Sunday, January 3, 2021

The Snake Creek Gap TT Race Report

 

📷: Eric Henderson

Every year my mind is put through a gauntlet the day before the first race of The Snake.  Mainly because of the weather, as it is usually cold and wet.  And by my standards, cold is defined as a temperature below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (and that number seems to increase by 1 every year).  Why can I not just avoid these uncomfortable thoughts?  Because I do seem to survive it, as I have been racing the Snake for 17 years, ever since its inception.  I suppose it is because I still do have some high expectations of myself.  And with a new year brings uncertainty to how I will perform at my age.

Even though I have long since stopped trying to beat my PR (3:21), I feel compelled to at least beat last year's time.  As if this is a way to justify my existence as a racer. While I have learned over the years to let go of the need to compare myself, my fitness, my technical skills to others, I still want to compare myself to my former self.  In my 40's, I was climbing higher and higher on the fitness mountain and now I am riding the plateau.  And even though I know that one day I will be riding down off that plateau in terms of fitness and skill, I am still scared to death of that day will come sooner than I would like it to.

But back to the race.  My friend, Melissa, came over for her first "running."  She spent the night with me and we drove down to Dalton to hop on the shuttle for the ride to the start at Dry Creek. The bus was so warm I hated to get off, but the driver was gracious enough to allow me back on after I had collected my bike and registered.  Another 15 minutes of warmth, before heading back out into the cold (46 degrees).  I tried to stay warm by doing jumping jacks and air squats while waiting in line for the race to start at 8 am.  I was toward the front of the line, so I had a fairly clear trail ahead of me.  Fortunately I had dressed just right and once the gun went off, I was warm again.

The first two miles on the forest service road I rode conservatively, giving my legs ample time to warm up, as well as to negotiate the mud bogs safely.  The Bridge-Master had installed 1 or 2 more sections of the portable bridge, so I had a dry creek crossing of Dry Creek.  Yea to dry feet!  The climb up to the first section of single track was its usual sucky self and quite muddy through the corners.  I had decided to take it easy on the first half and see if I had a little more energy to negotiate the final 7 miles of tech on near Dug Gap.

Entering the single track, my legs felt fresh, but I held back and rode consistently.  Soon I heard Eric behind me and commend us ladies on our skills. Ladies?  I did not realize I had someone on my wheel.  Once the trail opened up, I asked if she wanted to pass.  As she did so, I was quite surprised as she looked very young!  I rode just behind her, wondering who she was, as I had never seen her before.  So smooth and so fast on the uphills, I was impressed!  She slowly pulled away from me, as we had to heave our bikes over this huge downed tree.  One of the few times I think it sucks being 5'5".  

As I was cresting the climb up to the fire road descent, I heard my name being shouted out from afar, "Go Carey Lowery, kill it!"  At that very moment, I didn't think I was the killer, as my pace was all about surviving this first half.  But it did give me a smile and a little bolster to my mental fortitude.  Thanks Eric!

Eric soon caught up to me on Pine Needle Hill, but did not seem too interested in passing.  Said he had been feeling a bit "off," the past week.  I asked if he wanted around on the descent to which he said no.  I then told him not to make fun of me on the downhill.  With eyes watering so bad from the cold wind, I descended half-blind, relying on memory and a prayer. As it leveled out, Eric passed me.  I secretly wished him a mechanical-less ride.  That poor guy ... he deserves one!


📷: Eric Henderson


I got my feet soaked at the second creek crossing.  I always take the little detour to the left, as it seems to be not as deep and a quicker way to negotiate the crossing.  However, just before I entered the water, a rock took my front wheel out from under me and almost kerplunked me into the creek.  I managed to land on my feet, in the water.  So be it for dry feet.  They did get cold but never completely froze, as the sun came out to play and turned a cold start into a wonderful mid-morning ride.  I didn't even complain about not being able to see sections of the trail for the bright rays raining down upon me.

I came upon Angie as I approached Horn Mountain.  Told her how we must be getting old as we were not racing our single speeds, like in years past.  The deep crevasse stymied her and she dismounted.  Having figured out the approach, even though it was getting deeper every year, I rode through it.  I ran up the short but muddy section after the water crossing, but then managed to ride everything else clean, including the short steep switchback. That first uphill is always an SOB, but I just shifted to granny and spun my way up.  The next three climbs on that mountain try to take your soul, but I was determined to clean them; almost did save for one short dismount when my derailleur decided to wrestle with a stick.

The remainder of the first half was a blur, as I just rode on autopilot to the SAG.  I hit the parking lot at 1:47, 2 minutes faster than last year.  Yes!  And with a lower perceived exertion for that first half, that gave me a confidence boost.  I was in/out like a NACAR driver, although I took a moment to talk to a volunteer who gave me words of encouragement. The initial climb up Middle Mountain was pleasant.  Still in my easy gear, I reigned myself in; I wanted to enjoy that last section of single track.  Back on autopilot, I enjoyed the trail even more, as it was dry on the ridges.  The descent down through the creeks was a little sketchy, what with the mud and deep water, the deepest I have seen them.  On the final double track climb, I could see the possibility of besting my 2020 time.  

As I hit the final stretch, I turned off autopilot and put it in Goggins mode.  As some of you might know, David Goggins is an retired Navy SEAL and now an accomplished endurance athlete, who is able to push limits like no other.  I embrace his 40% rule. I rode that last bit like a woman on fire!  I commended the two "kids" I passed while pushing up the Wall.  One, who was doing the 17 miler in a full face helmet and pushing a bike that was at least 75% of his weight.  He/she was probably only 10 years old.  The other, was the young girl who had passed me earlier in the first single track.  Her name was Brianna and she was only 15!  Very inspiring.  I gave her a few words of wisdom as I passed by.  Those kids inspired me to go all out on the last 4 miles.  My HR soared as I crushed the climbs, either by wheel or foot.  I had eagle-like focus on the descents and rode right up to my limits on them.  As I approached the rock garden where the bullhorn was, the lady behind it said it looked like I had done this before.  To which I replied, "Only a few hundred times!"  I cleaned the last rocky uphill between the two rock slabs, which has always been a 50/50 for me.  And rode the tower and paved descent like a rocket.

