Blair and I did the VT50 last Sunday. We had been looking forward to it since the late spring, when thoughts of the sunny days, warm breezes and clearing that section, come easily along with the stupid ideas, such as how are we going to challenge ourselves this year. We signed up thinking this would be a great day of riding some prime single track with good friends, as rolling companions. What we got was so much more.
I had been training as much as my schedule/wife would permit, I had a new lighter F/S bike to ride, I dropped weight and was fitter than I had been all season. My teammate and good friend, Blair was well trained, his bike was in great shape and he was ready, but then the Jinx….
About 10 days prior to the race I get the email, weather looks good, sunny skies all weekend, Uh OH!!! are you kidding.? The 10 day out reports, 99 percent of the time, are the exact opposite of the actual day. So we started watching the daily updates, hoping that the forecast would hold. Of course, the reports start to change for the worse and two days before we plan to leave, the sporadic showers begin. The weather forecast for race day says only a 30% chance of showers. On race day, the race director echoed the same forecast, as it was dark out and no one could see the clouds looming. You would have thought the lack of stars would have been a tip off, yet at the race line, I was still optimistic. “A light drizzle would keep us cool but not cold and the trails needed a little moisture to cut the dust”. I guess late spring isn't the only time for stupid ideas and wishful thinking.
The race horn goes off and we begin our epic day. Blair and I were rolling in almost pitch black down some country roads with barely a flashlight to see our way. We have two friends: Pumpkin and Bone, we are going to ride with, but they start in the next wave. We roll out slowly and lose contact with the main field in the dark. Soon enough, we catch up to our wave coming into the first single track. My stomach was a little off, but my legs were fresh. I chalk that up to race jitters. We ride the single track well, and pop back out on a nice long VT dirt road climb. We stop briefly at the first aid station. I sip from my Camelback and take off layers while we wait for the other guys. They show up along with the Sun and we roll out, up some slick single track. The Stan's tires with low tire pressure held traction much better than I expected.
The rain picks up from a mist to a solid drizzle, but it does let up again as we finish a fun section of single track, flying down to another VT road. At the next turn, I see a long climb looming ahead. I shift to my little ring in preparation for the first long ascent. This is where my day really starts to turn form the promising optimism to something else.
After a few revolutions at the lower gear, my chain sucks and I am caught off guard. I fix the chain, pedal a bit more, and the same thing happens. My legs strong, my stomach feeling a little off, and now I have a chain problem. I lose our two friends up the hill but Blair stays with me. I should be able to fix this by a simple barrel adjustment, but the chain picks up by the pins on the middle ring and wraps until it seizes. I get to the top using the middle ring. Blair and Pumpkin are waiting, but Bone is gone. Pumpkin tries to help me with the chain problem, but after thinking we fixed it, chain suck again. We roll into the next aid station and thankfully there is a mechanic there. I stand in line to wait to see if he can straighten the derailleur thinking maybe that's the problem. He makes that adjustment then shows me that the chain is being picked up, so he files the problem ring to de-burr it, and as I depart, he tells me to spin lightly when shifting or climbing.
Not a quarter mile from that stop, it happens again. Now there is no hope of catching our friends who had gone ahead. Frustrated, I try to keep the chain in the little ring and second cog, to keep it from sucking up again. At this point, I don't know who is more upset about my problem, Blair or me. I can tell his day is shot, but he does not leave me. He wants me to shift to increase my speed, but I don't want to, because every time the chain locks up, my legs get a bigger and bigger jolt. We still have 35 miles to go.
I'm spinning in too low a gear and my stomach is roiling. I have been drinking my normal mix and feel as though I definitely had enough fluids, but my legs are locking up so badly that I can't bend them. I drink Gatorade at the stop and have two salt tabs. Finally, I can flex my legs again. Blair is still with me, so I am forced to soldier on. Not far from the aid station I taste the dry salt tablet dust in my mouth. I know I swallowed them whole with water but my stomach isn't absorbing anything. At this point, I am thinking it would best for me to turn back. If Blair had not been there with me, my day would have ended at this point.
I now have new cramps, fighting the old ones, and still Blair tells me I’m going to finish. So at about Mile 22 I find myself once again on a climb, encountering everything all at once: complete down pour, rolling vomit of lunch from the day before, cramping legs that are threatening to break under competing spasms in each muscle, and to top it off: CHAIN SUCK AGAIN!@#$%@! I am broken, defeated, and I have lost my resolve. This will be my first DNF! ….but Blair won't let me! I want to chase him down and strangle him with my chain!
He rolls easily up the climb to the next aid station. He does not mean to mock me with his fluid effortless peddling, but it is an absolute chore for me to keep it together. Blair urges me on, and we finally make it to the aid station, at the aid station, there is hot soup, a steel drum band and a slight let up to the down pour. Finally my stomach is quieter (warm noodle soup), my cramps are lessening (warm soup), and I have music in my ears. Blair tells me that we are more than half way, when we weren’t, and he's not going to let me quit.
Most importantly, my friend Blair stayed with me to help me through my dark zone. Spirits were higher as I rolled out of that aid station, and I am happy to say that I finished Le Tour style with my teammate and good friend by my side. I don't know if I'll do that race again, but if I ever hit that wall again, I hope to have him around. Thanks Blair!