The alarm went off at 2:00 am. I got up and grabbed a frozen omelet and pancakes while packing everything in the van. We started rolling down Stateline in Texarakana to the Courthouse with two missions to accomplish. First, to break the existing West to East record for the state - this meant covering the 190 miles in less than 10:38. The 2nd mission was to turn around and ride the same 190 miles backward for a total of 380 miles in under 24 hours.
On the way, we stopped at EZ mart so my morning Crew, (Big Ralph and Little Ralph and the official Lanie), could grab some large coffees for the road. I was sitting in the car and could see them in the EZ mart joking with the clerk. When they came out, they said they told the clerk what we were doing and the clerk asked if he could have some of whatever I was smoking. I'm guessin' alot of people would have that reaction.
We rolled over to the courthouse and finished setting up and got all of the paraphenalia on the van and ready to start. 3am rolls around and Me and My Giant headed east down U.S. 82. The first 10 miles out of Texarkana are gradual rolls that drop you down the red river basin. Just as we are coming out to the flats, the van starts flashing it's lights at me and we have to pull over. The flashing lights on the rear of the van had stopped working. Here it is, not 30 minutes into the ride and I'm thinking that the attempt is toast because the Honda has an electrical problem. Nope, it is just that the splitter cable is slipping out of the connection. The crew fixes the problem and we are off again.
Once we dropped down into the flats, I started to feel the NE wind that will be the bane of the Eastward attempt. We countinued cruising east through Lewisville, Stamps and Magnolia, mostly a flat ride. The 3rd bottle exchange and first food exchange was set at the junction of 96 and 82. I pulled off the side of the road and looked to my crew to get my bottles and food to keep going. Little Ralph, who was in charge, was smoking a cirgarette. 3 hours was a little much to go without. I asked him for my supplies and he said, "Oops", refocused, and got the stuff and I was back on the road.
After stop 3 the sun had come up so the follow vehicle could now leap in front of me. This meant that Lanie and Ralph had time catch a smoke break every two hours or so on the bottle exchanges and even in between. Life was much easier on the crew when they didn't have to follow me down the road, but riding at night was so much easier with a crew vehicle, with its brights on, lighting up the road.
The section from Magnolia to Stamps is the hilliest by far with continuous rollers, but the wind wasn't too bad because you're mostly in pine forests and on a East-South-Easterly heading. During this section I was able to keep up a 19+ mph average.
At Stamps, we turned almost due east and the wind speed picked up to over 10. My pace decreased slightly, but enough for Lanie to comment about it. By our 6th checkpont, just west of Crosset, my average speed had decreased to 19. When Lanie commented about me needing to pickup the pace, I did the math in my head. I knew we had to maintain an 18 mph average to beat the record by 8 minutes. So, at the turn in Crosset, I calculated that I had 26 minute cushion built up and I was going to need it.
At Crosset, you turn North East to head to Lake Village, you also leave the pine forests and enter the delta, which means you lose most of the wind break effect. We made the turn around 10am and the wind began to pickup to over 15 mph and really made me work my butt off. About 10 miles outside of Lake Village, Ralph pulled the van up and said that Trish was in place with the 2nd bike.
2nd Bike? Why a 2nd bike? Thanks to the Arkansas Highway Department, the last 10 miles of this run were under serious construction. They had grooved the main pavement and completely removed the shoulders of the road. I had scouted the route on Monday and found no way around the construction. I decided then that it would be best if I rode this section on my Gary Fisher MTB with cyclocross tires.
Checkpoint 8. I lifted the road bike into the back of the Jungle Pickup and grabbed the MTB. I gave Trish my order for some real food (chocolate shake and sub) and I took off across the demolished road to finish the West East leg of the Journey. After a long and bumpy 10 miles, I crossed the state line on the MS river bridge and set the record for the West-East crossing at 10:16, beating the old record by 22 minutes with an 18.35 average speed.
After riding off the bridge and talking with the crew in the Casino parking lot, we got ready for the start of the East-West Crossing.
The East to West crossing record wasn't supposed to be as hard since we weren't under time pressure. I just had to ride another 190 miles. The only problem is that I have never ridden more than 14 hours or 250 miles in one day so this was new territory for me.
I cruised back to the welcome center and met Trisha and Rachel who were taking over the afternoon crew duties. I grabbed half my sandwitch and the chocolate shake and laid down under a shade tree in the grass for a couple of minutes just eating and talking, while the crew restocked the van and filled it up with gas. Then it was time to get back on the Giant and hit the road again for the last 180 miles.