I came through the finish line at 4:03, 7 minutes faster than 2020.  Gave myself a big pat on the back and then joined in on the comradery with my friends at the finish.  Melissa had a good day as well ... and she was still my friend afterwards!  

While I may never again finish with a sub 4 on the 34, that doesn't mean I will quit trying. The only excuse I have now for not doing this race is death itself.  If I have to run that mental gauntlet every year, I will!  

Thank you to everyone who made this race happen!  Crazy that 250 + people were fired up this early in yet aother difficult Covid year to do a very difficult race. The stoke for an amazing 2021 is on!





Sunday, November 29, 2020

Death March Revival



 I did the first edition of this race in 2017, back when mass starts were the norm.  It then went on a 2 year hiatus and ended up turning into an ITT this year (damn Covid).  I chose Black Friday to do the route. Because why else would I want to get up at 3 am? 

Not being on any structured training for the past 2 months, I chose to ride comfortably hard.  It is kind of hard for me to get into "race" mode when I am the only one that shows up at the start line at 5:40 am.  I kept my stops and picture taking to a minimum as I set a goal of a sub-9 hour attempt. I started super early to have enough of a daylight buffer in case something went wrong.  

I chose to ride "Ripley," my new Trek SuperCaliber with a SRAM AXS drivetrain and Specialized Renegade 1.95's.  She weighed in at 23 pounds (was outfitted with the AXS dropper post as well). The starting temperature was 36 degrees.  I was warm heading up Potato Patch.  The benefit to climbing this in the dark is that it doesn't feel near as long or steep as it truly is.  The sun just began to rise as I hit the intersection and turned left.  Have I mentioned how much I enjoy sunrise rides? It is this time of day when I am doing the thing I love that I am in awe of the beauty of the mountains and grateful I am able to do these Big Dumb Rides.




Fortunately I had ridden the climbs below my "sweat threshold," so I did not get cold descending FS17.  A bear was crossing the gravel as I rounded a corner, about halfway down.  I was not startled, but got him moving a little quicker by hootin' and hollerin' at him.  I was pleasantly surprised at how good the road conditions were and the bike just soaked up the chatter.  The only limiter on my speed was that it was still somewhat dark, as the sun had not risen over the mountain yet.

Once past the game check station, my hands and feet started freezing.  It was a little after 8 am, and I was still in the shade.  Brrrr!  I was looking forward to the Big Frog climb.  I leap-frogged with a pick up truck along this flattish stretch.  I momentarily was a little concerned for my safety, but figured he was more interested in deer than a dirty old woman.

I stopped at the piped spring to refill my bottles.  That slow dripping of water into my bottle got my bladder all excited, damn it!  Try unzipping a windbreaker with frozen fingers.  But I managed to get it done and not pee in my bibs.

The 6 mile undulating climb up to the high point of Big Frog was pretty tame.  I was feeling good, now that I had warmed back up, and the legs were singing "Happy" by Pharrell Williams.  Descending down off of Big Frog brought back memories of me flatting here in 2017, so I played cautiously.  It was nice to be able to see the roadbed, as two weeks ago it was covered in leaves.

Popping out on FS 221, I was pleasantly surprised by the firm smooth surface.  I had heard that the Forest Service was grading this section between Big Frog and the Whitewater Center.  I imagined a lot of loose chunked up dirt and rock, but obviously someone knew what the hell they were doing.  This made the going fast!  And the legs were still there, so it felt like I made short work of the next 10 miles.  

I crossed paths with Zeke as he was heading towards Big Frog.  He would be the only cyclist I would see all day.

Beyond the intersection of FS 45 and FS 221, the road got dicey, what with washouts and some mud.  The three bitches were their typical nasty self, but I motored right up them.  I had been fueling with Scratch and gels mostly and had one Honey Stinger GF waffle.  My energy was good, back was happy, and legs were churning out the watts. On my Garmin, I could see my overall average speed.  I have always been one to do math while riding and/or racing, so I was trying to keep my speed at/above 9.8 mph, thinking that if I could maintain this to Potato Patch, I could gain an additional 0.2 mph on the final descent and hit a sub-9.

About a half mile past the Tumbling Creek campground, Mr. Brown (UPS) past me going the opposite way.  WTF!  Where did he think he was heading?  Either he was following his whacked out GPS or he had a body to dump.  That kept my mind occupied until I hit the climb up to Dally Gap.  Gentle, with some rollers, I got this.  The shit hit the fan on the last pitch up to Dally.  And then it just kept going up hard to Watson Gap.  I had forgotten just how difficult this section was.  Now my legs began to say some bad words.

Finally I got a bit of reprieve on the rollers over to Watson Gap.  But then 2 miles of bonus SUCK before the descent down to Jack's River campground.  At one point, as I rounded a corner thinking I was finally there,  at the top ... but NOT, I yelled out loud, "Come the fuck on!"  And then I laughed at myself, knowing that I always have this low moment about 2/3 the way through any long event.

Before I started the 9 mile trip back up to Potato Patch, I had to stop and get off for some horse people coming down the gravel.  So I pulled out my King Size PayDay and had a moment of bliss, chewing on the sweet and salty candy bar.  I got to chew for a while as the horse train passed by.  

The first mile is the hardest, and then after that I just settled in to 70 minutes of just grinding away the miles.  I stopped by the piped spring and refilled one bottle ... and pee'd again.  I was back in the right mindset now and enjoyed the undulating climb.  I checked my average speed and saw that I was going to miss my goal, but not by much.  No worries, it was fun playing the game. 

