So, it's hard to start something, then leave it undone, for any reason. That's why the Black Hills BackBone ride festers. And why that's a DNF ("did not finish") last week at the 2016 Gold Rush Mother Lode perplexes and disappoints.
|Nonpareil support chieftain Shaun Arritola briefs me on final preparations before the start of the 2016 Mother Lode.
With the challenging conditions, I plan to ride conservatively for the 69 mile, mostly uphill climb to Check Point 1 at O'Neil Pass to make the cut-off time in sufficient shape to tackle the next segment. Last year, even carrying a BackBone load of food, water and gear, I comfortably hit Check Point 1 with 50 minutes to spare. With much less weight on the bike and some weight less on me, and a bunch of early season miles in the legs, I believe a similar result is very doable, even on this day.
|Gravel royalty and friend Greg Gleason of Sioux Falls, always a great presence at a race.
|Sand Creek Road offers some protection from the early sun and stout winds.
I coach myself with reminders that it's only 29 miles to Check Point 1 and, notwithstanding the conditions, I feel pretty good. The next 10 miles take all of an hour, but now it's only 19 miles to the top, with about 3 hours to make it. The slow, steady plan seems to be working.
|Not steep here, but up. Always up. And only occasional shade in the building heat.
As I wilt, local endurance legend and Black Hills Expedition founder Jason Thorman spins by and then stops to walk with me for a bit. He says he'll make it and knows I will too. Thanks, Jason. Soon he's back on the bike and up the hill, but not out of sight before he dismounts again. I feel better, and worse, knowing that even Jason is walking chunks of this climb.
My comfortable time cushion shrinks. The top of the pass looms, but is unseen, like climbing Mt. Denali with the summit in the clouds. I still try to moderate effort to timely reach Check Point 1 in sufficient shape to continue, but I must timely reach Check Point 1. I slip into survival mode.
|The morning sun, when it's in your face, really shows your age. But that don't matter. (photo by Randy Ericksen)
Shaun rushes up to usher me to a pit stop extraordinaire. A pop-up tent, with lounge chairs, multiple coolers, cold drinks, food, bike parts and tools, clothes, and my drop bag numbered for the Check Point. I plop into a chair, remove my helmet and shoes and gasp that I only have about 10-15 minutes to cool off, if I am to have any chance of making Check Point 2 on time. Shaun immediately grabs a 5 pound bag of crushed ice for my torso, another 5 pound bag of crushed ice for my neck and a series of cold packs on my head. I pound ice cold water, ice cold sports drinks and ice cold, fully loaded Cokes.
All to no avail. Fifteen minutes later, I do not feel any cooler. Not one bit. I am cooked to the core and all this is not touching it at all. I consider the course ahead: 54 miles of long, exposed rollers, with precious little shade, no ranches, let alone towns, no cell phone coverage, and one remote Forest Service campground with well water. Even at this elevation, it's still over 100 degrees. One could get in real trouble out there, under these conditions.
Shaun encourages with his words, actions and spirit. I hop on the bike, but just can not do it. No power. I return to the chair, the ice, the cold drinks. The clock keeps ticking. I keep pushing the cold treatment. Another 15 minutes pass. I still cannot cool down. I am cooked. I can turn pedals, but the pace I can maintain going up is nowhere near close enough to make that next check point. And I'm not altogether convinced I would make it anyhow, even with unlimited time. I pull the plug.
|Roasted and toasted. Cooling off on USFS 805 on the slow ride back to Spearfish.
Trying to process this experience, I do not think I was deficient in water, fuel or electrolytes. I was not symptomatic. I think that my body just could not process the heat at the effort I was trying to maintain and just slowed everything down. I could still safely ride, but only at a pace too slow for this race.
But I don't know. I just figure it's nothing that can't be resolved with a little more riding and a little more fitness. I'll go with that.