Arkansas High Country, day 4: emotional quicksand

Somewhere in the Petit Jean mountains to Waveland
63.2 miles - 5,911 ft elevation gain - 9:05 moving time/12:28 elapsed time

My whole day takes place between "~291 inf. CG and ~350 CS Waveland". I'd zoomed in on the Ride with GPS file to find the mileage for different towns and other points of interest, some of these being pretty approximate. Take my somewhat vague generalities and then add to that the fact that my trip mileage started over each day, requiring that I remember where on my notes I started and then spend the day adding and subtracting to figure out how far -- approximately -- I was from my next point of interest. For this particular day, I hadn't been exactly sure where my starting location put me in my notes. Obviously, this is an area for improvement all-around.

Partially packed up, about 6:30 a.m.

My setup was relatively light, and I slept warmly and comfortably in it, but I watched enviously as Mikey packed up his hammock and was ready in no time. Eventually he got tired of waiting on me and rolled. I didn't leave camp until around 7 a.m.

Morning facebook post: "Day 4 is for Cheri Becker, Lisa Anne, and birthday girl Sherri Stout. I have another 60 miles to go without services and at least one monster climb. Once I get to Mt. Magazine State Park (~mile 60) I’ll figure out my plan for the rest of the day. Supper last night was Korean BBQ pork jerky, which the very nice and very talkative man at the store below Queen Wilhelmina SP gave me, and I believe breakfast is going to be pecan pie. Time to pack up and head out!"

Looking back at that morning post now is like rereading my diaries. So optimistic, so totally unaware of the anvil about to land on your head. OK, that's more Wil-E-Coyote than teenage Kate, but still...First off, it was actually 75 miles to Mt. Magazine. Second, I very quickly realized that pork jerky and pecan pie aren't sufficient race fuel.

I had plenty of food. I'd actually bought extra when I rode back to the store the previous day because I knew Alex had missed the store. I could have eaten more; I just didn't. It makes me want to shake race Kate. Why didn't I eat more??

Just starting to ride
7:05 a.m.
The morning started off with four miles of climbing with totally empty legs. Very quickly I found myself walking my bike. My early hopes that this was just a need-to-warm-up situation soon dissipated to reveal the sad reality that this was all I had for the day. I'd roll downhill, pedal slowly along flats, and be off the bike as soon as the road tilted up. It seemed to do that a lot.

Now, looking back at the elevation profile with a full stomach and rested legs, I can only shake my head and wonder what was so bad. But in the moment, bonking and overwhelmed, it felt impossible. Would I have done better if my inner voice was more drill sergeant than reassuring mother?  It wasn't.  "You just do the best you can and keep moving forward, dear."

That's what I did, one slow step after another, and the first 4 miles took me an hour. That led to some ugly mental math. At this pace it's going to take 15 hours to go 60 miles! A more pressing concern was that the first water source I had listed was still 26 miles away, and I hadn't been able to refill since beginning the climb into the mountains the previous evening.

By the end of the second hour, I was only 9 miles in. Hour three brought me to mile 13 with a dwindling water supply. Though the situation wasn't dire, running out of water is one of my big fears, and I was watching nervously for creeks. At one point I saw a pond, but a closer look revealed a thick cover of green scum. Ew, no thanks.

Mile 18, 10:56 a.m.
Eventually I ran dry, and when I passed a wet ditch I was no longer so picky. Wincing at the sight of tadpoles swimming in the brown water, I filled my bottle, used the Steri-Pen, and then threw in some iodine tablets for good measure.  Since I was stopped anyway, I finally took the time to eat and readjust the items in my cockpit, removing the dog spray holder that was making my top tube bag keep falling over to scrape my knee every. single. pedal. stroke. (Another thing I should have tried out prior to starting the race so I could have figured out an arrangement that worked.)

