Saturday, October 22, 2016

Dirty Duathlon Race Report

Four years ago, I thought I would never be able to run again.  I had developed a foot neuropathy in 2011. Too many 24 hour solo events and an attempt at TNGA, where I had to pull out at Hogpen after excruciating foot pain, had caused a multitude of foot problems (Morton's neuromas, dropped arches, and metatarsal fat pad atrophy). Even after a foot surgery in 2012 and wearing custom orthotic inserts, for 3 years, I still could not walk barefoot for any length of time without being in pain. And I had to severely limit my long distance bike events. But time heals all wounds and just this year, I began running a little.  Baby steps turned into 1 mile, then 2 miles, and finally I could run 3 miles without any significant discomfort.

So it was only logical (in my mind) that after a few 5K lunch break runs that I make an attempt at racing one.  But since running is not fun, seriously, how many runners do you see that are smiling?, I sammiched the run between two mountain bike legs.  Hence, Mountain Goat Adventures' Dirty Duathlon.

I decided on the SS, since Mary had signed up in my class.  Well, the little stinker decided to race gears, as she thought the start would involve the 1/2 mile of greenway.  Oh well, the course is well suited to one gear.  Just not sure I was, having raced 5 Points 50 the previous weekend.  Recovery is not as simple as it used to be.

The first bike leg was the Mill section.  Five miles of fast and flowy, where momentum could be easily carried through the turns.  The race started out XC fast, something I had not done in awhile. All I can say is "Dayem ... that hurt!"  With Mary on my wheel, I went hard on the gas. I don't think I sat much at all on that leg.  I was hammering on the ups and the downs were just bumpy enough that I needed my legs for suspension.

Mary and I entered the transition together.  This is where I became all thumbs!  The cold brisk air had chilled my fingers to the point where tying my running shoes became an event in of itself. I began the run with all my bike crap in my pockets, so made a quick U-turn, dumped out my contents, and then began my run, again. Breathing the cold air during the bike had irritated my throat and for the first 10 minutes or so, I coughed and hacked like a smoker.  The run was on the Explorer Trail which had its ups and downs, but nothing too steep.  There was definitely a good flow.  I would not call myself a runner, but a fast plodder.  I passed only one person while getting swept into the wakes of at least 10 runners.  The only thing that hurt during this effort were my lungs.  Well, until I tripped over a stob and "Superman'd" into the dirt.  Next time, if there is one, I will keep my cycling gloves on.  I popped up and looked around to make sure there were no witnesses.  Crashing during the run ... only I could pull that off!

Explorer Trail

As I came back to the transition area, Lisa told me that I was 2 minutes behind Mary.  I wouldn't call that getting "smoked," but it came pretty close!  This transition went a little quicker as it is easier to put bike shoes back on.  I took a few swigs of fluid, put my bike crap back into my pockets and hopped on the bike.  

The legs were NOT happy.  I had to HAB up the first few yards of the Avalanche Trail.  The trail finally leveled out somewhat where I could hop on and pedal with a cadence of 40.  That initial climb about did me in!  And I realized I had forgotten to put my glasses back on.  So for the remainder of the race, I had images of a stick being rammed into my eyeball.  Call me paranoid, but after seeing many dogs and cats with severe eye injuries, I ALWAYS wear glasses.

Avalanche Trail - more enjoyable with fresh legs.

This bike leg was more at a ride pace than race pace.  My legs were hurtin' buckaroos.  I guess the transition from bike to run is something that one just has to work on to get the body used to it.  I was wishing for one easier gear, as it was difficult to turn the pedals over on the steeper climbs.  I didn't turn myself inside out on this legs as I couldn't, so just tried to enjoy it as much as possible.  This trail was not flowy like the first one and had more climbing.  The corners were sketchier, too.

1 hour 30 minutes later, I rolled across the finish line.  I suffered in a whole new way today.  I enjoyed the challenge, but not sure if I will do it again.  I will still run as it compliments my cycling and the bones do need a good pounding every now and then.

Hard chargers!
Another awesome and fun'ish event put on by Lisa Randall of Mountain Goat Adventures!  Tons of volunteers, well marked course, and post race Skittles!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

5 Points 50 Race Report

Earlier in the month I was a bit torn between this race and the Payne's Creek 6 Hour.  Both are super fun in their own unique ways.  Did I want chunk and gnar on full squish or fast and flow on my SS?

HandUp Gloves made my decision easier.  A pair to each registrant ... SOLD!  I was also loving my Niner RKT, especially after putting a Fox StepCast 32 on her.  We had bonded pretty tightly at the Marji Gesick and I just could not let her sit at home this weekend.

After last year's mudfest, conditions this year were on the other end of the spectrum.  Dry, dusty, and fast!  Justin and Amy Mace of Roost Racing had taken the race over and with the addition of a 25 mile course, had nearly doubled the registrations.  Thumbs up to the 9 am start!  1 hour later made it a bit easier to negotiate the off-camber venue and allow for a little more sleepage.

I managed to park beside the Quadinator, Mr. Scott Harper himself. Although we had been FB friends since last year, I finally got a chance to chat with him about SS, CrossFit, and stomping him at Iron Mountain (he brought that subject up).

As I dug in my cooler for my flask of Gu Roctane, I realized I had left it at home.  Panicking, I reached into my gear bag and pulled out 2 gels, a Honey Stinger waffle, and a Larabar.  I don't do well with protein and fat during a high intensity race, so I would save the Larabar for the end, where I would expect my heart rate to drop and so could better tolerate this type of fuel.  Mark was also kind enough to give me some Cliff Shot Blocks.

The start was a neutral roll out on pavement for 5 miles.  The first couple miles were at a great pace for me to warm up.  The big engines up front put the hammer down around mile 3 and I quickly settled into the second group, heart rate in the red zone and the legs burning going up the climbs.

The legs were happy to hit the single track.  I was sandwiched in between two single speeders.  Rich was in front, showing me which lines NOT to take, and the SS behind me (sorry, didn't get your name) was heckling Rich on his lack of skill.

They eventually got away from me, as the trail pitched upwards and Rich found his groove.  The first 8 miles of the 5 Points system was a blur. The flow was on!  Some loose over hardpack, but nothing too sketchy.  I had Scott on my tail through most of this.  I just knew he was itching to get by, but when asked, he was content to ride my coat tails.  Finally, as we approached the last half of Kettle Bottom Trail, he slid on by and slowly pulled away.  Pretty sure he was thinking "unfinished business."

The legs started getting a bit heavy grinding up Cross Cut and I had to back off less I take the chance of blowing up.  And I knew, from having done this race twice before, I had to save some for the last 12 miles.  I caught Mary out of the corner of my eye as I was switchbacking up the trail.  There went any hopes of a rest.  Trish was also back there. If I could just stay ahead on these nontechnical bits, I could possibly gain some time through the rock gardens.  I decided to use a couple matches.

