I've been talking smack about going to PBP. Now was the last chance of the year to snag an early entry date.
I've been training when time allows but hadn't put in a long ride since the Fleche. But here I was rolling out at 7:00 AM.
It was a good crowd. Jerry was rocking his Mellow Johnny kit and leading the train out of Greensboro.
I was in the back telling myself to take it easy. It is going to be hot. The group is flying down the road.
A great recipe for personal disaster. Luckily the early morning commuter traffic and stop lights busted the group up.
I just relaxed and rode a good clip. Then it happened. My stomach started doing flips. I developed a whopping headache and started getting queasy.
Another rider had been chasing me and we met up at the first control and greeted each other. The rider was Al from Michican.
I suggested we share the load and take turns pulling. Which was a great plan. BUT I couldn't hold a wheel and was feeling worse and worse.
I rolled into Dry Pond, staggered over to behind the dumpster and blew chunks. Great. Just what I needed.
I immediately emptied the energy drinks from my water bottles switched to straight water. I needed clean, fresh, cold water. And a lot of it.
I was pretty close to last and deathly ill. Just F'n great. But I promised my wife a trip to France. I promised my Bro Mike we'd at least start PBP together.
But my body was screaming, "ABANDON!" I was sick. The sun was beating down on me. I was totally parched and out of water. I needed more water and now!
But I was half way to the next control and there was nothing. Then I saw a small diner on a ridge. I quickly circled back, swallowed my pride, staggered in the front door, and mumbled, "water......."
I offered to pay if needed. The waitress said, "How?" I said I'd use the plastic pitcher on the counter. It must have been a valuable pitcher as they said wait a minute, drifted to the back of the kitchen and re-emerged with an old gallon mayonnaise jar full of life's elixir, water. I staggered outside into another wave of nausea. I managed to rush to the corner of the building and hurl in front of a patron pulling up for lunch. I had better get out of there before they got upset. So I filled bottles and chugged and chugged. Then I gently rolled. If you are rolling, you are going forward. Al was long gone up the road. I was at the back. Alone. Hot. Sick. Discouraged. But I kept rolling and chugging water.
I don't remember a lot of details from here to Greensboro. I did make the control. Gator Cochran rolled up on me somewhere. I was amazed. I asked "What are you doing way back here?" He explained he was in the middle of an important real estate deal and was cutting the ride short. He had to figure out some way back to Atlanta. I've ridden in Augusta with Audax Atlanta a few times. Great crew! His phone went off again and he drifted back. I kept rolling. The little voice kept saying "ABANDON!" But it was getting a little weaker and I was feeling a little better. I just kept rolling. I was scanning the streets of Madison for a spot to stop and Fuzzy's BBQ came up on the right.
Went inside and wandered straight to the counter and ordered water and sweet tea. I soaked the sweet teas like a sponge. Went outside to refill bottles. Then some young girl said," She's checking you out over here. Are you married." Happily I replied. Turns out the girl's aunt was with her and had just been divorced and recently moved back to NC. We chatted and I said if I weren't married she would be at the top of the list! Then pointed the front wheel towards the next control. The next section is a blur but I remember climbing back over Pine Hall Rd. And I spent time recognizing landmarks from the ride out. I made it back to Greensboro. First 200K was done in eleven hours.
I was alive but very concerned about time. At the Best Western, Al was getting rested with his lovely wife giving encouragement. I tried to make some jokes but had better keep my day job. I asked if he'd give me a minute and we'd head out to meet Chuck Lathe. I dropped a quick message in Susan's cell phone explaining I was in Greensboro and heading out.
Al and I were late and worried. The territory had rumors of being tough. Tony down played it in typical fashion and with his smooth calm voice explained, "it will work you."
