Back on the bike and climbing the disturbingly steep hill out of Madison, two boys, not much older than my own, congratulated me. They offered high fives for a reward and good luck. I wouldn’t even make it two more blocks before turning west, and face first into the wall of wind that would push me backward for the remainder of the day. I tried swearing at it, but it no one could hear over the roar. The forecasters said up to 20mph, I think they were off by ten. I consulted my map to see where I could have any relief, but it looked like I was riding mostly west, with very short tacks to the south. This leg was going to take a while. Because I had been such a lead ass in Madison, I was now riding toward the middle back of the pack (or perhaps the back) and there were few people to draft of share the duties of cutting of the wind. I could catch riders, but would always outpace them climbing. The game of long uphill climbs had also begun to set in. Riders now faced the wind struggling uphill and down. This leg would mark the first time I gave mental or physical aid to a rider. I can’t remember his name, but he had already begun to struggle with cramps. I slowed and offered my draft. He said he had been with a group, but had dropped out when his legs started to complain. I pulled him for the longest five miles of my life, the howling wind can be thanked for that. Finally we reached a turn to the south, and with that he pulled around me. He asked me to hang on his wheel and took off. I tried, I really did, but my legs needed a snack and I needed a moment to roll. I don’t know where he went after that, aside from over the next hill, but I hope he finished well. I would only get two miles to the south, god that was short, before I was into the wind again. Ugh. I found myself locked in a grind, each pedal stroke felt just like the last. Each blast of the wind made me grimace. I took solace in eating, drinking, and looking around often. The rolling hills were beautiful and it had become a perfect Kansas day. Somewhere on Battle Creek Road I found some riders of similar disposition to me, one had blown a spoke and surprisingly was from Tonganoxie. The other, Bobby, was cursing the wind as much as I had been. We took comfort in our common enemy and would work as a threesome, sometimes five-some depending who we caught or caught us, against the wind and the hills. Right about this time I saw what had to be Texaco Hill, and it looked like two miles of up. I set my gears and my mind to spinning. I knew sooner or later I would make it to the top. I ignored the wind, I ignored thirst, and I climbed. I climbed some more, and when I thought I surely had run out of hill, I climbed a little further. Whew, at the apex of the hill I offered myself a reward, a brief stop to look back and take a photograph of a now limitless valley view. The kid from Tonganoxie and Bobby would come by a few minutes later, noting that everyone did that. Well, it was still my moment. Back on the cranks, I found myself in pursuit again. I would chase the kid from Tongie and Bobby up and down countless hills. They had warned me about the rollers going into Cassoday, but I had thought it would be just like what I had seen so far. Yeah, not quite. The two rollers, I would hear everyone talk about later, were two half-mile climbs, that seem to go up so steeply that you would fall off your bike if you leaned back much past upright. These terrible twins burned your legs, forced you to pull from deep inside, and made you pray for even the briefest of respite from the wind. I saw more than one cyclist dismount and walk, I considered it, but I would have fallen over long before getting my clips clear of the pedals. Standing, spinning, grunting, it all happened in hopes of climbing the hills in front of me. Finally when I came to the top, I was rewarded with another view and big gust of wind. Eh, might as well keep moving. Cassoday waits. Right about this time I had my one unfortunate event, a bee landed on my saddle to hitch a ride. I didn’t know this until I sat down and it stung me. I swore, swerved, and a stopped to crush the offending bug. After this little circus, I lost track of a lot of things, but soon found myself on pavement again. As I rolled down the hill into town, the kid from Tongie joined me again. His rear wheel now looked like a Pringle thanks to his broken spoke. He told me he was out, unable to go any further. I asked him to save me a beer in Emporia. I rolled to the checkpoint and had to turn around. Someone had cruelly put the rest stop back up the last hill. L looked worried, It had taken me five hours fifteen minutes to slog through the wind. I promptly sat down and enjoyed a Coke and some food. As L reloaded me, the support crews looked for Jason; he was later than I was. I hadn’t seen him since the first leg, where he blasted past me easily, so I thought he was ahead of me. When he came in, he didn’t look tired but very calmly sat down and called his day. I still don’t know if it was the call of the beer, the howl of the wind, or some unseen ache that made one of the strongest cyclists from our group quit. I couldn’t ask, I had sat too long again, fifty-five minutes this time. I told L that this leg would have a brief east ride, and then a very long ride directly into the wind. It would take me a while, but I would get there. A kiss and off I went.