The score was 1-0 so far, and I wanted to keep it that way. Fuji hadn't pushed me into the red, I'd gotten through that one pretty easily. Time to get the job done in Spain.
Words and Images - Dave Edwards
The trip from Japan in itself was pretty huge. A train, a flight, another train and then one more train, and I was in Girona. 26 hours door to door. So I was pretty rooted. I was staying at a place owned by an Irishmen, Brian Canty, and he runs a cycling company called Eat, Sleep, Cycle. It was good to be in the company of other cyclists.
I spent my spare day eating, shopping for food, and taking photos of the brand new, custom kit I'd had made for the trip from Bodhi. It had arrived in Girona JUST in time, and it looked banging!
Brian drove me to the start of the climb, some 25km away, and we got started in the dark around 4:30am. The opening few kilometres are really calm, they are a pleasure to ride. The gradient was only 5-7%, so it was easily manageable. The moon was out, the air was still, and we rode along to the sounds of cows mooing in the distance.
It was even a really comfortable 18 degrees. I heard something that sounded like a psycho clicking his fingers whilst he waited to kill us... Turned out it was just an electric fence shorting on a tree. Then something jumped in the bushes right next to us. Turns out it was pigs. There were wild pigs everywhere during the nights, I saw heaps if them. They'd piss off into the bushes pretty quickly though.
At about half way, the road then really ramps up, you get two straight kilometres over 10%. It's not as bad as what I had on Fuji, but still, it did make me work at this point. As I got higher, I could see the lights of distant towns, it really was a gorgeous time to be riding. Until we came upon the part where they'd done a load of clearing the day beforehand. Such shitty timing for me! I found out later from a local that they'd come past with big machines and trucks, and savagely cut back the vegetation on the sides of the sides of the road. That would have been fine if they'd cleaned up afterwards. But they had not. Dicks. There were still even small branches on the road in places, and there were twigs and leaf litter everywhere.
So as shitty as that was, I didn't really have a choice. Brian and I kept riding along and chatting. I tried hard, and failed, not to imitate and make fun of his accent. It was good to have company, and better to have company that talks funny, even when saying something serious.
At the top I could see all the way to the coast, the lights of various towns were scattered all over the place. It was a wonderful view. We sat in the light of one of the buildings and ate. There are several radio masts up there, so there are buildings there with lights on to service them. I descended without Brian, as he didn't have lights, and was going to wait for me to return at the top. Cautiously hooking in, trying to avoid the big bits of debris, I descended down. Then I noticed my tyre was a little sketchy. Sure enough, I had a flat. BASTARD! I swore a lot. Even for me it was a lot. Goddam flats are one of the very worst bits of cycling. But oh well, fix it and fuck off was my mindset. Except it took for-goddam-ever to get the tyre off. It was on tight. Curse some more. Then some more. Then say fuck one more time. And then the tyre was off. Found a thinking great big blackberry thorn sticking through it. Shit. Figured it wouldn't be the last time this happened today. Wasn't wrong either.
All fixed, and back to the bottom. Eat some more, then climb again. On this one the sun started to come up, and as always, it was gorgeous. Plus now I could see the views, and this climb has them in spades. Early on there is a beautiful forrest, snaking along the creek. Then it opens into farmland, and you can see the various large farmhouses spread across the valley. You could also see the other hills looking over at the climb. It was beautiful. Higher up you could begin to see past the other hills, and out onto the plains. Higher still and you could see across vast valleys to more peaks, and at the top you could even see the Pyrenees, with their huge and bare peaks towering over everything. You could also see all the way to the sea. The view from the summit was fantastic, and even in my stupor towards the end, I'd always stop and take it in.
I still felt really good. It was crazy that I'd everested just a few days before, on a whole other continent, yet felt good, and was climbing comfortably. Then on the descent of lap 4, I got my second puncture. Oh well. I fixed it and off I rode. 2 in 4 laps meant maybe 6 punctures overall. Damn. But I had patches and a pump, so I could still deal with it.
A friend Brooke came out to ride with me. I had met Brooke at the Tour Down Under earlier in the year, and she was in the area, so came and rode with me. How tops is that?! I absolutely appreciated the company. A lot. Brian had left after 2 laps, so I'd been rolling on my own for a few hours. Brooke even turned up at the perfect moment, as I was fixing flat number 3, and she had a track pump. Winning.
I dropped Brooke on the descent, but figured I catch her again on the way back up. Dunno how, but we missed each other, and so I was climbing back up alone. ANOTHER FUCKING FLAT. 5 laps in, 4 flats. Seriously, the dude who decided to clear the roadside that day can go and get fucked. I hate your fucking guts. I also hate the dude who decided that cleaning the road was unnecessary. I wish bad things upon them. What if it's the same dude? Oh man. The things I would do out of hatred for that cat are unholy.
