It's totally a 162* miles, baby.
*155. 2 miles shorter than last year and minus the little adventure loop.
But that sure as hell didn't make it any easier. In fact, this year was probably tougher than last. Hot, dry, and with a southern wind that just didn't quit all day.
I don't have numbers this year, but it looks like even fewer people took the start than last year. Maybe only thirtysomething people. We left promptly at 7am without much fanfare or drama. It was going to be a long day and this was no time to try and prove anything.
I made no attempt to try and hang onto the lead pack or any kind of group at all. I'd be carefully playing my cards all day just to make sure I finished. Getting stuck with a slightly too slow group or slightly too fast could easily keep me out past the cutoff, or worse- completely blow up mid course. So I just rode my own ride, enjoyed the scenery, and kibitzed with the few people I'd occasionally trade places with.
And despite the heat later that afternoon, the morning was pleasant and when that wind was working in your favor, you could crank out 25mph with zero effort. One of my goals this year was to spend as little time stopped as possible, and I made good progress to the town of Harmony at mile 60. I stopped there for some gas station pizza and killed a gallon jug of water refilling me and my bottles. Felt great pulling out of Harmony.
But now the afternoon sun was out, and we were heading straight south into the wind. The next 20 miles really wore me down. The 30 after that were rather demoralizing as there's large stretches between instructions with no turns and nothing to do but pedal. At least we were heading west and no longer directly into the wind. Plus this was major Amish country which is always fascinating to ride through. The culture is so different, it feels like a different country.
By the time I pulled into Forestville State Park around mile 120, I was hurting. But I was happy as I was running at least an hour and a half ahead of my time from last year. So I gave myself 30 minutes to rest and rehydrate.
Hung out with a fellow competitor, Justin and his friends who were camping at the park. Justin was on the fence about continuing and I gotta admit, the prospect of just staying there for margaritas was incredibly tempting. But my road weary brain couldn't come up with an effective plan for getting bombed to outer space on tequila, retrieving my car, and getting back to my hotel. At this point, all I could really mentally manage was "keep pedaling" and "keep drinking water".
The 30 minute break really re-energized me for the climbs getting out of the park. And then it was only maybe another 15 miles before I felt like total crap again. But I was in the final countdown. I could visualize the number of miles left in terms of my daily commute and meter out what little effort I could muster.
As the sun went down, the winds became a little softer and the temperatures cooled. It almost began to feel something like pleasant. Except I still just wanted to get back to my car and never ride a bicycle for as long as I live.
But eventually, it arrived- the finish line. 30 minutes sooner than last year. And once again, Chris Skogen, the organizer was there to personally congratulate me and shake my hand. That handshake means more to me than any podium finish. Knowing he's waiting there for god knows how many hours and shaking god knows how many hands is sometimes all that keeps the pedals turning over. It's just awesome to be greeted by name and congratulated after all that. Thanks again, Chris! You set the gold standard for how events should be run, free or not.
Then on Monday, I promptly went out and bought a brand new motorcycle.