Sunday, January 19, 2020

Chad & Mouse Part 2

If you haven't read part one, click here ->

After Douglas creek it's mildly rolling farmland with some good level stretches. I once again lived in my aero position because I knew if I were to catch chad it would take everything I had. I did not know how far ahead he was, and it didn't matter, I didn't plan on sleeping, I didn't plan on resting, I was perfectly willing to blow this motor apart in pursuit of this goal. Fixated on this mission with a renewed sense of confidence I began my fastest riding of the trip.

The landscape began to take on a new sense of familiarity as I approached the area where I scratched last year. After a brief chase by off-leash dogs I began to descend down into a Lions Park. The very park where I called it quits in 2017 and where Jeanie's friend met me and chatted me up under a tree. Funny how it's named Lion's park, I love cats. I then received a text from Alexis: "every mile after this is victory", and yep, I teared up. I had no idea how emotional I'd be at that moment but my eyes were a joyous deluge of thanks. That was a finish line all it's own, all of the work put in since XWA 2017 would be validated at that moment, I made it further than I did last year. Like a boost of nitrous oxide I pedaled even harder, now powered by raw joy.

As I made it further into the city I began repeating a resupply mantra to myself so I wouldn't gum up at the next gas station, "Ice cream, gummy bears, gatorade and mayo, ice cream gummy bears, gatorade and mayo!" When I arrived I gathered ice cream, gummy bears, gatorade and mayo. I asked the teller if they had seen anyone, and they said they saw someone a few hours ago. May have been chad, may not have been, didn't matter at that point, afterburners were fired, I was ready to race. I inhaled a tollhouse ice cream cookie sandwich, slammed a gatorade, refilled my bottles and clipped back in. 

The temperature quickly started to rise with all the asphalt and sun exposure. I could feel my bike get a little more rigid as the heat bumped up my tire pressure which actually worked in my favor. My bike's handling felt inspired; the rigidity, the efficient power transfer, plus the smooth pavement and long flats were giving me a technical advantage while my aerodynamic profile had me cutting through the landscape. I flew through Moses Lake getting caked in dust while my drivetrain got more noisy. It was here I decided to use a mayo packet to lube my drivetrain (this was a trick I figured out while training with bob when my chain got gummed up with mud once, mayo packet was all I had, it's pretty much spreadable grease if you look at the ingredients) and it worked splendidly.

Once back on the pavement after exiting Moses Lake my nose felt clogged and itchy. A substantial desert boogie had taken root and I went to remedy the situation with my index finger. After scratching the itch I felt an unfamiliar coolness on my hand. I'm bleeding?! WTH!?

Immediately I conjured up that image of Kevin Costner in American Flyers when he had a nosebleed ( I was wearing the 7-Eleven Jersey after all, so in the middle of all that madness I had to laugh. Blood was getting everywhere, it was so hot and dusty that any drip that landed on the bike went from maroon to purple to dry brown in an instant. My once clean jersey was now starting to look like it's own horror flick. I wasn't worried about the loss of blood, so much as I was the fact that I'd probably have trouble resupplying without drawing attention to myself. 

Once the route headed south there was an RV park with a large empty bathroom across the street. Without skipping a beat I literally rode into the mens bathroom, turned on a faucet and began cleaning myself up. I shoved a D battery's worth of toilet paper into my right nostril, combed my hair, washed my face and jersey, cleaned up my mess and got back on the road. There was a soda machine, so I bought another Fanta on the way out. I pulled the nose plug out once I reached the Lind Coulee, the bleeding had thankfully stopped.

If you were following XWA at all you may have heard of the infamous dead carp bog. Well, this was it. Right before hand there was a trickle of a stream so I rolled around in that to cool off before I hiked straight through carrying my bike high enough to avoid wetting my bottom bracket. I did not spend much time hesitating as I had a laser like focus on getting to Tekoa without going to bed. After those obstacles I raced towards Warden to what I intended to make my last resupply.

This being my second bikepacking event I wasn't aware of a taboo behavior you're not supposed to do. Which is ditching parts of your kit along the course. I didn't know this, so in my haste to chase down chad I ditched my sleeping kit and some clothes I wouldn't need in the desert. Won't do that again, and if I do XWA again, I wont even pack a sleeping kit. My main goal behind ditching the sleep kit was giving myself no outs. Pulling out all the stops, trying to make every environmental change I could to force myself to ride as far and as hard as I could to catch Chad. 

When I arrived in Warden I pulled into a gas station on the right. More cautious of heat exhaustion than before I decided to take my time. I got some terribly old bean burritos, some fries, some onion rings, enough candy for 2 halloweens, half a gallon of chocolate milk, the largest fountain drink filled with a graveyard of gatorade, mt. dew, fanta and sat down to feast in this wonderful air conditioned oasis. I asked the cashier if they had seen a cyclist and he said "about an hour ago there was a guy doing the same thing you are doing now." I ate with a little more urgency after hearing that, I couldn't believe it, I was still in the race! I refilled all my bottles, and stuffed that large foam cup in the aerobars for some great on the go chilled hydration and made my way towards Lind.