Anyhow, the patches I was using were failing also. So the person who invented Lezyne glueless patches can line up behind road clearing dude on the list of people I wish to kick in the dick. I was stopping every 800m to pump my tyres back up. I was also starting to cry. It occurred to me that this everesting may come undone due to flat tyres, and that was wildly depressing. Then luckily Brooke showed up in her car again. Thank god for that. She gave me her two spare tubes, and I used her track pump again. I was so appreciative that I was back up and running, even if I had the rest to do on my own.
Up, eat, down, eat. That was the cycle. Then I started to get really goddam drowsy. Jet lag was tapping on my shoulder, and when I turned around, it would slap me in the face. I have faced sleep deprivation before, but not like this. Sleep deprivation is easily the very hardest thing to cope with on ultra-long rides, but this one was different. I was needing to sleep at 5 in the afternoon. I'd take some caffeine, but it would only dent it, not push it back.
Right around this time, as I was starting to flag pretty wildly, Jason rocked up. He'd heard about my ride through Bade, whom I'd ridden with in Japan, and had been himself in Girona immediately beforehand. Man that was a godsend. Jason rode with me for a lap, and we just chatted. He was great to talk to, as it totally took my mind off of the fatigue, and I brightened up a lot. I was sad to see him go, but it always had to end. Thanks for coming out mate.
On the next climb I met a local boy, I think his nickname was Ugli, short for something else. So goddam tired at that point, I just can't remember. He was the one who told me that the cutting was just the day beforehand. His english was ok, so we rode and talked for a bit. He was confused as to what exactly I was doing, but he smiled anyway. The company was all I needed. He stayed until after dark, even though he had no lights. He said he knew the road so well, he could descend even in the dark.
Now I had 3 laps left. Fuck that seemed like such a long way to ride. With laps taking a bit over 2 hours each, it was a huge chunk of time. I always try to break it up, and not to think too far ahead. It definitely helps. Even at the start of the climb, just telling myself that it was only 2 more after the top of this one made it seem easier.
My legs were still okay, but my mind was so drowsy, it couldn't push them. I was taking a lot of caffeine, and it wasn't doing much more than make me nauseous. On the climb I would have to climb off my bike, and try to stop being tired. That might be jumping up and down, walking around, stretching, or staring off into the distance (that last one didn't work out much, but I did it a lot...), then I'd climb back on, and keep going. I was now beginning to weave a lot on the road. It had nothing to do with the gradient, and all to do with my loss of motor control. Riding was not an issue. Riding with my eyes open was. Like I said, sleep deprivation is the single hardest thing to deal with. Add jet lag to that mix, and it gets vicious.
At the top, with 2 laps to go, I turned my phone on and my wife called. She and my little kidlets were having dinner, and saw that I was online. I burst into tears straight away. I couldn't speak much, I was sobbing loudly. Just hearing their 3 voices, I was a mess. They called at the exact moment I needed them the most. All of my emotion came out at that time, it was draining and empowering at the same moment. That was it. That was what I had needed. I was awake now. Barely, but barely is more than nothing, and it was what I needed. It was enough to get me through.
Riding the penultimate climb, and I saw a badger. Had to check it wasn't a hallucination. Nup, a badger. Cool. Tick that off in the list of animals I've seen in real life. It was something to keep me occupied for about 5 minutes, "I just saw a badger!" Amazing what a very tired mind needs to keep it occupied.
At the top, I made a video and cried. I was so tired I could barely see my phone. I could barely work my phone. Goddam was I sleepy. But that was it, 1 more lap. Go fuck yourself Rocacorba, I've got your name. You aren't beating me on this day. I am stronger than you. 1 more lap.
Descend, eat everything, and start climbing. Now I wasn't tired anymore. I was climbing reasonably quickly too. I did start hallucinating, but I was awake enough for it not to be an issue. I saw lots of people, none of them real, but for some reason, when I hallucinate from fatigue, they aren't scary. I've done it enough that I even find them a little fun. How often in life do you push your mind and body so far that it puts up false visions in front of you? May as well enjoy the moment...
And then my Garmin said it. 8848. I was there. I even rode an extra little bit just to go past it. I had done it. I could lie down right here on the road and sleep, it didn't matter, I had done it. I was stoked, even feeling awake. I had finished something that at several points seemed totally impossible. Ken oath. It felt good. I grammed a picture of my Garmin, and rode back down. The taxi that Brian had ordered for me still hadn't showed, so I stuffed my pockets with my possessions, stashed the esky, and took off, hoping to grab a lift somewhere along the way.
I rode the whole way back. Mostly on my own, save for the odd hallucination of a walker that wasn't there... There was very little traffic at 6am. At least the 25km back to Girona were flat, so the ride was easy. I even found my way without much difficulty. Back at the room, and the rest of the apartment was just waking, which was great, as I had people to talk to. Having a victory beer made it perfect. The only downside was that I had no time to sleep, before heading off to Italy to do it all again. I even fell asleep in the bath...
So despite the difficulties, I made it. Backing up again tomorrow, fingers crossed it goes ok.