Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Another Shakedown

Time is almost up.  Two weeks from tomorrow I'll be heading down to Florida for my big bike ride across the state.  And honestly, I'm starting to become filled with anxiety.  Seriously.  Can I actually ride that far?  Being off the bike while being sick didn't help, that's for sure.  I'm trying to look on the bright side so that little bit of down time was a blessing in disguise though, like I mentioned last week.  I had a chance to make some changes to my gear, and I had make sure I could pack everything up and ride with my new stuff. 

Of course I had plans to ride on Saturday, but I still wasn't one hundred percent healthy.  When I woke up, it was cold (45 degrees) and rainy.  I really didn't fell like being out in that shit but I knew I had to get some saddle time in.  Plus, there's no guarantee that the Sunshine State will live up to its name next month.  In fact, there is a high probability that the weather will be less than pleasant for my little jaunt.  Anyway, after spending the first half of the day making excuses for why I didn't want to ride I told myself to embrace the suck and get rolling.  I suited up in some warm cycling clothes, donned my rain jacket and rolled out of the house to see where it would take me.  No real plan other than to just get the hell out of my comfortable living room.

I cut through a few neighborhoods and ended up on a little bike path that I keep forgetting is nearby.

With only a rain jacket (I don't own rain pants... yet), I was at least dry from the waist up.  Surprisingly I wasn't too cold though, sporting only shorts and DeFeet knee warmers and socks.  I was out of the house at least, but I was questioning why TF I was out there in the rain.

I still didn't feel well.  Who gives a shit.

Still with no plan, I just kept rolling.  I took cut-throughs and grassy easements whenever I could, making sure to push myself to stay warm.  I ended up riding some spots I'd never ridden before.

I was out of the house.  That was the hardest part.  I'd adjusted to the weather though and started to feel pretty good.  I decided to hit up some more off the beaten path stuff and keep heading away from my house.  It made for a tough ride, but I was actually having fun.

There are some good spots off of that railroad area.  I've done part of this route before when I first started this bikepacking thing.  Instead of pristine, groomed mountain bike trails, I rode pretty much every other kind of surface.  It's all part of the adventure.

The plan wasn't to go out for a long time, rather just for a good time.  The key results I wanted to see were a) if I could stand riding a fully loaded bike in shitty weather and b) If I would notice a difference with the new gear I'd packed up.  This was technically a shakedown ride and it was exactly what I needed.  I now have confidence that I can stand riding that heavy bike in all kinds of weather, and swapping out the hammock setup for a tent was the right call, at least as far as carrying that shit around.  Am I still worried though?

You betcha.

Being sick kinda knocked my fitness down, and it's really too late to build it back up.  All I can do is make sure I'm mentally prepared (the real challenge anyway) and get a few more decent rides in over the next two weeks.  Maybe in the 40-50 mile range.  You know, nothing too crazy.  Like 300 miles.

Tomorrow is Turkey Day, so like most everyone else I'll be eating tons of food.  Friday and Saturday though?

I haz other plans.

See y'all next week.  Try not to eat too much, you fat bastard.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Let's Get Ready To Get Ready

Blogging is not as constant as it was once upon a time, but riding has been at least.  Except for very recently anyway.  Since I wrote about my awesome camping trip, I haven't been on a bike at all.  Not even once.  I contracted some sort of death virus/cold thingy and felt like complete doo doo all last weekend.  Usually I'll try to power through such things but this time I actually took it easy.  I figured that if I fought it I would drag out the sickness, which would certainly put on damper on my "training" for Florida.  So, I pretty much slept and drank whiskey.

Pretty much what the doctor would order, right?

Anyway, during my convalescence I had some time to think about things other than riding, such as my choice of gear for my upcoming adventure.  After many rides and some overnight tests, I sorta felt like I had everything dialed in.  Through trial and error I'd figured out exactly where to pack everything (for weight distribution and all that), and I felt like I had enough gear but not too much.  Things were going well and according to plan, but then I had to piss in the wind...

"What if I tried something else?" I asked myself.

"Who gives a shit", I immediately replied.

You see, the main piece of advice I received when I started this bikepacking stuff was to just start with what you have and go from there.  Of course, I didn't have any bike bags and had to purchase them, but as far as camping stuff I figured I was fine.  I'd just use that hammock I've had for a while and I'd have a place to sleep.  Simple.  Easy.  Cheap (since I already owned it.)  But then I realized that Florida "Winter" can be unpredictable and is usually rainy, so I had to buy a rain fly for it.  No worries.  Oh, and the cord for the hammock wasn't particularly long and that meant that my choices for hanging it would be limited.  I bought some straps.  Problem solved.  Then after my first overnight I realized that a compact sleeping bag would be a good idea (instead of my plan to use an emergency blanket which was a shitty plan.)  All of a sudden, my camping shit turned into a big pile of nonsense.

