Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fool's Gold Race Report

It could not have been a better weekend to race the gravel and singletrack around the Bull and Jake Mountain area in Dahlonega, Georgia.  Temperatures were perfect, the humidity was low, and the trails were in primo condition, thanks to the collaboration between SORBA and CHTA (Chattahoochee Trail Horse Association).

I did what I could to recover from last weekend's double header.  8+ hours of sleep per night, eating clean, sitting as much as possible at work, and just tooling around on the bike.  The legs actually felt pretty good race morning.  I had planned on getting in a solid warm up, but due to the 7:30am start and forgetting to bring lights, I only got to pedal around for 15 minutes.  Oh well, Lisa said the first 2 miles would be neutral.

Shoulda known better about the start being "neutral," as Lisa was driving the lead vehicle.  Lisa does not know slow.  Her neutral was 25mph ... uphill!  I was on the gas right from the get-go, and the legs were NOT happy.  My plan was to stick with the lead group to the first big climb and then settle.  I was on the rivet the whole time, precariously hanging on at the back.  I was able to draft off the big boys and that bought me some precious time.

Once on the gravel, I let the group go.  I knew that over the next 50 miles, I would see some of them again.  Bonnie and I rode together for awhile.  I was happy to pace off her, steady and consistent that she was.  We chatted a bit; she gave me some kudos that were much appreciated.  I'm not sure if this fueled my engine or if that she slowed down a bit, but halfway up, she came off my wheel.

I enjoyed the climb up Cooper's Gap, feeling my legs come back around.  At the top of Cooper's Gap, I saw what appeared to be some volunteers setting up.  Questions swirled in my head.  Was this the first aid?  Was this an added water stop?  This was only mile 10,  The first aid station was supposed to be at the top of Winding Stair at mile 18.  Confused, I pedaled on.  My plans were to do a bottle swap at the first aid.  Hmmm.  If that was the first aid, then this bottle would now have to last 29 miles.  Thankfully the weather was cool and I was not drinking much.

I raced along the ridgeline, making short work of the rollers.  Coming into the Winding Stair intersection, I made a conscious effort to ride smart.  This descent was steep, loose, and rutted.  The corners were tight and I did not want to end up as someone's hood ornament.  Halfway down, I thought I felt my rear getting squirmy ... not another flat!  I slowed enough to cast a quick glance down.  The tire appeared o.k.  My mind and the loose terrain was playing tricks on me.

Finally the turn to single track nirvana!  Turner Creek was a descender's dream.  It was all about letting go of the brakes and carving the turns.  It was here that a racer from Florida (J.C. was his name, I believe) followed my wheel.  I asked him if he wanted by, but his reply was that he was happy following my lines.  He gave me some nice comments on my skills.  Greatly appreciated, as alot of times, dudes usually don't dish out nice words to us ladies.  He later came up to me at the awards ceremony and asked if he could get his picture with me!

Popping back out on some gravel, I pedaled back up FS 77 and then turned onto Jones Creek Trail.  I grabbed my bottle to drink only to find it dry.  Three miles to the second aid station ... no worries.  The climb up was pleasant.  The last time I had done this race (2012), this climb was a steep washed out mess!  It was here that last weekend began to catch up to me.  The first feelings of "heavy legs" began to settle in.  I was happy to see the top and even happier to rail the following descent; well, all but the first switchback which I overcooked.  After the dam began the triple "ant hill" climb.  Zeke named it this after following me up this sandy climbthis back in 2008'ish.  I was going too slow for him and he ended up falling over into a mound of ants which then proceded to bite him repeatedly.

Fortunately for me, there was no one in my way and I was able to grunt my way up.  The legs came close to crying, "Mutiny!, but abated when I explained that a fuel resupply station was just up ahead.  As I came rolling in, the volunteers were shouting out our number plates so that our bags would be ready.  Andrew helped me with mine and I was in and out in a flash.

Washing down a couple gels with Skratch, I was ready to begin the hardest portion of the course, the Bull Mountain loop.  In 2012, I cramped badly here.  I hoped by using a combination of Skratch and Elete electrolytes, I could avoid a repeat.  Getting back up to speed, I began passing many of those who sprinted up the Cooper Gap climb, only now to be feeling the effects of there early race "squirrely-ness."

My Niner Air 9 RDO, weighing in at 19 pounds, felt great underneath me.  Every push of the pedals engaged the Industry 9's immediately and no energy was lost.  I had a couple of riders around me, going at the same pace.  We helped to motivate each other, grinding away on the 3 kickers leading to the top of Bull.  Once on top, we parted ways.

Once I saw the cairn and then the old truck, I knew it was all downhill to the third aid station.  With no one in front of me, I let it loose and enjoyed the ride.  I passed Mark towards the end; he was walking his bike.  I could not see what was wrong, but was going to fast to get into a lengthy discussion.  I just hoped that it wasn't a race ender.  Glad to see that he indeed did finish.