Coming into the rock garden on Cap Rock, I knew the line that would see me through cleanly.  A heckler was there and "poo-poo'd" me when I took a left after I made it over the first couple boulders on the climb up.  Calling me out for taking the easier line, I could care less cuz' I cleaned it!  Then he started on the guys behind me as they followed. That gave me quite the chuckle.

Rolling through Aid 1, I saw Jen seated next to her vehicle, covered in a blanket, and giving  moral support as I blew by.  I was disappointed for both her and myself that she was nursing a knee injury and could not race.  She would have absolutely ate this course up, not to mention pushing me into the pain cave with her fitness and skills.

The trails on the other side of Ascalon parking lot are some of my favorite of this course.  Barkeater and Kindergarden are full of rock gardens and will have you doing all kinds of dances on your bike to keep upright and make it through unscathed.  I was digging my I-9's through this as I had to back pedal quite a bit to avoid pedal strikes.  A spectator at one of the toughest parts told me I rode it as well as any of the guys.  Thank you, Mr. Boost of Self Confidence!

Finishing up this section, I was happy to see my BRF Zeke Lilly out there.  He heckled a few guys as I was dragging them up a hill.  Little did he know that they were just being polite and waiting for room to pass.

Not needing anything, I blew by Aid 2 and headed out to finish the remaining miles of 5 Points.  22+ miles in and my lower back was killing me!  I needed to stand up and stretch it out, but the ups/downs/lefts/rights of Hogsback and Bankhead kept me from doing so.  The pain worsened!  Time to embrace the pain cave!  I kept telling myself that this is only temporary; it helped mentally, but physically I was having a difficult time pushing the power.  Finally I hit the connector and was able to stand and stretch, which brought some much needed relief.

With a brief respite from the achy back, I made short work of Peace Can and Tailings.  So stinkin' fast, I was loving every minute of it. Then onto the LongBranch connector ... not so much fun. Chewed up, horsed up, ATV'ish double track littered with baby heads.  The back pain set in once again so I would stand up and stretch whenever I could.  A lot of the corners had deep sand and my front wheel washed out more than once.  How I did not end up on the ground I do not know!

Entering the LongBranch Community's private trails, I gulped my last bit of hydration from my CamelBak.  The 3 creek crossings were totally dry ... and rideable.  The climb up Theo's Trail was hell, as it set my back off once again.  I finally figured out that if I just stood and rode my bike like a single speed, my back stopped barking.

I stopped at aid 3, chugged a Red Bull, dropped my CamelBak, and grabbed a bottle for the final push.  Down the pavement, right onto a highway, climb for 3/4 mile, left onto private property, down a loose and deep gravel road, and then UP just one of many steep double track climbs.  I can see where this last 10 miles can be so demoralizing for some.  But I had saved enough for this stretch and, aside from my back, I was in my happy place.  Thankful that my "scavenged up" nutrition was working, I motored on, knowing that soon the scent of the barn would be near, giving me that extra bit horsepower to finish strong.

So up the horrendous climb to Jedi, a shred fest of flow!  Then up another climb to enjoy the slightly technical and off camber Homestead Trail.  Then bomb down gravel, surf the corners, and hit the South Creek Trail.  As I negotiated its tight and twisty turns, I got to smell the food and listen to the music as it took me right by, but across the creek from party central! Soon I came to the creek crossing, which was not much more than a trickle.  Last year it was up to my heart rate strap and I had to hold onto a rope with one hand and shoulder my bike in the other!  Once again I passed by the finish as I climbed my way out of the Trust's lands to begin the final section of private trail.  But first, a two mile rolling section of pavement.  Thank you Jesus for the trailwind!

These last few miles really test your mettle.  By now, my legs were trying to die, my back was on fire, and my stomach was growling for real food. Any normal person would ask, "Why?"  To which I would respond, "because this is what makes me feel ALIVE!"  So I enjoyed the powerline climb, the loose and ledgy descents, followed by more powerline.  Because I knew that on the other side was some sweet bits of final single track.  On the edge of losing it in the corners to mustering up enough torque to grind out the final climb, I relished being able to feel my heart beat and hear the ragged breathing, signaling that I was living on the edge.  Hitting that final crest, I let up and let gravity do its thing, sending me over those last rocky drops and feeling my bike use up every bit of suspension, as I found the ground again.

Trying to time trial it to the finish, the final mile was the hardest. Slightly downhill, but I was having a hard time pushing over the pedals, the legs filling with lactic.  Seeing the finish line, all smiles, and happy to be the first woman across.  4:41, almost 40 minutes faster than last year!  That tells you just how great the conditions were, as I feel that my fitness is about the same.  Little did I know that only Trish's ghost had been chasing me down; she had taken ill and without much sleep the night before (seems they were the only ones in the hotel that did not have bloodhounds as there was a dog show in town), decided not to race.  I was glad I did not know, as her ghost kept me pushing to hit that red zone all day.

Only thing missing was the mattock trophy of years' past (hint, hint)!

I want to thank Justin and Amy for putting on a great race with great schwag, prizing, food, and beer (so I heard).  The volunteers were awesome and much appreciated.  I chose the right race this weekend!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Marji Gesick 100 ( err, 110) Race Report

Suffering is easier in the company of a best friend.

Wow!  Where to begin on this behemoth of a race?  Last year was the inaugural one.  Todd Poquette of the 906 Adventure Team and Danny Hill, the Jedi Master of trail building for RAMBA, are the deviant masterminds behind the event.  The race is named after the Chippewa Chief who led the Jackson Mining Company to a large iron ore deposit in what is now Negaunee, Michigan.

No bikes allowed beyond this point.

100 miles wasn't good enough, so they through in an extra 10 for this one.  AND, there would be a 0.4 mile run to your bike.  Aside from the Vapor Trail where I started out with lights, this was the first time I put lights in my drop bag.

The race was unsupported (by the race organization).  They would take your drop bag out to Jackson Mine Park (mile 70 and mile 90), but that was it.  It was mentioned in BOLD in every email that you are on your own. You were allowed to have support crew meet you along the course. But it was up to you to get to the finish ... or get yourself out of the woods if something went wrong.You were strongly encouraged to ride with a GPS, as they did not guarantee that the signage would still be there by the time you rolled through.

This sign was the pre race meeting.

Having said all of that, the towns people came out in droves!  I counted no less than 10 "unofficial" aid stations set up by volunteers, community members, and friends/family of the racers.  I even saw an old couple alongside one of the very short greenway sections, in old-timey lawn chairs, with Mason jars scattered around their feet full of clear liquid.  Now, I did not stop, so I cannot tell you what that those jars contained!

Made to order at an "unofficial" aid station!

