Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Outdoor Store - My Local Bike Shop

Established 1996

My favorite store celebrated 20 years of service in 2016.  It is hard to imagine I have been a patron for 18 years.  It is also hard to believe that a store of this nature (selling bikes, outdoor clothing, and camping gear) has survived in Athens, a town of 14,000.  The Outdoor Store is a testament to Pam and Bruce Blevins' commitment to providing quality products as well as outstanding service to its customers and the community.

With the astronomical increase in web sales over the past 5 years, it is hard for small local businesses to survive and compete in a world dominated by internet giants. I've been reflecting on my own shopping practices the past few weeks, especially when trying to get last minute Christmas gifts.

What really got me stirred up was the closing of Bear Creek Bicycles in Dalton, Georgia, after almost 10 years of providing the same quality of product and service that my "bike shop" does.  I had never stepped foot into Bear Creek until December 21.  But ... I knew from email contact, friends and social media and through events they sponsored that they were a top notch LBS.  Following Shane Adams on Instagram also allowed me to see what a devoted husband and father he is ... and is in part responsible for my plans to travel across the United States with my daughter this coming summer.

Stellar service, fine bikes, good times ... no longer.

So for Shane to do everything right and still have to shut his doors got me thinking about how we as consumers search for the best deal. Sometimes the "best" deal is not the cheapest.  I try my best to purchase most of my cycling products from The Outdoor Store.  It may not always be the cheapest, but they will go to bat for you should there be an issue with the product.

I have had many items warrantied over the years.  Most of the time it is simple enough to get a new product.  However, there have been a few times where Bruce has had to be my advocate, on his own time, and carry on a lengthy conversation with the maker of the product.  And then, he has had to take additional time to uninstall the warrantied product, ship it, and then re install the replacement product back on my bike.  All of this costs him time which equals money.  For instance, this past summer, Bruce had my SID RCT fork on and off my Niner RKT so many times I lost count.  It was not working right and he must have spent at least 6 hours of his time working with SRAM to try to fix it. He ultimately got it warrantied.  It cost me nothing, but at a rate of $50/hour labor, it cost Bruce $300.

How many of us have gone to a store to try on a product, only to purchase it online because we can save a few $$?  Shame on us!  I can somewhat understand shopping for a frame or complete bike online because you can sometimes save a lot!  Now the bike industry has gotten to a point where there are opportunities for the consumer to purchase a complete bike for less than what the local bike shop can buy it for.  Crazy!  That is just one of the reasons that Bear Creek had to close its doors.  I also found out that some of the big name bicycle companies are making it harder for the small bike shops to make small purchases without a penalty.

How many of us use Amazon to get that little thing like Stan's sealant, an inner tube, or on the bike nutrition product?  I have a handful of times. And what did we save ... a dollar or two, the cost of the sales tax?  We need to keep it local as much as we can.  For without our LBS, then we are left to travelling afar to seek products and services or left to online retailers.  I trust my LBS, but can I trust a company with whom I don't have face-to-face contact, who doesn't know me by name, but only by an order #?

I definitely don't want to see The Outdoor Store close its doors ... ever!  Fortunately for them, they are not just a bike store, and can rely on selling shoes, clothes, and outdoor gear.  I usually don't make New Year's resolutions but for 2017 I resolve to make as many purchases at my LBS.  Over the course of the year, it might cost me $50, but it will be well worth the additional expense. I want The Outdoor Store to keep opening its doors for another 20 years.

Here is to a new year and supporting out "Mom and Pop" stores!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Sponsor Highlight - ReVive Massage

I began using ReVive Massage Therapy last October when I threw my back out picking up my 7 pound cat.  I had made a post on FB.  Virginia, the owner,  responded with a mention of massage in addition to the chiropractic care I was receiving.  Not wanting to sound like an ambulance chaser, she gave me my first massage free. So I drove the 55 miles down to Chattanooga to see if she could "fix" me.

I was impressed with her knowledge of anatomy and the functional relationships of the musculoskeletal and nervous system.  After that first session, along with several chiropractic adjustments, I was well on my way to recovery.

Over the past year, I have been to see Virginia about 8 times.  Several have been for a particular issue such as rotator cuff strain, hamstring pull, and hip flexor strain.  I have also gone when my muscles have gotten "sticky" and tight after a hard training week.  Small, but powerful, she has been able to release the muscles as well as help in recovery of my overuse injuries.

Ladies, if you are looking for a relaxing massage, head somewhere else.  But if what you want is another tool in your recovery game, Virginia is the one.  It is going to hurt and she will make you cry for your Mommy, but those "painful" massaging hands will get your muscles, tendons, and ligaments back on track and ready to perform.

2016 is the first year that I regularly incorporated massage into my recovery regimen.  I have been pleasantly surprised at its effects.  So much so that I wish that I had the time and $$ for a lot more!

