The first half was so fast!
Friday morning found me having a hard time getting the van stove going. The temperature was just a few degrees above zero. After some last minute adjustments I barely made it to the start before the 9am go time. The first 25 miles were sunny, firm and fast. I arrived to the first aid station and barely felt the need to stop other than to fill up my bottles with hot water. The volunteers were incredibly knowledgeable about the course and warned us that the next 25 miles would be more difficult, including the high point over the continental divide and the ungroomed section of trail. I decided to throw a baked potato into my belly. And a handful of peanut M&M's for good measure.
The next section was interesting, for sure, but conditions remained good. The beginning of the ungroomed section involved a steep, wide-open descent and I managed to crash right away. No big deal; just got a little loose and laid my bike down into a lot of powder. The bike landed on its non-drive side. It was tricky to right myself, but all seemed well. I decided to air down the tire pressure and instantly found the traction I needed.
It was fun navigating the vast and expansive terrain through that ungroomed section but at some point my chain developed an occasional skip. A quick eyeball inspection of the drive train couldn't identify anything to remedy, so I just kept on grinding. Shortly after dark, when I was probably about 1-2 miles for the Sheridan aid station, I down-shifted into my granny and stood up to mash up a climb when *SNAP!* I know I swore aloud, but I can't remember what the cuss was. Sure enough, my chain broke in half. I knew I either had to repair it quickly, or prepare to walk the rest of the way to the aid station. It was dark and I would get cold quickly kneeling in the snow, handling metal tools and bike bits. I hadn't had the foresight to pack a master link. Luckily, I was able to easily remove a link and was back in business after just a few minutes. The skipping seemed to be gone, but I was nervous to use all of my gears. I crossed my gloved fingers and said a silent prayer that the repair would hold for another 50 miles.
body systems began to rebel
The night was dark and I kept thinking that the moon was rising, but instead it would be a SAR volunteer patrolling on a snow machine. They were so good at checking on us and making sure we were doing alright. Seriously, this race had the kindest and most talented volunteers!
A few hours into that section of trail, my bowels decided it would be best if I didn't eat or drink until the next aid station and its accompanying bathroom. Lets just say that I didn't take very good care of myself through the middle of the night. I started having a dry cough. This is something that often happens during longer races, so I thought nothing of it. There was also a little bit of a wheeze, but it didn't seem to bother me much, so NBD. I just kept plodding along slowly.
I eventually made it to the Warm Springs Aid station around 3am, but I had dug myself into a hole and my pace had slowed way down. I considered a bivy. I could hear some other riders snoring outside of the shelter. Despite sitting next to the heater for at least an hour, drinking a cup of coffee and 2 bowls of Mac'n'Cheese, I couldn't warm up. I knew if I got into my bivy, I would shiver for a long time before falling asleep, and then it would be even harder to get moving. I dreaded getting out of my bivy in the cold more than anything. So I decided to get back on the bike. Once I was moving again, I quickly warmed back up, but I now felt like my breathing was off. The cough was occasional, but my breathing was ragged and more labored than it ought to have been for the effort I was putting out. The medical word for my breathing symptoms is dyspnea. It's something I see on daily basis at work, but I had never felt before in my entire life. I just couldn't catch my breath or take a deep breath.
$h*% got real
I averaged a little less than 2 miles an hour for the next 10 hours.
I initially had fun and was able to mostly stay on the bike through the wind drifts. But as the terrain flattened for the last 8 miles, I resigned to pushing my bike into a relentless headwind. I was intermittently pelted with graupel or blowing snow. I felt like instead of a bike, I was pushing a 50 lb. sail into a gale. I would occasionally try to ride for a short section, but ironically I would become too winded to pedal into the headwind almost instantly. It kept getting harder to get up when I would fall over. I would have made a little bivy and tried for a respite, but there was nowhere to shelter from the wind and I couldn't imagine getting rest in those conditions. I had to push on.
Wyoming wind is legit.
I would pause every 20 paces to try to take a deep breath, but couldn't. It was like there was a vice grip squeezing my chest walls. Despite the incredibly slow pace, I couldn't get my respiratory rate to slow and I began to wonder if I had a touch of HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema) or pneumonia. I've never wanted to quit a race before, but I seriously started to consider the possibility. Tiptop SAR really is the best. Jason, a local PA and avid snow-machinist obliged my concerns by checking my SpO2 with his handy pulse oximeter: 95%. Completely normal. And my heart rate was barely elevated. I felt like a fool. I was probably just sleep deprived and feeling anxious. Jason assured me that several other racers were also having respiratory complaints and offered me some albuterol. I've used other people's inhalers before without any positive effects, but this time it actually seemed to help. For about 5 minutes. And then I was right back to shallow, tachypneic, loud and labored breathing. *sigh*
I ended up being out there for about 34 hours. I was the 2nd female finisher on a bike and 10th overall.
In hindsight, I would have made very few changes to my gear. I do wish I'd spent more time on the fatbike before race day, but we play the hand we are dealt.
Next up: something warmer and more local ... like a little jaunt across Washington, XWA.