As I turned left and gathered up speed, I yelled out in triumph.  It was now all downhill; even better was knowing that I would NOT have to make that horrendous climb on the Mulberry Gap property.  I just had to make it to the gate.  That 18 minute descent was friggin' spectacular.  I didn't even mind that short 1/4 mile climb back up to the finish.



Ripley was the perfect weapon for this course.  I could have done without the dropper though and would have saved a pound.  Hmmm, did that extra pound cost me 11 minutes?  Probably not.

I even got to see Ginni, the Master Chef, who after 15 years is retiring.  We had a nice long chat.  Hard to imagine she is 80 and still has spunk.  But it is time for her to pursue happiness elsewhere.  Her feisty attitude and soul-filled food will be missed.  She played a lead role in making MG what it is today.  No doubt the young pups, Kate and Andrew, will continue to improve upon what is already a great mountain getaway.




Thursday, November 12, 2020

Skool of Hard Nox Race Report

I decided to finish out the year with a mountain bike race in Ackerman, Mississippi. I didn't even know Mississippi had single track. I mean, how hard could it be? Mississippi is flat as a pancake, right? After riding a section of the Natchez Trace two days before, racing on some fast and flowy single track would be a blast. So the next day, I went over to the venue and pre-rode the entire 27 mile course. Oop-sie! I would have definitely got the frowny face from Coach, but the weather was so stinkin' beautiful and it felt great to spend ALL day outside. So my 45 minute pre-ride turned into 4 hours of adventure. And lemme tell you. Mississippi single track is legit! Hell, a good portion was more like 1/2 track on bench cut trail carving around contours of hills and then diving down through ravines and climbing back up the other side. Good ole fashioned old school trail.
Even though the race start was at 8 am, it felt more like 10 am, due to Daylight Savings Time and traveling from Eastern Standard Time. There was the tradtional Lemans start; fortunately it was only about a 30 yard run. There were about 50 in the 2 lap race, so getting to my bike was smooth. The first mile was on pavement, so by the time I hit the single track, traffic had thinned out. Entering the single track, I noticed that someone had blown the leaves off the trail. Nice! I was wishfully thinking that perhaps the entire trail had been cleared of leaves. Yeah, that didn't happen. After the first half mile, I had to employ my surfing skills.
The second trail was Rabbit's Run. Aptly named, as it twisted tightly both left and right and up and down. This course was all about being efficiently fast: going just hard enough to flow through the corners, but not so hard that you had to brake check through the corners. That allowed me to conserve my energy for the short but punchy power climbs. It was a challenging course as it required 100% focus in order to stay on the trail. The stark shadows cast by the sun was an eye-ball bonus!
After about 5 miles of single track, the course followed some double track that climbed and descended over the next few miles. I had caught up to Jedi-Master Hardwick Gregg and should have been content to follow his wheel. But, I got sight of "the rabbit," and my inner Greyhound came out and so I passed him. I caught up to another racer and followed his wheel on the descent. When it flattened out, we were still carrying alot of speed when he hit a mudhole head on. Now, I had ridden this the day before and knew, knew, knew to go to the right. But it came upon me so quickly that I "lemming'd" on to his wheel and when I hit the mud, my mass was not enough to propel me through the slop. I went from 15mph to 0 in a wheel length. Fortunately I did not endo into the mud pit, but I managed to thoroughly coat my bike in mud, and be passed by several racers, including Hardwick. Lesson learned ... again!
After some switchback and landslide tech on Three Bridges Trail, it was on to RockCrusher Trail. You could see the love that was poured into this one, what with the rocky step-ups, and rock armored switchbacks. I felt kinda bad for the trail builder tho' (forgot his name), as rocks in Tombigee National Forest are scarce. I think he used every single rock in the area and was still about 1500 short. At the top of the climb on RockCrusher, a volunteer had a small aid station with Halloween candy. I was in full racer mode or I would have stopped as I eye'd several Reese's Cups. The descent off the backside was open, fast, and flowy fun.
Sheep's Ranch Trail was the longest trail at 4.3 miles. There was nothing particularly special about this one, other than it seemed to go by fast. Of all the trails, it probably flowed the best. I had been following Hardwick since I had caught back up to him after my mud hole incident, but it was here that he slowly began to pull away from me. I enjoyed following him, as his pace was super consistent and watching him made it easier for me to react to the trail conditions hidden by the leaves. 

 Charlotte's Web Trail was AWFUL. A spider web of roots that felt like I was operating a jackhammer instead of a full suspension bike. There was a brief respite of gravel road in the middle that offered up some relief before hitting the second section. I was happy that all my teeth were mine, as any "false" ones would have rattled out of my head. After the thousand roots, I was able to pick the speed back up on a couple miles of fast dirt roads that took me over to the last two trails in the 27 mile loop. Both Beaver Lodge and Lakeside Trail were flat and fast. I had to be careful on the Lakeside Trail as it was more of a fine gravel path than single track. The corners were sketchy loose, but the multiple bridges had ample traction as they were dry. A short punchy grassy climb up to the Start/Finish line and after 2 hours 53 minutes, Lap 1 was done.

 I rolled over to my truck and refilled my CamelBak and headed back out for Lap 2. I had passed Hardwick in the transition area, but his transition time was quicker and I saw him go by as I was still refueling. Having now seen the full lap twice, the course seemed to flow better, as the body memory took control guiding me through the leaves and over the roots and rocks. However, the roots seemed to grow 2 inches since the first lap and the grunty climbs multiplied. I rode the second lap all alone, but that was fine by me. My eyes and brain were able to relax a little and I found myself thinking about this Covid year. Although, it has been extremely hard, painful, or full of sorrow for so many, my family and I have been very fortunate that we have been able to a somewhat normal year. My husband has now begun to have real banquets and the money has been flowing very well for the ducks. Even though UTK did not work out for Carly, she has since gotten a steady job and will be starting Cleveland State in the spring. And I have had a very successful year as both a veterinarian and bike racer. I have been able to do 10 races, several big dumb rides, and raise over $8000 for my local animal shelter. 

