Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Big Test Part Two - Electric Boogaloo

Well, I woke up from a night of sleep.  Not good sleep, just sleep.  My camp neighbors were pretty loud and it was all I could not to go over there and piss on their fire.  Instead, I yelled, "SHUT TF UP" from the comfort of my hammock.  It worked, but then the thoughts in my head wouldn't shut TF up.

I was tired, no doubt.  Sleepy?  Not so much.  I drifted in and out of consciousness throughout the night because I was full of anxiety.  Why?  Because I had just ridden a bicycle far, far away and had no idea if I could make it back home.  At least I was comfortable.  The new, compact sleeping bag?  Perfect.  I felt like I had the hammock camping thing worked out to my liking.

I didn't set the alarm on my phone, instead relying on the rays of the sun to wake my up.  As daylight slowly creeped up on my campsite, I was out of the hammock and packing up.  I ate a little food and drank some coffee stuff I'd bought at that "restaurant" the day before to get me going.  And if that wasn't enough, I had my son there to cheer me on.

Well, Lunchbox isn't one for the cheering.  He supports me though.  

Anyway, with everything packed up just like I had it on the way out there, I hit the gravel road in the early morning hours while it was still cool.  I really enjoyed the solitude, even though my legs were a protesting.  Oh look, more climbing!

The sun was starting to warm everything up and my legs were slowly coming to life.  I knew I had a long ride ahead and the goal was just to pace myself and take it easy.  I did that by enjoying my surroundings.

Once I left the campsite, my route home was quite a bit different.  Basically I think I was trying to ride every gravel road between there and Charlotte.  Gravel grinding is for roadies, but this was bikepacking so it's okay.

Besides, dirt roadies don't want to mess up their Strava times by stopping for pictures and shit.

I felt pretty okay.  My legs were a little tired, but the main issue was that my ass was pretty sore from siting on the saddle for so long the day before.  I just kind of ignored the pain and made sure to enjoy myself while I was out there.  At one particular point I remember looking over my shoulder and seeing a neat view..

Small mountains so you don't usually get views like that out there.  I really dig it though.

I did less planning for the return trip and I'm not sure why.  Did I think I would be on autopilot the whole time?  Did I think I wouldn't make it back?  Am I stupid?


I was definitely moving slower during the first part of the day, but as the miles ticked off I felt better and better.  About 25 miles into my day I started to get hungry.  I mean really hungry.  Luckily I spotted a shopping center with a Subway in it, so I rolled up and ordered one of everything.  Not really, but pretty damn close.  I sat for a bit, trying to get my body to understand that I wasn't giving up and I would be riding my bike all the way back home.  Once we had that understanding, I connected to the wifi there and let everyone know that I was on the way back and doing just fine.

And most of all I was having fun...

It's really big, right?  You know you wanna touch it.

Just like the day before, I was looking for little victories.  There weren't really any to be found though, other than not dying.  The heat was getting to me and I had no idea if I would run out of food/water before I had a chance to fill up again.  I just kept rolling though, because that's all I could do.  And then, a small victory...

I was closer to home for sure.  After I took that photo I texted my cousin (who is a Purple Heart recipient by the way) for some motivation and he did not disappoint.  Back in the saddle and I started heading towards a place for food.  Any place.

I ended up at another convenience store of course, and I had a pretty decent meal.  I put down some sugary cola, a couple of chicken and cheese quesadilla thingys, and some chips.  I topped off my water bottles and prepared myself for the last 25 miles home.  I was so tired, but I was starting to feel like I might actually complete my journey.

Once I started rolling again, it didn't take long before I hit a long downhill that cut back into the greenway.  At that point I knew I had only about 20 miles to get home.  I'd consider that another victory.

The greenway is mostly flat and more importantly, well shaded.  While I normally love hot weather, it was draining me that day.  The shaded path was a nice respite from the sun's glaring rays.  Once I reached the end, I zig zagged across powerline cuts, parking lots, and back roads.  I was almost out of gas and wondering if I had it in me to finish.  Like someone flipping a switch, I was suddenly so full of doubt that it scared me.  I was struggling, both physically and mentally.  I'm not sure what happened, because only moments earlier I was feeling great and full of motivation.