Throughout this pitiful slog, I could look down from my ridgeline road and see houses and cars in the valley below. It was strange to feel so isolated while people were going about normal lives not far from where I rode, filling glasses from faucets as I gingerly sipped my nasty ditch water. I knew that if I was at home I'd be obsessively following the race and wishing I was part of the adventure, but this knowledge did nothing to stop my tears.

A three-mile descent brought little relief. Unlike the previous day, when I'd felt invincible on downhills, day four featured a return of my normal timid self, braking away the advantage of the free speed. At the bottom, I turned on to pavement and then onto a new stretch of gravel, where I saw my first car of the day.

I stopped there to call Mickey to troubleshoot my unreliable bike light, trying not to cry in front of him, but my cell signal didn't last anyway. Five miles later I crossed a creek -- a lovely, clear creek! -- and was able to finally dump the ditch sludge. Sitting on the edge of a low water bridge, I took my time filling bottles and purifying the new water, savoring the feeling of salvation that accompanied a full supply of fresh water.

If I'd expected my woes to wash away I was mistaken as the course followed a primarily uphill path and my legs continued their work stoppage. My feet hurt from walking. My eyes were raw from crying. On one level I could appreciate how beautiful the scenery was, how cool this adventure was, but only in an abstract way. I knew I should be enjoying it, but I very much was not.

Seeing the top after 10 miles of pretty consistent climbing
Mile 30, 1:14 p.m.
When I signed on for this race I had no expectations of it being anything less than brutally hard, but I was also confident that I could finish it. I'm slow, but I'm gritty. Sticking out hard races is basically my only real strength.

I knew I'd want to quit at points and had promised myself that I'd never quit the day I wanted to; I'd always at least wait until the morning to make the decision. All that went out the window on day 4. Pushing my bike up hill after hill all I could think was This is stupid. Do I even care about finishing if it means pushing my bike up every hill in Arkansas?

I'd been posting regular updates on Facebook and felt like it was important to document the hard parts as well as the beautiful scenery. I was literally sobbing as I took the picture.
1:14 p.m.
The miles passed slowly, as I guess they do when you're having an emotional breakdown and walking anything resembling a hill. The route continued to be striking in its isolation. I only saw two more cars during this stretch, one the same truck that had passed me hours earlier. The clock moved much more quickly than my odometer, and I started to consider the possibility that I might spend another night out there.

Mile 54, 5:36 p.m.

Finally, after plummeting 1500+ feet in less than five miles, I had a relatively easy ten miles into Waveland. Here, the downhill trend (and my low-grade panic that I wouldn't make it to the store before it closed) helped my legs finally find another gear. I caught and passed Mikey near Waveland, the first I'd seen of him since he left camp that morning. I pushed hard into town, reaching the store with the kind of relief that's normally reserved for people being rescued from a fire.

I parked my bike and rushed in.  Silent tears streamed down   my face as I stared blankly at the half-empty shelves inside. What was I even going to buy?

Now, I think I made it there around 6:30, well before the 8:00 closing time, so there was no need for all of the internal drama, but the hour it took me to ride the last ten miles was literally half of any of my other previous ten-mile segments, so I'd definitely have been cutting it closer if I'd continued with the day's pace trend. And the store, while certainly not overstocked, had plenty of food. I just didn't have a plan and was in no mental state to make good decisions. Or any decisions.

Looking back now, of course, I can recognize how much I was overreacting to what was just a hard day. At the time, unfortunately, I had no perspective. I didn't even get mood swings, which would at least allow for brief highs. Instead, I floundered in emotional quicksand, sinking into despair and self-pity.

I like to think of myself as being resilient and, as my 15 year old describes it, "annoyingly positive", but here I was, determined to quit the race in Waveland. I'd get some food, call my husband, and wait for the ride home. I'd come to Arkansas for lessons to help me in future races, and mostly I was learning that I wasn't nearly as strong as I'd thought.


  1. Ah, that's a hard read, I want to give past you a big hug. But honesty does help other people deal with their own shitty moments. x


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