As Nick and I started to gain elevation, and the sun cleared the horizon and we were presented with a much clearer picture of the lay of the land. We yelled back to Megan and Mark that we thought we might be right on top of the CP and were going to the top to have a look. They decided to try and triangulate our position on the maps while we did so. Upon reaching the top it did not look good. The last thing any of us wanted to do was to add more elevation to our trek, in fact I must admit I was very impressed with how steep the trekking terrain was throughout the race! Just as my heart was beginning to sink I caught view of that beautiful orange and white square blowing in the wind...
"TIMMIIIEEE!!" (Reference our FMIJ report for that one!)
Mark and Megs had confirmed our position shortly before we grabbed the CP, and already had our next line of travel in sight. With the sun now starting to warm things up we peeled off layers and our bodies started to feel rejuvenated once again, although people's feet were really starting to suffer. Mark and Megan's bodies were holding up well though and there was not a mention of serious pain (well race ending pain at least!). As long as we hiked and did not run I was sure we could make it through the rest of the trekking stages. We knocked down the final two CP's in succession and headed for the transition.
During our trek we realized that by switching Megan's torn tire to the front of the bike it should alleviate some of the pressure from sitting directly above it. This was about all we could effectively do to improve our chances at getting through the rest of the course.
We hit transition after a 22hr21m stage, we were just nineteen minutes slower than Dart's overall trek time I was well impressed with Mark's improved skills on the maps since last year! (It's always tough to get a fair estimate on stages as the race progresses and teams roll out different sleep strategies). We followed this up with one of our slower transitions in the race, but on top of the fact that we had to switch around Megan's tire, we also suffered two flats while we were out trekking! How do you flat when you aren't even riding!! After 1hr29m we departed with the 18th ranked transitional time. To top things off one of our 'presta valve' tubes had snapped at the valve itself while Nick was inflating it. Megan lost a spare tire with the rip to her sidewall in the previous bike stage and we were now down to just two spare tubes. It was not ideal but we were not too worried because we pretty much had enough patches to cover us through a porcupine attack!
We had only ridden a total of 180km to this point in the race, but all of our asses were already feeling it. Biking with a full pack changes things significantly! This was the longest bike leg of the entire race, listed at 145km and as we departed transition it took us a few minutes to get settled into the saddles.
Towards the end of the previous bike stage I was starting to have shifting issues. I tried my best to diagnose and fix the problem but could not seem to work it out. I was stuck with but one working gear, everything else would skip the chain off my cassette. Thankfully it was a mid range gear and I was able to bike most terrain with it, but my top end speed was effectively gone. This, however, would end up being the least of our worries.
As we departed the 4x4 roads and turned onto a paved surface again (for about 40km I think?), my tire flattened once again. We switched out tubes, checked my tire for debris and hit the road again. I think we made it about 5km before I sufferend an exact repeat! There were little thorns everywhere out here and as we checked our bikes we noticed that many of us had punctures that were staying sealed for the moment. Nick pulled out one thorn, heard a hiss and reacted by pushing it back in...and it actually sealed again! He decided to leave it until it needed to be dealt with.
We eventually covered the 10-12km to the first and largest town we would be passing through on the day...population of maybe a few thousand. Nick's thorn finally got the better of his tube as we were entering the town itself and we pulled in to a service station so we could at least get some food and shade while we patched it up. While Megan and Nick looked after that Mark and I biked across the street to a 'Tyre Shop' to see if they sold bike tubes at all?
"Awesome, we'll take four!"
"Love to help ya out but some other group of people wearing spandex already cleaned us out."
"You don't have anything, at all, nothing!!"
"Anywhere else in town sell mountain bike tubes?"
"Don't suppose there would be a bike mechanic in town?"
Alrighty then, thanks for yer help! We returned to the service station to find Nick's tube in his hands, he looked at us and asked if we had found tubes...
"No, what's up?"
"Mate, not good!"
He just held up two snapped valve's...
"WHATTTTT!!!!! WE'RE MINUS A TUBE!!! WE HAVE EIGHT WHEELS AND SEVEN TUBES!!!"
There was still at least 130km to go on this bike leg, there were no other towns of any size along our route, and the town we were in did not seem to present us with any options. We grabbed some hot food from the service station and started going over our options. At the same time we would ask every person that came into the shop if they owned a mountain bike. At one point two girls of about eleven years of age walked out and Nick looked at them,
"Would either of you girls happen to own a mountain bike?"
As the quickened their pace the respond with, "We don't even know what that is!"
What? How do you not know what a mountain bike is! We noticed a few more kids biking past on BMX bikes, and asked them the same question. They said that they did not know a single kid with a mountain bike in this town, "Nothing but BMX around here."
We were completely desperate and hitting up anyone within ear shot. We had to turn down no fewer than three rides to the transition in the back of trucks, but nothing in the way of tubes! We had now been here for over two hours and were getting ready to simply start going door to door. Someone in this damn town had to own a mountain bike!
At about this time another team showed up and stopped at the service station for some food. We immediately started asking for help with our situation but one team member spoke up and said they were not allowed to give us any tubes! I understand how valuable these items had become by now, but this was the first time in any adventure race that I ever had to ask for help and been denied it! We couldn't blame them I guess, but I was still shocked at the response! As that competitor went inside for food one of the other team members walked past us, slid a tube into our hands and simply said, "shhh!"
We had to wait five minutes for this team to depart before we could utilize it, and when we finally opened it we found that it was a schrader valve tube...as in it was too big for our rims...no problem! I walked into the service station, asked to borrow a drill and ten minutes later Nick's wheel set was large enough to accept schrader valves!!
