Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dirty Girls Do Costa Rica Day 3

Apologies, this one is extra long. I didn't realize I was so verbose...
As in the previous days 1 and 2, my current day comments are in italics. This is day 3 of 3.

I realized in the evening of day 2 that I had a nasty burn. My arms and legs both had precise lines dividing glowing white with a flaming red. It was quite painful. Turns out all four Dirty Girls forgot sun screen on yesterday morning's 3-4 hour climb up the volcano in the blistering hot sun. We all had identical burns that proved quite entertaining for anyone who saw us after the race was over. Especially when we were all together and especially when we wore tank tops. I piled zinc cream over my burn and lathered on thick sun screen for day 3.

The night before I noticed that the math didn't work out for us arriving on time for the race start time. Our hotel was half an hour away from the start line and the bus was picking us up 20 minutes before race start. All 400 racers were spread throughout the town filling every hotel and therefore probably didn't have this same problem. Our bus load of 15 racer worried/joked about this on the ride over. I still had to replace my brake pads and lube my chain. Each morning my chain was bright orange because the race organizers graciously washed our bikes for free but charged $50 US to lube the chain afterwards. huh? I just accepted my rusted amber chain knowing my bike was going to be retired immediately after the race was complete (I was currently riding a Cannondale F1000 [hardtail with a headshock] and knew I was going to get my Rocky in the spring. For the record, I would pay the $50US to have my chain lubed now. I know its worth it in a race like this.)

Anyway we finally arrived and were glad to see many racers milling about. The race had not yet started. We found our bikes and start fixing them immediately. Someone mentions that the race starts in 5 minutes. Great! I put my brake pads on faster than I ever have and managed to only be about 5 minutes late for the race start. That was okay by me as I was used to it after yesterday.

Again we start the day with a climb on a paved road. No one expected this, as this day was supposed to be mostly flat and downhill. I eventually caught up to other riders and my legs started to warm up a bit. They had felt like two stiff foreign objects before the race began. Because I started after most people I had to work my way through a double line of cars, trucks and buses that were cheering on the racers and at the same time seemed oblivious that they were completely in the way of the racers. This included several huge MAC trucks which blew hot exhaust out the right side. Unfortunately I had to play leap frog with several of these MAC trucks so the burning exhaust seared my legs and lungs almost continuously for 45 minutes. Finally we got to a rocky downhill road that did not allow the vehicles to follow. It was similar to yesterday's descent. It was a relief to leave the traffic although my hands weren't happy to curl back up in the brake position.

Soon the rocks turned into thick muck. I caught up to another large group of riders at this point all trying to work their through a muddy descent pushing or carrying their bikes. The muck was so thick it was swallowing our feet up to the ankles. Every step was a challenge. Despite this, it was actually a lot of fun, a highlight of the race for me. After we came out of the muddy section I noticed everyone was getting their bikes cleaned by locals who lived on the road we were passing through. So I stood in line to have mine done as well. A nice Costa Rican man sprayed my bike clean of the heavy mud & lubed my chain in under 2 minutes flat. Amazing.

Next we climbed up a dirt road until I finally reached check point 1. Little did I realize that the next section was supposed to be hell, similar to day 1's crazy climbing conditions. I don't know who said we would be descending all day but they were full of sh*#! We had a hard climb on a dirt road mixed with a small amount of rolling hills for 2+ hours in intense heat. I headed for every piece of shade I could find on the road sometimes zigzagging back & forth to grab a short relief from the heat. I was pushing my bike up climbs that I could normally climb without too much difficulty. I looked around and everyone seemed to be in the same shape as me which gave me some comfort. Whenever we passed the locals, they sprayed us with hoses. Although grateful for the cooling water, I couldn't help think that if I hadn't sweated off my sun screen by now, spraying me down with a hose was certainly finishing it off.

This climbing section was by far the toughest of the day and perhaps the toughest of the race for me. On the scattered downhills I had to be very careful because there were horizontal ditches that stretched across the road, presumably for drainage purposes. I managed them all pretty well except one. It was a little deeper and I was going a little faster so when I hit it, I flew off my bike. My hip took the brunt of the fall getting bruised and cut. This combined with a bloody elbow and a sore left thumb was the extent of the damage. I had to hold my handlebars differently to ease my thumb pain for the rest of the day. This fall shook me up a bit so after that I rode noticeably slower and more conservatively. I tried to ignore my nerves and gain back my confidence. Finally I reached the next check point which meant the end of the climbs, this time for real.

I noticed at one point that my salt pills were ruined from the water being sprayed down my back. They were now empty capsules.(how bout using a baggie, Tanya? Its not rocket science!) This was not a good thing because these little pills had been a godsend to me since the race began. So I asked the people working at the check point for some salt. I poured it into my water mixing with my powerade. For some reason I didn't taste the mixture before I left. Big mistake! Ever drink 2 liters of the ocean? Every mouthful was puckering my mouth and making my eyes water. I was nervous cause I didn't know when the next check point was and if this next section was anything like the last one, I was in big trouble cause I couldn't drink very much of this putrid liquid at one time. Plus too much salt makes you sick to your stomach and actually dehydrates you. Kind of the opposite effect I was going for...

Luckily we started off on a smooth paved downhill road. It was perfect - exactly what I needed. This went for quite some time until we turned onto the dreaded railway tracks that I had read and heard so much about. These tracks had cement ties rather than the typical wooden ties we are used to. The space between the ties was filled with rock most of the time.

