Distance: 40 miles
Elevation: 9000 feet
Temperature: 60-83 degrees
By this time during a stage race, I usually wake up a little slow, stiff, and not as eager to begin. This year was different, however. I awoke feeling as good as I did on Day 1. It was probably due to a combination of fitness and better recovery techniques. Unfortunately, I missed the cool movies (Ride The Divide, Race Across The Sky, and Stars and Water Carriers) that Todd played during the evening festivities.
This stage was going to be the toughest as it had 90% single track. And it started out by going up Thrift Cove to Black Mountain to Turkey Pen. Anytime I mention Black Mountain, just think "hike-a-bike of death." Once again, I was able to hang with Sue until the trail pitched so steeply I had to get off and push. Sue managed to stay on two wheels longer and eventually gapped me.
There was a train of bike pushers up to Turkey Pen. Then the fun commenced. Turkey Pen is mostly downhill with a few short grunty steeps that required more hiking. This trail was like riding through a tunnel of rhododendrons, sometimes so thick the price for speed was lashings ... across the arms, face, and neck. I lost count of how many times my eyeballs were saved by my glasses.
Towards the end of Turkey Pen, one of the single speeders was about 20 yards ahead of me pushing up a climb when he grabbed his calf and yelled out. I thought he was cramping, but then he grabbed his thigh, then his butt, still yelling. He cried out that he was getting attacked by yellow jackets. I slowed my pace down a bit, but pretty soon was where he was. I expected an attack, but it never came. Whew! One advantage of being slow. I guess those little buggers had their fill of vengeance on the first 20 or so racers that came through.
Riding Squirrel Gap backwards from Stage 2 was fun. Just after coming off Mullinax, there was a climbing section that was short, steep, and rooty. A couple volunteers had staged themselves midway along the climb with cowbells going wild. I loved it! A great motivator to push on when your quads and thighs are like tree trunks. One fella even ran with me for about 0.1 mile. Awesome!
I kept running into this Sycamore Cycles rider most of the day. I would catch him at the tops of all the climbs; he was always stopped and refueling. But then he would leave me on the descents; David is his name, me thinks. I had fun following him down FS 5018. The grasses along this double track turned single track made it difficult to look for obstacles, but with David in front, I was able to follow his lines and use less brake. I eventually got in front of him after aid station 2 and did not see him again. I suspect he was having cramping issues.
South Mills River and Buckhorn were not near as long as they seemed during Stage 1. Riding Black Mountain opposite of the day before was not as bad as I had expected = less hike-a-biking. The volunteer that directed us at this turn up Black Mountain told me I was only 4 minutes behind the women's leaders. I believed that for all of 2 seconds! Sorry, but a volunteer's sense of time and distance is indeed warped. Take La Ruta, for instance, where 2k is actually 5 miles. Or during TransRockies, where the last hike-a-bike section was actually the 3rd to last one. I learned my lesson long ago about heeding the time/distance advice of volunteers.
Buckwheat was mysterious. Having not ridden it before, I wasn't too enthused about the thick undergrowth, but it finally opened up with some nice riding. The descent down to FS 477 was harrowing, but the Magura SL's kept me from crashing my brains out. Couple sketchy, ledgy drops where my butt was acting as the emergency brake for the rear wheel. It was good seeing Kim at the bottom, all smiles and hoots/hollers.
FS 477 was not fun; I swear I have gone twice as fast down that fire road when conditions have been tackier. Dry, loose gravel, powdery dirt, and I mix like olive oil and vinegar.
Mr. Rattlesnake decided to make an appearance on FS 5022. I tried for a couple minutes to encourage him to move, but all he wanted to do was coil and rattle. Finally I had no choice but to make a wide berth around him through the weeds and pray that his buddies weren't lying in ambush. Safely around him, I continued up the climb.
For the third time I made the short hike up Black Mountain and then bombed down the backside to the finish line. Cut another minute off that "Super D." It is like your favorite rollercoaster that you cannot get enough of.
One of the best "comfort" drinks that Todd and Co. had at the finish line as well as at each aid station was ice cold Cokes! He also had PB&J sandwiches which I developed a taste for during this stage. My stomach was nice enough to tolerate a 1/4 sandwich at a time. I had gotten tired of the gels I had been carrying and by Stage 4, my HR was within the range of "sandwich acceptibility."