Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Best of the Bad Decisions

The beginning of a story is always the hardest to write. I like things to be perfect and words are hard to get perfect. This one is especially tough because I don't even honestly know when the story really started. Like most people, my 2020 has been rough. When it started, the house I'd bought last May in the UP was still torn apart from water damage and my truck was still banged up from a freak accident where a woman on drugs drove through our yard. Enter COVID and rioting close to our MN house and I'd pretty much lost faith that things would get better. Add to that a foot that just wouldn't let me run on it anymore and by June I was pretty much at a low. I had to make some choices. The doc said I could ride my bike on the foot, so I started riding.  I decided to shut down my MN practice at the end of June and move to our UP house. Not long after, The Ringmaster asked me to coach at Marji camp. Sometime around then he also made The Crusher into a "choose your own adventure" date kinda race. I figured, screw it, I might as well jump in head first and coach at camp, ride the 40 and 100 of The Crusher as training for the 225 and get them all done. What can I say? I suck at half assing anything.

So, I coached Marji camp the last weekend in June, rode the Crusher 40 on July 1, rode the 100 on July 7 and then crewed for Eddie and his crazy group of buddies while they rode the 225 on July 11. I mean, how better to train for a 225 mile bike adventure than to ride a bunch in a short period of time, get sleep deprived while crewing and drink a lot of alcohol with friends? Thankfully, I was at least pretty fired up to ride since I'd been on the race course 3 times in 11 days.

I'd picked the 18th to ride because I thought there might be enough people on the course that I might not have to ride alone at night. I'd even made plans to start with the McBrides and hope to keep up with them. It seemed like a smart thing to do. In case you haven't figured it out yet, this whole adventure wasn't necessarily filled with smart choices. So, for details I won't bore you with, I decided the day before to start in the middle of the night. 3:20am to be precise. Yes, I know that meant Hogback in the dark and that seems stupid.

Anyway, Big E arrived into town around 9pm the night before. We inhaled some dinner and I hit the hay to try to at least sleep a little before our 1:40am alarm. As always, I was awake long before the alarm went off, willing myself to sleep just a little longer to no avail. We got to Forestville around 3am and got our bikes ready in the dark. I'd convinced Big E to at least ride up Hogback with me, not to assist with my bike, since I'd done it on my own in the 100, but mostly for moral support. I didn't want to slip and fall off the damn thing and be left there dying until the next riders came along.

We headed down the road at 3:18 and hit the singletrack not long after. I rode as long as I could, but eventually had to dismount and start the long slog up the trail. Thankfully, with company it went by a lot faster than it did in the 100. I'd also learned a few things since then (and Big E had been given strict instructions not to help), so when we got to the final slab, instead of struggling to push my bike up, I picked it up, put in on my shoulder like I'd seen Charles do the week before (hoping I didn't nearly slip to my death like he did) and walked up the last bit. There was some cheering at the top. I was happy to be done and I'd forgotten how much difficult downhill hike a bike was still to come.
While it would probably have been pretty darn scary alone, this whole starting in the dark thing was kind of fun. It was our own little world out there so it was easy to focus on just slowly moving forward. Somehow, I kept convincing Big E to ride just a little farther until 10 miles in when we finally hit Big Bay Rd. and he needed to head back to the truck. By that time the sun was starting to rise and I was actually feeling like this starting at 3:20 thing was pretty smart. I figured at the pace I would ride people would start passing me soon enough and more importantly, I'd hit Mosquito Gulch the next day after the sun rose so I wouldn't have to ride it in the dark. See- I really had thought about this at least a little....

As I neared the end of that quick stretch of pavement, I saw this guy and hoped he was an omen of the good day to come.

 I mean really, how could an albino deer be anything but a good omen?

I turned onto the next stretch of gravel in great spirits. Even when the lightning started to show in the distance and the predicted storm seemed inevitable, I was feeling pretty upbeat. When the rain finally started, I was probably in one of the best spots I could be, ripping down the last few miles to the second Big Bay Rd. turn off under the cover of trees. Unfortunately, as soon as I came onto the road and out of the trees it was a different story. I could barely see. I was cold. Big E drove by in the truck, looking concerned but I waved him on, not wanting the temptation to stop.

