The first step is admitting you have a problem. Every dead body on Mount Everest was once a highly motivated individual. My vices are limited, but my drug of choice is apparently “hmmmmm…. that sounds hard, Imma try and see if I can do that.” This addiction hasn’t been all bad, started as a child and then snowballed into a career that I love and don’t suck at. Nope, not in medicine ‘cause I wanted to be that since I was a girl, just got bored after retiring from figure skating and thought “med school seems hard, guess I’ll try that.”
Saturday: THE WAFFLE – 135 miles, 10,997ft,
11 hours and 4 minutes.
I went into this one with a goal of having fun and just playing the Waffle game like usual. This was number five for me and I had a really good idea what to expect from this new course. As I explained to the roadie gentlemen I was riding with at mile 80, I’m kinda the Mayor of Pamo Truck Trail. Not the Queen, but definitely the Mayor. They may have thought I was insane, they are not incorrect.
I did a lot of Strava math and decided that I’d be happy with an 11 hour time. Further math told me that I would overlap the leaders somewhere between the top of Highland Valley Road and the Hatfield sand pit. I squeezed a 10-36 cassette onto my Canyon Ultimate road bike, and went with 32mm IRC Boken Plus tires, choosing to under-bike the Waffle.
I kept my pace reasonable up Twin Oaks and rode the Double Peak and Questhaven dirt calmly. I got to the Elfin pavement and realized that this year’s single wave start had left me with fewer groups to choose from since I didn’t have a second giant wave of men behind me, so I tucked in with a slightly faster than I liked group and got to Lemon Twist. I rode briskly but not aggressively down the looooong dirt stretches, the riders I was with were all doing a great job and everyone got up and down Raptor with minimal drama. And by minimal drama, I mean it was a complete shitshow, but fun and nobody crashed.
Next Bandy…. I saw Terry up ahead climbing the pavement. I screamed “HEY MOTHERFCKER, WHAT THE FCK ARE YOU DOING?!?!” to the startlement of the riders around us. He laughed, tried to chop my front wheel and put me into an oncoming car. I’m not sure what name I called him, but I’m certain it was profane. We chatted for a bit, then I told him to eat a bag of d*cks and left him for dead as I dropped him up HVR. Is it even a gravel event if you don’t leave a good friend for dead?
I sat up at the top of HVR and waited for a group to come by and I found a great one, just the right pace to take me through to Ramona. At this point I was starting to get concerned that I hadn’t seen the leaders yet, either I was going faster than I planned, or they were going slower than I expected. Turns out both were correct. I saw the front of the race through Heisenberg and got a wave and a smile from Victor Sheldon on the moto and Steve Driscoll out the top of the truck shooting pics. I just love seeing friends on the course. I cheered on fast friends I recognized, got a “Good Job Casey!” from Brian McCullough. I filled up bottles at the aid station and headed to the sand pit that is Hatfield Creek, I rode about 2/3 of it and as I was swinging wide right, one foot out, tripod-ing and giving up, I looked up to see Brandon Mills going the opposite direction doing exactly the same thing. We both cracked up, exchanged a hearty high five, one foot unclipped in that damn sand pit and both laughed away, me 19 miles behind him. A couple of minutes later I saw my friend (and houseguest for the weekend) Caroline Dezendorf, she screamed my name. She was running third at that point in the women’s race looking super strong.
Next was Pamo Truck Trail and it was better than ever, a sandy, loose, chunky, steep, 105-degree-heat nightmare. I know some of you hate it, but I had a blast. It’s my favorite, and I know you don’t remember voting for me, but I AM the Mayor. Sorry, but we found a suitcase full of ballots at 3am. I got to the bottom briskly and safely and was ready for a little break on the Pamo Rd. flats and discovered it turned into a barely rideable beach. I’m assuming the county added more sand to try and fix the washboards. Many riders were walking. I think I was just in denial and kept pedaling, laughing and shaking my head in disbelief. Fortunately I didn’t have to unclip. I threw a mochi down my gullet and gasped at how good it was. I made this new lemon curd filling, and it was like eating a tiny lemon merengue pie. The riders around me once again though I was insane, they were not incorrect.
I finished the evil Pamo Pavement climb in the triple digit heat and made sure I kept my free-hub shut up on the false flat back to the Hatfield dirt, then a mirage. A giant, loud, jovial mirage “I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU FOR AN HOUR” Surely it can’t be, surely he must be joking, nope, there he was Karl Bordine! No freaking way. We rolled into the aid station and filled bottles he even waited for me to dump the sand out of my shoes. I jumped on the tallest, steadiest, most expert TTT wheel and we rolled together though the end of Heisenberg’s dirt, Karl perfectly keeping the pace at exactly what I could tolerate. The guys behind me had no idea. Um…. my dudes…. this wheel we are on…. It helped set the Race Across America team record. But then I blew it, I slowed too much turning onto the 67, another guy came around me, Karl didn’t realize it was no longer me behind him. Between the gap, the wind and the slight uphill my boisterous guardian angel was gone.
