Wednesday, July 13, 2011

TNGA and Trips For Kids WNC

TNGA ... it is going to be brutal, no doubt about that.  With 350 miles and 56,000+ feet of climbing in 90 degrees and sweltering humidity, I am going to be in the pain cave more than I have ever been.  Along with attention to detail, fitness, and the ability to adapt, motivation is going to be the key to success.

During my recent bike packing recon, I learned that motivation will be my limiter.  Let's face it; I am a single track kind of gal.  Miles and miles of gravel road just does not grind my grits, especially when pedaling 40-45 pounds of bike and gear.

So I have decided to team up with Asheville local Stephen Janes and Trips for Kids WNC.  I met Stephen a few years ago at the Cohutta 100.  Since then our friendship has grown.  His love for kids is genuine and his devotion to the Trips For Kids program is overwhelming.

What better way to see our sport grow than to get kids involved.  And what better way to fuel my spirit through the mountains of the Chattahoochie National Forest than to know that I am racing for our future.  My goal is to raise $1000 in the weeks leading up to TNGA.

So please, sacrifice just one Starbuck's and donate $3.50 on my behalf.  That's only $.01/mile people!  Let the children keep my adrenalin flowing and not the sound of banjo music and Sasquatch calls.

A link is to the right. Please click on it!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

SERC #9 Huntsville Race Report

Having never been to Monte Sano State Park,  I was uncertain of what to expect.  I had heard that it was technical and rocky; but that was about it.  Both Carly and I were pleasantly surprised at her course:  a mix of pavement and smooth, buff single track.  What rocks?

While Carly and Zeke pre-rode her course, I went off to do mine.  The first few miles were fast and had a few rocks.  I was on my SS, running a 32 x 19.  At first I thought I might have to go bigger.  But then I encountered steep rocky climbs and steep rocky descents.  These rocks were sharp and slick.  And there were enough roots thrown in on top of the rocks to make it really fun.    Whoa, Nelly!  I would call it Pisgah Lite or Syllamo-ish.  There were a couple sections that I rode over and over again, trying to find the best line.  I don't think there was one.  I was wishing I had brought my full suspension bike. (Shoulda, coulda, woulda.)

After the pre-ride Carly and I finished up our day with 3 hours of pool time, while Zeke went back out to get his single speed fix on.  We capped off the evening with dinner at Chili's with Ursula and Jay. 

Race faces on!

Sunday morning came way too early for Carly.  Biscuits with sausage and gravy was her pre-race meal.  Carly had a good race with no bumbling boys to maneuver around and finished strong.

Pavement start.

Totally focused 10 yards up the trail.

My race started out with 1/4 mile of flat road.  My start was good and I was up front for about 1/2 of it.  Then I heard the gears shifting down behind me and I quickly went from 1st to 5th.  I managed to get around Paula when she bobbled in the first techy section (note:  Paula raced the Tn State Championship Road Race the day before) and passed Catherine when it opened up to double track. 

Kym, who won the Tn State Championship Road Race, was flying up front in first place with Gerri hot on her heels ... well, until she flatted.  After moving up to second place halfway through the first lap, I noticed I wasn't feeling all that sparkly.  Heavy legs and breathing way too hard, I knew that I was not on form to finish at this pace.  I backed off the pace and tried to settle, but on this course it is hard to settle.  The climbs are hard on a SS as they come quickly, around corners, and are strewn with rocks and roots.  All of a sudden the 19T felt like an 18T.  I had to run 2 short climbs (10 yards) and 1 long one (40 yards).

I actually looked forward to the final 0.8 mile paved climb as I could establish a rhythm that was not torturous.  And having Jay hand me an ice cold cup of water helped as well. 

The second lap was agonizingly painful.  Even spinning the flats at 120 rpm hurt.  I felt like a pinball in the techy sections.  Dabbing became a constant on that lap.  To top it off, Paula began to close the gap and at one point was only about 10 seconds back.  Although I felt I was at the end of my rope, I was able to dig a little deeper on the climbs and pull away from her.  Finishing never felt so good!

At the finish with a smile ... or is that a grimace?

As much as that race hurt, I would do it all over again.  Because with the pain and suffering comes a HUGE endorphin rush.  You just cannot beat that feeling of utter exhaustion and exhilaration, knowing you left it all out there on the trail.  Why do drugs or alcohol when you can race, I ask?  I friggin' love my bike!

Friday, July 8, 2011


is what her name shall be.

