This years Death March. It was not the same plan as previous years, but I feel it went just as planned. Over the winter I had a few thoughts on partners for the Death March, but everything fell threw. At one point I conceded that maybe this year I would not race. I have yet to miss a Gravel Grovel or Death March, but I figured it would happen some day. I was at peace with it because I had not really been training hard this winter.
I had one person that I thought was on the fence about racing with me. I think I could have talked him in to it, but I didn’t feel right doing that if he really was not interested. He did contact me about someone else who was looking for a partner. I was not sure how strong he was, but at this point I was happy to just be racing. I needed the miles. After some communications it was determined to just get the mandatory check points and anything else near by. This is very different from previous years, but it sounded like a good plan to me.
Typically I spend Friday night in a cabin, but since I was late in my planning, they were all booked up. I really didn’t have anyone to share them with either so it really didn’t matter. I spent Friday night trying to get my bike back in to order. I was not ready for a long gravel/dirt ride. It was set up as my winter bike with the long travel fork and the big tires. I had some troubles getting everything to work, but it was as good as it was going to get. I just hoped it would hold up for the long day.
Saturday morning came early and I was on the road way earlier than I would prefer. I did end up getting there quicker than I figured. This was a good thing, but it was much colder than I was expecting. I may have to reconsider my thoughts on gear. My partner found me and after a quick chat, we were ready to hit it. At the start line the drew the remaining two mandatory check points. They ended up being easy check points to pick up with out adding a lot of miles. This was a good thing for our plan.
Since I had been out of the loop, I let my partner make the plan. He had a map and a plan. This had to be the least amount of time I had looked at a map leading up to the race. I knew about where the check points were and what the plan was well enough to get by with out looking at a map much. As the horn blew, we headed to the closest check point along with just about everyone else. It was only a mile away and it was very crowded. We snapped the picture quickly and we were back on the road toward our second stop.
As we climbed up the road, I could tell my partner was not ready to climb at the pace I was moving. We were at the second stop soon enough. We were moving pretty good so far over all. I tried not to push the pace too hard, but I was actually feeling really good. I could hear my partner breathing pretty hard and we still had a long day ahead of us. I told him to just go his own pace. He didn’t have to try and keep up with what I was doing. I was just happy to be out on the bike and it was all good. Once he understood that it we were good, I think he relaxed a little and started to ride better.
We decided to skip climbing the fire tower. The time bonus was not worth the effort or the amount of time it would probably take to climb it. There were a lot of people, so the traffic would have the climbing go even slower. Some of the roads were wet and soft. Plenty of mud spraying up on my face. I could not believe I didn’t think about grabbing the SKS fender that I have for my down tube. That is just how out of it I was on my planning. I was happy with how the bike was rolling and I was happy with how the tires were hooking up.
The trip out Comb’s road was a mess. I knew it would be soft and muddy. A lot of people were having trouble riding this section. I rode almost the whole section both ways. I climbed the hill both directions all but one section each way where the tire sunk in a little too much. I hopped back on and finished the climb. After the long trip out to Elkinsville, we made a change to our plan. We were going to take Story over and pick up a few more check points, but since none of them were needed and the original plan was to just get the required ones and call it a day, it was not hard to decided to take Comb’s road back. I was glad we went this way when I saw the VW Van rolling down the road. I could not have been happier when they were kind enough to share a beer with me. That was the best beer of the day.
Up to this point we had really been making some good time. We were averaging 10 miles per hour. If we could keep this up, we would be back in plenty of time to eat. The trip out to our second last mandatory check point was not as smooth and our pace slowed down. My partner was out of water and starting to hurt. This is when I realized that I had not been drinking very much. I was feeling really good and still had about a bottle and a half left. This means I had not been drinking near enough. I knew that he needed my water more than I did, so I gave him my second bottle.
We were still rolling and only had a little bit to go, but we were slowing down. We made it to Fleetwood and only had one more to go. The section between Fleetwood and Hickory took longer than I thought it would and I know he was really starting to hurt at this point, but we were on the home stretch. I kept trying to keep the spirits up and us moving as quickly as we could. I was ready to get back and eat. The lack of food and water was starting to catch up. Soon enough we were at Hickory and headed down the road to food. There was a little more riding in this section than I remembered. There was a section of road that I completely forgot about. Maybe it was because every other time before when I was riding this section, I was completely shot. At one time I even thought I made a wrong turn. He wanted to check at map, but I said I knew where we were going or well I thought I did. Turns out I did know where I was going.
We crossed the bridge and was back at the Horse camp in short order. They were just getting ready to start serving food and the beer was not tapped just yet. I had never been back that early before. I have had several times where they were just about out of food. I could get used to this, well maybe with a few more check points. We ended up right at the planned 50 miles and 9 check points. It took us 5:54 to complete our route. This effort found us in 43 place in the men’s division and 60th overall out of 151 teams. Not too bad at all. I will say that I was very happy with out well my partner held up. Early in the day I was not so sure. My plan was completed. I went for a nice long ride and had a lot of fun.
I can not deny I had some what if thoughts. I wish I could find a partner that is a little closer to my riding (some years faster, some years slower). I have had partners that were way faster than me and some that were slower. It is hard to figure out what fitness both riders are going to be in for this race. I know that this was by far the best I have ever felt for this ride. I am sure that the trip to Florida made a big difference. I am also not sure how I would have felt if we would have rode a lot harder all day. Maybe next year I can find myself in the same or better condition and just see how it turns out. Either way it will be all good!