We made decisions about what to take, what to wear and made our way from the parking lot to the check-in, which was a few hundred yards up the road to the trailhead proper. It was unsettling to make our way in the pitch-black, but after a corner or two we saw some lights ahead and were able to navigate in the dark to the check-in spot. After getting number plates on bikes we were ready for the rider meeting. It was scheduled for 5.50 am with the start just after 6 am. It was quickly obvious, however, that the race organizer was far too wordy for a 10-minute meeting and more importantly, there was no evidence of the dawn yet. As the minutes ticked by, we passed through 6.10, 6.20, 6.30 a.m. and still not enough light to start. The group was fidgety and no one was enjoying standing in the cold waiting. Finally about 6.40 am the 30-35 of us silly enough to sign up for 100 miles of single-track were ready for our modified Le Mans start. Like the Le Mans race car start, where drivers had to run to their vehicles, this means that the riders have to run some distance to get to their bikes and start on the course. It is a popular way to start mountain bike races so that there is separation of the riders as the group heads out on narrow trails. Unfortunately for me, I hate running. I mean I really, really hate running, so it seems like a lousy way to start a day of cycling. In this case, however, there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm for sprinting off in the cool early light and mostly people jogged up the hill. I personally grabbed the rear pocket of PW’s jersey and just tried to limit the damage he was going to do on the run so that we could hang together. In retrospect, I should have just let him go.
We hopped on the bikes and made our way out of the starting camp. Thankfully the first section was in a clearing and it afforded enough light to get started on our first climb. I was lacking any oomph, but figured that I would shake off a week of too little sleep, a cold, early start and eventually warm up to the task ahead. As we rode, the early jitters and adrenaline of others wore off and everyone settled into a pace and place. I know that PW was anxious to keep up with the faster riders, but I also maintained confidence that my slower start would pay off several hours into the day as the miles went by. As I had predicted, PW did have to hang around at the top of climbs to wait for me. Also at the bottom of descents. And also randomly after technical sections. To his credit, he was patient about checking for me and making sure that we stayed together. At least at this point in the day. I had noticed, however, that the day was wearing on, but that the miles were not doing so commensurately. In fact, my saddle-bound calculations were that I was on a 13-hour pace, but the late start and prediction of early nightfall meant that there were barely 13 hours of ride time available, which meant I had to keep up the same pace with no decrease. Tough, but possible. I think. At least as long as nothing untoward happened.
It was shortly after this series of thoughts that I noticed my chain knocking around more than usual, which soon changed to getting sucked into the wheel. This usually means that the rear hub isn’t spinning freely. It crossed my mind that my pre-ride bike check included a note from the mechanic that the rear hub seemed “notchy” and he would follow-up later, but that it would be 100% for the ride. The guy who left me this note is a top-notch mechanic and cautious, so it didn’t occur to me to wonder about it until the chain started hitting the chainstay regularly. Not a great sign, but maybe something that would work its way out and, at least, I had no reason to think it would get worse. At least I kept thinking that until my rear hub started barking at me. It started intermittently, but it did get progressively worse. And, as the bark got worse, the chain suck got worse. I started to wonder how the day was going to go, since I was about 3 hours and 20-some miles into the event at this point. We had an aid station coming up and the opportunity to check out the noise and at least ponder solutions. To my surprise, the aid station included a fully set-up mechanic. Well, I say fully set-up, although he didn’t have a rear hub replacement, but still. He did look it over, however, and had a suggestion for me. He suggested that I quit riding. Not the news I wanted. Also, I figured it wouldn’t get any worse, and it already appeared to be shot, so I didn’t know why I shouldn’t just head back out and see how it went. I did, however, suggest to PW that we re-adopt the Top Gear Rule (If a friend falls, leave him there) and that he go on without me. I wasn’t riding very fast, I didn’t feel very good and my rear hub wasn’t helping my progress. It turns out, that was the high point of the rest of the day.
After we headed back out of the aid station, PW and I did agree that he should go on without me. We figured out that he still had time to try to get in the full 100-miles, but if he stayed with me another hour or more, he wouldn’t have that chance. So, despite our earlier intentions, we split up. Misery loves company, but in this case, misery was going to have to make it alone.