So, a rendezvous with Zac was planned right after work.
Zac went to get into the passenger seat of the rarely driven Fit of Rage. He discovered an ant farm in my passenger door. We dealt with it by delivering a blasting shower from our water bottles washing away ant and egg. Nature would have it's vengeance. Don't try to rain on or reign in Mother Nature. She will stick it in your ass.
Sign in and gear check was first on the agenda.
photo cred: Eric Wever
Endless Bikes' Shanna Powell was checking each racer's capacity to love. Packless set-up approved, it was on to the next step.
We got to Brevard, had a couple/few beers at the Jordan St Cafe, and headed over to the Salman residence. Instead of sleeping, I just relaxed with my eyes open listening to the cacophony of subtle noises. Creaking floorboards, a sighing dog, my PMBAR partner hacking up a lung due to his sickness he had hoped to be over by now...
At least it all stopped when I got up at 6:00AM.
A house full of racers stumbling around in the dark wondering just how to kit up for a potentially wet and cold twelve hour (maybe more?) day in the woods. Sam and Watts, Jana and Jordan, Zac and I... it was electric.
At the racer meeting, I heard none of that "be sure to read the rules" crap. I assumed this meant no more wooden nickels. Three mandatory checkpoints, five needed for a finish, two more out there worth an hour time bonus apiece. That's all I needed to know. When Eric said "go," others took the time to read their passports to plan a route. Zac and I just went up the trail before anyone else had a chance. I broke out the passport, and when I could climb with one hand, I analyzed the situation.
The first thing I did was fold it in half to be sure there was no wooden nickle. Safe with that knowledge, I looked over the CP's. Easy peasy routing with some room for improvement on the way. The CP out at the end of forest road 225 was a long shot. Assuming it would be the last CP we would hit, it was pretty questionable that the time invested in getting there would be worth the hour "bonus." It was up for discussion.
Then I glanced at the "rules." Sweet. No reindeer games or wooden nickels this year. We kept going up.
Sam Koerber and his teammate Jacob McGahey, along with a couple other teams, went by us as we made our way up and over Black Mountain. We hit the CP at Clawhammer Mountain, and headed over to the 5057/Avery Creek CP. I did not realize how far down Avery Creek trail the CP was, and when we had to turn around and go back up after hitting it, I realized that if we were only going for six and out, we shoulda finished with this CP and rolled down the trail and over to the finish. We were on a seven CP plan now, like it or not.
We were headed down low for two more CP's. More route adaptation meant a missed opportunity to take a shorter route at one point. Zac's lungs started to get the better of him, and it became very apparent that we were going for just a finish and not an entirely competitive one in any way. Whenever he needed to go more than 80%, he would barf out a lung in a conniptic coughing fit.
Shit. Another chance of PMBAR glory pulled from our grasp.
After the Squirrel and South Mills CP's, we were headed to the highest point on the course. I so wanted to get up there and get down as fast as possible. The weather was shifting to the bad, and I did not want to be up high when it happened. We pushed up Pilot, I stopped a few times to look at the map and see where we could tweak the route, Zac pushed on. Over Pilot, down Laurel, hit the CP, and we were headed into all the uphill traffic. Some smiles, some frowns... that's PMBAR.
photo cred: Timothy Shane Hammac
I don't remember when it started raining. Maybe it never did. We were riding through some kind of soaking moisture though. Zac's inability to go fast meant I couldn't get my heart rate up high enough to keep warm. Meh. On top of that, my brakes were failing to be useful. The rear felt like the pads were getting to the end of their lives, and the front was just acting strange. By strange, I mean it was not working at all. Pulling the lever to the bar would only bring about the slightest grinding noise. Fortunately for me, we only had three major descents left. Only three... major.
I came through a boulder field needing that useless front brake to scrub some momentum. It did not do that at all. Just the grinding noise. I fell in two stages. Part one, I just leaned to the right and scraped my leg down a boulder. Failing to arrest my fall, I toppled over sideways landing on something that looked like a giant anvil. I've broken ribs before. I was not broken this time, however I was "compromised."
At the bottom of Laurel, Stephen Janes from Trips for Kids had set up his toasted cheese sandwich shop. I ate many a sandwich, filled a bottle with coke, and pissed around a bit until Zac was ready to roll. Back out onto gravel with only one more major hike-a-bike to go. We had enough CP's to head to the finish at this point, but I determined that this out-and-back WAS worth the hour time bonus. We pushed up to the Slate Rock overlook.
