Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pisgah Recon

On Wednesday, Zeke, Ursula, and I headed to Brevard to check out the course for the Pisgah Stage Race. What better way to dial in our skills than in the rain ... at least it was warm.

The first day we got in 5 hours of riding. Squirrel Gap Trail was especially technical with miles and miles of off-camber bench cut singletrack. The roots were slick and it reminded me of the rooty section on Old Copper Road. The Specialized Captains hooked up well. I kept it light on the braking and was amazed at how little I slipped.

I must have touched Danielle's knee while at Shenandoah, because around mile 30 my IT band flared up. I have not had this issue since 2007. For the remainder of the ride I had to take it easy ... yeah, right! In Pisgah, that is impossible.

The second day we got in 5 1/2 hours of riding. Today, the rain held off, but the trails were still slick. Turkey Pen Gap Trail was exhilarating on the downhills and much of the climbs were hike-a-bikes. The descent off Vineyard Gap Trail required total concentration, but was sweet! Riverside and Bradley Creek Trails were flat but filled with rocks, roots, and river crossings.

Foolish me thought we would be able to ride the course in its entirety. These routes are massively epic. With Zeke's knee and my IT band giving me problems, we had to back off the intensity. So the first two days, we covered about 2/3 of Stages 2 and 3.

The third and final day, we rode the beginning of Stage 4 and the tail end of Stages 2 and 3. A little over 4 hours of riding. The fire roads held up very well with all the rain. Although a bit soft, they were not muddy.

Avery Creek Trail had a small river running down it and the rocks were loose. I figured the flowing water was the best line ... and it was. The signage for this trail actually said EASY. There is nothing EASY about Pisgah! Multiple creek crossings, slick bridges, and thousands of roots made it tough, but fun nonetheless.

Bennett Creek Trail followed a ridge for awhile with sick rock drops, short, steep hike-a-bikes, and one heck of a blazing fast descent!

We finished the third day with the descent off Black Mtn Trail. By far, one of the funnest trails. Kudos to Todd for letting us finish each stage with this awesome descent. I think I was giggling the whole way ... although I passed on the 10 foot gap jump over the creek.

The Pisgah Stage Race is going to be one tough son of a gun. The mileage may not look impressive, but the singletrack is grueling. It requires total focus 100% of the time or you will be headed to the hospital. There are no buff trails here.

Todd was wise to shorten the stages. I did not find this out until I had gotten back home from the recon. While doing this pre-ride, I was thinking that there will be a lot of people in over their head with this one. But the new course routing will make it much more doable.

Ursula is going to pass on this race; she did have a blast and came out of it with some new skills. But she does not feel she is ready for this beast.

I think Zeke was wondering the whole time why he volunteered for this recon. With the rain, the roots, the treacherous descents, and his nagging knee, he did not have too much fun.

Me, I was in heaven. So what if it was raining. So what if my IT band was hurtin.? So what if I did not clean everything. Pisgah made me feel alive!

My Specialized Stumpjumper is the steed of choice. It handles the descents with finesse and climbs like a goat. With its slightly longer wheelbase and slacker angles (as compared to the Era), I was much more comfortable riding the descents. And since it only weighs 23.5 pounds, that makes the hike-a-bikes a bit easier.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Oooh, Oooh, Oooh, Pick Me, Pick Me!

So I thought I would give it a shot ... that is, being part of the 2010 Stumpjumper Trail Crew.

During my childhood, when at recess or playing with the kids on the block, I was never picked first nor last, but always somewhere in the top 25%. I could hit the ball, kick the ball, catch the ball, and throw the ball pretty good.

These days, I have traded in the ball for Specialized bikes. I have been racing/riding them since 1999. I am pretty good at riding with others, taking pics and telling stories. I am really good at shredding trail, finding epic rides, and managing family time with riding time.

What I am not so good at is the computer. And it probably has something to do with the fact that after riding my legs off during the day, the last thing I want to do is sit in front of a machine and type. And, I want to spend time with my husband and 7 year old daughter.

