It's back to higher training volume this spring, preparing for summer races. Most all who are reading this blog can appreciate how much energy training that can take, and how it pulls time from so many other life commitments. I'm finding crumbs in every nook and cranny of my bike- a surefire sign of good saddle time. Just the other day I purchased my first Coke in about 4 months- something I try and stray away until the days start to get really long. Man, have I missed Coke. Anyway, my hope is to finish the TABR blog my mid April. I plan to write the last ~40 hours as one installment.
On to Day 19!
I hadn't closed my eyes for more than an hour and a half. The bright lights of the post office and the consistent stream of cars driving through the rain soaked roads just outside had kept me fairly awake. That, and the fact that Jason and Donncha were in such close proximity. I really hadn't wanted to stop, but the constant dodging of aggressive storms had worn me to the bone, and I wasn't particularly interested in riding this section of Kentucky in the dark and rain.
This is a good time to mention gear selection, which I hadn't quite gotten right. I had tried to self-waterproof a water "resistant" vest/jacket, in an effort to consolidate gear. Big fat failure there; the jacket would soak right through after about 15 minutes of rain. In these late stages of racing, mental fortitude to continue pushing on was being tested constantly and every chance to stop and rest, or pause for the day, was now easier to say yes to. Not having the right gear at this stage made it that much easier for my weakened spirit to take shelter vs. trudging on. So my advice to you- take that gear which will allow you to keep pushing when it might be easier to stop.
90 mins of sleep was better than none. I changed back into my bibs inside my sleeping bag (trying to stay decent for the post office patrons!), and packed my things back up. It was about midnight. I checked the storm systems with the limited cell coverage I had, and it looked like it could be calm for the next few hours. It wasn't raining outside, but the roads still had a good amount of water accumulation.
I can't remember if Jason was moving yet at this point. I do remember that Donncha was stationary, somewhere around Lookout, about 30 miles ahead. Not to mention Stephen Haines was surging back, adding more pressure to keep the pace up and finish this thing out quickly.
I awkwardly wheeled my bike out the front door and onto the front stoop. There was just enough humidity in the morning air to give it a little bit of a chill, and my clothes were still wet from yesterday's storm dodging. In front of the restaurant/bar next door was a vending machine, which was kind enough to serve me a cold Mountain Dew. Drinking Mountain Dew in the mountain dew. The irony would be lost on most, but the few brain cells I had working at this point chuckled to themselves.
There wasn't a soul stirring at this hour, but I knew once I started riding I would be awakening the masses of four legged tyrants freely roaming these hills. Did you ever play Doom as a kid? It was one of the first FPS computer games back in the early 90s. I remember playing it in the dark of my parents house as a teenager, walking down the digitized hallways of the game on the edge of my seat, waiting for a demon spawn to jump out and scare the living shit out of me. That's kind of what the next 2 hours of riding felt like.
I had witnessed the amount of dogs in this area only hours before in the day light. The road was now only lit now by a few house lights off to the sides and my single front light. As I pedaled down the road I could hear the barking begin. One dog would alert the next, my ear honed in to try and figure out if the bark was moving closer. I was clenching pepper spray tightly in one fist, pedaling at slow speeds and scanning the road constantly. If I was going to be taken down by a dog, it wasn't going to be at fast speeds. My entire body was clinched.
The route hit several steep climbs, which kept the dynamo from producing too much light to see what was around. These climbs were narrow and high grade, nestled within the vicinity houses and trailers. I would be an easy target for a dog while on one of these climbs. Sure enough, not but 30 minutes in to riding, a missile launched out of the darkness on the left side of the road, rearing up almost immediately on my back tire. It was a Boxer, committed to finding my ankle. Luckily I was on the flats and was able to hit the gas and avoid collision. This "Doom" style game continued, meandering through small trailer park neighborhoods in the pitch black. If I was ever to do this race again, I would absolutely plan to ride this part of Kentucky during the day. My nerves were frayed, not to mention I was still wet from the continued spray of water from the road.