That meant when the rocks were there you could ride, when they weren't it was very tricky. Especially with a hardtail having a back wheel that had a tendency to fall off (keep coming out of the dropouts for some reason). I was riding along on the tracks when I heard "Hey, you don't have to be up there!" There was a small dirt path parallel to the tracks that I hadn't even noticed. I guess I was too tired. I felt pretty stupid...

In this section there were lots of people watching and cheering and kids would put their hands out to give me five. They all looked very poor and kept yelling "Chocolat! Chocolat!" wanting me to give them chocolate which I didn't have. It was sad cause some of them really looked like they needed it.

Anyway I reached the next checkpoint quickly and exchanged my salt water for some fresh stuff. That was a relief.

Back on the tracks for a bit, then down a nice paved highway for a while. Despite this, I was starting to get tired and really needed a boost. I reached another checkpoint where I saw Jason, another racer who I'd met several times throughout the race. As he was leaving with 3-4 other riders he said to me "the train is leaving". I didn't clue in to what he meant until a few minutes later after they were gone. They were drafting!! So I booted after them and tried to catch up. When I was almost caught up, Jason looked back and saw me. He slowed his pace, came back and got me and brought me into the pack. That was really nice of him. I really needed it. We switched lead rider very quickly so this made it barely any effort.

We continued for a while until we hit a dirt road, with lots of spectators milling about. Damn! I guess the drafting couldn't last forever...

All of a sudden I heard this gunshot noise and felt my bike lower an inch or two in the back. The noise scared the crap out of me. I thought someone had fired a shot.

Obviously I got a flat. A van immediately pulled up to me and a man got out carrying a floor pump. Hallelujah!! He started helping me fix my flat. He did not speak English but I understood when after a few minutes of fiddling with it, he held my wheel up and the rim was completely sheared off half way around. I started laughing cause there was nothing else I to do. There was 40km left in this 400 km race and I was done. Seemed cruel somehow.

There was a woman with him who spoke some English and she said we will take you to the next checkpoint and then someone will drive you to the finish line. I was so disappointed, however I had no choice so I got in the van. We drove a few minutes until we passed another van who had two bikes on the top. My tire fixing buddy started talking to them in Spanish and all of a sudden everyone was getting out of the vehicles and they were putting another wheel on my bike. I couldn't believe my eyes! They told me to find Enrico at the finish line to give back the wheel. I thought it was pretty unlikely that I was going to find Enrico again but I just agreed. I wasn't going to turn this offer down.

The woman who spoke English said to me that the next section of the race was very dangerous with snakes and reptiles and she was not going to let me go in alone. A guy named Jeff who I had met briefly a couple times during the race pulled up. He agreed to go with me through this section.

It was more tracks, dirt roads and more poor kids yelling for chocolate. Three little girls insisted I take their photo during a stop. This is also where the crazy high railway bridges were that this race is so famous for. We were about 80-100 ft above rushing rivers. We were pushing our bikes across these bridges walking from tie to tie (this time they were wooden ties and there was nothing in between them!). Often ties were missing and the space was big enough to fall through! I was pretty scared.

On the last bridge there were two or three ties missing at one time and I couldn't see how I was going to get myself and my bike across this bridge without falling off. I had lost my shit at that point too...I think because I was so mentally exhausted. Suddenly a non-racing Costa Rican who also happened to be crossing the bridge at the same time grabbed my bike and started walking it across the bridge. Another guy took my hand and spotted me across the bridge.

Next section is the longest track section which happens to go through a jungle. This is the part with the crazy snakes etc that I was supposed to be worried about. I saw monkeys jump from tree to tree right in front of me and heard scary howler monkeys in the distance. It was crazy and I was pretty glad that Jeff was with me. These tracks went on forever in a straight line. Very hard on the head.

We met a guy who was sitting on the tracks who said "I can't keep going, I keep falling off my bike". We told him that it was going to be dark in an hour and he had better get the heck out of this section or the crazy snakes were going to get him. We didn't really put it that way but I think he got the point.

Finally the tracks ended and we came to a checkpoint. We sent someone back for the guy sitting on the tracks. 15 km left to Limon (the finish line) on a dirt road. The ocean was right there!! We had made it to the other side of Costa Rica!!

Suddenly Jeff had this burst of energy and started cranking down the road. It was getting very dim now; I couldn't see well at all. I didn't want to do the rest of the race in the dark all alone so I tried desperately to keep up with Jeff. I thought I was going to puke, bonk and die all at the same time. We passed a number of riders. I thought how funny if I bonked in the last kilometers of the race since it didn't happen at all in the past 3 days.

I kept up with Jeff as we reached a paved road which meant we were now in Limon, not far to the finish line now. There were no street lights. I could barely make out Jeff's silhouette in front of me. I just kept hoping I wouldn't hit a bump or a hole.

Finally I reached a lot of buses and people and I knew the finish line was there. I heard "go Tanya!!" from some of my teammates. They were all there waiting for me at the finish line. I was so exhausted and relieved that I started crying. I gave Jeff a big thanks and a hug. If he hadn't have been there I am not sure I would have made it. He actually said the same to me.

After that the Dirty Girlz took care of me, brought me food and got me onto a bus. Turns out two of them gave up early in the morning after the really hard and hot uphill section. It was too hot for them to carry on. Totally understandable.

I somehow found Enrico and gave him his wheel back and he gave my sorry looking rim back to me as well. I was glad cause I really wanted this as a souvenir. (I've since lost this wheel...)

So...that’s it! The end of my epic journey. Who wants to do La Ruta now?