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!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ash Bocast and Roam Rydes

I've been meaning to tell you all about this extraordinary person I met for awhile now, but life kept getting in my way.   So, after an intense week of intervals and my legs begging for attention, I now have the time while I do some recovery in my Elevated Legs.

When I was in Montana, I participated in a Liv Ladies Weekend, hosted by Ash Bocast.  She works for Liv Giant as a demo driver.  She worked her arse off, seeing to it that 19 women had an amazing time riding bikes, hanging out, and drinking beer.  That weekend was by far, the most relaxing 3 days I have had in a long time.

Ash and the volunteers, up early, fixing a feast at Whitefish Bike Resort

While Liv Giant pays the bills, her passion is discovering ordinary women who loves bikes and inspire others.  A little over a year ago, she started a podcast series, Roam Rydes, in which she interviews some pretty amazing ladies.  One of those podcasts is about two great bike resorts, Mulberry Gap and WhiteFish Bike Retreat.  And just this past March, she started a second podcast, Cycology, which is an educational series for women.

Ash and her trail buddy, Ryder.

I encourage you to head over to her website and take a listen.  You will not be disappointed.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Bike-cation at the Whitefish Bike Retreat

Cricket knows what mountain bikers want!

After two years of dreaming, the stars finally aligned.  I was just outside of Whitefish, Montana, in a mountain biker's paradise!  Cricket Butler, whom I met through racing when she lived in North Carolina, had poured her heart and soul into a 20 acre piece of property that was just a couple pedal strokes away from the 30 mile Whitefish Trail. There was also access to hundreds of miles of single track and forest service roads if you cared to drive anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.  Whitefish has the Big Mountain, where there is lift access to awesome downhill trails.  Glacier National Park is about 45 minutes away.

Bike Retreat Connector Trail to the left, Whitefish Trail to the right.

Cricket does not like to expound upon her accomplishments, so I will. She is a Tour Divide and Trans North Georgia finisher and has thru hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail.  She is the go to gal for bike packing set ups and TD race advice.  The TD route goes right through Whitefish.  There is even a secret back door trail off the TD where one could get refueled at the retreat.

All levels of obstacle riding right out your door.

The Berm Trail

The Berm Trail

Four years ago, while raising two sons, she turned this piece of property into a mountain biker's "Walt Disney World."  An old horse barn became The Lodge.  A dilapidated shack became the Camp Store. Campsites were created.  And just this past year, two flow trails, a skills area, and a pump track were born from the earth.

Old bicycles and parts became functional again.

In the lodge, there are 6 guest rooms upstairs.  You can have your own private room or share a bunk room with others.  Downstairs is a fully equipped kitchen where you can prepare your own meals and a common area with couches, a TV, tables, and chairs.  Outside, in the back, is a fire pit, where you can congregate at the day's end and swap stories.

Riser bars!

If you need a route to ride, just ask.  Cricket and her staff know ALL the trails.  And if you are riding solo, bring your SPOT, and Crickett will follow your adventure online, making sure you get back safe.  Heck, if she has a day off, she might even go along with you!


If you have been to Mulberry Gap, then just consider the Whitefish Bike Retreat the "Mulberry Gap of the West."  I highly highly recommend vacationing here.  And if you don't, then you are just dumb.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Marathon Nationals Race Report

Third time is the charm!

In the week leading up to the event, I kept checking the registrant list, as I was the lonely single speeder.  Finally, with only hours to spare, Rebecca Bubp chose to join me in the USA Cycling shenanigans.  There would be only two of us, but that did not lessen the challenge.  My race extends beyond the borders of class or age:  all women and dudes with one gear are fair game!

With Augusta not having any rain in awhile, the course was going to be dry and fast!  However, Mother Nature would do her best to challenge me.  The starting temperature this year was just shy of last year's finishing temperature:  81 degrees.  Waiting on my call up at the start line, the air was hot and heavy, like a warm, wet blanket.

At the gun, I went out hard.  The 19-29 and 30-34 groups had started 2 minutes ahead and I was hungry!  I also wanted to open a gap between Rebecca and I early on, knowing that "out of sight, out of mind," would be to my advantage.  The first few miles of the Bartram Trail came and went quickly.  By the time I had hit the double track flats, I began to reel in several of the women that had started in front of me.  I came upon Melissa during one particular flat stretch and welcomed the draft. I also had the opportunity to say some words of encouragement to her, hoping that those ahead of her in her class would battle it out with each other, fall apart, and be swallowed up by her in the latter miles.  I passed a couple more as they spun in their grannies up those steep climbs, while I mustered every bit of my 111 pounds to keep the pedals turned over.

Across the highway through the pastures, creek crossings, and powerline climbs, I felt the sun's blazing heat. I was like that poor little ant being under the magnifying glass of some 5 year old boy, on the verge of combustion. On one particular long grassy double track descent, I suddenly knew what it felt like to run a series of moguls.  It took all my cat-like reflexes to keep the rubber side down, the ruts being camoflaged by 3-4 inches of grass.

After the final grunty climb back up to the road crossing, I was getting light-headed. I made myself slow down for the 16 miles of Bartram back to the start/finish to keep the engine from overheating. Even though I settled into a slightly slower, but sustainable pace, the flow of the Bartram is amazing. I felt like I was in a Star Wars movie, riding a speeder bike.

