cool down and the sun quickly retired behind the hills. I remember this small stretch because it was the first night of horrific bugs. I'm glad I kept the buff when I shipped back my winter gear.
I was lucky enough to score a hotel room in Summersville- some local place that had about 8 rooms total. They offered a $40/night rate for cyclists, and it was probably one of the nicest rooms I had stayed at in a while!
With Jason only 20 miles behind for the night, I knew I needed to get moving early tomorrow.