Okay, so I set out to start the 2004 bike season by competing solo at the 2nd Annual Monkey Chucker 24 hour race near Greenville. The weather looked good to start – even though they were forecasting thunderstorms Saturday afternoon – and I did my warmup stretches, got well hydrated, dressed, and ready to go. During this time, I had the pleasure of meeting another solo competitor – a young man named Wes who was friends with a long time competitor and friend of mine, Matt. Wes had run support for Matt at this event last year, and had decided to try his hand at solo racing this time around. He and I chatted for a while, and discovered that we both had the same race goal this time – to complete 12 laps, so we wished each other well, and prepared for the start.
The first two laps went off as usual – in other words, with me at the back of the field, just cruising along at my normal grandma slow speed. Being the only woman in a field of 14 solo entries, I wasn’t too terribly concerned about being behind. I figured I would just do my best, and even though I doubted I could ride faster than any of the men, I hoped I could perhaps outlast some of them. By my third lap in the mid afternoon, the sky really seemed to be getting dark. I thought I heard a clap of thunder, then one solitary raindrop kissed my cheek. The next thing I knew, I was being pelted by windswept rain which immediately drenched me, all the way from my snow leopard helmet cover down to my waterproof cycling boots – which I had fortunately changed into after my first lap because they were so much more comfortable than the shoes I had started out in. I still had about three more miles to go on this nine plus mile lap when the thunderstorm started, so by the time I passed the timer’s tent I must have looked like a drowned rat. Danny, the timer, informed me that they had decided to call the race for an hour to let the lightning and thunder pass, so I headed off to the trailer to change into dry clothes and rest a bit. This race was different for me, because this time my husband, Steve, who normally does support for me, was also racing solo. This meant that I would basically be on my own, to do my own support – and I have to admit that that definitely makes things more difficult.
During this rain delay, lunch provided by the very generous trail landowner, showed up. This was voraciously devoured by the racers, including myself, and was a welcome change from the variety of gels and sports drinks I had been sustaining myself on throughout the afternoon.
So anyway, after the hour wait, the skies again cleared and the race resumed. On my fourth lap, I was greeted by a very different trail than the one I had become used to. The normally quick drying, never slippery roots were now rather glassy and unfamiliar as it continued to drizzle on and off so that they continued to stay wet, and the damp sand was clinging tenaciously to every part of my drivetrain. I struggled through the trail, but found that I was slowing down even more than my usual snail’s pace, and began to get a little worried. However, after arriving back at my pit area and changing again into clean dry clothes – which I continued to do after every lap – and grabbing a bite to eat, I headed back out to tackle the slippery roots and logs.
Dusk was falling when I again returned to my pit area, so I quickly attached my lights to my bike and helmet. Normally at home, since I have very poor night vision, I run two lights on high when I ride. This time, however, since Steve would be using his extra lights, and I would have to allow time to recharge my own, I was reduced to using one light at a time, on low. This greatly hampered my ability to navigate the increasingly slippery roots as night fell and dew began to cover the ground.
Also, as evening fell, I felt a sharp stabbing pain in my low to mid back which nearly prevented me from moving my spine at all. Luckily, Wes had an extra hot pack which he very kindly gave me to wear on my back. This is probably what enabled me to even finish the race at all. I was still in a great deal of pain, but the moist heat from the pad soothed the muscle spasms enough for me to at least sit on the bike.
By midnight, I was getting quite frustrated with my inability to see, the pain and numbness in my hands, the back spasms, and the slipperiness of the trail, and had gotten very discouraged at having to walk so much of a course that I can usually ride easily. Steve and Wes accompanied me on a late night lap, but I felt even worse by the fact that they had to wait so much for me while I walked sections that in the daytime I could ride with no trouble at all. I was feeling like everyone was passing me a million times on the same lap!
At this point, Steve apparently got his second wind, and the final devastating blow to me came when I was agonizingly preparing to go out for another wee-hours lap and he came bee-bopping in, excitedly chattering about how great he felt. This is the last thing you want to hear when you are suffering in hell. Even though I love him dearly and he is my soulmate, I could have ripped his throat open at that point….
But, I dragged my weary self out to my bike again and went out once more. On this lap, despite feeling worse than I ever imagined I could and still ride, one of those little things that makes all the difference happened. As I was struggling along the back section of the trail, Carol came up behind me, and told me that she had a new respect for me, as she had only done half as many laps as I had at that point, and was “just dead". That little compliment, which she probably doesn’t even remember now, breathed new life into me, and I perked up and scurried on down the trail. On arriving back at the pit area at around 3 a.m., I decided to take a break until 4:30 in order to ensure that my next lap would be the “dawn lap" – the lap of rejuvenation and rebirth. It was so wonderful to be out on the trail and see the sun rise – that instant of clicking off the night light has to be the most definitive, authoritative, I CAN DO THIS moment of the entire race.
I continued to ride, taking short breaks as needed to try and rest my hands and back, until roughly 9 a.m. At this point, Wes and I talked about how we sadly realized we probably were not going to achieve our 12 lap goal. He had crashed badly during the night and injured his back as well. We decided at this point to go back out at around 10:30, and just get 1 more lap, which would put us each at 10 laps. Now granted, I seriously doubt I could have forced myself to get back out and do an extra lap, which would have put me ahead of him with 11. But even if I could have – which I doubt I could – I felt it would break a code of honor between us. After all, it was Wes who had enabled me to finish the race at all by giving me the heating pad for my back. So I held true to my word, as did he, and we both headed back out on the trail at 10:30 to finish 1 more lap, each completing 10, with him several minutes in front of me.
All told, I believe I wound up in 10th place overall for the solos. But a big surprise came during the awards ceremony when I was awarded a huge trophy for being the first place solo female (a bittersweet victory since I was also the only solo female). All along, I had been told that no separation would be made based on gender. However, Andrew and Danny, the race promoters, told me later that they felt it was only appropriate to recognize the top female solo, and that they had planned to give this trophy all along, but wanted it to be a surprise – which it definitely was!
But the biggest surprise to me was how it was the little things that kept me going – Wes giving me a heating pad, Carol’s compliment, every rider who passed me and said “good job" or “keep it up", and the folks in the timing tent with their smiling faces and encouraging words all night long – those things really made the difference for me, and reminded me to never discount or take for granted the smallest things, because no generous act or kind word is ever wasted.