Friday, September 18, 2015

The Vapor Trail 125 Race Report

After 5 years of knowing about this event and 3 years of suffering at the hands of Eric Wever, I finally decided to throw my resume into the ring and seek a stamp of approval.  That's right, you just don't sign up for this one.  I had to write a letter to the director convincing him that I would not die during his event and then had to list races to "back it up."  With races like PMBAR, Double Dare, P36, and Pisgah 111K, I felt ready to tackle 125 miles (100 of which is above 9000 feet), 18,000 feet of climbing, weather which could change in a minute, and a 10pm start.

I went into this with no expectations other than to finish.  To ensure that I would not go into crack-head racer mode, I brought along my camera.  My concerns were with the altitude and how my feet would respond to 17+ hours of being on them.  Because of my neuropathy, I have limited my riding/racing to no more than 12 hours. The longest this season was the Maah Daah Hey at 12 hours and I had some painful moments there.

Grateful for my riding buddies and the warm and dry start conditions.

Finally, after a painstakingly long day, the gun went off at 10 pm.  The start was a nice, leg-warming 5 mile neutral roll out, with a short break just before the highway crossing, so that we all had the chance of adjusting clothing and bladder levels.  Once the road turned to dirt, it was game-on for all the fast dudes and dudettes.  I comfortably settled in to the back of the pack and pedaled a sustainable pace that would hopefully last the next 16-20 hours.

The night gently wrapped its arms around me and as I rode away from Salida, the stars greeted me with a sparkling brilliance, something that I don't get the chance to see back home.  When I arrived at the trail head around 11:45 am, I stopped to add a layer of clothing.  Once on the Colorado Trail, I had to turn off the philosophical thoughts and turn on all the skills I have acquired over the years to ride a fairly demanding trail by head lamp.

A few short HAB's, some tricky bridge crossings, lots o' rocks, lots o' flow, some jumps, one Sasquatch-like rustling just off the trail, and the final steep descent had me popping out onto the dirt road a very happy camper.  Well, until I tried to raise my dropper post ... and nothing but crickets.  Oh, crap!  I stopped, got off the bike, and tried to lift my dropper.  It came up, but then drooped back down.  After cycling it through its range a few times and being unsuccessful, I rode my "clown bike," to Aid Station #1, which was fortunately only a mile up the road.

Matt the Mechanic (and an awesome one at that), quickly jumped on my situation, and bled my droopy dropper at 1:50 in the morning, by dim light.  Bleeding it had no effect; unable to fix my post, I quickly pulled out my Enduro collar which fortunately I had brought (just in case).  Matt installed it, while I ate a couple dates and an Ally's Bar.

I rode off into the unknown, thinking how my super duper dropper that had once made descending fast and furious, was just now dead weight that I was going to have to drag around for the next 100 miles.  I quickly kicked those bad thoughts out the door and reveled in how I was blessed to be tackling this race.  I soon came to the rockslide across the narrow gauge railroad trail.

Fortunate to be able to scout this section as it was a little more sketchy in the dark.

After scrambling over the rockslide, I came upon "JRA Superfan" Jake from Golden, Colorado. Together we rode the steady grade up to St. Elmo and then continued on climbing up Hancock Road.  This section was not physically hard, but seemed to go on forever.  And the cold was settling in.  Jake and I talked a bit, but found more comfort as silent partners, sharing the pace up to the Alpine Tunnel.

Arriving at the trailhead, I came upon Kip's bike, but no sign of Kip.  I called out his name and from the bushes a few yards away, he replied. I think he was making race weight. Good idea, so I dropped trou right where I was, modesty be damned!

With frost on the vegetation, and feeling the cold penetrate my core, I pulled out some chemical warmers, knee warmers, ear band, and jacket.  I struggled to put it all on, as my fingers were frozen and unwilling to do what I told them.  Several minutes later, we were off on the Alpine Narrow Gauge Trail, Jake, Kip, and I.  This railbed was rougher than the first, as a lot of ties were still left.  In most places I was able to skirt around them, but every now and again, I got my teeth rattled riding over a section of them.

After a nice 3-4% grade on this, the trail suddenly turned left and went UP!  After a combo ride/HAB, I was at Alpine Station.  Then began a fun rocky descent.  As I was racing down, I saw a sign for bacon.  I blew it off, thinking I was hallucinating at 11,000 feet.  Then I saw another sign for bacon.  Then I smelled bacon!  And just ahead was the bacon oasis!  Manned by THE Jefe Branham (2014 Tour Divide winner) and Rachel A., Aid Station 1.5 was a welcome sight.

Bacon and dates:  foods of biking fools at 3am.

With belly full and combustion beginning, my core quickly warmed up.  The climb up to Tomichi Pass at 11,900 feet, followed by a short descent and then THE SLOG up to the top of the mountain at 12,400 feet was the second hardest section of the course for me.  1000 feet of gain in 1 mile is NO JOKE.  Think Farlow Gap, but 7000 feet higher.  Fortunately, the sun was rising, and what a spectacular sight that was.  It made the climb bearable.

Filling my pouches with more dates.

And the Copper Canyon single track descent made the climb worthwhile.  This descent is the longest one I have ever been on.  And while some lesser descents I have ridden over the years have been almost unbearable at the end, this one was fun ALL THE WAY DOWN.  11 miles and 3500 feet of elevation loss.  In between techy rock gardens were ribbons of flow.  Super fun, despite my handicapped dropper.  One little kick to the crotch at the end, but over fairly quickly, and then dropping on down into Snowblind where Aid Station #2 sits.  Jake had popped off the back during the climb up to Canyon Creek, but I expected him to catch us on this 1 hour + descent.  

Honored to have Dave Wiens making pancakes, sausage, and coffee.

I scarfed down a banana with some espresso-strength coffee while Tom Purvis lubed my chain.  I had to light a fire under Kip.  I could tell he was wanting to sit down and get some enjoyment out of this station, but now was not the time to pull up a chair to a smorgasboard of goodness. Having spent 10 minutes here, I was ready to roll.  My plan for this race consisted of "smell the roses" pace up to Aid Station #2 and the remainder would be at party pace.  I was feeling pretty good and anxious to get to Monarch.  But between me and the Monarch Crest was 11 miles and 2500 feet of climbing.  As we pedaled away, I looked for Jake, but there was no sign of him.  I hoped he was alright.

