Huddle House vs. Waffle House
I didn’t sleep as well the second night; despite my exhaustion, it took me a while to fall asleep and I kept restlessly waking up at odd increments.All of my usual tricks to try and return to dreamland didn’t work; sometimes when you’re stuck in insomnia mode, there’s nothing more futile than trying to will yourself to sleep — you just become more awake through the effort. But I must have dozed off as the alarm screeching at us at 4AM pushed me out of bed. I’d already prepped everything a few hours before, so I was ready in about 15 minutes for our Huddle House breakfast which was conveniently located right next door. Patrick was a bit more bleary-eyed and needed some more time, so I went to go grab the key for the drop bag room. Ed, the ride leader for the 1200k, happened to be outside on the phone with Tony. Apparently the night clerk wasn’t answering the door, so I just handed him my key and wished him luck getting his bags. We left ours in the room and figured they’d get picked up later on.
Patrick and I were excited for our “Waffle House vs. Huddle House” smackdown, but the first round wasn’t even close. Huddle House had awful service, NO BISCUITS and the hash browns were mealy and undercooked. We ate up anyway as we needed the fuel, but we were seriously underwhelmed (especially by the grits, which Patrick declared to be utterly flavorless.) Waffle House – 1, Huddle House – 0.
Cookin’ With Gas
It was still warm and humid when we returned to the dark roads at 5AM, so once again, my base layer and reflective vest were all I needed to wear even in the wee hours of the morning. I found the quiet roads peaceful and calming, without all of the cars and trucks relentlessly zooming by us on those shoulderless roads from yesterday. And the pink sunrise to the east was lovely, slowly poking its head up and illuminating the rows of cotton we passed by.
We were making good time as we rolled through South Carolina farm country. This section was flatter than the previous days’ roller coaster ride, and we only took two quick pit stops at gas stations. Cows grazed lazily by ponds, bright red barns and hundreds giant hay bales dotted the landscape, perfectly symmetrical like an agrarian optical illusion that stretched into the distance. Jason happened to call us around this time, just as we were speeding down a descent. Patrick was concerned something had happened so we stopped mid-way so he could try and chat with him. But the reception was poor so the conversation was cut short. (We found out later on that Jason was just calling us out of sheer boredom; thanks, dude.) And I believe I won one of the two city limit sprints for the day in this leg of our journey; I took Patrick by surprise and sniped it right at the last minute (my ruse was to casually drinking water just moments before.)
Huddle House vs. Waffle House – Round Two
68 miles later with an hour to spare, we reached the sleepy town of Saluda. As our cue sheet denoted the existence of another Huddle House, we thought we’d give it another try and see if it fared better. And the answer was…nope. It took us forever to get service — perhaps they didn’t like the Asian woman or the “gay” dude wearing tight spandex as customers, who knows. They blamed it on the fact that they had two staffers that were new and in training mode (and admittedly, our server seemed like she didn’t do well under pressure with a busy dining room), but still — it took us a full 75 minutes to get out of there. At least they had biscuits and gravy and the hash browns were crunchy. Patrick took the opportunity to get a big ol’ chocolate milkshake that went so well with the cigarette smoke wafting in from the next booth. Final Score: Waffle House – 2, Huddle House – 0.
Clinton, Here We Come
The next town on our itinerary was Clinton, which seemed like a luxuriously short 37.8 miles away. We had until 4PM to get there and it was only just after 11:30am, so we had plenty of time to relax and go at a leisurely pace after this morning’s hustle. Now we were getting a little bored at this point, so I suggested we play the “Alphabet Game”. You try and find each letter of the alphabet on a different sign that you see (I used to play this game with my brother on the long road trips we’d take across country with my parents.) It helped give us our minds something to do as we rode through the prolonged tracts of farmland. Just as we arrived on the outskirts of town, we were rolled past my best friend’s alma mater, Presbyterian College.
A nice volunteer named Joel (who I’d actually met and ridden with briefly during 3CR), pulled up alongside us in his mini-van. He offered us some drinks, but we said we’d wait until we got to Days Inn which just a few miles away at that point. After a few head-scratching moments in which we were puzzled as to where we’d make our next set of turns, we finally arrived at the hotel, sweaty and ready for some refreshments. But no one was there to greet us yet — we were too early — and the only person we saw was Rivendell guy from Ohio, who had DNF’ed and was searching for his drop bag. So we bought our own drinks and kicked back and relaxed in the lobby. The sweet lady behind the desk gave us some Krispy Kreme doughnuts, too. And we had enough time to get more fried, carby snacks from Wendy’s.