300+ racers lined up at 7:30am.  The national anthem was played.  ALL placed their hand over their heart and most took off their helmets.  As soon as it ended it was a mad scramble to replace the helmet because Danny was lighting the home made bottle rocket.  As it went up, then over, and then DOWN into the crowd, I was off on my journey.  Thank goodness I had been incorporating 3 mile runs into my work out schedule.  THAT was a long assed run ... in carbon soled shoes!  Lisa shot off like a rabbit and I would not see her again for awhile.  After about 7 minutes, I hopped on my bike and attempted to turn the pedals over quickly.  I wanted to reconnect with Lisa.  We had discussed racing together and from doing TransRockies, PMBAR, and Double Dare, she was the peanut butter to my jelly.

The first few miles was wide open, soft cross country ski trail. Why did we need a Lemans start?  The first thing I noticed was that there were alot of fat bikes.  But of course, most of the racers were from this region and probably have a longer fat bike season than a skinny tire one.  Everyone played nicely during this rolling section.  My legs were quite angry at this point; I blame the run as they had felt really good in the days leading up to the race.  I caught up to Lisa just as we arrived at a fairly nice double track descent.  From there we hit a flat trail that at one time was a railroad.  Somebody forgot to tell them to remove the railroad ties, however.  Even though there was some soil in between the ties, it was still annoyingly rough!  Ker-chunk, ker-chunk, ker-chunk went my bike for about a mile.

Glad to be off that and finally into real single track.  Lisa was rocking the gnar and I was glad to follow her lines.  Unfortunately we did not get the chance to ride the Top O' The World section as there were lots of racers around us and it ended up being a HAB both up and a short bit down.  But there was plenty of tech to challenge us.  The trails were tight and twisty with short, punchy ups and steep droppy downs. And littered with rocks and roots. Overnight there had been a heavy dew which made the rocks and roots that much more interesting.  I used my upper body alot, working through the gnar.  I hit my 710mm wide bars more than once on the ever abundant trees.  Lisa and I were passed by a few locals, who knew what was lying around the next tree or rocky outcropping.  Most were nice and patient as there were not many opportunities for passing.  One dude who was up my butt and way to antsy for only being 10 miles into the race, bit it hard.  The trail demanded too much attention for me to look back, but I heard him say that he was o.k. That is why you leave more than one wheel length between you and the rider ahead! 

Back out onto a sandy road, Lisa motorpaced me to the next single track.  My legs still felt like cement had been dumped into them.  I threw down a Honey Stinger waffle and hoped that they would come around soon.  The next trails that carried us back to Marquette (Noquemanonn, EZ-PZ, The Cedars, Dead River) were relatively smooth and flowy. We finally felt like we were gaining some ground.  The trails in this area were a network of spiderwebs.  I had to pay close attention to signage as well as my Garmin to make sure I was on track.

Then we hit the Lowe's climb, which paralleled the power lines. Nothing technical, just a crap load of up. I knew we were close to the Hwy 42 crossing when we hit the back door of a strip mall, which included Lowe's.  From there we worked our way through a culvert to avoid becoming a pancake on the highway.

Just enough light to avoid the large rocks ... or body parts?

Once on the other side, we stopped and Lisa grabbed some water from our support crew.  This gave me a chance to throw down down peanut butter filled salted dates (what the diesel engine likes).  And then we were on a couple miles of the Iron Ore Heritage Trail (greenway) over to the South Trails. My legs had finally arrived and I was ready to lead the way!  I was glad there was a cyclist at the turn off point because it was a very sharp right and hidden.  The first section of trails were machine built and full of flow.  Lots of bermage!  I was definitely in my happy place here, running on all 8 cylinders.  We slowly worked our way around the Marquette Golf Club.  I saw several signs as we approached close to the fairways that said, "Be quiet, golfers nearby." I kept my inner wild child at bay, but put the I-9's in full on coast mode!

At mile 45, Lisa and I rolled into the South Trails parking lot where Rudy and Vicky awaited.  Here we both refilled our hydration packs and took on more food.  Now 5 hours into the race, I thought our chances of securing a buckle were good.  Right out of the parking lot the South Trails turned into Mr. Hyde.  As we were negotiating a rocky uphill, we saw the trail had claimed a victim's bike.  The derailleur and cassette of his bike were intertwined like newlyweds, probably a hard upshift under extreme torque, as this was a heinous climb.

With a 28 on the front, I made easy work of this climb.  The trails had hero dirt, the knobbies were all grippy, and I was in my rock crawling mode.  Had it not been for a fellow racer walking his bike on the ensuing descent, I woulda cleaned that rocky drop as well.  Then came the gravel road climb up Mt. Marquette.  360 feet in 0.75 miles = alot of 12-13% grade.  As we slowly made our way up, I talked to a racer that said the best downhill was just to come.  I asked, "Is it the Scary Trail?" to which he replied, "Yes."  Sa-weet!  I had heard about this one and was looking forward to it.

Finally at the top, I dropped in, having no idea what to expect.  I could tell that the shit was about to hit the fan when I saw a cluster of racers off their bikes.  Pausing for only a moment, I said, "rider back." One guy said, "It's slick; are you sure?"  I did not answer as I hit my drooper button and sent it!  I think I heard a gasp or two as I continued down the trail.  Although it was indeed technical, the pucker factor was just a 3.4.  By far, this was my favorite trail of the day.

Halfway down Scary was the second checkpoint.  There were 4 of these CP's in the race.  You had to grab a poker chip at each one.  This was proof that you completed the course and would get a finishing time. The first one had been somewhere in the North Trails.  I grabbed one for Lisa, stuck it in her pack and off we went.

One more punchy climb and then another fun descent on Ezy Rider. Somewhere on the climb Lisa picked up a stick that jammed into her cassette.  She lost a couple gears and we could not get that little bastard out. I knew our support crew would be waiting for us around mile 55, so I took an opportunity to forge ahead and prepare for a surgical extraction.  While we awaited on Lisa's arrival, I made sure to eat and drink.  After several minutes, she arrived.  Rudy was ready with an array of tools.  At this point, Lisa told me to go on.  I really did not want to. But she was insistent  The day before we had discussed riding together, but that if one of us felt we were holding the other back, we would let the other go. As much as I hated too, I pedaled off.  At this point, I was 6 1/2 hours into the race.  That left 5 1/2 for the last 50'ish miles.  A challenge, but still doable, or so I thought.

I soft pedaled for a couple miles, hoping that I would here the familiar buzz of Lisa's wheels catching up to mine.  But after 10 minutes, I knew I was on my own.  The next 15 miles to the town of Negaunee was a steady slog uphill on mind numbing trail.  On paper, it looked fast, but with a rather large chunk of it being snowmobile trail, it turned out to be a death march in ankle deep sand.  There were a few sections where I could ride up on the lip of the trail, but then it would disappear.  On more than one occasion, I had to push, not uphill, but on a flat section!  At this point, with still 5 more miles to get to Jackson Mine Park where my peoples would be, I could see the buckle slowly slipping away from me.

