I passed out once again in my chamois. I was getting used to this, certainly helped by the fact that my saddle sores had reversed their growth process and were shrinking away. It must have been all the lube and hand sanitizer and a little bit of luck.
I was passed in my sleep by two Saturday starters but it could have been anyone. I only learned of this later. I thought I was back in 5th place but couldn’t be sure about Jeff and Dan. Looking for tire tracks can be as misleading as asking hikers who is up ahead since some Saturday starters and day users are mixed in, but judging from the tracks, things were looking good.
After Sargents Mesa the riding seemed too easy. Maybe it’s because I was riding and not walking, but I was soon upon a long gradual descent into the San Luis Valley which ended by turning onto a well maintained dirt road. Rest! Relatively speaking.
I remember reading 24 miles and 7 miles in a detour description, so I prepared for about 31 miles of road. I had not done my homework well. After spotting two riders ahead on the road, and catching them when they stopped for a snack, they revealed we had some 55 miles of dirt road ahead. This was my aha moment when I realized how it would still be possible to finish in under 5 days.
After several days of riding, my pace had slowed. Everyone’s does, to the point that people of various fitness levels are really all riding at the same pace. Or rather there are three paces. There is the bonked, sleep deprived, I’m totally wasted pace, that is so slow that grabbing an hour or two of sleep would probably be the smart decision in the long run. Then there is just normal slow pace. And finally, spurred by a 5 hour energy or a surge of adrenaline, there is the fast unsustainable pace that you will undoubtedly crash from sometime in the future. Me and my two friends (I’m horrible with names but it looks like Glenn and Wayne) were moving along at normal slow pace which surprised me for a moment how compatible we were, but then it made sense. In effect, we were just spinning at this point, probably pushing 100-160 watts (which is not very many watts).
We leapfrogged back and forth all day long as I rode a just a tad faster pace but tended to stop more. The clouds held out for a while but opened up half way up Slumgullion Pass. I had been chatting with some drivers as they got into their car and at this point was getting pummeled with light hail and soaked as I searched for my detachable rain hood. Several times I looked back at the drivers sitting in their cars and was shocked they didn’t have a word of concern as the situation did not seem safe. Finding a shopping bag I put it over my head and backtracked to where I remember seeing some pit toilets. I race down to the shelter only to have a guy jump out of the passenger seat and beg to go in front of me. I shook my head and took the ladies side, standing in the doorway to avoid the smell, but in far enough to keep dry. How insensitive! I do not love other people on this earth as if they are my brothers and sisters, but there is a point when you either extend a hand (to get someone out of an electrical storm) or be considerate of someone getting soaked as you push past them to pee.
For about 45 minutes I waited out the storm. I don’t like getting wet and I’ve got strong memories of how getting wet during an easy 3 hour ride takes it out of me all the next day if I’m cold and shivering. This also gave me some good time to eat and digest. Things that weren’t easy on this trip.
I soon bumped into my two friends again who bragged how they’d had lunch and pumped water but I bet they rode through more hail then me. Despite their 8 day pace they were every bit as hardcore as me; they just slept when it got dark.
I went to pump water and after a liter had my 3 day old filter fail. I backflush it and it doesn’t get better. I pump and it does almost nothing. This is the second filter on the MSR hyperfilter that has done this. The first time which bike touring the US I thought I could have made a mistake while backflushing it, causing it to “airlock”. This time there was no mistake. Although I would have liked to drop a brick on the thing and smash the plastic into smithereens (turning something into smithereens teaches it a lesson) I knew it would suffer a less dramatic death of simply being thrown in the first trash can I find.
At the top of Slumgullion pass the temperature is cool and after descending for a mile my knees feel like they want to split open. It’s also just too dam chilly. Princess and pea I keep thinking. I can do this race, I just don’t like being too hot or two cold.
At the top of Spring Creek, my two friends keep going but to me the weather looks real bad. My goal is to make it to Silverton in one straight shot and that means I can’t deal with much weather. It’s just too high up and too cold to be wet at night. Within 20 minutes the most violent storm of the trip begins and I feel sorry for my buddies that are now without shelter. Chris has caught up with me as well as another couple tourers. We grab one side of the pit toilets and the other two guys grab the other. We watch lightening strike right in front of us and the hail pile up to an inch. Some drivers pull off the road and wait it out. The storm isn’t going anywhere. Two air masses moving in opposite directions collide on top this pass and neither one seems to gain the upper hand. I don’t care how much time is passing because I’d rather have shelter then be getting pummeled right now.
I wait almost an hour after the storm stops and by this point Dan and another Saturday starter have arrived. I’m getting cold and these two guys want to go. I try to read into the clouds as best I can. I walk around, look around, am not certain, but feel there’s a good window and it’s only getting better. It’s a good call.
The mud is thick at first as the hail really soaks the trail more thoroughly than rain. A hiker heads in my direction and she’s looking as crazed as us riders. She obviously weathered the storm. She said she was on the ridge and just prayed. Now (screw this pretty much) she’s hitchhiking to town. Wow, this lone woman has a wilder story to tell than me.
There’s only an hour of light and I get to the top of a mesa, walking the section that Ethan and Owen missed in previous years, a turn I missed but realized after 100 yards because I really am a navigational idiot so I run the GPS full time, and compose one of my favorite shots of the trip.
I’m getting cold already with most of my gear on and that worries me. It’s only getting colder and I’m only going higher. Within ½ hour it’s dark but when I look back I see two sets of lights. One set is probably Dan and the Saturday rider (they discussed making a fire to dry out clothes but I pressed on) and the other light must be Chris’s. I’ve learned that I’m a slow hiker compared to others (It’s not me of course, but maybe my shoes or short legs) so I figure they’ll catch up at some point in the night. My mentality during this race has also been to focus on progress. If it so happens that I’m riding with someone, that’s cool, but I’m not trying to hang out and group ride this trail. I want to push my limits and that naturally means a bit of alone time. I’ve had enough contact and enough conversation in the past to day to feel like I shared the experience with others but not so much that it looks like I’m relying on others to help me mentally on this journey.
As I climb higher I need more food but my body also rejects it. Crunched up Ramen with sprinkled on seasoning has worked great on backpacking trips so I make this my fuel for the night. In normal conditions this might work well, but now it’s prompting a fist fight in my bowels that at first seems great and liberating as a I tear of my chamois, lift up a rock, and fowl up the earth, but by the next morning contains bubbles and chases after my shoes as I squat on a hillside. For the rest of the trip the bib shorts are worn on the outside of all clothing.
Near midnight I see a light fast approaching and figure it must be Chris. Instead it’s Dan and he’s fired up. It’s inspiring to see his pace on the single speed and figure I’ll follow for a bit, but I can’t, not even for a minute. He’s easily doubling my pace, riding at race pace, riding as if he hadn’t ridden his bike for a few days, riding like a phantom of my imagination. He motivates me to go faster but I realize I can’t really hold it for too long. After an hour I’m at my pace and I can’t even make out his light in the distance.
I don’t know what’s Coney’s or what’s Cataracts but the section goes on for longer than I could have imagined. Chris estimated 8 hours from Spring Creek Pass to Silverton and I’ve almost ridden than much. I hoped to arrive in Silverton by 5am, sleep an hour or two and then head on, being that I’m sure I’ve got enough food, but at 3:45 I quit. I know I could have kept going but it didn’t seem to matter. I was over hiking. I’d sleep a little now or sleep a little later, so why not now.