This was my second time on this ride in as many seasons, and this year's time was pretty close (16:25 vs 16:08). As we were lining up at Morrisville Square, I noticed Vance over in the parking lot with what looked like his bike upside down. I debated briefly whether to hang back and wait for him, knowing that it can be discouraging to start out solo and try to chase somebody down. However, Vance is experienced, he doesn't need me, and he will probably catch up at Snow Camp. So off we go, and I kept checking in my rear view mirror every 5 miles or so, expecting to see Vance appear. I lost the main group on Farrington about half a mile from Lystra, and eventually caught up with Chloe and Thai. We rode together most of the remaining distance to Snow Camp. Martin was about to leave as I came in, which was a little surprising as he was long gone at the same point on the 200K two weeks earlier. Must be conserving some energy for the extra rollers on Coleridge Rd. I stood around at Snow Camp, scanning Greensboro - Chapel Hill Rd, thinking "Vance must be coming along, should I wait for him?" Chloe shoved off, so I decided even if Vance doesn't catch us, we will at least see him on the return sometime after Seagrove. Just before the Siler City control, here comes Lin O on his recumbent, riding back toward Snow Camp. Now Lin is a lot better rider than I am, but there are definitely some faster riders than him today, so I know he hasn't already been to the Seagrove turnaround. Apparently he decided to not push things after recently coming off serious illness. Smart move.
Chloe, Thai and I bought some snacks and water in Siler City and then Thai took off ahead of us for the Seagrove control. Still no Vance. We caught up with Thai in a few miles and rode together, eventually getting strung out over about a mile. Soon the fast crowd came rocketing toward us on their return trip; I would also see Geof, Bryan, Mike D and John M, and a couple other solo riders before turning into the Seagrove control. Another surprise - Martin was still there! I thought I had seen him five miles back, returning to Siler City. Must have been someone else. As Martin wrote in his account (2 year experts), Ian and Mary had a spread of fruit, sandwiches and Coke. Cheapskate that I am, I figured why go into Hardee's when I can just eat here? Looking back, it might have been wise to follow Denis and Paul's example and go get some real food inside (Martin writes about my bonking). It was here at Seagrove that I finally learned that Vance had decided to abandon.
Martin left with Denis and Paul, and about 5 or 10 minutes later Thai followed. I was ready, and Chloe assured me she was confident about navigating on her own without a computer (forgot to put a wheel magnet on after switching wheels). After overtaking Thai, I felt pretty good (tailwinds and downhills certainly help), but didn't entertain any hopes of catching Martin and company. However, Martin's flat tire gave me the advantage I needed, and we formed a new trio (Paul kept going after the flat and must have recovered, as we never saw him again).
Joel set out a big spread of food (those orange slices really hit the spot), and I did eat what I thought was a pretty good amount (bagel sandwich, plenty of water, cookies, etc.), but I think my energy reserves were getting steadily depleted, and the results would be evident between Snow Camp and Andrews Store. I did sense I needed some more food by the time we got to Snow Camp, so ate some more there (should have grabbed one of the pre-made sandwiches instead of thinking a Reese's ice cream bar and Starbucks double shot would do the trick).
We turned on lights and headed down Greensboro - Chapel Hill Rd (Old Greensboro Highway). As darkness came on, my slow flash Dinotte taillight was getting more and more obnoxious to Martin and Denis, so we stopped briefly at the corner of 87 and Chicken Bridge Rd, where I changed the mode to steady low power. That seemed to relieve them, but it was a temporary reprieve. At Andrews Store, Martin announced that I would be in the back of the pack. I was desperate for some more food at this point, and also needed to put on a jacket and leg warmers. The pizza grill was empty and clean, but I asked anyway. Sorry, we are out. However, the clerk was helpful and suggested some food that could be microwaved. Chef Boyardee to the rescue! 45 seconds later I was devouring some hot meatballs and spaghetti. I wolfed down a large turnover and a bottle of chocolate milk for good measure.
It takes a little while for the extra food intake to be absorbed, so once we turned onto 15-501 and started up the little incline to Jack Bennett, I quickly fell off the back. That nice downhill on Jack Bennett was a relief (glad I put on the extra clothes), but I had lost sight of Martin and Denis by the time I reached the T at Lystra. Good guys that they are, they were waiting at the corner of Lystra and Farrington Point Rd. I couldn't keep up on Farrington, but they waited up again and by the time we turned left on Lewter Shop Rd I was feeling pretty well recovered and we cruised in together, arriving at Alan's at 11:25 pm.