Finally, I hit the Iron Ore Heritage Trail, a mix of smooth gravel and pavement.  I could see a racer 100 yards in front of me.  Head down, I hammered to catch up, where I could take some respite from the headwind.  50 yards ... 25 yards ... 10 yards ... and locked on to his rear wheel!  I could not help but notice his snazzy orange I-9 hubs on his orange Salsa with the orange Fox SC Fork!  After a couple miles, it was my turn to take a pull.

Jackson Mine Park, mile 70

As I arrived into the outskirts of town,  I went through my mental checklist of what needed to be done at the SAG stop.  Jackson Mine Park was full of support crews and spectators!  I had a hard time finding Rudy and Vicki in the throngs, but they saw me and waved ecstatically.  While I grabbed food and drink, they told me they were able to get the stick out of Lisa's cassette.  And that she was still feeling good, but not "Carey pace" good.

Leaving out of the park, I had 4 hours to complete 40'ish miles. Easily accomplished in other hundies I have raced), but near impossible here. I was determined to leave it all out here, tho'.  The initial climb up Malton was pretty chewed up and whereas it was rideable during my pre ride, now with 70 miles in my legs, I HAB'd it.  Up top, this trail was super tight and twisty, and at times I thought I was going to be turned into a pretzel.

5 Points on Steroids!

One section I particularly remember is a sign that said Sharp right turn with a sheer drop off on your left!  No effin' joke!  No guard rail, no yellow tape, just an 80 foot free fall to your death.  I rode it, but kept my eyes firmly planted on the trail in front of me.  This trail was definitely old school, created by lots of back breaking hard labor with simple tools.  Lots of punchy ups and downs over big rocks.  More half-track than single track, with side cuts that would be quite a tumble down should you stray off the 12 inch path. Although slow going, I was having an absolute blast working the bike through this section. Got to give a big shout out to Joshua Hicks of Result Fitness and the 10 months of burpees, jump squats, box blasts, hang cleans, dead lifts, etc.  After 70+ miles of racing, I still had that upper end torque necessary to clean this trail.

At about the 78 mile mark, the course dumped me out into downtown Ishpeming.  This was the hardest portion to navigate as it was hard to make out the signage and avoid traffic, too.  I did see a racer up ahead and followed his lead, while at the same time looking at my GPS for confirmation. Just to throw salt in the wound, Todd made sure the course went right by the finish!  The 50 mile racers were finished and I could see them enjoying beer and barbeque!

Motoring on, I caught up to the racer.  His name was Derek, from Marquette.  I truly enjoyed his company, as I was in a low spot at this point.  Working together, the mileage seemed to move on somewhat quicker.  I shared some water with him, as he had missed his last feed. He seemed genuinely concerned that I was getting top notch treatment from the locals.  To which I replied, yes, the "yoopers" were a friendly bunch.  At some point, while climbing up to the 53rd bluff in this 20 mile section, he popped off my wheel.  I kinda missed that big burly bear and his awesome attitude the remainder of the race.

After 2 1/2 hours of constantly being on the gas, I arrived back at Jackson Mine Park.  It was now 6pm.  I grabbed my helmet with the light, refilled my hydration pack one last time and headed out for the final 15 miles.  15 miles in any other race would be doable in 90 minutes or less.  But I figured I had another 2 hours of gnar to tackle.  And, it was already getting dark in the woods.

This last section ought to be titled, "How many times do I have to climb to the top?"  I would cough up a lung on the loose and steep ATV trail climbs and then have just enough left in me to tackle the gnarly descents.  These hill repeats of death seemed to go on forever. A few of them I had to walk. Getting back on the bike after an arduous push to the top was a feat in of itself.  I laughed out loud at how silly I must have looked trying to clip back in. And just to make sure we had muddy bikes at the end of the race, prior to each climb was a green quagmire that ran the width of the trail.

At mile 97, I asked Tyler on a fat bike if he could smell the barn yet.  I suppose that is a southern colloquialism, as I totally threw him off guard.  I shoulda thrown out some "yonders", "up and unders", and "over thars." That would have really messed his mojo up ... hehe.

At around mile 98, I lost Tyler on a long fireroad descent that popped me out onto a road.  A real paved road, with houses nearby.  Surely to God I must be close to the finish!  No sooner had I thought those words than I was immediately turned back into some single track with yet another steep climb. I saw a sign ahead for another checkpoint, the fourth and final one.  And then I saw a two way traffic sign.  I was befuddled momentarily.  And then I let loose (in my mind) a Yosemite Sam tirade of expletives.

The last CP was an out and back!  As much as the fatigued 47 year old whose legs were about to fall off wanted to sit down and throw a fit, the maniac who loves to suffer embraced it, knowing that I was going to finish this!

Grabbing that last poker chip gave me renewed strength.  Turing my light on now for the steep descent, I railed it.  This last bit of single track still required constant focus, and now with the sun setting, the trail was even more difficult to read.  Night riding is tricky, especially at last light.  I would much rather be racing in the pure dark as opposed to dusk, where shadows play with your depth perception.

The last mile was all paved and all downhill.  Crossing the finish line at 8:11 pm brought with it a roller coaster of emotions.  After 12:41 minutes of racing, I was happy to have completed this monster, bike and body intact.  Yeah, I was a bit disappointed in not getting the buckle, but that was short-lived.  After a year of preparing for this one, so many things could have potentially gone wrong. But not one bad thing happened, for which I am so blessed.

1st woman, 28th overall.

I have to bow down and give tremendous kudos to all the peeps that allowed this amazing event to happen.  From race director on down to the smiling kid who handed me a cup of water trailside at mile 25, this race is in the top 5 of volunteer and community support.  Even though it was proclaimed as a "self-supported" event, there were hundreds of people out there who would have helped in any way they could, should I had needed assistance.

The pre race schwag, including a poster, patch, sticker, and unlimited Hammer Gels were spot on! There were no podiums, only a $1.00 to the winner, and a buckle to the sub-12 hour finishers.  The Marji Gesick 110 is about racing the course, not each other, and I liked it that way.  And each person finishing this beast was a winner.  The attrition rate was high; less than 53% finished.

An unbelievable adventure through the craggy wilderness of the UP.

I have already signed up for 2017, as I have unfinished business.  For those of you that live and love the Pisgah Productions type events, then this is right up your alley.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Black Bear Rampage Race Report

My heart was heavy going into this race.  Just the day before, fellow mountain biker whom I was blessed to know, lost his 11 year battle with cancer.  Kevin Scoggins lived each and every day of his 46 years of life with strength, humility, and his unwavering faithfulness to God. As I prepared that morning for my race, I thought of nothing but him and what his beloved wife Leisa must be going through.  Even though I wasn't feeling too great myself, for I had been "glutened" a week ago and was now carrying around a 3 pound "Buddha Belly,"  I was determined to race my legs off in his honor.

