Thursday, July 15, 2010

Part I of two final parts of the Trans-Wisconsin Recap....

Part VI: Summit Day

“…Good leaders know that exhaustion is partly a state of mind, though, and that men who succumb to it have on some level decided to put themselves above everyone else…I still remember how to negotiate the long, horrible process of physical collapse. It starts with pain, of course, but pain is at the edge of what I thought of as a deep dark valley. At the bottom of the valley is true incapacitation, but it might take hours, even days, to get down there, working your way through strata of misery and dissociation until muscles simply stop obeying and your mind can’t even be trusted to give commands that make sense.”
from WAR; Sebastian Junger’s new work on his experiences in the Afghanistan War

From last bivy to Drummond…Working our way ever farther down into the “strata of misery.”

Amid an infinite air-force of merciless mosquitoes, we made ready to put in a huge day after again just a few hours of rest, (bivyied in squalor, next to the route). We were “bone-deep” tired (my femur bones even hurt, if you can believe it!), yet there was a collective sense of excitement in the air as we knew we could make it to Lake Superior in the time frame that we had set for ourselves. However, compounding the mixed messages, there was also a kind of sense of desperate urgency as well, for it was the general consensus that for the both of us, three nights like the ones we had just “spent” represented about the extent or limit of our endurance; we were near what Junger describes as the “bottom of that valley of true incapacitation.” In other words, we calculated that if we did not make it to the finish before our next bivouac, we would require a long time on the ground before being able to continue. This realization in fact matched my understanding of what I am capable of in terms of riding a bike. I figured given my affinity for a good stout, average level of fitness, and very average genetic tools; ninety-six hours on the go (toss in a few hours of rest each 24 hour cycle) was at about my maximum ability to ride my bike without a significant sleep (eight hours or more). It is amazing to me how the top guyz in events like Race Across America (RAM) can go for days and days without any sleep! But I digress…

…..In any event, we were low on water (and food) as we had failed to make the desired campground at Black Lake the night before where we knew we would be able to get water, so that was our first goal of the day. Just thirty minutes down the gravel, at Black Lake, we find a hand pump and nice bathrooms where we took a quick break and got ready for what we knew was going to be a big effort to push it to the end point. Our next goal was to get something good to eat and to reload our packs with food. So with that in mind, in gorgeous early morning sunshine, we rode at a good pace towards Hayward on beautiful, yet rather convoluted, backcountry roads.

At one point, we came upon a segment of gravel that was being tarred for the first time. They had one of those rookie-type guyz standing out there with the SLOW/STOP sign. As we came upon him, with dramatic flair, he flashed point-blank, the STOP side of the sign and told us, in the kind authoritative voice that betrays a rookie’s confidence, that we could not go any further, that we would have to find an alternative route. “You guyz are gonna have to turn back and find another way!”

As a testament to where we were both at in terms of commitment to our goal, we simultaneously and in no uncertain terms replied with trumping confidence, “No Way! We are not turning back!”

Before he could respond or even take more drastic measures, we took off in pursuit of this huge red-asphalt machine that was putting down the hot tar-like asphalt, several hundreds of yards ahead of us…behind the machine was the usual cadre of guyz with shovels and rakes that, like always, just seem to stand there and look tough, maybe take a shovel or a rake every once in awhile for good measure. We quickly got directly behind them, they ignored us, and then I boldly bolted over into a wet swampy ditch next to the shoulder of the road and carrying my bike Belgium CX style, blew past the crew and enormous machine. Jeremy, a more law-abiding citizen than the author, hesitated, but then, he too, took off and made the dicey move to get past and onward…It felt great as we laughed and did the high-five thing! We were the Lords of our Universe!

Not long from there, we were able to stop and get a good solid breakfast and to reload on calories and fluids. The weather had become decidedly hotter and more humid, but we still gained favor from the friendly tailwinds. Never in all of my experiences have I enjoyed such a consistently favorable wind…

We made the CAMBA trails in good time and felt the ease that comes with the home turf advantage. I recognized aspects of the route from both the Chequamegon 100 and the Chequamegon 40. We even encountered signage left over from the Chequamegon 100 (probably should have been removed, we thought…but itz easy to contemn whilst typing away in the comforts of home! And also begs the question; “If we felt so strongly about it, why didn’t we remove it?”). The clouds began to darken as we worked our way through the CAMBA section of the course, but Jeremy assured me that it appeared to be just a passing thing…”Itz moving fast…we should be fine.”

Just as Jer predicted, the rains came and went near the end of the CAMBA trails, which of course, got us wet but it was warm out and the result was manageable. Then, about an hour or so southeast from Drummond, we got hit with the kind of swirling rains that would have stirred Noah’s loins to action! Never in my long life have I encountered such torrential rains while riding a bike (it was worse than April’s Trans-Iowa!)…It was crazy scary as the terrain was very hilly with many blind corners, but due to the fact that we were close to Drummond we soldiered onward rather than take shelter in the thick trees that lined the roads. Near to Drummond the road turned to asphalt and we encountered some car & truck traffic. At one point during the height of the biblical deluge, as I was blindly cruising down a long curvy descent, inexplicably two cars (as if racing) flew by me with such speed that I nearly soiled myself! It was just simple luck that they missed me as I am sure that they never saw me. The second car missed me by a matter of a few inches. I remember thinking in my heightened albeit exhausted state, “Wow! This is getting serious!!”

We finally made it to Drummond, home to a kind of gas station/fishing/hunting store and a bar. At that point we were soaked to the bone and extremely cold. I am reluctant to use the word “hypothermic” as I am sure the outside temps were in the 60s, but we were both shivering and having difficulty speaking. In my mind what happens next over the course of the final ten hours or so begins the final phase of this story…Reality begins to falter and the absurdity associated with exhaustion comes to dominate my recollections…stay tuned for…

From Drummond to Point Detour to Home Sweet Home… The “Dissociation Phase” when “muscles simply stop obeying and your mind can’t even be trusted to give commands that make sense.”

Entering the store in Drummond was like crawling out of the refrigerator into the freezer……
...for the last installment, you gotta wait week!!!! After I get back from the Levis 100

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