"What's your vegetable today?" Colleen asks. We're sitting in the the middle of a crowded Cracker Barrel. There's a sign for 1% - a Modern Milk on the wall.
"Rice," the waitress says. Some old people are buttering biscuits.
"Rice? Rice is your vegetable?" Colleen says laughing. I put my head down on the wood table. Stop badgering the waitress Colleen. The poor woman doesn't care that rice is a grain.
"Yesm. Rice," she says impatiently.
After we eat, we leave Altoona and finish the drive to Coburn. It's 9:30, so we're some of the last ones into the campground. I pick up my number plate and drive the tiny convertible aimlessly around the packed field looking for the campsite where Don, Aaron, Rob, and Rob's Connecticut friends are set up.
I see a dark figure walking towards the car. "You drove right past us. I was like, what is he doing. Go park over there," Don Powers yells and points.
I swing the tiny convertible onto some grass next to Aaron's Mini Cooper. We grab our tent and bags and follow Don Powers. Everybody is sitting in the dark under an easy-up. I can't make out a single face. There isn't much conversation. I fill my bottles, drop off my drop bags (two bottles, one gel flask, and a cliff bar in each one), and lay down in the tent. The stream and bugs are louder than the 300 people camped in Coburn Park.
I have to piss three times during the night. Damn suggestive stream. I make sure to go next to Aaron's tent.
It's light already. Colleen shakes me. I groan. I hate these early starts. I check my tire and fork pressure. Pull on my riding clothes and head over to the port-a-potties. The line is huge on both sides. I count the people. 15. Dammit. I stand there for almost 20 minutes while people slowly file in to the bathrooms.
It's almost 7. I stand next to Garth Prosser and Matt Ferrari in the big pack. The Land Cruiser pulls away, and the neutral roll out begins. Garth waves to me to follow him up to the front. I look down at his seatpost. He has a little wrinkly guy with an erection zip-tied to it. That's odd.
The Land Cruiser pulls off and the pack turns left across the bridge. The Pflug immediately takes the lead on the climb. Holy shit. He's drilling it already. I jump on his wheel and hang on. We pass all the geared guys and start pulling away from the field. The Pflug is setting the pace at around 18 mph on this steep climb. This is ridiculous.
Four miles later we hit the crest. He hasn't slowed down at all. The gravel road flattens out, and the fast geared guys finally start to come around. The pace ramps up to almost 30. I hang on for a few miles, but then I have to let them go. I can't spin on a flat road like this. It's going to kill me. I drop back to my comfortable 15 mph pace.
The remaining 20 miles to aid station 1 are terrible. I'm by myself almost the entire time, spinning along the gravel roads dejectedly. I can't wait for the climbs to start.
I finally make it to the aid station, grab a couple bottles, and start the second big climb of the day. I'm hoping that I can start catching up to some of the guys that were able to hang in the fast group longer than I could. I hit three bridges, screw up the rock garden, then roll back out onto more gravel.
Through Aid 2. I've only seen a couple other single speeders. I'm not sure what place I'm in now. More gravel and gravel and gravel and gravel. Man I forgot how gravely this race was. They should call this the NUGGET series. National Ultra Gravel Grinding Endurance... but what's the T?
I ride the big climb out of Aid 2. That was long. I start the descent. I pass at least 12 guys that are off to the side of the trail fixing flats. The downhill is sweet. I'm cruising down the bumpy rocks, making a little turn at the bottom, then it's over.
Gravel gravel gravel gravel. The stupid little rocks crunch under my tires. I climb the big hill up to Aid Station 3. That was also long. I grab some gels and bottles from my drop bag. Colleen is under an easy-up tent pouring little cups of Coke and swatting away swarms of wasps. I ask how far ahead the Pflug and Ferrari are. 25 minutes and ten minutes. I have 40 miles to go. Man, it's going to be really hard for me to make up any of that time on all these roads.
I hit a cool section of rocky single track on top of the ridge. It winds around through the trees and over some rocks. I pass people through the rock gardens, then I come up behind a guy that's riding pretty slow. I better get around him before this long downhill starts. There's no place to pass safely unless he lets me.
"Hey man, can I scoot around you?" No response.
"Can I get by?" No response. He's still going really slow.
"Hey, can you let me pass you? We're not even racing. I'm on a single speed and I need to make some time down this hill." No response.
"Dude, can I please get around?"
"What? You want me to stop for you?" he says angrily.
"I want you to move over for a second so that I can pass," you stupid inconsiderate shit (I add the last part in my head.) He doesn't move, and we start the downhill. Now there's no place for him to go. He picks his way down the rocks carefully, I ride his back tire, extremely frustrated, burning my brakes. What a meat head. Why couldn't he have let me go by? I could have ripped down the hill, he could have gone easy, and we both would have been happy.
He finally moves over at the bottom of the hill. I ride 200 feet of trail unimpeded, then I'm back on the gravel. Under the overpass of Aid 4, and up the last big climb of the day. I catch up to another single speeder, and we ride together for a while. National Ultra Gravel Grinder Endurance Tuff Series. Time Trial Series. Trombone Series. I give up.
Down some gravel then on to a bumpy road thing. The road is just steep enough that I'm spun out, but just flat enough that I need to keep pedaling. It's not such a hot piece of trail. Into Aid 5. 12 miles to go.
I ride the a rail trail, climb the last hill, walk most of the silly rock garden on the Fisherman's Trail, then cruise along the other rail trail. Since this is my third 101, I'm entirely prepared for the dark tunnel. I take off my sunglasses. I can almost see through the thing.
I spin the road into Coburn Park and bang the gong. 8:10, 6th single speed. Same place as last year, slightly slower time on the changed course. I feel way too fresh. I walk over to Ferrari and ask him how he did.
"Oh, alright," he says.
"Did you finally beat the Pflug?" I say.
"No, Gerry took it again, how'd you do out there?" he says.
"I didn't blow up, but I went too easy this time. I just can't find that balance," I say.
"You'll have it down in like seven years," he says.
I walk over and lay down in the creek. People start trickling in. First Aaron, then Don Powers, and the Rob. All of the Connecticut guys DNF except for one. It gets dark and Chris Scott is still calling out names as people finish the race. We're sitting under the easy up with some citronella candles.
"At Mohican, this dude hit a chipmunk. It was just laying there on the trial twitching around." Don Powers says, "So I was like, alright, I'm Dahn Pahrs, I'm gonna take em aught. So I do a quick little turn and run it over. Just put it out of it's misery. If I see somebody suffering on the trail, I'm gonna take em aught. Cause I'm Dahn Pahrs. I threw up eight times today."