Miles 312-500 (Salome, AZ – Camp Verde, AZ
The desert heat is so incredibly brutal. Physically being here, feeling the intensity of the sun beating down, searing your eyes, nostrils and skin. Then to think about how exponentially hotter it must be for Michael on the bike, with extreme exertion all the while, it is unfathomable, even watching it all unfold – I still cannot imagine what it must feel like. Yet, the journey must go on….
After his sleep break in the follow vehicle just before Salome, AZ, Michael continued on to Sheffler’s Motel, where the crew members who were off shift had been cooling and restoring themselves. Here he showered, ate a little something and then right back out on the road towards Congress. The plan was another crew exchange just past Congress. Just beyond Congress there are two large climbs and still many more miles before the relief of the cooler temperatures in Flagstaff.
The road out of Salome is long, straight and flat. The crew notes he does much better when he sees an incline. It is almost as if the monotony of the flat can lull him into nonchalance about it all. When he approaches an Incline he must increase the cadence or he will fall over. That need to kick it up a notch seems to bring on a boost of energy.
The late evening time is difficult. Michael feels drowsy, his body thinks it is time to sleep – makes sense to me. That’s what sane people do, anyway! At any rate, sometimes he just needs a small catnap and he can reboot fairly quickly, however, we learned last time around, in 2018, those catnaps – time off the bike – add up and ultimately made the finish impossible. This time around, time on the bike is the number one focus. It is a fine balance, keeping him safe, yet keeping him riding. So each time he asks, whichever crew is in the follow vehicle at the time has to make that determination – do we let him rest, or do we push him further…tough decisions, each with dire consequences.
At our pre-team table talks in Oceanside, Michael warned us – he has an extreme fear, of lightening. Into the evening, the sun has gone down and the temp is slightly cooler, a little relief, and what should occur, but a very impressive lightning storm. At that point, Mark and I were back a ways driving toward the meeting point in the Vansion. I just kept saying, ”can he not get a break… geez! Keep dishing him his worse nightmares and ask him to keep on pedaling right through them”. Luckily, we learned later, that his devoted crew, after spotting the lightning in the distance did a weather check and saw the storm nearing. Michael was in need of one of his catnaps anyway so they pulled him in. As soon as they did, the storm let loose, lasting about fifteen minutes and then moved on. Michael was rescued from that nightmare, got a little shut eye, and the crew got to enjoy the beauty and intensity of the storm without having to worry for Michael’s safety – win-win all around. Soon after, Michael was back on the road and ready for the climb.
This year there are only 12 solo riders. COVID-19 affected many of the registered racers ability to participate, especially many of those from other countries. So, while we do see a lot of each other’s support vehicles at various meeting points the riders don’t see too much of each other out on the road. On this grueling segment, however, Michael came upon the one solo woman rider who is participating this year. Crew reports they had quite a cat and mouse chase throughout the day. It appeared to be motivating to Michael. At one point, he took a brief rest, and then immediately pushed it to catch her and take the lead again. They were pushing each other, for sure. The distraction and motivation was definitely welcomed. In addition, the camaraderie between the two teams helped alleviate the task at hand. Both teams worked together to support both riders.
Technology is key for this type of endeavor. Michael has a two way speaker system allowing him to communicate with the follow crew, there are loud speakers mounted on the top of the follow van if the two-way fails, he has a bike mounted navigational system, that also reports his speed and distance. All of these tools, keep MIchael informed and engaged with his progress, which helps him to keep on pushing.
Near the tail end of this segment, his bike mounted Navigation system failed. He no longer could follow the route, see how much further he had, or how quickly he was knocking off the miles. WIthout that touchstone, Micheal’s demeanor changed, even with crew reporting to him on his progress, he was unable to track it on his own. At just two miles from the end he demanded a rest, he just was not able to believe the mileage amounts that were being reported to him…I can only imagine: one mile along the strand by the ocean in a cool breeze can sure seem like a very different thing than one mile in the desert climbing steep grades with temperatures rising to 118 degrees. One mile probably feels like 20. So, when it was reported had completed only 2 miles and he was sure it should have been 10 he was NOT happy…so he rested with only two miles left in the segment. A brief rest and then back on the road to ride just two more miles to end the TIme Section. Arriving in Camp Verde before Dorina by the way – but not by much. At Camp Verde, he enjoyed a very deserved shower, rest and massage. Okay, I am to admit I am not sure he is really enjoying anything at this point really, but the wording works. By the way, he learned just a few miles out that he was going to get his 3 hour sleep break as opposed to the promised thirty minute nap – that really pepped him up. He does love the opportunity to get some sleep in.
500 miles done! Next up the long trek to Flagstaff – cooler temperatures ahead.