Emily helped me at the third aid station and got rolling in no time flat!  From here, was a little more gravel and then onto the Bull Mountain Connector Trail.  This was my least favorite, as it was riddled with roots.  My legs were tired, my butt was tired from being jack hammered on Bull, and I was ready for flowy and buff.  "Soon, little grasshopper, fast and flowy, it will be," my inner voice whispered to me.

I had now been on the bike for 4 hours.  I was tired, ready to be done, my little bubble of happiness had burst.  I threw a little pity party for myself.  And then I got my head back into the game.  The last bit of single track, the Jake Mountain and Black Branch Trails, were perhaps the funnest of all.  It was all downhill, or at least it seemed that way.  And as smooth as a baby's butt.  I realized I had a bit of fire left in the legs.  I enjoyed every bit of it, including the creek crossing, which I walked.  Oh, how soothing that was to my feet and calves!  I wanted to lay down and let every inch of my body enjoy the cold water.

Even the steep grunty climb afterwards could not dampen my spirits.  From there it was onto the Beaver Pond section, where I felt the single track love.  I passed a couple more dudes here, whose gast tanks were on "E."  I stopped at the last aid station and grabbed the final bottle.  Even though this race is called the FG50, it is really 54 miles.  I knew I would need this last bottle to get me to the finish, 7 miles away.

Back onto the gravel, I knew it was 4 miles of road, dirt and blacktop, to the finish.  If you let it, this section can feel like you are riding through quicksand.  I chose to see it as a 20 TT.  Putting my head down, I focused on turning the pedals over.  I had thoughts of 2nd just behind me. This game I played allowed me to work through the burning that built up in my legs quickly.  The small rollers became mountains, but then I chose to stand and hammer, imagining I was on my single speed.  Using this imagery allowed me to make short work of what could otherwise seem like a never ending stretch.

Coming into the winery, I was happy to see the Kenda finishing banner.  I rolled through in 4:42;09.  Normally after I finish I head to the car and get cleaned up.  But today I rolled into the food tent and devoured a watermelon!  That is the perfect immediate post race food!

Congrats to my team mate Mary for finishing second!  The week previous she said she and Randall were just going to "ride" the course and partake in the aid station festivities ... yeah, right!  Her first time on this trail system and she rocked it!

Lisa did a great job with this event.  Moe's catered the post race meal.  It all looked wonderful, but I opted only for the guac, which I got a huge plate of.  I figured that this was a pretty safe bet and that I would not be glutened.  800 calories of green goodness down the hatch.  There appeared to be plenty of sweet tea and ice cold beer as well.  Payouts were equal and went 3 deep; prizing went even deeper!  A cool T-shirt and finisher's glass rounded out the schwag.

Race promoter extraordinaire

Lisa, of Mountain Goat Adventures, once again put on a top notch race.  With her, you not only get a great race, but an overall great experience.  Sure, there were some glitches (aid station #1 at wrong spot, stolen course markings), but she did everything in her power to make everything go right.  I would highly recommend any of her races; she also has a trail running series.  I am looking forward to Southern X.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Black Bear Rampage Race Report

After the Pisgah MonsterCross, I had the daunting task of recovery.  The following day I would be racing the Black Bear on my single speed.  In preparation for Double Dare, I needed to have that feeling of racing back to back races.  My recovery plan included eating, soaking the legs in the Davidson River, stretching, eating, compression socks, foam rolling in the Wal-Mart parking lot as Zeke pumped gas, eating some more, and sitting in my Elevated Legs.  With all that accomplished, I was still able to make it to bed by 8:45 pm.

The morning of I felt pretty good.  No cobwebs in the head, a hearty appetite, and the desire for the speed.  I allowed my body a full 1 hour warm up.  That was indeed the ticket, because when the gun went off, the legs were there.  They were not sparkly, but I was able to keep up with Mary's pace, and soon we were reeling in the rear end of the Expert field, single speeders included.

As we approached the single track, I kicked it up to 160 rpm to get around a couple racers.  Mary allowed me the hole shot as she was content to ride my wheel.  Traffic was not bad at all.  I was able to settle into a nice rhythm without taxing the legs early on.  Halfway through, Mary and I got separated as a couple Sport racers came upon us, and with their superior skilz, managed to pass Mary only to crash right in front of her.

She managed to catch back up with me on Old Copper Road.  I had an easier than normal gear on today, knowing that my legs would appreciate it on the climbs.  I was a little spinny and Mary was able to catch back up.  This was her first race on her single speed and she was doing very well, especially pushing a gear that would make most dudes cry for their Mama's.

I got a gap on her going up Bear Paw.  I soon caught up to a cluster of racers, going at Mach 0.005.  My legs were not happy with a cadence of 40 rpm, so when I got the chance, I was able to take an alternate, albeit, harder line, and get around them.  Back up to cruising speed, I made short work of the rest of this section, and soon passed Henry Trent and crew at the turn onto the Lower Chestnut.