 I did stop at the top of the RockCrusher Trail climb to claim a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, but they were all gone. Noooo ....! I had the disappointment of a trick or treater when looking into the candy bowl only to see candy corn. Dang it! I had been looking forward to that corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oil filled peanut butter goodness! So I snagged a mini Hershey's bar and motored on. I rolled across the finish line in 5:54. My second lap was only 7 minutes slower; not too shabby. I climbed on to the top box and claimed my coaster and bag o'coffee.
A big thanks to Wendi and Jason Shearer for keeping the racing alive. Even though the numbers were capped at 100, they opted to go through the headache and hard work of having a race (where they were probably lucky to break even) to support our passion.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Maah Daah Hey 150 Race Report Part 2

Climbs are getting steeper and longer the further North I go

There is always a point in the race where the focus becomes more on just turning the pedals over versus enjoying the physicality and admiring the surrounding beauty.  This point hit me from mile 80-95.  This might have coincided with the hoofed up trail sections.  The free range angus cattle were becoming more frequent now and a few times I had to dismount and work my way around them because they would NOT move off the trail.

During one of my SAG stops Bill offered me a can of Starbuck's Double Shot.  Just what I needed:  it went down so smooth and tasted like heaven.  Not sure how much caffeine was in that, but it gave me a little mental boost a while later.  At least I felt faster.  Most of the washes this time of year are dry, but there were two, maybe 3 that had water in them.  I chose not to ride across but dismounted and hopped across.  That water looked toxic, like poop soup!  



I managed to get out of my funk at the second Little Missouri River Crossing around mile 100.  Bill took his bike off the rack (which he had picked up at his house back in Medora, ensuring that I WAS going to finish this race, if I broke my back up bike 😆) and rode down to the crossing with me.  I had changed into my secondary shoes for this walk across the river and would change back into my primary shoes and dry socks at the next SAG stop.  The water here is very silty and the sun was beginning to set.  I wanted warm, dry, and blister-free feet for the remaining 50 miles.


Knee deep in the middle



If you hadn't read into it already, Bill was AMAZING support.  He is Zeke's doppelganger ... Zeke's brother from another mother kind of guy!  He worked as hard as I did to ensure my success.  From soigneur to mechanic to photographer, he was my backbone.

As I made my way towards Magpie, I encountered more cattle.  Tired of giving way to them, I began to act like a maniacal cyclist and played chicken with them.  Fortunately, I acted crazy enough they wanted nothing to do with me and ran off.  I wanted to get in as many more daylight miles as I could and the sun was quickening its approach on the horizon.

I was able to hit Devil's Pass in the daylight.  It is a stunning feature of the MDH, a narrow ridge with 150 foot drop offs on both sides.




Mother Nature must have known I was needing a little boost as the sun began to set.  I was 120 miles and 15 hours into my journey.  She put on THE MOST SPECTACULAR show.  The skies filled with colors as the sun set and the full moon rose.  I swear it was over an hour of just this brilliant reddish orange that filled in the horizon.





Suddenly my legs didn't feel so heavy and the nagging pain between my shoulder blades disappeared.  I was awestruck.  I didn't care that my average mph was decreasing as I was constantly stopping and taking photos of this breathtaking show.  I didn't care that this might "cost" me my goal of finishing in 18 hours.  This was a once in a lifetime experience and I wanted to soak up every bit of it into my memory banks.



I finally made the decision to put my camera away, once I began to feel the chill of dropping temperatures.  But not before I took one final pic of the moonrise.




The moon shone so bright that I didn't have to turn on my lights until 7:45, more than 30 minutes after the sun set.  It was so surreal to be riding through the prairie by moonlight.  As the moon rose higher, I was enveloped in darkness and turned on my light.  Now my field of view was only the circle of light just in front of me.  I wasn't creeped out, even when I began to see ALL the eyes looking at me whenever I would scan ahead.  Some of those eyes were right on the trail, but scampered away as I approached.  The only time I thought I might die was on a climb; I was pedaling slowly, and happened to turn my head slightly to the left.  There, just 5 yards off the trail, was a massive Angus bull.  He stomped his front feet and blew at me.  Having no where or no energy to go fast, I braced for the charge.  But it never came, Thank God!  He probably was thinking exactly the same thing as I, in that moment.

There were times in the darkness as I wound my way up and around buttes that off one side of the trail was complete and utter blackness.  I didn't pay much attention earlier in the day, but got to thinking that there was a lot of exposure on this trail. One wrong move or overshooting the trail on a tight turn and I would be falling into an abyss of darkness.  After thinking of what could happen, I focused solely on the trail in front of me.

As I approached mile 140, I knew I had to diverge off MDH and take some double track and dirt road around the North Unit of Teddy Roosevelt National Park and then hop back on the MDH after a few miles of this "re-route."  Both my GPS units were still alive and so I had the breadcrumb trail to follow, but there were also a few red MDH150 stakes for affirmation.  The 2 miles of dirt road was a nice "breather" and gave me a mental break from the intense focus of riding single track at night.

But then, there was the hike-a-bike from hell.  Nick chose to link the double track farm road to the MDH trail the quickest way possible ...straight the f*$K UP!!  Holy cow Batman.  At mile 143, I began a 300 foot, 1/4 mile climb up loose dirt.  Think 2 steps forward, 1 step sliding back.  I could only laugh aloud at how pitiful I must have looked.  And then I saw cow poop on this.  Well, if a 1200 pound cow can climb up this shit-hill, surely I can pushing a bike.

