It was now mid-May. As I said earlier, I had scheduled a sinus surgery after the Mitchell race and had it done that Wednesday, just two days later. Kinda used the down time during recovery as time to heal, to heal my face, to heal the rest of my body. I stayed off the bike for about two weeks, afraid that if I did any really hard exertion, my nose might start bleeding (really just bleeding more than it had been for the past two weeks) and the doc would reinsert the ungodly plastic sausages into my nostrils.
My next event wasn’t until mid-July. I was going to switch over to MTB to begin preparing in earnest for Fool’s Gold. Before that though, I had some unfinished business to take care of. Last year, I had attempted to ride from my home in Peachtree City, GA, westward, into and almost entirely across Alabama, to Tuscaloosa. A total of about 240 miles. I attempted it twice in October 2010, once starting in the East, and once starting in the West. On the first one, the attempt from East to West, I encountered strong headwinds which slowly cut me down all day until I stopped in Birmingham, nearly totally exhausted. The second one, I started out in some really cold weather (I think it may have been upper 30s or low 40s, I dunno, it was really cold, especially hours after being in the wind) and rode well enough into Birmingham. Shortly after leaving Birmingham though, I got really sick. Unable to keep down neither food nor water, I was doomed. I made it past the dam on Lake Logan Martin, the site of my first meltdown (so technically I rode the course, just starting at each end and meeting in the middle) and headed into rural Talladega County. I was suffering from dehydration pretty badly, so I called the wife to come get me. I told her the highways I would be traveling on and to just catch up to me, I’d keep making forward progress (in the very remote chance that I should miraculously come around and be able to finish). I immediately lost all cell service then of course (thanks AT&T, less coverage in most places). Well, I didn’t get better, I got much worse, delirious in fact. Unfortunately, unknown to me, the misses had a crash, rendering the car not drivable. I ended up wandering about Talladega County for maybe a couple hours. Now severely dehydrated after having been both sick and out of water, I sort of lost hope I guess. I stopped on the side of a road that travels through the Talladega National Forest, laid my bike up on the shoulder of the road as a sign that someone was here, and laid down besides it in the grass. Not sure if I was expecting to die or what, but I knew I wasn’t going anywhere fast. I stared up at the clouds, empty. I wasn’t afraid or worried, just blank. After maybe a half hour or so, a Talladega Sheriff’s officer wheeled up beside me and told me to get in. My wife had sent them looking for me, knowing I was likely down for the count. We got to the wrecker yard where the minivan lay broken, I directed some quick work with the Sawzall, and we got back home. I hurt for a while from this one, I thought this was about as deep as you could go. I’d surprise myself later this year, that you can go a little bit deeper , maybe much deeper, if you just push a little more.
Anyway, the unfinished business I had was to complete a ride of similar magnitude to this PTC-to-Tuscaloosa challenge. I had decided that the Tuscaloosa route was just too risky, particularly solo. There were some pretty dangerous roads and lots of unrestrained dogs on this route, just not worth getting seriously injured without a full-time chase vehicle. So I decided that I’d do my own 250 mile, nonstop ride. I’d do it on the weekend closest to the summer solstice to give me the benefit of the most daylight. Thus I termed it “Hacksaw’s Summer Solstice Sufferfest” (if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m Hacksaw, some perverted deviation of my last name, but potentially accurate by definition). Diesel Doug decided he wanted a piece of this too, so we rode it together. I laid out a base route very similar to a popular shop ride in my area called the “church loop”. I modified it a little to give me more climbing and to provide a couple options to change up the course as we went. I essentially was shooting for a 25 mile loop which we could ride over and over, using my house as a rest stop. Dougie really struggled with this concept, he just doesn’t like seeing the same scenery over and over. I really didn’t mind that part of it. It was the security of knowing I had a rest stop at regular intervals which I sold Dougie on. We contacted a couple friends to see if they wanted to ride portions of it with us throughout the day (i.e. a loop or two), particularly in the afternoon when we’d more than likely develop a case of the dum-dums. Just didn’t know if I could trust myself to make good decisions after getting really, really tired on the bike. We decided we’d take off in the dark, at 5am, in order to start plugging away at this thing. It was gonna be a long day. I stared at the saddle as we got ready to roll, wondering how small it was gonna feel in about 12 hours or so. Saddle sores scare the bejeezus out of me. Only had one and it hurt so bad for so long. I’m kinda freaky about doing everything I can to avoid them.
Lit up (with both lighting and caffeine), we rolled out on a Saturday morning. Since I ride this route many weekend mornings (I call it my “sunrise century” although I don’t always push it out to the 100 mile mark), I know it like the back of my hand. We quickly rattle off two laps before the sun is really up enough to turn off the lights. Every lap we made, we’d roll into the pits, drinking and eating, trying to stay on top of things for our little adventure / experiment. I add “experiment” because we were also doing some monitoring as we rode. With a goal to compete in the HOTS500 (Heart of the South 500) in 2012, we’d need more than just luck and determination to get through, we’d actually have to have some knowledge of how our body is responding to much more intense and long efforts. So I thought we should monitor weight (although very weather dependant, how one feels as dehydration begins, how far down you can go and still dig out, would be good to know) and blood sugar (to attempt to see what was happening with the food we were eating, was it enough calorie-wise, was it slow-digesting enough). So every lap, we ran the gauntlet: get off bike, record time, pee, step on scale, record weight, stick finger, check blood sugar, record sugar level, eat, drink, stretch, record time out, haul a$$ again. We did this all day long. Here are my records from that day.
