The start was neutral until we hit FS 477. Then it was all about hanging on to the lead group, which may have lasted 30 seconds. That would be the last time I saw Amanda. I wisely chose to follow Sue up the 6 mile gravel climb. Just too cool being on the wheel of such an awesome, yet humble, world-class athlete. This is one of the few sports that allows the average joe to compete alongside the best.
I hit Buckhorn Gap first and was able to get a gap on Sue during the ensuing descent. Thom P. let me pass him and then stuck to my wheel until the bottom. Check out the footage:
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Sue soon caught back up to me as I was climbing the first steep bit of Squirrel Gap. I was able to follow her for a while, but then I guess her diesel engine warmed up and she slowly pulled away from me. I knew I did not need to go any faster for fear of burning too many matches. I wish my HR monitor would have been working, but it decided to go on strike the day before, so I had to base my effort on PE. I would have preferred numbers!
Squirrel was enjoyable and more rideable than last year, although there were a lot more downed trees to negotiate. Laurel Creek was FAST and dry! I guess I was having too much fun and getting a little wild because one of the waterbars grabbed my front wheel and threw me down the mountain. Thankfully, I landed in a soft mossy area devoid of rocks. Whew! That could have been a lot worse. As I pulled Stumpy off of me and started to climb back up, I glanced down and saw the trail only feet away. Heck, might as well make the most of it. Turns out there was a switchback just beyond where I exited the trail.
The 5 mile climb back up to Yellow Gap on FS 5015 was o.k. despite the "marbly" gravel. It was a definite give/take situation with the dry spell Pisgah has been having. It makes the trails less technical, but made the gravel grinders very loose. I had more, "Oh, sh!t!" situations on the roads vs. the single track.
I swapped my Camelbak and gel flask, shot a Red Bull, and headed off to the undulations of FS1206. Todd was at the turn off to FS 475 and gave words of encouragement. It is always good to see the race promoter out on course and in every one of his races, I have seen him, sometimes more than once.
South Mills River to Buckhorn is a fooler. It starts off with a slight descent, but then slowly climbs back up for several miles. You think it is an easy climb because it looks flat but it just goes on and on. And a lot of it looks the same so you think, "Just around this corner is the end. Well, maybe the next corner .... the next? Finally the end comes and suddenly you wish it did not because of the hike-a-bike of death that follows.
Knowing what I was getting into this year on the Black Mountain hike-a-bike, it seemed to go by quicker and with less frustration. Heck, no frustration ... I was smiling the whole time. The view at the top was spectacular; it reminded me why I love mountain biking and racing.
|At the top of the Black Mountain hike a bike.|
Stepping off the soap box, for now. Where was I? The hike up was worth the ride down. The erosion upped the entertainment factor. And then onto the last section of Black Mountain that I would see 3 more times after today. My goal ... to get progressively faster on this stretch.
I rolled through the finish in 4:18:07. Faster than last year by almost 30 minutes. Although conditions were better than last year, I feel that my fitness played a larger part in that time gap. Amanda and Sue crushed it, putting more time on me. Now I was a flat tire AND broken chain behind them ... but still smiling nonetheless.
Cooled the legs off in the river talking to Sue. Told her I would be "the lurker". She had better keep her "A" game on (no, make that her B- game) or I would be just around the corner, ready to pounce!