Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Dirty Kansa: Cottonwood Falls to Finish

At Cottonwood Falls I tried to get everything done as quickly as possible. I wanted to get moving again. In the past, at 24 hour races, I've stopped for too long and stiffened up or fallen asleep. I didn't want that to happen here. I was surprised at who was still waiting around at the checkpoint. Paddy was still there, along with Dave Simmons. There were about 6 people overall who had gotten there before me. I was pretty happy about that. I refilled my Camelbak and bottle, ate a couple of fig bars and a gel and was ready to go.

Dave and I decided to ride together for a while. We rode together for a while and chatted about the Arrowhead race and TI2. It was pretty flat with good roads for a while. About mile 100 things started to get hilly and the gravel got rougher. We crossed over our first cattle grate and into open range territory. I seem to be a pretty good climber and so the hills didn't phase me, but rather gave me energy. At times I gained some distance on Dave, but I couldn't keep it. It wasn't really my intention to drop him so I was okay with it. Soon we crossed over Interstate 35. It was interesting to think of people speeding through the area at 70+ mph, not noticing anything, while we were crawling along at barely 10 mph and enjoying it immensely.

We caught sight of someone ahead of us. I thought it was Paddy. He had left shortly before us and whomever was ahead was riding some kind of mountain bike and was climbing like a singlespeeder (or so I thought). Before we could catch him though we saw someone coming up from behind. I had no idea whom this could be, but Dave thought it was Paddy. (Can Paddy be in two places at once? A question for Paul.)

Around this point we started up a long incline. Actually we had been climbing more than descending for some time, but now it started to get serious. It was never super steep, but it went on for longer than anything around central Iowa (not too hard to find I guess). As we got to the top the rider behind caught up with us. It was Paddy. Dave was right. He said that he had gotten lost and wasted about 45 minutes. Considering that he had only left 15 minutes or so before us he must really have been moving. He passed us as we got to the top of the hill and began to ride along the ridge. Dave chased him and I tried, but my body wouldn't let me. I knew that if I chased I'd be cooked for sure. We also caught the rider ahead of us here. It was a guy on a Salsa Dos Niner, geared too. I guess my intuitions about the single speed thing were wrong. I rode just behind him for a while, but he was a little faster on the rough roads and he soon dropped me.

This ridge was the highlight of the ride. It was more like being above treeline in Colorado than being in Kansas. There was just grass and rocks, lots of rocks. The bedrock poked through in many places and it made it seem almost like a moonscape to me. Very different from what I'm used to back in Iowa. The area was studded with oil rigs, some operating. That sort of added to the mystique. I saw a few pickups with trailers alongside the road, but didn't see anyone around. It took me a while to figure out that the trailers were for horses and that whomever was up here was going around on horseback. Some terrains really are impassable by motorized vehicle. I wonder if a Pugsley would do.

After riding on the ridge for a while we hit the downhill. This was a terrific downhill: fast, rocky, long, somewhat twisty, but there was never any need to brake. I felt really confident descending, but was convinced that I'd soon have a flat tire. I didn't have that flat and soon I was back pedaling along in the flatter valleys. Soon it seemed, I was out of the open range and back in civilization. The roads widened, became smoother and I was able to pick up speed a little and not get beaten up by the rocks.

It didn't seem like long and I was in Eureka. I thought I was home free on pavement all the way through town , but I was wrong. The race organizers had routed us down the (seemingly) only gravel road in town. It was rough and had some double track if I recall correctly. At the Casey's I caught up with everyone else. Paddy, Simmons, the guy on the Dos Niner along with a few others. I refilled my Camelbak and since I was out of Ultima powder I had to use the Elete capsule that I had with me. It didn't taste as good, but I think it got the job done. Dave gave me some of his Sun Chips and I was soon on my way.