Still, everything worked well and most importantly it fit on the bike just fine.  A couple of overnight trips had me feeling confident that I had good shelter and I'd be capable of comfortable sleep.  Honestly though, it was a pain in the ass to setup and take down (and pack.)    I didn't always feel that way, but I realized it when I saw one of the pictures of me doing so on my Veterans Day Weekend camping trip:

Photo cred:  Sergeant Major Todd

Here's what I recall from that day.  This was a "real" campground with a huge pad for tents, campers, etc. and each site was surrounded by trees.  A couple of folks had little campers and one had a tent.  So I was the dumbass wandering around the perimeter looking for two suitable tress from which to hang my sleeping quarters.  Sure, the hammock straps gave me a little more leeway, but it was still a pain.  I obviously found what I needed, but even then it wasn't ideal.  It worked out well, but the next day I was talking to Bill The Fire Bender about his setup.  He had a backpacking tent that was just roomy enough for him and a little gear.  I asked him if it packed down pretty small and he said it did.  I was intrigued, but I figured it was probably still too big to carry on my bike.

As we were packing up to leave the campsite, I kept an eye on him tearing down his tent while I struggled to gather up all my crap and nonsense to place in various bags.  In fact, he was completely packed up before I even had the rain fly packed away.  I looked at the little bag that contained his shelter and realized that it was a little smaller than my rain fly, hammock, and straps put together.  And as a bonus it even weighed less.  And of course my favorite part was that it seemed like way less of a pain in the ass to tear down, unlike my mishmash of parts and pieces.

Well shit.

At that point I was ready to give up on the hammock.  When I got back home I started shopping everywhere for a similar tent, or one that was even smaller.  I was shocked at how much these things cost though, considering I already owned a pretty nice tent that fits ten people that I didn't even spend a hundred bucks on.  I guess it's like technology; the smaller it is the more you pay.  Still, I was determined to ditch the hammock for something easier.  Eventually I found something I liked that wouldn't rape my bank account.  I found it on The Internets though, which meant that I couldn't be certain that the measurements were correct.  I'm 6'4", so compact and me don't usually get along but in this case the measurements did give me some hope.  At 88 inches long, I'd have a foot of clearance (so I could really stretch out.)  The width was 35 inches, which meant that I would have to snuggle up to my clothes at night (which would be good to keep them warm anyway.)  And 42 inches tall meant that I could at least sit up first instead of just diving outside onto the ground.  Were these measurements accurate though?  Only one way to find out...

A few days later my new compact tent arrived.  The bag was small (plus) and the weight was less than my current gear (big plus.)  So far so good but I needed to see if it was big enough inside.  I hauled it out to the garage where Lunchbox was waiting (probably to watch me fail.)  Although it came with stakes, it was supposed to be freestanding.  I figured I would just try to set it up right then and there.  There was one problem though...

No instructions included.

I mentioned to Lunchbox that I should probably look on the manufacturer's website for instructions, but I am stubborn so I wasn't going to do that.  I'll just wing it.  He said that sounded like a solid plan.  I pulled everything out of the bag and after a quick study of the parts and pieces, I had it put together in under five minutes.

I was impressed.  Not only was it ridiculously easy to erect (I just had to use that word at least once because I am a juvenile), it looked pretty damn roomy for a "compact" tent.  Lunchbox was also impressed.  I said, "Well, I guess I should get in."  I was able to get into it without any hassle and quickly noticed that I had plenty of room.  In fact, much more than I expected.  My only regret is that I didn't have him take a photo of me while I was on the floor of my garage um, "camping."

Overall, this seemed like a pretty good decision.  Although I must admit, I'm feeling a little guilt about not using my hammock for my upcoming adventure.  Something about riding three hundred miles and camping in a hammock along the way sounded pretty badass, but I'll also tell you that when it comes time to sleep during that ride and I happen to be near a hotel, I won't hesitate to take that option.  I may be dumb for trying to ride my bicycle across Florida, but I'm not an idiot.

Anyway, after I stopped patting myself on the back for buying a tent and setting it up in the garage I realized that I still had more to do.  I had to get the tent broken down, packed back in that tiny bag, and cram that shit on my bike somewhere, preferably in the same space where my hammock and stuff resided previously.  Just like any tent, it was a little tricky getting it folded back up and into the bag but I had it all done in under ten minutes.  Not bad.  Then I packed it on the bike, along with everything else I have been riding with for the past few months.

