Wilderness 101 Report
Okay, first things first…I finished. That was my main goal. And I was not DFL. Nice bonus.
Mike, Jonathan and I lined up with everyone else at the start at 7 am. I started up my MP3 player and waited for the start. We were in the back because, well, over 100 miles, was 100 feet really going to make a difference?
A little after 7 we headed out of the campground. Fairly quickly, we started going up hill. I tried to stay close to others to sort of draft, but at the same time, I did not want to go too hard. So I focused on spinning up, and listened to music. Thank god for Metallica.
The first 20 miles was all paved and dirt roads, with a pretty hefty climb to get the blood pumping. By mile 3 of the climb my thoughts were, “what the hell have I gotten myself into?” But finally we got the first killer downhill, and I started to feel really good.
We crossed a highway and started heading down a dirt road towards the first checkpoint. Déjà vu set in. I recognized this road, though the last time I rode down it I had a gas can tied to my handlebars with arm warmers. This was much easier.
Checkpoint 1 came up at the Penn Roosevelt campground. I topped off my water and went on my way.
I still felt really good. I was already 20 miles in, but since it had been all road it was not too taxing. I was averaging about 10 miles an hour. I expected I would slow down a bit when I got more tired, but maybe I could finish in under 12 hours!
There were 3 decent climbs to the next checkpoint. We had our first single track, but it was flat or down. My ability to negotiate single track was wavering, but I was still feeling good and got through it pretty well. I pedaled into Checkpoint 2 after coming down a climb on which I hit 38 mph and was under 5 hours. Still on track to finish in under 12 hours with a little slowing.
I refilled my hammer gel flasks, topped off my water, rubbed some icy hot on my back, was by now intermittently cramping up, stretched a bit, put my arm warmers in my drop bag, and hit the road again
From here, we immediately hit the single track. It was not too long, and back on the road. It started to rain. Then my computer died at about mile 43. I would have to estimate by time now to know how much farther to go. This stage had two killer climbs, including the steepest and highest climb of the race. I was still feeling pretty good, though my back was cramping more frequently. But I could still do my in saddle stretch most of the time and make it stop. But I was starting to get tired. After the massive climb, another fast downhill.
Another climb, and some single track. Really getting hard to negotiate that. I still felt like I could keep going, but I was starting to feel it. By my watch, I was thinking that I should be hitting the checkpoint any minute! I passed a guy and asked him what mileage we were at. He told me we were only at 56! The checkpoint was at 60, so if he was right, I had really slowed down, and unless I could make up time somewhere, I was looking at over 12 hours, but hopefully not too much over.
He was wrong. Within 10 minutes I came upon the checkpoint at 60 miles. I was still behind my 12 hours, but maybe if I did not hang out at checkpoints too long, I could make up some time. I had passed a few riders on that stage, so I was feeling pretty good.
Then I had the BAD STAGE. It was a 15 mile stage, rather than 20, but almost immediately we started climbing again, this time on single track. This stage seemed like it was mostly single track with a really loose sandy, rocky, sometimes off-camber, steep down hill. A guy I had passed awhile ago passed my on the downhill, which I was walking some of, because I really didn’t trust myself to negotiate it safely. At one point it seemed to get a little less rocky and steep, so I climbed back on my bike and headed down. Suddenly I was flying over the handlebars into the woods. I untangled myself and there seemed to be no major damage. I proceeded to walk down the rest of the sketchy hill. I got back on when it seemed to flatten out some. All of the single track seemed really hard. One trail, called the Beautiful Trail according to the directions, was one giant rock garden, which was wet from the rain earlier, so it was really slick. Under different circumstances, I could probably have ridden more, but I ended up walking a lot of this stage. I abandoned my dreams of finishing in under 12 hours, and went back to my original goal of just finishing, hoping that I would not be last.
In what seemed like hours, I finally came to checkpoint 4. I had now been riding for 75 miles, and 10.5 hours. By this time, by mp3 player was repeating itself, but it was still keeping me going. My second drop bag was here. For some bizarre reason I convinced myself that I would still be able to finish before dark, but just in case, I took one of my lights from the bag, and one of the batteries.
I filled my hammer gel flasks and water. I realized I lost a waterbottle, probably when I endo’d into the woods. But the next checkpoint was in 14 miles, so I didn’t think I would need to worry about it. I was feeling really good at this point. Tired and sore, obviously, but since I had just walked a substantial portion of the last 15 miles, I was feeling a bit rested. I downed a redbull, and headed out, just as a woman I thought was much farther behind me pulled in (I had passed her in stage one or two).
