Thursday, July 12, 2018

Tatanka 100 Race Report


Let me preface this by saying that all hundie mountain bike races are hard ... damn hard.  If you can finish any of these, you are one tough athlete.  The past few years, I have sought out hundies that are particularly brutal:  100+ miles, shit ton of climbing, point to point, extreme temperatures, huge percentage of single track ... all the things that would push me to my limits and find new ones, and make me cry for my mommy in the process.

So my new hundie in a new state was the Tatanka in South Dakota.  Hosted by the town of Sturgis, the format was different this year.  Instead of a point to point, it would be 3 loops, with each one finishing downtown.  The majority of single track was still the Centennial Trail,  but new this year would be some purpose built single track in Sturgis.  The hundie was actually 90 miles, but with 12,500 feet of climbing and sweltering temperatures, it would be plenty long enough to destroy bodies and minds.

The degree of brutality that this race dishes out was further evident when I rolled downtown to the start line 20 minutes before, the temperature was already 82 degrees (with a high of 99 expected). There was nary a soul, just a few tumbleweeds. My first thought was that the 7 am start was delayed; it wasn't until 5 minutes before the gun went off that the total field of 60 showed up.

The police escorted us out of town at a pretty casual pace.  After an easy 2 mile pedal, we were unleashed onto the first dusty double track that headed up into the Black Hills.  I must make mention that my definition and a SoDak's definition of a "hill" are as different as night and day.  These "hills" were mountains and the dirt and gravel took us straight up.


Aid station at end of each profile

This first double track was steep and loose.  I had managed to stay up with the first 10 or so during the lead out, but ended up getting passed by quite a few on this first section. Having done these races for so long, I paid them no mind; it was going to be a long day and I knew I would see many of them later in the race, hollow shells of their former selves.  I kept to my "slow is fast" pace.  I was rewarded with my efforts by being able to ride with Kevin, the previous director of this race and Perry, the director of the Dakota 5-0.  They were gracious in offering up tons of beta on this new course, as well as taking the time to discuss their passions of being race directors.


Photo Credit:  Randy Ericksen


There were some really sweet hard packed, dirt roads that had been sprayed with a dust retardant.  I was able to make good time along this section, save for the sweeping downhill turn where I lost every stinkin' bit of my momentum due to a group of black angus calves that decided to play in the middle of the road.  Thanks, future rib-eye steak guys, for making me pedal all the way up the big ass hill on the other side.



After a short bit of racing on a paved road, I was dumped onto another double track road that morphed into a ORV chunk and gnar.  After feeling like I was on a rodeo bull, I eventually hit the Centennial Trail.  This first section was high in the Black Hills and was absolutely a hoot.  With a rocky base, exposure, and twisty turny, uppy-downy, I had to be on my toes.  It was similar to Live Wire 2, East Rim, and Grindstone Trails at Raccoon Mountain.  I had my first mechanical here when a dildo shaped rock flew up and wedged itself between my frame and chainring.  WTF!  It was a wonder my turning of the cranks did not break my chain ring or the frame.  I dismounted, said a few choice words, and unwedged the rock, finally getting it out of my bike.

After a few creek crossings which were most welcoming as the temps began to creep up into the 90's, I began a long hard climb up to the Bulldog aid station.  Wishing for switchbacks to lessen the steep grade, I slowly ground my granny until I saw the first welcoming sign that cold Cokes were just ahead.  And chocolate milk!?!  Yeah, I'll take the Coke.  The volunteers were there in force.  My neck was immediately draped with an icy cold wet bandana.  Another volunteer grabbed my CamelBak (which had been dry for the past 2 miles) and refilled it with ice and Heed.  I chugged half a Coke, took a gel shot, and headed back to the bike.  Ryan was there getting brief interviews on his iPhone.  I told him to not count this old mare out yet.  I wasn't quite ready to be a pasture ornament.


Photo Credit:  Randy Ericksen


The 3 mile descent after the aid station was a welcome sight.  It was not easy by any means, as it was steep and loose.  But I did have fun without any squirrely moments.  I knew all this free speed had to come to an end.  It did, with a "kick in the ____" one and a half mile climb up a wall.  But then my favorite part of the course:  a 6 mile flowy descent from the rocky hills to the highway fast single track through the prairie.  Of course, there were some short ups, but with a quick stand and hammer out of the saddle, I was up and over the small bump and on to the next shits and giggles section.

At the bottom, I rode through a culvert under the highway (or maybe some railroad tracks) in which the temperature dropped 20 degrees.  I wondered how many racers bivy'd here, because I could feel the heat rise as the elevation dropped.  I caught up to fellow Rescue Racing team mate Alan Miner in the open fields.  We rode together through the post-holed trail which felt like riding across railroad ties.  While the cows moo'd and watched us from the pond, we slogged our way through the sandy hoof trodden Rough Rider Trail.  At the road crossing, trail angels handed us a bottle of water.  Then on to the hotter than Hades Gasline Trail with its switchbacks of death.  At 95 degrees, I don't care if it is a dry heat or just stupid humid, hot is hot! And my CamelBak ran dry again.

Once on the PeaceKeeper Trail, ice cold water was just a technical descent back into town.  Just had to rail down this one and the Main Trail.  Nailing it, I was on Main Street.  Luckily, the airBNB I had rented was on Main as well.  I had a nice little stockpile of ice cold life-giving goodness in my Yeti.


The only time you will catch me in panty hose.

I refilled my CamelBak with my custom Infinit Endurance liquid gold, ate 1/2 a banana, and wrapped one ice filled panty hose around my neck and underneath the back side of my jersey.  Then I motored on to the start/finish to begin my second loop.  I managed to find a windbreaker and stuck behind him through town, until the interstate crossing, when he started going backwards.  I broke free and was on my own for the 5 mile climb up Vanocker Canyon.

This was an exposed paved climb.  Fortunately the asphalt was light in color or else my tires or brain may have melted.  I repeated a little mantra I had picked up from John Lewer, whom I met and rode with during the Pisgah Stage Race.  "Yard by hard it is hard, but inch by inch, it is a cinch."  I just focused on puting one pedal in front of the other.  Having a couple racers just ahead of me was what I needed to keep me motivated.  I slowly reeled them in.  At the top, where the course peeled off onto double track, there was a pipe coming out of the mountain.  Having my ice filled nylon sock wrapped around me kept me from stopping and perhaps laying in that flow of water for who knows how long.

