Continued from Part 2, and (finally) concluded.
I returned to my tent and explained the situation to my sister, Leanne, in the most dramatic fashion possible. She kindly provided me sympathy. We decided that all I could do was stretch, drink some more and eat some salty food to replenish my depleted electrolytes. While she made me some noodles I wandered over to an adjacent building so I could use the wall to stretch.
I lay on my back and put my legs up against the wall, and then let them fall to each side, feeling a decent stretch that at least partially reached the affected area. It was while lying there in this vulnerable position that I looked up, squinting into the bright sky, and saw a girl in a wedding dress walk by. Obviously I was delirious with exhaustion and cramp pain.
As it turns out, it was all too real. The building I was stretching against had been rented out for a mountain wedding, and the bride pretty much had to step around my rank, Lycra’ed and spread eagled body on her way in to the most important day of her life (she was a great sport). My sister caught site of this and naturally rushed over with her camera.
We returned to the tent, both of us laughing, and Leanne suggested I use the travel roller she had bought me as a birthday gift (for rolling out my IT bands), and try rolling out the cramping muscles. I lay on the ground on my belly and rolled back and forth, using my body weight to create as much pressure as I could handle.
It was heavenly, in an it-hurts-so-good kind of way. My eyes rolled far, far back into my head.
After a good long stretch I scarfed down two packages of Ichiban noodles Leanne had made me with a hefty dose of their salty flavouring packets. While she refilled my water bottles with Hammer sports drink I sat down for a quiet moment and tried not to think about my stupid legs.
Around 8:00 I decided the show must go on, so I mounted lights on my helmet and handlebars and headed out for a lap as day turned to night. The lap went much better, with the cramping occurring only every now and then, which was most certainly much more pleasant than always and continually.
When I returned to camp Leanne had boiled some water and poured it into a Nalgene bottle for me. It’s a trick she had learned winter camping – it’s not intended for drinking, it’s meant to be used as a hot water bottle – but with the hot water in it, it also happened to take the cake as the newest and best cramping muscle stretching thingy ever. My eyes rolled even further back in my head than before as I rolled on the Nalgene bottle while the heat soaked into my leg (anyone know how to get a patent?).
By this point I had exhausted my ability to swallow gels, so I opted for even more noodles, and then headed back out for my fifth lap.
I always find that the night laps seem to go by much quicker, despite my slower lap times, because I have no choice but to narrow my focus completely and just chase the small beam of light moving in front of me. That little beam of light is all that stands between me and a thousand different oblivions, which, as it turns out, is sufficient motivation to keep me focused. It’s the proverbial carrot on a stick.
With my attention fixated so deliberately and intensely some senses are heightened (for example, my ability to hear what I think is “a bear” from about five kilometres away), while everything else slows down or just fades into the background.
To put night riding in perspective, whenever I am giving tips to new mountain bikers I pull out the same hypocritical sage advice that I think most bikers do: look where you WANT to go, or in other words, DO NOT look where you DO NOT want to go, or you will go precisely there, and quickly. I find night riding forces me to actually do that. I can only see what is in my beam of light, and thankfully, it is typically pointed roughly where I want to go. Giant canyons can slip by just to the side of the trail, and as long as I remain blissfully ignorant of them, I also remain out of them. Maybe I should only ride at night.
An hour and forty minutes or so later, I was ecstatic to be returning from a successful fifth lap – the most I had ever ridden at a 24HOA event – but I was utterly exhausted. I squeezed the newly refreshed hot Nalgene bottle between my legs, slumped into a folding lawn chair, pulled my toque down over my eyes, and fell asleep.
Just before midnight, Leanne (bravely) shook me awake. She could tell I was in no mood to get back on my bike, so super nice as always, she politely asked for my permission to do so before berating me into getting back at it. This polite berating, as it turns out, is one of the most important skills of a good solo rider’s pit captain. That and the ability to make endless pots of salty Ichiban.
A few minutes into my sixth lap, just as the sound of the announcements over the loud speakers back at camp was starting to fade into unintelligibility, I could have sworn I heard something about a grizzly bear being spotted near check point 1. This was the last thing I wanted to be hearing as I started a night lap and it sent a shiver of regret up my spine as my thoughts turned from “lap number six, holy crap, I’m rocking this” to “is this worth it? Like, at all?”
I did not see a bear, but the cold tingling sensation of fear that persevered at the base of my neck for the rest of the lap left me thinking that just maybe, one saw me.
Upon arriving back in camp and doing another epic round of stretches, Leanne and I agreed that some good rest was in order, and I crawled into the back of her minivan and quickly drifted into a deep coma of a sleep, turning a two hour lap into one lasting six hours and forty one minutes.
My seventh lap passed in a quick blur of relief. I remember that strong elated feeling of hope (manic hysteria?) that rises with the sun at dawn after a long night. And my maniacal smile in the pictures would seem to indicate that I was indeed, hysterical. All kidding aside, I was just very happy. My legs were much better and I felt fairly rested after my snooze, and although my forearms were so sore I could hardly grip the bars (the next day I would not be able to put on deoderant because I couldn’t hold it tight enough), I was extremely pleased with my performance on my maiden solo voyage.
I was nearing the end of that seventh lap right around 10:30 am. This left me in an unfortunate predicament, based on the following five facts:
- I had to finish my last lap after noon but before 1:00 in order to not be disqualified from the event, but….
- I could choose to not cross the finish line at that point in time, but rather sit in my camp until noon, and then ride my bike across the line, thereby finishing “legally” without riding another lap; however….
- I had set myself a goal of riding 7-8 laps so one more lap would really be great, and….
- I most definitely had enough time to do so, but…..
- My legs and forearms were pretty darned tired.
Suspecting (actually knowing) I had the energy in my tank, I was leaning more towards venturing out for one last lap. As I approached my camp, which was on the way to the transition area, I saw that my wife had arrived and was standing there with our son in her arms, beside my tired but amazingly still upbeat sister, both of them cheering incredibly loud. It became clear that I would do one more lap, but there was no way I was not going to be spectacularly theatrical about it.
I rolled into camp, hugged them both, and breathlessly asked my sister to fill my water bottle. I purposely didn’t say anything about another lap, and for fear of hurting my pride, they purposely didn’t ask. I paused dramatically for much too long, and then stoically broke the news. Always at the ready to humour my shenanigans and support me, they did not disapoint. They both cheered even louder than before. Thankfully I did not crash my bike like an idiot as I pedalled off like a man off to war, although I’m sure it would have been fitting karma in response to my dramatic antics.
Feeling spent, I still finished my last lap in an hour and thirty five minutes, just a few minutes longer than my very first lap (you’ll recall the first lap included the run; however). Still, it was pretty fast, all things considered, and the perfect way to end the race. That lap, and the hope that my sister will pit crew for me again and Ichiban will sponsor us, is the only reason that I registered to do it all over again this year.