Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The 2007 Gut Check

Ominous beginnings foretold of what was to come. On the way to Spearfish on I90, I couldn't help but notice the big flags at various truck stops standing straight out pointing northwest. Laura told me to stop looking at them, but I couldn't help it; they taunted me like a big old tongue sticking out of a face. If they could speak, I am positive that they would have said, "This is for you and your silly bike race. Let's see what you got old man!"

We hit Spearfish and Laura's cousin Chuck's house close to dinner time. I called Mr. Bite and he and his family met us at the Bayleaf cafe in Spearfish. It was nervous anticipation that we shared as we discussed our plans for the ride the next day. How far should we go between stops? What to eat? When to eat? How much to drink? I say that it was nervous discussion, because I don't think our discussion changed any of our plans, just confirmed that we were as ready as we were going to be.

A good night of sleep, thanks in part to a cyclobenzaprine (flexoril) I took for a tight back, was greatly appreciated. I slept in until almost 9:00 mountain time. From then on it was a blur until the race started as we ate breakfast with Chuck, went to Lead, SD to see our new niece, hurried to Walmart in Spearfish for last minute supplies for the trip, and boogied to the Wyoming border for the start of the race.

At the border, I met up with fellow Vermillion riders Craig D. and Joe P., my friend Royce W. from Rapid City, along with the aforementioned Mr. Bite. I also hunted down fellow Tour de Kota friend "Spiderman" and we talked briefly but would only end up riding the first 14 miles together as he went on with a slightly faster group and we decided to let them go and regroup with our smaller entourage at Belle Fourche.

The race went off at 3:00 Mountain Time (MST) as planned and after we regrouped in Belle Fourche we headed towards Newell still into a headwind. So I don't have to repeat myself over and over in this post, there was NEVER a "W" in the wind forecast all weekend. It was either "E", "SE", or "NE". Overall about 410 miles of headwinds and about 25 miles of tailwinds when we were going south a couple times. The other side of the weather story was that between Belle Fourche and Newell was the last time we would see the sun for the rest of the weekend. I know, you think I'm kidding, but I'm not. It either was overcast, a heavy mist/fog, or it was raining. Those were the weather choices for the remainder of the weekend.

By the time we hit Newell, the weather was already looking a little grim. We heard that there was a storm coming and that it was moving real slow so we might have a shot at missing it. From Newell on, the weather was getting more and more ominous. Lightening was sharp in the distance and the front was closing in along with darkness. Into the wind, up and down the hills in that area and now the threat of rain. About three miles from Mud Butte, the light mist/light rain became a torrential downpour. We had SAG vehicles ahead and behind us. I was in the front of the pace line and I could barely see the car in front of me. We seen the lights in the distance of the rest of our vehicles and when we got there the lady in the house basically demanded that we get in the house. Even though the rain literally hurt us it was raining so hard, we were lucky. Flooding in Hermosa totally ruined houses, even knocking them off their foundation. Between Sturgis and Piedmont the interstate closed due to water/mud going across it (I heard they actually had to blade the mud off with a maintainer). The picture in the Rapid City Journal the next day was of hail that was 2-3" across. It was hard to feel lucky with what was dealt to us on the bike, but I did.

We ended up with ten people who stayed in the house that night. I had to get her address so that we could send her a thank you for her hospitality and I joked when I got it. "PO Box 2, Mud Butte, SD...is that 2 out of 3"? "Nope, it's 2 out of 4!". Everybody got a good laugh out of that one. To top it all off, her house is attached to the post office and she's the postmaster. Gotta love small town South Dakota!

Having to wait out the storm and the nasty winds that came with it left very little chance of us finishing the race. Here we are, 72 miles into a 435 mile race and we are breaking from basically 10pm to 5am without being on the bike. Royce was already nursing a sore calf, so he told me that he was just going to go back to Rapid and take it easy with the calf since he too didn't think we had a prayer of finishing. Without Royce, we soldiered on towards Faith in the morning. We arrived there at 7:59 am (thank you bank clock) only to find out that no restaurants were open. We saddled up and headed to Dupree where we had a great breakfast, but it cut into our time as they had one cook and it took a long time to get our food.

Our next goal was Ridgeview. Mr. Bite promised that it was downhill from there to the river (he drove it on the way out). I'm not sure what he was mixing with his drinks on the way out, but it was most definitely NOT all downhill as there were "rollers" all the way to the river. It wasn't bad, but we ribbed him about it relentlessly. Once we hit the river there was a decent climb on the other side before last few miles into Gettysburg. We hit Gettysburg around 7:45 and ate at the
local steakhouse. It was there that Craig informed us that he was going to let us go, sleep for a bit, and make a decision. He was having trouble feeling various parts of his anatomy, mainly his left arm. It was also there that Snakebite and I came to the conclusion that if we were to have a prayer of finishing this that we would have to make Redfield before sleeping.

