Locked In A Seven Mile Box

One. Two. If I had kept counting, I might have hit 150,000 before the
day was through. But who’s counting when you haven’t hit the main road
and almost twenty-four hours lie ahead?

The stream of clicking chains and reflective glasses turned onto the
main road, the first of countless right turns to come. The pace quickly
increased as the strongmen in the race began asserting themselves.
Topping a short rise, I heard my friend behind me say, “Collin, it’s
about to be just you and that recumbent ahead.” I glanced back and, sure
enough, the pack was a couple hundred yards behind. I didn’t give it a
thought and kept going hard, figuring the fast ones would catch up soon.

A half mile later, they arrived. A new friend that I’ve talked with at
my previous two races quickly said, “Hey Michigan!” and our group of
seven or eight riders settled into a line zipping ahead of the peloton.
Passing back through Middleville was special, as most of the town
–that’s not saying much–had come out to cheer on the race as it went
by. I’ve never experienced that before and being at the head of the race
made it something to remember.

Our pack of riders kept the routine of pulling about 5-10 minutes each
before moving to the back through the first checkpoint at 34.1 miles and
about halfway to the second checkpoint. We hit a big hill and off the
back went Dave Meredith (my friend from above) who is 59 and finished
RAAM in 10 days 4 hours back in 1990. Now we were down to four plus a
couple recumbents that sat pestering us like gnats, taking advantage of
our draft on the flat sections, flying by on the downhills, and climbing
like stones on the bumps. Those of us riding standard bikes were
annoyed, but there’s not much you can do. I quickly deemed them “Draft
Leeches” — the first of many droll phrases that frolicked through my
inner monologue during the day.

After checkpoint two at 70.4 miles, we lost another rider. Now there
were three. We wound through some twisty roads, up and down, trees, no
trees, wind, no winds, smooth roads, and frost-eaten heaps. At 96 miles,
we hit checkpoint three. The temperature crawled above 90 degrees at
this point, but we had a tailwind back to Middleville. We quickly lost
another rider and it was down to two, myself and a big guy named Scott.
With the tailwind, we averaged 26.3mph for this section, arriving back
at the middle school where our crews were in under 5:30 for 121.6 miles.
Not bad.

At the school, I met up with my crew for the first of numerous bottle
swaps. I had two friends, Will and Maria, who had graciously offered to
lounge around all day and babysit me while I rode myself silly. Will is
a monster athlete, trains with Olympians and generally crushes everyone.
He owns a bike shop in town and lives just down the street. Maria works
at the hospital and is Will’s roommate. The two of them were fantastic
all day and night. Drive-by sunscreens, ice socks, bottles, bananas, and
an occasionally testy, though mostly loopy Collin were all endured by
the two of them.

Following the big loop, Scott and I shifted to the day loop, 23.5 miles
past some lakes and nice forested areas. The wind and temperature were
really picking up at this point, but the two of us were riding well
together. On the second time around the day loop, I was really
over-heated and had to stop and dump water on my head. Scott started
cramping a little bit later. Nonetheless, we kept a strong pace for the
remainder of this lap and one more after it.

At the end of the third lap, Scott’s cramps really picked up, and he
dropped off behind me. The temperature had shot up to 95 degrees, and
all I wanted was an ice sock to wrap around my neck. I was going to tell
Will to improvise something for my next lap, but lo and behold, as Maria
was handing me fresh bottles, Will says, “Can I wrap this thing of ice
around you neck?” Of course! He read my mind. This ice sock might have
saved my race because at least two of the people I had been riding with
and one Draft Leech dropped out of the race with heat exhaustion/stroke.
A life in the desert has helped me here no doubt. However, Scott wasn’t
coming along for this lap, as I’d built up a six minute lead over him.

So there I was, old dunderhead Collin riding off the front of the race
again, just like Balltown, but instead of 95 miles to go, I was staring
down the gullet of 15 hours locked in my head, with brief interludes
with Will and Maria. Well, I’m not in this line of racing for an easy
time, and off I rode. I knocked out two more day loops, putting my total
for the first 11:15 of the race at 239.1 miles. You might remember I did
242 miles in 12 hours at Calvin’s Challenge, clearly training is making
me stronger.

After finishing my fifth day loop, I switched over to the night loop,
where I would remain for the next 12:45. The night loop was six mile
rectangle. The access road to the school is 0.75 miles, making it 7.5
miles in total. I settled on stopping every three laps to switch
bottles, grab some food, and make another lame attempt at humor.

By this time, I knew I was well in the lead. I hadn’t had a soul pass me
on the road the entire time. I had left a wake of destruction and just
had to maintain it for another 12 hours. No problem!

My world reduced to “a two-square mile box of pain that somehow takes
six turns and then you end up where you started” as I described it
sometime in the middle of the night. Life broke down into the headwind
section, the tailwind section, the downhill section, the uphill section,
the twisty road to the school. Lather, rinse, repeat…and repeat…and
repeat…thirty-one times.

At some point in the evening, I started playing scenes from movies in my
head, starting with “Terminator 2” because I was feeling like a machine
at this point. Later, it was “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”,
inspired by the flashing lights of all the racers going around and
around. Finally, I hit “Apocalypse Now” as I played “Flight of the
Valkyries” while dashing along in the tailwind and repeating “The
horror. The horror.” as I hit the uphill section. Again. And again.

