Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Equinox Travirse: How I Convinced Myself To Finish

So yeah, we were in a ski lodge without air conditioning (go figure), I was grumpy and I wanted to quit.

I flopped on the ground, plopped my feet onto a chair and promptly fell asleep for about 30 minutes. I woke up and was laying in a puddle of my own sweat. The floor was covered in this itchy, furry, Brillo carpet and I was disgusted with myself, with my attitude and with the race.

"Can we quit yet?," I asked Bill

He stared at me. "Whatever you think," he said. "Only you know how bad you feel and whether you can go."

He clearly conspired with my mother who used to say the exact same thing when I tried to convince her I needed to stay home because I was sick. I always ended up going to school.

I wanted someone to give me permission to quit. No one did. This made me mad. I continued to lay in my own puddle of sweat.

Another team of two came in.

"What's wrong with her?" the woman on the team asked Bill.

"She's hot," Bill said.

I felt like a terrible wimp.

The woman walked over to me, yanked my headband off my head, unzipped my bike jersey and told me to take off my sun-blocking arm warmer thingies. Bill's interest was piqued.

"Drink something, eat something, go back to sleep for an hour and then get up and go. You are not quitting," she said.

I ate, drank, and went back to sleep for another half hour, awakened by a team of four who was a bit pissed off because they were in second place instead of first, or something like that. Overachievers.

They were talking about food and I realized they were near my stash, discussing my Elios pizza and Combos.

"Do you think this was just left here? Can we eat it? Whose Mountain Dew is this?"


I shot up and plopped myself at the table with them.

"It's all mine!" I said, scarfing down the food and chugging the Mountain Dew.

They asked me where I came from. I told them I'd been sleeping on the floor. We started talking about all the things we wanted to eat. One guy and I became fixated on McDonald's chicken nuggets. It became all I could think about. The last time I'd eaten meat from a McDonald's was probably 1990. The last time I'd eaten meat, aside from a few beef jerky strips during the Rev3, was after the NYC Marathon when I'd consumed the most awesome cheeseburger of all time.

"So how's your race going?" the woman on the team asked me.

"Oh, we're dropping out. We're waiting for a ride back," I told her.

"So you've been racing for 27 hours and you are dropping? Really?," she asked. "The worst is over."

"Uh, yeah, we're done," my mouth said while my brain screamed "WHY WON'T ANYONE LET ME DROP OUT OF THIS RACE?"

I started to get pissed at my apathy. Then I started to hate it. A lot. I got angry. I wanted to punch the apathy in it's stupid ugly apathetic face.

"Get me out of this lodge," I said to Bill. "Let's go. Let's get the checkpoints that are on route, skip 19 and at least ride to the finish."

Bill and Kevin refilled our water, we dumped into the trash everything that wasn't mandatory and/or that we knew we wouldn't need and hopped on our bikes.

I felt great. My legs felt fresh as we climbed up the steep roads out of the ski resort-- like I hadn't just spent more than a day racing. More importantly I felt mentally strong and I knew we'd ride across the finish line, unofficial or not.

We (and by we, I mean Bill) easily found CPs 16 (down a steep drop in a creek bed along a trail impossible for any of us to ride), 17 and 18. The daylight began to fade as we entered our second night of racing. We had about 15 miles to ride before unofficially rolling across the finish and 11 hours to do it in.

Kevin rode up ahead and Bill and I hung behind.

"How are you feeling?," I asked.
"Fine," he said. "You?"
"Better than I have since about 10 minutes after the start. I think we should get 19."
Bill agreed.

One more point might not sound like much but it was up and over a mountain and based on our maps it looked like it was a small campsite tucked among a cluster of trails and trees -- not so easy to find in the dark.

We told Kevin we were going to go for 19. He said he wasn't going to join us and would just ride to the finish. After spending a day of racing together we were losing our third man.

We chugged back through Confluence and arrived at the point where we had to choose how we'd get to 19 -- up a paved road with lots of switchbacks that would get us to the top but with no clear route to the CP, up the fire road we rode down earlier in the day that was long, completely washed out and, while mostly rideable by day would be difficult by night and would still leave us with a bit of unclear navigation once we got to the top.

The best option seemed to be riding 9 miles down the gravel, flat trail we'd run up after the paddle the day before and then turning off to go up and over Sugarloaf, just as we'd started out about 38 hours before.

Off we went, Kevin leading our little bobo paceline

Thirty minutes later we parted ways with Kevin and Bill and I continued on alone together. Sugarloaf seemed much steeper, much longer and much more rocky than it did the previous day. We rode a bit, pushed a lot and slowly made our way up.

