September 04, 2007
I know many of you have been patiently awaiting the finally of my 200 mile bicycling adventure. I apologize for leaving you hanging - thanks Paul for the reminder.
Stage 7 (17.8 miles) & 8 (21.85 miles)
Arriving at exchange zone 7 was a big step. The next stage would be the shortest of all the stages - just under 18 miles. If I can just make the next 18 miles, I'll have only one stage to complete. I'm almost done! I can't believe I only have 40 miles to go to complete my first 200 miles in one day! Things are starting to look up, and although it was never terribly hot, things are starting to cool down as well. The cool breeze is a welcome change.
As I pull out of exchange zone 7, I make a left turn. About 1/2 mile down the road, Nancy pulls up beside me in the van: "You're going the wrong way" she says. "Not again" I think to myself. O well, at least it's only 1/2 mile. I turn and get back on course.
I don't remember a whole lot from stage 7. I do remember exchange zone 8. The volunteers there looked rather bored, and totally unimpressed that I had just ridden 180 miles to see them. They just wished I would hurry up and move on down the road so they could go home. So I ate a few snacks, refilled water bottles, and hit the road. My brother and his family were there to cheer me on. He let me know that the next climb would be short, but very steep. How right he was!
I began the ascent. It gradually got steeper and steeper the further I went along. The road was winding back and forth. The urge to stop and walk was overwhelming. Finally, about 1/3 mile from the top, I did stop, and I did walk. It was either that or fall over sideways!
Upon reaching the top, I remember some guy in a car stopped to ask directions. "I am not from around here. I don't even really know where I am" I told him. I mounted the bike, and began the descent. It was as steep going down as it was going up! This was a pretty scary moment. Back and forth, around the corners ahead, hoping a dog or a deer doesn't decide to jump out in front of me!
I made it down, then up another longer grueling climb, and back down the other side. The scenery again was absolutely stunning. God's creation was screaming out all around me. It was almost surreal. I finally made it to the final descent into Asheville. Nancy was there to guide me along the last few miles. I CAN'T BELIEVE I DID THIS! I just couldn't wait to get to the finish line! I envisioned a big sign with the word "FINISH". I envisioned a race official ready to record my final time. I envisioned Nancy and Garren standing there yelling and cheering me across the finish line...
I made my way through 8 or 10 stop lights. Traffic around me was oblivious to what I had just done. No one seemed to notice me as they whizzed past. I turned right, then rode through a couple more stop lights. I strained to see any kind of activity, a route sign, something to let me know I was heading in the right direction. We went about 1 mile. Nancy finally pulled up beside me: "We must have missed the turn. We are looking for the courthouse. It was supposed to be 1/10th mile from the last turn." So we looped back around. We finally found the courthouse. I coasted up on my bike. No one. No signs. No race officials. No cheering. What in the world? The course was supposed to stay open until 10pm. It's only 8:30pm. Did they forget about me? Did they give up on me?
Nancy wanted phone numbers - now. She wasn't going to have any of this! I said: "Who cares. I finished. You know I did. I know I did. I don't really care right now if anyone else knows. Let's go home."
So we did. We found a hotel. I crashed (after an amazing shower and a Bacon Cheeseburger from Wendy's). I was emotionally and physically drained. It was the strangest feeling I've ever felt. But I am so glad I did it. (Where do I register for next year?)
So where was everyone? Why wasn't there anyone at the finish line? I finally was able to connect with the race organizer. He told me that he never heard from the volunteers at the final exchange zone (that's right, the ones that didn't seem to care what was going on). He apologized profusely. He left the finish line just minutes before I arrived. We just missed each other.