But I just kept thinking of greeting Chuck and Nina. And we were soon there in heaven! Chuck had put out a spread. Anything you wanted. Chocolate milk, energy drinks and snacks. Al was nervously pacing as Chuck and I discussed if 650B tires really had lower rolling resistance. I really hadn't taken care of my behind and was growing more and more aware that I was working on some serious saddle sores. I bummed some Lantiseptic from Al and slathered up. Al was already rolling and I was chasing his tail light. He busted up a monster hill and hooked a right with me closing on his wheel. We attacked some big hills for three miles until Al became alarmed and said, "We are going the wrong way." Well just great. We'd now have to back track thru the hills we just climbed. It wasn't Al's fault. It was more my fault for being lazy and not paying attention to navigation. I can't see well at night and used him as the leader. I can now clearly see some prescription riding glasses in my future. Al and I pushed on. Hill after hill. Slugging our way to the next control. Then Al got worried. Halfway up a big grinder he asked, "Did you give the Lantiseptic back?" I thought I had but was now really worried I hadn't. It is funny how the little things worry you. We made it to McDs. Stretched and fueled up. And headed back out towards Ft Bragg. Things were looking up. We were in a groove and road down NC-690. Then we came to a dead end. OMG! We were lost. At least five miles down the wrong road. I was miffed. Al correctly pointed out that I was right there and was as much at fault for missing the turn. And he was exactly right. I was the one being lazy. Letting him carry the burden of night time navigation. He looked a little crest fallen and I heard him mumble "We've lost over an hour." I only knew one thing. We had to back track. We did and discovered we didn't bear left after Rte 1. I clearly remember seeing Rte 1 and being ecstatic I recognized something and we barreled straight past the NC-690 turn off. We got back to our mistake and I tried to put a happy spin on it saying "Well it was only five miles and thank goodness it was a dead end road." We could have ridden to the ocean otherwise. NC-690 was tough. I had told Al we’d be in sand flats and we were stuck in sand hills. Long, long grinds. His light started trailing off but we were a team and I waited up a few places to see the light bobbing down the road behind me. Then we hit NC-24 and the sign for Fort Brag loomed up at the top of the hill. I'm here I thought. But after an hour of skirting the city limits I thought I'd never see the end of this leg of the ride. I pushed as hard as I could but wasn't going anywhere. The legs were dead. I'd been riding on little else but water for close to 24 hours. I was winding down. I grit my teeth and tried to whirl the cranks up to speed. There was nothing left. But I kept going forward and made it to the Days Inn. My wonderful wife was there! But rather than be encouraged I was panicked. Riders were rested and pulling out as I was pulling in. I waved to Keith as he turned left and headed down US-13. I waited for Al to arrive as I had promised he could shower and rest in our room.
He pulled up and said "I'm done. There's nothing left. I'm calling my wife to come pick me up." My goose was cooked. I was dead last. It was close to 8:00. I hadn't slept. Susan gathered me up and took across town to where she had booked a room. I showered and cleaned up. I was almost in tears and said, We're not going to France. I can't do it. It is impossible. She left me in the dark quiet room where I tried to take a nap and lick my wounds.
I woke up an hour later. I had a very bizarre loser feeling. But I'd fought a good fight. I could chalk it up to being sick and it was so hot. Everyone would understand. But not everyone did. I called my Bro Mike choked up and disgraced. I mumbled, I can't do it. It is 9:30. I haven't eaten, slept much and I'm 15 minutes across town. He wouldn't accept that. He bluntly told me, "You have till 13:00 to make the control. You haven’t missed it yet. You don't need sleep. You need whole food and to be back on the bike." He further added, “Get some food and get to the next control." This snapped me out of my self pity. I reached deep into my kit bag and pulled out the Virginia Tech jersey. This was it. I would NOT disgrace VT. Susan came back into the room. I looked her deep in the eyes told her what Mike said and explained they may find me dead in the sun but I'll die riding. I changed to clean kit. We raced to Food Lion and she wound the Subaru up to get back to the Days Inn. I slammed down some fruit cups, apple sauce, Fig Newtons. We pulled up to the Days Inn to find Al laid out on the sidewalk. He looked a little shocked when I stepped out of the car in the VT maroon and orange. Go HOKIES! I packed some extra Fig Newtons and pushed out on the dry hot flats. I pulled over, pulled out the iPod, plugged in and turned up the Stones slamming out Street Fighting Man. I remember Minnie Hall Road as I kept laughing wondering if she was related to Monty Hall. Come on Down! I came into Clinton looking for "Store On Left". But where? My odometer was off with extra miles and I was math challenged. Then I saw it. Road kill. Another rider stretched out on the sidewalk. One of the faster ultra riders. He was ill before the ride but attempted anyway. He weakly offered up a hot bottle of Ensure. You might need this he explained. A quick thanks and I head off. WOW I had picked up 15 minutes on the control cut off.