I found another group and traded pulls to the top of HVR, and the ringmaster himself, MMX drove by cheered me on. I bombed down Highland and Bandy to the aid station and found Andy Brightman waiting for me. He yelled “Quit fcking around!” as is traditional and proper. He typically rides his own ride, then checks my dot and sees how far back I am and waits if makes sense. Fortunately it did and we rode down to the Hodges aid station together, me keeping it smooth through there for a change. I usually ride the “home dirt” like I stole the bike and then can’t pedal up Del Dios. I wasn’t making that mistake again.
At the stop Andy got the sand out of his shoes and I scarfed a whole package of Ritz Bitz, trying to not choke on the Ritz dust. As we rolled out, we collected another Andy, Andy McClure riding his tenth Waffle. So the three of us with 23 Waffle finishes between us rode to the end together, such an honor to finish my fifth with these two legends, absolute class acts these two.
We crossed an amazing finish line full of cheering friends, Natalie MacLean, kUDO award winner, still in her kit and covered in dirt hours after her finish. I’ve never had a Waffle finish with so many people around to hug and greet me, vibes were all time!!!
You know those moments on the Waffle when you stare into the abyss and the abyss stares back? I had such a great day, I didn’t even have one of those moments. Other than the second trip up Bandy pavement at mile 107 where I kinda breathed through almost puking, I was basically fine all day.
But the abyss, it was waiting for me on Sunday, and let me tell you, the abyss stared back all right, and punched me in the fcking mouth……
Sunday: The Wafer 75 miles, 6200 feet,
6 hours and 45 agonizing minutes
“It’s better to do something badly that not to do it at all.”
I very likely would have bailed on the whole second day if not for Caroline, 5th place in the Waffle, staying at our house. Getting the bikes ready and dragging our butts back to the start became a little community household event. So much more fun getting to share all that nonsense with somebody. We got home late but not too bad, and I scrambled to get my other bike ready, deciding at the last minute that I needed to switch to a real gravel bike with 38mm at a 50 tooth cassette, and it was a really good decision. My body wasn’t really interested in climbing and my brain wasn’t interested in steering. Monster trucking was the play.
Mid-pack in the Wafter with Waffle fitness and freshness is a blast. That’s what Echo and I did last year, so much fun. This was decidedly NOT that. I chose to wear my now traditional for me flamingo headband to remind myself I was just there to fck around. It may have been a miscalculation.
I lined up at the start and realized I was not myself on so many different levels. I was, how shall I put this politely, a cranky b*tch. Echo says she wants this face on a coffee mug.
I had decided that I would make no decisions about DNFing until after I got to Elfin, and under no circumstances would I make judgements about my day based on how I felt up Twin Oaks, a nasty road climb, and man O MAN did I feel like absolute crap. Then I saw my friend Ed Philbrick up top at the entrance to the dirt, and he said something like “It’ll come around.” Even just seeing a friendly face settled my brain and I just decided “Ok, you know this route like the back of your hand, you’re just gonna ride one segment at a time and get this elephant eaten.” The double peak dirt distracted me for a while because it was a total melee. Riders unclipping right and left, what the actual F? Oh… shit, I’m towards the back of the Wafer, this may be how it is all day, plus dudes behind me telling me when to shift. Oh man…. Don’t snap at people, it’s not them, it’s you, or maybe it’s them, no it’s you, shut up, fck…. Then my friend Walter Phillips passed me and cheered me up before I had a rage meltdown like Chernobyl. BTW that’s how we remember our anniversary. We got married on Chernobyl day. I realized that riding harder was going to make me less cranky, so I followed Walter and just started riding the C lines and passing people, hashtag home-dirt.
I rode with some decently paced groups though Elfin and Del Dios, realizing I could kinda put out power on the flats, so I tried to go as fast as I could on the flats and downhills. But the climbs, my heart just wasn’t in it. I mean my literal heart. Average HR of 122 for the day, if I went past 170W for more than a couple of minutes I felt this impending doom feeling in my chest. My doctor brain interpreted that as atypical chest pain, common for women in my age group, and impending myocardial damage. This seems bad.
I got though the dirt, saw Ed again taking pics at the rock garden, had a good laugh and received more calming encouragement. Near the beginning of Mule and saw the front of the race heading the opposite way, Phil on the lead Moto laughed out loud at me and my flamingo helmet. It dawned on me how bad Mule trail was going to be. I was going to be riding head on into the front groups, with them going 20+ mph, which would be fine if I was solo, but I had a group, which considering my pace to that point, was potentially of mixed skill. I have the sand pits memorized, so when I saw a fast group coming the other way, I slowed way down so as not to be in the pit when we crossed. I’m picturing some guy behind me crashing in the sandpit into the leaders and ten of us bleeding in a pile of twisted carbon, the quicksand swallowing us to our deaths. Caroline, on the way to her Wafer win and looking awesome, saw me going the other way at the end of Mule and said I looked very unhappy. Tru dat.