After a slight descent through the valley, we turned left and began the climb up to Monarch Pass.  I tried pushing the pace a little, but my stomach was heavy and not feeling so well.  I backed it off and watched Kip pull away.  About halfway up, even though I was not going any faster, I reeled him back in.  I was getting hot and ready to shed some layers and told Kip so.  He stopped as well and revealed that he was not feeling well either.  I attributed my heavy gut to eating too much fat and protein, which was just not digesting at this altitude.  Once I finished shedding, I told Kip I would soft pedal and wait on him.  But he said to go on, he did not want to hold me back.  I figured at the pace I was going, he would soon catch up, but that would be the last I saw of him until after the finish.

Aid Station 2.5 on Old Monarch Pass Road

Once at the top, I began to feel better.  I hung a right on the Continental Divide Trail and began single tracking my way to the new Monarch Pass, where my pit crew awaited.

Nice surface up to Old Monarch Pass

Course was well marked, never took a wrong turn, but sometimes nervously wondered a bit as there was not much in the way of confirmatory flagging.

I made it to Aid Station #3 around 10 am.  Zeke, Anne, and Lisa were all there to help.  While I shed more clothes, emptied my CamelBak of nonessentials, refilled with water, and reapplied Chamois Butt'r, Zeke lubed my bike while Anne and Lisa picked up my discarded items.  This was my quickest stop thus far, just shy of 5 minutes.

With a happy gut, I was ready to enjoy the rest of my ride.  The Monarch Crest Trail was gorgeous.  I wanted to take so many pictures, but forced myself to stay on the bike and enjoy the flow.  The trail was in great shape, although it was a bit sketchy in places, since it had been so dry leading up to this race. Funny, but as I rode the trail, memories of 2009 came flooding back:  buttsliding down snowpack that covered the trail, following Kent's wicked lines down the descents, and taking photo ops with Zeke.



I was about 3 miles from Marshall Pass, descending a technical rock garden, when I heard a crash and a bang.  I looked down and my Feed Bag had yardsaled everything out of it, including my camera.  I panicked!  I stopped and quickly found my multi-tool and food.  But the camera was nowhere to be seen.  I ran back up the trail about 1/3 mile to no avail.  After 5-10 minutes, the racer in me told me to forget it and go.  So I looked up at the sky and said, "It is in your hands now."  

I was a bit dejected finishing up the descent.  About 5 minutes into my pity party, Riley rolled up behind me.  I pulled over to let him by.  He stopped and asked if I had lost a red Olympus camera.  
Tears about came to my eyes.  I wanted to hug the crap out of him, but instead took my camera back and followed his lines down.  Back in happy mode, I rolled into Aid Station #4.

I knew that the Starvation Creek Loop was going to be hard.  I was mentally prepared to grind my way back out of the hole I would ride down on some sweet flowy single track.  I kept my load as light as possible, only taking 30 ounces of water with me.  The loop started out by climbing up a jeep road. Thinking that the climb was not that long, I began to wonder if somehow I strayed off-course when the climbing went on and on.  Finally, I saw the turn off onto the Starvation Creek Trail.  

Otherwise known as the Loop of the Walking Dead

Starting at an elevation of almost 11,000, this trail descends 4.2 miles and loses 1800 feet of elevation.  Feeling the flow, pumping the bike through the turns, negotiating the 1/2 track sections of rock that had slid down the slopes onto the trail, I was all shits and giggles.  And then just about the point where I began to realize I am going to have to climb out of this hole, I popped out onto Poncha. 

And this was one of the nicer sections of Poncha Creek Road.

Legs that had not been used in the previous 25 minutes were now considering a mutiny.  This road was a tough SOB, like riding uphill on marbles for 4 miles.  The grade was not too steep, but throw in a loose double track climb at mile 95 that soars to the heavens and try riding it without being demoralized.  Towards the top, I alternated between walking and riding trying to eek out every bit of ATP I could.  Three times I thought I saw the Vapor Trail sign that would signal the top of the climb, but when I got closer, it was just a rock or a stump or a cluster of flowers.

Well, since I am walking, might as well capture the moment.

The soul crusher was over in 1 hour 15 minutes.  I decided to celebrate by cramming my mouth full of potato chips and made niceties with the aid station volunteers who knew Kent and Maryann.  I also refilled my CamelBak for the final time with TailWind, which, BTW, is a pretty darn good endurance fuel.  

Thinking it was "all downhill from here,"  my right eye twinged like Scrat's from Ice Age when I caught my first glimpse of the Colorado Trail up to Silver Creek.  I clawed my way up those last 800 feet, pedaling on pure determination.  Seeing the Silver Creek trailhead, I knew that everything from here was "icing on the cake."  I ... was ... going ... to ... finish!

Silver Creek was a chunkier version of Starvation and quite a few more scree fields to maneuver through.  Real tire slicers for sure, I settled during these sections trying to pick a safe line as opposed to just blasting through.  

Silver Creek

Coming down from 10,500 feet to 9000 feet, I could breathe again.  I rolled into the last aid station, scarfed down more potato chips, filled my water bottle, and headed down the Rainbow Trail.  This trail is smooth, fast, and mostly downhill.  There are 10 kickers, 1/2 of which I walked.  My overall feeling at this point was one of elation.  Barring anything stupid, I figured I would make it to the finish under 19 hours.  Having pre ridden this section two days prior, I was very comfortable going at speed.  And I had the fire to do it, too.  I suppose having the altitude governor on the previous 17 hours kept me from going in the red, thus allowing me to have some power left in the engine.

I took in the last few miles of single track for all that it was worth.  I was almost sad to see Hwy 285 come into view.  Zeke was there, patiently awaiting my arrival and ensuring that I popped out from my back country adventure unscathed.  Ever my safety net, Zeke is always on the lookout for me.  Part of it is obligation, as he was the one who gave me this contagion called endurance racing.  But most of it is just the friendship we have built over the last 10 years.

The last 10 miles was like the Snake Creek Gap paved finish on steroids:  5 miles coming off of Monarch at speeds reaching 40 mph, followed by 5 miles of a 3% descent down into the town of Salida.  My legs were blessed with a slight tailwind pushing me to the finish.

2nd place at 18:48.

67 racers started, 48 finished.  No podiums, no prizes.  Finishing this beast and the adventure along the way was the prize.  And a pretty cool touk.

Thanks to all the volunteers who endured long hours and cold temperatures to ensure that this adventure was full of rainbows and kittens.  