I pulled over at a closed gas station to try and settle myself. It was about 1:30 am; the fluorescent lights of the awning pushing a small amount of light into the pitch black surroundings. I snacked on some peanuts while checking maps, hoping that a larger town would magically appear on the route. My food supplies were low at this point, as it was taking much longer to get through these parts than planned. Not but a few minutes later I heard the rumble of vehicle. A set of lights came into view from down the road, moving at fairly high speed for the area. It was an old diesel pick up truck, which quickly swerved into the gas station and started careening towards an open pump. I was perched at a pump just across from him, trying to act casual but very aware of what just pulled up. I nodded as the man quickly sprung out of the truck. He was a friendly feller, talking quickly, mumbling and pacing around a bit as he pumped some gas. It was pretty easy to tell he was under the influence of something, and an individual whose demeanor could change quickly. He kept trying to tell me something, but soon realized I couldn't make out what he was saying. I decided it was probably time to keep moving before I upset this man. Luckily I was able to say goodbye and slither back into the night before I stirred him up.
I had noticed Donncha was stopped shortly up the road. I wasn't particularly enjoying this night riding, and was thinking of at least trying to bridge up to where he was. I rolled into the town of Edgewater not more than 2 hours after I started, and located a post office just slightly off route. This was as good a place as any to rest the eyes and wait for daylight. I had ridden less than 30 miles before having enough; there was no will left to try and push through such bad riding. Another small block of sleep would help refocus my perspective, and would put me close to daylight as well. My dot was almost on top of Donncha's, but I had no idea where he was. I was certain that his knowledge of the course was leading him to better places to stay than than another hard post office floor.
It's amazing what a short break can do for perspective, as well as sun light to allow you to see your surroundings. I woke up at my second post office of the day, groggy but ready to ride, and proceeded on. It was still muggy and wet on the roads, but just being able to see my surroundings, especially in this area, was enough to keep me moving.
I needed food bad though; I had been working on and off through the night on a few small packs of crackers and nuts. Luckily Elkhorn City was on the horizon and it was approaching 7 am, late enough for a local diner to be open. Once again, I was able to join the local group of old men who frequent the small town diners each morning. It was a tradition that would soon be over, and that I would miss.
Elkhorn City was significant in my mind, as it was the last town in Kentucky and signaled I was out of some of the rougher parts. With the Virginia border sign also came a dramatic shift in the feel of the area. Suddenly everything felt more safe, more civilized. The mountains were more lush, the roads in better condition.
I was still on the hunt for new lithium batteries, which had now lasted almost 1,000 miles. My tracker was now completely dead, and trying to find lithium batteries in this area of the course was proving more challenging than one would expect.... and it was becoming quite time consuming. The racing was really on in these last moments of the race, and it felt like such a time drain to try to take care of this chore.
Through the amazing views and climbing of the Breaks, the route meandered through the small town of Haysi. Donncha was only a few miles ahead at this point, and I kept thinking I would see him at every turn of the road. Often I wonder if I would have had the same drive at this stage of the race if others weren't so close. Would I have phoned it in a little more, taking a few more breaks?
My next planned stop was Honaker, the largest looking city on the map and one that I felt confident would have batteries. The climb right before Honaker, around Fuller Corner, had absolutely cracked me. My legs and energy were toast, I was pedaling squares and couldn't seem to find any rhythm. Something just hadn't been feeling right in the last few days, and was feeling extremely off in this moment. It wasn't just exhaustion, it was more of not having enough of"something" in the body anymore. I couldn't pinpoint it, but I knew it needed attention. My hunt for lithiums in Honaker took me to a local nutrition shop. Still no batteries, but I decided to pick up a multivitamin. Surely at this point my body was drained of all good things, and the junk I'd been eating for 18 days likely wasn't replenishing those. It was worth a try, and didn't take up much room in the bag. Within the next hour or two, I felt immensely better.