Finally back on the MDH, I could smell the barn.  7 miles to the finish, and a tailwind!  I cruised along the prairie sections, and then struggled to stay upright on the increasingly technical sections down and up the washes.  I was beginning to have trouble with depth perception and managed to run smack into two big step ups on the exit points of dry creek beds.  

The final 2 miles were some sweet single track heading down off the final butte. Normally this would have been a fun descent, but I was so ready to be done.  It seemed more like 5 miles long, but finally I heard a cowbell and someone screaming my name.  My grimace was replaced with a big ole smile, as I crossed the finish into the CCC campground at 11:19 pm, 151 miles and 19 hours 19 minutes later. As soon as I rolled up to Nick, my headlight died ... perfect timing!


Totally Spent

This was the first year since its inception that a woman has finished this race.  And this year, two of us did.  The other BA was Mandy from North Dakota, who started earlier than I and had finished at sunset.  But I managed to grab the win with the fastest time and therefore the course record.  So the bar has been set ladies!  Not too high, tho, and with good conditions and with the right fitness and mental fortitude, I expect someone to take it from me next year.


Cannot say enough about this man, Bill!

A huge thank you to Bill, who was out there as long as I, ensuring I had the adventure of a lifetime.  For giving up his day to support someone he did not know ... and who passed out (not sleeping, but a full on fainting spell) in his truck on the way back to retrieve mine.  So then he proceeded to take me back to my hotel and then pick me up the following day to take me back to my truck.  If there were only more Bills in this world 💓.

A huge thank you to Nick, who camped out at the finish all week to greet the racers each and every day.  And who allowed me to warm up and change in his RV.  And then surprised me with pizza and a home made salad.  That was the most special finish ever.  One I will never forget.





Nick asked me to describe this race in one word.   MAGICAL

 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Maah Daah Hey 150 Race Report Part 1

 

18,000 feet of climbing

The MDH Buck Fifty is a self supported race in the North Dakota Badlands.  It begins south of Medora at Burning Coal Vein Campground and ends 151 miles later at the CCC Campground just south of Watford City.  I don't know of anywhere else in the United States where there is 150 miles of point to point continuous single track.

The race is put on by Nick Ybarra, who single-handedly saved this trail from extinction in 2010.  Since then, his organization #SavetheMDH has grown into a small army that tirelessly works on trail and hosts several races to continue to fund his efforts in ensuring that the MDH lives up to its name (meaning grandfather, long-lasting, from the Mandan Hidatsa Indian language).


No hiding from sustained 15-17 mph winds

I had raced the 100 mile version back in 2015, and absolutely fell in love with the trail, despite temps soaring above 100 degrees that year.  Although the MDH100 had been around since 2012, the Buck Fifty did not start until 2016. For 5 years, I have been patiently waiting for the cards to fall in place.  2020 was the year, with many races, including the Marji Gesick, which usually falls on the same weekend, cancelled.

It almost did NOT happen, when my support person had to back out.  But, Nick came through for me, messaging me that his right-hand man, Bill Pierce, was up for the task.  There was a 6-day window to start/finish the single day effort.  While it officially started anytime after 12 am on September 26, I opted to start at 4 am on Monday, September 28.  For two reasons: one, Bill was supporting Tinker on Saturday and two, the winds would be at their least intensity on Monday.  

Monday morning came early with a 2 am wake up call.  I had given Bill all my shit the day before, so after my Christopher Bean Coffee was ready, I rolled out of my hotel room and met Bill in Belfield.  We left my truck there and headed to the trailhead.  Boy, was I a bundle of nerves!  The enormity of the task that lie ahead was daunting.  But, I was prepared and ready to enjoy this journey through a land that, for the most part, lie untouched by man.


Official Start: 4:01 am

The starting temperature was 38 degrees and winds were out of the northwest at 7-10 mph.  I rolled through the gate and was enveloped in darkness.  As I crested the first climb and began to build up speed as I rolled through the opening miles of prairie, my primal instincts kicked in and I began to howl and yip and bark at the moon.

Around mile 2, I noticed a black round object moving along just up the trail.  As I approached, I had to slow down, as this creature was not intimidated by me and kept ambling down the trail.  I couldn't figure out what the hell it was ... until I got within 10 feet of it.  It was a dang porcupine! It finally decided to exit the trail, on its own accord.

I was rolling along a smooth section of trail at a fairly good clip when all of a sudden I heard a loud "POP" and "PING."  I got off my bike and while looking at it, watched my rear tire deflate.  I whipped out my tire plugger, but could not find the hole.  Then I noticed a spoke dangling from the rim. It had snapped off at the hub. My heart sank!  How the hell did that happen? I was only 3.7 miles in, with a major mechanical.  I felt the frustration rise, but then I decided right then and there that this was only a hiccup. I made the decision to run it to the first check point at mile 6.7.  While throwing a tube in it might be quicker, it would not save enough time to justify attempting this in darkness and the cold. After a mile of running, I started riding it on the descents and flats because the trail was smooth and I felt comfortable in knowing that the rim would stand up to this.

At the road crossing, Bill was there.  He was relieved I was ok as he was just about to start moving backwards along the trail to find me.  He immediately got my Niner RKT RDO off his truck, we moved the necessary gear onto it and I continued on. I figured this cost me about 40 minutes.

It took a while to find my mojo again.  It is always after a mechanical that the thought, "What if something else goes wrong again?" occurs and sits there replaying in my brain.  As the sun began to rise, the thought of another mechanical slowly evaporated as the sights of this beautiful landscape filled my mind.


