It's interesting what your mind blocks out when forced with other duties, like juggling attitude and perspective in tough moments. This was certainly one of those days where the priority of navigating large mood swings kept me from remembering much of the day. This one certainly was blurry.
The firehouse in Utica had been a pretty comfortable setup. I had a plush sleeping mat, my sleeping bag and a borrowed couch pillow. Unfortunately I wasn't able to sleep in; the racing was in full swing and each morning came with a premonition that Jason was again, very close. This morning was no different. I jolted awake about 30 minutes before my alarm was to go off, and I knew right then Jason was passing by the firehouse. I checked Trackleaders a few moments later and confirmed that he had just rolled through town. Talk about mind games, man.
I quickly packed up, trying to be quiet as to not disturb the other tourer sleeping in the common area. I chugged a Starbucks double shot, and rolled out the door. It was 2am and the early morning air was amazing.
I suppose Jason saw me moving again, and shortly sent me a note about some dogs up ahead that had wreaked havoc on his Achilles once again. It was certainly that type of area where dogs could be roaming these sleepy country roads. You could just feel it in every aspect of the surroundings. I kept my eyes peeled and not but 10 miles into the ride, I came up on Jason. My lights caught the abundance of reflective material on the backside of his bike and body. Accompanied with his lights I would say there was no chance of him not being seen. We hadn't seen each other since the middle of Missouri, and we rode for another 15 miles or so, chatting and catching up, Jason bombing descents and me slowly catching up as the grade turned up.
As we passed through Fordsville, we picked up a slight scent of bacon. I looked at my watch and noted it was 4:30am, and that my taste buds must be daydreaming. But it was strong. Strong enough to slow us down and turn our wheels to take another look. Sure enough, there was a small diner with a few people inside, at 4:30am in small town Kentucky. We parked our bikes and walked inside, easily 50 years younger than all other patrons inside. The kitchen wouldn't be open for another 15 minutes or so, but we didn't care. The coffee was hot, and tt would be worth the wait for a greasy spoon breakfast.
As we left, I mentioned I would continue to ride on and Jason understood. His Achilles was definitely back in pain from earlier, and he would be riding a bit slower on the rollers. If history repeats itself, he would once again rally from this and certainly I would see him again soon.
The sun was coming up and the morning Kentucky dew had crept in. Traffic was light and the roads were in good condition. Not too far down the road I stumbled across a man in an 80's Jeep Cherokee, driving slowly down the highway, yelling out the window at his two basset hounds that had apparently followed him from the house. He was yelling at them to go home. They were smack dab in the middle of the road; luckily they were more concerned with their owner than me.
Somewhere around Falls of Rough I stopped again for a mid day snack. The woman at the cash register of the corner store warned me of another hot day and to be careful riding- words I had heard pretty frequently over the past 5 days. As I sat outside on the bench, I noticed two young Mennonite boys rolling up in buggy attached to a miniature horse. It looked like they were delivering milk to the store. I couldn't look away, my etiquette for not staring traded in long ago. I figured I should get moving, and so I did.
The next stretch was pretty uneventful; the day was certainly getting hot and the rollers were in full effect. Kentucky rollers were nothing like Missouri in terms of grade, but they were constant and relentless. One after the other, with no sign of them smoothing out anytime soon. My GPS says I stopped in Buffalo, KY around lunch time, but I have no recollection of that.
By the time I reached Bardstown, early afternoon clouds had rolled in, ushering in a storm. I rode for bit in the rain, but the thunder on the horizon had me take shelter at a local McDonalds. Over a cup of coffee I refreshed weather radar maps to see when the clearing would occur.
As the storm passed, I ventured back outside. It was still sprinkling and the roads soaked in rain. The heat from the day was radiating off the ground, giving an almost sauna like feel. There was no time to sit around and wait for the storm to completely pass. Jason was continuing the press, with Stephen Haines not too far behind both of us. I was absolutely being chased, and was feeling the pressure of it to keep the wheels turning, even if slowly. This part of Kentucky was pretty damn tough- there was no reprieve from the constant up and down, and while the scenery was nice there was no change in it. Two lane road, rolling farmland with the occasional forested patch.
The heat and accumulated exhaustion were negatively adding to my mindset as well. One of my good friends Sean had been texting me that day, asking when I thought I'd be finished. In the moment, at the brink of bonking, it was one of the most aggravating questions I could have been asked. I remember texting some snarky comments back, and having a small pity party for myself. No one understood how challenging this was, sitting in their cozy air conditioned offices or homes, raising a finger ever slow slightly to click refresh on a web browser. I was in a big low, tucked away in a dark crevasse of my own mind, cracking terribly under weeks of pedaling and scorching southern sun. I had burnt all my matches.
I remember around Mackville there was a small corner store that was closed, but had a vending machine out front and some rocking chairs. I had collected several dollars in change from convenience store transactions that I kept in a small ziplock bag. In this moment, when I needed it most, it afforded me two ice cold Mountain Dews which quickly helped adjust my perspective.
Places to stay in this part of Kentucky was also sparse. I had come across a bed and breakfast on the outskirts of Danville, about 60 miles up the route, and was targeting that as my destination for the night. I remember trying to communicate with the owners. It wasn't like a typical hotel that you could simply book online and not interact with anyone. This was an immersive text conversation, with intricate instructions about how to find the house, where keys were located and documents to sign upon my arrival, etc. It felt like complex math equations, forcing me to max out what was left in my brain to understand and respond.
The prospect of a good meal was in view as I approached Harrodsburg, but was thoroughly disappointed as I came through Main Street. I finally eyed a Mexican restaurant, which wasn't very good at all, but I could see my bike outside while I ate and their fountain Cokes tasted extra sugary. I ate my burrito solo in my own little booth, in my own world really, mentally destroyed from the earlier bonk. The miles were dragging on at this point, the only thing keeping me going being the prospect of hitting the Virginia line soon. I was still over 600 miles out from the finish, but 600 miles was pretty darn close relative to the terrain that had already been covered. I had to constantly remind myself that the end was near, and that people were waiting for me at the finish.
I pushed on from Harrodsburg with a sour taste for Mexican, trying to keep the pedals turning. I was putting out very little power, relying heavily on momentum and a small tail wind. I resupplied in Burgin, as this would be the last stop before hitting the BnB.
The BnB was just a half mile off course, on the northeast side of Danville. I rolled in about 10pm, to the sound of large dogs barking. I do love dogs, but every time I heard a dog barking while on this race, especially in Kentucky, in the dark, the hairs on my neck would stand up. I followed the instructions to find a guest house behind the main larger house. It was a new addition, with a common kitchen and living area and a few guest rooms up the stairs. There were a few rooms with closed doors, and I could hear other guests there for the night. I quietly took a shower and crashed out for the night.
Day 17 had over 5 hours of stop time, which was one of the largest of all days. It was certainly a day that took all my mental fortitude to get as far as I did, and one that will be remembered next time I find myself in my own utter darkness.