Rollers and Rollers, Over and Over to Clover
Tony had advised us to “save some juice” for the last 100-ish miles of the ride, and I kept waiting for his ominous warning to rear its ugly head. After consulting Patrick’s Garmin oracle, we ensured we were headed in the right direction and proceeded to ride the roller-centric 62.8 miles in the unrelenting humidity. One positive thing I realized, however, was while my usual heat rash spread across my quads from the sun — I didn’t get my usual blinding migraines or sore gums when the temperature kicked up above 90 degrees like I do in California. I think the dryness of the air is more debilitating to my system, whereas I was able to tolerate it much better during this ride. Plus the humidity did wonders for my skin — so soft! so supple! — unlike its usual crackly state where I have to slather on a ton of lotion. (More incentive to move to Hawaii down the road…)
Along the way, Ed, the 1200k ride leader, “lapped the field” and caught up to us from Barnwell. He wasn’t in a very chatty mood although I had so many questions for him: how many hours had he slept? What had he been eating? (It didn’t look like he was carrying much on his bike.) And what was up with those white compression socks? He sped off with a “no-time-to-chat, I’m-taking-care-of-business” briskness and left us behind pondering those thoughts.
With the effects of sleep deprivation really starting to settle in, I was starting to mentally and physically unravel. Even stopping for some water and Cherry Coke at a gas station (which I couldn’t stomach and drank only half) barely helped. I was so very sleepy and even found myself closing my eyes a little bit too long on the bike. I jolted myself awake but then thought, “Would it really be too bad if I closed my eyes again? How long can I safely coast on this road without seeing?” Even closing them for five seconds felt rejuvenating, or at least I was able to trick my brain into thinking this was true.
Patrick was a steady beacon, whether up close or further up, that I could mindlessly follow as we went up and down the rollers. And taking photos helped keep my spirits up, especially when we rolled through downtown Union with its elegant courthouse building and main streets festooned with large American flags.
I clearly wasn’t eating enough and kept struggling with the annoying packaging of my Sports Beans packets (I’ll save that rant for another day, but it’s impossible to get those things out of those miniature Ziploc bags while on the bike!) And chewing each bite of an energy bar felt was such a tedious chore. And while I felt guilty for resorting to my anti-social life raft, I put on my iPod so my playlist could help motor me up the hills. Singing to myself kept me awake and took my mind off of the agonizing rollers that kept coming at us. (And ironically enough, I had included the songs “Long Black Road” by ELO and “500 Miles” from the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack on my playlist.) But Patrick was still in good spirits — he was ecstatic that his knee pain had completely disappeared — and didn’t take it personally that I needed to crawl into my self-imposed k-hole for a bit.
The Final 43
When we finally crawled into Clover, Patrick was hoping to sit down for a proper dinner. But I was worried about squandering too much time. While the remaining 43 miles seemed ostensibly easier on paper — the longest leg was a little over five miles — so we’d have plenty of twists and turns to help keep us alert. But I felt my engine winding down into idling mode and didn’t want to lose my forward momentum. So we grabbed those plastic-tasting sandwiches from the Kangaroo mart and had ourselves a quaint hobo picnic outside of a loud bar on Main Street. One surprise was that we had caught up with Ed, who had also been bogged down by the bumpy roads, traffic and hills of the last section. He asked how long we’d be lingering at the stop as he was just on his way out shortly after we’d arrived. I said, “Hmm, maybe 10 minutes?” and he replied that we’d probably see him again on the road then (we didn’t.)
Spoiler alert: here’s where my narrative reaches the official “low point” of the ride. I was starting to develop “country road-itis”, where the stillness of the evening was exacerbating my drowsiness. My hazy reverie would only be interrupted by the noise and headlights of trucks and cars roaring past, which were starting to put me on edge. And just when it seemed as if the rollers were behind us, they got even steeper. By mile 13, I was feeling so demoralized that I needed to stop and just throw myself a pity party right there and then. There was a bench in front of a closed convenient store where we sat down to rest. Patrick let me whine for a good 10 minutes — but also reminded me I should eat, so I bitched and moaned about hard this all was while eating two bananas — and I said, “I don’t know if I’m cut out for this,” with a big sigh. He was a wonderful listener and offered lots of nuggets of support, basically talking me off of the cliff of despair.
Patrick asked, “I mean, what are you gonna do, you can’t DNF at this point,”
And I replied, “No, there’s no DNF’ing, just rolling hella slow,” And with that, I picked myself up and said to myself, “Let’s finish this fucking ride.”
Now at mile 591.4, it had been over 200 miles ago since I’d reached the point of my longest ride to date (600k, or 373 miles). And were my legs and ass were sure feeling it. I think my quads had sprouted some new muscles as they felt as if they’d swollen to twice their size, and my derrière, despite my comfortable Brooks Cambium saddle, was ready to go on strike. But then we hit an area of suburban strip malls that were strangely soothing; it was a great relief to leave the black abyss of the countryside and have a brightly lit lane all to ourselves along the four-lane roads.