Upon getting close to Thunder Rock, I came upon an old friend, Sam Curley.  He and Zeke were the ones, 9 years ago, that held me down, and injected me with the endurance bug's venom.  I still remember the day, when I did my first LONG ride (40 miles) and they kicked my arse!  But I was hooked.  Who knew that mountain biking was not just about going round and round on a groomed trail, but going on epic single loop adventures?

Sam has great descending abilities, and he had pre-ridden the course like a hundred times, so I followed his smooth lines down Thunder Rock.  Thanks, Sam!  At the bottom, I grabbed a new bottle and began the climb up FS45.  The legs barked a little, until the lactic acid was flushed out, and then I began passing back some of the Sport racers.  I guess they had burnt one too many matches in the first 20.

I was in my happy zone, feeling good about how my legs were doing despite the previous day's effort.  As I turned onto Quartz, I caught sight of Lisa just ahead.  That was another vote of confidence, and I was determined to slowly reel her in, and have her pace me through the remainder of the course.  I knew at some point I was going to hit a low, and it would be good to have her company.

I caught her on Bypass and together we rode.  We didn't say much, but then again, we did not have to.  Just our presence was enough of a motivator to continue to push on and not lolligag.  A couple Sport racers joined our pace.  I chatted a bit with them.  This conversation woke me up to the fact that not all Sport riders are inconsiderate bodies of raging testosterone.  He actually called me "Ma'am," a few times.  I will take that in a good way.

Halfway through Riverview, I felt that my rear wheel was not tracking well.  Uh oh, not again!  I managed to look down at it and noticed it was low.  I managed to keep any expletives under my breath, dismount, and triage the problem.  No hissing, no spewing of Stan's ... perhaps I had just burped it.  I added some air and did not hear any leaks..  Could I be lucky today?  This whole process took about two minutes.  Lisa now became my carrot.

After finishing up Riverview and with my tire still firm, I let it rip down Chestnut.  I flew by Henry who was now dressed in Hawaiin Luau attire.  He cracks me up ... always filled with happiness and cheer.  He is to the Cherokee National Forest as Shanna is to Pisgah, just a larger and hairier version.

Zeke was on the bridge, bottle in hand.  I pulled up and stopped.  His eyes got big!  "Don't stop, don't stop!"  he cried.  I wanted to check my tire ... still holding, good!  Grabbing the bottle, I made my way through the crowd cheering us on, and motored on up Old Copper Road.  It felt better this way, with a slight uphill.

Boyd Gap was a beast!  Even with an easier gear, I still had to get off and push a few times.  Even walking, I still managed to stay with a pack of guys on the climb.  Normally I could ride up, but the 70 miles of gravel grinding the day before had finally caught up to me.  I ... was ... blown!

Brush Creek seemed to go on forever!  I was ready to be done.  Then, with about 2 miles remaining, I caught sight of Lisa.  That was good enough to allow the two extra cylinders to kick in.  I dragged my way back up to Lisa.  Together we finished 1-2, both a first in our respective divisions.  Mary came in soon afterwards, 2nd SS.

The cold fruit and drinks at the finish was a nice touch.  Together I think Lisa and I devoured the equivalent of one watermelon.  The aid station volunteers had to kick us away like a pack of dogs surrounding an overturned garbage can.

My time was 3:27:15, about 10 minutes slower than last year.  I'll gladly take that time, as last year, I was well rested leading up to the race and also raced on gears.

That was a good finish to a spectacular weekend.  Confidence inspiring, to say the least.  As I have gotten older, I have definitely wondered just how much longer I can continue to keep getting better.  I know the plateau is not that far ahead, but until I hit it, I will keep striving to improve.

Jersey by SuperSport

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pisgah Monster Cross Race Report

The Cysco;  comfortably fast, not numb.

This is the third year I have participated and each year it gets more difficult.  At least the weather was cooperative.  After fretting all week and packing cold and wet weather gear, those items ended up staying stashed in the bottom of my race bag.  Warm, cloudy skies greeted the 200+ of us that showed up to suffer.  As long as I finished in less than 5 hours, the weatherman guaranteed me that I would not get wet.  The route was CCW, the direction I and my Cysco Cycles gravel grinder preferred.

Brenda, Kaysee, and I were close in the Queen of Pisgah competition, so my plan was to attack off the start, try to get a gap, and then sustain.  Everything started off like I had planned.  I was up front, with guys who I could pace off of going up FS477.  The legs were sparkly and I made quick work of the 6 mile climb.  Once on top, I settled into my happy zone, and quickly motored down to Hwy 276.  I cannot say enough about how titanium absorbs the stutter bumps, but I was able to stay in the mix with several mountain bikes on the descent.

Up 276 and then onto FS1206, the next big chunk of gravel.  I love this road as it goes by fast and flows well, as long as you stay on top of your gear.  I was initially with a small group but realized they were going just one tick faster than I was comfortable with, so I dropped off their pace.

