Stairway to Hell

Endurance– the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.

May was hard. She changed me. Hurt me. Helped me. May was also full of smiles and hearty laughter.

Our community lost someone very special recently, and the last few weeks have been foggy at best. I recently came into a large amount of free time, so my head was given permission to stop working, and my heart was allowed to break in half. There was a peaceful silence and awareness of what really matters in this world. My fears and concerns seemed to disappear, but the ache in my chest was obvious and raw.

We gathered on Friday to love, mourn, laugh, and remember. We did just that. We’re all better people because of that man. We are.

And what about the 111k, Megan? Well, I’m so glad you asked. I’ve had a couple weeks to simmer down and forget about the heartbreak and tears, and now I can see that day for what it was. A breakthrough. A lesson. A testament to who I really am and how much I can endure. The 111k, just like PMBAR, changed me (I think for the better), and allowed me to dig deeper than I’ve ever had to dig before. So much digging.

As we lined up, I thought about what kind of day I was about to have. I was all smiles, and really honored to be one of the crazy people getting ready to embark on a long journey in that beautiful bubble we call Pisgah. I knew I wasn’t fast enough to line up in the front, so I bounced around in the back, making jokes and forcing smiles on everyone I made eye contact with. I was nervous as hell, though, and did my best to hide my fear from the world.

Eric said “GO”. We made our way to Clawhammer, and I watched everyone pass me. I got caught up in the heat of the moment, briefly, and quickly realized I needed to slow the fuck down and ride my own pace. I mean, we were 30 minutes into what would become a 12 hour day for me, so I needed to get a grip. I later learned I had my best Clawhammer time that day. Probably not the best way to begin my 111k journey, but I was definitely warm and ready to ride.

We meandered through the woods to Cantrell Creek, a trail I had never experienced, and the reality of the previous day’s rain hit me like a brick. Pisgah was sloppy and it seemed like every single rock on that trail moved. Hell, I would have been better off closing my eyes and feeling my way through that creek bed, but I decided to keep my eyes open and give it my best shot.

SO MANY DOWNED TREES. Everywhere. I hopped over a lot of the smaller ones, but played a conservative game with the bigger ones. I finally decided to ride over a much bigger, scarier (to me) tree, and my back tire slid sideways as I rolled forward. I was heading for a bunch of sharp rocks, so I corrected hard to the right, and made plans to ride through the enormous puddle off to the side of the trail. As my front end hit the puddle, I quickly realized the depth was more than I could handle, and my front wheel disappeared instantly. I flipped over the bars, taking one to the quad and the other to my chest, and landed flat on my face. I immediately felt pain and fear.

“Get up. You have to get up! It’s too soon. You have to go!” I yelled and cried and pleaded with myself to get up and get back on the bike. I was barely two hours into my day, and I feared that I was injured, but I started moving before the pain could reach me. I pedaled and cried and the first notion of doubt filled my head. I hate Cantrell Creek.

Then the last person, a really ripping female, passed me. I was officially last.

When I made it to the first aid station (20 miles in), I saw a bunch of happy faces. The Motion Makers crew was there to greet me with jokes, peanut M&Ms, and a quick look at my bike. I had to pee, so I literally just whipped off my bibs on the side of the parking lot, because I no longer gave a shit what anyone else thought. I ate a snack, grabbed my bike, and quickly said my goodbyes. For every minute I stood still, the hope for finishing the race would melt away. I wasn’t sad at this point, but I was getting there. 111k was going to kill me. I just knew it.

I’ve been mountain biking for a couple years, and riding Pisgah for about 4 months. I’ve ridden in wet conditions before, but nothing prepared me for the mental and physical anguish of trying to navigate these trails under a shit ton of mud and slimy water. Pisgah is a challenge for me when its sunny and dry, so this particular day was extra tough on me. I was also alone, and even though the course was marked, I was a little nervous riding solo. I was extra cautious in technical sections, and chose to walk in places I had cleaned before. I did not want to take any chances!

I made it to aid station #2, and I was officially sad at this point. I had only traveled 8 or so miles from the first aid station, and had yet to descend 1206 (just to climb back up it). I made small talk while I stuffed bananas in my mouth, and watched other racers crest the top of 1206 with blank stares and zombie-like movements. This aid station also served as #3 after you dilly-dallied for 20ish miles, running over to Spencer/Trace, and then climbing back up 1206. At one point I thought about riding up 5000 and down Bent Creek Gap Road. “I could just ride home from here and call it a day. I could quit right now”. It was so fucking tempting, y’all. But I didn’t. How would I get my car back to Asheville?

