It’s extremely cold at the start, 40 degrees or so. I have lost all my acclimation to the cold as it’s been almost a month since I’ve ridden in anything less than 55 degrees or so. I put on all my clothes and choose my shoes with covers to keep out the chill. I end up a little late. The start was in a church parking lot with no facilities so I stop at the first gas station 1 mile into the ride. The other eight riders head on into the morning in a mass of blinking red lights as I dash into a Mapco to pee.
I spend a few miles riding by myself before catching the group right at the 200k/300k split I lollygag at the rear behind the four other riders before slowly moving to the front and riding away. I spend the next few miles disappearing up the road, winding around the foothills and in and out of the foggy dips in the terrain. The roads are smooth and then a little bumpy and narrow and then smooth again. We pass the Sumatanga Camp area and I see signs for a bike race later in the day as well as the support van roaming around, fun! Somewhere in there I take off my cold weather cap, my vest and my pullover as it warms up. I do this without stopping and am impressed with my on the bike acrobatics to make it happen. Everything stuffed into my Tangle frame bag makes it ballon out in the front but it seems fine and does not rub my legs. I fish around for snacks as needed. Shortly I am at the second control and the RBA, Bruce hops out of his car. We chat for a minute as he signs my card and then I am off.
The next section is quiet and secluded. There is a nice tailwind that pushes me along the chip seal and I can see for quite a few miles ahead as the terrain is flat and open. I reach the control and head inside for water, several members of a large family are slowly working through the bathrooms so I pass and decide to just pee up the road. Bruce appears as I exit the store and is excited to see how fast I am riding. He takes my picture and tells me that he is going to let everyone know that I am on fat tires and hammered fenders and still riding fast.
More tailwinds and smooth roads push me along. I stop to pee and get a few thorns hopping in and out of the bushes. A little blood and I feel silly but it’s fine. I am enjoying how scenic the ride has been. We will be on either side of the ridgeline the entire ride so there is always something to look at. I pass by an airport and a retail area, fast food restaurants billowing smoke into the air and delicious grilling smell fills the air. I see a unopened pack of 13 donuts that apparently fell of someone’s car but decide to keep moving. Keeping stops to a minimum is important for a good time. Before I know it I am riding over 59 and looking for the first restaurant stop, a KFC for me. It’s just me at this control so I head inside and get a soda and receipt please. I have a little mountain dew and then refill my bottle with water and a bit of ice. A country looking fellow eating with his son regards me with suspicion and turns entirely around in his booth to stare at me as I clank around the restaurant. And then like that I am back on the road, the wind is different on the east side of the ridge but I am still making good time.
The roads have a little more chip seal here and there is a bit of traffic as I pass by a production facility for garbage trucks. There are dozens of different models, shiny and new lining the roadway awaiting delivery or final production. Interesting to see them before they get beat to hell, reminds me of how cycling shoes are always so nice before the road breaks them in. I feel good, no pains, riding strong drinking and eating well. I have a little stomach ache so I drink more water, the weather is mild and hydration is hard as it never feels like I’m sweating. After a few miles my stomach feels better and I eat a little more. I reach the midway point and feel great, Bruce signs my card and I head inside for a water, a small Starbucks coffee drink and a pee. Outside I chat with Bruce for a bit and ask for an update on the other riders. Everyone seems to be riding well, minor mechanical for one rider but otherwise they’re moving right along. I say goodbye and get back on the road.
Into quite a headwind, not really it’s mostly mental. Wind in my face I ride along, buzzing from the caffeine. I ride too hard, the 120mg of caffeine has been too much at the wrong time and I put in too much effort heading into this control. I feel too good to eat and am bonking as I reach the control. I am ravenous and the bars or gels in my bags do not sound appetizing. I look for a McDonald’s but as my friend says later “Jacks! You were in the country!” So I settle for a Arby’s. I order and Bruce appears, we talk as I eat my fries, have half a mountain dew and half a roast beef sandwich. The food tastes like the best thing I’ve ever had and I eat too much too fast. We chat a bit more and then I am off again.
Riding through Ft. Payne is fun. There’s a little traffic but the roads are wide and people are nice. A car show in the parking lot of a repair place, a museum dedicated to Alabama (the band) and lots of shop windows and pedestrians to look at. Now I start to head downhill. Too much food is sapping my energy and the headwind is picking up. Flags are at full sail and I getting tired. Mentally I am struggling as well. My legs feel drained as the blood is all in my stomach working through a full meal. Ugh why did I do this again, I can’t eat regular food on a ride I guess. I have a mild headache that I think is from too much caffeine. I keep pedaling and try not to pay attention to how many miles are left.
Now I’m bored, tired, my feet hurt, my hands hurt a little it’s windy and I am not having fun. I listen to a little music on my MP3 player. It’s nice to listen to it through the external speaker as it sits nestled in my top tube bag. Much better than a headphone. I haven’t listened to the music on here in almost 18 months and some of the songs are atrocious and very bad. I skip around quite a bit. My emotions are strong as I ride up and down the rollers into the mild headwind. Shortly I am singing along to Florence and the Machine and trying not to cry. Probably the low point I suppose. After a million years I reach the next control south of Attalla, I get a snickers and water and feel a little better. I think the food has finally digested and I start riding a little stronger.
The final control is the longest but I keep going, racing the sun I play math games in my head. I figure I would have made R60 time had this been a normal 300k, then figure out I am easily going to hit R70 time. Then I spend some time trying to backfill my average speed between controls. It helps pass the time. Tinny synthwave beats from my top tube bag as I ride along through the day. Sun is setting and after the second epoch of riding I start to see familiar terrain from when I rode through here 12 hours earlier. I get excited and my feet hurt a little less and I pedal as little harder. As dusk gets closer and closer I pull up my leg warmers so my ankle bands are visible and then perform the same trick in reverse of putting on my reflective vest. All while riding! I enter downtown Springville and sprint through, for a few seconds anyway before my legs signal their strong disagreement. I’ve been telling myself I can walk the last hill for the past few hours but once it’s here I’m fine. Into the small ring and up I go. A mild descent and there’s Bruce filming with his phone in a surprisingly full packing lot. Stopping feels great and it’s like all the pain leaves my body instantly.
Overall I am surprised by how good my legs feel and how awful everything else feels.