The double track descent was welcoming but short lived.  Within 1/4 mile, I was once again pedaling uphill ... on Unnamed Trail #1.  After about a half a mile, I named it ... Little Focker!  It was at times an off-camber loose steep grind.  Blessed with an uncanny ability to pedal at 40 rpm on 12% grades, I put my head down to give me an illusion that the trail was flat.  I was granted a 1 mile respite with some beautiful views before hitting Unnamed Trail #2.  I quickly named this one Mother Focker!  Another upward grind.  My teammate Alan managed to get ahead of me during my last stop, as I saw him just ahead ... well, more like overhead.  I could see this dang trail high above where I currently was.  Inch by inch ... I caught him, exchanged a few words, and motored on.

Finally I topped out onto the Horse Trail.  This trail was half-track and appeared to be fresh cut, or perhaps it just wasn't ridden much.  Having a rocky base, it meandered between two peaks, crossing a few low lying wet areas.  It was really pretty, but still really hard.  I was thinking this was more of a game trail than bike trail and had my suspicion affirmed when I passed by a tree stand.  This trail then had one grassy steep ass pitch around mile 60 that went upward to the heavens.  This was my low spot, as once again my CamelBak had run dry and I had a raging head ache.  There was water in my bottle on the bike, but was just too hot to stomach.

I think a tear (just one as that was all my body could afford) came to my eye when I saw the paper plate signs that indicated the BullDog aid station was just ahead.  The first and second loops merged here and followed the same trails back down to town.  I rolled up, dropped my bike, and repeated the process I had done 3 1/2 hours ago.  Funny, but the Coke I had half drank the first time was still in the same spot and half full.  Down the hatch it went.

Rolling down the technical loose, rocky descent, I banged my pedal hard, so hard that it knocked me slightly off course.  And then about 2-3 minutes later, my rear tire got squishy.  I stopped, found the puncture in the tread, whipped out my DynaPlug, plugged it, fired the tire up with CO2, and within 2 minutes, I was rolling downhill.  That was by far the smoothest and quickest flat I had ever fixed.

Unfortunately, my self confidence took a hit with that flat, and made me more cautious than I needed to be on finishing that descent.  Hitting the Bulldog wall climb for the second time, my legs filled up with peanut butter!  That 1/2 mile climb was super painful, but I managed to stay on the bike, knowing that my Walt Disney World ride lay just ahead.  Cresting the Wall, a smile quickly spread across my face as I "whoo hoo'd" my way down over the next 15 minutes.

Then onto the open prairie with the sun baking the landscape.  This was my low spot, but having had this feeling many times before, I knew it would pass.  I focused on drinking and eating and managing what energy I had left.  I ran my CamelBak dry at almost the same exact spot on the Gasline Trail.  I hit the final descent without incident and soon saw my little Oasis on Main Street.  Zeke was there this time. As usual, he gave me encouragement.  After a quick pit stop, I rolled to the start/finish to begin my final loop, with my ice filled panty hose keeping the engine from blowing a gasket.


Rolling through the start/finish and heading out for the final loop.

13 miles and 1600 feet of climbing left.  I was currently in second and realistically had no hopes of catching.  But I could still reach my goal of finishing within an hour of her, which would be a huge accomplishment as she is a maniac on two wheels.  I passed by a father and daughter (who was pedaling a Trail A Bike) on the pavement out of town.  The little girl and I discussed how awesome our bikes were and how fun it is to pedal them.  I bid good day to them as I hit the final bit of gravel to the Sabre Trail.  This paralleled I-70 and had a huge kicker in the middle.  I just stuck my front wheel in the deep groove of the trail and clawed my way to the top.  A left on the Centennial Trail put me on a doozy of a climb up to the ridge.  As I was moving on up, my right pedal felt wonky.  Suspecting that my cleat bolts were loose, I hopped off and checked.  Nope!  Uh, oh!  I grabbed my pedal and it wiggled ... a lot!  Oh, crap!  Upon closer inspection, it appeared that the crank thread insert into the carbon crank arm had broke free.  I had 9 miles to go.  Hopping back on the bike, I gingerly clipped back in.  Fearing that any force applied when unclipping just might completely break the insert and I would be left with only one functioning pedal, I babied the drive side and did not unclip again.  And there was still some steep trail ahead.  I had to go into Mighty Mouse mode!




I saw time slipping away from me during the remainder of the Centennial and Anthem Trail.  I gritted my teeth when sections pitched up to 15% and greater.  But ... I ... stayed ... on ... the ... bike!  Once I hit the Main Trail, I knew I could run it back to the finish should my pedal explode!

I hit Main Street and enjoyed the slow pedal towards the finish with a huge sense of accomplishment.  Earlier that day I had no expectations of a podium finish. I just wanted a fun day on the trail and would let the chips fall where they may.  So when I rolled across in second (10:12:56) with Larissa my biggest fan, I was overwhelmed with emotion.


Just a couple of kids that like to ride bikes ... all day!

Five minutes later, once the adrenalin wore off, I was a wreck.  Funny how focused and intense I can be on the bike, but once my body knows the race is over, it has a major meltdown.  I managed to pedal back to the house and clean my bike and gear.  I then crawled to the shower/tub, turned the cold water on, and laid down in the bathtub for 20 minutes while cold water from the shower head rained down upon me.





I want to thank all involved in bringing this race to fruition.  I could see the tons of love and work that went into it.  I was treated like a rock star out on the trail.  I never had that sinking feeling of being off course; there was plenty of affirmation tape.  The ice at the aid stations was a life saver!  I am not sure if the peel away elevation profile top tube sticker was a blessing or a curse, but it garnered a lot of attention.

I was grateful to be whooped up on by Larissa.  I didn't meet that goal, but should our paths cross in the future, I will try again.  Her bubbliness was contagious and I managed to smile 95% of the race.  Thanks for being an inspiration to all women.

Thank you, Alan, for the words of encouragement out on the trail, even when you were not feeling super duper yourself.

