|The last oasis.|
I had made the cut. But did I care? I considered my options. I had been riding at a 10mph average pace what with my less than 'Type A' personality and pic taking, etc. I felt OK at 35 miles and I knew what I had before me if I flipped now. A lot of that return would be into the wind on a slight to more than slight grade. The next 25 miles if I did the loop included another good climb and was an unknown otherwise. It was supposed to be quite beautiful as far as scenery goes, but the smoke was kinda limiting that. If I flipped now, I would be at 72 miles or so and that was still pretty far. On the other hand, did I come here to ride 93 miles or turn away and accept less?
I decided to flip and make this the apex of the ride. I relaxed a bit, ate some goodies and watched some of the fast folks come in and go out. Rebecca was there, being the queen bee and talking to Levi Leipheimer. They looked pretty fresh as they rode out chatting.
I have to confess I felt a bit alone now. If I had been with someone I might have pressed on, but looking down that road into the last loop, it seemed a bit much. That typically does not deter me as I have relished many long hours of alone time on a bike. But in the back of my main was the limitations of my body. I tend to leg cramps. I rarely if ever just run out of gas, but leg cramps have always been my kryptonite. I manage them better now with keeping fitness up and with good supplements, but walking up the last climb at 80 miles had little appeal.
Back I went, tail slightly tucked in but still resolved to it. Then the road tilted in my favor and I roared out of the last checkpoint toward home. Well, it felt like roaring until I was passed by two riders, one a lady-type, in a particularly rough section of washboard like I was tied down. Wow. The downhill had me feeling pretty good and I was seriously bummed about not taking the loop. But later on, Ed the Tall would tell me that this 27 miles had the worst road conditions in the entire ride and was actually harder than the rest of the route. I did not know that as I rode along, doubting my decision, but at around 50 miles, when the road turned up again, only a slight grade now, but into a headwind...well, I think I was wise to cut my losses.
As I rode this direction, the air, now in my face, also was clearing out some of the smoke and that was nice. It was almost worth the extra effort it required, just for the cleaner air. I tried to hop a freight train or two (pace lines) going by but they were just a gear above what I could manage and still feel good about the distance. So, I sat up, pulled the reins in and let the other horses go.
|My photo pal. She and I were hopscotching along for a bit as we would take turns stopping for pics. She was the only person I spoke to for hours.|
I recognized the last climb of the day towards the first/last aid station and knew that I had a couple of miles of climbing, then the loooong downhill towards town. I was feeling pretty tired now, but still could climb out of the saddle and put down some power, but not for any length of time. I had some odd twinges about mid/low outside left calf that felt weird, but no other signs of leg issues. Golden!
Over the crest, having tanked up with one last bottle and a couple of roasted/salted potatoes with rosemary, I dropped into the descent. It was buuuUUumMMmPpPpppEEeeEee. Washboard hell.
Holy smokes. There were a few times that I nearly reached the physical limits of being able to grasp the hoods, brake, and steer all at once. The drops were an answer to that, but that was a bigger strain on an already tired neck. Did I actually climb this about 6 hours earlier? I guess so. Here is one of the places I would have loved to have a real mountain bike with some kind of suspension fork. Any kind. But I still was going pretty good and once on the pavement rollers back into town, I was surprised how strong I felt. Must have been those Idaho potatoes.
I felt great rolling through the banner, tired, dirty, salty, crusty, but great. Until I got off the bike and found that my left ankle was really, really mad at me. It only hurt when I walked. It hurt a lot. Weird. that was just like the time on that desert bikepacking trip, only then it was the right ankle. I thought it was from walking for 6 hours in bike shoes pushing my 45 pound beast through the sand. I could pedal, but not walk without pain.
So here I was again, but no hiking to explain it. Odd. That would require some bio-forensics to see what is triggering that response. I rode back to the car, changed, drove back to drop off the bike and waited for Ed the Tall while I enjoyed a root beer float. Done and done.
But I left some things undone. I would like to come back here and see this place under clearer skies. I would like to see that unridden 27 miles of gravel. Things left undone.
That evening, full of food, including some of the best grilled chicken I have ever had, and, after a shower in the swankiest YMCA I have ever seen, Ed and I talked about the day and what was next on the adventure calendar. Tomorrow would be a long day's drive back to So Cal, away from Idaho and a long stretch of gravel road that calls to me still. It is a friendly voice that calls, calm and soft, but there is a bit of a challenge underneath those soft tones. A questioning lilt that turns up the corner of the mouth as it is spoken. A twinkle in the eye, perhaps? Part happy memory and part challenge, that is what I am hearing. A mix of "thanks for being here" and "is that all you got, son?"
Things left undone are often like that.