Relentless was how Kevin lived each day.

As the gun went off at 9am,  I charged up the 2.5 mile pavement climb.  It wasn't long before I knew I could not hang with the front pack, so I let my legs come around on there own terms.  Jen disappeared with the big boys, but I wasn't concerned about how I placed today among my fellow athletes.  I just wanted to have a good clean run.

After 10 minutes of hammering up the road, I hit Brush Creek.  I was glad for the rain that had settled the dust on the trail, but it had also made the bridges slick as snot.  I approached them with extreme caution; bike upright, hands off the brakes.  Halfway through Brush Creek, my legs woke up.  I was easily able to pick up the pace.  I was pleasantly surprised that my heart rate easily soared into the low 160's with a perceived effort of 6-7. I had been unable to attain that HR since getting sick.

Before I knew it, I was flying down Boyd Gap.  I had recently installed a dropper on my Niner RKT and was making the most of it.  The corners were a little slick, but without my seat getting all up in my butt, I was able to fishtail around them without getting squirrelly.  So worth the 0.7 pound weight penalty!

Loving my rocket ship

Old Copper Road was a highway as I flew down the trail.  I was beginning to feel a hint of sparkle in the legs.  I was fearful the feeling would be short-lived and that I would go back to my slump once I hit the climb up Bear Paw.  After the creek crossing, Zeke handed me a bottle and told me I was 30 seconds behind Jen.  What what?!?  Jen is so strong I was sure that she would have been farther up. Beginning the climb up Bear Paw, I ratcheted down a bit, worried that I would feel the dreaded cement legs.  But that never came to be.  My legs were alive and ready to hammer.  Locking out my rear suspension, I began to stand and throw my bike around on the climbs as if it was my single speed.

Feeling great, I gave Henry a fist pump as I rolled through his station. He yelled out that I was 20 seconds behind Jen. As I sailed down the descents and flew up the climbs of Lower Chestnut, I had a feeling that I was not alone.  Call me crazy, but Kevin's spirit was with me.  I had wings ... and this time not from drinking Red Bull.  Towards the end of this section, I began to see glimpses of Jen.  By the time I hit Thunder Rock, I was on her wheel.  I followed her in awe down this descent.  For not having ridden this trail, she was raging it.

On the climb up FS45, I popped off her wheel.  I needed to eat and drink and allow the legs to come back around again.  As I get older, it takes my body more time to shift from descending mode back to climbing mode.  Fenton was at the aid station at the top and cheering me on.  That gave me just what I needed to get back to task.  Looking at my time, I was en route to a PR.

Climbing up to Quartz, I wanted to reel Jen back in, because I knew that together we could push each other and go harder than if we were each alone.  Together we entered the Quartz Loop.  I could tell she was a bit unfamiliar with the terrain.  She also mentioned that she had been riding quite a bit in Pisgah on her big bike and that she felt a little discombobulated on her shorter travel Lust.  I know that sometimes it can be hard to transition from one bike to another; been there done that.

As we approached Bypass, I took the lead, hoping that this might help our little train get down the mountain quicker.  It seemed to work as I was feeling very comfortable pushing my bike to its limit on the descents.  Together we made short work of Riverview.  As we approached the last climb out of Riverview, I was passed by a racer. Feeling competitive, I hopped on his wheel and followed him down 1331 and BearPaw.  1331 was really washed out and I had to hop a couple of ditches that came up super fast; definitely a couple of "Oh Shit!" moments.  At one point, I looked behind me and realized that I had dropped Jen.  I could have swore she was right behind me.  You know, the sound of sticks breaking, rocks getting strewn about, brake squeals. No one ... but me.  That was eerie!

Coming back across the Olympic Bridge, I was cautioned by spectators to take it slow.  I'm glad they did that, as I was feeling so good I just wanted to GO!  Grabbing my last bottle from Zeke, I headed back up Old Copper Road to the finish.  I was lucky enough to tuck in behind two racers all the way to the pavement.

Headed back up Boyd Gap, I remembered past races when I was on my single speed ... and how I had to get off and HAB up two short sections.  The challenge today was to not dab.  Some poor soul behind me was riding a bike making all sorts of pitiful noises.  It sounded like it belonged on the Island of MisFit toys.  He told me his shock or maybe his fork was blown.  He was indeed struggling. I let him pass on a flatter section so that he could get some speed up to try and make it up one of the punchy parts.  He hit it hard but that poor bike was not cooperating and he was bucked off.  I managed to make it around him, gassed it, and dropped him.

Entering Brush Creek I had only 7 miles to go.  I tried to imagine this as a 20 minute L4 interval.  I started out good, but forgot about that first bridge, was carrying too much speed going into it, and kissed it HARD.  My left shoulder and hip made contact first and I heard a pop in my low back.  I immediately jumped up and swiveled my bars back around. In my mind, the quicker I get back on my feet, the better my chances of avoiding a race ending injury.  Although I could tell I was "out of alignment," it did not hurt too bad.  I just figured I would out race my pain.

The first few miles, I had adrenaline fueling me.  The last few miles, the pain was catching back up to me.  I fought hard to keep my speed up, but after 3 hours and 15 minutes, I was about spent.  I did not want my PR to slip out of my grasp.  I locked out my suspension, stood, and mashed the pedals in fury for the last 1/4 mile.  I could feel a twinge in my left inner quad, but pushed on ... relentless. I wanted Kevin's approval for fighting for every inch of trail!  I crossed the finish line in 3:24, first woman.

I managed to get off the bike, but it took about 5 minutes before I could straighten out my back. Brad Cobb handed me an ice cold coke which I quickly chugged.  Slowly but surely I started coming back around.  Zeke was kind enough to drive me back down to the start.

Every racer got a hoodie.  I got a first place mug and some Tifosi's, which I will wear.  Although I think that in the future they ought to award the Masters' winners with a pair of Tifosi readers!  Part of the draw to the race is the fantastic schwag that Scott's Bikes has.  And the number plates are defintely wall worthy.

Lisa managed 2nd despite racing on very tired legs.

While cleaning up, I reminisced about the past 3 1/2 hours.  I couldn't explain my "chainless" day. It could have simply been my coach's training plan and the fact that I was getting ready to peak for my "A" race.  It could have been the easy week leading up to this race, especially since I wasn't feeling well and had backed off the training plan a bit.  But I BELIEVE it was Kevin's spirit that touched my soul and propelled me forward.