 At about mile 14, I felt something I abhorred!  My rear tire was losing air.  My feeling of happiness dissolved immediately into frustration.  But for once, I did not panic and let rip a storm of expletives. I calmly stopped and assessed the situation.  Where was the leak?  I could hear it but not see it.  You see (no pun intended), I have been losing the battle against presbyopia.  My near vision is so bad now that I wear reading glassed to read, do surgery, take stitches out, etc.  And now I realized one more thing I cannot do.  Find a dad-gum leak!  Out with the CO2, I finally was able to feel it.  A sidewall puncture!?!  How the heck does that happen?!?  I tried one feeble attempt to plug it.

As I was attempting this almost impossible fix with eyes that don't work in situations less than 2 feet away from me, someone stopped and asked if I needed help.  Sure, but I did not want to screw up their race.  "No worries," he said.  "I am still recovering from last week's effort, so just riding today."  As he finished his sentence, I finally realized that it was Kip, my Double Dare partner, and now my gravel angel!  He held my bike steady and prepped my tube while I did the rest.  The total stop time was 8 minutes, but it would have been alot longer without him.

I hopped back on and my first thought was "endeavor to persevere."  This became my mantra for the remainder of the race.  I had no idea how many women passed me, but I was not about to go down without a fight.  David passed me, then slowed down, and gave words of encouragement.  Others as well.  Within 5 minutes, I came upon the Simrils.  As I motored past, they asked what happened.  Without going into much detail, as my HR was soaring, I told them, and then hammered it up the climb to Yellow Gap.

I was cautious on the descent down to North Mills River, not wanting a repeat experience of the last 20 minutes.  Kip caught back up to me and then passed me.  As I approached the left hander onto FS 5000, Kip had stopped to help a cyclist that had gone down hard on the wet pavement.  Another act of selflessness by the amazing Mr. Clyburn, who had just recently completed the Vapor Trail 125 in an outstanding showing by one who lives so close to sea level.

I arrived at the first aid station and swapped bottles.  I was hoping this would be a NASCAR fast stop, but for some reason the drop bags were behind the aid station tent.  It seemed like a football field length's away.  I quickly dismounted, worked my way through racers and volunteers, grabbed my bag, got my bottle, worked my way back through the hordes of people, and finally back to my bike.  Precious seconds gone!  As I remounted, my legs barked a little, I said "Shut Up!" and got back up to my happy heart rate zone.  I caught up with Brian, we talked a bit, and then I worked my way up to Stephen.  He gave me good news when he said Meghan was just up ahead and that she was in the lead.  I was happy about not being far behind, but concerned about where Kaysee was.  Stephen did not know about her.  I knew that she had to have passed me when I was fixing my flat.

The 5 mile climb up to the Parkway went by quickly.  I caught up to Meghan, exchanged pleasantries, and then opened it up a bit so she would not catch my wheel.  Soon came the left-hander onto the Parkway.  Even with all the beauty that this stretch exudes, this is the place where I always seem to suffer.  The never ending climb up to the second aid station was relentless.  I was alone for most of the way on this stretch of butter smooth pavement.  Thank God for the blinkies!!  We are required to run lights both front and rear while on the Parkway.  Up in the foggy distance, I could make out racers only by their flashing rear red lights.  This gave me the motiviation to drag myself up to them, wanting desperately for my first visual of them to be the yellow/green kit of TVB racer Kaysee.

Each one I passed was a small victory, as this hopefully put racers (and series points) between Brenda and me.  I did not stop at the second aid station, but welcomed the descent that followed.  I was at the point now on the parkway where although the climbing was still tough, at least there were some descents to recover on.  Fortunately I was able to hook up with a couple racers.  I rode their wheel hard, gaining precious seconds that I would not have been able to alone.  I helped when I could, which was pacing them up the climbs.

Towards the beginning of the final 4 mile climb up to Hwy 215, I caught sight of the Mark Drogalis.  His Toasted Head Racing kit is by far one of the coolest I have ever seen.  He was a sight for sore eyes.  Just seeing him motivated me to push it one notch harder.  As I began to catch him, I saw just ahead of him what I had been chasing for 30+ miles.  Kaysee Armstrong!  Instantly my RPE (rate of perceived exertion) went from 9 to 4!

Now all I had to do was catch her, try to put as much distance on her in this last bit of climbing, and then stay smooth and steady on the 10 mile descent down 215.  I was gonna have to dig deep!  As I caught up to her, I could tell by her body language that she was suffering 10% more than I on this final Parkway climb.  This gave me hope.  As I passed by her, we talked a bit, she caught my wheel, but after a couple minutes popped off.

I never looked back.  I pedaled hard, but staying just under "cramping pace."  Once on 215, I did not have to pedal much.  This road is super steep and is all about staying off the brakes and blazing through the corners.  Some corners were still wet and it was here that I probably was overly cautious. As the pavement began to level out, Brian caught up to me.  This was a godsend, as I was able to draft off him the final mile or so to the last aid station.  I was out of water and had planned on grabbing my drop bag.