I haz happiness now.  I'm sure I'll change something else in the next couple of weeks, but at least I'm sorta prepared.  There will be a test ride this weekend with some expert analysis to follow.  Or more nonsensical crap.  Who gives a shit.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Getaway Part Deux

So, leaving off from yesterday, we had left our new doggo friend and made plans to hit the rest of the trails at FATS.  Instead of riding over there (it's a shitty stretch of busy, paved road) we all agreed to meet at the other parking lot.  So I did something I never, ever do...

I got into my vehicle fully dressed for riding.

Let me explain.  I usually avoid that at all costs.  Sometimes I will have my cycling shorts on to save time, but I never drive with a jersey and cycling shoes on.  It just seems dumb, and not to mention nasty.  When I finish riding, I always change out of my sweaty cycling clothes into something much less gross.  But since it was a short drive, I didn't want to waste time with wardrobe changes.  It made sense, at least this one time.

Anyway, we gathered up quickly to hit the trail.  This loop was my least favorite and I usually avoid it like the plague whenever I'm down there.  But this time, it was fun.  I'm sure it was because of the company I had with me.

Photo credit:  Bill the Fire Bender

We climbed, we descended, we had fun.  I was enjoying my time in the woods for sure, even if it hurt like hell on a rigid single speed (riding gears for my bikepacking adventures has made me a little soft.)  That section of trail was much better than I remembered, but I chalk that up to riding with some good people.

L to R:  Me, Chief Brian. Sergeant Major Todd, A-A Ron, and Bill the Fire Bender

While I'll admit that part had more climbing than I prefer, the payoff came up soon enough.  We hit some fun downhill near the very end.  We were flying, until I heard A-A Ron yell out in frustration.

Another random samurai attack had left him with a flat tire... again.  With only a half mile to go, he was not pleased at all.  Especially since instead of riding the last part of the trail, he had to walk out on the gravel road...

Carrying his bike:

Eventually Bill the Fire Bender rolled up in his truck and saved him from walking too far.  Despite the frustration of two flat tires (two days in a row), I still think he a had a good time.  We all did.  Once we gathered in the parking lot (and I changed because we were done riding for the day), plans were made for the rest of the evening:  food, fire, and hanging around the campsite until it was time for bed.

With temps in the 40s that night (instead of the 30s like before), I actually slept pretty well in my hammock, toasty and warm.  And the next day I was again treated to some nice scenery from Mother Nature:

I didn't want that weekend to end.  It was nice hanging out with other people riding bikes, and the ones with whom I was fortunate enough to share the campsite made it extra special.  A few folks decided to ride again that day, and some people went home.  As for me, I decided to celebrate Veterans Day properly by visiting a place right down the road where I'd spent some time while I was in the Army...

Fort Gordon, Georgia.  I was there in late 1990 and again in 1992.  A lot has changed since then, but I still managed to find some old relics (like me) hanging around.

It was the most awesome of weekends, and it needs to happen again really soon.  But for now, it's back to the bikepacking stuff.

I'm less than a month away from the big dance.  I still don't think I'm ready. 

Who gives a shit.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Veterans Day Getaway

So last weekend I had the pleasure of being invited to go on a "boys weekend" at the Forks Area Trail System (FATS) down near Augusta, GA with some fellow veterans and staff from the North Carolina Interscholastic Cycling League.  Initially I'd decided against it, thinking that I needed to spend every bit of free time "practicing" my bikepacking skills.  But shortly after I made that decision, I reconsidered.  There were several reasons why.  First, I needed to ride with some other people.  Just about every ride I've been on since May has been by myself, and I can turn into one cranky bastard when no one is around to reel me in.  Also, the group was a pretty great bunch of folks, so I knew I would have a fun time.  And since I still need to train for bikepacking stuff, I would have the opportunity to doing some camping with my hammock in not so warm weather.  Seemed like a win-win so I was down for it.

The trip started with most people arriving on Friday to set up camp.  I was arriving on Saturday so all I asked was for them to leave me a couple of good trees so I could hang my hammock.  Of course that wasn't a problem, so I grabbed the camping stuff that has been living on my bike full time lately, along with some other camping essentials that I normally take on other trips.  After spending most of Saturday with my dogs (I didn't want to leave them), I packed up and headed south by southwest.  I knew the two and a half hour trip would be easy, but traffic in the middle of South Carolina changed that to shitty.  Eventually I made it to Columbia, where I stopped for some weekend provisions.  Back on the road, I made it to the campsite at a decent time. 

