Thursday, October 11, 2012

AML - Day 1

     As I mentioned in my previous post, my senses were overloaded for the 40 hours I wandered around western Virginia and eastern West Virginia. I've had to step back and recall some of the early moments of the ride as they were buried under an avalanche of new. Without further ado, here's my Day 1 of my trip report from an abbreviated Allegheny Mountains Loop attempt.

     I arrived at the hotel around 9:30 PM and began loading the frame bags...for the first time. Yes, the night before the ride was the first time I attempted to load all the equipment I thought I might need during the race into the seat and frame bags. It became obvious that I was going to have to make some tough choices. Rain pants? Out. Second spare tube? Out. And so it went until I had every bag stuuffed to capacity. Surely I can do better once I have a couple of these under my belt, right? Sleep was hard to come by and I finally rose at 4:00 AM when it was obvious my brain was not going to rest. I had purchased two "5-hour Energy" shots if my legs felt like riding through the night. Now I might need them just to get through a single day of riding. Yippee.
     After I swept the room and did a final check of the bags I rolled to the car, and let go of the last bit of normalcy. I was a cyclist, period, from this moment forward until I came back to this point some 400 miles from now. To be clear, this is a shift in mindset. I always consider myself a cyclist but now I was ONLY a cyclist. This ride would not end at home this evening. My wife and daughter would be voices on the phone, full of love and compassion, but unable to lessen the physical demands now before me. My body and mind were charged with a lone directive: go.
     Rolling to the wrong Starbucks ate up what would have been time spent obsessing so mybe the mistake worked in my favor. I finally met Chris Tomkins, an affable, high-energy guy, and enabled the SPOT Tracker to begin tracking my progress. The next several minutes were spent swapping introductory info with a dozen other riders. We were friendly and sincere, but I think we were all slightly distracted, like firefighters in the path of an oncoming wildfire. We were trained and ready, but you never know quite what to expect.

And they're off...
     The actual departure was anticlimactic. Conversations trailed off and the roll-out began. The Chris's, Tompkins and Arndt, made the light at Prices Fork along with Taylor Kruse, and were seen no more. A few minutes of riding and we were quickly out of town. A dense fog enveloped the surrounding farmland and my specs quickly became a liability. I could stop to clear the condensation, inside and out, only to have to do it again a few minutes later. What a drag. The eTrex GPS had also decided to be unhelpful. For whatever reason, the screen would not follow my current position. Every few minutes I had to use the "joystick" button on the face of the GPS to advance the map. When I had finally tired of that I stopped and restarted the device. This time when I clicked the "GO" button to start the route the device began behaving as expected. Yay! Now I can focus on riding. Whoops, missed a turn. OK, NOW I can focus on riding. I settled in to a reasonable pace, 13 mph or so. The uphills were slow but easily cleared. The downhills were ridiculously fast what with my mass and the smooth-rolling Small Block 8's. A couple of short, steep climbs away from the banks of the New River gave me a preview of the challenges still to come. Ten percent grades are hard to come by in central Ohio as I've stated in previous posts.
     Before moving on from the New River area, I want to mention that rather permanent-looking campsites that dot the north embankment. I get the sense that some people have checked out of conventional society, and have adopted a simpler life. Whether that's by choice or necessity I do not know. It's one of those questions I'm not sure will ever get answered.