I headed out, and was fiddling with my earphones and gloves and then heard someone yelling. I looked back and one of the volunteers was running down the road, and I realized I had missed a turn into the woods. Ugh, more single track! But at least they noticed and I was able to get back on track with a hearty wave to the volunteer who helped me out.
I looked at the elevation map (the number tag had one across the top, which I had been using to track my progress). It was up, but I knew it was not as steep or long as the other hills I had done to this point. And I also knew that once I reached the top, it was the second to last real climb of the race. I was pretty numb by this time. This stage was a mix of single track and road. A lot of large logs on the single track, which I could not negotiate any more. I got really angry at the logs, but kept pushing through. My back hurt, I was a bit chaffed, and my right quad was threatening to cramp. But I had never ridden a bike this long—road or mountain (my longest training ride was about 70 miles)—and there was no way I was giving up now. But I could not remember whether the cut off at checkpoint 5 was 8 or 8:30, so I tried to pick up the pace to make sure I got there before 8.
I pulled into checkpoint 5 at about 7:45 (12 hours and 45 minutes of riding so far.). I asked for an extra water bottle to replace the one I lost earlier, and figured that would get me to the finish along with the water I still had. I hooked up my lights, because I realized I would not finish before dark. I changed my glasses lenses to clear, and talked a bit with two guys at the rest area. Again the woman behind me pulled in, so I decided it was time to leave.
I headed out with the two guys. It was pretty flat for awhile along an old railroad grade, though I knew I had one final hill coming up. After awhile, we turned onto a road, and started going slightly up. I was ahead of the two guys until my back cramped up. I did my in saddle stretch which slowed me enough that they caught up and passed. Then they stopped to pee, and I moved ahead again. A sharp turn to the left and there was the hill. I started grinding up it and saw a critter on the side of the road.
At first I thought it might be a skunk so I stopped. Then I realized it was a porcupine, probably even more dangerous! By this time it had started crossing the road and had frozen mid-step to stare at me. I was out of quill range to the best of my knowledge, but did not want to approach it. Finally I got frustrated and yelled, “MOVE!” And it did. It started waddling up the road, not across it, which really did not help me. It stopped and froze again. I yelled, “KEEP GOING!” It started waddling again, veering slightly towards the side of the road. Then as soon as it reached the other side it froze again. I started clapping, which was pretty loud with my gloves on. It climbed about a foot up a tree. I clapped some more and it moved up farther. I kept this up until I estimated it was far enough up the tree that it could not get me, and I hoped it did not come down before the two guys behind me went by. They were not in sight yet for me to warn them.
I rode by the porcupine without incidence and continued grinding up the hill. At the top, it was finally dark enough that I decided I needed the light. I turned it on, and then realized I was an idiot. Why did I not bring both batteries? What if this one died? It was supposed to last 2 hours at full wattage, but the battery was a couple of years old. But I was also flying down a hill and needed the light, so I moved it down to medium wattage, to save some power and make it last longer, and mentally berated myself for not grabbing both batteries. At one point I had to stop to defog my glasses—I was afraid I would get a bug in my eye if I took them off. The two guys caught up and passed me.
After the hill, the final bit of single track. I passed the two guys by riding some of it, and walking fairly quickly on what I could not ride and quickly lost sight of their lights. I knew this was the last single track and the road after it was pretty flat, so I did not need much left to finish.
Finally I came back out on the railroad grade. It was really dark here, but I was still afraid my light would die (by the way, it had never failed me before). I decided that I would move the power up to max because I could use it on its lowest setting once I got back on road if I needed to. I also knew the two guys were behind me, so I could always follow them in if I absolutely needed to. I hit the bridge over Penn Creek and the old railroad tunnel. That was creepy.
Then it was paved road! I switched down to lowest wattage and kept riding. The two guys caught up to me and passed me. We flew down the road and I recognized Coburn, we were almost there! I turned onto 10th Street Alley and pedaled as fast as I could to the finish. I made it!!!
I ended up finishing in about 14 hours, at about 9 PM. And I was not last!! My endorphins were pumping, I felt great, though exhausted. Mike ran up to make sure I grabbed my pint glass and banged the gong.