Today's post comes from guest blogger and member of this year's Dirty Five, Jason Gaikowski. -Kid
Wait for the alarm; lie still for the next 15 minutes and enjoy the silence; the darkness; and the cool early morning - a long day is ahead. Stretch and yawn. 4:15: rise, trace the steps to the kitchen, flip on the coffee maker, turn on the stove, wash down vitamins with a glass of juice. Embrace the ritual, stay relaxed and don’t think too much; you’ve done this before. Pancakes, blueberries, banana, eggs, coffee, water, water, and more water.
First the bibs, then socks. Chamois Butt’r first, then sunscreen, now embro on the knees and lower back. Now jersey and shoes. Pee. Helmet in hand and head toward the van. Stay unconscious, stay in the rut; you’ve done this before. Relax - a long day ahead. Enjoy the music and the ride to town.
“I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel. I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real.”
The big men are here; lords of gravel. Godfrey, Ek, Krause, Meiser, Hughes. I wonder how the day will unfold; if the lads will behave; be sensible - or if someone’s going to start throwing hammers early in the day. Keep your head, keep your cool, keep your pace and remember:
“ It does not matter how slow you go so long as you do not stop.” — Confucius
And we’re off. The group is well mannered early, the pace quick yet comfortable; the surface predictable and good wheels aplenty. Stay out of the wind, pedal, hide, pedal. Drink, eat, pedal, relax.
The pace is good, breathing is good, legs are good. The sun is bright and it’s a beautiful day. Joy is in the air - drink it in as the pedals turn quickly over and over. Texaco hill ahead - someone is bound to lose patience and chase this joy up that damn hill. 30 miles an hour. Now 20. 18. 15. 12 at the top. I see Ek and join the dozen high-spirited children chasing one another over the rocks and down the backside. Bike feels great, tires floating, soft…too soft…the rim. A flat.
Change. Drink. Chase. Eat. Flat. Change. Drink. Chase. At checkpoint one, LeLan refuels me in less than 2 minutes. We met just yesterday and I like him a lot. Off I roll, smiling inside and out. My mind is calm, my heart is fueled with joy, and I am flying. There’s Meiser, and Horkey, and Gersib and Fox, one after another fading over the rear horizon; and I wonder what more this day will bring.
Checkpoint 2. LeLan says I’m 4th…I wonder if it’s true and what’s happened to the others. I’m reloaded in 2 minutes. It’s gotten hot and as I roll out he says this will be the longest section, the hottest heat, and a tailwind. Drink. Pedal. Drink again. Why am I chilly? Drink. Pedal. Drink again.
30 miles crawl by; the legs feel good - but the darkness has come. 9 hours, 135 miles.
It’s so hot. My neck hurts. The saddle is uncomfortable. The stem is too long. And too low. My shoulders are sore. The thought of food is repulsive. I’m sick of drinking; my stomach is bloated and sloshing. I’m tired. I hurt. I’ve been alone for a long time. I want to quit. People will understand. My mind spins in a dark, downward spiral.
I pass Gunnar Shogren walking flat gravel resting his upper body on his handlebars; he looks bad. I promise myself if I make it to checkpoint 3, I will quit. Just get to checkpoint 3 and this will all be over. I am in dark agony. I am in a battle with myself. My universe shrinks. Pedals and pedaling. I stop eating. I stop drinking. I just pedal.
My mind wanders to my wife and daughter. Somehow this pain brings me a full awareness of how much I love them. I am immersed in their love.
I’m hot and I’m tired. Tired of the heat, tired of the tailwind that insists on matching my speed, half-wheeling me, leaving me to bake at 100-degees in still air and Kansas sunshine. Hour nine; mile 135. Belly full of liquid that won’t clear; a crust of salt and dust; sick of eating; sick of drinking 100-degree liquids. Sick.
“Look at that irrigation pond over there. Only 50 yards of bushwhacking and you can lay down in it.”
Stop thinking about the pond! Look ahead! Turn the pedals! Breathe! No coasting!
“The pond looks cool. It would feel so good to lay in the pond…just for a minute or two.”
No! No pond! If you lay down in that pond, there’s no getting out; that pond will be your death. Look ahead! Pedal! Breath! Drink! No coasting…coasting is defeat! Pedal damn it! Stay alert - look for flags - DO NOT take a wrong turn.
...only 5 hours to go…
Checkpoint 3. LeLan gives me an icepack and a coke. I sit down and try to comprehend what he’s saying. I wonder what I would do if he were not here. I sit and drink. I try to eat. Nothing tastes good. I wish I could puke. I want to quit. People would understand. LeLan tells me a thunderstorm is coming.
I pick up my bike, put on my helmet, and head out into the remainder of the day.
“Going is always faster than stopping.”
No walking! No coasting! Coasting is for quitters! Keep the pedals turning, damn it! The storm is off to my right. I see lightning and the temperature is dropping. Cool winds blow. I love that wind.
A truck pulls up beside me on the side of a climb…something about 60-mph winds…looking for their son. I nod and pretend to understand. Mostly I pedal. I wish I could drink.
A rain begins. I pedal. The wind blows. I pedal. As I begin to descend, I realize I’m over the top of a huge climb. The speed feels good. I wish I could drink. I’m starting to feel better. The terrain is rolling, inviting me to play. I see a rider in the distance and sooner than I thought possible, I am at his side. His name is Bruce, and it feels like I remember him from some long ago time. The company is nice. We try to share some work, but I just need to pedal and keep my own pace. We are together. I am alone. The miles roll by.
Ten to go. I ask Bruce how he wants to sort things out. If he wants a contest…to put on a little show of an absurd sprint. Bruce declines. He says he’s not certain he would have made it to the line without me. I wonder if that’s true. I am grateful not to have to ride harder. We turn off gravel and into town. Someone’s honking. We see the finish and cross the line one after another.
I step off the bike, remove my shoes and lie down in some cool grass. A friend hands me a coke and asks if I need anything. Someone takes a picture. People congratulate. I hurt. I feel great. It’s been a long 14 hours. For the next four hours, I’m with friends as we cheer others who finish longer days than mine. I place 3rd - a small fact among the larger prize shared by all who braved the day.
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