Every time I race, at some point the "pain cave" appears.  It can be a very dark and self destructive place.  It is when the legs are burning, the breathing is ragged, and focusing becomes difficult.  This is where the mental games take place.  You must know what you want and no matter how difficult and perhaps unreachable you may think your goal may be, you must conquer those inner demons.

Well today, I would take Kevin's motto and turn it into my Power Phrase.  I must have said "Be Relentless" a hundred times as I tackled the climbs and the steep grunts.  And it worked!  I threw everything I had at the course today.

Unfortunately I missed my PR by a few minutes.  But I was ok with that, because it still felt like the ride of my life.  And that is how Kevin treated each and every one of his cancer filled and cancer free days.  I will miss him.  But every ride from here on out, I will carry a piece of him.

2 Timothy 4:7:  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Cherohala Crossing #9 Ride Report

HillBilly, aka Wayne Nix.

Way back in 2007 when gravel racing was first cutting its teeth, Wayne started a ride/race/adventure over the mountains and through the woods of Tennessee and North Carolina.  He suckered in a two of his closest friends, Farmer G and Troy Adams, to ride bikes on, of all surfaces, gravel!  From that epic day was born The Cherohala Crossing.

This was the 9th edition.  The first/last time I had ridden this was in 2013 and I remembered it as a brutal, but beautiful ride. Essentially it is an 82 mile route with 3 big gravel climbs/descents connected by some buttery smooth and scenic pave.  Most of the 8500 feet of climbing occurs on those 3 climbs.

This year timing was perfect.  My training called for a 6 hour day, spent riding at 100 miler race pace. However, it was also my daughter's birthday weekend.  Luckily for me, the ride was rescheduled from Sunday to Saturday due to HillBilly's need to show his shine at an event on Sunday.  This worked out well for the party to be on Sunday so that my Mom and Stepfather could make the trip from South Carolina.  It's all about priorities!

25+ showed up for the ride.  We had 3 SAG's, following us around and keeping us stocked with water and food and carrying any personal items we desired.  It's nice to have such a small event where they can tailor to our individual needs.  A big thanks to Sharon, Jared, and Micah for making us feel like real pros!

After a huge effort on Thursday that thrashed my legs, the 16 mile flat start was what they were needing ... a nice easy wake up.  I was able to shake most of the concrete out of them by the time we hit the first 5 mile climb up Tathum Gap.  Although the competitor in me wanted to go faster up the gravel climb, I stayed in my happy rhythm as I watched 8 or 9 guys ride by.  There was only 1 other woman, Jessie, who was riding and she was already up the road by a few miles as she and Troy started on the route in Andrews.

Aside from a couple steep, but short pitches, this climb was pretty mellow.  At the top, I stopped and refilled a bottle.  Then came the tricky descent.  With no rain in a long time, the road was pretty chewed up.  Lots of loose rock and stutter bumps. I was riding my Cysco Cycles cross bike with 33c tires.  I was passed by a few on mountain bikes, but was o.k with that as I still felt this course was better suited on a cross bike due to the amount of pavement in it, which I estimated to be about 50%. I was fortunate to be able to hook up with Travis towards the bottom and was able to tuck in behind him for the straightaway gravel portions and then when we continued descending on Hwy 143.

But when the road began to pitch up, I popped off pretty quickly.  My legs were still angry with me; they were more in the mood of stretching out on the couch while the body watched some nonsense about big guys running around on grass protecting their little balls.  I just had to make the most of it and settle into a sustainable L2/L3 pace, drinking and eating, and hoping for the diesel engine to eventually kick in.

Now we're talking.  The mountains made me come alive!

I had to stop and take a picture just before the FS 81 climb into Cherohala country.  I also grabbed a little more water to ensure I had enough fluids for the 9 mile gravel climb up to Stratton Gap on the Skyway.  This section is my favorite as it follows Santeetlah Creek. Very calming to listen to the running water as I made my way up 2100 feet of elevation.  The gravel here was worse than the first climb; like riding on marbles.  There were 2 long, steep pitches where I had to just grind away like a single speeder, but sitting down.  Anytime I would try to stand, I would lose traction.  Having no other choice but to pedal hard and suffer, I was able to blow the last of the grunge out of my legs. Towards the top with just a couple miles to go, my legs felt the best they had all day.  Slowly but surely I was able to pass several guys who were just hangin' on.

Stewart Cabin on FS 81

At the top, I took a short breather, and refilled my bottles for the last push back to Murphy.  There were alot of riders hanging around the SAG vehicles and talking.  Most looked pretty spent.  I was feeling good and not wanting my legs to seize up, I did not linger.

SAG at Stratton Gap

The first couple miles of descending on North River Road (gravel) was loose and stuttery, but then it smoothed out and I could carry my speed through the curves.  Top speed was 37 mph in a few sections. HillBilly even came up on me on his moto and tucked in behind me for a few minutes. When the road opened up, he came on by, and I gave chase.  After about 30 seconds of staying with him, I realized that my speeds were getting a little ridiculous, and that I was a mother first, bike racer second.  So I backed off, which was a good thing, as the holiday traffic was crazy!  I counted no less than 12 vehicles coming up as I was going down.  And I passed two on the descent.

Heading up River Road to the next gravel climb, I attempted to pick up the pace.  I was really wanting to at least equal my 2013 time, but knew that it would be hard to do, since I was alone for most of the day, whereas the last time I had help.  At least the 1 mile steep portion of the Harshaw Gap climb was paved this year, but it was still a beast.  The sun was shining, it was hot, and the legs started barking! The total mileage for this climb, including the paved Tellico River Road section, was 8.5 miles.  The hardest, steepest, and gravelly bits totaled 3 miles.

13% grade right here!

I stopped and took some photos, managing to capture one of my fellow riders making the climb.  I followed his wheel to the gap, but then he dropped me on the descent.  The previous time I had been able to rail this descent as it was "hero dirt," but today the corners were super loose with lots of stutter bumps.  The shadows cast by the trees also made it hard to see the holes and large embedded rocks sticking up. I had a couple squirrely moments, but managed to save my precious skin from some serious road rash.

After 5 miles of gravel descending, the road turned to pavement and the descending continued.  At some point I saw a sign:  Murphy 12 miles!  Fortunately the road continued to descend, but a headwind picked up.  Arghh!  I was pedaling as hard as I could, feeling the need to see the finish line, as my tank was on E!  But before I could roll in to the park, I still had 3 little hills to climb.  Although none was longer than 1/2 mile, each one felt like another Tathum Gap. No amount of gel or my new favorite ride food, Gluten Free Honey Stinger Waffles, could revive my legs.  They were done!

So, to make the ride just that bit harder, I missed the super sharp left hand turn back to the park.  I ended up back in to the center of town, adding another mile to the ride. This course was not marked, so you either had to rely on a GPS or your memory.  Note to self:  memory does not work well when the body is spent!