I guess that's how it is sometimes.  I dunno.  I tried not to let it get me down, but I was seriously considering calling anyone for a ride even though I knew I was close to home.  And just when I needed it most, I got one more victory..

I know this place well, since I pass by it on most of my rides these days.  And I knew it was only about three miles from my house and that three miles ain't shit. I got this.  And wouldn't you know it,  two pretty shitty climbs later I was rolling into my driveway.  I couldn't believe it.  I really had no idea if I could do this, but like most things I tried it anyway.  I was pretty worn out, my ass hurt, and I was an emotional wreck.


I didn't know if I was proud of myself, or upset that I would even try such a thing.

Maybe not a big deal to you, but a huge deal to me.  I'd accomplished a goal that was set only a few months prior, and this should lead to a bigger goal.

Am I ready to ride across Florida?

Who gives a shit.  I'm doing it anyway.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Big Test

Since it was only just last May that I decided to be a bikepacker and set my sights on riding across Florida in December, but Summer my "training" was in full swing.  I'd been doing longer rides every weekend, and even one overnight trip.  I learned a lot from the last overnight trip and I was ready for another.  It came sooner than expected.

When I set a goal of participating in the Cross Florida Individual Time Trial, I somehow decided that I would need one final test to see if I could actually handle something of that magnitude.  And for some strange reason, riding from my house to the Uwharrie National Forest for the night (and returning home the next day of course) seemed like the logical choice.  I still don't know why I picked that particular destination, but I was set on it for some reason and I wouldn't budge.  At 140 miles round trip, it wasn't the same distance as the Florida event (250), but I figured that with the elevation it would be sorta equal, if not even more difficult.  When I started this whole bikepacking thing, such a trip seemed impossible.  I put it in my head that if I could build my way up to that before December came around, I would feel better about my chances down in the Sunshine State.  I knew it would take a while o build up to it, but before I knew it the time had come.

I had a free weekend and my route was planned.  While it would be super hot during the day, nighttime temps would be cool enough to sleep comfortably with the proper gear.  Since I got a little chilly on the last overnight trip, I decided to buy a compact sleeping bag that would fit on the handlebar roll of my bike.  I was ready, for the most part.  My route would take me mostly on back roads, with a couple of stretches on some busier roads (I couldn't help it.)  And to keep from getting bored, the return trip would be a little different than the ride out there.  I had 73 miles planned on the first day, with 67 the next to get home.  Piece of cake.

Saturday morning I loaded up and left my house pretty early.  I figured it would take about eight hours to make the trip east of Charlotte to our little mountains, which would give me plenty of time to set up camp in daylight.  I rolled down the hill and set off on my adventure, meandering through some neighborhoods to get to a greenway.

Just like the Florida adventure I have planned for next month, my trip to Uwharrie would have me on mixed terrain.  Roads, greenway, gravel, and my favorite, singletrack.

A little over twenty miles in I was still feeling good, but I had to hit a stretch of busy highway that I somehow couldn't avoid.  Luckily there were super wide shoulders to keep me out of harm's way.

A few miles on that road and it was time for lunch.  Since the rules for CFITT say that I can only use commercial establishments for food, etc. (in addition to packing some snacks), I decided abide by that on this ride and grab a bite to eat and resupply my fluids at a gas station, of which there will be plenty on the Florida route.

I was still feeling pretty good, despite the daunting task of riding 40+ more miles.  I ate a pretty decent sandwich, bought some water and snacks, and rolled out towards Concord.  That section of my route was mostly out in the open, so I was baking in the sun.  I like the heat, but I could feel the energy draining from my body.  I tried to keep my head right and look for little victories, and soon I had one.  I was in Concord.

Oh, and here you can see that I have my new sleeping bag attached.

The next part was a little bit of a blur.  After cutting through their little downtown area, the roads turned country again.  I had to keep checking my printed cue sheet to make sure I was going the right way and I (mostly) was.  Once in a while I would look at the map and it really looked like I was in the middle of nowhere.  That made me extra tired for some reason so I decided I would avoid doing that unless it was necessary.  With nothing around except the occasional house and lots of farmland, I resorted to conversing with myself to keep my head in the game. 