She is also IASTM certified.

I am very fortunate to have her for the 2017 racing season!

Friday, November 18, 2016

2017 Marathon Nationals Recon

The wildfires around me gave me the opportunity to seek better air quality.  So I headed west to Arkansas to do a little home work.  Next May is the USAC Marathon Mountain Bike Nationals. The venue is Iron Mountatin at Lake DeGray.  Don't worry, it is nothing like the Iron Mountain course that Chris Scott takes great pleasure in testing your mettle. I have heard nothing but good about this course.  Two lap format with a short parade lap to sort the racers out prior to hitting the single track. Counter clockwise flow.

SS'r paradise!

According to my GPS, the lap is 23 miles with 1700 feet of climbing. The trail has a rocky base and laid out so well that I don't think rain would be an issue at all.  Nothing too technical, and by that, I mean, I didn't have to session any section.  Few roots, but lots of cat head rocks.  Fortunately, most of the rocks are embedded and so won't be taking your front wheel out from under you.  This trail is fast and furious! There are a few short rock gardens that make it interesting, but everything is rideable. I could just give the trail builder a big ole' squeeze! I would guess that the course is about 85% single track.  A few short pavement sections will make it easy to grab some nutrition and fluid.

The Yellow Trail is my second favorite.  Rocky, but plowable.  Kinda like a much tamer version of The Snake. This trail has a good bit of climbing, the longest of which is a double track, access road climb up to the power lines, but only about 1/2 mile at 3-4% grade. Most climbs are 50-100 meters.

Soooo much floooow!

The Green trail, particularly the lower section, is my favorite.  Rocks, rocks, rocks.  Equivalent to the rockier sections of Raccoon. And these you have to pick your way through and be careful not to strike your pedals.  No problem with quick engaging I-9's.  There is an uphill rock garden that I probably wouldn't notice on gears, but on my single speed I had to dance my way up.

Had to hold my tongue just right to clean this uphill rock garden.

Love me some rocks!

The Orange and the Blue Trails are a rockier version of the Small Intestine trail at Raccoon. The climbing is evenly distributed over the length of the trail, but the flow was so good, it was easy to carry a lot of momentum uphill.  These two trails were smoother than the Yellow and Green.

Orange Trail 

The White Trail is a highway!  A cross between Tanasi's Brush Creek and Tsali's Right Loop.  It meandered along a point, offering up spectacular views of Lake DeGray.

White Trail

One lap of the course and I had it pretty much dialed in.  I did a second and was even faster, knowing what was lurking around the corner and when I needed to get ready to stand and grunt up some of the steeper sections and switchbacks.  Today the course was slippery as the drought has extended its reach to Arkansas.  The corners had a collection of loose dirt and gravel, as well as leaves.  I would say that with rain, this course will be fast like Warrior Creek.  Lots of sharp rocks, so run tires with sidewall protection.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


I've been on Niner bikes since 2011.  My first Niner was an Air 9 Carbon that I built up as a SS. I no longer have her, but she is still on the racing scene, under the guide of SuperStrong Mary Sickler. The first of this year I got the RKT RDO and I've just welcomed the Air 9 RDO to my family.

It has taken awhile to get "Echo" dialed in; that's my RKT.  Yes, I name my bikes (and still sleep with stuffed animals). Why Echo?  Because when I was in the Army, my MOS (military occupation specialty) was a heavy equipment operator.  Dozers, pans, graders, and front end loaders took skill and finesse to operate.  And so the same goes for her.  But once you have mastered the skill, it is an absolute blast to be in the saddle and raging single track.

Fox SC 32 in stealth mode

I initially had a RockShox RCT 100mm installed on her, but it just didn't feel or act right.  I was able to warranty it (although I was not told what the problem was).  At first I waited to get my hands on the new RockShox SID WC, but the delivery date kept getting pushed back.  So I decided to try the Fox StepCast 32 Boost.  I am so glad I did.  It felt right ... right out of the box and after removing all the tokens.  I totally agree with Dickey on this fork.

A great stopper

SRAM's Guide brakes are on the opposite end of the spectrum as compared to the Avid's. Plenty of power and I just love how they feel; not squishy like the older Maguras I had on my Jet 9 RDO.

I-9'a are just ridiculous in so many ways

I chose a set of Pillar Carbon Industry 9 wheels.  This is the first carbon wheelset I had.  I really don't notice much difference in them as compared to their Ultralight aluminun hoops, but then again I am but a mere half pint.  What I do notice is that they go where you point them, the engagement is what I need for rock crawling, and the spokes/hubs are sexy!