When I finally turned onto Wilson Creek Truck Trail to get some water and food from the truck, the rain had finally subsided a bit. As I refilled water, Big E explained his concerned look. As he came down the road, he couldn't see either, which meant I'd just ridden what was probably the busiest road on the course in weather where the drivers couldn't even tell I was there. Good thing there wasn't much traffic at that hour!

The next section of the course went by quickly. I love the adventure of getting over the downed trees section and the sand that followed it was much easier in the rain. County Rd. 510 had turned to peanut butter in the rain, but I knew it wouldn't last long. I met Big E again around mile 40, then headed off on Northwestern Rd., one of my favorites parts of the course. I'd met Lois here during the 100 so it had fond memories, plus it's my kind of up and down type of riding. As an added bonus I found my snorkel and DEET that I'd lost on the 100, just when I was getting attacked by flies. Nevermind that I accidentally sprayed myself right in the face with 99% DEET. It at least kept the flies away for 3 minutes.

At the end of Northwestern Rd., I made the right turn onto the part of the course I hadn't ridden during the 100. I was pretty excited for something new even though I'd driven it when crewing the weekend before. Little did I know how much the road had changed since then.
I attempted to pretend this mud riding was fun, but when I finally hit mud so deep I sunk my front wheel to the fork and had to step off in mud over my shoes, I admitted it wasn't really all that fun. I walked through a puddle to clean off my shoes and cheered to myself when the road got better a couple miles later. Of course, by then I was on the uphill to Mt. Arvon so it wasn't necessarily easier.
I got to the top feeling a little low. I'd honestly expected people to catch me by now so I was a bit lonely, especially after having ridden with Lois the week before on the 100. Thankfully Eddie got me fed and cheered me up, pointing out that the other truck at the top was waiting for some other riders. I hoped they weren't far back.

Not long after I descended Arvon and headed toward Skanee Rd., I heard the familiar sound of bikes finally approaching. Two guys came whipping by, sharing just a few words before riding away like I was standing still. Ok, so maybe this whole having people to ride with when they caught me wasn't going to work out like I'd planned....

Not long after, another group of four guys passed as I pedaled down the road. Again, their speed seemed twice as fast as mine, but at least a few words in passing were better than nothing. I hoped the next group might be slower. At this point the heat was kicking in and I couldn't wait to get to the Huron River crossing and go for a swim. When I finally arrived, I put my swimsuit bottoms on and took my shoes for a swim in Lake Superior to try to get the sand out.

Then I scrubbed the sand off my butt, because I'm pretty sure there's not a whole lot more uncomfortable than riding a bike with sand in your shorts. If there is, I'm thankful I haven't experienced it.

I rode away from the lake feeling so much better I didn't even realize my GPS had stopped working. I had the line to follow, but no cues. Thankfully, this section of the course is easy to follow and I'd studied the map quite a bit in advance so I just focused on following the line and getting to L'anse. Thankfully, L'anse came quickly and I made it before dark, but unfortunately I had a few realizations once I got there. One, based on what Big E was seeing on the trackers, no one was right behind me so I was going to hit the dark alone and two, at this point I was riding much faster than I thought so I was going to hit Mosquito Gulch in the dark. On top of that, there was another storm coming. We checked the weather and deduced that I could probably make it to the McCormick Outhouse before the storm hit. Once there, I could hunker down in the truck if need be and wait it out, which would also add enough time that I could hit Mosquito Gulch at daylight.

I headed out of L'anse with a little light left, perfect timing to adjust to the dark before the more remote sections. Of course those remote sections had to come eventually and by the time they did the wind and lightning had come too. I checked incessantly for lights behind me, hoping the McBrides would come along soon and take pity on me and ride with me to the outhouse. As I would learn later, the opted for a longer stop in L'anse so I was left on my own in the creepy darkness. I sang, discovering that when I'm tired all I can remember the words to are a few select Christmas carols and "You are My Sunshine." I rang my bell just for noise, hoping it would scare off Bigfoot. When I finally saw a baby mountain lion with about five miles to go, I nearly lost my cool. I tried to tell myself that the eyes I stuck to the back of my helmet would scare off Mama, but in all reality, I knew I should just pedal like hell and get out of there. That was probably my fastest five miles of the whole ride! I got to the truck just in time-taking my required selfie, changing my clothes and crawling into the truck just as the storm hit. Maybe this 3:20 start wasn't such a bad idea after all....

