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Even in the pouring rain, the crowds came out to cheer us along the final eight tenths of a mile finish corridor. At this point I already knew that I would attain my goal of finishing in under six hours, but still couldn’t deny the overwhelming urge to surge this stretch across the finish line.

I watched the digital numbers ticking passed 5 hours and 44 minutes on the official time clock while stabilizing the bike over a final series of slippery bumps routing the timing cables in the finish area. I had just made gold!

If you’re interested in the raw numbers then you really don’t need to read any further. If you’re like me and enjoy the ‘ride’, then please read on…

I was a happy passenger on the ride down, having accepted a generous offer to accompany friends from the club.

There was no denying the weather forecast: cold, wind, and rain. A man was reported to have drowned in downtown Tucson from the flooding in the ‘river’ that we would be crossing on race day. Although it was possible we were going to avoid some rain during the race, I trusted that given rain, sweat, and wet course, we would be soaked inside and out.

The constant loud dripping of the downspout onto the ac unit for my motel room confirm throughout the night that the rain didn’t subside. It was going to be a wet one. Never quite sure of my appropriate layering, I chose to add a thermal shirt to the first two layers of my kit and covered the whole thing in with a waterproof jacket.

We quickly ate breakfast and assembled with another small group under the first overpass on the course. A couple minutes later the police escorts, the pros and the platinum peloton passed the road in front of us. We stepped into the street and were off!

My back tire slipped as I accelerated to join-in reminding me to stay calm in the early frenzy of the race.

Quickly my glasses were fogging and I was sweating profusely, while we dodged each other’s muddy rooster tails searching for a good draft position. The resultant formation was a giant wedge shaped mosh-pit being rained-on from above by clean rain water while being splashed from below with the dirty oily byproduct. I soon realized it was just best to swallow periodically and not worry about the ‘5 second rule’.

We were rerouted around the first arroyo portage due to flooding although I had already lost track of time and distance. When I finally had a moment to wipe the water and read my computer, we had been riding for an hour and a half!

I moved to the front and started sharing the workload with another guy. An additional 40 to 50 riders had settled in behind us as we blasted straight through an intersection flanked by police officers waving their arms wildly and yelling, “Turn, turn, TURN!!”. I aimed my bike into the dirt on the opposite corner and tensed, waiting for the resultant pile-up that luckily never happened. Yelling, grumbling, cussing and finally a quiet, “I’m not going to follow you guys anymore” could be heard and we reorganized ourselves back onto the course.

The second arroyo portage came near mile 45. I dismounted and started trotting passed the majority of people who were walking. Volunteers were encouraging us that it was ‘ride-able’ so I mounted and pedaled through two inches of sand and mud including a stream where my feet submerged on each down-stroke. It took another several minutes of intentionally riding through large puddles in order to clear the accumulated mess stuck in the brakes, fork and chain stays. I was later informed that this part of the course was rerouted when riders were sinking ankle deep in the mud.

The roads in the northern section of the course were interrupted periodically by muddy debris fields from the flooding and the mosh-pit’s was forced to temporarily scatter in search of any safe line through. On one of these diversions, as I moved away from the mud and toward the yellow line, I felt my handle bars become rigid, followed slightly later by an announcement from the rider behind me that he was “On your left”! Really?! Luckily we both didn’t panic and the locked handlebars released.

Tangerine Road was a spectacular descent aided slightly by a tailwind. I was able to eat a second rice cake and determine that I could probably continue to suffer through without stopping at any food stations. My desired pace was falling and I nearly gave up hope when we turned south into a dreaded headwind. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t hold any of the pace lines which were now easily cruising by me. I just had to stop and retrieve another rice cake from a covered back pocket. A couple minutes later, energy returned to my legs and I grabbed the next train which I could hold until near the end.

Super happy with my finish, I was directed to a tent where a gold medal was placed around my neck and I headed back to the room for a nap.

By Sunday, the system had moved east and our return trip was rewarded with blue skies and desert mountains covered in blankets of fresh snow.

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