Discovery Channel:  Moonshiners, season 3, Mr Wayne Nix himself!

I was about 15 minutes slower than my previous time, but still content on how my body responded when called to duty.  I used this ride as my last long ride leading up to the Marji Gesick 100 in Marquette, Michigan, on September 24.

Thanks, Wayne, for the invite to this year's running.  I am anxious to see what you will have for us on the 10th year anniversary in 2017.  Perhaps moonshine shots at the bottom of each climb which, for the takers, gets them a 60 second time bonus for the Strava KOM/QOM.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Night Train 6 (of12) Hour Race Report

Leading up to the Marji Gesick 100 in September, I decided to do the Night Train 6 Hour race at Fontana Village this past weekend.  With afternoon weather conditions potentially calling for severe storms, I didn't want to travel all that way and the race to be called.  So, I signed up for the 12 hour, which started at 10am, and planned to race for 6 hours (The 6 hour event started at 4pm)

Nicely deteriorating, algae covered bridge at the bottom of Turkey Shoot.

I've raced SERC races on this course and knew it would have some challenging techy bits that would be similar to what is coming up at the MG100.  I was also trying out some new nutrition:  peanut butter filled dates.  I am normally a Skratch and gel girl, but wanting to see how a bit of protein and fat would fuel the engine.  And I had just had my new dropper post installed on the RKT, so I was eager to see how that would be to my advantage on the descents.

True to Pisgah Productions starts, it was raining.  Not enough for me to don my characteristic shower cap, but enough that I decided to carry it with me, if things got worse.  Unfortunately the turn out was low for the 12 hour:  2 four man teams, 1 two man team, 1 solo male, Mike Pierce, and I.

Immediately out of the gate was a steep grunty climb.  Having not pre ridden, I was totally in the wrong gear!  Shifting up about 20 times, I got into granny and made it to the top.  Then through some grassy, energy sapping fields, up another couple grunty double track climbs, and finally onto the Llewellyn Cove Trail, where I could shake the lactic out.

It was raining just enough to make the rocks and roots slicker n snot, but surprisingly the dirt portions of the course were hero dirt.  I was super happy about lowering my seat on the fast, tricky descent. Climbing back out was a series of short, steep ups.  I could clean them all save for the very last half of the last one.  Just enough roots to cause me to spin the rear wheel out and not having the power in the legs to recover from those 1/4 turn pedal turns.

The course was a figure 8, each lap 7 miles with 1100 feet gain.  The second half of the course was on the resort property and was run CW on the Whiting Trail, some double track rocky climbs, and the Piney Ridge, and Turkey Shoot Trails.  This portion was much harder than the first half.

Those double track rocky climbs were like climbing up 10-20% grades on baseball size marbles. Needless to say, I was off the bike in a few spots.  Once again, just not enough power and could not keep a smooth torque.  It might have had something to do with the week of training leading up to the race:  3 gym sessions and 2 interval sessions.

The upper half of the Whiting Trail was littered with roots.  Holy cow, I was all over the place!  By the time I had the lines figured out in the latter half of the race, fatigue was lending a hand in the difficulty of progressing through the trail cleanly.

A short bit of pavement led to the Piney Grove Trail.  And a nice hike a bike up to the top.  Curses you, Eric.  But, of course, it just would not be a Pisgah Productions event, without a bit of pushing. There was a reward at the top: a 1 mile 500 foot descent.  Kinda tricky, with off camber turns on pine straw, sharp switchbacks, and rutted out gully washer sections.

I was able to get in 6 laps.  The first was 52 minutes and the remaining five hovered around 57 minutes.  The thunderstorms never came.  The light rain on laps 1, 3, and 4 allowed for practice in slick conditions (a first this season).  Aside from a yellow jacket sting on the second lap and the usual Pisgah Productions level of suffering, the bike and I came away unscathed.

23.5 pounds of full on fast!

I am truly enjoying the Niner RKT.  At first I was a little concerned with the 10mm less rear travel, but I really don't notice the difference.  I figured out the finicky rear lockout switch and use it alot. Although the dropper post added a bit of weight, the advantage of being able to get the seat out of the way on sketchy descents makes it worthwhile.  The short chainstays make for easier maneuvering around switchbacks and better traction on uphill out of the saddle hammering.  The only issue I am having is a SID RCT3 fork that just doesn't feel right and won't lock out.  I hope to have this issue remedied in the next few weeks.

The Night Train 12/6 Hour Race is a lap race worthy of "the buckle."

Friday, August 12, 2016

Drama Queen Ride Report

In its 9th year, I finally had the opportunity to do this one.  And boy, did I pick the right year!  When I saw 56 miles and 9419 feet of climbing, I knew the suffer factor would be high.  Right up my alley! The ride is a fundraiser for the Ellijay Mountain Bike Association.  Mike Palmeri and Co. work their arses off politickin' with the suits to ensure that we have some of the best damn trails to ride in northern Georgia. Mike's pre-ride briefing was short: 1) Aside from the SAGs, this is a self supported event.  There are no course markings. You are on your own. 2) We will not come look for you. 3) This ride ain't a joke!

At 9am, 60 or so set off at a leisurely pace.  Up P3 was a rude awakening for the legs, but I was in my happy place, in the woods riding dirt ribbons.  Lisa and I were riding together: I had a gpx file and a paper map to back it up.  I let a few guys around me, as they seemed to be biting at the bit.  For me, today was about keeping a steading endurance pace.  About 1/2 way up, on a short descent, I noticed a hole in the trail 15 yards ahead.  Before I could think twice about stopping, I saw that it was a yellow jacket's nest, with about 50 of those little bastards buzzing around.  I gave it my best bunny hop and awaited the stings of pain.  None came. How I came away unscathed, I don't know.  I yelled out as loud as I could about the impending danger, but Lisa took 3 hits.

At the top, I took a breather while Lisa took some prednisone.  Randall and Mary came up behind us, pushing a gear on their single speeds I would never have any hopes in turning over on the steeps. With the course being unmarked and their aging eyes having a time reading the cue sheet, I told them how to get to P4. Wondering how they were going to finish this ride without wandering in circles, I hit P4 to Tatum Lead to Hwy 52 to Fort Mountain. Once we entered the park, Mary and Randall were looking all confused and glad to see Lisa and I.  They hopped on the train and we all enjoyed a nice paved descent all the way down to the campground. Then a hard right onto Trail 302 and I got the pleasure of climbing all the way back to the top.  It was here that Lisa had her first Drama Queen moment.   This was beginning to feel like a Pisgah Productions event.