Sunrise Smiles

These first 50 miles are the easiest.  The trail is fairly smooth and the climbing is mostly rollers with a few sustained hills at a decent grade. Even in the dark, the trail was well marked by posts with reflective signs.  There were a couple of spots, either where the trail mingled with cattle trails or where the trail almost turned back onto itself, that I had a brief moment of confusion. But I could almost always spot the next trail marker from the location of the one I just passed, if I just looked around a bit.

About every 7-10 miles, Bill would be at a dirt road crossing, tail gate down, and supplies out, ready for me to roll in and grab what I needed.  He was always giving words of encouragement, taking photos, and making sure I was eating and drinking.  This was quite the reassurance, as this trail is very remote. It reminded me of the scenery in "Dances With Wolves."  No signs or sounds (vehicles, planes, trains) of civilization, save for the 66 cattle gates I had to lift!

These got heavier as the day wore on.


Plumely Draw was a beautiful fast rolling section of trail.  With a slight tailwind, I felt like a Jedi Knight aboard a speeder bike!  I could hear the hum of my tires on the hard packed dirt as I sped through the prairie.


Smooth Sailing!


The section leading to Sully Creek State Park was stunning!  Atop the butte, with a view of the Little Missouri down below, it was pretty darn close to heaven.  And that descent!  Delicious!


Eye Candy


After a 75 second pee at the state park restroom (the only downside of a 30 ounce cup of CBC coffee), I stopped at Bill's truck to take a layer off, refill my nutrition, and then head out for the middle 1/3 of the course.  I had made up some time with my earlier mishap and had finished 48 miles in 5 hours 51 minutes.  I was still hopeful for an 18 hour finish, but the winds were whipping up, and I was now entering the "meat and potatoes" of the course. 

The first crossing of the Little Missouri River was rideable, if you knew the line.  Having pre-ridden this on Saturday, I zig-zag'd my way across it and avoided the deep areas.


Mile 48

A few sections were through private lands.

Around the 50 mile mark, I exited the Maah Daah Hey Trail and began the 22 mile Buffalo Gap Trail.  This trail was established so that cyclists could skirt around the Teddy Roosevelt National Park (South Unit), which the MDH trail went through.  Other than the tortoise placards changing to buffalo skulls, the character of the trail remained unchanged.

It was in this first 11 miles of the Buffalo Gap Trail that the winds were the fiercest.  I purposely rode the day before when the winds were at their worst:  sustained 25-27 mph.  I wanted to feel just how awful that was, so that now, today, when the winds were 15-17 mph, the battle would be mentally easier.  Fortunately, there were some sections going down into the washes, or around the buttes, that I got a brief respite.

The second half of the Buffalo Gap Trail was smokin' fast!  The course had turned such that now I had a tailwind.  Woo hoo! As I approached Wannagon campground, at mile 72, Bill met me at an intersection just before, and reminded me that I had to deviate off the trail, ride down to the campground, touch the gate, and then ride back up, and continue on. Now, mind you, that little detour was only about 0.1 mile down and then back up, but now, I was beginning to feel every steeper pitch of the trail.  I told Bill as I touched the gate that this was just "cruel and unusual."

Climbing out of the campground involved a series of switchbacks that approached 25% in a few spots.  This was the first time I had to get off and push (aside from the broken spoke/flat incident). Once on top, it rolled for a while and I was able to take in the views and remind myself of just how blessed I was to be able to participate in such a beautifully grueling event.  That need to be plugged into nature in order to maintain resiliency and balance with her is a drug that I constantly crave.  And boy, was I getting an overdose today!


The stunning beauty of the Badlands

I soon hit mile 75, the halfway point.  I looked down at my Garmin and I was 9 hours 2 minutes into this adventure.  Still on target, but could I maintain this pace for another 75?


To be continued ...




Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Fool's Gold Race Report (up the creek without a paddle)

 



The Beginning

The last time I had raced this event was 2014.  Back then, it was only 54 miles and it didn't have the new "trail" just beyond Cooper's Gap. The weather had been great all week and I was looking forward to those mud holes I encountered the weekend before being all dried up.  As a light rain started while I was putting on my number plate, I swore I heard a "Muah-ha-ha-ha" from the heavens above.

Because of Covid, there was no mass start, which suited me just fine.  The Open Women had their own start at 7:42, 2 minutes behind the Open Men.  This was to my benefit.  Not being as strong as some of my competition, I am always on the struggle bus trying to stay with the Open Men during mass starts.  I am not a fast starter; it takes a while for my engine to fire on all cylinders.  And with mass starts, I usually fall off the main group pretty quickly.

So the beginning pace was quite nice and allowed a nice steady rise in heart rate.  We were all content to party pace the beginning miles of pavement.  But then the single speed men had to spoil my fun, as they rode steadily by us on a climb.  We all managed to jump on the SS train and hold their wheels for a while.  

On the first gravel climb is where the women's pack was blown up.  The men made a surge and Jen, Beata, and myself made the selection.  Although I had about 4 miles and 15 minutes to warm up, that first little climb was a kick in the arse!  I managed to hang on, but when the main climb up to Cooper's Gap started, I had to let them go as I began to get cross-eyed! 

I was currently 3rd woman and was gonna make damn sure to hold this position as long as I could. As leaders of the men's age groups began to pass me, I would latch on while I could, getting some free speed up Cooper's Gap.  A very light rain continued to fall and the higher I got, the lower the visibility became as I was enshrouded in fog.

At the 11 mile mark, the course took a turn off the main gravel road onto a double track descent.  Enough rain had made the rocks greasy.  I kept the braking to a minimum and just let the bike do all the work on the downhill, hoping that a stray loose rock would not take my front wheel out from under me.

The next climb was a gradual 3 miles up to Frozen Branch Trail.  This single track was old school, downhill, greasy technical with some chunky rocky areas.  Super fun!  Just wish visibility was a little better.  While most racers opted not to wear glasses, despite mine fogging up at times and accumulating mist on the outside, I kept mine on.  I value my eyeballs and many a time have had sticks and rocks hit my glasses, and don't want to chance losing an eye to a severe injury.  And secondly, I have "old people" eyes and cannot see my Garmin nor could I fix a flat without them.

