Monday, June 3

Best of the Mohican: Real Subtle Like, Turn Left

The things I did right:

I ate well the week before, maybe not enough, but I ate the right food.
 
I went to the chiropractor for an adjustment on Thursday evening.
 
I got plenty of rest leading up to and the night before race day.
 
My bike was a well-oiled machine.
 
I had been riding all the right kind of trails.  I was comfortable in wet and muddy, slick and tight, hot and humid.  I was fast (for me) on unfamiliar trails.  I trained well.
 
At the start I was cool and collected.  I wavered and had considered switching to the 100k, but Mandy and Jreff convinced me to stick with the longer route, and despite a torrential rain in the night I felt good about starting as a 100 miler on Saturday morning.


 
Spoiler alert: I did not finish the Mohican MTB 100.  DNFF.

I dug deep.  Ken couldn't have grumbled too much.  I made a good judgment call.  I rode for four miles with only peripheral vision, through the forests of Endor, on a speederbike chase, with only the Force to guide me.  

At mile 15 as I climbed "F U" an ocular migraine flared.  At first I didn't realize my vision was going wonky.  I'd been climbing through the forests of Ohio in a post-thunderstorm steambath.  I was hot and a tad lightheaded.  I'd not stopped since the start in downtown Loudonville at 7am.  It had been a long hard fight to get 15 miles in.  

Despite the email I'd received earlier in the week from the organizer ensuring me that even if it rained like crazy the course should be in good condition because it had been so dry of late the course was not in good condition.  The night before it rained like crazy.  I didn't let it worry me.  

The night before Leadville it rained even harder and everyone was adamant that it would leave the course in great condition.  Turns out they were right.  Why wouldn't it be the same in Loudonville, Ohio?  

It wasn't the same in Loudonville, Ohio.  Once we reached the singletrack section of the course it was obvious that it was going to be a long, slickery, painful fight to the finish.  I gritted my teeth, reached deep down inside, and found the steel resolve to go on as other riders were slipping, banging down, walking and cursing.
 
"Do not try to understand them, and do not try to make them understand you. That is because they are a breed apart and make no sense". ~ Chingachgook, as relayed by Hawkeye to Ms. Cora Munro

Over polished roots, slimy rocks, and spilled-guts-like mud I rode.  I was bound up in a pack with no way to break free, but for the most part we moved along steadily at a good pace. Jaefhad left me early as the field walked a long hill.  He skirted the pack and kept riding and I got stuck unable to pass once I was back on the bike.  That was okay; I figured we'd get separated that way before we ever got started.  Ghiiph can climb like a really tall billygoat.

A local riding behind me asked if it was my first year doing the race, and I said yes.  A couple of minutes later he asked if I'd ever ridden in the state forest and I said no.

"Well, you're doing great!" He replied.  I felt like I was doing great, but also remember that I wasn't riding in a pack with the best riders.  And also remember: the vast majority of the rides I've done in the past six months have been in places I'd never ridden before.  Without realizing it I had been training myself to ride well in sloppy conditions in a strange area.




Halfway up "F U" I stopped to clean off my fogged up glasses and eat something.  When I took off my glasses I realized that wasn't my problem.  I was seeing the same flare-like after-image I saw a year or so ago (actually more than two years) when I had the ocular migraines.  

%!#$

Knowing my day was probably over I resigned myself to the fact quickly.  Then I decided I'd go as far as I could.  I'd shoot for the first aid station at mile 20, and if I could make it there maybe I could recover enough to go on.  If not, I could get some aid.

No, I was going to finish.  I'd find a way.  This would go away.

I got back on the bike and rode.  I rode solid, with purpose and focus, and I cranked on despite not being able to see.  I only had peripheral vision, so I could never see the center of the trail.  After I got over the F U climb and started descending the real danger hit me.  I couldn't afford for there to be any unexpected roots or rocks in the trail.  There couldn't be any quick, unexpected turns.  I'd never see them in time.  I expected any second to become airborne before smashing into a tree or a rock or a stump. 

