The Unretourables, reunited, ready for the train ride home. We were goofing for the camera, acting like Ben Wade, Charlie Prince and the gang, though this picture could have easily reflected our morale at several points in our fleche. The following is a true story.
Five hopeful Tarheels left Lynchburg in high spirits. 07:00 Friday. The sun was out, the air was cool, and we were finally riding together. Months of planning and anticipation were paying off. Beautiful roads, good friends, an adventure in the making. Then we noticed we weren't making the time we needed.
Tougher-than-expected terrain and a social pace were conspiring against us. We had to ride! Just as we were getting into our groove- disaster struck. Wes was down on the side of the road. He hopped up quickly, brushing dirt from his side. Back on the bike, he was a little sore but pushing hard. We motored into our first control in Scottsville 40 minutes late.
A busy lunchtime crush delayed us more, but finally we were moving towards our next control. Some wrong turns slowed us down but we caught the mistakes quickly. We cruised through handsome Gordonsville and thought how cool it was someone named a place for our friend, Mr. Meuse. Wes was still riding strong and getting sore. Advil was ordered up. Our rolling average leaped from 14.9 at the first control to 15.2 at Mario's in Orange. Not shabby at all, yet somehow, we were now an hour behind.
We hustled through the buffet and hit US15 in rush hour. We noticed motorists flying lots of "birds" our way- didn't they know who they were messing with? Al Capone and Ben Wade wouldn't take that kindly! We hunkered down, gunning for our turn onto 631. Out of traffic, there was trouble. Wes' leg and knee were swelling badly. He hung on until Reva, then told us to leave him. Stunned, we rode with him for a few more miles before he disappeared in the dusk behind us. I heard Rick Danko singing "Twilight" and our spirits sank with the sun.
Wes limped into the Blue Rock Inn control a few minutes after us. He unselfishly handed out his cold-weather gear to those of us a little less prepared, then left for DC with family. RBA Matt Settle joined us for a quick meal, his eyes gleaming mischievously when we asked how much our route "flattened out" in the miles ahead. Friendly folks at a neighboring table warned us about deer. After catching up on the other March Mayhem, the four remaining Unretourables shuffled into the chill and set off for Linden.
Twenty minutes later, we were shrieking and screaming like teenyboppers at a Jonas Brothers concert. "Deeeeeer!" "Deer right!" A scene straight out of a Discovery Channel documentary leaped across the road in front of Alan. Stampeding deer, upwards of a dozen, maybe two dozen, scared up just as were descending a gentle ridge. Somehow we all made it through with only rattled nerves. Jimmy whistled. "Hope that's the last time that happens." It happened 4 more times. Usually with Alan on the front. We finally sent him to the back and asked him to stay there. That friendly resident back at the Blue Rock wasn't kidding about the deer.
Hume Road was beautiful in the moonlight. More deer scared us at Leed's Church so we didn't stop to admire its beauty or history. We couldn't stop anyway- behind schedule and uncertain of what lay ahead.
The 24-hour Apple Mountain Exxon in Linden was our goal and we filed in as zombies. Its storekeeper was a life-saver. A young guy, very friendly and helpful. We dallied way too long, but we couldn't bring ourselves to get moving. "We have 70 miles to go in 7 hours." In deer-infested darkness. The weariness in Paul's voice made it clear we would be challenged to make it.
More deer stampedes on the John Marshall Highway, but soon we were cranking through Markham, The Plains, Broad Market, Gainesville. Creeping suburbia met us with stoplights. We ducked into a Denny's and insisted to the waitress that breakfast couldn't take more than 15 minutes. "I can do it," she replied. And she did. Her tip hit the table and we were gone.
We made the 22-hour control exactly on time. 25 miles to go. No margin for error. Some confusion with a couple of turns, a dropped chain, then we were ridin' hard down Arlington Boulevard. So hard we rode past our exit at Wilson. We backtracked to a Carlin Springs 7-11 and controlled for our final there at 06:55. We appreciated Matt's warm welcome at the Marriott at 07:24. He looked over our cards, receipts and mileage, proclaiming it "excellent!" Wearily, happily, we fell into our room upstairs and slept until noon.
Some touristy photo ops and Guinness to celebrate dodging Doomsday, then on to catch the last train to Lynchburg. We were really happy to reunite with our teammate Wes again. Our deer stories didn't scare him, so maybe we're all getting those cool deer whistles for next year's fleche. We are changing our name, though. Watch out for The Unstoppables.
Unverified stats from Branson's computer:
15, 380 feet climbing
14.2 rolling average
15, 754 calories burned