As I was slowing up to make the turn, I heard the roar of many tires behind me.  I glanced back and saw Kaysee!  Yep!  I about crapped my pants.  Her face was full of fury and determination.

Sorry to have missed this exuberant crew.

As I turned onto Indian Creek Road, she kicked it into high gear and sped past me.  For 5 seconds, I threw a pity party.  Then I got mad!  I slammed my chain down a couple cogs, forgot about not having water for the last 12 miles, and caught back on her wheel.  The road leveled out and I stuck with her, allowing my heart rate to creep back down to sub hummingbird speed.

Knowing that we both needed places between us and Brenda, I pulled alongside her.  I asked if she wanted to work together, and then let our race play out at the end.  She agreed.

Later, when I told Zeke about this tactic, his first comment, was that he thought Kaysee or any other racer would take that as asking to be used and abused, and then dropped at an opportune moment.  I want to make it clear that I am NOT a cutthroat racer.  That is and never will be my intention.  I knew that Kaysee is a powerhouse on the flats and descents and that if we did work together until the near end, I would most likely lose the battle.  And that was o.k. with me.  My victory would be hopefully helping her to dig deep and go beyond what she would think she was capable of.  We women need more youth in this sport.  Kaysee is that youth.  She has come up the ranks quickly and has gained so much fitness, strength, and speed in the last 2 years that she will be a force to be reckoned with.  Heck, she already is!

But if it were a dude, I would stick on him like pine tar, suck his life force out, and leave his wilted corpse in the middle of the road!

Off my soapbox, and back onto the race.

So I took the lead and pulled up the climb.  Kaysee stayed strong, but I could tell she was hurting.  I yelled out words of encouragement, but she popped off my wheel.  After about 5 minutes, I knew her legs were leading a mutiny on the climbs.  I was going slower than I was comfortable with.  I knew that Brenda was somewhere lurking behind and could be gaining.  Not wanting to take any more chances, I knew that I had to go.

I had 10 miles left.  I treated it like a 20 minute power test.  I put my head down and focused on pedal stroke.  My legs were burning, my eyeballs were popping, and sweat was dripping off my nose.  I entered the pain cave voluntarily, knowing that a chance of victory was my reward.  I descended off Gloucester like a scalded dog.  I began to take chances again.  A couple of times I hit my rim on the deep ruts in the road.  But my I-9's and tires held firm.

The last 5 miles seemed painfully slow.  Part of me just wanted to pull over and lie down.  Then a light rain started, It seemed like each drop that hit me quickly sizzled and evaporated.  But it was just cooling enough to allow me to refocus on the finish and not the pain of turning the cranks over.

Flashing blue lights ahead.  Normally my instinct is to slow down when I see the police, but this was a welcome sight as the finish was near.  I finally looked over my shoulder.  No one in sight!  I pulled into the finish, hopped over the barriers, finishing with a time of 4:48:29.  The hardest ... one ... yet.

Funny, but Eric's events always push me to my limits.  Whether it be from adverse weather, to the level of competition, to mechanicals, I am forced to test everything about my being.  I am happy that each and every time (except for P36), I have been able to extend those limits.  This is living!

Signifies "The Most Difficult"

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

And So It Begins ...

With 2014 drawing to an end and Interbike happening this week, the 2015 sponsorship hunt begins.  I have been very fortunate to have some wonderful relationships with awesome people who make awesome product.  Some of my sponsors have been with me for years and some have jumped on board this year.  I have been humbled by their generosity.

Why, you ask, do I even bother?  After all, I am a veterinarian and isn't that profession rolling in the dough?  You would be surprised by how little a veterinarian makes compared to other medical professions.  And just how expensive bike racing is.  But I did not sign on because of the money; I did it because I love animals and wanted to be their voice.

And so each year since 2009, I have written proposals and submitted resumes.  If sponsors come on board, then I spend a considerable amount of time writing reviews, blogging, FB'ing, and basically talking to cyclists why I use my sponsor's products and why they should as well.   In doing so, I hope that I can give back to my sponsors.  (Prior to submitting any sponsorhip proposal, I have purchased and used their product, ensuring that it is something that will work for me.)

My sponsorship mostly comes in the form of free and reduced product pricing.  I don't make a living doing this; I just try to ease the financial burden a bit.  I hope that the cycling industry realizes that athletes like me have just as much influence on pushing cyclists toward their product as the professional paid athletes do.

I can name several racers who have influenced my decisions on product.  Rich got me hooked on the Awesome Strap from Backcountry Research.  Erica made my taste buds and engine happy, happy, happy with the Rx Bar.  Andrea led me to try GU Brew.  Sarah has helped my legs be cramp free with Elete add-in electrolytes.  And Danielle has made me CRAVE every new Twin 6 T that comes out.  Curses you, Danielle!

I hope that  have influenced some of you out there to try my sponsors' products.  It is hard to quantify how much payback my sponsors get from me.  If I have generated a "sale," next time just let them know.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Savage CX Race Report

The Savage CX is the first of 3 races in the Blue Ridge Monster Cross series.  These races take place on forest service roads within the Pisgah National Forest.  The distances are 50-70 miles with 7000-11000 feet of elevation gain.  The Savage is aptly named as this was a beast of a race in the wild and rugged wilderness that circumvented the Linville Gorge.

