The last stage became “old hat” as I woke up at 4am, packed my bag and my day pack, put my cycling kit on, delivered the bags to the bus, ate breakfast, and then got on the bus to the start. The transfer was not long as everyone was pumped to get on their bikes and start the last stage. As we descended from our lodge, the rain began to fall. With each kilometer, the rain became harder and harder.
It is what it is so as we are arrived I got off the bus in the pouring raing and went to do my prerace bike check. Everything looked good so I lined up at the start. No start line drama today and as I suspected yesterday no leader jersey for me.
As we rolled out, the rain really began to pour and I was shivering on the bike. I couldn’t wait for that first climb to warm up. The climb came fast and I warmed up as the morning attacks began. The legs burned but I knew I just needed to make it that first 15 minutes and all would be better. I did hang on. The first climb ended quickly and we had some great descending. Again it was a group of 12 riders making the cut for the first group. A couple of riders sprang off the front but everyone was good to let them dangle as the day had over 60 kilometers of flats and wind to the beach finish.
After descending we hit the second and final climb of the day and this one was tough and a typical 20% Costa Rican grade. I and a few others fell of the pace hoping to catch back on the long descent. I managed to partner up with the leader of my age group and we began to rotate. Then 100 meters from the long pavement descent, I flatted. I quickly fixed it ate a Fruition bar and waited for the next group. Today was not a day to ride by yourself. I didn’t have to wait long for a group of 2. We began to rotate and hold a good speed. At the bottom, we hit our first set of riding railroad ties. Yes, in this race, you ride down the middle of railroad tracks. For the most part, rocks fill the gaps between the ties but not every tie so it’s a bumpy ride.
As we exited the tracks, a Pizza Hut rider had an unexpected “get off.” In an attempt not to ride over him, I slid my rear wheel into a wooden railroad tie. I should have ran over him. My tire popped off the rim spraying Stans everywhere I was left on the side of the trail with an almost bent in half rear wheel.
I first fixed the flat. Then accessed the damage. I couldn’t ride it as is. So I took the wheel off and creatively banged it on the railroad tracks and the ground. Then I placed the wheel back on the bike and began tightening spokes. After a couple of rounds of this and 40 minutes, I was back on the trail. I only had 10k to go to the next check point where I could have our mechanic take a look.
Jim, Adam and a group of about 10 riders had passed me about 10 minutes ago so I thought maybe I could catch up and ride with them for the day. I put my head down and pedaled once again. The rain was falling.
Up and down left and right the course went. At one point I could not see any more tire tracks but I looked behind me and saw a small group. Finally I popped out onto hiway. This did not look right. I waited for the other riders. They said we were still on course and we grouped together. No signs and semi trucks passing up within inches, I turned back. I back tracked and yes, I missed a left turn. 10km later and I was back on course.
I got back on course just in time for one of the more exciting parts of the course—the railroad bridge crossing. Now, we were hiking with our bikes stepping from railroad tie to railroad tie over 40 feet above a raging river. I was nervous as one misstep in my cycling shoes on wet oily railroad ties could mean some serious changes in my life. I focused only on the railroad ties and hoped for no oncoming trains. The locals were more skilled and confident in this activity as I was passed a few times.
I made it but more were to come.
Finally, checkpoint 3 arrived and a mechanic did a little better with my wheel. It seems as though my tire was till rubbing the chainstays. I packed plenty of food and water and took off.
I came upon group of riders after group of riders and pedaled my pace. Eventually, I came upon Carmichael. He and another rider jumped on my wheel and we rotated for a while. Eventually, I was by myself again. Adventure.
Driving to the finish, I found myself and the trail leading into a driveway. Oops, another wrong turn. I only road a kilometer out of my way this time. Back to the trail and back to railroad tracks, I came upon Carmichael again. I followed for awhile till my rear tire blew from the railroad ties. This is just one of those days.
My remaining spare was a gift from Checkpoint 3 and a 26inch tube but they work fine for 29ers. I fixed it quickly and back to the railroad tracks. Finally, I exited the tracks to the sounds of waves rolling in—awesome. The beach had black sand, palm trees and a tranquility to it from all the excitement of the race. I wanted to be there.
Only 10 miles to go—Yes! The course now was a double track on the black sand about 100 meters from the crashing waves. Then came some water holes on the trail so my bike was getting cleaned off. Then the holes became deeper and deeper. I realized now that I was in the “swamp” part of the course. The water at times was waist high. I realized that my bike had just had every creavice and bearing filled with water and salt not to mention all the sand. 10 miles now seemed like a long time away and I hoped only an hour a way.
At times, I would jump back the railroad tracks to avoid some deeper parts of the swamp and then switch back to the double track when it cleared up. Finally, I exited the swamp to ride a dirt road for the next few miles. Then I found myself back to pavement for a last mile.
I made the last left turn, jumped down some steps to the finish line and onto the pacific coast. I had made it!
I’m not sure what my time was on this day but somewhere around 5.5 hours for 85 miles.
I quickly made my way to the ocean for a little relaxation and a few body surfs on the waves. My adventure was coming to an end but the end can only mean another beginning.