19.02 pounds

Karma is the concept of action or deed, understood as that which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect.  Some might say that my new steed is fate; others would say "happenstance."  I will let you be the judge.

My troubles began back in the winterSpecialized had been great to me up until this point.  But I could not even buy the bike, a 2011 Specialized S-Works SJ SS,  unless I went to another shop.  And that I refused to do.  I even wrote a letter to Mike Sinyard and Rebecca Rusch was kind enough to make sure it got into his hands.  Well, at least it made it to the desk of his secretary.  The end result of that was the regional rep telling Bruce that he did not have the privilege of being an S-Works dealer.

Well, it just so happened that I finally committed to racing the 6 Hours of Warrior's Creek, after being asked 3 years in a row by the promoter.  It always coincided with the Ouachita Challenge.  But I was wanting to do a 6 hour on my SS and I had heard great things about this grassroots race.

It just so happened that Mike Stanley was going to be there with a van full of Niner Bikes to demo.  Zeke talked me in to trying one out.  I did, an A9C with a rigid fork.  As much as I love my Specialized fleet of bikes, I was quite impressed with the Niner.

After much hemming and hawing and with Zeke talking my ear off about the company, I decided to get one.  That was a BIG STEP for me.  I have ridden nothing else but Specialized for the past 12 years.  Their bikes are the best, the components and gear comfortable and durable, and their customer service and advocacy has been top notch.  But ... they just seemed to be more interested in the road aspect of cycling and their "concept" stores.  The small LBS's got kicked aside.

After waiting 2 1/2 months, she arrived.  Bruce meticulously (and I do believe with love) assembled her.  And yesterday I got to try her out at the Whitewater Center.  Just so you know, I paid for this bike, so my opinions are completely non-biased.

I "cut my teeth" on technical rocky trail at The Snake.

After just one 3 hour ride, I cannot say that the bike is friggin' unbelievable or da bomb, but I must say I was most impressed.  The cockpit felt perfect and racey.  She soaked up small bumps; a smoother ride than my Specialized aluminum SS.  Power transfer was instantaneous.  And she was quite nimble through the switchbacks.  I was also able to flick her through rocky sections like I was on my Specialized Era.  

Westfork Trail.  She begs to climb.

I will need some more time on her before I can give a complete thumbs up.  Racing her this weekend at the SERC Huntsville will be a true test.  I have also never ridden a Reba, so I am sure that making some adjustments will help to smooth the trail out as well.  I was riding on the Specialized Renegade tires.  I like them on the rear, but they wash out in sandy or deep loose over hardpack.  Slapping a Specialized Captain on the front should make her rail through the turns better.

I am hoping that this relationship is only the beginning.

Mike Stanley is an awesome rep.  He works his arse off.  Down to earth, goes above and beyond, and loves his job.  I had a good rep with Specialized, but I think his hands were tied.  It might be just me, but I think the corporate leaders are more interested in world domination and sponsoring road racers who throw their $10,000+ bikes into the ditches of the French countryside.  The last (and only) time I threw my bike down in anger was when I was 9 years old.  And that earned me a week of being grounded.

Where is the scracth 'n sniff sticker?

Monday, July 4, 2011

TNGA Recon

With the TNGA only 2 months away and I being a bike packing virgin, I decided to pull an overnighter on a section of the course.

At the start

I began my adventure at Moccasin Creek State Park at 8 am.  My bike and gear weighed in at a hefty 45 pounds.  That is 41% of my body weight!  Having never ridden with weight like this before, I immediately felt it ... even on the beginning flat section of asphalt.  Climbing up the Wildcat Creek forest service road gave me a chance to get used to the weight and how it was distributed on the bike.  I think I packed Stumpy, aka The Yak, pretty good, as the bike felt balanced.  The downhills took some getting used to, especially the tighter turns.

The morning hours were quite pleasant with the forest service roads offering plenty of cover from the sun.  I was just at a cruising pace and had planned to make Helen by 11 am.  But ......  then I made the approach to Hickory Nut Trail.  I looked for it for several minutes, first going to the right and then to the left on trails that led nowhere.  I then came back to the intersection, switched my GPS from breadcrumb trail to compass.  The cue sheet said proceed around dirt pile and head south.  So I did and entered the bushwack from hell!   Poison ivy, poison oak, and blackberry briars greeted me.  Nice!  I finally found a resemblance of trail, only because of the wild hogs that had cleared some small sections looking for breakfast.  The next 2.5 miles was a combination of pushing, soft pedaling through derailleur-eating sticks and large rocks, hoisting Stumpy over downed trees, and hoping no copperheads were lurking in the thick underbrush.  A few choice words were said, including "tartar sauce!" and "pickle juice!"  (Carly has taught me well.)