It was now 9:00pm CST and we had 80 miles to Redfield. I had an internal giggle as I changed a line from "The Blues Brothers" in my mind: "It's 80 miles to Redfield, I have two full water bottles, 8 packs of Gu, it's dark, and we have two SAG vehicles....HIT IT!". It was dark and foggy, a wonderful combination that I normally would NEVER ride in except in a race like this. About 40 miles and we hit Faulkton at Midnight. Nothing was open at all. No gas stations or anything.

Even the bar downtown was just closing up. After a brief stop and discussions on when and where to stop, on we went for Redfield. A few short miles out of Faulkton, we got our first taste of tail winds heading south and we took full advantage of them average between 20 and 25 mph the whole 15 miles. That might have been stupid on our part to waste that energy,but it sure felt great to not be hammering into the wind for a change. When the road went back East towards Redfield, the road also became horrible. As you are following the blinking lights of SAG vehicles you simply do not have the perception to know if it's a small or large crack on the road. More than a few profanities were uttered between me and Mr. Bite on that stretch of road.

We were getting so tired that we decided to break the last 15 miles into two stops. I remember thinking that I bet that even Nick and Melissa (friends who got married that day) were already in bed and us stupid idiots were still out here BIKING of all things. In the midst of the first stretch the county deputy slowly went by us giving us a REALLY weird look (after all, it was around 2:30 am). Shortly thereafter, we took our final break before going into Redfield and the deputy stopped by and talked to us. I think more to find out what in the heck we were up to than anything. After being satisfied with our answer he was on his way. We finished off our miles and pulled into Redfield at about 3:05am. After getting totally confused looking for the "other" hotel in town (Super 8 was full because of a rodeo) and getting a few too many bonus miles on the bike, we stopped in the middle of the road and threw our bikes in the van to search for the hotel, 232.50 miles from where we started at 5am the previous morning. OF COURSE somebody would have to drive by at that time in a huff and shout a few obscenities our way. That was partially Laura's fault for yelling at them to "chill out" as they went by. Not always a wise move with people who are up at 3:00 and probably drunk. We finally found the motel which looked like "MAYBE" one person was staying at. Snakebite tried the doorbell repeatedly on the office door and knocked a couple more to no avail. I surmised that they probably thought "Great...drunks at 3:15 am...NO THANKS" and didn't bother to answer. I told Laura to call Craig and Liz and see if Craig would be interested in helping SAG if he was indeed finished. They agreed to be there by 5:30 in an INCREDIBLE show of friendship and camaraderie which will not soon be forgotten. It was now 3:30 and I had two hours before my alarm was due to go off.

5:30 am the aforementioned alarm on my cell phone went off. I shut it off and literally stared at my phone stupefied trying to comprehend ANYTHING that was going on. Within seconds it went off again, but this time it was Craig letting me know that he was in Redfield and needed to know where we were. I woke up Mr. Bite and we got ready to go. I felt bad as I hoped to meet up with a good friend from my college days but I didn't think he'd appreciate a call at 3:00am, or 5:30am for that matter. The very SECOND I pulled the bikes out of our van, it started raining. It was becoming so typical that it didn't even phase us. The first 15 miles leaving Redfield were by far the most painful of the whole journey for me. Everything was tight, I had a heck of a headache which I had already popped a 600mg ibuprofen (thank you VA!) but there was no relief. When we stopped at our first scheduled stop (now on the "bonus miles detour"), I could tell by looking at Craig's face that he was worried about both of us. We sucked it up and rode another 15 miles where Craig offered me one of his "Amp" sports drinks. I accepted, ate a little and got back on the bike. Within very few pedal strokes I realized my headache was completely gone. My legs were slowly coming back to me and life was looking up! Then we got to turn south for our last ten miles of a "somewhat" tailwind which we ran consistently over 20mph with to Doland.