I had always wanted to see the other side of the John Wayne Trail after getting to know the western side so well. It was a lot chunkier out here but still a great trail to ride. At certain points it was tumbleweed galore. I remember one underpass being completely socked in with dry tumbleweeds, in no mood to hike a bike I remember plowing straight through them. The skeletons crunched and crisped apart as I plowed through, a satisfying experience as I crossed-fingers for no mechanicals. 

I don't have a lot to say about Lind, it's a town of about 500 people and I didn't stop for food as I already had 1.5 days worth. It was getting tremendously hot again, desert conditions. I managed to find a spigot as I crossed the railroad tracks leaving town. I turned it on in a effort to cool off and another frightful experience ensued. My body, which was already breathing heavily, got thrown off by the involuntary cold water gasp reaction from dousing myself and for a brief period of time couldn't get any air. I was exhaling as my body was automatically trying to inhale, I thought I was going to pass out and then in what felt like my last shot at a breath I got my rhythm back. That was a short but very scary moment. I used that adrenaline and kept pushing forward tucking back into the comfort of the aerobars. More tumbleweeds, more desert gravel grinding, and more heat as I continued to follow Chad's ever freshening tracks. 

As I passed through Ralston I ran over a medium sized rock and my slightly over inflated rear tire burped. "SssSSssSssSssss." I read that cyclists can recall the exact location of every flat they get in a race because the moments are that stressful. This was no exception, if I was a painter I could easily paint the scene from memory. This was my first time running tubeless, and there was a good deal of sealant bubbling from one side of my raceking. Months later I'd find out that this was an issue common with a defective batch of this particular tire, basically the sidewall was beginning to separate from the bead. I really didn't know what to do, so I did what I normally do with mechanicals. I busted out the zip-ties and huzzah! I stuffed the tire and bead back into the rim by wrapping a zip tie around the leak, pumped it up, prayed a little, and set on my way. I didn't take the time to trim the zip ties so one kept thwacking my bare ankle. I laughed thinking it was like my own personal riding crop as I cruised down the John Wayne. Yeehaw cowpoke! Thwack thwack thwack thwack, full speed ahead now! 

Right before exiting the pavement I'd have one more mechanical. I was accelerating up a mild gravel hill but in a gear a little to big to push and my chain snapped. Fortunately I did plan my kit very intentionally and knew exactly where my chain pliers were. I snapped on a new quicklink and made very quick work of that mechanical before getting off the John Wayne.

You can tell a lot by a persons tracks, and Chad's which used to be straight were starting to wander a bit more. I did not know how close he was, but I started getting texts from all over "You got this!!!" "You're close man" I remember one specifically from Shawn to the effect of "Step on it!" I can't tell you how incredible this brand of excitement was. I felt like I had been playing the best musical solo of my life and I had an entire arena of people waiting for me to nail the high note! I was running on absolute adrenaline at this point, and I knew I might have a chance at finally catching Chad.

I've stopped in Ritzville once prior to this on a road trip to spokane years ago. I remember there being a Carls Jr. and I was really looking forward to a milkshake. Unfortunately there were busses of high school kids making up lines that ran nearly out the door. I just picked up more chocolate milk and for the first time the entire trip, 2 five hour energies, then refilled my bottles and geared up to leave. As I was paying I asked the familiar question, "See any other cyclists?" - "There was one guy, maybe half an hour or an hour ago here." I was so close, I couldn't believe it, could this be it? What will happen if or when we encounter each other. 

I left Ritzville in a hurry and that brings us back to the beginning of this blog:


10 miles outside of Ritzville with less than an hour of sunlight left. Up to this point I've never put forth a greater physical effort in my entire lifetime. I couldn't believe it, I was 140 miles into the day, a day that included, zip-tying a burping defective tire, repairing a chain, fording some heroically gross streams, and slamming around 6 pints of Ben & Jerrys. I shaved every minute I could off the last 14 hours and it was all culminating to this point. From east to west the scene transitioned from deep indigo to warm gold while stars slowly began to pepper themselves among the wide open sky. North Morengo Road parted the landscape with perfect symmetry before stretching into rolling hills on the horizon. Far off on the last visible hill I saw movement. I scanned harder and the gait was instantly recognizable, it was unquestionably the cyclist I had been looking for. Whatever vapors I had left in the tank combusted at that moment, it was Chad!


Not only was it chad, but he wasn't spinning up the hill like a rabid giraffe (how I remembered him from the Olympics hundreds of miles ago). He was walking, holy hell, this is it, I can catch him. I spun up those hills and mashed down the rollers and when I got to the final one I expected to see him. To my chagrin he was gone, just a cloud of dust, I didn't even see him. I scanned everywhere and he was gone. Damnit, was he just toying with me? Waiting for me to get close so he could really show me what a cyclist was? I double downed on my efforts and raced away from the setting sun.

