One last straightforward bike leg and we are done, folks! The biggest challenges are finished, the cutoffs (up to the final one at the finish line) are beaten, the monster packraft/trek is finally over. One ride up and over a mountain, and we can finally rest. How hard can this be?
Leg 12 - "Mud and guts - and a bit of duct tape"
[33 miles of biking, 70% gravel and 30% paved, 3300' gain and 3500' loss] (or more, depending on route choices...)
One short video clip to start us off - here is the status of Dave's blisters at this point:
And wait, one more challenge to cap off "Marcy's Bad Day" (although I have to say, watching Dave hobble just now, I believe I have nothing to complain about for this race) - OK, the question is, how to get through this transition without freezing? We were all wet coming off the river, so the team grabbed clothes and headed for the group bathroom, otherwise known as the park service toilet. It would have been fun to have a picture of multiple racers piled into this small space, but I have only this photo from scouting (and why did I take this picture during scouting? Maybe to note that it was well-stocked, I can't really say, but now it will probably be the lead-in on a Facebook post unless that video above shows up instead - we can only hope):
Immediately we were cold, and I suddenly realized I had messed up the packing for the final TA. I had not figured on being wet coming into here, not sure why not. I had a change of shorts and socks but nothing else dry. I thought it was going to be hot and dry down on the plains. Maybe on a different day (or different time of day).
The TA folks awesomely gave us warm water bottles to put under our shirts (and we later used the water to mix up Spiz, double awesome). Thank you, wonderful people!
I focused on moving about to stay warm, starting work on my bike assembly. Finally I joined my teammates in the group bathroom and described my wet plight, still shivering. Everyone jumped in with offers to help, and I ended up with a nice assortment of dry clothes to change into. Nevermind how clean anything is, as long as it's dry! Thank you all!
OK, back to work. John watched me "attack" the transition with vigor. Actually, I might have been zombie-slow, but I was motivated in my mind at least. I had the most fun ditching things, finally we don't have to carry packrafts and all the accoutrements! To heck with the extra assorted gear as well! We were almost done, I need only mandatory stuff, some Spiz, and some food.
I might have gotten a bit over-exuberant in tossing things into the bike box with glee. But it made me happy. With most everything stuffed into the Pika seatpost bag, I ended up with a nice light pack, yay for that.
I helped fill water from the river again. At least I'm a tiny bit helpful to the team. Leslie had long been ready and already had the entire paddle bag compiled. This woman is good at transitions, I tell you what.
It was dark when we finally rolled out, ready to tackle Casper Mountain.
So, here's the thing. We had heard snippets of some kind of rumor about an issue with this leg, but we hadn't been able to figure it out or get any real details. Just that it had taken some teams a long time - ? John and I had previously driven this entire section and it was completely straightforward. This blog post should read "and we rode over the mountain and then we were done." So what was the deal? No idea.
We rode up the highway, Leslie leading the charge and my legs now feeling great and ready to power up behind her. Yay for finally getting hill-acclimated! We made the turn to the east, passing a team sleeping on the side of the road (maybe the Italians?).
Then as we were motoring (and I mean, Leslie was on fire) up the hill, a couple teams were riding back toward us - ?? Lots of questions. This leg was supposed to be so simple. Three turns (one of which we had already made), one climb, one descent, and then done.
Here's where we should have considered that not only was there something going on that we didn't understand, but also it had caused at least two teams to turn around. We should have considered an alternate route immediately. But for some reason I had it in my mind that route 220 was off limits to the north of where we had turned. Nope, that was actually to the south of the last TA, for the previous river section (see the most recent blog post for the map). Here's the rest of the map for this leg - nothing off-limits:
But we didn't stop to check the map and I didn't immediately voice my belief about the off-limits highway.
Even more oddly, for some reason I assumed those teams must have given up on officially finishing the race. We certainly weren't going to do that! So with all that addled-brain stuff going on, I was gung-ho about continuing up the road.
We made sure we hit the correct left turn onto dirt, no navigational problem there. A short way up, THERE'S THE PROBLEM. Rain in the afternoon had greased up the dirt road and turned it into sticky mud, the kind that rolls up on your tires and gunks everything up (see also: Rattlesnake Racing in the rain). Oh I see. And I didn't even figure out until after the race that it was a dynamic system - a nice sunny afternoon = dry road. Rain for a few hours = nasty conditions. Some teams apparently had no issue. Other teams had it bad. Our timing was on the "BAD" side for once in the race.
