As I passed the aid station and entered the loop, I could feel the toll of the cumulative miles wearing me down. My body and mind were not as sharp or responsive as they were just a few hours prior. Suddenly, small errors would lead to over corrections and I’d take a spill in the mud or graze a tree just a little close for comfort. The final loop of rooty single track finally signaled that I needed to back off pushing my current pace. I could sense myself spiraling down to an inevitable meeting with an immovable object that would have no mercy on my transgression. This would mean abandoning my goal of 10 hours but I felt it necessary to avert any prideful attempts at grandeur and settle for simply finishing the course in one piece. Mother nature had plotted against us from the very first moment and I wasn’t about to challenge her any further… Exiting the single track and outer loop gave me a veiled sense of relief as I could finally sense that I was on the return leg. At every aid station I would see riders sitting along the sidelines or loading up in vans as they had reached their breaking point. It was so tempting to simply stop pedaling… roll to a stop and dismount. Hang the bike on the rack and bask in the warmth of a dry van with heat and other like-minded souls weary from the day’s onslaught. No… I cannot bring myself to stop spinning. My legs ache, my back screams in revolt and my mind roils with every turn of the cranks. The hill seems to go on forever as I pedal squares at every turn. I stand to relieve my backside, then sit to ease my thighs and calves. Nothing is comfortable, nothing is enough to mitigate the ache that permeates every fiber… every muscle and tendon. Every rider I encounter shows the same grimace of determination and sheer mind-over-body willpower that can be called on in a time like this. The hill finally eases off to a flat-ish road and we are immediately directed left into an overgrown, grassy and muddy descent into the bowels of a muddy hell. The path we are laid upon does not appear to have been traveled by anything for some time. It is not worn, has no evidence of use and simply degrades into a mixed slop that any pig would see as a veritable mecca of mud. It has the consistency of peanut butter and every revolution of the tire packs it thicker and heavier on the bike. Every component in the drive train is crushing and grinding through the muck. At the bottom of every hill lies a swamp of mud that grips the front tire like Velcro and attempts to wrench the bars from my hands. It is draining what energy I have left to maintain control and direction of the bike while slipping and spinning the rear tire through the mire. Habitual body English from years of riding motorcycles is keeping me upright in the bogs and low spots. Finally, I crest a hill and splash through a river that rises to the hubs. The mud almost rinses clean but the damage has been done and my legs are groaning worse than ever.