Coming in from Lap 4
I still felt like I was in the race, despite the problems I had on Lap 2.
I decided to change clothes, while I was in for my pit stop. New bike shorts are always welcome after 30 miles of offroading, and I wanted to prepare for the coming of darkness. It was closing in on 4:00 PM, and I knew that the sun was due to set by about 7:00, and I just didn't want to have to worry about it, later. I already had a light on the bike, so I figured that it wouldn't hurt to change into my "night clothes".
Looking back on it, though, it hurt quite a bit. As Carol was making me something to eat and Rich was checking over the bike, I went into the tent to change clothes. As I bent my left knee to pull on my new shorts, my leg cramped. Now, this didn't upset me, too much, as this is a pretty common thing for me. I've had cramping problems my whole life (probably related to the condition of my legs when I was born, which required me to wear leg braces the first 3-1/2 years of my life).
I got into my pants, and started to put on my shoes. That's when all Hell broke loose. Both of my legs cramped to the point where I was writhing around on the floor of the tent, not quite screaming but making some pretty loud noises. Rich came in and tried to rub it out, but was just dumbfounded by how tightly the muscles were knotted.
These cramps I get in situations like this are a bit different from what I think of as "normal cramps". Rather than feeling like a charleyhorse, these cramps make my legs feel as though they are literally on fire. When I had my knee scoped, years ago, and had a blood clot form and press on the nerve trunk in my right leg, it felt just like these cramps do, so I assume that the nerves are getting pinched by the knotted up muscles, or something.
Anyway, enough of the "poor, pitiful me", routine.
Suffice it to say that I spent a bit more than an hour in camp, trying to get the cramps under control and some food in my belly. Once done, with firm instructions from Rich to drink my bottle of eloctrolyte water before I got to the top of the Needles Climb, I took off.
By now, I new that I would be on the trail when the sun went down, and I was kind of looking forward to some night riding.
I decided to take it a little easier on the climbs, and I actually used the small chainring on a few of the little technical ledges on the way up. I assiduously drank from my water bottle, trying to stave off any cramps while on the trail. And, it worked. I felt great and I was enjoying the ride.
The sun finally got down enough, as I was on the last third of the lap, that I needed my light. So, I switched it on and found that I couldn't get it aimed where I wanted it due to the number plate interfering with it. So, I stopped and trimmed a notch out of the top of the number plate, and got the light aimed a bit better, but still not exactly where I wanted it.
Not long after that, I was climbing up a little rocky spot on the final long climb, and stuck my wheel into a crack in the rock. This stopped me suddenly, and I fell to the right. I landed solidly on my forearn (adding some stars to the night sky, from my perspective). As I twisted my right ankle to free my foot from my pedal, my calf cramped and I couldn't get free from the bike.
I was not real happy with that.
Anyway, I finally got up, and slowly made my way back to the Start/Finish. My official lap time, which included my time in camp, was 3:44 (1st lap - 1:50, 2nd lap - 2:24), but my on-bike time was pretty close to the same as my second lap, so I was happy with how I was performing.
I pulled into camp, and Carol had hot pasta with beef (I had requested it before I left at the beginning of the lap) ready for me. Unfortunately, the propane heater that Rich had brought was not working, and there was no fire (Rich had decided it was unsafe with the wind).
I sat in a camp chair, feeling good and optimistic about getting back out, once I was fed.
Rich was working on my bike, getting the light positioned better, and Carol was making me some hot tea, when the race essentially ended for me. The wind, which had been relatively calm since I had pulled into camp, kicked up again. As soon as it did, I started shivering uncontollably, and I panicked.
Looking back on it, I think I was hypothermic: I was shivering, even after being wrapped in two sleeping bags and my coat inside the tent, the cramps hit again, I was nauseated and I couldn't think straight. I simply could no longer handle the fact that I had brought my friends out into this hellish wind and sand, and I lay on the tent floor, trying to figure out how to make it up to them.
Then, the cramps hit again. It was worse, this time, and I was actually nauseated from the pain, and had to try hard to not throw up all over the tent.