Over the course of 10+ hours, I consumed 230 ounces of Infinit and water.  It took me two hours, 1 Coke, and 1 bottle of water, to work up to a pee.  Unbelievable!










Friday, June 29, 2018

Iron Mountain 100K Race Report

Better put your "big girl pants" on for this one.


New to the NUE Marathon series this year, the Iron Mountain 100K was sure to surprise the average endurance racer. This 54 miler, with 8400 feet of climbing is about as raw and rugged as you can get.  These trails are old school hiking trails that follow fall lines, creek beds, and old logging roads reclaimed by Mother Nature.

Having raced this one 3 years ago and pre ridden portions of it last week, I knew what to expect:  a long ass day suffering in the back country of the Appalachian Mountains.  The course was going to be a little bit greasy due to the recent rains and a forecast which called for the potential for more.  I was ok with that, as I had pretty good experience being a pin ball.

Their were some heavy hitters here to play.  I had no big goals other than to go hard and let the chips fall where they may. In 2015 I had an awesome race, finishing in just a little over 6 hours, in similar wet conditions.  I was hopeful that I could come close to that time.

I chose to wear my Camelbak, as I would have a better time staying hydrated on the mostly technical single track course.  I also decided to refuel with what the aid stations had as opposed to leaving drop bags; I did not want to have to wait a long time for my drop bags to arrive back at the finish.  Hammer gel, bananas, Hammer Heed, and Coke would all work for this engine.

Thankfully no rains rolled in the night before.  The morning brought with it cloudy skies and a starting temp of 68 degrees.  Perfect!  While my Rescue Racing team mates were posing for the Boy Band Rejects calender, I was out on the Creeper trying to bring some snap to my legs.




The start was neutral through town.  Once we hit the Creeper Trail, the pace increased a little and I comfortably stayed mid pack.  About a mile from the road crossing and onto Beech Grove Trail, someone let the rabbit loose and the hounds gave chase.  I initially responded and the legs felt good.  But my heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest!  I looked down at my Garmin and my heart rate was 180bpm!  Not good!  I hadn't seen that number since Michael Jackson was alive and playing on my Sony walkman.  Not feeling good with my heart beating like a hummingbird, I had to pull up and slow it down.

Beech Grove Trail is only 1 mile long but shoots straight up the mountain to connect into the Iron Mountain Trail.  On a dry day and by yourself, it is easily rideable.  But with a train of racers and rocks slicker n snot, I made it about 100 yards, hit a wall of racers, and began the long HAB up. Fortunately, this allowed my HR to stabilize in the high 160's.  At this rate, it did not feel like an alien was going to rip out of my chest.

Once on the Iron Mountain Trail, the trail began to roll along the ridgeline. But that didn't make it any easier.  Some sections were fun, fast, and flowy, but few and far between as the overall profile still had you climbing.  Mostly it was narrow and strewn with large rocks that would smash your pedals or kick your front wheel out from under you or straight up a wide, washed out, rooty nightmare of a climb.  Doable, but once you dabbed or spun out, it was a HAB.  My pace was slower than I wanted; my legs felt good, but anytime I tried to push the power, my heart rate would go in the red.

I was frustrated, but focused on the positive.  I told myself that by staying steady now,  I would have some reserves for the last long climb up the backside of Iron Mountain.  A short section of gravel allowed a short reprieve before hitting another HAB.  I rolled a short bit of ridge and then dropped down a nasty chunky descent.  After a hard right, I was on the Beartree Gap Trail, 3.3 miles of dropper down free speed!  There were a couple short sections of easy pedaling and it was on one of these that I passed by Lara, who was being assisted by another rider.  I found out as she caught back up and came around me rooster-tailing leaves as she sped by that she had dropped her chain and had a difficult time getting it back on.

Checking my CamelBak as I popped out onto Beartree Road, I still had plenty of Infinit and so did not need to stop at Aid 1.  I saw Lara just ahead on the pavement and decided to try to reel her in over the next 3 miles of asphalt.  The rain settled in here.  It didn't take long for the drizzle to settle into a steady downpour.  I whipped out my handy dandy Hampton Inn shower cap and covered my helmet.  Not knowing if this rain was going to last just 30 minutes or all day, I did not want a steady stream of sweat and rain pouring over my eyebrows and into my eyeballs.  This little trick keeps my vision clear and is easy to take off and on as needed.

Drafting off available men, I was able to catch back up to Lara. In am attempt to look back and assess where to hop on the train, her front wheel went off the pavement onto the muddy shoulder.  She narrowly missed hitting the pavement and taking out the train.  I felt bad for her as we rolled past and she mentioned something about her rear derailleur.  I could tell she was frustrated and I hate seeing any racer struggling due to a mechanical.

By the time I hit the Lum Trail, the rain had slowed and was just a drizzle.  This trail starts off relatively easy, but about a 1/3 of the way in, it turns into a beast of a climb.  Several creek crossings with steep entry/exit points and littered with slimy rocks, I struggled keeping the front wheel tracking where I wanted it to go.  At times it seemed to have a mind of its own and I would suddenly be off the trail and pedaling through brush and fallen limbs. I could only laugh at myself!

Passing the shelter, I readied myself for the descent.  Chunky and Pisgah'ish and now wet and slimy with the rains, I "ski'd" down it and hit the "marbles and banana peels" section of Iron Mountain.


0.7 miles of this shit and then later I get to go back up it!

I managed to stay upright and not wander off into the brush on this descent.  After riding through some muddy bogs, I was back on a more manageable section of Iron Mountain and heading for Skulls Gap.  Crossing SR 600, I began the 1 mile gravel climb up to Jerry's Creek Trail.  At 10% pitch, this one is a doozy.  I felt pretty good and my heart stayed in my chest.

Jerry's Creek descent ... a love-hate relationship!  Gets the adrenalin flowin' and the ass puckerin'!  Ahh, good ole half-track, side bench, off-camber, diagonal roots and algae-fied rock Jerry's Creek!  Throw in some rain and about 40 racers in front of me and it turned out to be a "Flintstoning" cuss fest all the way down the initial 2 miles.


This is one of the tamer sections of Jerry's Creek.

I swear my bike tried to buck me off a couple times due to her total embarrassment of my sudden lack of descending skills.  Left foot unclipped, pushing off rocks, and the use of the "butt" brake ... yeah, that was not pretty.  Glad no one saw!