There were racer tracks all over the road, people trying anything to make it work including riding in the grassy ditch, trying to stay in vehicle tracks, and walking up through the muck.
I was game to push on uphill, but not everyone was into doing that for lots of miles. Especially Dave and his foot blisters - this would entail a whole lot of hiking. As soon as we got my brain straightened out and verified that it was legal to ride around on the highway, we had only to decide whether to add a bunch of highway miles vs. continuing up into the mudfest. Once Dave expressed concern about his feet, it was not longer a question in my mind - we were going around.
Seeing photos of mud-covered bikes and racers afterward, I think we all agree it had been the right move.
I guess we had to go up that dirt road to decide it for ourselves.
While we were coming to terms with turning around and retracing our route, Dave asked another question. He was having trouble keeping his head from flopping over forward, and what did we think about duct taping his head to keep it upright? We laughed but he was serious. His neck muscles were overtaxed from looking down at the map for so long, and they would no longer work. I've heard of a Tour Divide cyclist having a similar problem, so at least it wasn't a completely random surprise.
OK, back down the hill. I was kind of surprised how far we had made it up the dirt road. Coming down wasn't too bad, and partway down we saw the Italian team coming up the hill. They asked why we had turned around and we told them they would soon find out. It was like every team had to go see for themselves and make an assessment.
Right as we reached the pavement again, a truck came down the dirt road and stopped to chat. The guy reported that "4 miles up it's concrete" - now that was really weird. Was it possible the condition of the dirt got better? Because it most certainly wasn't paved until basically at the top of the mountain (many miles higher), that was one thing I could say for sure. We decided to file that information away and continue with our "go way around" plan.
We cruised down the paved road, with mud flying everywhere. At least it came off OK and our bikes continued to work well. It sure could have been a lot worse if derailleurs and brakes had stopped working. And if we needed to box the bikes again instead of washing them tomorrow.
It was a long, long downhill, jeepers did we really just zoom all the way up this? Normally the downhill coast would have been no big deal. Tonight it was a big deal. We got cold. We got sleepy. This was the hardest time for me to stay awake, it was finally catching up to me. At the bottom I dug around in my bags for my caffeine pills or Starbucks Vias - oops! I guess I had ditched those.
Gathering at the bottom we all declared that we really needed a nap ASAP (I wasn't the only one falling asleep on the way down, it turned out). So we pulled out the space blankets and bivy sacks. Puppy pile! That helped keep each other warm for a while and maybe we slept a little. Mostly it was good for clearing up the bleariness in my eyes.
I might have actually been asleep when a kind local fellow shined a flashlight over the edge of the ditch to check, "Are you all OK?" Yes, thank you! We're fine, just trying to take a nap. I guess we should have turned off our blinkie lights and hidden the bikes so the good samaritans couldn't spot us.
Soon we were cold anyway so we had to pop back up and ride. At least it wasn't downhill for the most part, and the pedaling warmed us up. We all started talking and asking each other questions to keep everyone awake. I was doing a lot better now, and Dave and I took the lead while Leslie tried to keep Tom awake.
A friendly sheriff stopped to make sure we were OK - he had received a report of a team that didn't speak English knocking on someone's door in the middle of the night (maybe that was Team Uruguay?). No, we're good, just a little cold. He told us about a convenience store about 8 miles ahead - thank you!
It was a long 8 miles, but there was a gentle uphill to keep us warm and the road was quiet and peaceful. And thank goodness, the store was open. The woman inside said that there was a team there earlier but they weren't open yet so she couldn't let them in, bummer.
We were so grateful to have a warm haven, warm coffee (my first caffeine of the race), and egg sandwiches. I also grabbed a couple snacks for the climb back up the mountain from the north side.
Tom slid down onto the floor next to the potato chip stand and basically passed out:
Dave was wandering around with duct tape on his head, and I don't even know what this is that I'm holding:
We were a complete mess, and it struck me as completely hilarious, especially every time I looked at Dave's head. It gave me uncontrollable giggles for a few minutes and still makes me smile when I think about it.
Finally we all piled in a heap in the corner (after verifying with the nice lady behind the counter that it was OK) and took a nap. It was an awesome nap, warm, even kind of comfortable sitting on the floor. It was my first time sleeping in a convenience store and it was a good one.