We popped it in, biked straight to the hardware store and bought a container of super glue. Then we spun our wheels and glued over every damn thorn in there, which upon inspection were quite a few! After just under three hours, and none of it spent sleeping, we were back in the race! We didn't even manage to make it out of town before my chain started skipping in every gear and then, POP, my chain snapped!
I grabbed the 'chain break tool' and had the bike back together in a few minutes. To my absolute amazement my shifting problems had now been solved! I had been suffering from a bent chain link, yet another lesson learned!
"Alright, do you think that might be it for a few hours...or even minutes!!"
We started off slowly, just waiting for something to go wrong and after a few kilometers we got a really nice pace line going and started upping our speed until we were able to average over 30km/hr. We absolutely killed this section of road, something like 35km in just over an hour! We then turned off of the pavement and onto a washboard like 4x4 road. Bumpity, bumpity, bumps.
We played a fun game for the next hour, it went like this. Bike really fast to catch the next team in front of us, then puncture a tire and take five minutes to patch it up. Hop back on the bikes, work our asses off to get 'back on', then pop another tire and repeat, time and time again! The last three flats had been with me and to my rear tire, and even though we had checked the rubber for debris each time we had found nothing. There simply had to be something in there, I hadn't flatted in almost two years before this race and now I couldn't stop! I ripped it off the tire itself, flipped it inside out and was amazed to find it completely clean. It made no sense at all, so I started rubbing my fingers over the inside...I could not believe what I found. There was an absolutely minuscule fraction of a thorn pokeing through the tire and lodged into place. It was black tipped and all but invisible! Megan was the only one who could get her nails on it and after a minute it was out...could that really be our issue solved?
Back on, riding strong, another flat!! We determined this one to be from the previous patch not having sealed properly and decided it to be in our best interest to give it ten minutes. The sun was just started to set on what was yet another incredibly frustrating day of racing, but I really had to admire how the team was handling everything. Not only had we solved everything that had been thrown at us so far, but we'd managed to do most of it with a smile on our faces. Nick was a solid addition to the team. Outside of being a superb athlete he is one of the most level headed and entertaining individuals I have yet to meet. His well timed ridiculous comments served more service than a single tow rope ever could. At one point later in the night he pretended to pull out a cell phone and have a conversation with his Mother! It was so random and convincing that Mark and I actually looked at each other and I was starting to wonder why he was carrying his cell and how he was getting service out here!
Class clown Mark managed to put on quite the display of dance skills, and entertained all of us with his sundown silhouette impersonation of a bike racer, until his leg actually cramped up on him! Meg's and I sat back and enjoyed the show, and although we were dealing with one issue after another I don't think I've ever enjoyed a race more in my life! This night in particular just got ridiculous. I managed to flat one more time before we got it under control, but every time we stopped someone would tell a great story, or we would take the time to look up at what a perfect night sky we were racing under. We all spotted shooting stars, and it was a simply glorious night for star gazing. We were in the middle of nowhere and the sky seemed to have a few more galaxies than I remembered seeing back home. The Southern Cross was right above us and it took us an extra minute to get going again.
Shortly thereafter we crested a small climb and I let loose on the downside. I was truly feeling like we may have 'beaten the beast', I would never verbalize it, but how much else could go wrong out there? We had to catch a break at some point in time...didn't we? These were the thoughts I remember going through my head as I came within less than a foot of smoking a Kangaroo!!!
Kangaroo's simply freeze solid like a statue in headlights at night, they have no idea what is going on or how to react to it and there were two roo's now standing just off to the side of the road (a racer in XPD actually did collide with a Kangaroo, and I think his race was over after that!) We had seen Wallabies on our first biking leg, but at least they know to scamper off...apparently there were a whole slue of things that could go wrong that I had yet to even envision!
At the end of this bike stage we would reach mid-camp, where every team had a mandatory 6hr stopover. We were trying to fight through the 'sleepmonsters' to make it here as we would get at least a 4hr sleep at that point in time. Megan had purchased a $6.00 I-Pod speaker set up and we were using it to it's maximum capacity out here. Everything from gangsta rap to eighties love songs were playing on random and we sang along as best we could. The reactions from teams we caught were always funny as they had no idea where the music was coming from or what was going on!
Eventually, once we again realized that our 145km bike like was looking more like 160+, we decided that we would need a 30 minute power nap. We dropped our heads but in the cold it was difficult to get to sleep. I simply lay there wishing I could curl up in a nice bed somewhere, or even a bush or some sand, the rocks were putting my hips to sleep and when I tried to stand my entire body let me know that I had now been racing for almost four days straight.
I think the actual distance on this bike leg ended up being closer to 180km but I don't have anyone to confirm that with tonight. I know it was significantly longer than expected because we witnessed team after team drop down for sleep. Even though a 6hr stop was just ahead many could not make it through. The last five kilometers seemed to go on forever and we were starting to wonder if we had somehow overshot the damn thing until the lights illuminated the field where we would be presented with a tent to bunker down in. Bring it on!!
With all of our bike issues we had taken over 17hr to make it in! It was the 23rd ranked biking time. The news got a little worse as they told us that there were no tents available! The good news is that they were giving each team a hot breakfast and we simply devoured the eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns and I think we even dipped into our peanut butter to get some fat and additional calories in!
Our only option at this point was to wait for a tent or to sleep in the adjacent building where the bikes were being stored. It was freezing in that building as the doors were just left open due to how much traffic was passing through, but there was a small kitchen that was not in use and I figured that if we pulled the door to, our body heat should warm it enough to be comfortable. We all dropped down on the wooden floor, pulled our space blankets over us, and I used a shoe as a pillow. I was asleep and dreaming within seconds!