Friday, August 7, 2015

Maah Daah Hey Race Report: The Last 56 Miles

Aid Station 2 to Aid Station 3 (mile 51-79, 3300 feet elevation gain)

Nick said that this section would be the most difficult.  That was good to know.  I was beginning to feel the effects of the heat in my performance, but as I left the aid station, my spirits were still high. And my legs were still eager to turn over the pedals.  Usually when I race a hundie, my low point is around the 65-75 mile mark.  I knew what to expect and told myself that once past that point, it was just a NORBA style XC race with 6 bonus miles.

For the first half of this section, the body was hitting on all cylinders.  The climbs were manageable, the descents fun.  I began to pass some 100 and 75 milers, and with each pass a courteous nod or shout out.  I made sure to talk to the women, for this sport is quite intimidating, wanting to let them know just how inspirational they were.

Unfortunately, my fat tire buddy Tyler faded, but I was lucky enough to pick up another riding buddy, Adam, from Wisconsin.  He had raced it last year, so it was like having my own private guide. We took turns pushing into the headwind.  He would let me know about the upcoming climbs.  We shared the duty of holding the cattle gates for one another, but I do believe he held a few more than I.

We were riding together, I in the lead, when we came upon a mud hole crossing.  It appeared completely rideable, with a nice dry, crusty top.  However, not wanting to get any more of that filth on my bike, I opted to walk the logs across it to stay clean.  Adam was right behind me and did the same.  Unfortunately he slipped and his legs disappeared!  It took every bit of strength to free himself from that quagmire.  He was lucky to still be in his shoes after that ordeal.

At one of the many neutral support road crossings, Adam stopped to get help from his wife.  I opted to go on even though he offered his wife up to support me as well.  Not wanting to be a burden, I pedaled on.

I think my first low moment hit me at the MDH mile marker post 38.  I had been riding by these posts all day, but this was the first time I was searching for a mile marker.  I knew the third aid station was around mile marker 17.  Even though I was constantly drinking, my mouth was dry.  The Skratch in my CamelBak was warm, and totally unappealing. By now, I had ridden 8 miles of this section and was 64 miles into the race.  I was nearing the 6 hour mark, the sun was blazing hot, and the tops of my feet were on fire!

At a road crossing, I stopped and almost hugged the volunteer when he said he had some ice in a cooler.  I was able to put several handfuls into my CamelBak.  Not realizing that I had my dirty gloves on until it was too late, I noticed the grass left behind, swirling in the discolored water at the bottom of the cooler.  Sorry, gotta blame that one on fatigue.  Eh, a little dose of cow manure would just challenge the immune systems of those after me.

That bit of ice was just enough for me to put my happy face back on for a few more miles.  As I felt the cold water enter my stomach, my engine came back to life.  And so I stopped looking for mile markers and enjoyed what the Maah Daah Hey had to offer.

Loved how I could see the trail disappear into the horizon.

I was able to hit one more neutral water (and ice) station at the top of a multi-switchback climb. Two young men grabbed my bike and a very nice energetic woman assisted me.  More ICE!  At this point, if they had held up a $50 dollar bill in one hand and a cup of ICE in the other, I would not have batted an eye.  After drinking a 16 ounce bottle of ICE cold water and refilling my CamelBak with ICE cold water, I gotta out of there in a hurry.  You see, as I was refueling, I had bent over to get to the cooler, and when I stood back up, I had a brief moment of dizziness.  That was a bit unnerving; I needed to wrench myself free from the fatigue-dehydration monster.

When I had 6 miles to go to aid station 3, I was in familiar territory as I had ridden this section 2 days prior.  It was one of the more technical sections with lots of short ups and downs and tight twists through the buttes.  Knowing what was coming up bred confidence and I was able to flow through this smoothly.

Pre -ride, MDH mm22

Heading down to the Wannegan campground and aid station 3 almost brought tears to my eyes. Seeing the vehicles and tents below was like a small oasis.  Hoping that it was not a mirage, I negotiated the series of super tight switchbacks down to heaven.  One mistake could have sent me down to the volunteers in a much quicker fashion.

Pre-ride, campground lower left, post to level ground = 300 feet

I rolled into heaven at 8:27.  Upon arrival, a flurry of activity surrounded me.  Volunteers were taking my CamelBak and bike, handing me a Coke. and offering me up a chair, and food.  I felt like a Queen, which immediately brought a smile to my face.  Some of these people were here specifically for their loved ones, but took the time to help out this pitiful, fatigued Tennessean.  Have I told you how much I LOVE the mountain bike community!  Before I knew it, my CamelBak was back to me, filled with ICE and water, and my bike had a freshly lubed chain.  I graciously thanked everyone and was off for the last 25+.

Aid Station 3 to Finish (mile 79-106.3, 2300 feet elevation gain)

As I was climbing out of the campground area to access the trail, Adam was rolling in.  I gave him a smile, and hoped that he would be able to catch up to me.  The next 15 miles had some tough climbs and I needed a pacer.  At this point, even though I was mentally strong, I was slowly becoming a physical wreck.  My stomach was turning sour and around the 9 hour mark, I could no longer take in any calories.  I would now have to rely on my fat-burning diesel engine.

26 miles was a long way, so I broke it up in 5 mile increments.  That made the head game easier.  I was soon passed by a hundie racer, whom I inspired to get out of the chair at the last aid station, and finish this thing.

Although the climbs in this last section were totally doable with fresh legs, I had to get off and HAB quite a few.  Even with a 30/42 combination, the climbs would send my heart rate sky high, my quads and inner thighs would twinge, and dizziness and tunnel vision would follow.  Stopping was not an option.  The sun was at its highest, the temperature had risen to 100 degrees, the wind was like one had opened the oven door, and unless you wanted to scoot under a mesquite bush, there was no shade.  So I took baby steps ... Never ONCE did I think about quitting.  But neither did I want to become a heat casualty, cause alot of people unnecessary work, and acquire a $10,000 helicopter ride.  This last 26 was all about damage control.

The turtle symbolizes patience, determination, steadfastness, and fortitude.

Occasionally I would come across racers that were totally spent, resting in areas that would barely shade a squirrel.  I would talk to them to make sure they were lucid, and then move on.  At one point, a critter darted out in front of me, running down the trail.  In my cross-eyed state, it looked like a mini-velociraptor.  I was later told that it was a roadrunner.  Ha!

Adam eventually caught up to me and together we rode.  Even though we did not talk much, as the saying goes, "misery loves company."  We took a right upon the Buffalo Gap Trail and began following the buffalo head signage.  We had to do this to ride around the portion of the MDH that ran through the southern section of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  This trail had alot more horse and cattle traffic and was rougher than the MDH.  Only the creaking of my pivot bearings let me know that my bike's suspension was still working.