I rolled into Aid Station 2, being manned by Mark Prater, of Karl's Kaleidoscope fame!  This was a full service fill up and windshield cleaning (eyewear, in my case).  Mark asked where Zeke was, to which I replied, "smart enough to have not signed up for this ass-whoopin'!"  After a quick pit stop, it was onto another gravel climb, albeit at a much nicer grade.  I loved the next section of single track, Barton Gap.  One mile up followed by a hoot of a 1 mile descent.  I suppose this was the flow trail of the course.  It was over way too soon.

Trying to get my legs to turn over the pedals on the next 3 mile (with 1000 feet of gain) gravel climb, I felt the first signs of fatigue.  The legs balked but after a few minutes gave in and began cranking out the power.  To make the climb go faster, I alternated between seated and standing.  Doing ascending/descending pedal revolution intervals kept my mind focused on numbers as opposed to how stinkin' long this climb was.  For me, playing these little games during times of suffering makes it a little less painful.  Racing is as much a mental struggle as a physical one; if you can get into the right mindspace, the miles and hours flow better.  And there will be less grimacing and more smiling!




The two mile descent on Iron Mountain Trail back down to SR 600 was where my day almost ended. This section is steep, narrow, and with thick underbrush, it is hard to see the trail at times.  I was in a rhythm of avoiding the baby heads and getting face smacked by rhododendron branches when I hit the two foot rock slab drop a little faster than what I wanted to.  Upon hitting the drop, my right foot suddenly unclipped from my pedal.  This caused me to veer off track and smack a tree with my left shoulder.

After a quick triage of bike and body, I continued on; a little rattled and a little slower, but still moving.  I stopped at Aid Station 3, ate a banana, and topped off my Camelbak for the final push.  Climbing back up the trail, I knew I had a bugger of a section to work through.  The "marbles and banana peels" section followed by a HAB back up to the ridge.  It was here that I thought about Grace Ragland and the Tour Divide.  Not only did she have many HAB's of hell, she had to push a fully loaded (I'm guessing 40-45 pounds) bike up and over Rocky Mountain passes.  Suddenly what I had to do to get up to my "mountain pass" seemed like nothing.




After riding the perpetual rock garden along Iron Mountain over to Shaw Gap, the descent down Chestnut Ridge pushed my forearms and calves to their limits.  By the time I hit the tight right handed switchback, followed by the free fall to the creek, I had lost most of my grip.  I closed my eyes and just sent it!  My Trek Top Fuel squealed with joy; she liked me again!

I stopped at Aid Station 4, chugged 3 cups of Coke, and began the loooong pedal back up to the Iron Mountain Trail.  I was glad that I had eased up at the beginning of the race because I had just enough left to clean the uphill, save for the last 10 yard steep pitch up Sawmill Trail.  During this grind up the mountain, I had caught fleeting glimpses of one of my team mates, Spencer.  He was sangle-spudding it and at times looked to have a cadence of 20 rpm.  Little did he realize but he was motivating me all the way back up to the top.

Feather Branch Trail was one of my favorite climbs as it had a gnarly creek crossing followed by a short HAB, but then planed out to a beautiful piece of single track.  I was able to catch my breath along this 4-6% grade and listen to the songbirds and smell the forest. I took a break racing and just soaked in the beauty of this place I was traveling through.  Damn!  I am one lucky lady to have the time, money, and fitness to witness the grandeur of this country!

Ok, time to focus my eye on the prize again.  I hit Iron Mountain with all 8 cylinders.  I knew it was mostly downhill and no more HAB, so I put my head down and pushed forward.  I thought I was in 5th place, which was cool, because that would earn me a ticket into this event next year, when I turn 50.

I finally caught Spencer; we rode together for a short piece, which reminded me of our travels over the final miles of the Snake Creek Gap TT earlier this year.  Something about riding with teamies that will bring out the best of you.

Then final descent down Moe Holler was beastly.  Steep, baby-head strewn, slick-ass rocks, had me pinballing left and right!  Eyes wide open, knuckles white, and dropper down, I hung on for dear life, relying on the steed beneath me to see me through to the end.  By the time I hit the pavement, I was smoked!  Looking down at my Garmin, I saw 6:31:36.  27 minutes slower than 2015, but I was alive and had made it out of the back country unscathed ... well, except for a sore shoulder.


Content to have rounded out the podium with these speedy lasses!


I really appreciate the hard effort of Chris Scott to bring back this race.  It is one of the hardest I've done, but a favorite.  To complete this beast is a true test of not only one's fitness but mental toughness, grit, and fortitude.  The week before, I had ridden or walked over at least 35 downed trees.  Today, less than 10.  I heard even Jeremiah Bishop was out sawing logs the day before;  one class act!

I must make mention of a fellow competitor I met while scarfing down my burger post race.  This young woman approached me and introduced herself as Nina.  She reads my blog (humbled that I have yet another fan) and told me how it helped her to prepare for this race.  As she was telling me how hard this race was and how much climbing it had, I was looking at her and thinking that she looked so young.  I asked her how old was she.  My jaw dropped and I just about fell over backward when she said 16!  Now that was MOST impressive.  Nina, YOU now have a fan!

Trying hard to remember what I was doing when I was 16, I think I was pretending to be a 5K road racer.  So remember this name, fellow racers:  Nina Machnowski.  I predict she will be a lethal machine in a few years!

As far as my heart goes, I have felt no ill effects of that rapid HR.  I am still not sure of what to make of it.  I just hope it doesn't happen again at the Tatanka 100 in a couple weeks.  And if it does, you betcha I will be calling my doc!




Thursday, April 26, 2018

Pisgah Stage Race: Stage 4, Fox Factory's Carl Schenck Route

Distance:  32 miles
Elevation:  4200 feet
Temperature:  50-73 degrees F
Time:  3:51:35

Although I had no problems downing my Christopher Bean Coffee, I had to force myself to eat.  Fatigue and the stress of the first 3 stages was catching up with me.  The drive up to the Cradle of Forestry allowed ample time for digestion.  I got there early to do my 30 minutes warm up, which my legs begged for.  Thank goodness I opted for the 30 minute massage yesterday which had a "Phoenix rising" effect. 

