TABR Day 4: Gettin' Weird
3:30 am alarm. No snooze, immediately out of bed. Inhale a cold burger and fries from the night before as you pack up various belongings in a dingy motel. Sip on motel room coffee quickly as you slide on a chamois that hasn't had enough time to dry from the rinse a few hours ago (not a good feeling). Push out the door at 4 am into 45 degree darkness.
There is no glamour in TABR.
Some people ask me how I can remember all these details so far past the race. With a life event so epic as this, it’s really hard to forget any of them. Each day, all day, you're living in these details. There are no emails, phone calls or texts to distract from these details as they occur. They are etched vividly into your mind. Some of them you hope to forget, or not have to repeat at any point in your life. We haven't hit any of those... yet.
And so another day begins. Technically it's still Day 3 of racing (Day 4 won't tick over until 6am) but in the moment it's just another hour of a large slur of time. The first 15 miles out of Cambridge, ID are pitch black- countryside (I think) and a singular bike light. The winds are noticeable, but not outrageous- a side wind at the moment but the route is about to turn north right into it, as I work my way towards Council, ID. An occasional truck whirls past, and they must wonder what the hell I’m doing. The first town of the day is Council, which is about 30 miles in- this is where yesterday’s goal was but that ended up being a little too ambitious. I roll through in it’s quiet sleepy state. I continue on and look back down the open road to see the headlights of something quite small, and low to the ground. It’s Marcel, and he quickly comes up on me. We exchange a few pleasantries and catch up on the past days. He stayed in Council and was just getting going. He pulls away in perfect velomobile fashion. The conversation ends with something like “see you at the next climb”. It happens exactly that way- just a few miles ahead, the road pitches up, and I catch back up to him.
The stretch from Council to New Meadows is congested with logging trucks. Pair that with blind corners, tight shoulders and cold temps and it’s making for a not-so-pleasant morning ride. I can't imagine being in a tiny velomobile on a road like this. I've pulled over to add any remaining layers I have- it has to be about 40 degrees as the sun is just about to peak out for the day. Another 15 lonely miles pass and New Meadows comes into view. I see the velomobile and Jason’s bike leaning up next to a local diner on the main drag- a hearty breakfast is a warm welcome and I join the gentlemen inside. Jason is discussing a developing Achilles issues, and considering making adjustments to race plans. We all order food (likely which could feed a family reunion), drown our veins in coffee and try to warm up. These moments of rider camaraderie will become quite priceless as the days wear on. When you think about it, there are only about 100 people in the country right now that understand the mental and physical state that you're in- with maybe ~10 of them in the general vicinity of you. When you run into each other, it's great to spend some time chatting and trading war stories.
Time to hit the road again, and we have about a 30 mile gradual descent in front of us, which follows the Little Salmon river down into Pinehurst, ID. It's amazing, especially on a loaded bike with tire legs. As the road flattens out, I win another flat tire and pull over to change it (I'm tubed in the back and still tubeless up front at this point). I had been planning on raising my handlebars for the past day, and feel this is a good opportunity to take care of both mechanical needs. Jason passes by as I’m working on the bike- a small head nod that all is OK and acknowledgement that we'll see each other soon. Onward we go and continue to wrap around the what is now the Salmon river. It’s beautiful, except the shoulders are tight and traffic is constant. I come up on The Hippy, and we chat for a little bit. He’s having some challenges as well (knee I believe) and is hoping for some relief through a slower paced day. We chat for a bit, but the road is too busy for side by side riding, and thus we carry on solo.
I find Jason at a small diner in Whitebird, right before we begin our next climb. He mentions considering making plans to stay there for the day, and try for a better day tomorrow with some additional rest. I order two BLTs to pack into the bike, and then head back out for more miles. BLTs are becoming a thing.
The next climb takes us onto some very remote backroads. It's absolutely magical- no cars, no humans, and amazing scenery. Time to enjoy half a BLT and the view.
It’s about time to look for lodging accommodations for the night. Each morning always starts out with a goal location. As the day progresses, that goal typically changes. Not until the afternoon do you really begin to hone in on what is reasonable for the day. Lolo is looking a bit too far to hit, given that there is a 90+ mile gradual climb in front of me to get there. I dig into the route map and pin point a small lodge close to the top of the Lolo pass- Lochsa Lodge. I call quickly and make a reservation… along with a request- could the kitchen make a burger/fries, right before the close, and leave it in the room? She obliges, and my day is made.
I roll on and eventually make it to the beginning of Lolo pass, about 5 pm. Signs read “no services for 88 miles”. Yes, 88 miles… and it’s a gradual climb. I double check rations and fluid- feels like I have enough... and set on my way.
The road up Lolo pass is nice and smooth and with little traffic… in addition to that there is the Lochsa River flowing rapidly right beside the road. Most would find this majestic- and for the first two hours it is… but as darkness sets in, the sound of the river begins to play tricks with my spacial awareness. There are no lights on this highway- it is pure darkness. I can't tell how close the river is anymore- I can certainly hear the rush of water, but it's echoing off the rocks on the other side of the road. At times it feels like I'm about to fall right off the edge of the road into the abyss of this river. My eyes join my hearing- I'm seeing things on the road. Deer that likely don't exist. Potholes that are just shadows. I must look drunk. Exhaustion is setting in and temperatures are dropping rapidly. Every 5 miles or so I pass a pit toilet area on the side of the road and think "I could just stop there for the night and cuddle up in that shitter".
I missed a vital data point as I set out on this climb- I didn't note the mileage at the beginning. With no cell service, I can't pin exactly how much further it is to the lodge- … 5 miles, maybe 10 miles? Not sure….. just keep pedaling and maybe you'll find it before you collapse.
About 10:30 I finally see the lights of the lodge come into vision. I roll into the gravel parking lot, and now the greatest challenge of the day- which building is the lodge? And which little cabin is mine for the night? Everything looks the same, I’m tired and can't seem to manage this little task. It takes everything I have to really study the cabin map they left for me on the door of the lodge. Finally it makes sense, and I stumble into my cabin to find that burger and fries- cold but still one of the best meals I've had in my life. My value of "food availability" is quickly changing.
I devour, start a small fire and crash out immediately. The days are starting to get a lot harder…