131 racers lined up at 9 am.  The gun went off and I was off on my adventure.  After some mashing through some deep grass in a field and then up a section of single track, which most of us had to walk due to the congestion, I was on gravel.  Although I had heard that this course was a toss up between a mountain bike and a cross bike, I opted for my Cysco CX.  If nothing more, it would help my skilz on the sketchy descents and test my quads on the climbs.

The first climb began at mile 1.5.  Called "The Wall,"  it rose 2000 feet in 7 miles.  And the gravel was loose, especially on the sections that approached 15% grade.  It was about all I could do just to keep the pedals moving forward while trying to maintain traction.  Standing up was not an option; I had to keep the rear wheel weighted.  Fortunately, Mother Nature treated me with a light rain.  Just enough to keep me cool, but not enough to cause the roads to deteriorate.

Just one of many views on this course.

Knowing who my competition was but not where they were on course, I just kept it pegged on the first half of the course.  This is where all the climbing was and I was hoping that it would be here that I could do the most damage.

One more heinous climb rounded out the 4000 feet of elevation gain within the first 17 miles.  I was pretty happy to see the descent that ended up at the first aid station.  My gluteus maximi were on fire from grinding up NC 105. ( NC 105, you tried to crush me, with your loose gravel, stutter bumps, and the short, slick pave' section at 20%, but you did not succeed.)  The aid stations were manned by the kids from the South Mountain foster community.  I must tell you, they were ON IT!  I was in and out of aid #1 in NASCAR fashion!

The third climb was on pavement at a more mellow grade, giving my legs a much needed reprieve.  And then the sun came out and began to heat things up.  The air was thick and the heat coming off the pavement was intense.  I was thankful that I had added additional electrolytes to my bottles, as I had a steady stream of sweat dripping off my nose.

Once off Hwy 181, there were a series of turns winding through some neighborhoods.  I was in a group of 3 at this point and one of the signs had been moved, misdirecting us onto another gravel road that went straight up.  Thankfully, one of the guys in the group had raced last year and did not recognize this.  After about a tenth of a mile, I stopped and pulled out my cue sheet.  Not seeing this road on the sheet, we turned around, and finally found the confirmatory tape that directed us straight on Valley Drive.  (In hindsight, I should have fixed the sign, but I was in racer mode and would have had to turn around and climbed back up.)

Table Rock Road was a fast and fun fire road that contoured around the mountain.  Mostly down at a gentle grade, I was able to motor.  Still, I had to be wary of several huge stutter bumps in the turns.  It was here that I joined forces with Brian and together we made short work of this section.

At mile 27 was the second aid station, where I grabbed my final bottle.  The next 7-8 miles were technically challenging as the road was unmaintained, rutted, washed out in a few spots, and covered in grass and sticks.  Thankfully, Paul and his crew had been out the week before and mowed it down to where the tread was a little more visible.  It was still a lessson in skill, speed control, and patience on my cross bike.  I was probably a bit more conservative here, as I saw a couple racers with flats.  Brian and another racer got a gap on me here.  I tried to keep them in my sights as I knew it would be beneficial for me to be in a group for the last 10 miles to the finish.

Finally the road became more civilized and I was able to close the gap up to Brian and the other racer.  Together, we motored the last bit of gravel to Hwy 126.  Once we hit the pavement, the other guy took off.  He must of smelled the barn.  The last 6 miles were just as hard as the first 6.  My gas tank was empty.  Thankfully the grade averaged about 3%, although it felt like 10.  That first climb of the day had caught up to me.  Brian and I rode together the remainder of the way, trying to help one another find shelter from the headwind.  Why is there ALWAYS a headwind at the end of a race?

Once back on the Southmountain Children's Home property, I retraced the path down the single track, through the field, and under the Finish arch, with a time of 3:49:12, first woman and 17th overall.  Even though the legs were not quite "sparkly," I'll take that time gratefully.

It was definitely a brutal course, but I expected that.  After all, it is Pisgah.  The course was very similar to the HardFord 50, but with the majority of the climbing in the first 1/3.  Cam and crew did a good job, all the way around.

A nice surprise at the finish ... and very cold!

I have got to say that I still have some mixed feelings about bike choice.  Yes, the cross bike was indeed faster on the pavement, and some of the descents.  And at least equal on the climbs.  I'm not sure how much time I would have saved on the unmaintained fire road descent.  Having said that, the Cysco was indeed a joy to ride.  I never felt beat up; the ti frame soaked up the small bumps beautifully.  Where it was smooth, it was fast!  I just need to work on technical descents with skinnies and drop bars.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Kuat NV Bike Carrier Review

I currently own two Kuat NV bike carriers.  One is a 4 bike carrier; the other hauls 2.  The 4 bike I have had for 3 years.  The 2 bike I purchased April of this year.  Both have seen plenty of miles and lots of conditions.

