At around five miles in I found myself watching the fog migrate up the bluff and spill into all the men working on Beale Street Landing. Empty barges battled the Mississippi current's headwind, pressing North and I thought, "higher ground" while simultaneously bemoaning myself for not filling up my water bottle before I left. The temporary gravel cut-through appealed to the cross tires beneath me but the man, the dog, and the thought that there would be more gravel to come kept me on the concrete path up the hill to Martyr's Park.
Wrong. The fog is better at water-level. I was in it. Now I was above it and the barges and the water didn't look the same. That, or the fog beat me up the bluff. Damn dog.
Looking at the Arkansas bank, part of a barge was aground. Circumcised sometime in the night, the rest of the journey to New Orleans with his head down; due to the fog no doubt. Dog, fog: damn you, both.
It was too early for Midtown Bikes to be open but The Arcade sure was. The waitress filled my water bottle before I even asked and I nodded "good day" to the trolley operator as I exited.
Memphis turns from ghetto to prosperous at several street intersections. Perhaps there is an interstitial area but it's almost unnoticeable. I just kept heading East under the cloud-cover. WOL to WOL (that's Wide Outside Lane in case you were unsure) until I turned onto the bike lanes at Southern. Several years ago when Russ Griffin raced the New Gears Alleycat he thought that cutting through the neighborhoods would shield him from the wind. He came in second. A straight line is always faster and I was going straight for a while.
I stayed ahead of the dust cloud my tires were spitting out as I cut from Cherry into Audubon Park. It wasn't enough gravel to satisfy my tires or myself. The lake didn't satisfy, either. Ducks aren't as interesting as barges, unless someone is chasing them with a fire extinguisher. That's for another day.
Traffic wasn't too bad so I sprinted across Poplar at Perkins and made North for the Greenline. Perkins overpasses the Greenline so I hopped the curb, shouldered the Surly and slid down the leafy bank to the asphalt below. The Greenline was mine and for the first time I noticed the wear: cracks forming in the asphalt. A year and a half is all it took. This summer will wreck it.
Should I make the Wolf River Trail part of the course? No, better to ease everyone into this mixed-terrain race. I was approaching 24 miles and I still wasn't at the 3rd checkpoint. The path around Patriot Lake would probably have been faster if there weren't any runners but they were there. Let them have it. I leaned into the grass and connected with that dirt line and in my head the runners are saying, "How is he going off-road on a road bike?" It was in that 25th mile, that gravel mile, that the first bead of sweat swelled on the brim of my cap. It dropped somewhere on the incline. So did the second one. They seemed to stop after that; my vision pinpointed on the checkpoint.
The sweat dropped steadily tan on my hands as I put on my gloves. Dusty sweat. I refilled my water bottle and made like a barge down the Greenline, pressing towards the 4th checkpoint through my own headwind. My phone talks to me at 30 miles and again at 35 and lets me know I'm getting tired. I pass the 4th checkpoint, Gnome Home, without so much as a glance. The Old Forest Trail is satisfaction for myself and my tires after 38 miles of mostly pavement. Shower, food, beer, and cupcakes made from scratch. I didn't even have to use my A-K.
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