Stating that he had found an extra gear, Adam passed me on a climb.  I do believe he felt a little guilty in doing so and which is why he stayed with me for as long as he did.  He is a very caring competitor and was a big help in the latter half of the race.

So little by little those 5 mile chunks ticked along.  85, 90, 95 ...   Coming upon the interstate, I rode a culvert to get to the other side.  Let's just say that through this 50 yard cool pipe, I did the "slow race."  When I exited, the sun shone its wrath back down upon me.  At the last neutral water station, I asked for ice, but unfortunately they were out.  Then a trail angel appeared before my very eyes.  "Do you need ice?  I have some," she said.  Once again, I was saved by a stranger who was waiting for her loved one to arrive and shared her "gold" with me.

Hitting the 100 mile mark, I anxiously surveyed the trail ahead for the familiar cattle gate, which I had ridden to the day before, on and out and back pre-ride from the finish.  At last, I could smell the barn.  Unfortunately, as in previous races, where I could call upon my reserves, today I had none.  So I slogged my way to the finish.  Two more arduous climbs and I could see the interstate far below. The next two miles were a sweet flowy descent.  Exhausted, I rolled along the bike path to the finish. I was thankful for the tailwind.

Just a shell crossing the finish line, no strength left even for a smile.

12 hours, 7 minutes, and  seconds later, I crossed the finish line.  Good enough for the win and 15th overall. I had truly left it all out on the trail.

The struggle was as real as it gets.  But I think that is the driving force behind my desire to do these "insane to some" adventures.  That primal urge to pit mind and body against whatever Mother Nature can throw at you is what makes life worth living.  You just don't get that challenge in king couch-dom, or your air-conditioned cubicle or office.  The Maah Daah Hey 100 (106.3) is in the top 3 of all-time most difficult races.

It took me an hour lying down at the finish line drinking ice cold water and eating a few salty chips to come back to life.  I never urinated during the race and it took 3 hours after the race before I felt the urge to go.

Thank you, Nick, for putting one helluva race together.  From the pre-race details to the hundreds of volunteers to the ICE cold fluids at 3 major aid stations and 5+ road crossing neutral water suppport stations to the post race never ending burritos, you get an A+!

Thank you also to the couple who walked 2 miles with a cooler to provide water hand ups after the climb at Devil's Pass.

Thank you to Adam and his wife who drove me over to Chimney Park to pick up my finish line bag, then drove me to the campground so I could shower, and then paid for my shower.

Looking back now at this race, I could not have done anything better. I had done my homework and knew that the last half of the race was going to be brutal and potentially a soul-crusher. Having a solid nutrition plan is an absolute must to finish.  And the ability to adapt and overcome is a requirement for success.  I had a great acclimation period in the two weeks leading up to this race.  But ... 100 degrees is 100 degrees!  It doesn't matter if it is 0% humidity or 100%, when there is no shade humidity does not factor in.

168 signed up for the madness.  129 started the insanity.  58 made it to the very end.  To all you who finished, you came out of the arena battered, bloody, and bruised ... but victorious!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Maah Daah Hey 100 Race Report: The First 50 Miles

6 am start (Mountain Time)

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt

Nick, the founder of LAND and the Maah Daah Hey 100, said these insirational words just before the start. If Teddy had been alive today, I am sure he would have been toeing the line alongside the 129 racers (168 signed up).

  The race was 106.3 miles long, 99 of which was pure single track.  Just two days before, Nick had ridden the entire route to get a GPX track and do some last minute trail maintainence.  He also made mention of the many cattle paths that crisscrossed the single track.  He reminded us that cows don't mow their trails; over the past 3-4 weeks, volunteers had mowed THE ENTIRE COURSE.  That means that 200+ miles was mown; up one side of the trail and back down the other.

The starting temperature was a cool 58 degrees.  My plan was to ride a steady strong pace, trying to get in as many miles as I could before the sweltering sun beat down upon my back.  I'll be honest, the previous 24 hours, the butterflies were swirling.  17 ladies had signed up, I knew none of them, but I did not fear them.  What I feared was my body's ability to make it through without becoming a heat casualty.  The forecasted high was 96 degrees and with no tree cover, it was going to be an inferno.

Start to Aid Station #1 (mile 0-26, 2700 feet elevation gain)

Fortunately it was not a crazy stupid start.  200 yards through the campground and we hit the single track.  I was in the top 25 or so.  The first 4-5 miles were gentle climbing.  Everyone was content to settle in line and wait for the top to pass.  Even though I was not thirsty, the tube was in my mouth, and I sipped from my CamelBak.  We had both helicopter and drone coverage, which was super cool!

Once at the top, attacks were made and groups began to split up.  The trail opened up as we hit prairie and passing was easy.  There tended to be one good line, with a second track that was fairly smooth as well.  I watched my HR like a hawk, keeping it out of zone 5 and above.  I knew that for each 1 beat less I could keep my heart at, would be 1 beat more I would desperately need towards the end of the race.  As I was passed again and again in the opening miles, I would say silently, "See you this afternoon."

After the climb, the course rolled through prairie.  My legs felt good, my spirits were high, and the flow was spectacular.  Two miles of the trail lie in the northern unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  So we we rerouted onto a mix of single track, double track, and gravel for about 6 miles before reconnecting with the Maah Daah Hey.

Somewhere in the first 25, while I was in my own little bubble, I strayed off course.  Following a steep descent down into a dry creekbed, I missed a sharp right turn out of it, and wandered a bit on a cattle trail.  There was no grass in this creekbed, so I did not know I was off course until I saw a group of racers back tracking.  Fortunately for me, I only lost a few minutes.

And then I found myself sammiched between two fat bikes.  Tyler Keuning was piloting one of those massive beasts like it was a sub-20 pound XC machine.  I thoroughly enjoyed riding with him and the other fat biker, both who had great skills and a nice tempo.  It definitely amplflied the fun factor.

Home, home on the range ... (credit:  Tyler Keuning)

I rolled into the first aid station in 2:18.  The volunteers were awesome!  I had someone help refill my CamelBak with Skratch, and I was outta there NASCAR fast.

Aid Station #1 to Aid Station #2 (mile 26-51, 2200 feet elevation gain)

I was glad I spent the two days prior taking in the spectacular views.

Tyler and I rode this stretch together.  At times we managed to hook up with others.  There were fast sections of prairie sprinkled with chunks of eroded buttes.  The climbs in the praires tended to be about 1/4 - 1/2 mile at a gentle grade.  The climbs in the buttes were short and grunty with several hike-a-bikes (HAB) through dry creek beds.  By this time, I had found a rhythm in the trench portions of the single track.  Most of the time the trench was smoother and faster.