Popping back out on more "civilized" gravel, I made my way up to Aid #1.  I stopped, grabbed my hydration pack out of my ZipLoc, deposited my empty bottle, and placed my drop bag in the return container.  I had been thinking this on the climb up, as I did not want a 15 minute time penalty.  I also had the volunteer throw me a couple paper towels my way so I could clean off my glasses.

A few more miles of climbing and then onto the Winding Stair descent.  It was as foggy as a Basic Training gas chamber, but fortunately the gravel was smooth, and the cars driving up were honking their horns, because I couldn't see shit!

Despite the light rain, Turner Creek was in good shape and I was able to let it rip.  I was in my own little bubble of high speed pleasure!  Popping out onto gravel, I pedaled my way over to Jones Creek TH.  There was a slight break in the clouds and for a moment, rays of sunshine washed down upon me.  As I climbed up Jones Creek, a racer hung onto my wheel.  Towards the top, I let him pass.  But on the subsequent series of switchbacks, he biffed it, and I almost rolled right over him, it all happened so quickly.  I got ahead of him and fell back into my groove, when I rounded a turn, and there lay another dude, playing Twister with his bike.  I came this close to rendering his derailleur inoperable.  I made sure he was ok, as I maneuvered around him.  He was very apologetic about impeding my progress, though.  The new Jones Creek re route over to Bull Mountain was very fast and very fun!

As I crossed the dam, more clouds rolled in and the sunshine disappeared.  A light rain started as I approached Aid #2.  Not needing anything, I rolled along.  As I began the never ending ascent up Bull Mountain, the skies opened up, and soon the trail became Class 1/2 whitewater.  At times, the water was running downhill so fast, I could feel the resistance trying to pedal up through it.  Leaves, small sticks, and other debris were rushing past my wheels.  The only good thing about this torrent of water was that somehow, some way, it made my mind perceive the trail as not being as steep as it truly was.  I lost track of time and before I knew it I was at the top. 

The descent off Bull was crazy insane! The trail was completely underwater and I was riding blind.  I only knew I hit a mud pit when I got all squirrely.  I had my glasses down on my nose like a librarian, trying to see where I was going as well as trying to keep the mud out of my eyes at the same time.  I was light on the brakes, since this soil is known to eat through pads at warp speed.  It felt like the descent took twice as long as the ascent.  I made a decision I have made only one other time in my life and that was at the 2007 La Ruta:  I pee'd my bibs.  I really had to go and what with the downpour, why bother stopping?

Despite the cooler weather and the rain, I still managed to drain my hydration pack.  I stopped at Aid #3 and grabbed my bottle out of my drop bag, once again, dumping my empty bag into the return container.  The rain was still coming down hard and I was secretly praying that we would be routed off Jake and just ride gravel back to the finish.  And my bike was hating me, making some god awful noises.  I stopped on the gravel climb up to the last bit of Bull single track, got off my bike, and spun my wheels.  OMG!  Two revolutions was all they made before they came to a squealing halt.  This ... was ... going ... to ... be ... a ... painful ... 15 ... miles to the finish.

I slogged my way over to the beginning of Jake.  Zeke was marshaling us onto the Jake single track.  I let out an exasperated sigh!  I could tell I didn't have much brake pads left, and I still had about 8 miles of sloppy single track left.  Now Jake is usually smooth, fast, and flowy, but after today's rain, it was anything but.  I tried to find the flow, but then I would suddenly be off the trail and into the underbrush, as I tried to brake for the corner, but there was no slowing down, as my bike shuddered and squealed.  Yep, I do believe it was metal on metal.  I think I repeated this scenario about 4 times.  Fortunately the landings were soft and I was able to muster a laugh or two.

Finally, it was just some gravel and pavement between me and the finish.  With brake calipers completely pushed out of their housing, the noises emanating from below was akin to waterboarding.  I kept apologizing to my bike and trying to keep my mind off of how my LBS was going to get my third place winnings.

I came upon a junior racer, who was a little climbing phenom up Bull, tackling the techy sections with ease, while I opted to HAB a couple, and save the legs.  I complimented him on his climbing prowess and motored on.  A few more years, young man, and you will have that endurance to crush it all the way to the end.

Thinking all the madness was over, I forgot about the grassy slip n slide down to the creek crossing.  With no brakes left at all, I was all over that descent and almost bee lined it into the briar patch.  Seeing the arch just up the hill  was like seeing the gates of Heaven.  I was soooo glad to be done.  I had anticipated a 5 1/2 hour finishing time, but ended up being out there without a paddle for 50 minutes longer.  


The Finish:  6 hours 21 minutes later


But not for the expenses to repair brakes and bearings, I would say I had a fun day on the bike.  How often do you get to ride through mud puddles all day long and not have your Mom yelling at you for trashing your clothes?

Thank you Lisa, Chris, and all the volunteers who made this race happen.  I know it must be mentally and physically challenging and exhausting to run an event during the Covid pandemic.   And with limited numbers of participants, it has gotta be hard to break even. I am happy as a tick on a fat dog that this race happened.


In great company!




 


Saturday, September 5, 2020

Forty Five Race Report

So I headed back up to Kentucky to defend my title once again.  I told Keith that I was retiring (from Kentucky racing) after KGC, but I guess I was coming out of "retirement" for this one.  Besides, it seems like only Kentucky and Georgia are having racing during this Covid calamity. 

I have raced enough in bad weather to not let Hurricane Laura sway me from this one.  The forecast turned out to be wrong (how could that be?!?), and although there was rain the night before, it was not a deluge and race day turned out to be beautiful!