Paddy had left just before me and I knew that Simmons was right behind. Soon though Simmons passed me and then, not long after, a rider on a black Crosscheck passed me. I felt like I was losing ground, but there was nothing to be done. I knew that if I started to push hard here I'd never make it the remaining 50 miles. I rode alone for a while. There was a long 8 mile stretch into the wind, but once I started I hardly noticed the wind. I just kept chugging along. About halfway through the 8 mile stretch I caught the guy on the Dos Niner. He was standing in the middle of the road talking on his cell phone. I asked him if he was okay and he said he was. I wonder what he was doing. I thought at the time that he might be dropping out.

Towards the end of the 8 miles was the worst water crossing of the ride. A short steep downhill into a rough, rocky stream. I was forced to brake and slow down for fear of losing control or pinch-flatting. Right afterwards though was a super-steep uphill. I had to stand and grind and still I barely made it. From the tire tracks it looked like others had had problems too. Some tracks weaved side to side more than I'd think was efficient.

As I reached mile 170 the hills started up again. There were some nice views and I saw some bird that was small, black and white, had a long tail, and liked sitting on fences. Kansas sure does have a lot of interesting birds. I was getting pretty tired of riding a bike so it was nice when Joe Partridge caught up with me and said he wanted to ride together. He said he was happy with his placing (2nd single speed) and just wanted someone to talk with and make the time go faster. I guess I'm not much of a talker, but it was more company than I'd had for about 50 miles.

We stopped in Madison to top-off our bottles. I only put in about a quart. I figured I could make it the 25 miles to the finish with two quarts in the Camelbak and my 20oz. waterbottle. On the pavement around Madison I dropped Joe for a while, but I never seriously entertained the idea of leaving him behind. First, I knew he could catch me, second, why should I get rid of the only company I'd had in hours. Joe and I helped each other (he helped me more than I helped him) stay on course for the rest of the ride.

Just after mile 180 somebody on a full-suspension bike screamed past us. I hadn't even known he was behind us. I wanted to chase him, but once again, knew I couldn't. The idea did cross my mind though. I had intended to start pushing my pace with 20 miles to go, but now it didn't seem possible. It was getting dark as we rode into Olpe, the last town before Emporia and the finish. There were some huge stadium lights across town. It looked like a baseball game might have been going on. Baseball still seems to be popular in Kansas which I think is pretty cool even though I don't care for it.

We almost missed the last turn at mile 190. We couldn't see any of the markers we were expecting, but the map and our mileage said it had to be the one. The last 10 miles were daunting. I know I ride 10 miles every day; sick or well, awake or tired, every day, but thinking about 10 miles was just too much for me. Luckily Joe saw some fireworks in Emporia (I never did see them) and started talking about his time seeing a meteor shower on TI1. The talking helped to keep me from thinking about how far we had to go and before I knew it we were rolling into Emporia on pavement.

It almost seemed too short. We rode through town and found the hotel and finish line where we had started in the morning without a problem. There were quite a few people there to greet us and someone took our bikes for us. I was disappointed for Cory and Guitar Ted. As soon as I saw them I knew that they must have dropped out. I really wanted to see those two finish.

I know that I could have kept riding, but I was happy to be done. I showered and joined in the finish line festivities.

Tomorrow: analysis of my equipment, nutrition, and race strategy.


Simmons said...

Great job Matt! I was thinking the same thing about the moonscape. Reminded me of the climb in the TDF. Mount Vontoux?

the recyclist said...

Great write up! I don't know how you can remember so much.

BTW, I think you can put that question of writing ability to rest. Nice.

Guitar Ted said...

Hey, Matt! I'm just getting around to reading your accounting and I must say, it is excellent!

I really appreciate your sentiments for Cory and I to finish. I must say though, that you have scads more experience than I at this sort of thing and I haven't ridden in a competitive event in almost 10 years.

That said, I am really disappointed that I didn't finish. I guess it's a blessing in disguise, really. I mean, if I'd have finished I might have thought, "Well, that's done, now what?" I may never have done this sort of thing again, and most importantly, there would be no reason to improve myself.

Now I'm motivated to do better, to get in better shape, and ride again in this event or one like it.

See ya out there somewhere!