Leslie roused us and we got our stuff together. I was most excited to dump the river water out of my bottle and bladder and replace it with clean fresh water from the bathroom. The day was looking up! "Marcy's Bad Day" was officially over. Only a toothbrush would have made it better, oops, I guess I had ditched that too.
Thank you, Loaf N Jug! Sorry about the mud all over the rug and floor:
Our bikes were still there patiently waiting:
We headed back into the early morning darkness. We briefly debated grabbing a hotel room so Tom could get some real sleep (we had until 1 pm to finish), but he was game to try riding up the mountain now. Excellent.
We turned uphill at "my" Starbucks and worked our way around to Casper Mountain Road where the road started up a steeper grade. A couple teams came flying down the hill toward us, and one racer yelled "Smart Move!" Presumably he was talking about riding around instead of going over. It's still unclear how much time we lost with this decision, but certainly it was overall an easier ride (and a lot better for the bikes).
My legs were happy and ready to climb. Leslie seemed unfazed like always. Tom was moving slowly but still pushing upward and determined to get to the top. Dave was managing his blister issues. One last big hill!
OK, let's just focus on one switchback at a time. Done with that one, take a rest. One more switchback, rest, repeat. The sunrise views were so lovely. We could see Casper and surroundings in the early morning light, and we could see where we would soon be heading (after reaching the top and the elusive CP35).
I paused at the overlooks, enjoying the view and thankful for this beautiful morning. And for not being cold, I was quite over that. For now, I was nice and warm and happy that my butt wasn't killing me after a gazillion miles on the bike this past week.
Further up, almost there. More cars started passing us, the road was waking up. Most drivers are courteous and I wave at everyone coming toward us, trying to engender friendly reactions. A couple guys are in a huge hurry though; maybe they've seen a few teams up here before us and they're ready for this race to be over too.
Dave navigated us up to checkpoint 35 in the cross-country ski parking lot, and we were so happy to finally get there! It was worth pulling out the camera:
Even worthy of a selfie:
Dave was particularly photogenic that morning:
I asked if anyone had spare full-fingered gloves (I had ditched my wet ones along with my wet overmitts back at the last TA). Leslie came up with a pair of extra socks, would I want those? Heck yes! My fingers were very thankful. Everyone was finding ways to keep me clothed and warm this last leg.
We started gliding, then flying down the road. Everyone else let me take the lead so I wouldn't be left behind, and I tried to use everything they had been teaching me about downhilling. I think I did OK, and apparently it was fast enough to surprise them. Not fast enough for one of the cars behind us, but I wasn't stopping. He got around eventually on a straight section and the other drivers were much nicer. Our race experience was book-ended by rude folks (the first bike path and the last road). All the rest of the Wyoming population was so nice and wonderful!
Another team was making their way up the hill, doing great y'all! It might have been the Italians, I'm not certain. Pronghorns might have run alongside us down the hill, if I'm not making that up?
Volunteers took our bikes so we could walk across the line together:
Gathering to walk across the line:
I think we're going to make it!
Medals from the race directors, Margo and Mark:
Lots of hugging and crying and smiling:
Congratulations to Dave on finishing his first official expedition race! Congratulations to Leslie and Tom for finally finishing an expedition race together!
I love this man (and this photo):
We were all a bit emotional with relief and joy:
Nice one from Randy:
One last checkpoint to punch:
Total at the finish = 139:17:55, 30th place (and 2nd-to-last team to complete the full course)
It initially looked like we finished mid-30's (out of 58 teams) but that was adjusted later. Some teams had been moved forward on the last paddle/trek section due to weather, so our final tally was 30th place. Excellent!
Nice tape job by Leslie - it held up, and held Dave's head up:
They weighed us to compare to our pre-race weight. The guys both lost several pounds, I was about the same, and Leslie actually gained a tad, that was interesting.
Tom was so happy to be done!
We were treated to a taco meal that was actually pretty decent. While we were eating, Dave discussed his duct tape situation with (who I assume was) the medic.
Time to remove that sticky contraption - with some tugging (ouch):
And some scissors:
And some hair removal:
It was rather fascinating to watch (and laugh at):
John did a nice job of documenting the procedure:
OK, now we just rip the rest off, ready?
Minus the tape (and a good bit of hair):
We were thrilled to be finished, beating the cutoff times, completing the whole course, methodically and with the whole team together. We earned this one:
Big thank you to the race organization! They took care of all kinds of big and small details, they answered all kinds of pre-race questions, and gave us an amazing and interesting course with tons of variety. We really enjoyed it, well done!