I was so happy to meet my new found friends again. After our hasty break we took off again. The clouds started to break and it started to warm up. We continued to work a paceline holding a steady pace. We did a lot of talking as we rode. I learned that the previous year Stephen had bought a bike days before and he and his friends had fought through every mile. That they picked up the older gentlemen on the course and bonded and this year they trained.
We were just about half way when one of the brothers began to bonk. The paceline fell apart and we all rode abreast talking and working our way down the road. We got to a small town (small is probably still to big) and stopped at a gas station. Two old guys, drinking "soda" from brown paper bags stood outside and stared at us. Of course we weren't the first group of spandex clad men to ride through, the main group went by earlier. We stopped and at some food. I bought a Mountain Dew and ate a candybar. We took a solid break becuase shortly after we started riding again we would hit the first climb in the Tunica Hills.
We wanted to make sure everyone was fresh, I was offered a Moon Pie, which combined with an orange soda is possibly the best bonk breaker in the world. Or so I was told. The old men were asking us questions, mostly along the lines of "what in the hell are you doing riding your bikes out here?" A completely reasonable questions with an unreasonable answer "why not?"
We started off and took a hard left, and then it began. The climb. It is at this point that I declare that I had no idea that there were steep, long hills in Louisiana. We bagan to climb and climb and climb. It was suprisingly tough and it was warming up.
I was advised to take my time on the climbs since there were multiple sets. They had a time goal that was pretty reasonable so we just cranked along.
The first set of climbs was realitively easy. A SAG stop at the top was appreciated. The ladies were there with their tables set up. They said that they were getting more traffic than the actual SAG which had amazing bacon and cheddar kolaches. They put the good stuff like the bacon and red bulls aside until we got there. Again, I felt honored that they would include me in the finer refreshments. Refreshed we took off again.
There were many miles of road cut deep into the Tunica Hills. I am not sure how much effort it took to cut these but it made for an interesting ride.
The goal was not to walk, if someone needed to stop and rest they did so, but they would do so in place and then ride.
The second series of climbs got old and I thought I would be glad to get back to some pavement. A reminder, we were all doing this on 25-28mm road slicks.
Then came the final strech, one that cuased a little pain and discomfort and reminded me that pavement is not always better than dirt.
Then there was this. The picture below is pavement and it was harder to ride on than the dirt roads.
The picture below is the original of the macro picture above.
Chickens, why not! My own lack of preperation began to catch up with me and the rough roads were causing discomfort. At some point we got seperated for some reason and I kept pedaling. Before I knew it I was on the final stretch and finished with the last climb into St. Francisville. The finish was next to an old church and cemetary, Fitting if you ask me. I fellt bad that I had broken away and didn't finish with the group. Their spouses were waiting patiently and I told them they wer enot far behind.
I was begining to get concerned about my co-workers. It wasn't long before one of them, an endurance junky, came along. New bike and tennis shoes, the race director told me he was impressed. The other one was some ways back. So I jumped on my bike and went to look for her. I think I rode about 5 miles and found her. Then 5 miles back. I was done. She toold me that she had missed every SAG and was running low on food. I was just glad she was there.
I rode back to the hotel, changed in the bathroom and loaded my bike. I began the long winding drive home. It was a painful drive only made possible by large quantities of caffiene.
This is a well run event. 28mm tires are probably best (if your bike will take them). I am gllad I didn't run my Clement MSO tires since there was far more pavement than gravel. Even the dirt is smooth and there was only a couple of places where I had to pay attention not to spin out on loose gravel.
I would recommend to anyone to pack as much food as they can in jersey pockets just in case. Three water bottles is probably sufficient (again if you bike will do it).
It is worth every dime, the swag bag included a shirt, a sweatshirt, waterbottle, food vouchers, and a chance to win a bike. The best part of the ride was easily the commaraderie and generosity of four men, for whom I owe a big thanks.