The weather all week was looking to be pretty dismal. I decided that I would not cancel the ride unless there was full-on downpours and bad storms with lightning or hail. Monday to Tuesday to Wednesday and on, the chances of rain kept going up. Matt R kept texting me "what are we going to do?" I would say something to the effect of "WTH? We're going to ride. Stop worrying old man." Right up to the last minute there was still pop-up showers taking place. After Jeremy and I had staged our camping gear at camp that morning and up until "go-time" it had rained quite a bit between camp and about 30 or so miles south. Also inches of rain in Greenville and some hail. However, skies were clear and dry all day in the Rockford area, so the ride was still on.
Five men took the challenge in 2014. The route was to be exactly the same as last year. We still got lost a few times. It's really hard to think straight at 2am after exerting yourself for 6 hours already - regardless of knowing the route. Repeat riders: myself, Matt R, Matt L along with two newbies, Jeremy C and Matt L's uncle Doug H. Jeremy had never rode more than I think 40 or so miles in one sitting. Doug is a strong rider on the Speed Merchants team.
The fantastic SAG team of John and Judy Crankshaw met us at the church. They had a tag-along crew member this year, Matt R's newly appointed wife, Laura - who would make for a perfect and able crew member.
Before we left the staging area at the church in Rockford, I announced that there was a gimmick to this year's ride. Each rider got a metal, waterproof business card case with a laser marked Night Shift logo burnished on the top. Inside was a "Ride Passport". A card depicting the route, elevation graphic (Judy said maybe it was more like a sand-depth chart) and spots to time-stamp our pre-determined SAG stops. Laura was appointed the stamper and official time keeper. I plan to make a passport card for each future Night Shift.
We discussed how different the ride really would be this year. The route was the same, but as now the ride was in August instead of June (hopefully) not only would the midnight temps be greater, but also there would be less daylight. The 2013 ride was within one week of the summer solstice, which as many of you know is the one day of the year with the most available daylight. August, no so much.
Time to go, 7:58pm. I led the charge from the church. Myself and Doug up front, eager to get going. Mistakenly going 18-20mph out of the gates. The other three hanging behind - I think sharing beers or something. It probably wasn't more than 15 or so miles later, I would already find myself at the back of the pack - where I would stay for the remainder of the ride. I haven't had crap for time to ride this year. Weak legs.
Only a few miles from Howard City, there was a special SAG cheering section set up just as we reached the rail trail. Cowbells and cheering - along with "KEEP MOVING BOYS!" (Judy) - "THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL SAG STOP!" Okay, okay, fine...we'll keep moving. Later, we ran across some good-ol boys with a truck racked up on a dirt pile between there and Howard City. Another hillbilly wagon was tow-strapping them out of the mess. Funny - I don't think any of them even saw us or commented, even though we had to walk through piles of sand right by them.
Arriving in Howard City, we all eagerly approached Laura with our "Passports" open and ready to stamp - like children checking out books at the library for the first time. The time recorded stamps were oh-so-perfectly pressed onto the paper passports. We were proud. The Crankshaw SAG (to be called C-SAG from now on) already had custom-built, quartered and wrapped Subway sandwiches on board along with some other food items like chips and plenty of water ready for us. Jeremy cracked open a Miller Lite. A few trips were made inside for bathroom breaks. Apparently as the C-SAG was waiting for us to arrive, they had a dude drive up and wonder if they were tailgating and were selling drinks. The same guy inside was asking what we were doing and was stunned. "What!? 100 miles?! Why would you do something like that?" We don't know.
Our ride to the Hardy Dam was pretty uneventful. The last climb to the gas station there is always a killer. Again, we conversed with some random dudes asking what we were doing. Again, just amazed that we would want to do something like this. Why? We don't know. I don't know what is funnier. The fact that we think this would be fun, or watching the reaction on their faces as we describe the ride.
I had been dealing with trying to overcome a slightly annoying headache from about Howard City already and some minor leg cramps. Up to this point (about 4 hours), I still hadn't peed. I refused to believe I was already dehydrated. Man, this is going to be a rough night. I had religiously hydrated all week long. What was going on? Still I continued on drinking and eating to supply enough to keep my legs turning. Our next stop would be Woodville - between Hardy Dam and Woodville is where we encounter the "beige" (as Susanne coined the phrase last year). Everything is beige. Soft beige and hard beige. Rocky beige, smooth beige. Lots of it. And, that IS pretty much it. Luckily, because of the massive rainfall in that area that day, it was more "taupe" this year and not all that bad. Very well packed down and less soft. Still, I felt like mud regardless.
We made it to Woodville intact. Jeremy had fishtailed once and crashed in the same sand-downhill section as Bob last year. Again, right in front of me. It was like on instant replay in my mind. At this point, I was really suffering. Last to roll in. Headache more prevalent. Leg cramps already preventing me from standing up and pedaling. Lots of walking and granny-gearing up hills at barely 4mph. Feeling defeated. Cold, shivering, soaked in sweat. It was so humid out - everyone was soaked. I had a hot-chocolate and sat in the C-SAG truck to warm up a bit. Jeremy handed me a few aspirin which helped immensely. We all discarded our riding glasses as they were permanently coated in fog and moisture.
Leaving Woodville is where the ride gets really interesting. Within the first mile, we'd be walking in ankle-deep soft sand for up to maybe a half mile or so. More of those lovely "seasonal roads". I decide that pushing a bike is still not the most efficient way to get around - regardless of how I try and talk myself into it not being "that bad". Before we reached Hungerford Trail where we'd pick up some single-track, my Garmin already beeped saying it was down to 10% power. I didn't realize that the turn-by-turn directions must have been draining the battery much quicker than normal. Once the trail was reached, we started by going the wrong direction, (because there was no map at the trailhead) but discovered our error quickly. Once rerouted, the single track was awesome. I had my NightRider handlebar light set on "day light" (full 500 lumens), plus my helmet light.
