Check point three was 45 miles into my Shenandoah Mountain 100 ride. It is located at the base of a downhill run that rides like a wooden roller coaster: tight turns, stomach altering elevation changes, and near misses of low hanging tree limbs. The descent was several miles of thrills that set the mind racing with norepinephrine and gave me a sense that I can walk on water. I felt great rolling into the stop! I took very little time to eat and refill my water and felt like the remaining 55 miles were mine.
Things turned quickly in the next section of the ride.
The course to check point four starts with several miles of flat highway riding. It can be a spot to pick up ground and I thought that was what I was doing when I put my head down to draft off of a guy passing me. We took turns pulling to the trail head. The pace was high and I kept some of the steam up into the notoriously technical climb in the woods. Eventually I succumbed to the grade, the roots, the rocks and my rising heart rate. I hiked a good portion of the final ascent, but alas the summit came.
I took a breath, took in the view and giddily I mounted my metal stead.
Something was wrong. I could not maintain my line on the single track. I found myself off course and unable to sustain any meaningful speed. Each root and rock sent a shock wave through my bike and into my body. After a miserable few miles of down hill, I slow pedaled the final mile of flat into checkpoint four. A volunteer made eye contact and asked if I was alright. I was not alright. I tried to avoid verbally acknowledging the anguish but my body would not hide the truth. She persisted and brought me food, filled my camel bak and made sure the mechanic lubed my chain.
I did not know if the next 18 miles to checkpoint five were possible, let alone the remaining 43 to the finish.
There is a good chance the over exertion on the highway clouded my thinking. I did not listen to the cues of my body, or even the voice in my head, until I started THE DESCENT of the day 20 miles later. Several hundred meters into what should have been my entrance to euphoria, I encountered the same sensations of the previous down hill. This time I stopped. I decided to check my machine and behold I found the problem! My suspension was locked out by mud. I spent a few moments cleaning and working the parts and got my bike operating much better. I remounted and proceeded to find a state of flow far beyond my typical daily existence!
Processing the experience allows me to see a lesson I can take into life beyond the saddle. Your brain and your body are finely tuned machines, particularly if you have done your homework or practiced. They can provide you with incredible information that you just need to pay attention to. I rode 20 plus miles on faulty equipment. It cost me time, it cost me energy, it could have lead to a DNF and it could have damaged my nearly-new-shamefully-expensive bike.
Space to think turns mistakes into the gold of knowledge!