The start was a 1.7 mile climb, gaining 1100 feet.  I didn't know what was worse:  the "cold" start (not much of a warm up) or the lead vehicle's muffler-less exhaust, but I .. almost ... died!  And to rub salt into the wound, this itty bitty kid, couldn't have been older than 12 or 13, was kicking my ass going up this climb.  My ego deflated a bit as I drafted behind him 😆😆😆, but I figured he would blow up soon.  Nope, he did not.  Towards the top, with the lead vehicle long gone, and my engine finally hitting on all cylinders, I was able to bridge the gap to Mary and Julie and pass the little bugger.  He was like a horse fly, however, and kept buzzing just behind me.

Entering the single track, I forged ahead of Julie but stayed behind Mary and a group of guys.  I figured I would just settle in, hoping to catch my breath from the opening VO2 max effort. Although Keith had mentioned not once, not twice, but three times how slick the bridges were, on the second one, someone went down HARD!  He was just pulling himself out of the ravine as we approached. Fortunately two guys had stopped and said they would help him get out of there.  He shoulder was definitely not where it should be!

The single track was in surprisingly great shape despite the overnight rain.  The roots and rocks were a little slick and on a couple of tricky sections, the train I was in derailed.  I could sense Mary's and my frustrations rising the second time. I zipped my mouth and squelched mine. There would be ample opportunity to get around them and plenty of race left to "flex."  

Midway through the single track, during one of the derailments, the little guy managed to get around me.  I followed in his wake, keeping a respectable distance, and just shaking my head in amazement at how well he rode the single track.  I was riding a steady high endurance/low tempo just keeping him in sight.  

Popping out on the pavement at the dam, I noticed who I thought might be this kid's Dad ... same cycling kit.  I struck up a conversation and discovered their names were David and David, the son being 13 years old.  As little David was pulling a small group of us, I rode up to him and told him just how well he slayed that single track!  You should have seem him smile.  I took my turn pulling the group over to the Southern Loop. Little David took his turn at the front as well.


Little David has heart and grit!


As we turned on to the gravel, Mary and another racer passed us.  I latched on to her wheel and hung on while this big muscular racer pulled us on the initial gravel.  I noticed that he had rainbow stripes on his sleeves and knew that I needed to stick to his wheel as long as I could to try and get some free speed.

It was awful nice of the forest service to throw down some fresh chunky gravel.  I was glad I chose my hardtail mountain bike, for it afforded a little more stability and rubber on this loose and sharp rock.  Unfortunately, it did manage to eat a few tires that day.  I saw about 3-4 racers fixing flats along this 5 mile section.

On the climb just before Aid 2/3, Mary popped off the back.  Curtis, the fella with the world champion stripes, thought I was Mary, and turned around to say that he she popped, meaning me.  But when he saw me and not Mary, he looked a little surprised. As we neared the aid station, I took the lead as Curtis seemed to be slowing a bit.  I said what nice stripes you have to which he replied that this was his first mountain bike race in 5 years and that he is more of a velodrome type of racer. He definitely had a track racer's build; big and burly!

Not needing to stop, I motored on.  Soon enough the right hand turn to Middle Ridge approached.  I was cautiously excited, as their was a slight course change through here.  Of course there were the 20 mud holes, but having done KGC just 3 weeks ago, this was nothing compared to Horse Lick.  I still managed to sink my front wheel hub deep in what I thought was a safe ride around.  The last half (the new portion) of Middle Ridge was a hoot!  The trail was in great shape: downhill, fast, and smooth-ish!

I knew there would be some climbing once back on the gravel, leading up to the aid station.  I had to remain on the gas, despite some barking from my legs.  Mary is a powerhouse on the flats and I did not want her to get me back in her sights, as that is always a motivator for the chaser.  Curtis was right behind me, but struggling.  I was secretly hoping that he would stay with me, as I could use his horsepower on the gravel rollers and pavement back to the single track.  

I had to stop at the aid station to refill a bottle.  Curtis continued on.  I didn't take much longer than 30 seconds, but when I hopped back on my bike, he was out of sight.  He became my carrot.  For several miles I rode without seeing him, but after I respectfully maneuvered around a mule train, I could see him just off in the distance.  That was all I needed to throw out some more watts and slowly reel him in.  

He stopped briefly at the SAG wagon that was tending to a racer that had a mechanical.  I think he was desperate for some water.  I motored on, knowing that he would probably catch me once the road flattened out.  It took him longer than I anticipated, as he didn't make contact until I was on the pavement about a mile from the dam.  He pulled for a short bit, but had to pull off and let me take the lead as his legs were on the verge of a full on lock down.  He hung onto my wheel until the single track and then popped off once the trail began to undulate.  

I was back in my happy place, knocking off those fast flowy dirt miles, one by one.  The trail was clear and had dried up nicely.  I still gave the bridges plenty of respect, coming to a crawl as I approached them.  I enjoyed the techy rocky and rooty sections and managed to nail them, now that I had an open "road."

Once I hit that last mile, which was mostly up, I drilled it.  Tongue hanging out, eyeballs bleeding, legs on fire, and breathing like I was possessed, I wanted to empty the tank.  Coming across the finish line just under 3 hours 20 minutes, I was spent.  I am not used to these shorter races, but they hurt just as much as the longer ones.




That finish was NOT flat ... think 15% for the last 30 yards.

I took the win and am still undefeated in Kentucky.  I think I will now retire on that one ... at least in Kentucky.  Unless Keith comes through with a potential stage race in 2021.  Then I might just have to come back out of "retirement" again.

Three shout outs:

    13 year old David, who had a top 10 finish in the Open Men's

    16 year sister Elizabeth, who had a top 5 finish in Open Women's ... in her first MTB race

    Curtis, it was a pleasure to ride with a World Champion.