In the days leading up to the race I began to feel woefully under prepared. This culminated the night before the race where I took the brand new Camelbak I had bought that very day and proceeded to cut half the straps off it and switch the bladder in it with the Platypus one I had been using in my other pack. What I ended up with was a pack that was significantly lighter than my old one, smaller, better suited to what I wanted to carry, and totally untested. I swore I wouldn't go out on the trail with something I hadn't used before on several rides, and that went right out the window. Additionally I opted to not bring my midrange sleeping bag (it was too heavy and not packing well I decided). Instead I brought my lightweight bag that wasn't as warm, but I figured would be alright. Again, here I went with an untested bivy system.
All in all I remember sitting in my truck waiting for the race to start and hoping that I wasn't going to puke that morning's Cheerios all over the trail, or the start line, or worse yet whomever was standing next to me at the start. And then, I was riding. I was riding the first part of a long trail, but it was comforting that I had ridden that first part a lot. Also comforting was the score of supporters from the Beav that had turned out to see me off. My smart ass jokes about having my own trail scouting crew may not have been that amusing to anyone else, but they made me feel better. The mass start went much better than many people had imagined. Everyone seemed to do a good job of getting onto the trail in a ridiculously long line that would change order countless times over the next day or so. I think most people realized it was a long race and that where you were in the start didn't matter, the pace you held for the whole race would sort everything out. I was not one of the people. I went off the line at a stupid fast pace and starting passing people when it was feasible. I managed a pretty good ride for the first forty miles, making it into the second checkpoint in a decent place and suddenly realizing I was having a good ride, but not sure how long it could last.
As I left the second checkpoint, the question was quickly answered. I encountered my first section of overflow, which was slushy to boot. I donned my Neos (purchased special for the race) and proceeded to muck through it with the excitement of a kid with rubber galoshes in a puddle. I rode for a bit after that, but pretty soon the climb up the Cache Mountain divide started. By then it was some time in the afternoon, the sun was shining, the trail was mushy, and I didn't seem to have enough energy to keep the bike upright. I got off and pushed for a good eight miles or so up and over the divide. I got passed by several people during this period, all of whom had kind words or observations on the beautiful section of trail. I really didn't notice, I wasn't riding and it was miserable. I was angry and I didn't care if I had to push forever, I was going to make it to the next checkpoint. I pushed all the way over the pass, where there was barely a trail and I completely stopped drinking and eating. I stopped just before the pass and managed to choke down some sour gummy rings because I knew I at least needed something. As I finally crested the divide the trail started to become defined again and I managed to shred a nice long downhill section before rolling onto the ice lakes. I busted the Neos back on and made great time across the ice, managing to even ride about half the way. There was a pretty nasty wind blowing up the canyon, but toward the end of the ice lakes it peaked and managed to freeze my mask against my face on the left side. I removed a heater pack from my poagie (where it had been uselessly making my hand sweat) and stuffed it down under my mask against my cheek, completely solving the only problem the vicious wind was able to give me.
After another sick downhill section and a rolling jaunt through the woods I pulled into Windy Gap cabin, the third checkpoint. I was making angry monkey noises that initially caught the attention of the volunteers stationed outside the cabin before I realized I was still doing it. I had made it sixty miles in just about twelve hours. Mentally I was doing pretty well as I figured I had passed through the most dangerous and difficult parts of the trail unscathed, but physically I felt shot (my knees were aching something fierce) and was totally convinced I needed to sleep and continue when it got light again in the morning. I was to soon find that sleep would be impossible for me in the roasting, tiny, packed cabin. More than anything my tired mind wouldn't stop obsessing over all the new people I was suddenly surrounded by. If I had known what the next section of trail was like, I would have grabbed a bowl of the meatball and rice soup and moved right along. Instead, I languished for nearly five hours chasing a nap that never came and uselessly taking up room in the already packed cabin.
I still consider it the worst mistake I made during the race, but it is also the greatest lesson I learned. I was capable of more. I never got any real rest and still managed to push through the next section of trail. If you had asked me if I had another twenty miles in me when I arrived, I would have laughed at you as I looked for a place to crash. I had never ridden more than sixty miles before and the time I did that had been four years previous on a road bike during the summer. I had myself mentally beat even though my body hadn't given out yet.
....to be continued.....