I noticed that I might be in for more fun than I had anticipated when I saw this sign...

I looked around for some new friends but I was disappoint.  It was too chilly outside for them to be active.  Meh.

When I rolled up to our site, everyone was there.  They had already ridden for the day, but I was just happy to be out in the woods with friends. 

I setup my home for the weekend and made plans to relax.

This is my usual setup, at least since I started bikepacking anyway.  The only problem is, I hadn't really tested it in cold weather.  My other trips had some cooler temperatures at night, but the low for this night would be around 30 degrees so I was a little worried.  I stopped thinking about it, because... Who gives a shit.  We cooked some food, had some adult beverages, and sat around by the fire for a while, just enjoying it all.

I drifted off to sleep but kept waking up.  I thought maybe it was because I usually sleep on my stomach and a hammock doesn't work like that, but I didn't know for sure.  I was plenty warm, but sometimes I just don't sleep so well (even in my own bed.)  I never looked at the time while I was tossing and turning, but at some point I had to get up to get rid of all that beer.  And then I was cold.

I let it out and hurried back into my hammock.  Big problem though, the sleeping bag became cold instantly once I vacated it.  I crawled back in, and once I finally stopped shivering I dozed off.  This time until morning.  Win.

I had my head covered up in the sleeping bag to stay warm, but when I peeked out I saw that the sun had come up.  It was too cold for me to get up (so I thought), but at least I woke up to an amazing view.  I grabbed my phone, and took this picture while I was still in my hammock:

Eventually I crawled out and put some more clothes on to warm up.  I took another picture so I could remember that even though it was cold outside, it was still beautiful.

I made some breakfast and we all started talking about ride plans for the day.  If you've ever been to FATS, then you know there's a fun, flowy side, and a totally different side.  Good side, bad side if you will.  Not really bad, but totally different than the smooth, roller coaster type trails that place is known for.  I found out that the crew rode the "good" side the day before, so we would be riding the other stuff.  Well, with the exception of one of the trails on that side that they missed due to a tire issue. 

Short version, it seems that A-A Ron had a problem with is valve stem that caused it to pop out like a samurai sword and chop down the forest and any rider in his way.  He had to go to a local bike shop to get it fixed, but he was ready to ride again.

So we took off...

The campsite was only about fifteen minutes away, so we rolled out of the campsite to get our fun on.  When we got to the trailhead, I was still pretty cold.  I had plenty of warm stuff on though, so once we got moving I would be good.  We hit up Great Wall first, which was the perfect choice for my full rigid single speed.

I suddenly forgot that I was cold.  We were flying down the hill and making short work of the small climbs on that loop.  I could hear everyone laughing and screaming with joy as we hit the little jumps and berms.  We were having a great time.  Once that loop was finished, we stopped for a snack and headed back out to ride the other stuff.  A few miles in, we saw a little doggo running up the trail with no owner in sight.  It was odd.  She was friendly, and latched onto us while we rode.  We would pass people here and there (hikers and walkers) but that dog stayed with us.  She was a good trail dog though, navigating the singletrack like she'd been there before.  While it was pretty cool to have the company, we all started getting concerned that she was lost. 


We stopped for a small break and I tried to give her some water.  She didn't want it, even though she'd been running for miles and looked thirsty.  We checked to see if she had tags so we could find the owner..

Photo Credit:  Sergeant Major Todd

There was only a rabies tag on the collar, and I noticed it was from North Carolina.  That made us all feel uneasy.  Was she really lost?  Did someone leave her out there and return to North Carolina?  Who TF doesn't keep an eye on their dog in a place like that?  It was unsettling, so the plan going forward to to ride back to the trailhead and see if we could find anyone to claim her, or call the authorities to help.

I'm not gonna lie though, I was having thoughts about bringing her home with me if we didn't find the owner.  I'm pretty sure that A-A Ron was too.

Anyway, we kept riding.  The last part of that loop had quite a few climbs, so we stopped frequently to regroup (for us and the dog.)  We'd passed a trail runner just before we stopped, but he never said anything to indicate that was his dog.  Once he passed us (while we were stopped) she followed him down the trail.  We eventually got back to the trailhead and there was no sign of the trail runner or our new doggo friend.  Maybe that was his dog and she does that all the time, but he's kind of a dick if he lets that happen.  But, that's just like, my opinion, man.

We were still concerned about her, but she was nowhere to be found so there really wasn't anything we could do.  We made plans to hit the final loop out there and finish our day in the saddle.

And I just noticed that I'm getting really wordy today, so I'll pick it back up tomorrow with the conclusion.

Stay tuned... 

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...