But I had heard rumors from up the road. I was heading out to the middle of nowhere. Water was scarce and no mistakes would be tolerated. I had to eat something. My "go to" super food is a Wendy's baked potato smothered in Chili. There's was a Wendy's on the cue sheet. Should I dare risk taking the time?
I've always heard you had to learn to eat on anything greater the 400K. So I stopped and wolfed down that potato. I was making the control cutoffs and that's all I would allow myself to think about.
Make the next control. If I missed the time at least I was fighting to the end. I build up on a hot hard baked crossroads. Tony had a visual control. Something from a sign. But which sign?
The one I just passed advertising Faith Healing? And I wheeled up to the crossroad. I've been to crossroads. But it was usually late at night and I was battering my soul to learn to pay blues harp.
This was different. It was midday with bright sun. As I came up to a church I thought, "Wow! This church sure has a nice RV." I was writing down Snow Hill on my card and a cheerful woman bounded out of the RV asking, “Would you like some water?" I honestly thought, "This is all I need now, a Church lady chasing me down the road trying to give me water." Little did I know she was actually an Angel and things would shortly take a dramatic turn for the better? She explained her husband, Ren, was holed in the AC of the RV getting ready to quit. In addition, some rider (Kevin Kaiser's brother Chris) had passed out at the next control. When she saw me come to a stop she told Ren to get his butt back on the bike. He wasn't last. I was.
Ren emerged from the RV. We looked each other deep into the soul and said “We are doing this!"
We filled up with ice cold water and headed down the road. Right into to the valley of expansion joints and tar snakes. Every bump jolted my sore nether regions. The air was full of the pungent scent of turkey manure as the local farmers had just dusted the fields for fertilization. Ren was from New Jersey and had not been in rural Eastern NC. I spent the day educating him on the finer points of dove hunting as it was opening day and the hunters were out in the fields. I pointed out the cotton fields, the tobacco fields and the turkey houses. We headed into Tarboro and asked what it was famous for. I said floods. It was also a great place to be from. Nothing could be better than getting thru Tarboro. We rolled thru a DWI check point and had the spot lights shined on us. But we weren't stopping. We were on a mission! We pushed thru to Scotland Neck to meet Patty in the RV. As we arrived at midnight only to find the last store closing and implored the clerk to sign our cards. We'd even empty the garbage out for her.
Then we tried to call Patty. Ooops. No cell service. Tried back up plan B. I woke my wife Susan in Henderson and after some rudimentary instruction on the GPS discovered she was too far away to help. We were cold and desperate. The condition was growing worse by the minute. Then an email arrived from Patty. She'd meet us in at12:20 AM. The RV arrived. We warmed up some mac n' chess. I borrowed a coat from Ren and we were on our way to Skippers truck stop. But it seemed that all we did was climb continuously. Maybe it was an illusion in the dark?
Then out of nowhere an apparition appeared on a scooter with a reflective vest and yelled, "Only 21 miles." I thought what a cruel trick the devil was playing. He will be dancing up the road and yell 20 miles, then 19. He'd tease us the whole way. I was on the highway to hell. Then sanity returned and I asked myself how did he know how many miles. Who is the devil that can read our thoughts? How did he know? And poof Ian and Kathy appeared by our side. They had been sleeping in a church nearby. Ren cheerfully greeted them and I sulked in the back wondering how can they be so gabby? All like hugs and kisses. This was serious business and they are all happy. This isn't right. No one is allowed to be happy. We are suffering etc. Well I guess I was getting grouchy. To me we climbed forever. I called it the stairway to heaven. I knew there would be an RV at the truck stop. Cleary being in that RV would be heaven. And there it was! We made it to Skippers. And Ren's personal angel Patty placed a plate full of pizza snacks in my lap. I devoured them and fell out. A few hours later I heard some rustling and Ian and Kathy were moving. Ready to take off in the early morning. I begged Ren to wait up and let me get some coffee. He obliged. And we headed out on sore legs towards Lake Gaston.