And I also made new friends along the way...

While I was deep in the middle of nowhere, every once in a while the road would change from shitty pavement to gravel.  Back and forth.  I actually enjoyed that.  And then I got another small victory in the form of a new county.

I sorta know Rowan County, but obviously not well enough since I was surprised to be riding through it.  I stopped at a small store for some drinks and chatted with a local dude that told me I was indeed in the middle of nowhere.  Awesome.  Back on the road...

I didn't think I had very far to go at this point.  I actually felt pretty good and I had been keeping myself hydrated in the hot sun.  After a small navigational error I was back on some shitty (for cars) but nice (for me) roads.  And I found another small victory.

I definitely know Stanly county, and I knew that meant I was much closer to my destination.  I texted the little lady and said I had maybe an hour to go and that I was feeling good.  One of those was a lie...

At this point I had been climbing here and there, but now it was getting tougher.  I was nowhere near civilization, until suddenly I saw a restaurant that looked more like a roadhouse (not the chain restaurant, either.)  I was hungry, but I had a planned food stop coming up soon so I skipped out on a potential bar fight to keep moving towards my destination.  And then out of nowhere, I got a much bigger victory...

I had reached the Yadkin River, and those are the Uwharries in the background.  My campsite was over there somewhere, so that gave me some extra energy.  After taking that picture I hurried across the narrow bridge and had yet another victory...

I've seen that sign a bunch.  However, this was the first time I'd ever ridden a bike to it (the trails we ride out there are nowhere near it.)  Man, I was feeling good.  Until...

Ugh.  It got really climby.  I had been feeling great with all the "victories", but all of a sudden I was super tired and my mental state was fucked.  "

Where the hell is that restaurant/store I'm supposed to see up ahead?" 

I kept repeating that question to myself over and over, hoping that would make it appear out of thin air.  I guess it either a) did not exist, or b) it was much further away.  The latter would turn out to be correct, but it gave me much disappoint.

You see, that was supposed to be my next victory.  One last stop before I rolled into the forest to camp for the night.  In my hasty research, I found this "restaurant" on the map that looked like it had everything I would need.  A meal consisting of real food, and supplies for me to take to camp (for breakfast and such.)  I spotted an intersection up ahead.  After double checking the map and seeing that it was indeed my planned stop, I found some extra energy and made the climb to the "restaurant."

I'm an idiot.

It was a goddamn gas station.  The reviews talked about the food and the service, so I guess I thought that meant it was a restaurant.  I mean, they did have "food."

I grabbed the most edible things I could see and hoped like hell I wouldn't get food poisoning. I paid for my "food" and walked out to the parking lot to have a little picnic dinner.  Remember earlier when I said I thought I only had an hour to go?  That was two and a half hours ago.  I know the little lady was probably wondering if I was dead so I figured I should text her.  That didn't work because I had zero service.  Well, I thought, I'd better keep rolling.  Maybe I'll hit a pocket of signal and be able to tell people I'm okay.  So I rolled on...

Oh look, another county!

I was deep in the Uwharrie National Forest and it was hilly AF (of course.)  I was tired.  I didn't have far to go but my legs felt like concrete and I didn't have much energy.  And it felt like I was constantly climbing.  Maybe because I was.

No more victories (other than my campsite which was who TF knows where) so I just started taking in the scenery.

But the sun was going down.  Fast.  In the woods it was even darker, and that made everything look the same.  I resisted turning on my lights, riding the gravel roads "Jedi Style."  I was doing anything I could to keep motivated.  I had a campsite reserved, but I started thinking about just rolling into the woods and setting up my hammock wherever the hell I was.

And then, out of nowhere, I saw a familiar road.  I was in the part of the forest that I'd been riding for years.  I got a nice little burst of energy from that and hauled ass to the campsite.  I set up in a hurry and snapped a picture before it got totally dark.

I made it.  It took a little over 10 hours to go 73 miles.  Two hours beyond what I thought it would take, but I wasn't upset about it.  I was able to connect to the camp host's wifi and let everyone know I was okay, then I sat down to have a snack, re-hydrate, and get some rest for the night. 

That would turn out to be one of the more difficult parts of my trip.

Part two tomorrow...