We begin shortly after sunrise, the whole group starting out together again. Something like half the riders had to be picked up by the broom wagon on the first day, and were thus eliminated from the race All riders were allowed to start each day, however, regardless of their standing in the race. As the big group sets out, we feel the first of the headwinds begin.
Also, there is much sand. When you hit the sand you have to give it your all just to keep going. You shift down and start churning at high rpm's for all you're worth, trying to stay balanced and pointing in the right direction, trying not to get taken down by out-of-control riders.
The flat terrain and headwinds keep the group together. No one wants to fight the wind alone and there are no climbs to separate riders according to fitness.
The wind makes everyone ride closely together. Riding all day, the arms get tired. Tired riders rest often on their aero bars, which gives them less control. On their aero bars, they can't get to their brakes. They can't steer very quickly, either.
Riding close together riders don't see the ruts and sand pockets in the road. There are many crashes. John opened up his right knee in one of them.
Everyone tries to ride near the front to avoid the pileups. Ironically, the jockeying for position causes a few crashes. Luckily the sand is soft. But the group doesn't wait around after crashes. You have to pick yourself up right away and jump back up to the group if you can.
People are more civil today. We take neutral breaks at water stops and even make a few group nature stops.
There are many thorn punctures, and every time the group stops I pull a half-dozen thorns from my tires. I carefully avoid the road's edge, where controlled burning of weeds case-hardens thorns into "bayonettles" capable of piercing the best of tires. To avoid thorns I carry my bike, rather than ride it, around campsites and lunch stops. Thanks to Continental tires and good habits, I avoid getting so much as a single puncture. John, too, will go the whole race without flats. He, too, thanks his Continentals.
No one really attacked today. It began to seem that the course alone might be difficult enough to determine the winners, without anyone really needing to actively try to break away. It seemed to be more a question of being consistent, and finishing each day near the front.
We finished the day with six other riders, ending our day with the activities of the previous day. We were starting to establish our routine.
The first thing to do, after finishing, was eat. John did a thousand calories of liquid food; I'd scrounge ten pieces of bread from Barbara the cook, coat them with honey, and eat them one by one, washing them down with lots and lots of water. A big mistake a lot of riders made was waiting two or three hours after finishing, when dinner would finally be ready, before starting to eat. All that time they could have been digesting, instead of wasting time "resting."
Next we washed up and did laundry. It was important to do this right away, while there was a little sun left, because when the sun went down it became instantly cold and often misty. Also, sunlight kills the bacteria which cause saddle sores and skin infections, so after rinsing out our clothes we'd hang them inside out on bushes to dry out and disinfect.
I felt sorry for the riders who got in later, after the sun had set. They never had any chance to dry out their clothes. The mornings were damn cold, and to start out with wet, rather than merely damp, clothes must have been a disheartening proposition.
After washing up it was time to pitch camp. A spot near the bus was best - less time spent carrying your gear back and forth - but too near the hordes and you'd be kept up late. Sometimes I just slept out with no tent to save time, but plenty of times it was too risky. We had rain five or six nights.
By the time you did all this you might have a few minutes of daylight to look after your bike. I tried not to tinker too much with mine. No point in fixing what wasn't broken. I started the race with brand new Suntour XC-Pro components, which proved reliable and dependable with a minimum of adjustment. Still, you wanted to oil your chain regularly, grease the cables, spray lots of lube into the SPD pedals, and do an ocasional search for loose bolts. Oftentimes you'd want to switch tires around for varying road conditions.
By this time it'd be dark, and, with any luck, dinner'd be ready. Mmm. Love that meat.
One of the race bulletins had suggested that the members of the race caravan would do "everything" for the riders, and many riders were vocal in their disappointment that a laundry crew, and perhaps a tent-pitching crew, had not been part of the race organization's plan.
Dinner itself took a few hours, and was, on the whole, a daily highpoint. There was always plenty of food, and never enough desert. We'd all sit around the campfire and discuss the day's goings on. People were relegated to their particular speed group during the day, but dinner was a chance to meet and talk with members of the race other than your everyday riding mates.
A lot of people were surprised that I was doing so well. Mine is not a well-known name in ultra-marathon. They would ask me if I had expected to do this well, or if, like Claudio Chiapucci in the 1991 Tour de France, I had simply found myself with the leaders by surprise and was just trying to live up to the role.
I had hopes, I said, but no expectations. And how much easier it is to race with no pressure.
By the time dinner ended it would be late, and time to go to bed. If only there had been a masseuse along. But we were men, after all, and the idea that grown men (oh, yeah, and a few women) would want their legs rubbed must have seemed a ludicrous and effeminate notion to Hans Tholstrup, race organizer. So we went to our tents to rub our own legs and fall asleep. After, that is, we laid out our clothes for the next morning, cleaned and filled our water bottles and camelbaks, measured out our liquid food rations for the next day, and primed our jersey pockets with powerbars. All ready for the next day, we rested easy for seven or even eight blissful hours of slumber.
Morning would arrive with an urgency in the bowels not to be put off a second longer than necessary. The urge to purge. If someone else had the shovel, you'd just dig a hole with your shoe.
I had a college English professor (Hi, Dan!) who once said there is nothing more overrated than bad sex, or more underrated than a good shit. These were the best of my life, seeming to empty from me in a single steaming heap the totality of the previous day's essence. To let go, completely, of the past. AhhhÉ
True glory, you know you're alive when you shit like that, with the pink edges of dawn holding before you the promise of a new day, and a new essence that will fill you up again. The aching hams doubled upon themselves, the position giving a gentle stretch to tortured thigh muscles, I'd linger over the experience for a moment - letting the heat rise up and warm me, the smell waft up into my nostrils with an earthy life-affirming piquancy, the sound of the burbling urine fizzing and filtering down through the thirsty desert soil - before wiping up and moving on to breakfast.
The question is, when taking a shit is one of your chief pleasures in life, does it testify to the sensual potential of shitting, or to the dearth of pleasure in your daily life?
Porridge for breakfast. Heaps of it. Day after day, with honey or maple syrup. And toast. With butter and honey and plum preserves and Vegemite. Eating breakfast as fast as you can for twenty minutes. The first time I tried the Vegemite I took it for an Australian version of Nutella, and smeared it thick and heaping on my toast, which I bit into voraciously. Oops. This salty, yeasty mouthful was enough to put me off Vegemite for weeks, before I discovered it's actually pretty good, in small quantities anyway.
I guess we're up to Day 3 by now.