50 pounds ... easy peasy

80 pounds ... requires proper lifting technique.

The reason why I have two is that only a few times a year do I need the 4 bike.  90% of the time I am hauling 1 or 2 bikes.  And I would rather not have to either 1.  assemble/disassemble the 2 bike add-on or 2.  have the 4 bike carrier on the vehicle as it is rather cumbersome.

I love the easy on/off of the 2 bike.  The ratcheting mechanisms are simple and quick.  The trays are 13" apart so you don't have to worry about large bikes contacting one another.  There is an integrated lock for security.  There is an adaptor for wheels less than 26".  The rack tilts down for easy access to my rear hatch; even with two bikes on, I am quite capable of lowering it by myself.

Hand tight cam system is rock solid.

The 4 bike carrier requires a little more thought when carrying 4 large (think 29'r with wide bars) bikes.  The trays are closer together so it requires some thought so as not to have bars rubbing bars or saddles.  It can be done without having to loosen stems and twisting bars around so that they are flush with the top tube.  I have used small strips of foam and placed them in the front wheel tray so that the bike's bars are effectively raised 1-2" higher, thereby avoiding the bars/saddle of another.  And, yes, it is still very secure.

The 4 bike also has the integrated lock and the ability to tilt it down to access the back of your vehicle.  However, with more than 1 bike on, I cannot safely do it by myself.  I need someone to hold the rack while I reach underneath and release the handle.

Both carriers have a Trail Doc, which is a built-in bike stand.  While it does not hold a bike as solid as say a Park or Ultimate Stand, you can still get the job done.  I use pipe insulation, wrap it around my bike frame, and it helps to secure the bike to work on it.  The Trail Doc does not have a lock, so it would be easy for it to "grow legs" at a trail head or hotel.  If concerned, it is quite simple to remove and store in your vehicle.

The clamping mechanism is a bit weak.

Rust ... one of my pet peeves.  If I spend $$$ on my vehicle, bike, and carriers, the last thing I want to see is rust.  After 3 years of sun, wind, rain, and snow, the only place on my 4 bike carrier where rust reared its ugly head is where it slides into the hitch.  That is not too bad.  On the other hand, after only 4 months, my 2 bike has rust where 2 bolts contact the frame and on a bolt that is in the Trail Doc.

The war has begun.

Must remove before it drives me nuts.!

The only other problem I have encountered with my NV racks is the ratcheting system on the front wheel.  It gets "sticky" every now and then.  Problem is easily solved with ProGold's Xtreme Lube.

ProGold keeps it smooth as silk.

So would I recommend this carrier?  Yes, I would.  Overall, I have been very happy with their performance.  As hectic as my life gets at times, I like "easy."  Kuat racks are "easy."  And they carry a bit of a "bling" factor too.  I like "bling."

I also must say that their customer service is awesome!  You get an actual live person to talk to.  No pressing a bunch of 1's, 2's, or 3's ... you get a real human!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

XC Nationals Race Report

The Southern contingent (myself, Ursula, and Lisa) arrived in Pennsylania the week before to dial the course in.  We drug Jay, Ursula's husband, along to be our mechanic and mule.  The first couple days it rained so it upped the technical factor.  The latter half of the week the sun came out, the course dried, and conditions were perfect!

There are 2 lines ... can you see them?

The course is THE most technical XC course I have ever ridden.  There are more rocks and roots than dirt.  Absolute focus is required the whole way; no thinking about what's for dinner, who your competition is, or what the weather forecast for tomorrow will be.  Bear Creek is to rocks as a Great White shark is to teeth.  Lisa called it "Gnarlandia."

Physically and mentally demanding course!

Race day brought cool, dry temperatures and sunny skies.  Game time was 11am, so no rush in the morning.  The bike was ready and I was ready to defend my title.  This year the competition was tougher, what with Vicki Barclay (Stan's No Tubes) and Nikki Thiemann (Rare Disease Cycling) toeing the line.  Both are from Pennsylvania (well, Vicki via Scotland) and are quite at home in the rocks.

As I began my warm up, I knew immediately that my legs were not going to have that "spark" that they had last year.  They felt flat and inside I panicked a little.  I did a nice gradual warm up for 45 minutes, hoping that they would come around.  A little life flowed into them, but not the "roadrunner spin" I so desired.  Perhaps the adrenalin rush of a National Championship race would put some spark into them at the start.

It felt pretty good getting called up to the line as the 2013 National Champion.

When the whistle blew, I had a perfect start, clipping in on the first pedal stroke (yea for small victories).  As we turned the corner and headed up the 15% grassy ski slope grade, I thought I was going to die right there.  The legs were calling for a mutiny while the mind was yelling, "Pedal faster!"  Vicki, Nikki, and Melissa passed me like I was standing still.  Angrily, I charged back up to Melissa's wheel and held on into the single track climb.