The last mile of the trail was rideable but not what I would call fun.  Those 3.5 miles took an hour to get through!  And then I had to stop at the lake, remove socks/shoes and scrub the ivy/oak resin off my legs.  Was I ever glad to get to Wendy's!  Although I had to wait in line due to the lunch hour rush, it was worth it.  The last time I had a Wendy's burger was after the 2006 12 Hours of Oleta in Miami, Florida.

Hunger satisfied, I began the long pedal up Hogpen Gap.  This is a 7 mile paved climb, with grades ranging from 8-15%.  Pedaling a fully-loaded mountain bike was a far cry from riding a 16 pound road bike during the 6-Gap Century!  From there it  was a 4 mile descent to my next turn.  As I began my descent, my speed approached 40 mph.  As I came around the second sharp turn, there stood a mama bear and 3 cubs!  I had nowhere to go and could not stop.  I managed to wrestle the bike to the middle of the road and just as I became even with the bears, she jumped over the guard rail and the babies followed.  Whew!  That could have been ugly.

The remainder of the day was anti-climatic, just turning over the pedals while a steady drip of sweat fell from the tip of my nose.  I was happy that I had chosen Stumpy with 120mm of travel, fore and aft.  I call her my "recliner" bike and felt comfortable all day.  Some of the fire road descents were pretty eroded and rocky, but seemed effortless and fast aboard my full-suspension steed.

After 11 1/2 hours, 95 miles, and 10,500 feet of climbing, I found a nice spot along the Toccoa River and set up camp for the night.  The ThermaRest Neoair pad, size M (14 oz) was very comfortable and the Kelty Lightyear down 40 (11oz) kept me warm when the temps dipped down to 60 degrees.  Yes, at about 3am, I got cold and had to burrow into the bag.

The next morning Loretta joined me for the ride to Mulberry Gap.  We got moving shortly before 8 am and the Aska trail system was the first real bit of single track that I encountered on my HEAVY bike.  A bit more pushing was involved and it was harder to steer through the switchbacks.  Amazingly, my legs felt great and I was able to ride more than I thought I would.  My body had finally adapted to The Yak.  The descent off Stanley was fast, but not screaming XC fast.

Loretta and I refueled at the small grocery just before the climb up to Watson Gap.  Unfortunately, this store won't be open when I come through during the race.  This section from Shallowford Bridge Road to Mulberry Gap is devoid of stores.  It will be imperative to find water to purify (easy enough) and have enough food on board to make it without putting myself into a deficit.  At least on this section Mulberry Gap will be my carrot.

Mulberry Gap food!

The South Fork Trail was chewed up by recent horse traffic.  We encountered a group of five horses, but the people were very congenial.  Surprisingly, if you just use common sense and give the horses and their riders respect, you come to find out that they are mostly good people. 

The climb up the remainder of Potato Patch from Buddy Cove was brutal.  It was here that I hit my lowest point of the ride as I had expected a short journey from the Pinhoti to the 3-way intersection.  Fortunately I had drunk a Red Bull which helped to see me through.

It gave me eagle wings, but I was really needing condor wings at this point.

We finished up our ride with the Bear Creek descent.  We opted to skip out on the P1 and P2 as time was getting away from us and we both had families that were expecting us home soon.  Mulberry Gap was fulfilling, what with a hot shower and Ginni's cooking.

A PR for Loretta ... longest MTB ride, ever!

We covered 61 miles and 7500 feet of climbing today.  This was a great test for both my gear and myself.  I felt sparkly the whole way, save for Potato Patch.  This also had been the longest I had been on the bike this year.  If I can keep my bike and body working well and the weather is good (meaning hot and dry), the TNGA is definitely doable ... and perhaps winnable!

My hands held up well, but I think I will swap out my Ergon GC2's for the GS2's.  With the GS2's having a slightly longer bar end and with the grippy rubber, my hands and ulnar nerve will be happier over the long haul, especially if I get wet during the race.

The Chamois Butt'r 1oz packets did their job well.  No chafing/sores, but I still had some sit bone soreness after the ride.  I suppose the only way to fix that is to ride more ... which I can do.

I had so much fun than another bike packing session is being planned for late July.