The race started with great flow by Canelo Hills standards. I was suprised to find my mind in complete peace throughout the first day. I normally have an ebb and flow of emotions as I settle into a bikepacking pace, but this day I was enjoying a mind which had settled into this place days earlier. Bluebird skies and a rapidly moving cloud deck above foretold of weather just over the horizon.
As I neared mile 15, I sliced my rear tire descending a narrow track after Canelo Pass. Without even uttering a curse word, I quickly fixed the problem...and moved on.....I was managing the variables. In a few more miles, I dropped my chain and lost the quick links....I added quick links from my tool bag and moved on.....I was managing the variables.
As I exited the Canelo Hills, I was astonished to see my time was only 15 minutes slower than my previous ride despite the added weight of bags and the two mechanicals. Moving into Patagonia, I stopped at the market for some soda, some ice cream and a spare tube from the bike rental place before heading north into the Santa Ritas.
I was happy to see Forest Baker whom I had met the day before the race, enjoying a cool drink before heading up the road.....
Stopping once more at Sonoita for my dinner and next days breakfast, I saw Jen Judge on the phone trying to figure out what to do with a sliced rear brake line....ride into Tucson to fix it and return onto the route, or scratch. I wished her luck and moved on.
As the sun began to set over Mt. Wrightson, I started descending the flume trail on my way to Kentucky Camp. At this moment....this very moment....I knew that if I never rode another mile of this course, I had found the moment I look for so often. The flow of the trail, the effortless banking and swooping, the sea of grass set against the purple mountains made me sing for joy...I was in it and loving it.
Nearing Kentucky Camp in darkness and with a dull ache in my knee, I was happy to be in good spirits and have water for my 1st night...I was managing the variables. A few minutes later, Jen rolled into camp. I was happy to see her there managing the variables despite a major mechanical. Throughout the night...the wind picked up and rattled the porch at Kentucky Camp...the variables were conspiring to manage back.
Waking to a cold mist of freezing rain, the wind was running pretty hard but my knee felt great, I had a burrito in my stomach and I was ready for day two. Riding out of the gulley, the wind which had been blowing hard down low turned into gusting 40mph winds on the ridgeline doubletrack, blowing me off my line from time to time. Stinging hail, graupel and sleet pumled my face...but I was warmly clothed and told myself this was just another fine day of winter weather I push into on skis...so why should I feel otherwise on a bike....I was managing the variables.
Climbing farther up into the AZT, I looked over my right shoulder to see another beautiful sight....another moment of beauty in the midst of such turmoil......
Catching up to Jen in a few minutes who was having to down walk sections due to her brakeline, I remarked that between her climbing knees and my good brakes...we made a complete rider. We chuckled and yo-yo'd on the climbs and descents for a few miles until I last saw her at a gate just behind me. I later found out that this is where she scratched.
All alone, I continued to climb until I was stopped in the death mud just a few miles farther. The irony that my fear before the race was talked about, with a picture of my last encounter with death mud, and now realized was heavy. The variables began to stack up on my tally sheet. I did the calculus in my head, figuring that the geology of the area would have me in this soil type for at least another 10 miles, possibly 20.
I was able to manage my knee just fine as long as I kept it warm. To keep it warm, I had to be moving. To keep moving, I had to stay out of death mud. I tried making forward progress, but doing so dragging a non-functioning bike uphill and downhill which gets heavier and heavier with each clay filled step is a losing battle.
Checkmate....the variables win. Crawling out to Helvitia road, I made my way to the intersection with Hwy 83 and crawled into my bivy and bag where I went numb from the cold and mental exhaustion of the decision I just had to make. Shivering uncontrolably, I was quickly joined by another rider, Tanner, who also made the same independent decision. As we waited there next to the highway for our pickups, we seldom talked...quietly coming to grips with what just happened. Tanner later returned to the spot where he was picked up and is now back on the route after having cleaned up his bike and allowing the conditions to dry out.
I spent a sleepless night, disgusted by my warm bed and wishing I was still in the fight. I was disgusted that each of my training rides over the past 4 months amounted to more time, more mileage and more vert gained than what I was able to muster these past 2 days. I was in full pity party mode, until I read about Ray. I made the decision to throw in the towel based on the variables...Ray did not.
I managed the variables as best as I could until the variables manged me. I raced the race based on a strategy to go out steady and conservatively slow to preserve my knee for the last half of the course where I knew I could open it up and finish. Had I continued on into the night on the first day for just another 15 miles, I would have passed the section that later turned into death mud....but hindsight is what they say it is....it's bullshit. I find myself in good company in the DNF 300 club...but the decisions that led me here still sting. I'm envious of those still out there, fighting to the finish.