Before I laid down, we'd decided I needed to be riding again by 3:20, leaving me 12 hours to ride the last 77 miles. I know that sounds like a lot, but I didn't want to cut it close. We set the alarm for 2:50 knowing I'd be slow moving when I woke up. When it went off I'd probably only slept for an hour. To be honest, getting dressed in the warm truck and back on the bike in the rain was probably the hardest part of the whole ride, but I convinced myself I might catch some of the few riders who passed while I slept so I headed down the road after the first group. I made it less than a mile before my Garmin quit all together. I stopped, restarted it and since my lights had also been acting up in the rain, prayed for no more technical issues!

When I turned onto Dishno Rd., I knew it would be hilly. I'd been warned by the always wise J. Stamper. I'd also been told by someone else that it was driveable so I was completely caught off guard to find it flooded and covered in downed trees. The on the bike, off the bike game it caused was pure torture. I knew Todd was somewhere laughing with Mother Nature. Only he could convince her to send a hurricane to the UP. I did pass a few people in here, but no one seemed like chatting. I missed Lois. I probably started talking to myself.

Thankfully the sun rose long before I hit the Yellow Dog River 30 miles later. Anyone who knows me knows my biggest fear on a bike adventure is having to get my heavy bike across moving water. Honestly, I hadn't worried about the Yellow Dog. It had only been mid-calf deep the week before. I probably should've taken it as a bad omen when I hallucinated Little Big Foot on the ride down, but even then I didn't think about the river. Then I saw it. What had barely been a creek the week before was now a raging river. I tried not to think about it too long. I threw my bike on my shoulder and plunged in, hoping to get it over with quickly. Instead, I nearly fell face first in the thigh deep water  with a bike that weighed nearly 30% of me on my shoulder. Thankfully I regained my footing and made it across. Of course, those who have been here know that doesn't provide much relief, because once you cross the Yellow Dog, you start Mosquito Gulch.
 I won't even try to describe the decimation that occurred in Mosquito Gulch during the storm. Let's just say this- it even scared off the mosquitoes so at least there was that. I'd ridden a lot of it during the 100 so I was determined I would try again, but one nasty crash early on pretty much convinced me that today Mosquito Gulch would be a hike, and a slow one at that.

By the time I made it out the other side to Big E, I was actually getting worried I might not make the cutoff. I knew the next part of the course well and I knew it wasn't hard, but what I didn't know was what havoc the storm had wreaked on it. We did the quickest resupply we could and I set off with my crazy hair.  Who needs gel when you can ride with a bike helmet and get this look?
Thankfully, the rain had actually made the next section easier since it was usually so sandy. I made up some time, but the hallucinations that had started on the way down to Yellow Dog continued. I saw every animal imaginable, even fish in the puddles. Of course, once I got close I'd discover these were stumps, shadows or rocks. By the time I hit 510 for the second time, they were nearly constant. Thankfully, other riders' crews were out on the road by then cheering me on even though I had to carry my bike across the bridge because the wind was so scary. When I finally made it to the turn off to Chunky Summit with 12 miles to go, I had planned my speech to Big E. I informed him a 15 minute nap was non-negotiable. He laid my blanket down, I told him how to prep my pack for the final miles and went to sleep.
At least two dreams later, I woke up feeling like a new person. I had well over two hours to make the cut off, I knew where Chunky Summit was and I had some energy back. I stashed a final Pepsi in my pack and headed off for the final push. Since there were a few other crews at the turn off, I hoped maybe now someone would finally catch me. No such luck. I pedaled alone, just my hallucinations and myself. Two miles from the finish I was certain I saw Big E, but even that was just my imagination. Thankfully, a mile later he was actually there to ride me in. After a quick few words with my friend Will, I made a beeline for the truck. Once again all I really wanted was to be out of my sandy shorts. Of course minutes after I arrived, before I could even change, The McBrides came rolling in. For 250 miles I'd been hoping for them to pass me and now here they were just a few minutes back. I should've taken an 18 minute nap at that turn off!
At least we finally got to chat while I showed off my now even cooler hairdo. And truth be told, as torturous as riding alone for the last 240 of 250 was at times, I'm gonna count the 3:20 start as a smart decision. Why? Because I finished and that's what matters, even if there were some naps and hallucinations and singing and talking to myself. In the end, I made the decision work to my advantage and maybe that's the difference between a bad decision and good one anyway...