170mm cranks definitely was a plus.

Somewhere along this section I encountered my first Badlands mudhole at a cattle gate.  Fortunately I was able to tippie toe around it while carrying my bike.  Then about 20 yards down the trail, another mudhole appeared.  It was about 3 feet across and I saw tracks where others had ridden through.  So I opted to follow the deepest and cleanest track through it.  There was no standing water, so I thought that it would be a fairly clean ride through.  Boy, was I wrong!  When I hit it with my front tire,  I had the most vile spray of clay mud/manure mix cover my bike and I.  Granted, it was not a full on rooster tail spray, but enough to cover my down tube, rims, drive train, and shoes.  Right then and there I made a mental note to avoid any future ones at all costs.

There must have been 25+ cattle gates to go through on the entire course.  Although heavy, they had a leverage system that made it easy to get off your bike, grab the gate with one hand, tip it up, squeeze through, and then let it fall down behind you.  And, I was lucky enough half the time to be riding with gentlemen who did all the work for me.

Way better than the old loop of barbed wire around a post.

Closing in on the final miles of this section, the helicopter came upon the small group I was in.  For the next 5 minutes, it buzzed us close enough to where I could feel the wind off its blades.  We popped out onto a short stretch of dirt road with a fast descent.  The helicopter was right on us the whole way.  That was badass!  Then we hit some more descending on single track.  The helicopter stuck with us, until we began the next climb, and then peeled off.

Devil's Pass, around mile 43 (mm 53 of the MDH Trail), was intimidating.  It was a fairly steep descent and a mistake could send you plummeting off either side ... for a long way.

Devil's Pass - by far the most spectacular feature on the MDH.

I was closing in on the final miles of this section and eager to get to the second aid station as I was just about out of fluids.  Rolling along the flats leading to the river crossing was when the first heat of the day hit me.  I felt the intensity of the sun's rays on my arms and the tops of my feet.  At least the wind still felt somewhat cool.  I was looking forward to the river crossing.

The Little Missouri River was about 40-50 yards across and mid-thigh deep on me.  The reason the race is run this time of year is because this is when the river is at its lowest.  As I entered the water, I was greeted with a sandy/fine gravel bottom into which my shoes sunk.  The water was not that cold but still offered some refreshment.  I knew now why I was told to put socks in my drop bag at the second aid station.  I could feel the sand and tiny rocks work their way into my shoes with each step.  However, since I was wearing Swiftwick socks, those little bastards could not get between my skin and the socks.  So all I had to do at the next aid station was take off my shoes, knock the rocks and sand out, and carry on.  That helped to save several minutes of changing socks.

The climb up to the second aid station was long and brutally steep.  It was here that I had my first extended HAB session.  While walking up, I made my first assessment.  Legs: good.   HR:  good. Nutrition:  good.  Core temp:  hot, not good.  (later when looking at my Garmin, this was when the temperature hit the 90 degree mark).  Knowing that the upcoming section was going to be the hardest, I told myself that I just needed to take it down a notch, drink more, and stay positive and focused.

I rolled into the aid station at 4:44.  It was a pretty happen' place, so I was left to my own devices.  I refilled my CamelBak with more Skratch, swapped gel flasks, put more sunscreen on, and was outta there in 3 minutes.

Looking at my Garmin and seeing a sub-5 hour for the first 51 miles, I felt that I was going to have close to an 11 hour finish.  Little did I know, the final 5 hours were going to be a test of my fitness, resolve, and perseverance ...

Maah Daah Hey -- Mandan Indian meaning "grandfather, long-lasting."

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Raccoon Mountain Enduro Race Report

This race was the second in a series put on by 3rd Coast Enduro Series.  For me, it was my first enduro.  I was excited and I can tell you, a bit intimidated.  I am used to pedaling fast uphill and then recovering (coasting) on the descents.  Today was a complete reversal.  Let's just say that I learned that it is just as taxing to go hard on the descents as it is the climbs.

I was riding a Specialized Enduro Expert 27.5 with 165mm travel front and rear.  I thought it might be overkill on this course, but I did not want to race my Niner Jet 9 as I am headed to North Dakota in little less than a week to race the Maah Daah Hey 100 and did not want to risk injuring her.  I am glad I did race the Enduro as it felt so buttery smooth on the trail.

The best Arrow in my quiver for this race!

While waiting for the pre race meeting, I was already sweating:  78 degrees, 90% humidity, and climbing.  I dumped ice into my Camelbak and sought some shade.  After a moment of silence (for those fallen soldiers in Chattanooga) Brent gave told us the hows, whats, wheres, and whens, including letting us know that we would be shuttled back after the final stage.

And at 9:30 am, he let us go.  Not the usual short track cross country start I was used to.  As a matter of fact, all the racers just milled around, no one wanting to take the lead.  Weird.  Not wanting to get my face and arms covered in a gazillion spiderwebs, I let a few in front and then followed in behind.  The transfer to the first stage, Live Wire 1, was fairly casual.  After I let a few racers by, I kicked it up a notch.  I wanted to be in my own little bubble during the stages and not have anyone "up my butt."  35 minutes later and I was ready to try this "enduro thing."

Pulling up my knee pads, tightening my helmet, setting my suspension to open mode, and putting it in the right gear, I scanned my RFID chip, and exploded down the trail.  I dropped my seatpost immediately; there would be no sitting and pedaling on this stage!  Elbows forward, I pedaled every chance I got, tried to go as easy on the brakes as possible, and kept my sights far ahead.  Leaning the bike through the switchbacks, I would stomp the pedals so hard coming out of the turn that my front end got a little light at times.  Nailing the two small rock jumps got me some air time:  hot diggity dawg!  Coming up on the finish line, I slammed on the brakes and skidded to the RFID scanning device mounted to the tree.  Beep!  I was done, 1.8 miles and 6:59 later.  My average HR was 178 with a max of 183!  That's crazy!  I have not seen those numbers in a long time.  I was pleased with having a good clean run.

I spent a few minutes talking to Shellie, Brent's right hand woman, allowing my heart rate to recover. After I could no longer feel it trying to rip through my chest like an alien,  I slowly pedaled to the next stage, Live Wire 2, less than a mile away.

