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The descent into the inferno began on Day 4. The fifth stage of what the Americans are now dubbing “adventure racing” was a supposed “85km” road race across Trinidad to the coastal town of Toco. 50kms of highway into a driving headwind, followed by narrow mountain roads for another 35km. 

The “how late will our race start today” pool clocked a fairly modest 30 minutes - not bad, considering the eternal delay the evening prior. As soon as the rain started to fall, the officials decided it an apt time to get things rolling. The highway runout was, as expected, flat and fast. The warm rain began to pound, kicking all manner of whatever lines the roads here into our gaping maws. As Rosetti set tempo on the front for their man in yellow, Emile Abraham, we started dumping chaff off the back. Things seemed fairly contained…and then we made the turn.

As soon as we swung north off the highway, chaos reigned. We found ourselves in the middle of a traffic jam - in a tropical downpour. The police escort didn’t seem to matter. The lead car, with the megaphone repeatedly blaring “THE CYCLISTS ARE COMING. MOVE TO THE SIDE OF THE ROAD AND STOP.” was as effective as a garden hose against a forest fire. Multiple riders rode to the officials car demanding a stop to the race, but weren’t heeded. As Phil Gaimon (riding for Rosetti) attempted to keep things controlled and safe at the front, the Colombian track national team launched a number of what can only be characterized as incredibly stupid attacks through the traffic. After numerous close calls, we escaped the thick of the autos with minimal casualties.

The road then went from bad to worse, and very narrow - approximately five meters in width. Sinkholes large enough to swallow a Volkswagen were the norm, but Phil thankfully kept tempo hard enough that serious bunches weren’t an issue. There were numerous cratered dirt sections, and the crack of carbon rims on asphalt lips was a regular cacophony with the drumbeat of the rain.

Attacking was out of the question as it became apparent that the roads were soaked not only in rain, but also diesel fuel. The twisty descents and short hills were some of the most treacherous conditions I’ve ridden in, simply because of the lack of grip. Any sort of acceleration or slightly aggressive cornering was met with a total loss of traction, like riding an ice rink in 85F temperatures. Even with Pave tires aired to 70psi, I found myself white-knuckling most of the course. I launched a couple attacks without success mostly owing to my near-inability to corner, and quickly retreated back to the bunch.

As the finish line drew near, I peered down at my odometer. It read 79km. The hill pitched up, quite steeply. Phil dropped off the front of the group, and I rolled back with him. As we rounded a bend, I very nearly went shooting off a bridge into a 10m deep ravine thanks to the utter lack of grip. Per our course preview, we still had another 5km where the road would flatten and we could catch back on. Entertainingly, it wasn’t to be. Another Colombian launched off the front, and suddenly at the crest of the pitch, a finish line appeared. 80.5km. 

No signs. No warning. Nothing. I got off my bike, finishing a few seconds back from the front group of ten guys, and immediately went to the town bar. I ordered a shot of rum that tasted like the diesel fuel we’d just ridden through, and grabbed a couple beers for Cesar and I. Every cyclist and team manager seethed with anger at the finish, from the unsafe racing, the unmarked course, and unresponsive officials.

The small town we ended up in was a stark contrast to the relative bustling metropolis of Port of Spain. The “dogs in the street” quotient was enough to put Bob Barker into a coronary. Our destination, Cumana, was obviously a dirt-poor hamlet. We were all incredibly relieved not to need any medical attention in town, and the locals seemed to regard us as novel irritation. We boarded the bus for a longer ride back to Port of Spain than it took on bikes, but the cruise down the coast offered up some spectacular views (and what looked to be some solid surf breaks). The views would be short-lived as the day turned to night, and we were back onto the main highway into PoS, crawling through traffic as the driver was battered by a potpourri of languages from the 50 or so backseat drivers behind him. 

When we finally reached the hotel nearing 7:30 PM, we discovered that the other bus had made better time, leaving us with scraps as far as dinner was concerned. On a whim, about fifteen of us set out on our bikes to forage for sustenance in PoS…soon, I would find redemption for this day from hell, but wouldn’t be able to document it. In the hurry, I’d left my camera’s memory card in my laptop.

We wandered into the street food market in the Savannah, soaking up the sounds, making horrible jokes about our day, and beginning to realize that we were truly in the shit, like war-weary soldiers resigned to their fates. Emile convinced the rest of the guys to try Doubles, and I went for a Shark and Bake. I’ll get a photo later, but allow me to describe it as the best form of protein slapped between two hunks of carbohydrates I’ve ever had. It’s fairly simple. A bigass hunk of dough is deep fried, then sliced open like a bun. Into the cavity goes a pile of battered and fried shark, then the vendor hands you your canvas upon which to paint a medley of flavor. There’s usually an endless condiment bar that you visit filled with chutneys, slaws, vegetables, and sauces to get your freak on with. I’m getting really excited by the spicy/sweet thing this place has going on, and loaded it up. You return your sharkygreaseydoughbomb to the vendor, and they wrap it up for you. Expect to shell out between TT$20-40 for one (around three to five bucks). 

I’ve realized I’m probably the most adventurous guy here when it comes to eating. Everyone else is avoiding the street food like the plague out of GI distress fears, but I’m pretty sure my steady diet of things off the floor, unwashed fruit, street food, and close-to-raw meat keeps my digestive tract pretty ironclad. Knock on wood. Besides, who the hell wants to go to a bad American chain restaurant in the Caribbean? Not this guy.

We ended the evening at a bad pizza restaurant (see above), and many of the internationals contemplating flights home Monday, a week early. Eventually, I resolved to stay. I’d survived worse this year already.  

Posted at 8:47am and tagged with: trinidad and tobago, cycling, competitive cyclist, phil gaimon, hell on earth,.

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