As I started climbing Spencer, I caught up to the woman who passed me on Cantrell. “You’re killing it, lady!”, she said as I rolled by. I thanked her and told her she was doing well also, but I wasn’t sure what I was killing. My brain cells? My bike? It was destroyed already. I felt like I was being killed. I pulled over and had a quick snack, trying to pull things together in my brain. I was having a rough time and could feel myself falling apart. I felt the tears coming, but I managed to hold them back. This part of the day was extra muddy and slick, but I kept the rubber side down and even had a little fun. I was taking it one trail at a time, and checking things off my mental list as I made my way through North Mills.

Climbing 1206. Ew.

When I made it back to the aid station, I saw my PMBAR partner eating snacks and having a good time with the Liberty folks. Mike was sweeping the 111k, and it made me happy to see that he wasn’t actually going to catch me. I WAS AT THE 3RD AID STATION. I was really happy for the first time all day, and felt a burst of energy because I knew I could finish the race. All I had to do was climb Laurel and descend Pilot. All I had to do, right? Sometimes my optimism blows my own mind. I was blinded by optimism. BLINDED. I high-fived everyone, and made my way down the road towards aid station #4. Little did I know, I was headed straight into the depths of hell. My own personal hell.

I noticed the sun was getting lower and the temperature was dropping. I crushed water all day because it was hot, and the waist-deep creek crossings had soaked everything that had not been touched by my sweat. I had crusted mud from my head to my toes from the endo I experienced on Cantrell, and my chest ached with every deep breath. As I began pushing up Laurel, something happened. My brain began melting and panic filled my body. I had been in Pisgah for 9 hours, alone and injured, and I held back the tears for as long as I could.

I couldn’t do it anymore. The tears streamed down my face as I fell apart.

I tripped over roots and rocks as I trudged up Laurel. This hike isn’t fun when you’re an hour in, so you can imagine my sadness as I tried to push after 9 hours of destroying myself. I thought, “How the fuck do people do this race in 6 hours?” I thought about what kind of food I wanted. I thought about how my friends were drinking beers and eating burritos by this time. I thought about how bad my chest hurt and how hard it was to lose my shit and push my bike with a sharp pain shooting through my body. This made me cry harder and louder, and for the first time all day, I realized just how lonely I was. I was in a dark place, and Laurel got the best of me. I kept pushing.

I was so relieved to make it to Pilot, and felt a small slice of happiness for a few minutes. Exhaustion had taken away my technical riding ability, but I was still able to descend part of the trail. Pilot is a bitch and very technical and tough for me on a good day, so I’m sure I would have been great YouTube entertainment as I attempted to get myself off that mountain. But the shit would eventually hit the fan…hard. I hit a patch of baby heads and it jerked my handlebars to the side. I heard a pop in my chest and immediately felt the fire of a million lightning bolts going through my body. I was 100% fucked. I couldn’t control my bike, couldn’t descend, and the pain was so intense, I could barely breathe.

I lost my mind.

Blair Witch Project

I kept saying “I wanna go home. I wanna go home. I don’t want to do this anymore!” I was crying uncontrollably. The wind had picked up and I was freezing. This was my breaking point. I walked 90% of Pilot, and was finally able to get back on the bike near the bottom. It was getting dark and I started having legitimate fears regarding the hike up and descent back down Black. I rolled up to the final aid station and literally broke down in the middle of the road. I got off the bike and saw my friend Laura standing there. You know when a kid gets hurt and doesn’t cry about it until they see their mama? Yeah, that’s how I felt when I saw Laura. I started crying again. I laid down in the middle of the road and just held my face in disappointment. The pain was too much to keep going, and my brain could no longer function to safely get me to the finish line. I was forced to call it. I had been out there for 12 hours. 60 miles into a 68 mile race…I couldn’t push myself any farther.

I felt sick with disappointment.

 

And that’s about all I can muster up. I’m not so butt hurt about the race anymore, and I learned a lot about myself that day.

And yes, I’ll be back.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements