How difficult could the last day be? Only 4800 feet of climbing, then a sweet downhill/flat finish to Playa bonita. The last day of crawling out of bed at 4am with my legs feeling like concrete pillars and my eyes so puffy I looked as if I had been in a boxing match. We had to wait around at the start for an extra 30 minutes ... in the cold rain. Something about a couple of the shuttles had not arrived. I put on my trashbag and also had a plastic bag over my head.
The start began by climbing back up the coffee plantation we had descended the previous day. What a grunt. Again, I enjoyed the descents, as that seemed the only thing I could do well in this race. Not near as muddy as yesterday, but I had to contend with a lot of support vehicles in my way. Nothing more irritating than not being able to "air it out" on a sweet downhill.
There was one superfast straight descent on ashphalt. 3 miles at 44 mph! I think I actually cracked a smile. At the end we had a sharp left turn. A racer was down in this corner: he looked pretty bad with his face covered in blood, but was being attended to by medics. I took this as a sign: Don't screw up on the last day!
Some rollers. Yeah! I finally encountered a hill I could climb with relative ease. Those were short-lived as I hit another loose, rocky steep climb. Not wanting to do any more hike-a-bikes, I was determined to ride, no matter how slow, this last hill. And I did. At the top, I refueled at the aid station and began another long asphalt descent. The rain was pouring down pretty hard, making it difficult to see. I tucked in behind another racer and hoped that he would lead me safely down the mountain.
The last 55k was flat, but not smooth. In between riding the railroad tracks were very bumpy, rocky, muddy roads filled with pot-holes (that could swallow a tricycle). By this point in the race, my crotch was so sore. Amazingly, no saddle sores, but this feeling in my nether-regions is as close as one can get to child-birth!
Starting on the first section of tracks, I said to myself: This is not so bad. The ties were concrete and U-shaped so that the middle of the tie was level with the gravel/dirt between the ties. At this point I was alone. I did see one rider up ahead about 100 yards. I saw him get off his bike and begin walking and wondered why. Question answered as I approached the spot: the first trestle. Only about 15 feet long, but with the rain pouring down, wet ties, and wet shoes, my sphincter factor was a 10. The ties across gaps were not concrete but normal creosote-impregnated wood. One tie was missing. I was nervous, but made it quickly over.
After another mile, I approached the second trestle. Now this was a different story. This bridge was 50 yards across. (First, let me give you a little background on my fear of heights. Climbing ladders makes me tremble with fear!) I tried not to think and just do. I picked my bike and held on to it so tight that I think there are permanent depressions in the frame. I took deep regular breaths and focused on getting from one tie to the other. The ties are about 18 inches apart. Along some of the trestle were 1" by 8" boards that were nailed down (but still wet and slippery. Time seemed to slow down. At several places there were rotten ties, wobbly ties or ties completey missing! What the trestle was traversing was a raging river 30 to 40 feet below! I could hear the turbulence of the river and tried not to look directly at it as I was crossing. The first missing tie I had to cross, I just about panicked! My inseam is 30" which is just about the width I had to cross. I have never been so scared in my life! What the hell was I doing? All I could think about was Carly and Charlie and wanting desperately to see them again. I hoped that if I did slip, as long as I hung onto my bike I would not fall into the raging river below. I made the first few gaps, but my progress seemed so slow. I was getting tired and as I stepped across the next large gap, my forward foot slipped as it landed on the tie. I felt myself going down. The next few seconds were a blur. What I remember is that I did regain control, but that my left hamstring felt like someone stabbed it with a knife.
Then I heard a voice with a Spanish accent. "Give me your bike." I looked up and the racer that had been so far ahead of me was right there with his bike on one shoulder. I handed my bike to him. He turned around and begain walking the remainder of the trestle carrying two bikes. A hand reached out and grabbed mine. A local had come out on the trestle as well and helped me finish crossing the trestle. I gripped his hand so hard! I made it to the other side, legs quivering with fear/exhaustion. I do not want to think about what might have happened had it not been for my guardian angels.
Jorge was the racer's name. He is a Costa Rican and has done this race several times. Needless to say, I stuck to him like glue for the remainder of the race. There were several more trestle crossings (none near as dangerous), but each time Jorge would carry my bike across. I just focused on getting to the finish. We helped to pace one another.
The longest section of railroad tracks was about 5 miles long. Most was relatively smooth, but there were some sections where there was little gravel. My full suspension soaked up the bumps very well. Some of the hardtails were having difficulty, but let me pass.
I heard the crashing of waves and soon saw the ocean and beach. Not far to go now. At this point we paralled the beach and were on a sandy road ... that was flooded. Most "puddles" came up to the bottom bracket. There were a couple racers just up front so I was able to know when to get off and carry my bike through the water. One "puddle" swallowed a racer whole! One second he was visible, the next he was swimming. I was able to laugh at that.
At one point, we hopped back up on the tracks. I was riding along when I saw a train approaching. How dare this train interfere with my wanting to get to the finish. Reluctantly I stepped off to the side to let him pass. As I climbed back on my bike I realized that my odometer was approaching 120k. The finish should be close. But then I was puzzled. I had not passed by aid station 4 yet ... which was supposed to me at kilometer 105. Hmmm! I could see in the distance what I thought was the finish. But as I approached it was the last aid station. Only 10k off of where it was supposed to be. Why would they put one so close to the finish? And why was my rear tire getting so squishy? I stopped at the aid station and realized I had another flat. Just great!!!!! I thought I could probably ride just the last kilometer or mile with a flat. But the volunteers at the station said I had another 10 k to go. What the hell?!?!?! I was so tired and emotionally drained, I had trouble fixing my flat. Jorge helped me with this as well. (I found out later that a trestle had collapsed and they had to reroute us, so it extended the stage by 10k.)
Jorge and I crossed the finish together. I have never been so happy. Having been through so much today, my eyes welled with tears. I was so thankful to be alive and in one piece. Someone definitely was looking out for me!
La Ruta is definitely the hardest thing I have done in my life. I am glad to have participated in one of the hardest mountain bike races, but I do not think I will do it again.
What did I learn?
1. No matter where we live, what language we speak, or what we look like, we are all the same and have the same desires of life. I met so many interesting people from so many countries. And they are just like me.
2. It is amazing what the human body can do when pushed to its limits.
3. My family means more to me than anything else.
4. I am still deathly afraid of heights!
Thank you, Jorge, for saving my life. And thanks to the tico who helped me across.