What can I say? This year's Ouachita Challenge started so differently, and ended so the same. Well, luckily it was not totally the same, but I'll get to that later.
This year I had no pretenses of trying to "get ahead of the slow people on the singletrack". I might as well have made a formal announcement, "My name is Lindsay, and I AM one of the slow people on the singletrack." So when the pack started rolling, I started rolling at exactly the pace that felt good to me, going souly on RPE with almost no mind to what my HR or the rest of the group was doing. I did pay enough mind to look back and realize I was literally DFL for a few minutes. I knew that wouldn't last long and that I would eventually pick off a few people before the day was over. Luckily, the first one came as soon as the first significant dirt road climb hit and the girl in front of me got off and started walking. I was shocked, because if you're walking on a dirt road that a car could easily drive up, what are you going to do on Blowout Mountain? I figured that was her decision, though.
So I moved on to where the normal dirt road turned into steep jeep road/double track. This part was kind of funny because I was just sitting in my granny gear easily picking my way up the hill, and observing what I liked to call "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams" because it was pretty much a gauntlet of people fixing flats on each side of the road. I had been warned about the sharp rocks in this section, so I make sure to be very careful picking my lines and not going full bore.
After that came the Womble, which was just kind of whatever for me. I was riding reasonably smooth and clean compared to last year, but I still wasn't going particularly fast. I was still reserving energy for later in the day.
I rolled into the first rest stop within my fairly arbitrary time goal, made some minor wardrobe changes due the rising temperature, grabbed some more water, and moved on. I was feeling good about my chances of finishing "pretty", meaning finishing still looking strong with little no doubt that I was going to finish, even if the placing wasn't great.
I knew ahead of time that the course I finished on last year was an abbreviated version, but I didn't really understand the differences for 2009. I knew there was a little more trail and a little more dirt road before the first rest stop, but I didn't know how much more road there was in the middle. Last year it took me 20-30 minutes to get to Chalybeate from the first rest stop and yesterday it took me an hour and a half. During this time, there was a lot of frustration and fear that I was lost, because the blue ribbons marking the course were few and far between. I also had to shoulder my bike and carry it through a thigh-deep creek while holding a rope that was strung up to keep riders from washing away. That would was interesting, but pretty cold, and the soggy shoes weren't fun.
So when I finally arrived at Chalybeate, I was pretty frustrated because my legs and butt were aching from an hour and a half of sitting and spinning. I was also starting to fear that I wouldn't make the last cutoff time. I walked up the initial steep ascent of maybe 100 meters, and then told myself to suck it up and ride the best I could, even if my chances of finishing were waning. Once the determination to suck it up was made, my spirits were quickly lifted when I realized that I was able to clear almost the entire mountain from that point on. That section does have one major rock garden that I wasn't able to clear, but at least this year it looked like something I could ride with a little practice rather than a hopeless mess. By the time I finished the descent, I had given myself the new nickname of "Rockhopper Rodkey", which is quite an overstatement, but I was feeling good about myself.
Blowout mountain was much the same, I had a little trouble getting to a place where I could make a clean run at climbing on the bike, but after two or three attempts I was caught by Jason, my coach. It was funny because that was our first in-person meeting, which was brief, but it seemed like some sort of weird sign. I was able to ride most of the way over the top, with just a few fumbles from that point on. I also rocked the descent for quite a while, although I was forced to walk a lot during the last third of the mountain, because then the rock gardens got too big for me to handle and then there more climbing, which was steeper and rockier than anything else that day.
Around the time that I was able to start riding again, it started getting really cold and the 3:30 cutoff time was rapidly approaching. I rode as well as I could, but since I really didn't have any idea of how much distance vs. time was left I had decided that whatever was supposed to happen would. My only dilemma was if I showed up at 3:28 and had to make the decision of moving on with no time for fresh water or warm clothes or just letting the clock run out.
That didn't happen, because I arrived at the last station at 3:45 and was informed that the cutoff was now 4:00. It was kind of upsetting, because I was already resolved in the fact that I ridden much better than last year and simply wasn't fast enough for the extended distance yet. All of the sudden, I was forced to give up my fantasies of an imminent shower and realized that the decision to finish was back in my hands. Although I could have dilly-dallied in the aid station a couple more minutes and allowed myself to be "administratively pulled", I had come too far to give up unless I really had to.
So I squeaked in just past the cutoff determined to rock Big Brushy the way I had Chalybeate. I did pretty good for a while and then I was joined by Todd, the sweeper, who I was somewhat familiar with through Sarah's blog. We chitchatted for a while, and I was riding well, but then I started to fade. Looking back, it's funny, because during the time thought I had missed the cutoff, I was vaguely disappointed that I would be pulled without ever seeing "the ugly place" where my legs buckled and pedaling up the smallest grade became a Herculean task. Not that I wanted to feel that way, but it just would have felt odd to be pulled off the course still feeling decent. However, to the dismay of myself and both the sweepers, "the ugly place" did come before we were off of Big Brushy and I ended up having to walk a lot, and whimper a little, too.
Once we got on the road, Todd implemented a pull me on the flats, push me up the hills, strategy that got us home much faster than I could have done on my own. When he found out that I was in the 60 mile race, he said that I owed him big time for moving the cutoff and allowing me to go down as an official finisher. By the time the ugliness hit, I wasn't so sure that I was glad that I had been allowed to go on, but he does have my eternal gratitude for helping me back and making sure I DIDN'T GET LOST this year. He even gave me an awesome lead out train for my lantern rouge winning sprint.
I'm well on my way to becoming the Wim Vansevenant of the Ouachita Challenge, so I'm now resolved to do better next year, not for myself, but for all of the volunteers who've had to sit around waiting for me two years in a row. I feel like I need to send them an extra big donation check in addition to my entry fee.