- Start: ODO = 0.0, In = N/A, Wt = 205.8, Sugar = 113, Out = 5:00a
- Loop #1: ODO = 27.0, In = 6:35a, Wt = 202.6, Sugar = 96, Out = 6:40a
- Loop #2: ODO = 54.0, In = 8:15a, Wt = 203.6, Sugar = 99, Out = 8:20a
- Loop #3: ODO = 80.0, In = 10:00a, Wt = 203.6, Sugar = 80, Out = 10:06a
- Loop #4: ODO = 106.9, In = 11:40a, Wt = 202.0, Sugar = 84, Out = 11:50a
- Loop #5: ODO = 133.7, In = 1:30p, Wt = 203.0, Sugar = ???, Out = ???
- Loop #6: ODO = 159.7, In = 3:30p, Wt = 199.5, Sugar = 89, Out = 4:05p
- Loop #7: ODO = 186.8, In = 5:50p, Wt = 200.4, Sugar = ???, Out = ???
- Loop #8: ODO = 213.0, In = 7:45p
During the day, we had a couple people come out to join us: Christie, Jack & John joined us for bits and Bob C even came out later in the day to cheer us on out in Fayetteville. It was great to see some familiar faces and ride alongside someone else every once in awhile. Dougie and I were strict about maintaining protocol throughout the day, absolutely no drafting. While neither of us is attempting RAAM anytime soon (at least I’m not, Douigie never ceases to surprise me though), we wanted to at least say we had done this RAAM style which meant we could not take advantage of the drafting effect from another rider, generally good for about a 20%-30% reduction in the amount of effort required, if you pull in real tight.
Unfortunately, company waned in the afternoon, and that’s when things started getting tough. I was generally feeling pretty good. I think Dougie was too. We had done good about staying hydrated and keeping the calories flowing. At the worst point, I was down about 10 lbs in the heat of the day. I drank large amounts of water at the rest stop, along with the two 20 ouncers I’d sip along the route. We rode the toughest route for almost every single lap, taking the Brookshire hill every single time. That’s the steepest pitch we encountered. I don’t know the exact grade but it’s maybe 14%-16% or so at the worst. Two or three times around gets your attention, after 5 or 6, its more grueling. Later in the afternoon, after being on the bike for about 10 or 11 hours, riding gets hard. Hard to stay focused, hard to let little things that are annoying you, go. It could be something as simple as a loose string on your jersey, or a place where a bead of sweat constantly hangs. You have nothing to do but to focus on how such a little thing is bothering the hell out of you at the time. I tried to minimize the brain chatter, just focused on breathing, watching the line painted on the road, listening to my own cadence as I turned the pedals over, somewhere in the neighborhood of 80,000 times this day.
We got through. After clicking off the 200 mile mark, I was getting excited. I caught a second wind and was feeling good. I had reversed the worst of the weight loss and was now climbing back up close to a reasonable amount of weight loss as the temperatures started falling with the sun. I knew we were good for the distance. We took off after lap 7, heading eastward to Fayetteville and then I see it looming on the horizon, dark, almost purple clouds billowing high up into the sky. Thunderclouds. Shortly after, I could hear the deep rumble emanating from the mass. We got into Fayetteville and turned South, heading down to Lake Horton. The thunder started getting louder, and more frequent. After the turn at Horton, we have a long grind to climb back up as we approach Peachtree City limits again. I could see lightning streak across the sky as the wind picked up. It felt like it was coming. I hadn’t reinstalled my headlights on the bike just yet, planned on doing it on the next lap, thinking we’d have time before it got dark. The clouds rolled in quickly and darkness fell. I yelled out to Dougie to pick it up, we were gonna need to race back in so as not to get caught out in a really dark situation, particularly if the rain started to fall. We hammered down, every bit as fast as the weekly Thursday night BU shop ride, even after a double century in the legs. I felt good, but was also concerned. I sure as heck didn’t want to get hit, especially after all of that suffering.
After hitting Redwine road, essentially denoting the PTC city limits, we only had maybe 5 more miles to get to the house. I cautioned to Dougie to stay over as close to the side of the road as possible. It was now Saturday eve, it was getting dark, and we were two tired bikers. Sure enough, cars started coming in close, some really close. When you can feel the wind off the sideview mirrors, you know that you’re just one little handlebar wiggle away from being a hood ornament. As we rolled up Robinson, I pulled beside Dougie and asked him what he was thinking. I was thinking that it was too risky to continue, at least without a chase car. We were going to be around 215 miles by the time we got to my house. We’d need one more lap and then a little piddling around in the city to get the 250. We both were in good shape mentally and physically. That was probably a good thing, because we called it. Just wasn’t worth the much higher risk of contending with Saturday night drivers in bad weather, particularly on some of the roads we’d be traveling. I still felt good that we pretty much accomplished what we set out to. I know we’d have made the full distance. Next time, we’ll start even earlier and hopefully won’t have an afternoon thunderboomer to content with, maybe even line up a chase car as night descends upon us.