After what seemed like hours but was only 40 minutes we came across a solo racer on his way back. He assured us that we were going in the right direction and that our course selection was dead on.

"You will know you are there when you see the glowsticks. Just follow the glowsticks," he said. He seemed like an apparition but we both decided he was real. Up we went, and went. Finally we found ourselves on a gravel road that quickly dropped down the other side of the mountain. About three miles later we saw something -- A GLOWSTICK!

We plugged along, wove along some maze-like trails that would have been tough to navigate without the glowsticks and were soon dumped into a small, beautiful campsite in the middle of nowhere. It was awesome. New goal in life: Camp there one day.

We punched the point and were back on our way. We rode up the trails and road and all of a sudden I found myself napping on the side of the road.

"Just 10 minutes," I asked.
Bill set his alarm and we both fell asleep for 10 beautiful minutes before continuing on our way.

It was a beautiful, warm night. We were alone. It was quiet except for the sound of the river too far away. The gravel road dumped us back onto sugarloaf and I endoed thanks to the first rock I saw.

"I am walking."

"Ok, just keep moving forward and we will be fine," Bill said as he bounced down the trail.

He got too far ahead and I was by myself in the dark. Yuck. I coudn't hear him or see him. I yelled.
"Chieeefff," (That's what we call each other. Don't mock. It's better than Cupcake or Baby.) "Whhheeere aareeee youuuuu?"

Man oh man you're my best friend, I'll scream it to the nothingness, there ain't nothing that I need. Hot and heavy, pumpkin pie, chocolate cake ... AND CHICKEN NUGGETS. Oh, God, I would have sold my soul right then for one single chicken nugget. I became fixated. All I could think about were those little bundles of compressed, processed, bleached, breaded and fried beaks, tendons and toenails.

I saw Bill up ahead. He was talking to another team. Except I caught up to him and the team wasn't there. "Where did that team go?" "What team?" We continued on, he'd get ahead and I'd hear and see him talking to another team. Except I'd catch up and no team. This happened about three more times until I finally realized my brain was starting to melt and there were, in fact, no other teams. Bill's brain was melting too -- his bike light had burnt out so he had an insanely bright flashlight in his hand instead and I'd catch him shining it into the bushes and trees, staring at all the magical creatures that his mind had created for him.

Adventure racing. Like doing drugs, only legal. But more expensive and with more laundry to do at the finish.

I began to think that Satan herself was at the bottom of Sugarloaf, turning the trail into a treadmill from hell, adding two feet to the trail for every one foot we completed. It felt like we were going on forever. My feet, swollen and wedged into my bike shoes pinched and ached. My pack made my back start to kill. I realized the soles had holes in them. But the rest of me didn't feel too horrible. I felt like I could sleep for a year but my body felt perfectly adequate. No mental freakouts and we would get to the finish.

We plodded along, sometimes riding, mostly on foot. The river got louder telling us we were getting closer to the finish. Finally, finally, we were dumped onto the road and had less than a mile to the finish. We rode hard, although I am not sure why.

And there it was. The finish -- a giant man sleeping on a picnic table under a small banner that said American Adventure Sports. We punched the finish line CP, placed our race passport on the dude's stomach, I threw my bike shoes into the trash and we took dark and cold showers and then slept in the car for three hours.

We woke up and headed back to Bill's for another hour or two of sleeping. Then, time to eat!

McDonald's. Not to proud to admit it. I had a 10-piece chicken nugget extra value meal and a cheeseburger. Then we went to a bar. Three beers made me drunkish. And a pizza. And then KFC for more chicken, a salad, mashed potatoes and mac and cheese. Disgusting, but beautiful.

I woke up on Monday and felt fine physically. Mentally I was thrilled that we finished but also unsatisfied because we both knew we could have done better. We were physically prepared to race and our bodies held up fine but my bad attitude and our navigation mistakes could have, should have, been avoided.

So  I need to do another one. 48-hour races are had to come by though so for now I am narrowing in on a 30-hour September race a bit north of Virginia Beach. Anyone in?


Mallory said...

You are a machine!! I'd flip if someone tried to steal my Dew too!

Julie said...

Girl, you seriously crack me up. I've said it before, you're a great storyteller!

Anonymous said...

I have felt the exact same apathy at several races. And it's soooo frustrating when your teammates won't let you quit. But I guess that's why you're stronger as a team, right? Great job on a strong finish.

And you should come out to the Midwest to do the Berryman Adventure 36-hour race. It's not 48 hours, but the hallucinations are just as fun.