I took my place in the middle 1/3 of the field.  Today's start was 6 miles on gravel, plenty of time to sort things out.  I found Patrick McMahon and hung on to his wheel for the gravelly bits.  The climb on FunnelTop double track was a doozy.  The gravel warm up was perfect and I felt pretty good on this section, despite the steep pitches which is one of my "limiters."

Once again, I found myself riding with John from Jersey.  What a positive motivator!  I truly enjoyed my time with him on the trail.  We, along with his friend Jerry, rallied it down Horse Cove.  The upper part was chunky and loose and the lower was fast and flowy.  A hard left onto Squirrel and I got to enjoy one of my faves again ... this time in the opposite direction.


My PSR racing buddy

Somewhere along Squirrel we pulled away from Jerry, but picked up Rod.  Rod was an amazing descender.  He also was the one behind the cash prizing for the Enduro category.  Even though I was carrying more fatigue, I felt faster on Squirrel today.  It  was probably the direction as well as having practiced my Pisgah dance the last 3 days.

Quicker than I imagined, I was making the hairpin turn onto Laurel Creek.  This was a bugger of a descent, what with the drops, slick water bars, and tight switchbacks.  I was pleasantly surprised to find myself passing several racers, off their bikes on the trickier portions.  Two of the creek crossings I did HAB through, passing several more who didn't want to get their feet wet.  My feet welcomed the ice cold water.  Happy feet are fast feet, so I obliged them.  The second half of the trail was stick-free, as opposed to when I had pre-ridden, where there were at least 100 derailleur killers.  Then a nice knee high creek crossing which brought me to the FS 5015 double track climb.

I settled into a rhythm of seated pedaling and refueling with intermittent periods of standing and stretching the back.  It was during this climb that I asked John how he was going to pay his wife back for him getting to play all week.  His response, which I absolutely loved, was that she enjoyed just hanging out with nature, reading, hiking, relaxing, and having "me" time.  You are a very lucky man, John!

There was a lot of chunky gravel on this climb. I was glad to see the aid station tent, knowing that that the best part was soon to come.  We stopped at the aid station and I grabbed a Cliff mocha gel.  Not so much for the calories, but for the boost of caffeine.

Slightly sweetened and with a hefty dose of electrolytes

I never thought I would be the one to say this, but with Infinit Nutrition, I can now fuel on just fluid alone.  This coming from a seasoned racer of 17+ years who needed additonal calories in the form of gels and chews.  As of now, I would say that for races of up to 5 hours duration, I will no longer need to reach in my jersey pocket for additional calories.  I love that I can dial in the taste, sweet enough to make me want to drink, but not too sweet that my stomach sours.  My formula contained electrolytes to my specifications.  I also opted for no protein and no caffeine in this blend (but will probably have a caffeinated version the next time I  order).

Unfortunately I lost John on the climb up Laurel (he needed a nature break).  So once again I was in my own little bubble.  Laurel Mountain is a beautiful beast of a climb.  I gauge it by the short slabs of HAB rocks followed by 4 climbs, of which today a good portion of each were HAB.  Sprinkled between the HAB sections were good bits of fast flowy tight single track.  Rounding a corner of one of the easier sections, I came upon a racer with a steady flow of blood from his fore arm.  A fellow racer was attending to him.  I slowed and offered my assistance, to which they responded they had it under control. I motored on, wondering how he could have sustained that type of injury on the tamest portion of this trail.  Later I came to find out that he had impaled himself on a rather large stick. Never underestimate even the "easy" sections of single track.

Having seen this, I reminded myself that I needed to settle in on the Pilot Rock descent, which was still a couple miles away.  I soon found myself in the company of Hardwick, one hard core racer who I truly admire.  At 65 years of age, he still has the strength and skills to blow the doors off racers half his age. I found myself digging deep to stay with him towards the end of Laurel.  He dropped into Pilot just ahead of me.  As I rode through the Enduro start, I took several deep breaths to prepare for the penultimate Pisgah descent.  Starting at 4800 feet and finishing at 3300 feet, this 2.25 mile stretch of trail is nothing but a large mountain of rock, weathered by water, shoes, tires, and probably a fair share of broken bikes, bones, and helmets. 


No hecklers today, just encouragers.  Photo cred:  Dave and Dave

I had a hard time keeping Hardwick in sight.  There must be at least 15 switchbacks on this descent.  I have cleaned all of them in the past ... just wish I could do that on one run!  I was rolling through the first ones with ease, but once I choked, then I kept on choking!  Arrgh!  I was approaching the infamous rock garden, thinking the hecklers from hell would be there in force.  But there were only a few people and they were just ... too ... nice!  Well, except for the dog I heard about later at dinner. He was probably worn out and had lost his voice by the time I rolled through.

I popped out onto the gravel and still had a steep climb up to the finish of the Enduro.  Ouch!  That was just mean!  Only 5 miles left.  I put my head down and went into TT mode.  Thankful for the tailwind, I pinned it to the end.  Rolling through the finish line in great spirits, I was thankful I had escaped unscathed and with a relatively happy intact spine.


Strange cravings brought on by a solid 4 days of racing.

After a quick bite of recovery, I moseyed over to the massage tent and enjoyed another 30 minutes of bliss.  Then a quick trip to Sycamore Bikes where they had a bike wash station set up to clean off my steed. She wasn't that dirty, but going through the motions of washing her down allowed me to inspect and avoid potential disaster should there be an issue I need to address.  After a thorough check of the sidewalls, I pulled her off the stand, loaded her up, and went back to base camp to eat some more.

Dinner that night was delicious.  I didn't know which was worse:  the face that this was the second to last meal I would enjoy or that there was just one stage of crazy fun left.

Pork loin, two kinds of salad, and grits

Salted caramel gelato!

Here is a recap of the day's efforts.




One stage left.  In a comfortable lead, would I be able to just party pace tomorrow?

Monday, April 23, 2018

Pisgah Stage Race: Stage 3, Sycamore Cycles White Squirrel Route

Distance:  30 miles
Elevation:  5400 feet
Temperature: 41-73 degrees F
Time: 3:45:11

Might I add that Zeke 

Hump day!  Walking up the stairs at my hosts' house this morning, the legs felt way better than I expected.  The massage after yesterday's stage was well worth the money.  After coffee, eggs, and a sweet potato, I headed to the start a bit earlier than usual.  I needed an adequate warm up, as right out of the gate, some intense double track climbing along Black and Sycamore Cove would begin the day's stage.

