So, DK registration was Saturday morning, the SHITR was Saturday night, and Sunday morning we saddled up. Bob and I met Chuck, Lori, Dave, and Mickey at the Mound for a combination gravel ride/course clearing excursion. Out of the six of us, only Dave isn't signed up for DK, and he's got a different gravel race in his sights. We planned to start by riding the Lost Valley gravel to finish picking up the course markers for the previous night. The Hamburg Trail had a fair amount of slush and snow on it, all having frozen over again the previous night. This made for some "fun" bike handling moments, and I started thinking about the drop down into Lost Valley, a ride that scares me even in good conditions.
I suggested to Lori that we ride the gentler Hamburg downhill and come into Lost Valley from the lower parking lot, eliminating the bigger (and more importantly here, snow and ice-covered) hills. We spun it as being more time efficient to work towards the guys and meet halfway, but everybody knew I was wimping out. I was OK with that.
As it turned out, there was no "easy way out" on this ride. While the Hamburg downhill wasn't bad, some of the flat parts were tough going. There was still a lot of snow on the ground, and footprints and bike tracks from the previous day had frozen over. We decided Lori was the smart one for leaving her mountain bike tires on!
|Footprints, ruts, snow, and ice. The snow was the easiest going, but even that was tough for me.|
|Since the guys had ridden the SHITR route, there were way more footprints and frozen spots than we'd had.|
|There was throwing of rocks onto the ice...|
|...and digging out beaver-chewed sticks...|
|...and group pictures|
I'd been anticipating clear roads. Since Busch gets a lot of sun, all of the snow should be melted and we'd get a break from riding on snow and ice. While this was mostly true, "melted" didn't imply "dry", and instead of solid road we found ourselves trudging through soft, soupy muck, gray rooster tails spraying behind us.
|My poor pack...|
|It took multiple trips through the wash to get all the dirt out of my clothes|
I left from work on Friday afternoon, and after eating the awesome dinner Mickey's wife cooked we headed to Cuba, MO, where we were staying with Luke and his family at his cousin's house. The next morning we hit the trail, rolling out on time for perhaps the first time ever in Team Virtus history.
|Some of the group waiting to roll out|
|Photo credit: Kevin|
|He made quick work of the repairs and we were back on our way.|
Of course, it helped that this section of the trail was primarily downhill, but that hasn't always been a positive for me in the past. I typically get scared on downhills, but the trail was in the best shape I've ever seen it in, and this was the kind of downhill I like: fairly gradual, winding and swoopy. All of the sudden I was having fun, and the guys were surprised when I took much less time than normal to catch up with them.
After a quick, somewhat triumphant, snack break, my hard-won flow disappeared and I could barely stay on the trail. Rather than be frustrated, I was laughing to myself as I careened from edge to edge of the singletrack, happy for once that the guys were far enough ahead to miss my ineptitude. We had a brief detour to check out a frozen waterfall Mickey had found while riding around waiting for me to catch up...
|Me and Dave|
|Couldn't resist the triple dog dare|
This section of trail was a little rougher than the first part, and of course I was more tired by this point. I had to walk some short washed-out, rocky, rooty sections and some hills. Shifting down into my lowest ring in the front, I managed to drop my chain and get it really caught. I tried pulling it out, but it was so stuck I couldn't budge it, so I resigned myself to walking until I caught up with the guys or one of them turned around looking for me. I walked and then tried dislodging the chain, walked again, and then stopped. At this rate I'd be walking forever, and it was killing me to walk downhill.
Normally I'm a huge chicken on hills, but the best thing about getting tired is that I typically lose a little of my fear. Coasting downhill, eating up distance with little effort suddenly seems so much more appealing, and if I crash and die, chances are I won't have to ride my bike anymore. Win-win. I took another look at the chain and remembered that if I shifted the back cogs I might get more slack and be able to put my chain back on. Success! I was riding again.
...and walking. I basically walked part of every uphill in the last 4-5 miles. And by "part", I mean a big part. I was vaguely embarrassed but too tired to care. Trudging up to where Mickey was riding back and forth on the gravel waiting for me, I urged him to go on without me -- "I've only got a couple miles left...if anything happens I can just walk out" -- but knowing I was much more likely to take a gravel bailout if I was on my own, he stuck with me. The rest of the ride followed a pattern familiar from Dirty Kanza: ride the hill as far as I can, walk to the top, bomb down, repeat.
I was so tired that I just wanted to sit down on the trail and cry, but I was also excitedly watching my mileage and realizing that I was going to finish the loop for the first time ever. I was just giving myself a pep talk ("Two or three miles left...anyone can ride two or three miles...") when I caught up with Mickey at a gravel road crossing. He gestured in front of him: "Do you see it?" I looked blankly for a moment and then realized what he was showing me. The parking lot and pavilion where we'd started were maybe 100 feet away through the trees. Now I wanted to cry because I was so happy.
I changed into some dry clothes, parked myself by the grill, and filled up on brats (yeah, plural), a hamburger, and a couple of cookies. We hung out for the next couple hours, and while it was a smaller crowd for the ride than in past years, some of my favorite people were there. Meanwhile, as I celebrated my epic journey of 26 miles, some guys rode two laps, and one finished three. Amazing. I was wiped out by my one lap and was wildly unsure how I was going to manage the challenging 46-mile gravel ride the following day...but this post is long enough, so that's a story for another day.