As we neared the ten-mile mark, it became apparent that I was done. Mark had spent some time hanging back with me, and had started discussing guitar gear. It was a great device to help work through the pain I was in. If there is one thing that will take my mind off of just about anything, it’s discussing guitars. Lungs, Heart, Legs, all were gone, though, and I felt that it was time to stop before I hurt myself. It was embarrassing to say the least. Ten miles. No wind. Fast roads. I had finally resigned to the fact that my day was over. I crept back up to Mark, quietly stating “Mark, I’m done.” Now, my team mates are all great folks. I’m honored to be able to ride with them every year, and this is usually the only time we are actually able to get together in the same place at the same time. Mark lobs back calmly, “Ok, Sam. It was great to see you and ride with you for a little bit today.” I accepted his acknowledgment then started formulating a plan for extraction. We were close enough to Slater at that point that I could just soft pedal it in then call for a ride, but I needed to find the right place to do so. We rode for a bit longer.The Whispers kept on whispering, I tagged along still plotting my exit. The miles kept ticking away, and as I swiped my Garmin screen to see how far we had gone. nearly 20 miles had passed. I had caught up to the group at that point, then told them that I had quit like ten miles ago. I was doing a really bad job of dropping out. At this point, it made more sense just to ride the next ten to the checkpoint at Snus Hill Winery and have a few beers with the team before hanging a right and riding the mile back to the start. We ended up being the last team out of the half way point, but when you have as sweet of a drop bag as the Whispers, you stay until you have only enough leftovers that you can pack on the bike.
Our three beer stop was over, we packed it in and headed back out on the dusty trail. I was planning on hitting that right turn and booking back to the Nighthawk. I was still cooked. So I turned left with the rest of the team. Bob says “Come on, it’s just three tens!” so we embarked on that first of three. At this point everybody had loosened up, and the train was rolling. Bob was setting the pace, the FullerKeg was rolling strong, and Mark was crushing it as well. I settled in behind the tandem and ticked off miles staring at that rear Nano, eating a shit ton of rocks along the way. Our pace had picked up, and my legs finally found a cadence that worked. Fucking incredible. Mile 38 came, and we stopped for a little whiskey and whatnot. I was at drop out mile 32, and still dropping out. I don’t think I have ever dropped out for so long in my life. It was incredible.
We stopped again at mile 48 to finish what was left of our liquid lunch. I got a text. The Stoker was at the Nighthawk and was ready for me when I got back. I didn’t expect her so early! We finished up and set to burning through those last 13 miles. The dropping out got exciting. We were moving at a great pace, my body was cooperating, although a few times I had to call time out and back er down a notch to get re-situated.
“Hey, Mark, does my rear tire look ok?”
We were just a few miles from finishing, and my rear end was a little more wiggly than it normally feels. Hissssssss. Shit. Fuck. Flatting at the end of a race is so disheartening. After all these miles of quitting, there was finally a mechanical. THIS BIKE IS NOT SUPPOSED TO FAIL. Alas, the team assembled to disassemble and reassemble my rear tire situation. Thanks, Steve, for doing all the pumping. You are a hero. Also thank you, Mark, for being the best human bike stand in the history of humans and bike stands coexisting. The Warbird was back up and running in a few short minutes, and the Whispers were once again screaming towards a solid near-DFL finish. Hell yes. A few more miles passed and BOOM!!!!!!! My rear tire blew out at mile 59. We all searched for another tube, but it seems that the sidewall had blown away from the kevlar bead. FUCK.I had almost finished dropping out of the race, and here I was with a major mechanical within sight of the finish line. The silos stood off in the distance mocking us as the team formulated a plan of attack. The Fullers rode back and were going to drive their truck to pick me up. They ended up sending Meg (thank you one million, Meg!!!!) to the rescue. We had some visitors come by and Fireball was distributed, thank you Jess and Michelle, we waited a bit longer, and finally it was time for yours truly to be done with the quitting.
The Stoker and Mini Stoker were waiting for me patiently, my hour estimate for return was about an hour past. I said my goodbyes, packed it up, and headed back to the DSM for some dinner and rest.
It was a great day for epic quitting, but not the best for stopping. Thank you to all that put on the race, the volunteers, the Nighthawk (a regular summer stop for me), Meg for the rescue, The Stoker for the ride home, and Mark, Steve, Kathy, and Bob for being the best team mates (and substitute team mate) I could imagine having. It was an honor to spend the day with the Whispers, I can’t wait until next year.