When the gun went off, I expected mayhem as people jockeyed for position.  Everyone must have gotten the "restless leg syndrome" out of them in the first two stages, as the pace was tame. The legs were happy and I was excited to see "new to me" trail.  I had never ridden Sycamore Cove and since it was dry, I can say that it was fun.  Lots of roots along this side cut trail, with some ups/downs before you were able to send it a 1/2 mile back down to Highway 276.

Then back up Black again, this time on Thrift Cove Trail.  My new friend John from Jersey, decided that he liked my consistency (I had caught up to him and dropped him the first two stages) and rode with me most of the day.  We had some great conversation and he was super polite, making sure that he was not bothering me with his talking and riding my wheel.

The HAB up Middle Black went by quickly.  More than any other race I have done in Pisgah, the HAB this week was super enjoyable.  It was a combination of talking with my fellow racers and allowing my back some recovery time.  Descending off the backside of Black, I got a bit of a gap on John, but he caught back up to me on the descent down Maxwell.  More gravel climbing up Clawhammer and then a super fun descent down Buckhorn Gap.  There were a couple tricky creek crossings and I was glad I had pre ridden this trail the month prior.

As I popped out on FS 477, John stopped at the aid station.  I kept going, thinking that John was gonna catch right back up to me.  This was the first time since the beginning of the race that I felt some sparkle.  I took it and ran with it!  I got into a rhythm of both standing and seated climbing.  I caught up to Gordon and Emily first.  Told Emily that I smelled a beast and that beast was her.  Just trying to send some positive vibes after her spill on TurkeyPen road yesterday.

Then I rode up to Meghan and David.  Meghan and I had talked quite a bit after yesterday's stage.  It seems that the ideal prep work leading up to this stage race had not occurred as we envisioned.  But that we were just gonna train through and have fun.  As I slowly rode away from her on the climb, I told her that her race (Avery Creek enduro) lay just ahead.

I met Kim from Vermont on the climb up Club Gap.  Having never ridden here before, she had crushed the first two enduros.  I told her that if I did not get out of her way on the Avery descent to just use me for traction.

Avery Creek is a huge chunky descent at more than 2 miles long.  Huge drops, ruts, and bouldery sections made it feel like I bull riding (for 10+ minutes).  I wish I had the confidence to just let my bike's suspension eat up the gnar, but the "I gotta work on Monday" mentality had me using way too much brake.

My goal was to not get caught by Meghan, David, and Kim.  They must have had a picnic at the top because I was within a 1/4 mile of the finish when I heard the buzz of their I 9's. I had plenty of time to yield to their mad skills.  Despite getting caught, I still had fun. I can say that my descending skills have improved since the last time I rode Avery, but my fore arms and calves let me know that I still have more to learn.

Hitting the aid station the second time, I stopped and swapped bottles.  Then a quick blast down FS 477 and up Maxwell to Clawhammer.  On the way, I saw James and Beth for the second time that day.  They are my favorite fans!


Hi-fivin' Wheelhead!


I found myself riding with Kim again.  We HAB'd it to the top of Black.  She wanted me to proceed, as she was just gonna chill down Black.  I knew better and let her on by.  I saw her for about 20 seconds before she vanished around a corner.  I was hoping I would have a clear shot with no dabs today.  I came upon a poor racer dude, who probably had to yield to Kim rushing up on his wheel and now me.  I tried to chat it up a bit as I made the pass; he was silent. Finally, a clean run (during a race) on Black.

I rolled through the finish line, first master's.  Putting more time into second, I now had a comfortable lead.  But Pisgah takes no prisoners and tomorrow was the Queen Stage.  I headed over to the massage tent to begin my recovery race. Today I opted for 30 minutes of bliss, where I melted into the table. 

After 3 days of racing, I definitely felt the hunger demons.  No worries as the farm to table food was a cornucopia of pulled chicken, black-eyed peas, corn pudding, and a salad.  No GF version of the corn pudding so I piled on the chicken and peas.  I did try a slice of tempeh, which was the vegan alternative to the meat every night.  Needless to say, glad I am a omnivore.




No sooner than my head hit the pillow was I fast asleep, dreaming of plummeting down a mountain of rock.


Friday, April 20, 2018

Pisgah Stage Race: Stage 2, Sunset Motel's Promised Land Route

Distance:  30 miles
Elevation:  4000 feet
Temperature:  36-63 degrees F
Time:  3:16:07


The sun does indeed shine in The Pis-gaaaaa!


Today's stage started out with a 6 mile "controlled" road start along Highways 276 and 280.  While I absolutely love my mountain biking family, when you mix coffee, asphalt, and 180 non road biking souls, you get chaos!  I was more worried getting taken out here than getting "squirreled" later in the course.  Although I managed to stay in the front 1/3, the accordion effect was still there.  I almost wished the police car would have pulled off and let the "real" race begin sooner than at the foot of TurkeyPen Gap gravel road.  I focused on staying far to the right so I would only have to deal with insanity on my left. 

Turning onto the gravel climb up to TurkeyPen Gap, I rolled by carnage that included Emily and another racer.  I said a brief prayer that she was ok and that Gordon would show mercy upon the other.  That 30 minute warm up was exactly what my legs needed.  The descent down South Mills was fast and fun.  The bike was dialed and soaking up the hits.  Hitting Mullinax, my last memories were of a slickety slidy muddy uphill, but today it was hero dirt.  The legs were happy, I was in my own little bubble, and my heart was full. 

Eager to hit Squirrel, one of my favorite trails, I managed to stand and hammer up the last bit of Mullinax before dropping in to the trail I give the utmost respect to.  Squirrel is half-track, with roots looming in the most inopportune places and bouldery sections to negotiate.  Being side cut, the price for failure is high, and I have the scars to prove it.

