Waking up to a beautiful beach, it's hard to see anything but the bright side of life. There were, however, three daunting issues I would face on day 4, not the least of which was the 60km long climb with an elevation increase of 2000 meters. That's 37 miles long and 1.25 miles UP for all y'all Mericans out there.
My biggest problem surfaced right after the gear trucks had left. My food mix tasted a little funny again, just like yesterday, so I shook it and popped the top again... it fully exploded like I'd dropped a mentos into diet coke. I now had a bacterial broth of fermented food, with my mix well on it's way up the hill. BLAST!
Fraser calmed me down and sent me to make peanutbutter sandwiches. I made four single-slice sammys and grabbed a baked potato. Fortunately I'd eaten a decent breakfast already.
And they're off... the five minutes of flat were glorious, but I distinctly remember several riders rolling over a rather thorny palm frond. About an hour later I would remember that frond as I pulled a thorn out of my tire. I've really gotta get faster at changing tubes... 15 minutes later... I started regaining my place and I felt pretty good.
We had intermittent respite from the uphill in the form of quick little downhills. I was particularly aggressive on one and the sharp right at the bottom had me worried - that is until I saw the gravel. That worried me more. I managed to leap from my bike as the rear wheel skidded out from under me. My knee took the blow (and a week later it's still bruised and ugly) and I rolled. I was "fine", but it took me a minute to figure out how to get my chain back around the pedal and onto the front crank again.
Back on the road, things were pretty uneventful, saving the gawks and stairs of villagers whenever they noticed the blood flowing down my shin. I started taking a few videos to document what I began to believe might be the end of the race for me. More than once I contemplated giving up, and that's against just about every fiber in me.
I made it to the one and only food zone at 44km with about two swallows of water left in my bottle - camelback on empty. The water and food were rationed to 1.8 liters and 2 small bananas. Hindsight tells me I should have eaten also the black mushy one I found on the ground before I left.
Hydration or DEhydration was no longer a worry, but the food situation was dire. I was soon out of bananas, PB sammys, and the baked potato was long gone. I actually started scanning the road for a dropped gel and unlike previous days, none of the villages had any food carts out.
At long last there was not one, but two carts and I bought the best biscuits I've eaten in my entire life. Coconut Butter! I ripped the package open with my teeth, but I couldn't get them out so I half chewed, half crushed them into my mouth, crumbs sticking to my face and neck, groaning with greedy satisfaction. The kids on the side of the road gave me a few strange looks, but I cared not. Shortly I came across the best news I'd had all day. Spraypainted in the road "1km to summit".
With a great surge I got out of my lowest gear and was actually near my highest as I hit the crest and flew into the 6km of steep, winding downhill. Braking and weaving around killer potholes I escaped unscathed, arriving at the finish in 5 hours and 22 minutes. First place? 2:47. I was 133rd.
At the med tent I dug a rock out of my knee. It wasn't huge, but just about any rock lodged between your kneecap and skin is rather uncomfortable. I was glad to hear I didn't have gangrene (yet) and amputation wasn't necessary.
Now, let me tell you a little about this amazing valley. It is completely surrounded by beautiful mountains and right in the middle is a hill with a beautiful garden and buildings on it. I managed to skitch a ride along side a UN vehicle most of the way up and I was treated to some amazing views, a warmish shower, and a massive pasta, spam & baked beans feast.
At the daily awards ceremony we learned that our encampment, just a few years prior, had been the headquarters of a rebel resistance. That would explain the significant increase in Local & UN police as well as Aussie Military. I decided to celebrate with an ice-cold Tiger beer. How is it that they can keep the beer so cold, but there wasn't any cold drinking water? Hmm.
The cold night air was very refreshing and I slept like a baby.