I was alone. I would learn that over half of the participants had dropped by this point. The wind, mechanicals, or the wall had claimed them. The headphones and random music hastily loaded on my iPod were my company. I had initially looked forward to the eastern section of the third leg thinking a wind at my back would be nice. The map didn’t show that it was a climb to the east, for what looked like ten miles. I watched storm clouds gather and blow away. The clouds gave me some shade, but were busy to some far off place. East wasn’t the respite I had been looking forward to; it was a slog forward and upward. Somewhere at the top of the final hill on the damned eastern leg I was startled to look down into a valley and see my turn. It looked steep. It looked fast. The gravel looked… loose. These thoughts crossed my mind as I barreled down the hill, I clung to the handlebars and stretched my achy knees. I didn’t dare flick my eyes away from the gravel, for fear a pothole or rock would send me crashing to the Earth brutally. It would be my first and last grin for a little while, the speedo said I did somewhere near 41mph. While I reflected on this, I would turn into the pasture and oil fields. It was time to fight northwest again. This would surely be the roughest road, I was thankful for my oversized mountain bike tires. While climbing a hill with a cinderblock building on the side I met Dave. Dave would prove to be a great companion for the next 40 miles or so, we had similar enough pace that we could tow each other along nicely. We talked about many topics, some as simple as sandwiches, others as complex as taxes. Sometimes he just talked, it was nice to hear his voice instead of the wind. There were more hills, but they had become normal to me now. As the dusk settled on the prairie the hills seemed to turn purple in the light. God, it was beautiful out here. We were rolling comfortably, and a bit quicker, but I was still trying to keep close tabs on the map. I didn’t expect things to have been as well marked as they were, but I was still paranoid we might miss a turn. I was nearly right in my fears at the Rock Creek Road turn, where so many elites had gone wrong so far off course. Always follow the map they said, and you’re less likely to get lost. Cotton Wood falls was close, meaning 20 miles or so, and it was getting dark. The terrain was smoothing out as the sun set into the hills, the wind had also fallen silent. We were rolling in the dark on smooth clean roads now, which may sound easy, until you find that the checkpoint is hidden behind a store on the other side of town, down the highway some. Not the best for those tired cyclists now dragging up the rear. Dave and I had to stop and ask someone if they had seen a bunch of bikes ride by. Fortunately for us they had. We had found the final checkpoint in just four hours fifty-three minutes. Another checkpoint, but this reload had a surprise. The rest of my club members from the Lawrence Mountain Bike Club had come from their finishes to cheer me on. It was nice seeing them and talking briefly. L had talked to my boys asking them if they wanted to make me a sign. The artistic result is one of my favorite mementos from the race. Thirty-three minutes later Dave found me and we set off into the darkness again.