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The Burning Flame Part III: The Great Depression

September 3, 2010

Following Caveman’s great feat at Rocky Hill, he was left bloodthirsty for more. He was looking for an even bigger kill, beyond the Texas state line. A group from his racing clan had assembled a 4 man fellowship to travel to Tuscon, AZ for one of the largest 24 hour events in the US, held mid February. The legendary warrior Tinker was rumored to be there, along with a host of other mighty fighters from faraway lands who excelled at such feats. With the glory of victory still fresh on his mind and pumping through his veins, it was a no-brainer to accept their invitation to join them on such an epic journey. Caveman set out a plan to prepare for this gigantic undertaking.

Rocky Hill had taken a great toll on his body though. All sorts of ailments hampered training throughout the winter. He slaved over equipment choices and fine tuning to improve comfort and efficiency. Up until this point, just getting things close was good enough. When taking on feats such as 24 hour racing, though, the slightest biomechanical inconsistency can take a huge toll. Recovery was an art neglected in the past as well, but at this level, it could no longer be overlooked. Caveman spent countless hours sifting through modern manuscripts and consulting with voo-doo body healers. Returning his body to a healthy state of homeostasis was a costly and time consuming endeavour, made tougher by the fact his strenuous training slowed progress.

When it came time for the mighty showdown in the desert, Caveman felt as if he had made enough progress  to toe the line with the best of the best. He was no longer in the presence of small village heroes, but rather great knights and giants from powerful territories. A great ‘norther had blown in the night before, bringing with it a unseasonable chill and snow. Having lived in a land of sunshine and balminess his whole life, this was a force of nature Caveman was unaccustomed to, but at the same time, not afraid to confront. It would not be deciding factor for his race, but it would, as he came to find out, add insult to injury.

The race was off at high noon and things were running smoothly for the most part. This particular battlefield mandated lap distances of 17 miles, compared to 10 at Rocky Hill. It was smoother,faster course; even so, having to go so far out into the wilderness away from base camp for so long was a bit disheartening for Caveman. A mighty warrior in the woods, he was reduced to a young pup in the unforgiving desert. Suguaro cacti and a host of unidentifiable succulents lined the fast and narrow singletrack, proving to be almost as much an enemy as the enemy warriors themselves. Still, he trudged on. As the sun fell across the sky, so did the mercury.

By the ninth hour, the race was taking its toll on Texas’ main hope. At 11pm, with temperatures near freezing, warriors spread thin across the vast emptiness, and an aching body telling him it was about done, he set out for the 7th lap. Halfway through the loop, a dormant demon flared up and excruciating knee pain befell this helpless rider. The bitter cold night was beginning  to hand Caveman more than he could handle. Local tribesman had come out to witness this great battle and had setup outposts along the trail with warming campfires. Caveman took refuge at the next one he came to. When he accepted their gift of fire water whilst sitting on a rock next to the radiant glow, he knew in his mind that the battle was over. This injury would be too much to overcome, and the piercing winds of the night would only get colder and leave him more vulnerable. He had to live to fight another day.

After gaining a little strength and warmth courtesy of his newfound friends, it was a slow and arduous crawl back to base camp. Depressed and war battered, caveman crawled into his portable man cave and hunkered down for a frigid night in the Sonoran desert. His bloodlust for conquering 24 Hour races had come to a screeching halt.

The injury to his left knee was severe enough to keep him off a bike for 3 months. It was back to voo-doo doctors and manuscripts to not only repair the damage that had been done, but also learn how to keep it from happening again. Time passed on and Caveman didn’t even want to think about doing another 24 hour race. It was a dark and scary time for this once accomplished warrior. He was able to compete in the last XC race of the state amateur series, and although he finished way back of rivals he normally would have had the upper hand on, it was a start into riding again.

Word came round that the racing clan was looking to build a fast 4 man team for the granddaddy of 24 hour races, Moab. Not feeling the strength or mental reserve to attempt it solo, Caveman happily agreed to join the team. If he could go out with a 4 four man team and do well, it would be a good indicator that he was ready to return solo. It would be held the same date as the Rocky Hill 24 Hour, but Caveman was still doubting his solo capability, so Smithville would just have to be put off in 2008.

The team arrived safe and sound, only to be greeted with gale force winds stirring up the desert floor of Moab. Car paint was dulled, bare skin was exfoliated, and tents were destroyed by the relentless winds. The winds would die down before race start, but they would contribute to very dusty conditions with so many riders on this hardpack course. It was another long 15 mile loop, this time with some technical sections and a lot more climbing. Base camp sat at about 6000 feet above sea level, not horrible, bit still 5600 feet higher than the team’s hinterlands.
Caveman was chosen to anchor the team and got out to a good start, but suddenly all hell broke loose. The front tire blew off the rim on a technical descent. He put in his spare tube and got back to it. A minutes later, the rear tire sustained a small gash. He had no more tubes, so he had to baby the ride and stop frequently to put air in until it just wouldn’t hold anymore. He was left no choice but to walk and beg passerby’s for a tube until finally a rider just out for fun stopped and lent a helping hand. By the time he rolled in, the team was 30 minutes back. They fought valiantly anyways and got into a rotation, but despite their efforts, the competition was too fierce this day.

Caveman went out for his 3rd lap at dusk. This nasty course was taking its toll, but everything was still holding up. He made it back to check in only to find out his team had abandoned him. An executive decision had been made without him that it would be a lost cause to keep going. Maybe it was, but nonetheless he hadn’t traveled across the country to just throw in the towel. Caveman was devastated. He crawled into his portable cave of despair once again to settle in for a few hours sleep. He would eventually ride a lap in the middle of the night, just to see what it was like being out on such a desolate place in freezing temps. With one hour left til noon, he would take off for a final lap to finish what he started. A broken seatpost halfway through the lap only caused laughter this go round. He was past the point of depression now and just trying to take in the beauty of the ride. Some duct tape and zip ties at an aid station got him back in business to finish with at least a little dignity. It was not the race he had imagined it would be. Having seen what the big dogs had accomplished in the solo category on such a demanding course only made him feel smaller.

It had been a dark year for Caveman, but the worst was over. He would spend the rest of the fall and early winter relaxing and riding for fun. Although 0 for 2 in large 24 hour events, how vowed to come back one day and be better prepared.

Stay tuned for Caveman’s next great episode of the saga: Part V, Caveman Strikes Back

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