I was progressively more entertained with myself as well. The highlights
of my inner monologue, some of which made it into my outer monologue
were:

“At some point my legs are going to blowup like the Hindenberg, and
you’re going to see a mushroom cloud on the horizon. That’ll be me!”

“Okay guys, I’ll see you on the beach!”

“Man, it’s like Close Encounters out there. If I come back and you guys
have built Devil’s Tower out of Clifbars, I’m really going to freak
out.”

“My sensations are good. My mind is tranquilo. I will continue to ride
my race.”

“My legs just woke up!!!!!”

To Maria: “I discovered I can fit a whole banana in my mouth.
Uhhh…maybe I should just stop talking now.”

and my favorite that only made it out post-race:

“Everyone keeps trying to jump on the C-Train, but the ticket price is
too high!”

I spent most of the race consuming Perpetuem (a mix of malodextrin, soy
protein, and fat), Endurolytes (electrolyte capsules), and water. Will
was constantly goaded me (correctly) to eat more solid food. I was only
able to eat bananas throughout the day, as the heat was stirring a fetid
brew in my stomach. By night, I could eat a third of a Clifbar per lap.
Routines were essential. I didn’t have to think much. I would sip water
on one section of road, take a bit of food on another, sip water, then
Perpetuem. Over and over.

The majority of the night was me pedaling alone. One time, a group came
by, and I jumped on the back for half a lap. They were going fast
because the front rider was calling it a night and just burning out his
legs.

The wind had howled all night, at least 20mph, which I know because my
aerobars “sing” when the wind is going that fast. Lightning perched on
the horizon, leering and cajoling, but never decided to come play.

Around 4am, my legs finally blew up. I spent one lap going very slow. I
found a nice lady to talk to, and we rode side-by-side commiserating our
foibles. I told Maria to switch over to two laps between stops thanks to
my slowness, and plodded on again.

Then the rain started.

I had been so hot all day, the rain was a welcome reprise for a bit.
Being cooler really helped me out, spawning my excited yelp of “My legs
just woke up!” as I zipped past Maria. However, I was coated in salt.
Lots of salt. At one point, I had about one millimeter of salt crust on
my legs, covering my shorts, and soaked into my jersey.

Imagine what this salt does. It turns into very fine-grained sandpaper.
What was I doing? Slowly sanding away my skin in places where you’d must
rather have skin than no skin. Now, completely soak yourself in water.
What happens to that salt? It becomes saltwater. Where does that
saltwater go? Exactly where you don’t want it to be, namely the all the
places in your nether regions that have been rubbed raw, just like a
carpet burn.

So there I am. It’s 5:00am. And now I can’t sit on my saddle because the
pain is too much. I rode about four miles standing up and grimacing
every time I tried sitting again. Coming through the checkpoint, I told
Maria I was going to need my chamois cream. Fortunately, the rain
continued and flushed all the salt water away. That, or I just blocked
the pain, I don’t know. Finishing that lap, there was Will, having just
woken up, holding my tube of DZ-Nuts. I waved him off, said everything
seemed fine, and kept going. Two hours to go, and there was a small
chance of hitting 480, so I didn’t want to stop.

I finally found someone to ride with at this point. A 20-year old baby
who had been riding with his mom, so he was a bit fresher. When he saw
me, his first remark was, “You’ve been riding like a madman all day!”
Mission accomplished.

Having a bit of a draft, a cooling rain, and a diminishing wind really
helped refresh me, so I managed to regain a respectable (>20mph) pace
with this kid. Coming into the last lap, I realized we had about 30
minutes to go and there was no way I was doing two laps in that time, so
the two of us just pedaled easy the whole way through.

I crossed the finish line for the last time, fist bumped Will, and
extracted myself gingerly from my bike. Distance? 472.6 miles (by their
numbers, I had 483 on my computer). Total time? 23:55 Time on the bike?
23:32.

The awards ceremony took forever, but when they read my mileage and
everyone gasped and clapped wildly, it was worth it. Numerous people
wanted to shake my hands, saying congrats. One old veteran of this race
came up, I believe his name was Jim. He had just completed his 10,000th
mile in the race this year. Racing in the 70-74 bracket, he recorded 381
miles! He said how impressed he was with my ride, given the conditions.
When he said he first rode this race before I was born though, I said,
“No, I need to be shaking your hand. That’s absolutely unbelievable.”
That’s going to be a moment to remember.

We drove home. I bought Will and Maria breakfast. I had two. I slept
about three hours at their place. Woke up. Ate. Zoned out. Watched some
movie about stealing time with Justin Timberlake. Zoned out. Ate. Went
home. Ate. Slept.

My trophy is a really cool silver bowl engraved with “High Mileage Male”
and various race info, like this being the 30th anniversary race. At
some point of time this week, I’m going to drink a Belgian ale out of
it. That’s the only appropriate thing to do.

My goal was for this electronic tome to take the requisite 24 hours to
consume. Hopefully I succeeded and all of you are now suitably
exhausted.
Peace and pedals,

Collin

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