Zac was super troopering it. He is normally donkey strong and able to make bold moves late in the day. He kept saying he was at 80%, but the Zac I knew was not this Zac. He was in his little hole, but determined to finish this thing once and for all. The past two years of wooden nickels and a broken axle fueled him enough to keep moving, but we were just moving... not racing.
Up to the CP and we turned right around and went back down after swallowing a Pro Bar. Living off the land.
At this point, I had to have "the talk" with Zac. We would be going right past FR476, the most logical direction to go IF we settled for a LOGICAL six CP's. The ride out to the end of FR225 was going to be a long one. No trails, just miles and miles of gravel, a fair amount of climbing, a very fast, cold, wet descent down FR475B, a long stretch of flat pavement on 276, a slog to get back to an elevation we had already earned but had given up chasing this last pointless CP...
Detrimental was the word that came to mind.
All that effort would be worth a one hour time bonus. I figured at the pace we were going, it might take us two hours to get that bonus. Do the math. To go for it would not be wise. More time in the rain, more wear on our brake pads, increased risk of hypothermia, slight chance of descending Black Mountain in the dark without decent brakes if anything slowed us down like a mechanical or heavy rain...
And my ribs...
They weren't working with me. If I stood up to climb or tried to take too big of a breath, I was reminded of the anvil rock. Damn. I let Zac know I was uncomfortable, but it was his call.
We were out of the top three no matter what. No podium glory, no glory whatsoever. Zac wanted revenge on PMBAR. He wanted all the checkpoints. He did not care that we would take a nine hour and change ride and turn it into an eleven hour and change ride. We went for the seventh illogical CP. Fuck-all to that which makes sense.
We passed the entrance to 476, a much shorter day, and a better finishing position with little to no fanfare at all.
The slog became sloggier. My chain was drooping enough to cause it to fall off at random moments. Stopping to tighten it woulda meant getting colder. Wasn't gonna happen. Zac's hands weren't getting much in the way of blood flow, and he was using creative methods to push his shifty bits. We got out to the CP at the end of 225 where I turned down beer. That's a bad sign.
On the way back out, I knew I was going to get proper fucked coming down miles of 475B. I told Zac to go on ahead. I stopped and shoved the Pisgah map between my sleeveless jerseys and went off after him.
By the time we got to the bottom, we were both feeling a bit bleak. Wet, cold, shivering, and nothing much to do but pedal. We had bled so much time, added so much extra distance, added another unnecessary climb to the mix.... unnnhhh.
We got to the bottom of Clawhammer and just quietly put away this climb that didn't have to be. Right onto Maxwell Cove Road, and we caught up to Sam and Watts. They said they had seven CP's as well. I told them that was awesome. They told me they were kidding.
At least we wouldn't be "racing" all the way back to the finish.
We climbed at a pace that allowed me to sing. That was nice... for me. Sam rode away from my voice. Apparently he did not like my rendition of The Final Countdown.
Even at our compromised pace, we caught a few teams as we trounced up the last hike-a-bike on Black Mountain. Bewildered riders. I didn't even recognize the mud encrusted shell that was Aaron Chamberlain. Nicoletti had holes in his skull where his eyes should have been. PMBAR was destroying people today. Crushing souls since 2003.
Coming down the final portion of Black Mountain with only a half-functioning rear brake was quite thrilling, like running into a burning building to save your CD collection. Pointless, dangerous, stupid.
Mud in my eyes, skittering over roots, using a my left foot to slow me down when I needed to...
Until the lower portion. It's all balls out from there, and I knew it. Didn't matter if I couldn't see where I was going. I knew Zac was down with the clown, so we just let it go. Passing riders, dropping f-bombs every time I lost vision for a few milliseconds, squinting one eye at a time to save it from the mudstorm coming off my front wheel...
And then it was over.
photo cred: Eric Wever
I felt how I looked. Sam and Jacob won with the wise decision to only go for 5 CP's. By the time we came in, only two other teams had come in with seven. As Yuri would call it, Total Paul Bunyan Bad-asses. Seven teams managed to pull off the totally dubious and biggest stupid. All that for 19th place... and vengeance... and pride. We pulled a Tin Cup moment out of our asses, and that's a victory in my book. Super proud of my little buddy Zac (AKA Guy, Wise). Anybody, and I mean anybody, that does not choose to lay up and just keeps swatting balls into the water hazard... they win at life.
Well done, Zac.