Back at the hammock, I settled in and texted The Pie a good night by 11:00PM. I don't ever remember camping in a more quiet place.
That was until about 1:00AM.
I woke up to a lot of noise. It sounded like a creek, but I remembered that it was dead quiet when I went to bed. Unless someone rerouted a major river in the past two hours, it was raining really hard.
I woke up off and on the rest of the night. The rain was always there. When my alarm (the Final Countdown played by a chorus of kazoos) went off at 6:00AM, I couldn't even hear it over the din of the rain on my tarp. Shit. I woke up at 6:05AM, pulled out my phone, waited for one bar of signal strength to pull up the radar, and contemplated my fate.
When the radar map finally loaded, it did not look promising.
My car was parked a half mile from camp. I had ridden in with just a messenger bag and my Twin Six merino hoodie. Just getting to back my car was going to suck. I heavily considered quitting the race before it even started. I got up anyways, rode to my car, and sat in the front seat eating chocolate Pop Tarts and thinking some sad thoughts. Yet another race in the rain.
I got dressed and went over to hang at the start.
Second guessed my clothing.
Added a Metal vest over the sleeveless jersey.
Third guessed my clothing as the rain started up again, this time heavy and dark. Headed back to my car at the last moment for my arm warmers. Rolled up to the line minutes before the start.
The rain was still coming down. Some racers mumbling about cancelling the race. Never gonna happen. We started anyways. Our numbers were few. Apparently some thought better of making a go at it, perhaps still traumatized from a rainy PMBAR just two weeks ago. The pace was very non-aggressive behind the police car until Sam Koerber came around us and challenged the officer for the lead. The race was on.
Some single speeders got by me along with a slew of geared riders. I knew this was going to be an all day affair, beginning with a slog up the old road bed that is Clawhammer, so I gave everyone some slack. As soon as things kicked up, I started making up spots and also a plan. The ground was super saturated, the gradients of the climb made more energy sapping than normal by the surface conditions. My rib protested a bit when I tried to give it that extra little effort. I backed off a tick.
Off Clawhammer and on the hike-a-bike over Black Mountain. Watts Dixon was the only single speeder left ahead of me at this point. The rest I had put in my rear view on the previous climb. No looking back... where's Watts?
I found him on the hike-a-bike. We talked strategy. Mark Sackett was on last year's podium. Scott George had won the River's Edge Marathon last month, but had a terrible tire selection for the day. Perhaps I told him too much about my rib and my reduced ability to make punchy efforts. I did let him know that the new 2013 course favored my skills (and lack of certain other skills) more than last year's course. Watts was riding rigid, and with me having 140mm of front travel, I knew once we started down Black and hit Turkey Pen, I was going to light him up.
And I did.
I got to Turkey Pen 9 minutes off the leaders. Was that good? No idea. Sounded nice though.
Railing the descents, I had to stop and pee on a hike-a-bike. Seriously? Less than a few hours in?
Whatever. Most of the urine hit the ground, the rest stayed in my chamois. So warm...
I finished Turkey Pen, rolled into aid station one, refilled my solitary bottle I had totally emptied, stuck some unwrapped Pro Bars up the legs of my shorts, and headed down South Mills River Trail.
At the creek crossing on Bradley, I actually had a panic moment as the rapidly flowing and incredibly swollen South Mills River was tugging me downstream at the waist. I had to collect myself for a moment before finally finishing the crossing. It was good practice for the next four or five waist deep challenges coming up quite quickly. My rib did not like the whole "holding the bike above the water" thing, but we had to come to an agreement.
"You let me do this, and we won't drown, okay?"
Somewhere on Bradley Creek, I wondered if my brake pads would last all day in the rain. I decided I would use my brakes less and try to slow down by other means. My plan was not very well thought out, as I didn't determine what I would do without my brakes until I was flying off the trail and into the surrounding mountain laurel. I guess I would just have to use my brakes and hope for the best.
On the climb outta the lowlands, I ate my soaked Pro Bars, pounded my watered-down Gatorade, and headed up 5015 to aid station two/three.
They filled my bottle with a Heed/water mix, I stuffed some potato chips down my throat, and stuck more unwrapped Pro Bars up my shorts. Down 1206, up 5000, over onto Spencer, still feeling good, down Spencer, down a blown-out Trace Ridge, over to Yellow Gap. I crossed the slippery hanging bridge and decided I had to pee again.
This was not a quick relief. It was an "I was out drinking all night and went to bed with a full bladder" pee. I kept a look out over my shoulder, shook it off, and the remainder once again gave me a nice warming sensation.
Back up 1206, and I could feel that my legs were still there. When I would ask them to do something, they responded "Hell yeah!"
Strange. I flew up 1206 like it didn't matter.
Back at aid station two/three, I filled my once again empty bottle with straight Heed, pounded some more chips, drank a dixie cup of Cheerwine, and stuck some more Pro Bars up my shorts. Getting ready to head over to Laurel Mountain, a volunteer said something about "returning to the scene of the crime." At least this time I would be going up and past the anvil shaped rock that tried to puncture my torso two weeks ago. I headed up the trail looking for it, and when I saw it, I repeated an all too common two word epithet until it was no longer in sight.
I'm not a big fan of the climb up Laurel, but I was feeling incredible. I took to it and just kept telling myself that as long as my legs felt good, I needed to be turning the screws. Somehow, there was Brado again. Dude's gotta have a matter tele-transport device.
The Thousand Dollar Climb at the top of Laurel was as bad as ever, but I recovered well enough to make quick work of the Pilot Rock connector. Going down Pilot, I was not a mess like last year, but I stayed cautious. No way I was going to blow this today. Not with the way I was feeling.
A less than clean descent down Pilot, over on 1206, down Gauging Station Road and to aid station four. Full bottle of straight Gatorade I would hardly touch, a tiny cup of trail mix, and up the Wheelchair Ramp climb to Buckhorn Gap. One more hike-a-bike back over Black and then one of the gnarliest downhills in Pisgah.
Not clean, but not the worst ever. My brake pads were gonna make it through the day, and although the visibility was almost nothing at the top, things got better and faster the further down I made it.
One section of trail to go, and I could see a rider up ahead. I let it all hang out and closed the gap. I burned through the last corner, but Morgan Olsson was not up to playing games. Instead of being a dick and pipping him at the line, I crossed right next to him less than a second behind.
It was over.
First place single speed, seventh overall.
I threw my bike down, ran around, and did nothing to hide how fucking happy I was at that exact moment.
The bottle I carried home from aid station four.
Seven hours and forty four minutes of effort. Four and maybe 1/8 of a bottle for hydration. I hate riding in the rain, but I sure do love riding in the rain.