Part two: Hunger Games
I thought I should at least check it out, although I wasn't terribly excited about setting out for the morning in a downpour just to discover a half mile up the trail that forward progress was impossible. I languished in my sleeping bag until 9 a.m., when the rain began to taper off, and noticed streaks of light through the window that almost looked like sunbeams. I rode all the way out there specifically for this trail, so I had to try. I packed up my gear and ate my last Nature's Bakery Blueberry Fig Bar for breakfast, mostly because it was the most healthy thing I had with me. Another 220 calories gone. Eight hundred remained: One package pretzel M&Ms, one package of Cheddar Cheese Pretzel Combos, and one king-sized Twix Bar.
|Encountered this bobcat after the gate. He was bolder than most and didn't want to move. I think he even hissed at me.|
And maybe I devoured all the rest of my Combos in the next two miles because, well, I was climbing, and I needed the energy. I could start fasting once I hit the descent.
Still, it did take me nearly five hours to cover twenty miles, and when I arrived at Santa Lucia Memorial Park, I was still in the heart of the mountains, in the middle of nowhere ... and I was hungry. When I have food, it is easy for me to downplay its importance. Our bodies are so adaptable, and it's biologically possible to operate just fine in a feast-or-famine cycle. We can survive for weeks on just the energy stored in our fat and muscle. Even bonking during a hard effort is manageable; it just involves the unpalatable necessity of slowing down. The psychology of hunger, however, is much more difficult to reconcile. My plan with my limited food was to ration the calories to a hundred per hour, just enough sugar to keep the fat-burning furnace cranking. I figured I'd feel low on energy, but I didn't count on how anxious, paranoid, and despondent I would feel at times throughout the day. Even though rationally I knew my situation was perfectly safe and survivable, hunger induced a kind of involuntary panic in my subconscious.
|Empty gas tank: Never a happy sight.|
I approached Plaskett at 6:30 p.m., which was a lot later than I expected to reach that point. Originally my plan had me passing through Plaskett in the early afternoon and pushing all the way to Morro Bay that night. I was still fifty miles short of that target; my day's tally was seventy miles and I already felt thoroughly cooked — probably in my own juices from forcing my body to burn muscle and fat. I passed a campground, which seemed like a good sign, then rounded a tight corner through an outcropping of trees to arrive at ... nothing. Just steep cliffs and a thin ribbon of pavement as far as I could see. Plaskett was a Forest Service campground, and nothing more.
I pedaled back to the campground to collect water for the late-evening push. I watched happy campers barbecuing hamburgers, eating chips, drinking wine, smiling and laughing. I lingered for a few minutes, watching them, wondering if I could collect the wherewithal to sacrifice my dignity and ask one of them to give or sell me some food. But I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. Even through my sadness, for whatever reasons, I didn't want to resort to that. I gulped down the bile, accepted my fate, and pedaled toward the sunset.