I had just hauled ass back from Stage Three and got the card for Stage Four. As I'd kind of expected it was an exact route gravel grinder, all the way over to Bent Creek Gap on the other side of Pisgah and then retrace the route back. Eric was there expressing total conviction that I could get this stage done. It's not that bad, he kept saying, bargaining with each of us to get back out there. And really, I had 12 hours left in the race and the route didn't look bad. Just long. I needed to regroup and eat but I was psyched to get back out there.
There were plenty of racers and non-racers sitting around the campfire making the scene and they were making it really hard to stay focused on the task at hand. I'd been trying not to get too comfortable each time I came through the campsite so I would be less likely to drop out. I'd brought no tent, no hot food, no beer and was trying not to talk to people too much. I had noticed that my ipod was kind of low on battery though, and felt like I'd need it for the long lonely gravel grind. I had to turn on the car engine to get the charger to work and here's the exact moment when I lost my momentum. With the car on, the heaters started up, and I decided to lie down in the cozy-looking car while I ate some food. 5 minutes later I was fighting sleep and it took all I had to get up, load up my pack and get back on the bike. I let Eric know I was starting on the gravel grinder and started up Cove Creek trail.
Almost immediately I was walking the bike, on the first tiniest uphill. I walked it for a bit then stopped. I was feeling beat. I'd been thinking that at some point out on the route I'd pull over for a nap but I didn't expect it to be a quarter mile from the campground. I stopped walking. I wavered back and forth a bit on my feet. I sat down. Then I lay down. I could still hear the music from the campground, that's how close I still was. I got up and rode back to tell Eric I had to rest. He told me if I slept for a couple hours but was back out by 5, I could still get the stage done before the noon cutoff time. He seemed so sincerely convinced. Okay okay. I wasn't ready to call it a day anyway. I set the alarm and sacked out in the car.
I woke up at quarter til 5 and looked at the map again. I started calculating and I wasn't sure I actually could get it done before noon despite how convinced Eric was. If my nap had been out on the side of the trail I would have done it but all things considered I decided to just drop out. I was really sad I hadn't grabbed a couple more checkpoints during the third stage, since the night riding had been really fun and I'd still had a good rhythm going.
Out in the dark alone late in that third stage I felt great, I'd never been more fully engaged in the moment-- just the forest, the trail, the bike, the mind, and the body. I could have gone down Butter and maybe ridden to one other Stage Three checkpoint, and made it back to the campground by 3am. That would have been good... but I am still really satisfied with my race and not too regretful to have dropped out while I was still in a good mood. Two people finished the race, and there were four DNFs with more checkpoints than me. But everyone that lined up Friday night gets major congrats for being a part of this. The ride was its own reward, and the only people who really lost out were the people who didn't make it to the start line.
With a couple hours of rest, some strong coffee, and a bacon-intensive breakfast I was feeling pretty good again. Good enough to join some of the other dropouts and go hit Butter Gap to make up for missing it the night before. It was a great little ride, a nice dessert course on the weekend.
I'm so glad I got to be a part of this fantastic event. It really stoked the fires. Equally physically and mentally challenging, never boring for a second, and 100% good times all day. Thanks Eric and Erinna for putting this all together. I'm looking forward to PMBAR next month, and hoping Pisgah Productions holds another P36 next year. What a beautiful race.
Plus we used up Clay's "emergency" race whiskey
Photo from Clay's blog