But hey, I am always willing to learn and try new things, i.e. Twitter. And what better incentive than the possibility of getting a free, kick a$$ S-Works Stumpjumper FSR!

My best friend and training partner calls me the "race 'ho" as I am always thinking about where to race next. I have a competitive spirit, but I also desire to ride new single track ... and at speed! But who knows what 2010 will bring. New races? New places to ride? Less racing and more exploring? New friends? Rekindling old friendships?

For the most part, I don't know what the future holds. But the ONE thing I do know is that I will be on a Specialized!

Feel free to enter the contest.

Friday, September 11, 2009

It is Not Always About Me

On Labor Day weekend, friends of ours lost their son in a tragic boating accident. What made it even more heartwrenching was that it took the rescue squad 3 1/2 days to find the body. Tomorrow at noon, services will be held for Santiago.

Carly and I had planned to go on an organized road ride with my Dad and aunt. However, upon hearing news of Santee's memorial services, I knew we would not be able. I was worried how Carly would take it, as she loves these types of rides. Selflessly, my 7 year old replied, "Mommy, we need to be there for the family. We can do a trail-a-bike ride any time."

Now, we are not real close with the Snellgrose's. We might even be more of acquaintances. We met them through the Outdoor Store and have hung out with them through Outdoor Store and Ducks Unlimited activities. But this wonderful family needs our support, no matter how small of a part we may have played in their lives. What they are going through is unfathomable.

In tribute, members of the Outdoor Store's first mountain bike team are going to wear our retro jerseys (like the one pictured above) and pedal our way together from the store to where Santiago's service will be held. I have not worn this jersey since 1999, but have it stored away. I never thought I would wear it again, but kept it as a momento. Now IS the time to wear it in honor of Santiago.

We love you Santiago.

May your spirit live on in those you touched!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Shenandoah Mountain 100 Race Report

I awoke Sunday morning around 4:30am to a warm temperature of 55 degrees. I enjoyed some coffee that Zeke had brewed and then downed 2 Pop-Tarts and 2 eggs. Having gotten my stuff together the night before, I threw it in the van and we drove over to the Stokesville campground.

The start was a bit hectic with riders jockeying for position. I had initially lined up just a couple rows back, but by the time all the racers had made their way to the start, I ended up being about 15 rows back, alongside Sue, Danielle, and Karen.

The race out of the campground onto the pavement was "inchworm style" with tires rubbing and handlebars knocking. I watched Sue weave effortlessly in and out of riders to the front. I immediately latched on and "The Master" guided me close to the front. Once we hit the first climb, I sadly watched Sue drop my butt like a bad habit. I had no expectations of being able to match her speed, so all was well. I just needed to ride my own race.

The climb went by oh so fast. My legs were o.k., but my breathing was ragged. It reminded me of when I started racing in the Sport class in less than optimal shape. Was this breathing remnants of my cold last week, some left-over post TR fatigue, or was I going too hard and about to blow?

Not liking this feeling at all, I backed off a bit. Once I hit the first single track, I picked it back up a bit and enjoyed flitting through the rocks. Several guys ahead dabbed a bit, but I was able to get around them. This was the first time in 3 tries at this race that I did not have to push the bike on this section. The descent was fast and furious, but I was disappointed when 2 miles of trail had been turned in to a logging road.

Popping out onto Tillman road, I was lucky to ride in a group to the Lynn Trail. Danielle had caught back up to me at this point and took a strong pull. The climb up was more doable this year as opposed to the last time I raced here. I attributed this to better fitness and being farther up towards the front. I did end up hiking a short bit when a few guys ahead of me just couldn't pedal the steeper sections.

The descent on Wolf Ridge Trail was exhilarating! Previously, I always the descents as my skillz weren't too good. But this year, I enjoyed them better than the climbs. I followed a guy down the mountain as his lines were perfect! We were hauling ass until we suddenly came upon a caravan of slow riders. Tartar sauce!! I was needing the speed on the descents to break away from Danielle as she excels on the gravel roads and the climbs ... with those super long legs!