In the meantime, the zipper on the tent flap was toast, having been savaged by the wind for too long, and everyone was beginning to get a bit ragged around the edges.
I called everyone into the tent, and told them that I would happily get them a room in town and get them out of the wind until morning. Rich replied that if we left camp, we were going home, but I told him I wasn't abandoning the race. I planned on getting back on the bike, but I just felt awful that everyone was so miserable.
Long story short, Rich went off to sleep in the van, Carol pinned the tent flap up with the extra safety pins which ahd come in my race packet, and she and Colin and I lay down to sleep for a while.
I planned on waking up after a few hours, which is normal for me, and hopefully going back out for another night lap. I was beginning to (finally) warm up, and I knew I'd feel better, later. Unfortunately, I slept completely through the night and didn't wake up until about 7:00 AM.
When I did wake up, something seemed wrong. It took me a few minutes to realize what was bothering me: The wind had stopped blowing!
The sun was coming up over the ridge, the sky was blue, and the wind was gone... time to ride!
As I was preparing to get on the bike, Rich told me that camp would be down and we would be able to leave withing 20 minutes of me getting back. I took that as a sign that he was pretty much ready to go, so I dropped my plan of trying to get two more laps in, and decided to just ride a nice, relaxed lap to salvage the weekend for myself.
And so, I took off at a slightly slower pace than the I had taken the day before. It was a beautiful ride, and I enjoyed it immensely. It took a little longer than it strictly had to, because I stopped at one point to help medivac an injured rider (broke his hip, apparently, on the babyhead hill - we put him on a bike frame, held sideways, as a gurney and carried him down to the EMS four-wheeler), and I stopped to put a tube in the rear wheel of the oldest Men's Solo competitor (Jim, 63 years old, cancer survivor).
As I rode the last climb, I met the four-wheel-drive ambulance coming in to to get the rider we had carried down the hill. I was gald to see that, as we were out of radio range where he was hurt, and a rider had gone ahead to call in the cavalry.
Finally, I hit the finish line and swiped out. Officially, the lap was 15 hours, 19 minutes (I was swiped in for all of the time I slept at camp), but actual ride time was under 3 hours. I hit the Start/Finish at 11:15, and briefly considered going for another lap (and I wish I had), but decided it was time to get everyone out of Dodge.
So, it was over, and I was horribly disappointed in how it went. I felt like I had dragged my friends into a miserable weekend for no real good reason, since I didn't even get in any more laps than I had when I did the race on a team, back on 2002. I have softened on that, somewhat, as the week has gone by.
In writing this up for the blog, I realized that, lap by lap, I was happy with my performance on the bike. And, I know I was capable of more laps, had I not gone through that first bonk, or the Big Chill.
Things I will do differently, if I ever go Solo again:
1. If I have to use a tent for shelter, I will take more than one. We had the one big tent, which was great, but when it got damaged, we were screwed. I would prefer to use some sort of camper or RV, if possible.
2. Take more than one mechanic/support guy. That way, if conditions require one guy to deal with camp problems, someone can still concentrate on the race.
3. Always wrap up when you get off the bike. I was all warm and toasty, from the effort when I came in from Lap 3, and didn't think to put on my coat. If I had, I would have probably gone right back out instead of sleeping through the night.
4. Pre-cook breakfast, just in case it can't be done on race day. I had eggs, bacon, bagels, etc. to prepare on Saturday, but was unable to due to the weather. In the pre-race fog I am always in, I was unable to come up with a good alternative. Looking back on it, I had lunch meat, bread, cheese, etc and I could have eaten better. But, all I could think of was the race...
When I rolled up to the minivan, after my last lap, Rich and Carol told me that they had found my helmet. It was packed into one of the storage compartments in the floor, and that compartment had never been unpacked because it was full of snacks for eating around the campfire (which we didn't have because of the wind).
So, I ended up with another helmet, and Carol's helmet got ruined, for no good reason. Add that to the list of things I'd do differently, next time:
5. Unpack the car, completely, and make sure that everything is laid out for the start on the night before rather than waiting until Race Day morning.