The trails in Fort Mountain are wide, but steep and "marbly," similar to Club Gap in Pisgah.  Mike was nice enough to put in a few small signs to guide us through the trails in the park. I stopped at SAG 1.  Although I was not in racer mode, the volunteers were.  "The first group of 4 is only 4-5 minutes ahead.  They did not even stop!" cried one volunteer. Another volunteer gave us a play by play on how to get down the mountain to the paved road.  "Left, right, left, left, right, ... and after that I lost him.  It was quite comical; how many would be able to sort out all those rights and lefts?

After taking a couple gels, which, by the way, Honey Stinger has the best vanilla gel ... ever, I got to slide down Fort Mountain.  That was a hard descent.  I was wishing for a dropper, but managed to keep the bike upright.  A few pitches approached 20% and were littered with baby heads, similar to the upper section of Farlow Gap.  Speeding down Emery Creek road, I was greeted by the "par for the course" parasite riddled pack of mixed breed curs that wanna mess up your day.  I was able to out dodge them, and hoped Lisa would, too.  I waited around the next bend for her.  I was happy to see her make it through the gauntlet.

A bit of pavement before we headed up the forest service road to Windy Gap.  I did not realize until Lisa told me that we would be going UP Upper Windy Gap Trail.  With Tibbs being decommissioned a few months ago, we could not take Milma to Tibbs to Lake Conasauga.  Oh, goody!  I was careful to keep my Drama Queen moments all to myself. Lisa, not so much.  So after climbing the roller coaster of Lower Windy, I then had the pleasure of HAB'ing Upper Windy.  4 miles and 2000 feet of climbing!  I had a 30T ring up front, but was really wanting a 20!

The Wall on Upper Windy

During this hour and 15 minutes of hell, when I was not riding, I was experimenting with hand positions (left hand on grip, right hand on grip, stem, top tube, seat, seat post) hoping to find my bike's G-spot, and be carried up the mountain by sheer pleasure.  Yeah, well, that didn't happen.

The air was stale and thick on the climb.  The sweltering heat had sweat dripping from my nose like a leaky faucet. Unable to approach gnat speed, I was inundated with them ...but only on my left side, weird.

Towards the top, when I was slogging through a particular hard section and had my head hanging down, I heard something.  Rounding the bend, I saw the biggest black bear ever!  Put two English Mastiffs side by side and that is how big he was.  I'm sure what saved me from running right up his ass was the whirr of my wheels!  He bounded all 350-400 pounds of brute mass up the trail like it was nothing.  I am thankful my I-9's have a second use as a bear deterrent.

top of Upper Windy Gap

Once I was able to hop on the bike and ride the remainder of Upper Windy, I found peace and was able to work on skills I will need for the upcoming Marji Gesick 100 in September.  This stretch of Windy felt like Laurel in Pisgah.  I sessioned a couple areas while waiting on Lisa.

Stopping at SAG 2, Lisa and I were told that we were the first ones to arrive.  Say what?!?  What happened to the guys ahead of us?  They must have strayed off course.

Sufferin' and smilin' is how we roll!

Lisa destroyed her heels (even adventure race veterans make rookie mistakes) on the HAB up Windy, and stopped for a moment at the SAG to apply Band-Aids.  I took the time to refuel on Honey Stinger Pink Grapefruit energy chews.  I am not sure if it was because of the intensity of the ride or the product itself, but I was quickly growing fond of Honey Stinger.  Their products hit the spot, even the Pink Grapefruit flavor was surprisingly tasty.

I was really trying hard to suppress the inner racer in me, especially after being told we were in 1st! After a few minutes we were off on the 12 miles of gravel to Mountaintown Creek Trail.  At the higher elevations and with some clouds that had rolled in, the temperature was bearable.  With a cool breeze on the descents, Lisa and I were able to make good time to the next SAG at Three Forks.

The volunteers were happy to see us; they had been there a couple hours just twiddling their thumbs. We had first dibs on the food and were treated like royalty. As we were pulling out, Matt rolled in. We came to find out that he, Chris, Chris, and Dave had made a wrong turn coming down off of Fort Mountain.  Took them a mile or two before they figured the error of their ways.

I let Matt around me as we entered the single track.  I figured he wanted to make some time on us as well as his buddies who had lagged behind on the gravel section.  I also wanted to enjoy this descent, by myself.  The trail was spec-friggin'-tacular!  It was like a cross between Avery Creek and Cantrell Creek in Pisgah.  There were 14-15 creek crossings.  Most were rideable, which is what I don't remember from when I had ridden this trail about 7-8 years ago.  I remember it being more like Farlow Gap's creek crossings.  All in all, I would say I rode about 10 of them.  The 4 crossings I walked across either had rocks thick with slippery algae, or entry/exit points that had steep penalties for failure.

One of the 15 creek crossings on Mountaintown.

As I was approaching the end of the trail, I saw Matt off in the bushes. He warned not to approach, saying that it was not a pretty sight. Apparently the burrito he had eaten earlier put his system into overdrive and now he was fertilizing the flora.

Popping out onto Gates Chapel Road, Lisa decided she had enough and was taking the pavement back to Mulberry Gap. After 6 hours, I was spent, too, but the racer in me had to finish this beast! Matt and I rode up Bear Creek Road, then onto Bear Creek a short ways, before the steep, but usually easy climb up P1.  It was here that Matt pulled away.  I still had a bit left in the gas tank, but anytime I made any hard effort, I started getting goose bumps and felt light headed.  A sure sign that I was a couple steps away from heat exhaustion, I had to throttle back.  Which made the death climb up P1 go ... on ... forever. However, I still had enough focus to have fun on the descent.

A short uphill gravel pedal to P2 and I was on my way to enjoying a feast at Mulberry Gap.  Chris Coren caught me here. We hashed over how our day went; he was a bit nervous that Renee might disown him for encouraging her to do this ride. He pulled away towards the end of the climb, but I was able to keep him in my sights on the descent. The P2 descent is one of my faves in this neck of the woods.  As I popped out onto the gravel, Chris had caught up to Matt.  I was glad to see Matt just up ahead; I figured I was so slow in the last miles that I just knew he was already at Mulberry enjoying some frosty brew and the endless burritos.

I rolled into the barn a little after 4pm, 56 miles, 9500 feet, and 7:25 total time.  3rd finisher out of 10 total, I believe.

I grabbed my two beers; not for me, but for Charlie and future kitchen passes. Just one (of many) niceties of starting a ride at MG is the shower at the end.  No "whore baths" with just a gallon of water.  A nice hot, or in today's case, cold shower, is icing on the cake. Afterwards, I was treated to a HUGE grilled chicken salad; no burritos for me due to my gluten allergy.  And, NO ONE goes hungry here at Mulberry Gap.

Yep, that pretty much puts this ride up there with the Pisgah 111 and ORAMM.  And I found Eric Wever's evil triplets in the likes of Mike and Ben.  That was one heck of a ride.  Thank you to everyone who made today's sufferfest possible!