After exiting the trail, we somehow got turned around and got in an extra 4 miles on dirt roads. The three of us riding from last year, thought the road was entirely way too nice to be called 12 mile. Last year it was about a mile's worth of walking through sand. Hmm...okay, we'll keep riding for a bit. Garmin said we were off course and heading south to southwest instead of west. I tried flagging everyone else down, but they were gone, they didn't stop for quite awhile. Once caught up, we discussed our plan and headed back to where we went wrong.
Once we got onto our route and walked through the 12 mile road sand, my Garmin died. Toast. At our next meet-up spot we tried to decide which way to go. Oh, I know, I will get out my good ol' trusty paper map which I ever so carefully prepared for such occasions - and have redundant copies of. It's in my pannier bag. I'll just get my flashlight out of my back jersey pocket, click and...uh oh. Where is it? Oh...I remember now. I discarded my entire pannier bag into the back of the C-SAG at Woodville - trying to cut some weight. Tools and all. Didn't even care. I was suffering too much. (which still didn't get any better, btw)
Luckily we could get through some tricky sections because Matt L had his Garmin with the course loaded. I tried using his battery charging device so I could resume the course after 15 minutes or so of charging. I asked our strongest rider Doug..."So what do you think Doug? You having fun, or is this bullshit?" He responded with "oh, it's alright." Which means "this is bullshit". It's okay, I can take the heat. That's right its bullshit, but there is nothing you can do about that now. And I didn't make anyone sign up.
Things got funny. Jeremy told us all that next year he wasn't going to bring his helmet because he didn't even use it. For some reason that made me laugh. And the fact that he was trying to take selfies from his "dashboard", "cockpit", whathaveyou, where he had about 7 different devices or lights attached. He also had some of those valve stem LED light things going around his wheels that kids put on their bikes. I swear I would get dizzy watching them spin around.
Somewhere between here and the last official SAG stop, just as the sky was turning from black to dark blue, Matt R and I had a run-in with a dog. Now, we had heard dogs barking at us all dang night. All from a distance. This one was different. A black and white Pitbull, came out charging and barking at full speed out of his trailer-trash yard. I yelled at Matt, "WE GOT A RUNNER!" and we both took off. Still dealing with leg cramps I was lagging behind and found myself drifting into some sand, slowing down. I could hear the dog huffing right at my heels. My left calf locked up, I stood up and powered through it, gritting my teeth knowing that if I slowed enough to let the dog drag me down, it could be a really, really bad morning. To be dramatic, life and death type of situations were going on in my head. I growled in angst and pain at my locked up calf, then took a millisecond to see where the dog was. It was running away back to its home. Apparently he thought I was growling at him and it was just enough to scare him back home. Lucky!
Urination status: By the time we reached the last SAG stop, I think I had peed twice - and it was the volume of my not quite 3 year old son who is learning how to potty on the "big potty". See, after he pees in his diaper, we remind him he can have candy if he goes on the big potty next time. Then he immediately runs to the potty and releases about 5mL of urine into the potty. Drip, drip, drip. (of course, we give him credit, even if its after the fact). That's what mine were like. So you might as well say, I basically hadn't peed all dang night. And I didn't even get any candy for trying.
I don't remember much about that last SAG stop besides Judy approaching me (she seemed close to my face, but maybe not) and saying "Tony, you okay? You look pretty bonked." (she's chuckling) Hmm, I don't know. I think I'm okay? (question mark) The C-SAG had a mobile crockpot of Sloppy Joes for us - I mowwed one of those, slammed an Oatmeal Creme Pie (glorious bike food!) and concentrated on just changing into my dry socks, gloves and jersey. There were men scattered around, laying down, resting in chairs. I think everyone was feeling the pain - but everything was a little fuzzy for me then.
Judy and John said they enjoy doing SAG just to see the pain and struggle of their fellow cyclist friends. I'm sure it's something to behold. However, try being one of those idiots riding! ha
We all wanted the ride over and now. Still 20 or so miles to go. And more hills. I was disappointed that this entire section of ride wasn't better for me. I set the standards high as last year I powered up and down the gravel hills like a mad-man. Once we reached pavement, I made myself pedal hard, Matt R drafting behind me. It hurt so bad, just needed to be done with it. Doug was long gone, way more able than myself to speed away. Pedaling down the last hill in top gear at 37.7mph on a mountain bike was reward enough for the last few miles of push. Rolling into camp, there they were: C-SAG, families, friends...cowbells and cheering with other campers looking on wondering what all the hub-bub was.
Oh, nothing much. Just a little bike ride in some dirt so we could go camping.
Why do we do this? I don't know. It IS bullshit. Maybe that's why. Keep a little bullshit in your life and you'll keep things in perspective.
Final note about "bullshit"; Garmin: my .fit file is corrupt. Ride data is gone. Outstanding!
Come on out next year. I hope to build an entirely new route heading in a different direction.
Just one of the many warnings on my tv leading up to the ride.
The aluminum protective case for the "Ride Passports"
Matt R and I riding, having a good time.
Aliens crossing Northland Drive.
Matt L. looking intelligent. Ha!
Me. Fat and sweaty loading some Hammer Perpeteum into a bottle.
Sign at Woodville.
The following are random pictures of suffering at the last SAG stop. Viewer discretion advised.
This was pretty much my view - out of focus.
Extreme mouth wiping by Matt R.
Jeremy's completed Ride Passport. Not sure why, but all but one of his stamps are upside down.
Rolling into camp, 9am.
Final crew (left to right):
Matt L, Matt R, Laura (front), Me, Jeremy, Judy, Doug, John