Out of Honaker the highway was a bit congested, but soon we turned back on to country roads. The roads and climbing right after Smithfield were some of the most memorable for me. The rain was finally clearing, the sun was out, and the country roads were in full amazingness. Little traffic, beautiful tree canopy as the small roads meandered casually, up and down sides of mountains, popping in and out of lush valleys. This area of the country was by far my favorite part of the route. I could have stopped here, built a small cabin and been completely content.
At last I saw him- the elusive Donncha Cuttriss! I hadn't seen him all race, and for a minute I didn't think it was him. The bike didn't have enough gear on it to be a racer's bike. I had only met Donncha once, over pancakes the morning before the race. I wasn't familiar with his riding style, setup or kit. But once I came up next to him and he started talking, there was no denying it was him. Mouth half full of some type of biscuit, cursing the mountains! We talked for a little bit, both of us happy to have some company. I was really curious to understand where he had slept last night; I think he told me it was some type of small church bunk house, but not necessarily a hostel. Something a seasoned veteran of the race would only know.
I was climbing faster than Donncha, but the conversation was lifting both our spirits and so we rode on for a bit together. At one point we were forced into a single file line due to some traffic and I decided to continue pushing on. We were close to Damascus, where I just knew lithium batteries had to exist. I was looking for a small gap as we rolled into town to cover the store stopping I would need to take on.
I had to stop in at three different outfitters in town before I was able to find lithiums (Note: I probably spent a good 5 hours of wasted time trying to find batteries!) With new batteries in the tracker, and some additional snacks, I pushed on out of Damascus. Damascus was bumping. Hikers, bikers, families. Everyone was out in full force on an amazing late June day. There's a substantial climb out from Damascus, one that does have a little bit of traffic. I think most motorists are not expecting bikers as there is a separate bike "path" that parallels the highway for sometime and that is where most people are riding. The climb was stout and long, but nothing overly taxing. I knew I would put a bit more time on Donncha at this point, but I had no idea where Jason was. Was he still behind me, or had he crept past during my night riding start/stop fiasco? The tracking continued to be spotty for all of us. At this point, I was just riding as fast and far as possible. The energy levels were coming back as the day progressed; something in those supplements was doing the trick. At the top of the climb from Damascus was a small country store, which was gracious enough to make me a few BLTs. I knew I had put a little time on Donncha over that 20 mile climb, but needed to keep moving to keep that advantage as the roads were about to turn back down.
The next 40 miles or so was an amazing tailwind, pushing us rapidly from town to town. It was a "ride it like you stole it" back half of the day, racing in full effect, speeds constantly over 20mph, not knowing where you stood between Jason and Donncha but pushing as hard as possible in hopes that you were on the front end of things.
I stopped in Wytheville at a sandwich shop to pick up dinner and final snacks for the remaining days miles. I was wafting a hideous aroma at that point in the day, relegating myself to a distant corner of the restaurant to spare other patrons. Checking Trackleaders, I had been able to put a few mile gap into Donncha during the climbing but Jason was taking full advantage of the downhill/tailwind and was closing fast. As I sat eating my sandwich he made the pass, and I figured that was the last time I would see him. I was OK with it in the moment. Hell, I barely had energy to give towards staying upright so there wasn't much to spend on other things. Additionally, if I was able to hold off Donncha I had accomplished what I set out to do for the last week or so; hold place.
The miles past Wytheville continued to be absolutely amazing. The suffering through the sketchiness of eastern Kentucky was quickly forgotten as western Virginia was really putting on a show. The sun was setting behind me as I rolled down gorgeous, quiet country roads with a gentle tailwind on a summer night.
The sun vanished into the horizon, the route now paralleling a stretch of I-81 which produced an opportunity for hotels every few miles. I had hoped to push to Radford earlier in the day, when the tail wind was stronger, but the legs and spirit didn't have the fortitude at the moment. The outskirts of Newbern would have to do. I stocked up quickly at a gas station, checked in to the hotel and took care of the evening chores. I remember noting in the mirror how emaciated I was beginning to look. The miles were taking a toll on my body and I hadn't seen my self this skinny...ever. I quietly coached myself that it was just another day or so, and it would soon all be over.
The goal for tomorrow: a non-stop push to the finish.