Settling in
     Climbing away from the New River we arrived in Pembroke and my first resupply stop. I topped off all water bottles as I had started with only two bottles filled. Look at me, being strategic! I threw one of the one-liter water bottles at the shopkeeper as I tried to hold three slippery bottles in one hand. She jumped back with unexpected quickness and a yelp at the clumsy attack. No one drew down on me so I considered that a win and decided to push my luck a little further. Venturing on to the shoulder-less death corridor known as US460 was just the sort of challenge I was looking for. Supersonic semis intermingling with all other manner of commercial conveyance made the short three-mile stretch seem far longer. Several lungfulls of partially-combusted diesel fuel had me celebrating the right turn on to SR635. Also known as Big Stony Creek Road, this quiet road ushered in the solitude of rural Virginia that would typify the next 250 miles. Big Stony Creek flowed towards me for fifteen miles as I climbed into the mountains. The stratified rock exposed and patiently eroded by the flowing water gave me a feeling of smallness faced with the eons seen by these children of the mountain. I didn't feel excluded though, as can so often happen among groups of people in a civilization. Rather, I felt welcome to dwell there as long as I wished; a tempting offer but I had business up the road.
     After a beautiful, fast descent eventually delivered me to Waitesville, I began the steep slog up Limestone Hill Road and put the first real hurt in my legs. Twelve-hundred vertical feet over two miles will certainly benefit me from a training perspective, but it did not make the rest of the day easier. Due to short sightlines, sketchy road conditions, and some very technical cornering, the downhill also didn't do much to reward the time spent climbing. Rolling along the valley road through Gap Mills I completely missed a bakery and a prime opportunity to refuel.
     As a consequence, my water began to run very low over the next mountain pass. A pit bull with designs on my lower right leg sought to take advantage by giving chase well beyond the yard from which he began. Add sprints to "disciplines exercised" on today's ride. Whether it was the energy expended or the mass moved, I must admit that I walked sections of the final climb before Caldwell. Perhaps I had bitten off more than I could chew. Regardless off the method I did get over that bump. The sign signifying the road's intersection with the Allegheny Trail was followed by a man partially extruded from the driver's side of a luminescent green Jeep offering us a beer. Maybe some other time. The descent was technical. Without even meaning to I traced a pretty solid line through a hairpin. There weren't many opportunities to "smell the roses" out there, but this was one of them. I have no explanation why it stood out. In my mind as I write this I can feel the feedback from the front wheel as I brake approaching the corner. I can see the contour of the outside shoulder of the road as I pick my line. I can hear the voices from the Allegheny Trail parking lot up and to my left. I can feel the wind shift around to my left as I move through the corner and see the valley below in my periphery. Then it was gone, joining all of the places I've been. Several 90-degree turns with almost no visibility forced me to brake excessively, and I started to wonder about brake pads. How hot are they? How hot can they get? What happens when they get too hot? What year will it be when I wake from my coma? Then the road rolled endlessly, and I trespassed a campground and procured enough water to get me to Caldwell.

Subway, the beginning of the end
     I love the BMT from Subway, so much so that I ordered two of them at the Subway in Caldwell along with an endless fountain of Coca-Cola, my first soda in over five months. Eating at Subway while training has never included a BMT (topped with vinegar and oil) and perhaps I need look no further since my stomach is knotting up at the imagined smell of vinegar as I write this. Whatever the reason the sub consumed did not deliver the energy I needed. The Greenbrier River Trail became a slog of unendurable length. Mile markers hid amongst the trees for six, seven, even eight minutes before finally acknowledging that another mile was indeed complete. The darkness crept over the the trail and into my mind. All of my positive thoughts snuffed out like a candle. The rushing of the water which originally sounded like a beautiful version of traffic now mocked me as I looked around for some vestige of civilization. I was alone. Fear was starting to wear down my defenses and overwhelm me. I choked another half of my sub down without any satisfaction whatsoever. Marlinton became an obsession. 30 miles to go. Lights on. 25 miles to go. Passed by Ruth. 20 miles to go. Passed by James. 15 miles to go. Chased lights. Chased anything to take my mind off the mile markers. Surprisingly, the falling leaves obscured the trail and played tricks with the light my headlamp produced. More than once I found myself near the edge of the trail but thankfully no painful consequences resulted. Finally, I reached Marlinton. My energy stores were near empty as I'd flirted with the dreaded bonk for at least three hours. I was hungry but could only stand the taste of a Sprite. A little human kindness from Brittany, the lone Subway employee, located for me the Old Clark Inn and the biker-friendly proprietor Nelson. He hooked me up with a room and within minutes I was blissfully asleep. What a day! Truth be told, I think I was probably already decided that my AML was over, but a part of me knew how my mental state can vary; mercurial, some might call it. Things could always look better in the morning.

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