Believe it or not, I rode better than I ever have.  My lines were perfect.   I nailed every technical problem I encountered.  And slowly the flares in my vision subsided enough that I could see.  I'd guess I rode a solid five minutes before it got better.  While I was able to see, the light-headed, burned out feeling of the migraine only got worse.

Still I rode solid, my legs steel pistons, my tires like they were on tracks while everyone else skated and crashed on roots and rocks and into the mud.  I must have looked like a mountain bike racer even though I didn't feel like one.
 
 
A warrior goes to you swift and straight as an arrow shot into the sun. ~ Chingachgook
 
As my vision cleared slightly I was reaching for the first aid station.  I desperately wanted to be off the bike and see if my head would clear.  And then I started hallucinating.  There was a giant gingerbread man sitting on a huge tree limb over the trail waving at me.  Then there was a pixie ringing a bell and directing me on down the trail.  Then I saw Gumby.  And Homer Simpson.  And I heard drums.  Then I came out of the trees into a clearing and saw the tents of the aid station.
 
“Water?  Gels?” a young man asked, handing me both.  Reality stayed.
 
“Yes,” I sighed.
 
I laid the bike down in the grass and went to the watermelon bowl.  I tried to clean them out of watermelon but they kept refilling the bowl.  I limited myself to one half cup of Coke while I was looking around for bananas and pretzels.  None.  Oh well.
I sat in the shade by my bike for a couple of minutes trying to decide what to do.  I’d discovered along F U that I couldn’t even choke down a Clif Bar.  In the heat I just gagged on it.  Note to self: Clif Bars are for cool weather rides ONLY.  I had a few gels, but I know man cannot live on gels alone.  My drop bag was at station 3 (mile 46) with some oatmeal cookies, but at mile 20 I wasn’t able to eat much more substantial than the watermelon.

Again, my body felt good.  I still had energy despite the heat and the flashburns of the migraine.  I wasn’t bonking.  So what the heck, ride until I bonk…Except, I was afraid that the fried optical sensors combined with the effects of the onset of a bonkwould really increase the potential for a serious crash.  I didn’t want to break myself.  This wasn’t Leadville.
 
I looked at the state forest trail map on the kiosk there.  It almost broke my spirit to see that I was still a long way from being out of the singletrack loop.  I knew if I could get free of the tight, twisting, treacherous, path under the trees and onto some fire-road type stuff I could maybe get back on track.  It was hard to eat and drink regularly when the trails were slicker ‘n snot while dodging off-camber roots and slimy rocks between steep descents and technical climbs all the while trying to onsite a completely strange trail on top of not being able to see clearly.
 
I groaned audibly, but I reached down deep into my core somewhere and found the wherewithal to swing a leg over my faithful steed and rolled back onto the narrow path that disappeared into the trees.

I rode better than I think I ever have on technical and treacherous terrain; I dropped fast into stuff I'd have eased over back home.  I floated stuff I'd have picked my way through a week before.  I powered over roots and rocks that would have thwarted me in Kentucky.  I saved myself (or was it Providence) a dozen times and more from eating it.  In short, I should have gotten the spirit award for the day despite my DNFF.  I soldiered on into the most amazing section of trail I got to see that day.
 
My father's people say that at the birth of the sun and of his brother the moon, their mother died. So the sun gave to the earth her body, from which was to spring all life. And he drew forth from her breast the stars, and the stars he threw into the night sky to remind him of her soul. ~ Hawkeye
 
I was following a young woman who was riding about my pace.  I could have overtaken her, but she was climbing the hills a bit faster than me and doing well down the hills even though with my greater mass I was overtaking her.  She offered to let me pass a mile or so from the aid station but I said I’d wait until it was easier on both of us.

 She was a few yards ahead of me when we entered a stunning pine grove.  Jaoph pointed out later that if you looked to the side as you rode through you could see the trees were planted in rows.  I didn’t notice as I passed through so it just looked like a natural pine forest to me.  The forest floor was carpeted with pine needles and thick ferns and nothing else.  The trees were branchless high into the overstory.  And sunlight pushed through the dark ceiling and illuminated the misty air.  
 
