My front wheel sinks into a mud hole and I go over the bars. I land on some wet pine needles. Tim de la Garcon fades into the mist with the clanking of his derailluer.
"Oh June-Bugs everywhere! Come on now little boy!" Gunnar shouts in his nasally voice. Damn old bastard. I've gotta loosen up. I can't be crashing on these rocks for the next 45 miles.
I get on Gunnar's wheel and follow him through the endless rock garden. The forest is foggy and quiet.
"Crack rock! Woohoo!" Gunnar yells. He disappears into a handlebar-wide gap between two cliffs. I roll in behind him. There's no light between the rocks. I drop off a little boulder at the end of the cave and land on my front wheel. My suspension compresses with a thud. Dammit fool. That wasn't smooth.
Gunnar is bounding through some wet rocks next to the cave and chattering loudly. I follow him through the rocks, over some huge boulders, and down onto a section of double track. Now I'm feeling good. I attack and pull away from Gunnar on a climb. He catches back up and swerves in front of me before we hit the single track again.
We climb up to the top of the ridge and wind through the pine trees. Back down some rocks, then up again. At the first water stop Gunnar pulls off, I assume to deal with his incontinence. I've gotta hit it while he's wiping his ass. I pedal hard and twist through the pine trees. Across the top of the ridge on a section they use for the 2x12 race, then down onto a trail I've never seen before.
I pop over a log then slide down a wet bank. The mountain laurel closes tightly around the trail. It's scratching at my arms. I grind out of the soft soil and get back onto firmer ground. Out of the woods by the Campground Convenience Store, then into to some winding single track next to the road.
I grab my bottles at the start/finish, then look down the double-track. There are arrows pointing in two directions. "Which way do I go?" I yell up to the tent. No response.
"Which way?" Nothing. Gunnar, Todd, and Mike are crossing the road and coming up to the tent. Damn.
"Hey, which way?" Now the other three are right next to me.
"Oh, go straight," somebody finally says. That's great. Now I have to try to get away from these people again.
"See little boy, I went slow and I knew you would stop. My plan worked perfectly," Gunnar yells.
"Glad I could help. Were you changing your Depends back there?" I say.
"Oh yeah, you know puttin some fresh glue on the dentures," he says.
The four of us ride together for a few miles, then Mike drops off. A minute later, Gunnar vanishes behind me. Todd catches up. "What happened to those two?" I ask.
"Mike flatted, and I think Gunnar dropped his chain," he says. Nice. The old man won't have a chance to catch back up if we hold this pace. Water starts dumping from the sky.
I'm soaked in under 30 seconds. That was abrupt. My gloves squish on the grips and my shoes feel like little sunken boats. We climb over a tree and crash through some more over-grown mountain laurel. Todd pulls ahead of me on a section of flat double-track.
I decide to stop for a pee break. I've been holding it for about 43 miles, and that's long enough. I count the seconds and look behind me, hoping that Gunnar doesn't appear from the woods.
Back on the bike and through some fun single track next to a couple trailers. I know I'm close to the end now. Across the dam, only a mile or so to go. I look back again. No Gunnar. I coast down the last hill and cross the line. No Gunnar. Victory! And third overall. Not a bad day.
Brad the Birdman of Charleston is already changed and standing under the tent. "What happened to you?" I ask.
"Oh my hand hurt, so I quit," he says
"Dude, did you see the guy that got impaled with his brake lever? He had this big hole in his chest and blood everywhere." somebody says.
"Wow, he stuck a brake lever through his chest? That's pretty gnarly. So you quit because your hand hurt a little Brad?" I say.
Don Powers rolls across the line with some blood on his legs. "I crashed 8 times, and I saw this one dude go over the bars and land on his head. He didn't even know where he was. Totally knocked out," he says.
"You crashed 8 times and that guy knocked himself out? Crazy. Brad quit because his hands were sore," I say.
The Birdman glares at me.