Wednesday, October 15, 2014

TNGA: Iron Bridge, Visions of Mulberry and the big rain...

I awaken as my alarm goes off gently pulling me back into the reality that is TNGA.  Swollen ankles subsided, arms reporting new pains, back pain reminding me I am alive and fully awake.  I reach for some water and guzzle it down.  I quickly realize I am now in a race against time, the weather, and my rapidly deteriorating body, so I get up scurry over to the bathroom, grab my still damp chamois and jersey and switch into them before my body protests the cold and wet.  I am very happy to see that I have packed up everything already and the only thing left to do is put my thermal layers back into my seat bag.  I pack it in tightly, finish off any food leftover from last night's feeding frenzy, clean up any junk laying around, check for anything I may be leaving behind and push my bike towards the door.  In my haste and anxious tunnel vision to get moving,  I forget about Derek, who is sleeping soundly not even trying to make an effort to get rolling yet.  I whisper to him that it is time to get rolling and he mumbles something about not really being able to go further, and that he just needs a little more time to reassess his current condition.  I truly understand his state as I am ignoring my bodily urges to simply stop as well.  Nonetheless, I am grateful for his hospitality and lay out a $20 on the dresser and jokingly thank him for a wonderful night.  He forces a laugh at me and rolls over and goes back to sleep.  I shove off out the door into the brisk cool morning air awake with a new sense of awareness.  It is like an entire new experience as I silently roll along out of Helen not knowing what may be in store for me today.  As I reach the outskirts of Helen, I stop in at a gas station and load up on coconut juice, big pickles, pickled sausage and a bag of chips.  Weird what my body craves at times like this.  I also bump into Celso with the same look in his eyes as Derek.  He mentions that Helen may be as far as he is going.
 He tells me a group of riders are considering quitting but are going to have breakfast first.  I quickly depart as I do not want to entertain any notions of quitting so early in the race.  Yes, it almost seemed like this ride was now turning into a race.  More personal than against others, but most importantly, I was in a race to finish this beast!  I speed away from all the activity back to the solitude of my bike and the climbs before me.  The next challenge on the menu was Hog Pen's Gap.  This was a road climb and was unexpectedly steep.  It took a slow steady constant grind to conquer that climb with my mental fortitude intact.  Andy Schleck's name was painted on some of the portions of the road as I found out later this was a part of his training grounds.  I groaned, moaned and squirmed from the intense pressure of hauling my 60+lb knobby tired bike up this wall of concrete.  The best thing to see upon cresting a climb such as this was the trucker's steep descent warning sign.  I finally reached the pinnacle of this climb and screamed down the other side flying past Vogel State Park in the twilight hours.  I was feeling good after that insane warmup.  I started to encounter light traffic as I started climbing my way out again up towards Wolf Pen Gap.  It is another road climb for quite a ways before turning onto a gravel road.  At one point, I tore into a Lemon Lara bar which I was savoring and enjoying, but before I could finish my mini meal, a swarm of bees decided they wanted it more!  Something about the way it smelled was driving them crazy!  I sped up, swerved a bunch, swatted at them and thought I had lost them, but they returned with a vengeance.  One stung me on the chest and the other tried to sting me on my leg, but got caught in the fabric and I flicked it off violently.  I kept pedaling and could feel the burn of the bee sting on my chest.  More bees kept coming, so I threw the Lara bar at them and yelled that they could have it.  I stashed the wrapped deep in my feedbag for fear the wrapper would continue to draw them but they went for the bar and left me alone.  Mental note: no more Lara bars.  As I was climbing the road portion of Wolf Pen, I realized it was getting much hotter out.  I did a quick mental check on my water and all was acceptable.
Onwards I pedaled up some more ridiculously steep roads hoping for a break sooner rather than later.  I finally reached Duncan Ridge which was gravel and climbed up some more.  I was getting hotter and hotter and it was a dense humid kinda hot, very much like Charleston midday in the summer.  I knew this meant I needed to keep drinking and pacing carefully.  Bonking was going to occur.  I kept an eye on my rate of speed and trudged onwards breathing in the thick heated air all around me.  It was really working me into a death march.  The climbs at this point were just plain ugly.  I even tried hike a biking for a little while only to re-discover how much heavier my rig was when I pushed it rather than pedaled it.  So I reached deep inside, sucked down some more electrolyte rich liquid and pedaled upwards to the summit of Wolf Pen Gap.  There I found a double track downhill which I started to fly down, but almost wrecked because it seems the heat was shutting my body down to the point that I almost fell asleep in the descent.  I nod off and quickly awaken, grab a handful of brakes, skid to a halt, dismount and throw myself into a bit of shade on the side of the hill.  I pull my bike towards me and quickly start drinking, and forcefully eating.  