Raptor was a complete cluster, but that was fine, I didn’t have the cardiac output to ride it anyway. Near the beginning of the descent a gentleman learned to never judge a rider by her flamingos. He asked to pass me, and a said sure, and then quickly realized that was a miscalculation. He somehow went over the bars while simultaneously spinning his bike 360 degrees horizontally. I stopped to make sure he was ok, checked his shoulders and helmet, and went on my way, passing two other dudes on foot who “ran out of talent”. I’m telling ya, it’s rough back here. Several small episodes of underestimation and unnecessary explanation later my super cranky ass rolled into the aid station where I found my friend Robyn Blackfelner. “Not having fun isn’t a good enough reason to DNF, right?” She let me rant and complain for like six straight minutes, filled my bottles for me and sent me on my way. Poor Robyn, I was in such a bad mood.
I realized if I was going to get though the rest of the day, I needed to somehow change my mindset and maybe it would help if the people around me understood what I was up to, so I started telling people I was doing the Dubble. I know it shouldn’t matter, but the type of encouragement I was getting from riders around me then changed from “oh cute, flamingo girl doing her first gravel event” to something more appropriate. Both forms of encouragement certainly come from a good place, but I was such a straight up porcupine at that point I could only tolerate the latter. Cranky. Ass. BeeYONce.
I rode down Mule solo telling myself “this is not as bad as the last 60 miles of Iceland” “this is not as bad as 50 miles in the dark in Kansas.” Home dirt on Hodges helped, as did a chat with a very nice man who told me he weighed 300lbs 18 months ago and now was on his way to finishing the wafer. We chatted about the rest of the course, about getting out of your comfort zone and how we were SUPPOSED to be tired right then. Attitude fully adjusted, no longer a cranky ass beyonce, more coke more ritz crackers, and couple of pickles, onward. I stopped to give a couple of different riders salt pills and tried to provide encouragement. On Del Dios I remembered that I had one more of those amazing lemon merengue mochi that I salvaged from the day before, I took a bite and it was now stale and absolutely disgusting. I spit it out across Del Dios Highway and may or may not have hit a car.
Now heading to Elfin and the headwind of doom….I’m not sure if it’s because they saw me do the little downhill on Hodges with zero brakes or what, but a pair of guys rode past me and said “I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you are doing the Dubble”…. Or maybe they recognized me pedaling in squares, death march style. They came by at exactly the right time, these two ride heroes saved me. I was pondering maybe crying just for the hell of it at the thought of riding Elfin in the wind solo. They let me jump on and towed me to Questhaven. I will be forever grateful. I later learned they were James Ayres and Michael Cleveland. MONSTER PULL! Without them, a right turn on Country Club drive to DNF was looking really really good to me.
I got up Questhaven with a heart rate of ONE TWENTY SIX, body just like “you unmitigated idiot, what are you doing” and a text from Terry comes through on my Garmin “do you need a ride”…. What the hell? Why would I give up now? Maybe I shouldn’t have told him to eat a bag of d*cks yesterday. Turns out my dot had stopped moving for quite a while even though I had not and he thought I was lying dead on somebody’s lawn. Dire. Jenna and Todd Glasser were there screaming and cheering at the right onto San Elijo, again, seeing friends on course is so amazing. Thank you for being there! Then I start getting texts from Andy “FCKING STUPID DIRT” and the previous “FCK DEL DIOS” one I missed as I ride the damn sand sidewalk on the way to double peak. Marc drives by me in his car and screams at me. Friends. This is the whole point. Bikes and friends.
Marc jumps out of his car and grabs his bike and camera and rides up Double Peak with me. Andy is halfway up on foot running and filming and heckling and encouraging. It means so much to me that my friends showed up here, I can’t even adequately explain. I can still pedal, I can even still stand up, my heart even throws me a bone and gives me a few more beats so I don’t have to walk. Take that, Abyss, I’d punch you in the mouth but my hands are too sore to make a fist.
I chill to the finish and cross the line to a huge group of cheering friends, including Michael Marckx there with the first hug before I even unclip. I told Michael my day was 90% darkness, but 10% light…. but damn, that 10% though. It’s good.
Y tho. Why do we do this? Health? Definitely not, I’m convinced this is bad for you. The thrill of an achievement, sure, partially. But that’s not it. It’s the abyss. The friends you make as you dip your toes into the abyss are like none other. We are a battle forged community and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Key stuff and things
Only 13 women finished the Dubbleberg Header. I was 11th, of the ten ahead of me, eight of em were pros. I wandered way past my paygrade on this one.
Source Endurance coaching – Thank you for making this possible
Waffle Bike: Canyon Ultimate Evo disc with SRAM road 2x AXS with a 10-36 Squeezed in there.
Tires via https://puregravel.com/ 32mm Boken Plus for Waffle and 38mm Doublecross for Wafter
Wafer Bike: Open Upper with SRAM 1X 40×10-50
Spinergy GXX both dayshttps://www.spinergy.com/products/gxx
See y’all in North Carolina! https://belgianwaffleride.bike/pages/northcarolina