I Got Served
While I aspirated chunks of rice and tried not to choke, we turned off broke pavement onto a compacted sand road and the pace picked up again. I fell off the back of the group unable to hang on, a few feet at first, then a few dozen yards. I debated whether to just spit out the rice cake and try to hang onto this group or sit up and wait for the next group behind us, who weren’t even in sight anymore. I spit out the cake, dug deeper, watched my heart rate until it went so high and the gap grew so large that I knew I wasn’t catching back onto the group and I shut it down.
I soft pedaled and rode no hands, the most pro way to ride after getting your ass handed to you and blown out the back of a group. This afforded me the opportunity to take off my jacket and stuff it down the back of my jersey, eat the rest of the rice cake and put down as much salt water as I could (I use sea salt in my bottles in lieu of electrolyte mix most of the time). A few minutes later the second group appeared behind me in the distance. I soft pedaled some more until they caught me. I jumped on and we pedaled to the first aid station where the front group was just taking off.
SuperPro events have distinctively creative aid stations. This one served pancakes and hot coffee in addition to Roctane powder, Cokes and other high performance beverages and treats. I took a moment to wipe off my poo water-smeared glasses, refill my bottles, shovel down another rice cake and shift some of the other rice cakes from my jersey into my hot pink Bento box.
Pacelining on one of the smoother stretches of road at the Taint Hammer.
Reunited with Blake and Jason, we took off in a group with a few other riders on roads without cars through more fields and past dairy farms. The wind continued to taunt us and the group formed into a paceline that morphed into an echelon as the roads went from horrible to even worse on the way to the next rest stop. Hot roasted new potatoes coated with salt were the bonus food item at this stop and I downed several in short order. The #RAWSTEELTHUGS re-upped our provisions, I reloaded my Bento box, and I also took a few marshmallow and Cheerio bars and shoved them between the front of my jersey and my base layer. The marshmallow helped them stick to the fabric so they didn’t move and I could just grab one whenever I wanted without taking up jersey or bento space–strictly for rice cakes at this stage in the ride.
Taste the Dirt
We left the rest stop and shortly thereafter went onto dirt still soaked from the rain the previous week. During the first trip into a giant mud puddle, our buddy Carlin walked the mud plank overboard and the group became a disorganized mess as everyone sought out workable lines through peanut butter and hardpack. A few miles of slip and slide later, we found our way back onto pavement and it was time to eat again.
In events this long, you have to eat before you get hungry and drink before you get thirsty or you will dig yourself into a hole so deep no amount of calories or fluid will get you back to the surface of coherent physiological and mental function. That means eating and drinking when you don’t really feel like it. That’s how I found myself fishing into the front of my jersey and pulling out one of the marshmallow and Cheerio treat, which I noticed also had a few dozen tiny black airborne insects stuck to it. Nothing I could do about that but eat.
Here Come the Mud Jets
Some more pacelining and then we dove into a brutal, demoralizing stretch of mud that ran for several straight miles. Imagine the last time you hit a muddy stretch in a cyclocross race and how relieved you felt when it ended 50 or a hundred yards later. Now imagine riding in that same mud for 40 minutes straight, incapable of pushing at a cadence faster than 70 rpm in a 36 x 22, when you could get the gear to stick. My derailleurs and cassette became so jammed up that I purposefully aimed for puddles to get some liquid onto my drivetrain. Then I’d shift back and forth, up and down the cassette so that the action worked like a windshield wiper to knock off gunk until I got semi normal shifting back again.
Several pounds of mud coating my rig made trying to shift extra fun.
This is the kind of fun that I came to this event for, moments that would test me and force me to confront what happens when the suck just won’t quit. That’s the nature of true adventure — obstacles arise and how you respond to them dictates your experience and maybe reveal something about your character. Do they break you, or do you break through them?
When I wasn’t staring at a wheel or focusing on finding a line through a maze of ruts and sticky mud, I found beauty abounded in the farmland and wetlands along the route.
I didn’t think, I just kept weaving from line to line trying to avoid potholes and peanut butter and pedaling. During this stretch, the road passed through a wetlands preserve crowded with waterfowl that took off and landed and swarmed around, clearly enjoying the warm day as much as the cyclists who slowly plodded past. Eventually I arrived at the oasis of the third checkpoint where grilled sausages, peanut butter pretzels and other goodies awaited. I shoved more marshmallow Cheerio treats down my jersey, added sea salt to my water and soon my #RAWSTEELTHUGS crew rolled up. The last section had gotten the best of one thug who faced severe quad cramping every time he tried to stand up and pedal.
He stayed behind and I pedaled on with the other thug onto more dirt and mud that eventually became broken pavement then, mercifully, another smooth stretch of asphalt where we really heated up our five-man paceline and made some time. That’s where we began to experience our first serious dog encounters of the day — dogs sprinting out from hiding spots behind the farmhouses we would pass every few miles to force us to get out of the saddle and spring lest we become chew toys.
A Weather Conspiracy
All day, the storm clouds lingered on the horizon where they’d been when we started. I began to think that Mack might have conspired with DARPA or the NSA or some other government agency to control the weather within 25 miles of the event because we didn’t get a drop of rain. The sun kept shining as we shifted our pacelines and echelons with every turn to afford maximal shelter from the unremitting wind that blew hard, the entire day.
Almost an hour later, there was the loud pop of a tire blowing out and our paceline lost a man. We steamed on and soon looped back to the fourth aid station, the same spot as the third, where we saw riders who had just made it through the soul sucking mud section and were about to hit the loop we’d just completed.
Continue reading for more on the Taint Hammer and full photo gallery.