I think Melissa was pushing a pretty big gear as she began to slow on the climb and then even more once we hit the first section of rocks.  I watched as Vicki and Nikki began to pull away.  With no where to pass, I had to wait for what seemed like an eternity but was probably closer to 30 seconds.

After passing Melissa, I rallied a charge.  After a few minutes, I could catch glimpses of Vicki and Nikki ahead.  The first half of the course is where 85% of the climbing is.  It felt like I was running a gear 2 cogs bigger ... not good.  But I was not going to go down without a fight.  I slowly began to reel Nikki in and soon I was almost on her wheel.  At times I could still catch glimpses of Vicki far ahead.

And then we both hit "age group" traffic.  You see, in the cross country scene, single speeders get "singled" out ... to the rear of all the gearheads in the category.  I suppose "they" think we are slower than those with gears.  The age groupies are in 5 year increments, i.e. 19-24, 25-29, on up to 45-49, and there are 2 minutes in between their respective starts.

This course has very few areas to pass, unlike the xc courses at home, where, if the trail is not wide enough, you can just "create" a line off the trail in the leaves to pass.  At Bear Creek, off the trail is nothing but large rocks and boulders.  Unless you can run faster than the one you are trying to pass is riding and assume the risk of a twisted ankle, you stay on their wheel until they "bumble" or the trail widens.

And so 12 minutes into the race, the match burning began.  Fortunately most racers were very nice and yielded ever so slightly so that Nikki and I could get around.  At the tricky descent leading to an off camber uphill bridge that was about 14" wide, Nikki got bogged down by a slower racer and had to get off her bike.  I was able to motor around the traffic and take the lead.  Nikki hopped back on my wheel and together we made our way to the heckle pit.

The heckle pit is where the most technical portion of the course was.  We could hear the roar of the hecklers about a 1/4 mile before we entered.  It was wall to wall people, yelling, screaming, sirens, bull horns, chainsaws buzzing.

There was an age groupie just in front of us going way to slow down the drops.  I just about bit it trying to stay off her wheel.  It was pretty frustrating, but finally, with a heckling-induced flow of adrenaline, I was able to take a "new to me" line and pass her on one of the most difficult sections of the course (yea to my second small victory).

With that vote of confidence, I was able to clean the remainder of the descending switchbacks in record time and put a gap on Nikki.  This put a little fire into my legs and the last 2 miles of the first lap, I felt good.  The trail was technical but mostly flat here.

Coming through the Start/Finish area, I grabbed a bottle from Jay; he said the gap to Vicki was 45 seconds.  I wish I could say that with renewed energy I smoked the climb, but I had nothing.  I slogged my way up the arduous climb.  As I crested the hill, I looked down to the Start area and did not see Nikki.  This time up, the adrenaline had left, and boy did I have a nice little sufferfest all the way up.  I passed probably another 10-15 age groupies here.  The matchbook was now empty.

Just before a particular nasty uphill rock garden, Nikki blew by me.  The trail had opened up just a bit and she made a very strategic pass.  She was motoring and was able to put 2 ladies between me and her before the trail squeezed down again.  She came out of nowhere!  I had an, "Oh, shit!" moment, but at the same time I was thinking, "Damn, that was an awesome pass!"

I tried to respond, but the tank was empty.  I was able to get up to the 2 racers she had passed, but they would not yield.  I ended up having to run around one and wait for the second to bumble before I could get around her.  But by this time, Nikki was 50 yards up the trail.

Traffic, the story of my race!

I was slowly reeling Nikki back in on the uber techy rock gardens.  Every time I would get close enough to latch on, I would run into traffic. Of course, Nikki had to deal with this traffic, too, but it just seemed that her passing opportunities were in much more favorable conditions.  So I would have to wait for this to happen:

Slower is not always smoother.

With 500 meters to go, Nikki was in my sights.  I could see her, hear her, smell her.  I was closing the gap, but would it be fast enough before the trail opened up onto the gravel double track?

She was riding like a scalded dog; I did not have the legs to close the gap.  Once she exited the woods, she turned on the afterburners and was gone.  I limped in 14 seconds later, totally spent!
Vicki, "the sweet hammer," hammered us by 2 minutes for the W.

Bringing home the bronze!

 I wish I could say I was happy with the bronze.  But no one trains to come in third.  At this level of competition, you have to have a perfect race.  I am disappointed with my performance (or lack thereof), but sometimes you learn the most when you have a bad day.  I will come away from this experience with fiery determination and fortitiude!

Other notables:

My Cysco rode like a dream.

My Industry 9 wheels were spectacular on the gnar.  I love instant engagement!

Shanna Powell and Endless Bike Company is an amazing sponsor.  She overnighted me a cog while I was up there!

Lisa captured the silver in her class.

Ursula captured the bronze in her class. It is worth noting that 1st and 2nd were the 2013 National Champions in their respective age categories.

Melissa Sieb, only 17 years old, and after having only started single speeding 2 weeks ago, came in 5th place.  Gonna have to watch out for her!