Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Shift 4: Run for the border!

When Dorothy said we're not in Kansas anymore, she really meant she couldn't see these anymore.

Remember that blurb about those occasional hotels that are kind of suspect? Yeah, that was our Kansas hotel. After walking in, looking around and saying "hhmmm" in a rather glum tone, we focused on just getting some rest. But before we could do that, we need to have a conversation about the 800 pound gorilla in the room - the "good problem to have" conversation.

While we expected 20mph tail winds in Kansas before the race, we got 20mph cross winds throughout the state. Despite this, our team was still cranking along, but we still needed to estimate about where we were going to do a shift exchange. We knew the time (7am local), but where? Before going to bed, we realized we probably stayed one town further east than we should have, and would likely have to backtrack a little more than 'ideally' in the morning. I usually like to get up about ~2 hours before a shift start, but we were going to have get up a little earlier than normal. Now, backtracking is way easier on everyone (current and oncoming team) than trying to play catch up, but its still part of the game.

Fast forward to the next morning.
  • 1st order of business: moan and groan and damn the alarm clock
  • 2nd order of business: Check our updated projections, based on updates from our crew (we had to drive a little further west than expected)
  • 3rd order of business: confirm said projection with Truck1

The confirmation text message was pretty clear: Truck1 was projected to finish 45 miles west of the crew's projection, for a grand total of nearly 90 miles of backtracking. We had two hours before our shift start, had done no packing or prepping, and were still wiping the cobwebs from our eyes. No coffee, water bottles, food - nothing - had been made. I immediately got on the horn with John, started coordinating with our crew, emailing everyone to lift the inertia. While the immediate stress of getting out the door was paramount, the underlying reason also needed attention: weather. Our strongest truck wasn't meeting projections, not for lack of effort, but more for the weather cards they were dealt. In other words, the winds were stuff, and they were slowing us (and everyone else) down. I immediately started preparing for a tough shift (not that any shift is easy, but the challenges can be dynamic).

Fortunately, when we were on the road, I received a phone call from our crew member, the projection from Truck1 was off, and that the original projection place was a pretty good spot to shoot for, and that subsequent updates would be made as they got close. PHEW.

Fortunately, this got us to the exchange point in plenty of time. What was odd was that I feeling cold. After having 3 straight shifts in triple digit temperatures, the 72*F, humid and windy conditions made me cold. Hell, I had goose bumps and was shivering! Weird.

We got wind (no pun) that Truck1 was approaching, and that where we were for an exchange was perfect. It was also time in the race where I had a sinister laugh.

METAL was taking the last pull for Truck1, and Hammer was starting our shift. Hammer was positioned after the right turn, and halfway between the turn and a stop sign. Total Distance - quarter mile or less. METAL can roaring around the corner, and Hammer did his thing of getting up to speed. METAL started flooring it to catch him, but appeared to have some trouble. Next thing I know, METAL screams "SLOW DOWN!!!!", finally crosses wheels with Hammer, and off he goes. Funny part was - no one knew a stop sign was 100ft after an exchange. Whoops.

My thoughts were "Welcome to my world, METAL".

It turns out, the highest wattage, 579W, METAL put out for the entire race was at that exchange. This echoes my feelings. The hardest part of any pull for me is not the beginning of it when I'm getting up to speed, it's the end part of it when I'm just digging to catch up to my riding partner! I admit there was one time where I also got pissed and told him to slow down. I also realize that was probably some payback from the little incident in Monument Valley. hehe

Not as easy as it looks

This shift was wicked (note the Massachusetts heritage), and definitely unlike any shift I've done before. The wind was unrelenting in its battering against our right sides. I tried running my 404 up front, but that lasted all of one 3 mile pull, and that was with some tree coverage to my right. I opted for my most shallow wheel, an AC 420. Even then, it was like wrestling a bear on my bike. This image gives you a hint as to how slanted we rode:

Wind makes for ugly pedaling

I must have spent about a third of my time on the bullhorns, rather than in the aerobars because it was blowing me all over the place. Asking me to hold a straight line was akin asking a college student to do so while walking at 1am on a weekend night. I was all over the place! Just gnarly. There were times where I was really exposed that made it tough, but occasionally, there would be trees or hills to my right to provide some respite. This allowed me to relax a bit, but as soon as the coverage was gone, getting hit with it made me brace myself every time. Even passing our truck caused this on every single pull. It was truly "the gnar". 3 hours into the shift, the right side of my desk wheel was basically brown from all the dirt, grass and other crap that was blown from the Kansas plains onto it.

Waves of pain

After all that description, you can basically see all of that with a not-so-horizontal horizon in almost all of the ANIMAL CAM video, put together by our genious media team. Turn up your speakers!

Somewhere around the middle of the shift, we must have seen 5-6 solos out on the road, all within about 75 minutes of one another. It was insane. I somehow (was the asshole) that passed just about all of them, and while it was great to see them, I felt a tad 'odd' ripping by them at a speed that was likely more than double what they were doing.


About 3 hours into the shift, my left hip started feeling a little funny, and progressed to 'mildly bothersome' by the time the 5 hours were up. It basically felt like someone was jamming my femur into my hip socket. It's about as comfortable as it sounds. I was dealing with it pretty, starting to do a little bit of dynamic stretching off pull, and a little self massage. I wasn't about to let that get to me, because we were on the brink of something big.

Going to war with mother nature

Everyone thinks Kansas goes by fast because it's so flat. And while it does, most people don't recognize how long it is. Every year leading up to this year, it has taken our team more than 20 hours to cross the state. That means one truck gets more than one shift in Kansas. This year, that trend was not happening. We received word about 90 minutes before our shift change that it was possible to get to the Missouri border by the end of our shift. Not that we were sandbagging beforehand, but that fired our truck up! I took my last pull through some little town, and with the help of some locals, totally got the green light and just ripped through some brick-laden streets with plenty of cheering. I then handed off to the Hammer, who crossed into Missouri on his last pull of our shift. High fives and cheers were a plenty, and a lot of credit goes to our crew for helping us get there so efficiently.

The Show Me State!

Team Escort
In what seemed to be a daily tradition, Ryon chimed in with another gem of an email. Hypothesizing that our glycogen stores were getting low, he recommended to the entire team, even the crew, that we start getting more fat into our diets. For me, this is not a big deal. I usually get at least 50% of my daily calories from fat, and have always believed that "animal fat makes everything better". Ryon went on to say that he "didn't care if we were eating cheeseburgers and fries" - we just had to make it happen. Simply reading "cheeseburgers and fries" turned me into a new man. I immediately became fixated on having some. We scoped out the nearest Hardee's and everyone in the truck inhaled their meal.

From that point on, I craved a burger and fries after every shift, and made it a point to have some too!

We hadn't crossed the Mississippi yet, but the fatigue from the race was starting to set in about now (on schedule), and all the sudden sleeping in the truck became a hell of a lot more easy. So, take one tired racer, feed him a burger and fries, and within 30 minutes is guaranteed slumber in the back seat. This marked the point in the race where sleep was amassed more by naps in between shifts, rather than a standard 4-7 hours in a hotel bed.

We headed onward to Indiana, for what was one very tough shift for me...

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