We took a longer break there than we probably should have before we headed out towards Clark. A few of the locals struck up conversations with us including one younger man who came up and asked if we are in that "insane race across the state". Once that was confirmed he shook our hands like he just found new heroes. We had decided to split the mileage between Doland and Clark in half and we met up with Laura at a roadside part about seven miles from Clark. Laura was also fragged from all the driving, so having Craig and Liz onboard allowed her to go ahead and get a couple more hours of sleep. It was there we got some bad news from Craig and Liz. I miscalculated what we would have to average to finish. I had it in my head we had until 5:00 when in reality it was 4:00. Suddenly we had to average about 14mph WITHOUT getting off the bike to finish within the 48 hours. New added stress as Mr. Bite and I left the rest area. I decided to try for 15.5-16.5 mph and keep Mr. Bite on my wheel. It was comfortable for me and then he could take over when I needed a quick blow here and there. It wasn't to be. I had to back down a couple times and the third time I dropped him real bad in a short time. I slowed down briefly and looked back only to see Mr. Bite's head hanging low. I felt a horrible turmoil as I had to decide to either stay with my friend who I have already ridden 370 miles with or try to finish within the time limits. I pulled up next to Craig and Liz and told them to stay with him until he caught up with his SAG and catch me wherever they could. I left my buddy on the field of battle and it still bothers me looking back.

I was alone...solo...for the first time in this race. I decided that now was the time to lay it ALL on the line and just hammer away and hope for the best. The wind was getting stronger, but I had to see what I could do. Amazingly I had quite a bit left in the tank. I was able to hold 20-22 mph for quite awhile. Then a really weird feeling started setting in. The best I could describe was a feeling of vertigo. While riding comfortable it was fine, when hammering with basically all I had left in me, I was almost getting sick to my stomach. I took turns hammering and backing off and was still keeping an average speed around 20mph. Now, everything was hurting. Seeing the "Watertown - 5 Miles" sign was a great confidence booster but it came at a price...HILLS. It was a pretty good climb towards Watertown at a time I needed it least. It was about that time that the Snakebite SAG went by honking and waving. My friend was done. More motivation to finish what we all started. I had to do this for all of us, not just me. Craig and Liz were following me to see me finish, not to see me quit now.

We got into Watertown and amazingly hit most lights green. The two red lights I hit did not cause me to unclip which was wonderful, because I'm not sure I could have if I wanted to. At the one light I yelled at Laura who was ahead of me to hit Starbucks on the edge of town for a break. She gave me a thumbs up. As I seen her turn at the light and I didn't even consider going around corner to connect to the road to Starbucks. I unclipped, and walked my bike down the ditch instead. After getting my Venti, skinny, no-whip, three shot, white mocha, amazingly Mr. Bite pulled in with his bikes in his truck. A very brief discussion ensued as I had to get back on the road. He told me to finish strong, which I had every intetion of doing.

Onward to Goodwin, SD where I was told it was all downhill to the border (about 20 miles). Amazingly, and VERY lucky for me, it was. I was really starting to pain now. The fog outside of Watertown was as thick as soup and I was completely out of it mentally at this point. We had already decided to cut the last 32 to the border in two so we stopped at about 16 miles to "refuel" my body. Craig served up his last Amp to me and when I checked the time left I realized that we had plenty of time to make the border. I also decided I was hurting bad enough that we should break the last 16 in half as well. However, when I got to the point where we were about to break, the downhill was enough to convince me that a stop my hurt more than it would help so I waved for Laura to continue on. I stared doing a raised countdown with my hands to Craig and Liz following behind as I seen mile marker 407 (5 to go), 408 (4), 409 (3), 410 (2), 411 (1). When mile marker 412 was in site, I pumped my fist in the air doing my best Lance Armstrong imitation and Craig honked the horn over and over behind me.

47:15 minutes. :45 minutes ahead of the 48 hour cutoff. I was numb. Numb that I made it. Numb because I hurt. Numb because I had to leave a friend behind when I really didn't want to. Numb because I have such an awesome wife to follow me across the state on such a journey. Numb because I have such awesome friends that they would follow me for the last 140 miles even though their race was over. Amazed that out of the 17 solo riders to start, I was only the third, and last to finish this epic race. It was an incredible feeling that I know I will never forget. Will I do it again? Probably. Next year? Probably not. I would rather have fun with a leap frog team next year and let them experience a little bit of the excitement.


Jason said...

Wow Kevin, that is amazing. Congrats!

Snakebite said...

Great job! BIG thanks to you and Craig and the support crews for a tough, but good weekend.

Spoke-N-Sport said...

Great job! Great writing! I stood up from my desk chair and now my legs hurt.

Anonymous said...

Great job. Congratulations. Love the write up. It would have been hard with sun, it was hard in the wind and rain. It's a terriffic accomplishment. I'm sitting here smiling at the story and your effort.

Congrats again.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. It is a privledge to say I have ridden with you!

Unknown said...

Yes, what a ride, and I enjoyed reading all about it. Way to go.

Herself, the GeekGirl said...

OUTSTANDING! And what a great finish picture! Congratulations - when will you have daughter do it with you??