Back onto Tillman, I joined another paceline. Betsy was in this one. We motored along at lightspeed. Once again, my breathing became a bit labored. Once we turned right and began climbing, I had to slow down as I started to get light-headed. Betsy slowly began to put a gap on me.

At CP2, I grabbed a water bottle on the fly. The road continued to climb and slowly my legs began to wither. I felt like I was reliving Day 6 at TR when I had no gas. I had no choice but to just settle in to a comfortable pace. The gravel road climb up Hankey Mountain was no fun at all for me, with the legs not turning over and feeling like I was breathing through a straw.

Amazingly, I was still passing people and they were telling me that Betsy was just around the corner. But I just did not have the energy to kick it up a notch to try to catch her. I kept thinking that eventually my legs would come back. I made every effort to drink and eat a bit more than I usually do.

The Dowell's Draft descent is wicked fast with a middle section that can take you out in a heartbeat if you are not 100% focused. It has a couple little kicker climbs followed by a bench cut off-camber narrow rollercoaster finish down to CP3. In years past, I would usually get passed on this one as I was a bit hesitant. But today, I at least was finding my mojo on the descents and holding my own.

At CP3 I refilled my Camelbak and a volunteer filled my gel flask. Kudos to these guys and gals as I felt that I had my own personal assistant. Hoping that my legs were coming back to me, I headed out onto the 5 mile road section. As soon as the wind hit me in the face, I knew my legs were still dead. This section was miserable and I had no one to hook up with. 'Nuff said.

Finally, I made the right turn, cleaned the dry, bouldery creek bed, hiked up the stone steps, and grannied my way up the singletrack climb. I passed a number of guys and almost cleaned all of the rockslide sections, save for the next to the last one, where I bobbled and then was off the bike for a short push.

The descent to CP4 was uneventful as I was alone in my own little world. I had no intention of stopping at this check, but one volunteer almost grabbed my bike as I pedaled through. Man, they are serious about helping us! I told him "No thanks," and pedaled on. Knowing that the beast of a climb, my nemesis, was shortly ahead of me, I took a caffeinated gel.

Thankfully, a guy hooked up with me and working together we were able to latch on to a group of about 5 guys. The next 18 miles was up, initially a bunch of false flats and a few rollers, but towards the end it really pitched up. Riding in the group, my legs became happy again. Whoo Hoo! About damn time! The group stayed together for the first 12 miles, but when we turned right onto the steeper forest service road, the group fell apart ... me first.

I took another caffeinated gel and settled in for the next 6 miles to CP 5. Sure enough, I slowly reeled in the guys as they tired. I eventually caught them all by the time I made it to the CP. I was feeling strong again; I made a quick stop, refilling my Camelbak and gel flask with the volunteer's help.

I attacked the next 12 miles like it was an XC race. After climbing a bit more, I turned right onto a fun double track descent with multiple water bars. Careful not to catch too much air, I flew down this section and prepared myself to endure the climbing through the meadows up to Little Bald Knob. Still feeling good, I crested the final little climb and dropped on into the Chestnut Ridge Trail.

The first part of this descent is steep with big rocks that would love to grab your derailleur or your front tire. I played it conservative here, but once it smoothed out into a curvy, fast, flowy trail, I pulled out all the stops. I think I actually smiled the whole way down this one!

Having enough fluid and food for the last 12 miles, I rolled on through CP6. Once again, that climb up to the last bit of single track was my Achilles' heel. I managed to make it to the top without too many expletives.

Knowing that there were only a few miles left, I was able to dig deep and hammer on through this section of fun single track descents, short little uphill grinds, the grassy double track with a couple little kickers, followed by the oh so sweet single track descent into the finish.

I was hoping for a sub 9 hour finish, but missed my goal by 2 minutes. Although the day was brutally hard, I was pleased with my finish, given that I had felt so bad miles 31-55. I rang the gong and collected my glass. One of the cooks was there with a plate of fries. They were freakin' awesome!

Thanks to Chris Scott and his army of volunteers for putting on such an awesome hundy ... my favorite!