The Gunbarrel by now had narrowed to a primitive semblance of a road, ungraded for decades, with two rideable tracks crisscrossed by erosion, rocks, and giant kangaroo footprints. Okay, maybe they were dinosaurs.
The wind was still in our faces, and people still tried to ride close together. I crashed three times.
The fourth time I crashed, I was so disgusted with myself that I just stayed on the ground. I stared at the crinkled patch of orange hardpan I'd landed on knowing somehow I would probably remember what it looked for the rest of my life. It's funny what you remember, and why - and really funny when you know that you're going to remember.
I stared at that patch of ground at close range, wishing it would open up and swallow me whole. Word went up through the group that I'd crashed and the leaders slowed. Just go on, I yelled, I can't keep crashing like this. I'm out of the race.
There was hardly any skin left on my right knee. It was just one giant scab, from top to bottom, and it felt numb. I'd already cut the toe out of a sock to use as a bandage, but now the bandage was ripped and useless.
Much to my surprise, instead of just accepting what I'd said, most of the leaders just stopped completely and waited for me. Some started to ride back toward me. With mixed emotion, I remounted and started down the road.
I then rode unknowingly past a group of riders who, thinking that a rest break was in progress, had gone off to explore or use the bushes. Since I didn't see them, I assumed they were up the road. So, partly to find them and partly to because I wanted to be alone I jumped ahead. It was a big behavioral mistake.
By the time Scott Sharples and the rest of the group had caught up to me, many of them probably wished they'd just left me there squirming in the ditch. Stamstad, especially, was irked, and while I tried to explain my reasons for the move, he was not entirely understanding. I can't say that I blamed him. I tried to be glad that at least I knew for sure that no one was up the road, but I knew I'd lost status with the group.