Remember last Friday I posted this:
"Tomorrow I'm going to drag the Mozhican on a 55 mile Bataan Death Bike through the nastiest terrain you could ever imagine and I’m gonna come out scratched up, depleted of minerals, tired, hallucinating, and wearing the biggest grin you’ve ever seen.”
Yeah, I made good on that promise. Yesterday, when I'd recovered enough to assess the damage, I discovered that my bike had a flat, a broken spoke, the brake pads have ground down to metal, the chain is stretched, and my body was pretty wrecked too.
Jeff was up shaving off all his gray hair until 3am on Friday night. I got the following text at 12:39am Saturday morning:
You may have to ride up to the house and wake me up. I won't be in bed til 2am. You'll have to do all the pulling tomorrow. I just turned 40 and I'm an old man now.
A dawn patrol our ride was not. More like a late morning patrol. When I met Jeff near Furnace he said he might only ride until noon. Since it was nearly 9 that didn't leave much time to cover the miles I had planned.
"Okay, let's go," I said and we pushed off toward the wilds of Estill and Lee Counties. Wait, we were already in the wilds of Powell County at least.
We traversed Furnace-Pilot Road. We dropped down into Billey Fork where we spent a good amount of time skirting tank traps and wet limestone. At one point Jeff walked what looked like a fairly easy section of a hill. I was perplexed. Had I found the Mozhican's limits? Nah!
|It's a Jeff thing, you wouldn't understand...neither do I|
We dropped down into Little Sinking and got onto the first blacktop we'd seen in quite a while and settled into a good steady pace. We were actually on the Sheltowee Trace then. A short gravel uphill is followed by a dirt descent (with some climbing) down to the mouth of Little Sinking on Big Sinking Creek.
We stopped at the Big Sinking crossing to cool off. Then we began the gnarly climb out of Big Sinking up New Virginia Road.
"This is my birthday present to you," I told Jeff as we began grinding out of the valley.
What's significant about that particular area is that it's where I first went as an intentional mountain biker back in '05 or '06. I started near the mouth of Bald Rock Fork to the east and biked downstream along the north side of Big Sinking to the mouth of Little Sinking where I would do a short climb up New Virginia (or climb all the way to the ridgetop and cut down into Town Branch before returning to the loop) and head back east on the good oil road on the south side of the Big Sinking gorge to my starting point. I enjoyed the loop so much back then that I dragged Dave L out there once.
Anyway, the long grind up New Virginia Road was beastly. It was hot. The road was steep and relentless with only meager rests. It was half a mile of 20% average grade. We were almost 20 miles into a pretty burly route. I made it to the top running through all my mental cheerleading routines:
Put your nose down on that handle bar and dig deep!
Why didn't you finish this one dad?
You're better than you think you are...
Two words-- BELT BUCKLE
You can do more than you think you can...
I had a migraine...
You got this!
Throw your leg back over that bike and dig deep!
I can't go on...
Some of those guys are doing 100 miles. That's crazy!
I commit! I won't quit!
That was Jeff, pedaling away further up the hill. Up the hill. Up to Bear Track. At Bear Track there's a country store. Country store in Lee County, Kentucky means...Ale-8!
"I can do it! There's an Ale-8 at the top of this hill!"
On I pedaled. And then we were on top of the ridge. We rode out to 52 like sick puppies and turned left where the Sheltowee goes right. Soon... I thought as I glanced right.
At the country store I discovered the new proprietor is semi-family. We chatted too long as Jeff and I killed our Ale-8s. We refilled our water from her sink and struck back out into the heat of the afternoon.
"At least there won't be any more big mudholes..." I offered.
Back at New Virginia Jeff asked if we were going to just take 52 down to Fitchburg and then return via Cobhill.
Jeff never wusses out. That's my function in our little mountain biking alliance. I assumed he was offering me the out.
"Or we could ride back through Fixer," I countered. I knew I had written an awful big check. I knew my account was going to come up short. Charge me the $30 bucks and let’s get on with it.
With a wry Mozhican grin Jeff agreed and we were off into the wild green yonder again.
We dropped down into Town Branch, and as promised (veiled in irony) there were mudholes. That descent still went rocket fast. Then we were back on Big Sinking and plowing along pretty good until Bald Rock Fork. That's where I started to slow. We were climbing upstream. The hard little hill just past Coalbank made me cry. Jeff lost me on the short descent. The steady—but easy—climb up Fixer-Leeco Road battered me down into a bloody mess of meat like the copperhead we saw ground up in the gravel along that section. Jeff was riding wheelies in the gravel.
I walked Fixer-Leeco Hill. It’s 2/3 the elevation gain of New Virginia at the same distance. 8% average…
Bite off too much Chainring?
It's not worth it if I don't.
I had fallen back into the same old trap: I stopped eating when the suffering started. The suffering just got deeper. On top of the ridge, and back on the black top (Back in black…I hit the sack…), we picked up the pace a little. I was trying to decide how I’d get home. Bail down South Fork and ride flats for quite a ways or take my chances with my wick burning down by heading back over Furnace? Furnace doesn’t scare me most days. But at the tail end of an epic mudwaller like Jeff and I had been on it’s endless rollers make me woozy just thinking about them. And to get to Furnace we’d have to traverse paved Pilot Road all the way to Rogers Chapel. Like Furnace; all rollers…but bigger. Shorter wavelengths with bigger troughs.
And sitting at the head of South Fork Jeff got his revenge.
“Pilot Road’s not that bad. If you go out South Fork you have to pedal all the flats. On Pilot there’s only a couple hills.”
I’m familiar with Pilot Road. I still bought into Jeff’s little white lie.
Maybe because—despite my wussedness—we were having a good conversation, or maybe because I’m a glutton for punishment, or maybe just because I’m sick of the wussedness…I chose Pilot Road toward Furnace. I knew. Oh, I knew I wouldn’t ride one pedal stroke past Jeff’s house, but I was determined not to give up by taking the path of least resistance.
Somewhere on the far side of Pilot Road on some infinitesimally small hill, as I was crawling up in my granny gear, and Jeff was almost out of earshot I called:
“You know what you’re doing Jeff? You know?”
He didn’t answer.
“You’re training me to hate Pilot Road!”
I caught a glimpse of a wicked grin cast over his shoulder.
A few minutes later Jeff called out: “This is the last climb.”
You’re lying Jeff, and I know it. But I knew he was right. He lingered a bit near the top as I crested at geologic speeds.
“That’s all I got,” I said with finality.
“That’s all you need,” he said and gravity yanked him away and I didn’t see him again until I had pushed my bike up to his picnic table. I was done. 51 miles over 8 hours. Ridiculous. As promised: scratched up, depleted of minerals, tired, hallucinating, and wearing the biggest grin you’ve ever seen.
|Why yes, I am down two pounds of raw wussedness|
My lovely wife came to my rescue. In the meantime Jeff’s lovely wife made me a rice and bean burrito and then kept handing me food. It was all I could do to keep from cramping and spilling the contents all over their kitchen floor. I was cramping in weird places, like, under my armpit. Casey gave me an emergency banana to chase the burrito. That helped. And my wife showed up with a thermos of cold chocolate milk. Angels!
Man, what an awesome ride!