I thought back to the plan I had back in the Colockum, if I did encounter Chad, I'd try and make it look like I had an effortless infinite gas tank and blow by him like there was no chance of him catching me. I rounded a corner under an overpass like the final lap on a track sprint. There he was, and in direct contrast to me, he was all smiles. I was busy trying to hurl my bike over the fence when he was like "I'll open it for ya!" He congratulated me and asked for a hug, and right there in an instant I was disarmed and embarrassed, Chad was not some fire breathing dragon, but a fantastic person. I've bikepacked with him a few times after this event, and he's an athlete I wholeheartedly admire. In fact, he embodies an entire set of aspirational qualities I'd like to grow into as I get older, a truly awesome person. We chatted for a bit, he had some sore spots so he was setting up camp soon. I still had some adrenaline to pedal out so I set off into what would be a series of some more wild outlandish events.

After encountering Chad I realized I probably couldn't make it to Tekoa, and I would probably have to sleep, so the plan was to keep moving till the caffeine wore off. The trail conditions were a little chunky but decent, there were plenty of cows and at night time their stoic glares took on an odd slightly scary dimension for me. Some wouldn't move, so I'd bounce my front wheel to get them to dissipate. When it's pitch black and you're 160 miles into the day your senses start getting crunchy. I wish I could have seen this area in daylight because I'm sure it's beautiful, but it was a lonely night of uncharted territory for me.

The coyotes starting yowling pretty heavily around midnight. And in an otherwise silent landscape, they were loud! I really didn't think much of them and figured I could get a few hours of sleep in a ditch and finish the race the next day. Once the caffeine wore off I really wanted and needed to sleep. I've never had that much exertion in one day, and it was starting to catch up to me. I tried to sleep just before rock lake, and maybe got 15 minutes till I was awoken by a horse snort about 5 feet away. With residual adrenaline and exhaustion pumping through my veins it scared the crap out of me. I lit up a cigarette and started pedaling away, it was the only thing I could do to calm my nerves. About an hour later my eyes kept closing on me so I pulled over and tried again. When I closed my eyes coyotes were howling in the distance, when I opened them a few minutes later, coyotes were now howling on all sides, and sounded much closer than when I previously stopped. Once again, an immense fear washed over me, so I mounted back up and moved in slow motion across the pitch black landscape. I tried once again to sleep, and once again, it sounded like the coyotes were closing in. I don't know how much of this was coyotes actually closing in on me, and it probably wasn't a threat, but in my beleaguered state they might as well have been velociraptors, I was scared, lonely, and grasping at all my mental straws trying to adhere together.

Eventually I found myself walking up a long winding road outside of Pineville (edit). And guess what, this would be another super scary moment of the trip. Once again I tried falling asleep in a ditch, this time I was awoke to a rustling no more than 30 yards away. My eyes were watery from all the dust, and my headlamp was losing charge so when I flashed my light in the distance my heart leapt straight into my throat. It was a medium sized brown creature moving in an unrecognizable way. Realize, I am at my most exhausted point, and for some reason my mind immediately circled back to a fear that had been buzzing since this event began. Cougar, I thought. What else is medium sized, and just a few weeks prior a cougar had tragically taken a cyclists life right before the start of XWA. At this point I was 75% sure I had just seen a cat. "If I die being mauled by a mountain lion during a 700 mile bike race, at least it will be a legendary story." I was pretty paralyzed with fear so I turned my light off and made a wall with my bike. Whatever it was it crossed the road and I could hear tromp through the bushes down the hill. After about 10 minutes I got up, shined the light down there, and much to my relief, it was merely a deer. If you read about ultra-runners, hallucinations are part of the game. I relaxed and felt accomplished as must have had my very first real hallucination, or second actually because of bivy chad back in the Colockum?

Once again my adrenal gland squeezed out more flight or fight juice out of my battered body. I mounted up and pedaled a little bit further. Finally at 3:30 a.m, just after my first porcupine sighting, I would end the effort that started with chewing up an aliexpress foam mat to make shoe soles, covering over 180 miles, eating ~8000 calories, fixing 2 mechanicals, a terrific nosebleed, and turning a 30 mile deficit into a 30 mile lead. I then collapsed in a ditch in the middle of nowhere 640 miles into the race. I have never, even to this day put forth more physical/mental energy into such a short timespan. It was truly the closest I've been to answering the question of what I am made of. I have Chad McCammon to thank for that. 


The conclusion before the end of the month. Still making edits every time I read this, blogger is a weird interface that was bought by google a while back and hasn't been updated for half a decade. I have trouble with the editing part of writing because as I read my own writing it is in my own voice and so I skip over words sometimes.