About 18 miles and 1 1/2 hours into the race, I sucked on my hydration hose leading to my 50 ounce bladder.  Nothing.  I grabbed my CamelBak, jimmied it around, and sucked.  Still nothing! Fortunately I had a 1/2 full bottle of water on the bike.  Although I had not planned on stopping at the first aid station (mile 20), I was thankful to take a short respite.  Being the only one there at the time, I was treated like a Queen.  I did not even have to get off the bike.  While one volunteer refilled my bottle, another poured ice cold water down my back.

During the remaining 10 miles of Bartram, I caught a couple more women, and started passing some of the younger age group men.  I was pleasantly surprised by how respectful all the men were in letting me by.  As I approached the start/finish, my time was just 3 minutes slower than last year's. The first half of the course was exactly the same, so that was promising.  I stopped and swapped CamelBaks while professional pit crewman Zeke poured ice water down my jersey.

The first portion of the next 30 miles was the Keg Creek Trail.  Due to a road bridge being under construction, this portion of the race was different than last year's.  I would be riding most of Keg first and clockwise.  This part and all of its seemingly 1,532 roots would be the death of me!  Even though the trail was shaded the canopy held in the heat which approached a high of 95 degrees.  The balls of my feet and my left big toe hurt and it felt like someone was stabbing me in the lower back. What kept me hammering, though, was knowing that I did not want to be caught by Mary, who I had seen coming down into the start/finish as I was leaving.  Mary had spanked me pretty good in the Big Frog 65 and I did not want a repeat.  So I motored on, ignoring the pain, and constantly scanning the horizon for signs of the bridge work, as that would tell me I was about to  leave Hell.

After Keg was a 2 mile stretch of pavement.  It was a nice break from the teeth rattling I had just experienced.  And uphill so I wasn't spinning my legs off.  Once again, I drained my 50 ounce CamelBak in a little over an hour.  As I hit the 1 mile Purgatory Pasture, I began to feel a little better. All the pains disappeared so that I could focus on the task that lay ahead.  At the third aid station halfway through the field,  Zeke was there with nutrition in hand.  While I drank my Red Bull, he refilled my CamelBak.  I also managed to pack enough ice into my bra and down my bibs to have a cooling effect on me for the next 30 minutes.

As I approached the Mistletoe single track,  I was greeted with some cloud cover.  Instantly the temperature seemed to drop 10 degrees.  I felt great going through this 7 mile section of single track. The creek crossings were all shallow and rideable.  I did miss one turn during a creek crossing where I went wide left and ended up going left on the other side as opposed to right.  I realized my mistake pretty quick and only lost about a minute.

This crossing was almost completely dry this year.

I only had to HAB a couple short, grunty climbs, the one after the ledgy drop into the creek and the other being the cross tie climb back up to the park entrance.  I passed a few more guys, one of whom gave me the biggest compliment of the day as I passed him on a climb while he was walking. The guys were most gracious today!

As I left Mistletoe enroute back to Purgatory Pasture, I looked at the time and realized that I was really close to my time from last year.  I knew I was a little slower, but with the reroute, the second half of the race was about 1-1.5 miles shorter.  So I challenged myself with another mini-goal:  try to beat last year's time.  After stopping at the fourth aid station, drinking a coke, pouring ice down my kit again, I struck off with a vengeance.

I was all spinny coasty on the 2 miles of slightly downhill pavement back to Keg, Whenever I would get my cadence up to 120, I would feel the burn in my quads.  I had to back it down a bit and just relax.  I had witnessed alot of racers cramping today, and I did not want to become a victim.  Entering the last bit of single track, I pushed on, eager to get to the rolling gravel that would take me home. Spirits were high, but legs were heavy.  Having ridden this section the day before, at least I had some sense of the distance.

An unbelievable amount of work went into these rake n ride sections

The rolling gravel road back to WildWood Park and the finish was like a mini Dirty Kanza.  I would hammer the climbs and rest on the descents. Up, down, up, down ... "K to go" signs would pass by and on I plodded. I eventually caught up to a racer who I drafted behind on the descents and could eek out a few more mph.  As we were climbing one particularly steep hill, he happened to look down and see that I was single.  He said a few expletives, albeit complimentary, and then suddenly died.  I was on my own.

Once into Wildwood Park, I seemed to gain a few more watts and rode the last 1K as hard as I could. I was bombing down a double track descent just before the 500 yard to go mark when a deer shot across my path.  I closed my eyes for a brief second hoping that she did not have a friend that was going to plow me over.  Whew!  Close!

It was a little surreal crossing the finish line in 5:27 and snagging a stars n stripes jersey.  Three years of chasing my dream had finally come to a close.  I also managed to place third overall (5th, if you include the Pro division).  I would also like to give a big shout out to Rebecca, who had a hard day, but finished with a smile.  This lady, if you don't know, is one tough cookie.  She raced the Shenandoah 100 last year on a single speed; no small task!

My time was only 6 minutes slower than last year.  Not bad, given the Hades Heat!  I went through 180 ounces of fluid and it took two hours and two bottles of water before I had the urge to pee!

I must give a big shout out to the race promoter and the volunteers. There were quite a few hiccups last year, but all were fixed.  The course had tons of marshals and markings.  I only got off track once and that was my fault.  The aid stations had plenty of neutral support and were well stocked.  The t-shirts were made on site and you could choose your size and color.  And the Mega Slurpee I purchased with my meal ticket was icing on the cake!