I was in my old stomping grounds from my teenage years. I recognized the trees and terrain. And as much as I wanted to make time I knew we were going across the terrain. It would be up/down. Ren has irrepressible enthusiasm. Always cheerful and optimistic and although it wouldn't speed us up, it made the day very pleasant. We had made a commitment to help each other make it home and we were living up to that commitment. My mind wandered back into time when Mike, Tim and I were tight knit brothers with a common love for riding. I felt good and we kept working the hills yet held a little back as we never knew what was around the corner. Then I bonked. I could hardly make it up the hill to the main street in Warrington. But I did and found an open buffet. "Ren!" I yelled. "I have to eat or I'll not make Henderson." I went in, ordered sweet tea and asked where was the buffet? Ren took a look and exclaimed he couldn't eat any of the food. To me it looked great. Black eyed peas with country ham, mac n, cheese, coleslaw, corn bread. I stuffed my face fast. Placed money on the table and took off down the road. Then the surge of power retuning to my body kept me comfortable all the way to Henderson. We found Ian in the hotel shower with Patty and Susan explaining his rider had dropped him because he was too far gone. Ren and I said we'll bring him home. It may take all night but he was rolling in with us. Bob was wrapping Ian's pedal with tape and Ian said his knee hurt too much to clip in. I took one glance at is bike and said, "I'm sure it does. Your seat is at least 1/2 inch to low." Ian seemed skeptical. How did I know that? Ren said to look at my position. It was balls on accurate. Ian took the leap of faith and made the adjustment. It was hot. But if we rode slow and played our card correctly we might just make it.
Ren was more optimistic and said we'd be home by midnight. Ian said,"But we are heading thru Yanceyville." "So what?" Ren responded. We both just kinda said it's up. So as we three amigos headed out into the western sun, we heard some ominous news. Kevin Kaiser had abandoned at the next control. What lay in store for us? We decide then and there it was hot and we were tired so let's just go easy till it cooled off. Ren was appointed navigator with his Garmin and he was accurate as a cruise missile and much more entertaining. He loved calling out the gradients. We hit a 13% somewhere past Stovall. But we all went up and over. The next control point Susan and I met up with Patty and they had a wonderful KFC dinner. And we got smarter and pumped our tires pack up. We were rolling better. Nothing would stop us. Made it to Hyco marina and listened to a great cover band. I was in an increasingly grouchy downward spiral. Every thing annoyed me and the shadows jumped out from the roadside. The hills into Yanceyville seemed to be stacked like dominoes. No relief. I clearly remember rounding a curve seeing another huge hill and heard a collective " Aw F__K'. But we pushed and tugged and jerked and strained until we rolled over the top. T he twenty miles into Yanceyville seemed to be the worst stretch, but I suddenly felt powerful. I was slinging bigger gear up the inclines at 16/17 mph. Up and up and up yet more until we found the town square with Gilbert smiling and welcoming us in to his bike shop for a tour. Only fifty miles to go and ten hours to do it. Just a quick roll down the hill into Greensboro.
But there wasn’t any quick gentle roll. We made progress and delighted in the fact that we woke every dog up along the route. Then twenty miles from home it seemed we crawled to a stop. Then I spotted an oasis of drink machines. But they were empty except for an ancient Dr Pepper I managed tp coax out of one. Ren said, "Let's get home." He reached in his pocket and produced a few Nodoz. I took one. As we started going again I was cold and charged to front and got the group rolling. Then Ian took over. Then Ren. We where rotating nicely. The miles ticked off. Only two more to go! Then disaster. I couldn't see correctly. I was seeing triple. The others had smelled the barn and run for the door. I couldn't follow them thru the business park. Like I said I was seein triple. I pulled up at a hotel in the business park and called Susan. "I'm lost. I'm cold. I'm blind. Someone needs to lead me in." Susan and Patty were smart. They explained I would be disqualified if they helped. I was pretty rude back to Susan and hung up.
Then phone rang back. It was Patty. She said to calm down and the guys would circle back. In a few minutes I heard a faint yell. I yelled back. The yells got closer and louder. We found each other and the road on home. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.