This stage would be a little tougher as it had more ups and a few flats, and less descending than the first stage.  I thought that this might be to my advantage, coming from an XC/endurance background.  It was also the most technical one, with alot of rock gardens and bridges to negotiate.  Length of this second stage, was just a bit over 2 miles.  I did not start out near as crazy fast, as I wanted to be fairly consistent, clean everything, and not blow up on the couple of short, techy climbs.  As much as I tried to stay out of the saddle the whole time, I did not have the muscular endurance to do so.  I chose the flatter sections to raise the saddle, and pedal like an XC racer.  I had another clean run, and finished in 13:15.  Once again, my HR was right up their with a Ruby throated hummingbird.

The transfer to Stage 3 was long and included the 4 mile climb up High Voltage.  I took it as easy as I could, pedaling in granny, HAB'ing several sections to rest the legs, and drinking the remainder of my 50 ounces of fluid that I started with.  It was very enjoyable, even despite the sweltering heat.  I had a steady drip of sweat coming off my nose.  I was glad that I had spent the last couple of weeks doing my workouts during the hottest part of the day, for now I was very comfortable.

Topping out on the climb, I stopped at the aid station to refill my CamelBak.  A huge thanks goes out to Brent for keeping ICE COLD water in the coolers.  That was some of the best tasting water ever!  It was still a ways to Chunky, the start of Stage 3.  I was feeling rather peppy and rode a happy L2 pace.  It was during this transfer that I realized that I was the first one to hit Stage 3.  I chuckled, as only a crack head endurance racer would want to lead the charge during a transfer.

Stage 3 was Chunky --> Switchyard --> a small portion of Small Intestine.  There was little technicality to it, but it would be a busy 1.5 miles of pedaling.  Once again, I charged hard.  I was doing well until the last bit of Chunky where I overshot a turn and went through the tape.  Costing me precious seconds, I had to detangle myself, and get back on course.  From there, I maintained better control, but could feel the previous two stages in my legs.  They were not as happy to be turning the pedals over and were wanting more coasting sections.  I finished the stage in 7:50, legs burning with lactic acid.

As I pedaled the road back to the single track, I tried to maintain an easy spin.  I knew I was getting tired and the final stage, Stage 4, would be long, and both technically and mentally demanding.  Once I hit the single track back to the aid station, I began coming upon racers who were headed out to the third stage.  Some of them already looked whipped, taking a beating by the extreme temps as well as the long transfers.  When I approached the aid station, there were at least 12 racers hanging out and having a picnic.  It was here that I realized that there were alot of racers still making that transfer up High Voltage, which was the trail that I would be racing down for the final stage.

Oops!  Even though I had been riding the transfers at my casual pace, it was still way too "enduro fast" and would now have to wait 35 minutes before Stage 4 cleared.  Awww ... now my legs were pretty pissed off.  While most would have liked that time to recover, I do better by just keeping on keepin' on.  My muscles begin to shut down after about 5 minutes of down time.

So, while waiting for the stage to clear, I rode back out to the pavement and did some laps around the finish area to keep the legs warm.  Finally I thought that the coast was clear and started the stage.  My legs barked for the first 1/2 mile, but then opened up.  There were still a few racers coming up, but they heard me and gave me plenty of room.  Those first few switchbacks were buggers!  Tight and steep, I felt awkwardly slow through them, like a newborn giraffe.  The trail finally opened up and I was able to get that speed up again.  Seat post was slammed so I would have to pedal.  I felt great until the middle section where it flattens out and then climbs.  Ouch!  That hurt!  I had to pop the saddle up and grunt my way seated, in granny or close to it.  Rookie error, no doubt, but the legs just could not sustain the higher end torque.  After what seemed like an eternity, the trail steepened, and I was happy again, raging over the whoop de doos and switchbacks.  4 miles and 15:57 later, I had just finished my first Enduro.  Put a fork in me, I was done.

While waiting on the shuttle, I sought a small piece of almost non existant shade, and layed down beside my bike.  Having left it all out on that last stage, I got a little light-headed.  It took almost 10 minutes for my heart rate and breathing to recover (normally it only takes about 2-3 minutes after an endurance event).  SO GLAD I did not have to pedal back up that damn mountain in 90+ degree heat.  The shuttle back to the start was a Godsend.

With a total time of 44:01, I won the Women's Open.  And yes, I was the first to finish.  Absolutely loved the way my Industry 9 Trail wheels got me through the rock gardens unscathed.  And how my Xpedo Baldwin's kept me safely connected to my bike.

Total ride time was right at 4 hours and total distance was 30 miles.  I definitely have a lot to learn about this style of racing.  And a few skills I need to sharpen.  But I am definitely hooked!

A big shout out to Brent and Shellie.  They worked their a$$es off to make this happen.  And thanks to the SORBA Chattanooga for getting out in the days leading up to this event and clearing the trail of multiple downed trees from some wicked storms.

Already thinking about Stanley Gap.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Iron Mountain 100k Race Report

This was the 6th running of this backwoods old school trail race.  After having raced it, I could kick myself in the pants for not having done it sooner.  Jeff Bartlett could not have said it better, "... you take something you really enjoy, then you do it as hard and fast as you possibly can, to the possible detriment of enjoying it as much as you would on a casual ride, and eventually everything hurts and you can't wait for it to be over."

I pre-rode the course several weeks ago.  While it was enjoyable, and I got to stop and smell the roses and take lots of pictures, for me, it is just not as fun as racing it.  I am addicted to endorphins and I cannot seem to get my "fix" unless I am suffering.  I categorize suffering into two sub-types, suffery good and suffery bad.  Suffery good is when your system is firing on all cylinders.  Yes, there is pain, but it is welcomed and bearable.  Suffery bad is when you are struggling to get to that level you know you can achieve, but it is just not happening.

Photo Credit:  Icon Media Asheville

Never knowing how my legs are going to respond, until the race starts, I felt great during the neutral roll out of town to the Virginia Creeper Trail.  The pace on the Creeper was a casual 15-17mph.  And then we hit the 1+ mile technical climb up the Beech Grove Trail.  After a couple hundred yards of negotiating the slick rocks and roots, I entered my suffery bad zone ... where I would stay for the next 3 hours.  As Zoe so eloquently put it, my legs tried to "grow roots" on every climb.   Surprisingly, my HAB legs were happy.

The first 10 miles is 95% climbing.  After Beech Grove, the grunting continued on Iron Mountain Trail.  With flailing legs, I focused on my mental game.  My mind immediately went to Eleanor, who recently surpassed mile 2000 on the Tour Divide.  Zoe caught me as I was fumbling around on a loose cat head climb.  With her bubbly persona and a mini-Eleanor sitting on my shoulder, it was easy to stay positive.  My grimace turned to a smile.  Over the next 25 miles Zoe and I sorta rode together.  She would drop me on the climbs and I would reel her back in on the descents.