Completing her build is a Niner bar and stem, Ergon grips, SRAM 1 x 11, RaceFace Next SL with Cinch direct mount, Xpedo M Force 8 Ti pedals, and a Specialized S-Works Phenom saddle. I also installed a Reverb dropper, which cost a bit of weight, but so worth it for confidence in descending the gnar.  Even with the weight penalty, she comes in at 22.8 pounds.

Have yet to take her on the maiden voyage

I am ready to take this one for a ride.  However, what with all the wildfires, my lungs would be all sad with any HR above 100 right now. So, she sits in the basement awaiting the rain.

Loving the color palette

I've outfitted her with the StepCast and the new Ultralite 235's. Industry 9's new AnoLab page where you can build your custom wheel set is super sick! Pretty much tried to build her similar to Echo, so that I can rob parts if I need to in an emergency situation.  The Guide brakes are probably overkill, but when I was running XTR's on my older Air 9, they just did not have the stopping power I needed.  I like the 4 piston power.  At some point, I would like to try the SRAM Level brakes.

Going BIG

Bruce built her up with an Eagle drivetrain and the RaceFace Next SL G4 with a Wolftooth direct mount 32T.  According to their website, it provides an ideal 49 mm chainline, as compared to RaceFace's 51 mm.

Trying out Wolftooth for the first time

My intention for her is gravel grinds and shorter endurance events where I don't need the FS and drooper capabilities that Echo provides. Right now, she weighs in at 19.25 pounds.

I must give Mike Stanley of Niner, Bruce Blevins of The Outdoor Store, Industry 9, and Xpedo a HUGE thank you for providing me with a less than retail opportunity to shred on this machine.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Trans North Georgia (TNGA) Ride Report

The Trans North Georgia is a mountain bike route that is 350 miles long with 56,000 feet of elevation gain.  It starts just east of Clayton, Georgia on the South Carolina border and finishes on Hwy 20, just west of Rome, at the Alabama border.  The route runs through the Chattahoochee National Forest and runs the length of the Pinhoti Trail (131 miles).  The course consists of single track, ATV trail, gravel roads, and some pavement.

The start, at the South Carolina border

Having missed the Grand Depart back in August due to my work schedule, Lisa and I finally decided to take the plunge last Thursday. The one and only time I had attempted this route was back in 2011. After 118 miles, I had to pull the plug on top of HogPen Gap due to intense foot pain.  I was filled with trepidation as this would be my longest ride ever.  Although my feet had been doing well, even allowing me to race a duathlon the weekend before, I was concerned about aggravating the nerves again and potentially causing a major setback.  I promised myself to listen to my body.

Day 1:  SC state line to Blue Ridge, 170 miles, start 6:45 am, finish 1:30 am, 18:45 ride time

- I didn't have to wait 15 minutes for Eddie O'Dea to show up.
- Riding with the fastest woman, who also has the third fastest time ever, is an honor.
- Watching the dawn break is one of my favorite riding times.
- With the drought, ALL the gravel came to the surface.

Wilson Gap climb

- Wonder how many dirty diapers I will see in the national forest?
- The Darnell Creek Trail was a blast, similar to Butter in Pisgah.

Darnell Creek

- Said the Rabun Post Office employee, "We are not supposed to give you any water."  WTF!
- Patterson Gap gravel climb took two pedal strokes to gain one pedal stroke's worth of forward momentum since the gravel was so deep and loose.
- Made it to Tallulah River Campground on 3 bottles.  Refilled here.

Tallulah River

- The climb up Blue Ridge Gap was WAY more pleasant with overcast skies!
- The descent off Blue Ridge Gap was still filled with chunks of gnar.

The potential for glazing over your brake pads was high!

- Tray Mountain ... the never ending climb.  Halfway up, we got passed by a 1990's blue 2WD tow truck.  We never saw him again.  How the heck did he get down off that mountain?  is a question that remains today.
-So this is what the Hickory Nut Trail looks like.  In 2011 there was so much undergrowth, I was bouncing off all the rocks and having to walk sections.
-Coming down the highway into Helen, two mountain bikers pulled onto the road about 50 yards ahead of us.  Even after 11 hours on the bike, my first thought was, "Let's race them!"  Can't take the competitor out of me, I guess.
-New pavement on HogPen was a delight.  I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I passed by the parking area where I bailed back in 2011.
-I thought it cruel that after climbing up to Wolf Pen Gap, there was still more climbing to be had going up Duncan Ridge.
-The Duncan Ridge descent was the gravel version of Heartbreak Ridge.
-When I am tired, 50 degrees feels like 30 degrees.
-I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.  A solid 4 hours.

Campsite, first night.  Thanks, Loretta!

Day 2, Blue Ridge to Dalton, 110 miles, start 8 am, finish 9 pm, 13 hours ride time

-7 am came WAY too early.  And this comes from someone who normally gets up at 5 am.
- My right IT band began to act up on the Stanley Gap trail.