“This is incredible!” I remarked.

“This is my favorite part of the trail,” the young lady replied.  She said she had never participated in the race before, but that she rode in the state forest and the section we were passing through was her absolute favorite.  We chatted for a few minutes as we rode and eventually she went on when I stopped for a much needed water and gel break.  I couldn’t get over how beautiful the trail was.  I felt like I was riding through a full color glossy two page spread in a bike magazine with the simple caption:

Mohican State Memorial Forest, Loudonville, Ohio

While we had talked the girl asked where I was from and then how far we’d travelled to get there.  I told her and mentioned that we already wanted to come back and visit.  She said if we returned it would be worth our while to check out a place 45 minutes away called Vulture’s Knob.  It was then that I realized despite everything I had been going through I had actually been enjoying the ride.  The trails flowed nicely, they suited my riding style, I had been fighting to stay upright, but had never encountered anything I felt was too much for my abilities.  And the scenery was far from droll.  There were no sweeping Colorado-type vistas, but there was nothing unpleasant to look at when my eyes were functioning.

 
I’d asked the woman about the course ahead.  I mentioned the migraine to her and that I hoped we’d get free of the singletrack soon so I could relax my attention a little bit.  She said it did get better somewhat, but that she was dreading the horse trails.  Everyone was saying they were going to be nasty.
 
When we finally did break free of the singletrack and plowed into the first of the horse trails I understood.  I couldn’t ride up the first hill.  The mud was ankle deep.  It was horse soup.  After the initial horse trail I found myself deposited on a rural road with four or five other cyclists.  We plodded on in the sun, up a long hill, until we finally reached a flat ridge.  I let them go on and I collapsed in the shade to run a self-diagnostic.  I combined the dregs of my water bottles, tried to think about eating some Clif Bar and retched.  I sucked down my last two gels and drained my water bottles.  

 
My options included bailing or pushing on for the second aid station.  I was at mile 30 or 31 and I thought the next aid station was at mile 40.  It turns out it was at mile 34, and that might have changed my decision if I’d realized it.  I knew at that point that I had to cross highway 3 soon.  And I knew after highway 3 I had no idea where I could bail and get back to town.  3 was my last sure point along the way.

 
I wasn’t spent, I wasn’t drained, but I was out of good options.  I checked my pace and I had been going 5 hours at 30 miles.  I was going to have to really pick up the pace and maintain it for the rest of the race to be able to finish by the 13 hour cutoff.  Maybe I could go on if I were doing the 100k.  I’d have been halfway through instead of hardly a third of the way if that had been the case.  It was going to take me a full 12 or 13 hours pushing as hard as I could.  Would the migraine go away?  Not likely.
 
Duncan: There is a war on. How is it you are headed west?
Hawkeye: Well, we kinda face to the north and real subtle-like turn left.

I rode on slowly.  I kept hoping I’d see the aid station before I reached the paved highway.  And then ahead, at the top of the hill, I saw traffic passing by sporadically.  No one was around.  The race markers pointed right.  I went left and began the long descent into Loudonville.

***

This concludes part I.  Part II will come tomorrow and should conclude the saga satisfactorily.  I hope it's a bit more lighthearted as we really did enjoy the experience and I had a phenomenal time despite my DNF.
 

3 comments:

  1. It's coming along nicely, but I'm going to drag it out all week for effect. I mean, I'm really working hard at getting it just right!

    I did lie when I said tomorrow's post would be the conclusion. I didn't realize how epic the whole weekend really was. I've got to tell about the rest of my day, about the Proofer, about the guy who actually finished, and I want to talk a little bit about the area too. Just can't squeeze it all in to two posts.

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  2. Well that stinks. Migraines are not fun.

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    Replies
    1. It's literally only the third or fourth one I've ever had in my life, and the last one was two years ago.

      I've got to redeem myself.

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