I scarf a Caffeinated Gu, chase it down with liquid, and then tear open my pickled sausage to handle my caloric deficit.  No sooner had I taken a big bite out of the pickled meat, did I realize it was not what I was expecting.  I expected a tasty salty, vinegary greasy treat, when instead all I experienced was salty, burning searing pain.  It seems my pickled sausage was also 300% HOTTER than the original!  This was a ultra spicy pickled sausage!  Damn my luck!  I chased the pain down with more liquid.  I was about to throw the meat away when my brain reported that it actually enjoyed the real food.  So there I was, middle of the day, in a heat wave, exhausted, dizzy eating a spicy pickled sausage and not even able to descend without getting dangerous.  After some time choking down my food, I washed it down with the remainder of my bottled water.  All I had left was my 1L bladder of water, so I was careful not to hit that unless I needed it.  I mounted back up and rolled along enjoying the cooler air while moving.  My head stopped spinning and my senses came back to normal as I started to pickup speed.  Before long I was flying along and then just like that I popped out off Duncan Ridge onto a countryside road.  I stop at a convenience store and reload on all my liquids and then reward myself with a few cream sodas and a bag of salty chips.  I enjoy the moment in the sun, but know I have some major miles to put in before relaxing, so I pedal off along this road enjoying the feeling of being rehydrated and balanced for yet another moment.  I start to realize that I might make Mulberry Gap before dark and look forward to losing some time there and possibly getting some sleep there as well.  A few more miles and the skies turn dark.  The source of the massive amounts of humidity makes itself known.  I know I am in for a hell of a ride as I pedal onwards under dark and ominous clouds.  I feel the first
few raindrops and it feels so good.  The cool water after being baked inside and out feels wonderful.  The rain comes down hard and after a bit chills me off, so I pull out my rain jacket and keep pushing forward.  I pass some riders hiding under an old barn and wonder why they aren't enjoying this break from the heat.  About 10 more miles and the rain is following me the entire way.  I don't mind it, but I start to realize I have a new problem.  It seems the rain has washed away all my chamois butter and I am chafing with every stroke of the cranks.  The pain becomes something very real and I alternate sitting and standing positions.  I stop and reapply chamois butter which helps for a few minutes, but it is evident the damage has already been done.  I have 2 gashes along my sit bones and they are screaming for attention.  As I pedal along, I now realize I am going to have a rough remainder of the ride.  I am pissed and upset with myself for not listening to my body sooner.  I take a few advil, chase it down with a small coke I had stashed away and try to overcome the injury.  The flattish road along this section is very scenic and I lose myself enjoying the sights.  More rain and I am a bit more than soaked to the bone.  I find my way to  Iron Bridge and find it is closed and I am super hungry, chafed and exhausted from my bout with heat exhaustion earlier.  I notice that Iron Bridge is also a Hostel and poke about until I find the owner.  The rate is ~ $10, so I decide to use it as a quick break from the elements as well as to assess my posterior damage.   The hostel owner is really cool and offers to make me a sandwich.  I accept as he goes off to the kitchen.  I shower, clean my bib shorts, hang them to dry and proceed to hang out in front as the sun has popped out again.  Out of nowhere, Colin Campbell rolls up and excitedly tries to get me to go along with him.  I explain I need a little time to get my strength up after my 1-2 punch between here and Helen.  He understands, hangs out for a bit, eats a sandwich with me and then rolls off around 6pm.  My plans are to rest a bit, eat, then roll out later tonight.  Thanks to Facebook and Red Molly, I have more information about where the heck I am and where good eats are.  My phone shorts out from the extreme humidity shortly after and I find myself sitting there in the hostel quite tired and sore.  I decide to take a quick nap before heading up to a nearby restaurant to eat, but it seems my body needs more rest than I imagined.  I close my eyes around 7 and next thing you know it is 4am!  I missed dinner! I am in shock at the time warp I just created.  I pack up all my gear, slither into my still damp bib shorts & jersey, carry my bike down from the hostel and pedal off into the still of the morning darkness.  I am still amazed at how long I slept but feel refreshed and ready for action.  I pedal off to find Stanley Gap.  Up another super steep road climb to connect to an even steeper gravel road which I believe was Aska Rd.  I find my way to some double track which led to Stanley Gap, but not before missing my right hand turn several times adding up to about 30 minutes of lost time backtracking.  After realizing where I needed to turn, the pitch went beyond hike a bike steep.  I was grabbing onto trees and pushing and heaving my beast of a bike to the top.  Once at the top, I was able to take in an incredible sunrise which left me very humble and privileged to be here at this very moment.  The air was cool and silent and the sun was welcoming me to the top before the awesome downhill.  Today was going to be a good day....

GPS Stats:

Leaving Helen

Iron Bridge or Bust

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