Beartree Gap descent.  Photobomber showing just how rad this descent was.  

The Beartree Gap descent was blistering fast.  The most technical part of this trail was getting across the 10 foot slicker 'n snot bridge at the bottom.  I was debating as to whether to ride or walk it.  The decision was made for me when the single speeder in front of me went down HARD on it.

Bypassing aid station 1, I began the 3 mile paved climb.  My bike decided to creak with each pedal stroke, so much so that when I caught a racer, he politely pointed it out to me.  What he was really wanting to say was, "Please pass me and end the torture!"  Once the pavement ended and the climb up the Lum Trail began, the creaking subsided.  Zoe caught me again and passed me, all while answering 100 questions from the racer behind her in a RPE voice of 4.

Picking up the Iron Mountain Trail again, I was glad for the descent, marbly as it was.  Crossing over a highway, I began the "arduous for me" climb up FS84.  Normally I am the passer on climbs, but today I was the passee.  I just focused on how fun Jerry's Creek was going to be.  As I descended Jerry's with its half-track, off-camber wet footprint littered with slick 45 degree angle roots, I had my left foot unclipped most of the way and praying to make it down in one piece.  Only mountain bikers would say that fun includes being scared sh!tless.

Catching back up to Zoe on the lower half of Jerry's, I enjoyed her sound effects as she got sideways in several slick corners.  We rolled into aid station 2 together.  As I was refilling my CamelBak and choking down a couple gels, she was having a picnic.  I hurried her up a bit as she was thoroughly enjoying the smorgasboard.

We rode together on the next fireroad climb up to Barton Gap.  I jokingly told her that I had put a spare set of legs at the next aid station.  I was now entering my third hour of suffery bad.  So I started asking Zoe questions that required more than one word answers.  She gladly answered in detail, but soon she was talking to herself as the rubber band broke and she pulled away as we entered the Barton Gap Trail.

Even given my grumpy legs this trail was a hoot!  The climb up included several section of soul sapping soft trail.  However, on the descent, recent trail work opened up the undergrowth allowing for stupid fast speeds.  I felt like a Jedi knight on a speeder bike!

Popping back out onto FS84 for the 4-5 mile climb back up to more trail, my legs finally began showing some signs of life.  Hallelujah!  I saw Zoe way up ahead and slowly began to reel her back in.  With about a mile left of climbing, I passed her at warp ... err, turtle speed.  As I passed her for the final time, she cheered me on!  This sign of sportmanship shows just how (insert desired adjective of awesomeness) she truly is.

Iron Mountain descent.  Photo Credit:  Icon Media Asheville

Heading down the Iron Mountain Trail towards Skulls Gap allowed my legs to fully re-energize.  By the time I passed by aid station 3, I was in my suffery good zone.  The remaining 20 miles flew by.  I HAB'd back up the marbly cat-head section of Iron Mountain twice as fast as I could have ridden it.  The ridge line section of Iron Mountain leading to the Chestnut Mountain Trail was similar to the Snake.  I was in my element, floating effortlessly over the rocks.  The Chestnut Mountain descent was like the Turkey Pen descent.  Towards the end I was two-fingering the brakes as my forearms burned with lactic acid.

Photo Credit:  Icon Media Asheville

Rolling into aid station 4, I chased a gel with a Red Bull and began the 4 mile climb back up to Iron Mountain.  This climb was a mix of gravel, unmaintained fire road,  rocky double track, and super steep fall line trail.  During my pre ride of this section, I remembered it being painful.  Today, it was as if I had wings.  Before I knew it, I was on the FeatherCamp Ridge Trail.  I passed one poor racer whose legs were having a mutiny.  Back on the Iron Mountain Trail, it was a 6 mile descent to the finish, save for a few short climbs.  I was able to hammer these last few climbs without so much of a whimper from my legs.  Passing several racers gave me renewed energy and focus for the final 2 mile descent that littered with baby heads.  My forearms were like Popeye's by the time I sailed through the finish line.

This was a super hard day on the bike.  But also a very rewarding one.  Endeavor to pesevere is one of my mantras and today it was ever so true.  There is not a greater feeling on the bike than to conquer the suffery bad.  And that endorphin rush when you have left everything out on the trail is why I prefer racing to riding.

Might I mention just one more time how awesome of a competitor Zoe is.  To having not raced any longer than 2 1/2 hours and having no real structured training leading up to this race shows how strong this lady is.  Not to mention her class on the trail.  Her bright and bubbly character led me through the darkest of pain caves.

Photo Credit:  Icon Media Asheville

This race will test you more than any 6 hour lap race can.  So if you like old school single track, fire road climbs of death followed by single track descents of death, all sprinkled with some sh!ts and giggles flowy trail, you must put this on your calender.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Karl's Kaleidoscope Race Report

After a two year hiatus, I returned for the 4th edition of this super-cool grassroots race.  In remembrance of Karl Kalber, founder/promoter/best friend Mark Prater created this epic course through the countryside and mountains surrounding Marion, Virginia.  Cory told me that the course was different than the inaugural course:  more single track, less road.

I awakened on race day to clear skies and perfect temps (60-70 degrees).  Although the pre ride the day before was less than stellar, leg-wise, I was determined to have a fun romp through the woods.  During the pre race meeting, Mark gave us a nice breakdown on the course, going over it turn by turn.  I stored as much info into my memory banks as possible.  I was surprised to see such a small group of us, what with a HUGE and EQUAL payout ($800, $300, $200, $100, $100).  There was still plenty of good competition to be had.

Zeke said a prayer, Karl's son shot his pistol, and we were OFF!  The start was ridiculously fast, or perhaps it was just that I was trying to stay with the lead group of men.  After a short stint on pavement, we hit the flat Lake Trail.  I went into the single track in 6th, but soon was passed by an onslaught of racers, including Laura Hamm.  My legs were already barking so I knew better than to try to hold this pace.  It was hard to do, but I let Laura go, hoping that over the course, my legs would open up, and I could scratch, dig, and claw my way back up to her.

After going down around the spillway, up the backside of the Lake Loop, I found my happy pace going up CCC Camp Trail.  These trails in Hungry Mother State Park are beautiful and well-maintained.

