The short sleeves was nice while it lasted, but I bundled back up for the descent down to the fish hatchery. I stopped just outside the Cove Creek campground gate, hooked my light up, and tested it out before heading to the second mandatory. Just then Zeke showed up, my trail angel! He helped to lift my spirits; I just wish he had brought my spare set of legs. After a brief exchange of words, he left to head to the Sunset Motel, where a nice hot shower and warm bed awaited him. I began the journey, once again into the unknown.
Forest road 475C goes ... on ... forever! 8 miles of meandering slowly up to the Bracken Mountain trailhead. At least the grade was pleasant and my foot was happy again. I also seemed to have a little more fuel in the engine, as it was not sputtering like it had been going up to Farlow Gap earlier. I crossed paths with Barnabas about 2/3 of the way up; he was coming down, but stopped to give me some motivation. He was looking strong! Oh, to be in his shoes at that point.
|Night 2 was approaching quickly!|
The ride back down to the fish hatchery was quick, but the temps were dropping quickly. The short pavement ride back up 475 to the campground was beginning to irritate me. How many times now? The little rises had turned into exhausting climbs. It was here that I had my first doubt of being able to complete the task at hand. Just keep moving forward, I told myself. My legs were almost dead, my left wrist was achy, my shoulders were tight, and was that a headache coming on?
|Checking in after Stage 3|
It was 7:45 when I checked in. I grabbed Stage 4 out of the box. Another predetermined route, mostly forest road, but a doozy nonetheless. And then the first chill hit me; I shook it off. I hopped in my car, turned the engine on, and began to prepare. Eat, drink, yawn, change clothing, open packets of chemical warmers, look at the route again, yawn again. I layered up just like I had the first night (in hindsight, big mistake).
Stage 3 Stats:
Distance: 34 miles
Elevation Gain: 4300 feet
Average Temp: 50 degrees
At 8:35 I hopped out of the vehicle, reattached the Brahma bull of seat bags (this housed my 40 degree sleeping bag. I was having a hard time telling my fingers what to do and it took about 5 minutes to accomplish.
I was definitely NOT in a happy place as I began the climb up 475B. When I realized that I was not generating enough power to keep me warm on this climb, I began to formulate a bail out plan ... just in case.
|The face says it all.|
After taking a selfie of the first CP, I decided that if I did not warm up by the time I hit the horse stables, I would head back to camp. I had a long season ahead of me and did not need to make a stupid mistake that would jeopardize the remainder of the season.
Heading down 477, I entered the first stage of hypothermia. I stopped shivering, experienced mental confusion, and drowsiness (I began to yawn like crazy ... weird!?!) That was the slowest I have ever descended 477. Heading up 5058 would only have put me is harm's way. I still had the task of getting back to camp ... 8 miles away. I don't even remember pedaling back up 276. I suppose I was on autopilot.
Once I arrived, I immediately hopped in my vehicle, turned the engine on, and proceded to thaw out. After about an hour, I felt human again, but utterly exhausted! I managed to get out of my riding clothes and climb in my sleeping bag. Unfortunately, I forgot to set my alarm.
I awoke abruptly at 6:50 am, but what with the time change it was now 7:50 am. The competitor in me instantly began formulating a plan to finish. But it was quickly determined that I could probably only finish the stage I had set out on the night before. I was o.k. with that. I did not regret my decision the night before. I was only mad that I had not set my alarm to get an earlier start and perhaps still be in the running to finish the whole race.
I was on my bike by 8:30am. I had until 1 pm to finish stage 4. I had to pedal the 8 miles back down to the horse stables to resume Stage 4. The climb up Clawhammer was pleasant; the sun was out, the temperature bearable, and the body was happy again. It was nice to be able to shed clothing as my core heated up. Buckhorn and South Mills was fast and flowy. The gravel grind along 1206 and 475B was enjoyable.
|It was all rainbows and unicorns again.|
225 was upon me before I knew it; I almost blew by it. Let me tell you, after 150+ miles of Pisgah, 225 is a bitch of a climb! The kind of climb where you look around every corner expecting to see your turn, but all you see is more ribbon of single track.
|I was so happy to see this intersection, I think my smile muscles cramped.|
It was all downhill from here. Even though I was not an official finisher, I pedaled into camp a happy woman. Eric had tested all of my abilities. After 36 hours, 180 miles and 22,000 feet of climbing I was alive. My body may have been wrecked, but my spirit soared! Eric's races test you like no other ... and this is why I keep coming back, even though they are so damn hard! I have a carrot for 2015 now!
Stage 4 Stats
Distance: 59 miles
Elevation Gain: 5700 feet
Average Temp: 38 degrees (was 28 degrees at the point I bailed Saturday night)
I am proud to say that although I did not finish all 6 stages, I was only the second person to finish four. Barnabas Froystad persevered and conquered the course ... a huge shout out goes to him!
And, 1 week later, I have no lingering injuries or regrets. Ready to hammer out a power test this upcoming week and continue with a little gravel grinder, the HardFord 50 next weekend.
Thanks Eric for one helluva weekend!