Sunrise on Stanley Gap

-Stanley Creek gravel road descent down to Cherry Log was smoooooooth as pavement ... and blazing fast!
-The climb up Bushy Head Gap was straight up; must of had Costa Ricans putting this road in as there were no switchbacks.
- Riding through Cashes Valley, I began to smell the forest fire up on Rough Ridge, only 150 acres at that time. (now well over 3000).

Refueling and texting our loved ones.

- Watson Gap gravel climb was a powdery mess.  But powder is easier than loose gravel.

Watson Gap, poppin' with color!

- South Fork Trail was in excellent condition.  Nice to not have to ride through mud and horse poop puddles.
- Pinhoti 0 was a beautiful ride, but still a sum'bitch!

P 0 creek crossing

- 1/2 way up P 0, the smoke got thicker.  Just a wee bit nervous as to what we were headed into.
- Heading up to Potato Patch, the Three Forks parking area was blocked off and numerous forest service vehicles were parked.
- Bear Creek was the first time I needed to purify water.

The smoky Mountaintown Overlook

- The work done on Pinhoti 1 and 2 was well done.  Too bad I was too tired and had an extra 8 pounds on my bike or I coulda raged on those descents and big berms!
-Sunset came as we plummeted down Tatum Lead.
- New discovery:  trails grow at night.  The grassy single track leading to the Dennis Mill section of Pinhoti went ... on ... forever!
- Bats were dive bombing my lights as I descended the single track down to the Dennis Mill trailhead.
- Cracker Barrel never tasted so good at 10 pm, even though I believe my mashed potatoes sat under the heating lamp for the past 5 hours.
- The Super Eight in Dalton was a welcome sight.  I flipped/flopped like a fish all night, as every muscle ached.  6 hours of restless and painful sleep.

Day 3, Dalton to Alabama border, 70 miles, start 7 am, finish 7 pm, 12 hours ride time.

- The climb up Dug Gap was brutal.  I was praying for my taint to just go numb.  Thank goodness I had the ability to stand and climb, which is what I did alot of today.
- Lisa was on fire today.  I don't know where she got the energy.  I was dying a slow death.
- It took me 5 1/2 hours to ride The Snake course (backwards)!

So, this happened. The Pine Hill climb along The Snake.

- Logging ... a necessary evil, decimated the section of The Snake between the beginning of Pine Hill climb and the crossing on Pocket Road.
- I was wanting a dropper post, not for the technical descents, but so I could get off/on the bike easier.  After 300 miles, getting a leg over the saddle was no small task.
- Frito-Lay is making money selling air!  I was able to get a 12 ounce bag of chips into a small Zip-Loc.  The guys at the gas station were enthralled!

No guilt in eating the whole bag!

- Unfortunately I did not get to enjoy my Pepsi with the chips.  All the rattling in the Mountain Feed Bag on my handle bar caused the seam at the bottom of the can to come undone.  I had been feeling small drops of liquid the last 10 miles, but had no idea it was my Pepsi leaking. Very sads.

Desperately needed those 150 calories

-Second time I needed to purify water was at Dry Creek.  Bear Creek definitely tasted better than Dry Creek.

Chlorine dioxide.  30 minutes for most bugs, and 4 hours for Giardia and Crypto ... and no bad taste.

- We had to ride around Strawberry Mountain.  It was closed due to a fire.  That allowed me a much needed Coke in Subligna.  I hardly ever drink sodas, so this was a real treat.  I never knew that a Coke could breathe life back into me.  A much needed boost for Taylor's Ridge.
- Fifty seven hours into this journey and I still had some spunk to enjoy the single track on Taylor's Ridge.  Well, at least the flats and descents.
- I was so happy to see the rail-trail.  And that it was in excellent condition.

Lisa says, "C'mon, only 12 miles left!

- I swear I think Lisa had a motor in her down tube.  The final 12 miles she kicked it into high gear and pulled me ALL THE WAY!
- So blessed to have her as my friend.  I could not have done this without her.  She is the Queen of Adventure! When I was not feeling good (which was a lot), she was there to guide me through the dark places.  Her energy was good to feed off of.

P'd and Gap'd out!

60 hours, border to border.

Other than an angry IT band and a numb left pinky finger, I survived without any major issues.  My 2012 Niner Jet 9 RDO was flawless.  With two bottle cages, I was able to carry 3 bottles on my bike and keep the water weight off my back.  This helped to lessen shoulder and back pain, but did not help much with the taint pain.  I had a 1 x drive train with a 28T chain ring. More than once I was wishing for an Eagle drive train.  My bike, with loaded bags and water bottles, weighed in at 33 pounds.  My CamelBak weighed 5 pounds.

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!