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La Vale, Maryland, June 25, 5:30 a.m.

His legs were churning the pedals like massive pistons, pushing him along a quiet country road as the sun began to rise. His puffy, sun-scorched face was expressionless, and his lips were cracked and bleeding. He simply stared down at the road, barely able to turn his head as the pavement curved before him. There was nothing left physically. He was driving himself forward on sheer willpower. His crew chief radioed navigation instructions to him along with words of encouragement.

Left at the stop. Looking good.

He was digging so deeply he could taste his own bile. He’d been racing for almost eight days and nights with barely a couple of hours of sleep since leaving the Pacific coast on his transcontinental odyssey. Despite his staggering exhaustion, he was managing a steady pace over rolling terrain approaching the exurbs of Baltimore-Washington. He’d covered 2,800 miles. Only 230 to go. He’d see the finish line in less than 15 hours. He was leading the race but he was being hunted by a determined adversary, and his lead was shrinking.

A small climb ahead. Stay focused.

It was impossible to know what he was thinking. Was he present in the moment or was his mind blank? Maybe he was somewhere else—perhaps in the mountains near his home, or playing a game with his young son? He turned a huge gear, and his slow cadence seemed poorly matched to the frantic mood out on the course. Through his radio came one more command, the only one that mattered now.

Go, go, go.

Copyright © 2011 by Amy Snyder