Fortunately it was dry and with the trail work that has been done in the past two years, it was easy ... with easy being relative.  As much as I wanted to attempt to clean the gnarlier sections, I had to make the smart decision and HAB more than I normally do.  Cleaning a good portion of the flattish or uphill sections requires a lot of bike handling and upper body/back work.  While my back was good on the descents, any time I tried to use force to work through an uphill rocky or rooty section, I would have pain eminate from my L5 area.  What kept me from pushing through the pain was that I envisioned my disc as a Cadbury egg.  I imagined the ooey gooey center exploding through the chocolate candy shell.  And that is what allowed me to hop off the bike, dance through the dicey sections, and remount with no pain at all.

On the right, what my disc looked like 3 weeks ago ... did not want a repeat event.


On Squirrel I passed John Lewer, from New Jersey, that I met on Day 0's opening ceremonies.  He hung with me for awhile, but towards the end of Squirrel I got a gap on him.  What is unique about this stage race is that although the stages are tough, you are not so blown at the end of the stage that all you want to do is go back to your room/house/motel and crash.  There is enough time to recover as well as enjoy the camaraderie of your fellow racers at dinner later in the evening.

Stephen "the squirrel tamer" Janes blew by me in a fit of sheer awesomeness.  He was ragin' on his single speed.  I tried to stay with him, but was not in his league.  Talk about a man on fire!

The climb up South Mills and Buckhorn was smooth like a highway and not too steep.  I was still feeling great at this time and chatted with several on the climb, including David Noletti, who was vying for a spot on the SS podium. 

The gravel descent down Clawhammer was sketchy!  Dry and loose and I could not seem to find my drifting skills.  Somehow I managed to catch up to Stephen Janes on the gravel.  We rode together down to the aid station, where he stopped and I motored on up Maxwell Cove.

After a 20 minute grind, I hit the Black HAB up to the enduro of the day ... middle/lower Black.  The last time I had cleaned this section was on a ride many moons ago.  Today was the day I would have justice.  Unfortunately, I got caught behind a racer whose reptile brain took over at the sharp short uphill with a quick turn to the right before hitting the wet rocky/rooty descent.  I clung desperately to a track stand but just could not hold it long enough to make a clean go at it.  😡😡😡

I had to dab down, but then quickly got by him and made short work of the steep rooty switchback to the right.  The rest of the descent was so ... much ... fun!  Only wish I had the cahoneys to go faster.  By the time I hit the bottom, my calves and forearms were dying. 

I won the stage and put a little more time into second place.  My bike was amazing.  Someone (who shall remain nameless) out in podcast land was poo-poo'ing putting a Fox 32 120mm on a Top Fuel.  While it probably wouldn't make sense for a 140+ racer to run this, for this buck ten, it has been a game changer!


Salmon, rice, carrots, and a salad




Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Pisgah Stage Race: Stage 1, Clif's Looking Glass Route

Distance:  25 miles
Elevation:  3400 feet
Temperature: 37-54 degrees F
Time:  2:34:56

Thanks to Scott's Bikes for Blaze, my trusty Pisgah steed!



I raced the first two editions of PSR and it took me 8 years to recover.  Why, you ask?  It might have had something to do with 45 mile days, 9000 feet elevation gain per day, freezing temps, multiple waist deep creek crossings, snow on Laurel/Pilot, Farlow Gap iced over, uphill both ways, etc.  2009 was insanely hard!  2010 was warmer, but still had a short prologue followed by long days.  Back then I was racing against the big guns:  Sue Haywood, Cheryl Sorenson, Amanda Carey, and Brenda Simril.

This time, I was racing in the Masters 40+.  I figured, at 49 years, I earned my way into this category.  I almost didn't get to race, as 2 1/2 weeks prior, I herniated my L5 disc.  But with some chiropractic work, and Dr. Stuart McGill's book, I was well enough to give it a determined go at it. 


Highly highly recommend for any of you low back sufferers

The first stage had us racing back down the gravel into Cove Creek campground.  Towards the end there is a fairly deep but rideable creek crossing.  So one can hit the crossing rubbing elbows with other racers, or play the waiting game and walk across a narrow bridge.  With everyone in stoopid crazy mode to get to Daniel Ridge which was the enduro section, I opted to take the time penalty and walk the bridge.  I did not come all this way to be taken out in the first 2 minutes of the race.

Hitting FS 475 and climbing up to the turn off to Daniel Ridge, guys and gals came by me so fast, I almost went into a tail spin.  My legs were HEAVY, but had only myself to blame for less than an ideal warm up.  The gravel single track climb on Daniel hurt like the dickens. I was happy to see the HAB (hike-a-bike) train when Pisgah greeted us with the first technical climb of the day.  Conditions were a bit slick as the rain the day before made the roots glisten and the rocks shine.

I took my time along Daniel Ridge, including the enduro section, as I waited on legs and body to re familiarize themselves with the Pisgah gnar.  As I popped back out onto FS 475, heading up to Butter Gap, I felt like I was at the back of the pack.  I was o.k. with that because I survived the first single track without any back pain.

Climbing up to Butter, I was greeted by the Hoffmeisters, James and Beth.  I have gotten to know these amazing people in the last year or so.  They were screaming at me, "You are our favorite racer!"  Awwww ... I blushed.  But as I went by and another racer approached them, they said the very same thing.  Hmmmm ...  come to find out, every racer was their fave!  They had me laughing all the way down Butter.  After the initial chunk and drops at the top, I found my groove and cleaned it all.  I had to make my way around several hike a downers and soon found myself behind Gordon and Emily. 

This was the first time I had ridden with these guys and let me tell you.  Emily had the bad-assery moves going on!  That lady has come a long way in a short time.  Her skills were poppin'!  I was most impressed and thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with them on Butter, LongBranch, and then descending FS475 to Davidson River.

I popped off their wheel as the climb up FS475B to Cove Creek began.  Emily had a G-bike on the climbs.  Occasionally Gordon would put his hand on Emily's low back and whoosh!  Up the road they would go, at a pace I don't even think I could match on a good day.  It was amazing to see the power output that Gordon produced.  Very cool!

Towards the latter half of the climb on FS475B, my legs finally came around.  I was able to get in a rhythm of standing and hammering, followed by periods of rest on the false flats.  Soon I was groovin' on the FS225 double track descent to Cove Creek.