I found myself with a couple other guys who had a nice pace.  Going around a couple switchbacks, I could see that Misty was only seconds behind me.  And then the trail turned up ... steeply.  I went from my happy pace to a slow grind up the 15-18% pitches.  One mile later I was headed onto Molly's Knob, which was equally steep.

Having ridden this the day before, at least I knew that this painful grind would end with a sweet, exhilarating 2 mile descent.  Even though the trail was wide and smooth, it had alot of loose shale that made the off camber turns quite interesting.  I was following Shane down this descent when he took a right onto the pavement.  There was a fence at the bottom of the descent.  We were so focused on not hitting it and did not see the sign for the left hand turn.  After I rode for a short distance, my brain turned back on, and I realized that we should have taken a left.  I yelled to Shane and turned around.  Fortunately I did not lose much time.

Vista on Molly's Knob.  Across the lake on the hillside is the Clyburn Hollow Trail.  

After a brief pedal on the park roads I then hit Raider's Run and Old Shawnee Trails.  These were equally fun but not as painfully steep.  Soon enough, I was back out onto some gravel double track, heading towards the last trails in the park.  But first I had to pass by the two aggressive beagles.  At least they were penned up.  They got so tore up by the racers passing by that they would take out their aggressions on each other.  After I passed them, I could gauge the other racers behind me by the sounds of their skirmishes.

Before I hit the Clyburn Hollow Trail, the course took us through the back of a sawmill/machine shop where I got to test out by tubeless set up, running over various pieces of wood and metal.  Having passed the test, whew!,  I hit up the last bit of single track in the park.  This section was once again fun and fast with plenty of climbing.

After a short repeat on the Lake Trail, I was motoring on the pavement section through Mitchell Valley.  The course turned onto a cattle farm where workers were busy setting new fence.  After plowing through a deep puddle of mud and probably some manure, I then got to enjoy a bulldozer chewed up section where the fence was being rebuilt.  It would have been much smoother had I remembered to unlock my fork from when I had locked it back on the Mitchell Valley Road.

Crossing the farm led me to Bear Creek Road, where I was promptly greeted by a flagman with a big STOP sign.  After waiting 40 seconds (long enough for my legs to seize up), I was allowed to go.  The reason for the stop was that a group of men were trimming trees off of powerlines.  Motoring on, I soon caught up to a single speeder, who told me that he had been riding with a group that included Laura.  He thought that she was just a couple minutes ahead.  So close, I could smell her, but the legs were content to  rest a bit behind the SS'rs wheel.  Making short work of Crawfish Road, we hit the Crawfish Trail together.  Wow!  Just wow!  This was a beautiful and relatively flat stretch of old school trail with a dozen or so creek crossings.  All of the crossings were shallow, save for one which went well over my bottom bracket.  Several of the crossings were technical as they were rocky and muddy.  But so much better than when I raced it in 2012; the whole trail was a slimy mess.

Soon Mr. Singlespeed pulled away from me and once again I was on my own.  Pretty much the entire race I had my own bubble.  At an intersection two course marshals were each sitting on a log.  Between them was a log "table" complete with table cloth (paper towels).  They were partaking of wine, cheese, and salami.  How I was able to see all of this in a span of 3 seconds, I do not know.  But it was absolutely hilarious!

After about 5 miles of Crawfish bliss, I was on the never ending gravel road.  At least it was flat.  As I had plenty of time to think on this section, I found it peculiar that my strength today seemed to be on the flats.  All those steep ups back at Hungry Mother had really put a hurtin' on my legs.  But on the flat sections, I could bury my head and keep a good tempo.  Rolling into the second aid station, my CamelBak was on "E" so I filled my bottle and grabbed a gel.

Then began the Walker Mountain climb of death.  4 miles long and 32 miles into the course, this was a beast!  My legs would have none of it; at one point I thought they were going to have a mutiny.  The farther I climbed, the harder the trail got.  It started out as a gravel road for a short ways and then became an unmaintained gravel double track with several areas that were rocky and washed out.

I kept looking over my shoulder, expecting to have racers upon me at any moment.  That "looking over the shoulder" thingy I hate to do as it is a sign of weakness.  I felt like a struggling fish in a deep blue ocean just waiting for the sharks to come finish me off.  But none came.  I finally topped out onto some weedy ATV trail that led to the Pisgah-'ish 2.5 mile descent.  I was so looking forward to brapping down some fun trail.

Seeing the many yellow strands of  "police line do not cross" tap tied onto trees, I knew the fun had arrived.  This trail, if you can call it that, called for total focus.  With hardly any foot print and with one continual rock garden, your eyes were constantly flickering up to see the tape to know where to go and then down to negotiate through rocks.  A couple times I made "new" trail as I got off track.

Walker Mountain descent.  Photo Credit:  Jeff Plasmido

After a short hike a bike, where the trail was hugging the steep mountainside, I found myself on the section I call "Mini Heartbreak Ridge."  2 miles of descending through a washed out fall line and I came upon the moto duo who were still enjoying their deep woods formal dining experience.  Turning right, I made short work of a portion of Crawfish, in the opposite direction, before hanging right onto several miles of rolling doubletrack.  Riding Crawfish this way was funner as it was slightly downhill.

Coming back into Aid Station 1/3, I stopped to refill my bottle and grab another gel.  Riding back on Crawfish Road, I was greeted by a nice headwind; at least the breeze was cool.  After about 1/4 mile on Bear Creek, I was directed by a family of course marshalls onto another grassy double track.  This was also part of the Crawfish Trail system and had a mix of doubletrack and trail.  I knew that the finish was soon so I tried to up my effort.  The legs were back talking, but I was having none of it and forced them to pedal until I reached a certain HR.  Kind of a game I play when I am physically "whooped."  Today it was working and I was able to eek out a little more power, or at least that was what I perceived.

Coming onto the Kalber's homestead, I was greeted by Karl Jr.  He was  a hoopin' and a hollerin.'  Glad to have that mental push to keep the legs turning the pedals over.  Passing through the roads of the state park, I knew I had second.  Can't say I wasn't disappointed to not get first, but that's racing.  I did achieve my #1 goal which was to have fun.  Painful at times, but the kind of suffery fun all of us endurance nuts feed upon.

54 miles, 7000 feet, 4:44

I can't say enough great things about this race.  Plenty of pre race schwag, post race pizza and beer, excellent aid stations, great course, down to earth promoter who worked his a$$ off to prepare the course, and seemingly endless prizing.

As each turn of the kaleidoscope shows you something new, so did the race course.

Prizes that I can definitely use.

Stoked that Melissa,my MDH100 traveling partner, got 5th.