I was cruising along just fine doing 20 miles per hour on that same road I was having a hard time doing 17mph on just 2 hours before. I was just past Montrose, around mile 35 of the return trip, when I flatted. The crew had leap frogged in front of me so I rode on the flat tire up to the back of the van, but they started to drive away. I was yelling at them and they pulled back over. Trisha opened the lift gate and I grabbed a spare wheel out of the back and quickly mounted it on the bike and was headed back down the road.
Here is where it started to get hard. I felt like I was working my butt off and not making any speed and my right achilles started to ache. I could no longer stand up to pedal because it hurt too much. I talked with the crew, I could eat sugars and was stopping every hour taking 2 Ibuprofen, a piece of meat and a starbuck coffee from stop 2 to stop 5. We had been going through the flats without much climbing and with a tail wind and I had only been able to keep a 16 mph average. I was wondering if I was out of my league. Should I just stick to 12 hour races? Had I worked so hard on the first half that I was too tired to do the 2nd half? At the stop at hour 5, I told Lanie and Trish that if the med didn't stop the pain by hour 6 I was going to have to call it a day. I couldn't walk and had been unable to eat anything sugary for the last 3 hours and it just wasn't fun anymore.
At mile 85 my Ipod stopped and I started to hear this scraping noise on the bike. So I got off the bike and was bending over to see what was making the awful racket. Trish had been about a 100 yards ahead and whipped a U turn because she thought I was getting sick. After inspecting the bike, I found that I had knocked the rear brake out of alignment when I changed the tire at mile 35. I had been riding with the brake on for the last 3+ hours. I got back on the bike and was instantly 3-4 miles per hour faster and it didn't hurt the ankle to pedal. I still couldn't stand because the damage was done but it didn't hurt to pedal. My outlook changed from, If we stop now I can sleep in my own bed, to how fast can I finish this thing.
I had cost myself 45-60 minutes and a messed up achilles because I was in such a hurry to get back on the bike, but I was jubilant. I went from a DNF to we got this in the bag. I had kept myself going during the time that hurt so bad by thinking that it was just a beautiful day to be outside on the bike and now it was a great day on the bike.
The next part of the ride was great but uneventful - just riding into the night watching the sky slowly change colors with a beautiful pink-red-orange sunset. The problem was that I still had 4 hours to go when we stopped at mile 65 to put back on arm warmers and wind vest. Temps were already colder than they had been that morning but I rode on.
The 2nd to last stop of the day was around 11:00pm in Stamps. We pulled into the convenience store so the crew could smoke and use the bathrooms. (which they close at nights???) There was a small crowd outside and they asked what we were doing. After chatting for awhile we started to head out and one of the guys commented "You must be a pedaling fool". I'm guessing he is correct.
From Stamps to Texarkana is about 35 miles of mostly flat until you get within 10 miles of town. Then you get to the rollers that climb back into the city. At 1 in the morning, 10 miles of rolling climbs weren't my friend. You climb one and then see the headlights of a car on the next one ahead. Slowly going up and up and thinking will I ever be done? Sort of like you reading this and wondering if I'll ever finish :-)
Well, I did finish. 1:09am, I believe, was the official time. So the East West Time was 11:49 and the record for the total was 22:09. Which is around 17.5 mph round trip.
Lanie Smith, UMCA Official.
J Ralph Huneycutt, Morning Crew
Ralph M Huneycutt, Morning Crew
Trish Searvogel, Evening Crew
Rachel Searvogel, Evening Crew
Yep, what he said.
A huge "Thank You" to Lanie for all the advice and humorous commentary during the trip. He talked me through changing out my first tube. I'm sure it was truly comical to watch and I'm thankful Kurt didn't need to use that wheel since it certainly wasn't an expert job!
The closer we got to the end goal the more hilarious everything appeared. The grinding noise made by the rear flashers, (or as one of the onlookers in Stamps named them, "Cool, they even got strobes!"), the clickety-click of the van flashers and the constant flashing green lights on the dash were all fodder for jokes. This was a tiring, (I was on the road at 9am and finished at the hotel at 1:30am), nerve-wracking, (it's difficult to drive within a car's length behind someone riding a bicycle), fun experience that I won't ever forget. Kurt, we love ya! :)