The Cove Creek Trail had some major work done on it since the last time I had ridden it back in 2014.  Most of the spindly log bridges had been replaced by rideable wooden plank ones.  Now you could really send it!  I was having too much fun and almost face planted on one steep rooty drop.  How I managed to save it I do not know.  Thank God for a healthy set of reflexes!

I did miss the smell of hamburgers on the final drop in to the campground (from the Swank days).  But there were recovery drinks and plenty of food (chips, scones, bananas, and oranges) to eat at the finish. 

I rolled over to the results table where one could not only see your results on a screen, but also print them off, too.



After a not so strong start, I was just hoping to make any podium appearance.  I was pleasantly surprised that I had finished first in my class and had a respectable overall performance, too. 

After a brief stretch, I went and had a 15 minute massage. OMG!  If you are going to sign up for the race, you need to sign up for the post stage massages as well.  They are a leg and body saver!  It is well worth the extra $$.  I melted into the table!

With short stages, there is plenty of time left in the day to recover.  I went back to the house, showered, stretched some more, sat in my Elevated Legs, and then headed over to the Brevard Music Center for the evening meal and video/photo recap of the day.


Bacon-wrapped GF meatloaf, buttered Lima beans, roasted Yukon Gold potatos, and a salad.


The food was provided by Black Eyed Susan's Caterers and it rivals Mulberry Gap at quality and taste.  They even provided gluten free and vegan alternatives.  And as much as you wanted to eat!  Oskar Blues Brewing provided 1 beer per person per day.  Not being a drinker, I saved mine for Charlie (future kitchen passes!).



That leader's jersey felt good!

Having 15 minutes on second place, I was focused on playing it smart and safe on Stage 2. 




Thursday, March 22, 2018

Snake Creek Gap TT 50 Race Report

Buckle secured!

Oh my goodness!  That was my mantra for this race.  Having blown through a slew of profanities earlier in the work week that would have made Yosemite Sam cringe, I promised myself that today cursing would only be acceptable if I broke a body part.

The weather at the start was perfect.  A cool 52 degrees with a slight drizzle.  The trails were dry and fast.  Getting up towards the front at the start, I didn't have to fight through the usual drove of racers and was making great time through the Dry Creek section.  Despite my addiction to CrossFit, my legs felt the best they have all season.  The first 7 miles the trail was highlighted by the controlled burn that had recently taken place.  The trail was leafy brown, while the rest of the forest floor was black.  With body memory at 100%, I was able to rail the loose corners with ease.  I ended up reeling in several who had started out at greyhound pace.

Around mile 14, the drizzle turned to a light rain.  It felt great, at first, helping to cool the engine, but when it began to intensify and the trail turned to a stream, conditions deteriorated quickly.  The trail became slickety slicker n snot, and the pinball games began.  I still managed a decent time through the Dry Creek section and headed up the double track to start the real race ... the remaining 30 miles.

The rain had stopped, but the damage had been done.  I was wishing I had left my fender on as the drops of mud began to build up on my glasses.  I felt sloth slow through the muddy sections, but with the Pisgah Stage Race looming, I did not want any mishaps.  Jen caught me at the exact same location as the January race.  I was hoping to hold her off until at least Snake Creek Gap, but she was just too powerful.  I made a brief attempt at holding her wheel, but when I saw my HR in the red zone, I was smart enough to back off and just ride my own race.

The descent off the backside of Pine Hill was interesting.  Talk about an 8 second bull ride!  I held on for dear life, feathering the brakes just enough to keep contact with the ground and prevent any tree-kissing.  After the road crossing, I slogged through energy sapping mud around the Pilcher's Pond area.  Somehow I managed to clean the steep switchback to begin the climb up Horn Mountain.  Trail conditions improved and I began to see the tread in my tires again.  With the sun coming out and temperatures rising, I found my happy place rolling the rocky ridge line and picking off the 4 climbs.

Coming into the Snake Creek Gap parking lot, I was making great race, not far off my 2017 time.  The volunteers were NASCAR ready, helping me to switch out nutrition and even cleaning my glasses!  My bike looked awful, with the drive train being caked in mud, but it was amazingly quiet.  I continued onward, up the sustained Middle Mountain climb. This is a beast and I consider this the hardest of the course.  Not because it is overly technical or steep, but it comes at a point in the race where I always feel the first signs of fatigue: heavy legs, strained breathing, falling heart rate.  Once up and over, I consider myself to be in the home stretch, especially once I hit the descent down to Swamp Creek.

The rain and 150+ racers doing the 34 and 17 had wreaked havoc on this down hill.  Frustrated that I could not go with the ferocity I am used to, I had a few "Oh my goodness" moments in the sloppy conditions.  The double track climb out of Swamp Creek was messy as well.  Not only was I getting bogged down by the mud, but my body seemed to be shutting down.  Nutrition was on point, but not having logged the training miles as in years before, my fitness was subpar.

By the time I reached the Dug Gap single track, I was gassed.  I stopped at the tent and grabbed a handful of shot blocks and devoured them as I pedaled away.  It gave me a brief respite as I had to slow down in order to breathe in between chewing. Once finishing my little bite of goodness, I turned the pace up and began inching my way towards the finish line.  I felt confident that I would secure the buckle and a solid second place performance.  Now the battle was to get to as close to my 2017 finishing time as possible.

For the most part, the mud was gone and the trail was dry, but through the trickier sections, I was doing more spinning out and bobbling among the rocks than usual.  I had 3 slow speed crashes and could do nothing more than laugh at my predicament.  A cuss word or two may have slipped between my lips.

I was ecstatic to see the cell towers and knew the suffering was almost over.  Spencer, one of my team mates, had been riding/walking with me along the last few miles, and encouraged me to "drill it" to the finish.  I told him, as I crawled along the last 1/2 mile, "This IS me drilling it!"  HA!


Got my mineral and probiotic intake for the day!


I finished in 5:45:11, losing most of those minutes in the last 10 miles.  Disappointed in that, but knowing that this year is a slow work up to my ultimate fitness goal, I was happy to finish securely in second place.  $500 is not too shabby for a day's play!


Helping Jen to the top step while Lara is all smiles with a solid 3rd place!

Thank you once again to the NWGA SORBA crew, as their monumental efforts ensured another awesome day on the bike in the North Georgia woods!