Then it was back to the hilly roads near Lake Norman, where I said to Patrick, “I think Tony has a sadistic streak.” One of them was so steep that Patrick shifted up too late and ended up dropping his chain and took a tumble off of his bike due to the road’s incline. But he dusted himself off and onward we climbed…and climbed.
Plus, there were dogs — black dogs that fiendishly hid under the cover of night. The previous days, most of the dogs that’d bark at us would stay within the boundaries of their yards (especially if we loudly yelled, “NO!” or “GO HOME!”) But the terror-inducing dogs we encountered now scared the shit out of us. In one instance, Patrick saw a little dog streaking across the lawn — serving as an evil decoy — so we didn’t see its large partner in crime heading for us from behind. All we heard were its menacing paws suddenly thumping and scratching on the pavement and Patrick was amazed and amused by how fast I sprinted the hell out of there. Now while I’m a dog lover, I had no problem telling these dogs, “Fuck you!” which gave Patrick the giggles. (We heard later on that NC Rando Bill had a worse bit of luck with these dang dogs. One bit his shoe and the ensuing tussle sent him to the ground. Fortunately, he was relatively unscathed, although his front wheel’s hub started making odd noises above 15 mph so he had to slow his pace down on the descents.)
And in one truly terrifying moment, a pick-up truck screeched by us with its (probably inebriated) passengers shouting insults. We watched it zoom up the hill in front of us, then slowly flip a U-turn and head back down in our direction. Patrick moved up in front of me towards the middle of the road in the hopes of blocking its path to me (what a hero), but thankfully — the truck went on its way and left us alone. Too bad the sheriff who’d rolled up alongside us to compliment us on our reflective vests wasn’t around at that moment.
With all that excitement, did we really need more? Of course we did. Mr. Headwinds decided to join the party, along with Mrs. Rain Showers. But as we backtracked on part of our original route from Day 1 (although none of it looked familiar to my addled memory), I began to marvel how far we’d ridden. Wow, we RODE all of this! My brain simply couldn’t process it right there and then.
And then, after cutting one corner to cross a hellaciously busy intersection, we were DONE. ‘Twas Sunday, 1:26AM, 69 hours and 26 minutes later. We celebrated with high-fives and hugs.
Terry welcomed us back, signed and collected our cards and helped us get our drop bags so we could go get some rest. Apparently my body was still thinking I had another 200k to ride, so I only got 5 hours of sleep before my eyes popped open. Patrick slept in a longer, and then we proceeded to go have coffee, a pre-breakfast of sushi, then brunch at a local bar with 150 beers on tap (although as it was Sunday, we had to wait until after noon to order any.)
We’d been tracking Jason’s progress on our app and so we were ready with celebratory pizza and beer by the time he arrived on his fixed gear just before 2pm. The BLC train showed up about two hours later, and we hung out in the lobby waiting for others to appear. The NC Randos rolled in together in smaller groups, including Robert and Bill, and later Ian and Mary (which we missed as we were at dinner. But we had the chance to meet Ian’s lovely wife, Mary, who brought him a celebratory cake that congratulated him on his K-Hound — so thoughtful!)
But the most triumphant moment of the evening was when a local rando, Bob B., arrived at 9:27pm (89 hours and 27 minutes) and enough time to make the 90-hour cut off. This was his first successfully completed 1200k, and his wife had been anxiously waiting for him to arrive all day. He’d been suffering from back pain and we spotted him on the road, trudging through the rain, as we were heading back from dinner. When he coasted down the hill into the hotel parking lot, it was a truly touching scene as his wife happily kissed him and his son gave him several big hugs. He could barely throw his leg over his bike to dismount but dammit, he had finished! I teared up and realized then that yes, what we’d just accomplished was pretty awesome.
Well, I couldn’t have finished this 1000k* without the support, generosity and love from many people, including: Alfie (who lent me his light); Eric W. (who lent me his generator hub front wheel); the San Francisco Randonneur community (who sent me many messages of encouragement); Jason (for convincing me to go and being a fantastic cheerleader); the BLC Train (for being great company and comrades on Day 1 and the rest of the trip); all of the great randonneurs I met through the journey; my husband (for coming along with me on crappy training rides, texting me en route and putting up with all of my nonsense); and the ever-patient, fun and all-around superstar Patrick, without whom I certainly couldn’t have finished the ride — especially during that soul-testing 43-miles at the end; and the North Carolina Randonneurs, for showing us true Southern hospitality during our great adventure through their home. And many thanks to Tony Goodnight and his tireless volunteers for organizing a fine event that spanned three states and countless miles. It was a honor to have this be my first 1000k.
***Our 1000k route is officially known as “Harvest Time”, and not “Taste of Carolina”.