|Mad hike a bike skilz are a prerequisite. Photo by Brado.|
Deciding what to take and what to chance not taking was a difficult task the day before the race. A hydration pack was a no brainer. It was going to be hot and I was most likely going to have a death grip on my bike for most of the race. However, there was going to be lots of time spent pushing, carrying, and lifting my Niner Jet 9 RDO, which weighed 22.6 pounds, through the mountains. The less weight I had to carry was going to add potential horse power to the machine. Being little does make it easier to climb, but ounces can feel like pounds.
The Pisgah gods love sacrifices! They are hungry for flesh and metal. Knowing this I decided to take two tubes, pump, tire lever, tire patch, tire plugs, derailleur hanger, a few chain links, and a quick link.
My legs were not sparkly race morning, so I took it easy on the climb up Clawhammer. The race would not be won here, but it could definitely be lost. I focused on my heart rate and fortunately only saw Lisa pull away; I was able to stay on the wheels of Kim and Elizabeth. Once at the top, my legs were ready! Buckhorn and South Mills could have been stupid fast, but I had enough sense to settle and let the trail come to me.
Squirrel Gap was a pleasant surprise as I had not ridden it since the trail work had been done. It was still evil in spots as evidenced by the crashes in front of me, but I showed my respects and left it unscathed and with a smile on my face. It was here that Kim let me by as she bobbled on a creek crossing.
Cantrell Creek was a first for me. What a gnarly derailleur gnasher, front wheel basher of a descent! I let several guys go past me; it was obvious that this was their back yard as they flew by. It was hard to see what was around the corner; the undergrowth was so thick! I caught up to Lisa who was having some chain suck issues and motored after I slowed to ask her if she needed anything.
Aside from the occasional mud bog on South Mills, it was pretty uneventful. Having go go gadget legs and not needing anything from aid station #1, I continued on to Bradley Creek. The crossing felt "oh so good" on my neuropathic metatarsals.
The demi god of bike portaging, Lisa Randall, blew by me in one of the many creek crossings. I managed to catch back up to her on FS 5015. Together we took turns pulling each other up the fire road climb. Life was good ... reminded me of our Trans Rockies days. We stopped at aid station 2. The volunteers were waiting on us hand and foot. I love it when they have their sh!t together! I refilled my hydration pack, drank a Coke, and grabbed one of my salty red potatoes ... food for the soul! Lisa pulled out just moments before me. I caught back up to her on the descent with my gravel road surfing skills. Together again we rode up FS 5000. Even though it was a smooth consistent climb, my legs were beginning to bark a little.
Once we hit Spencer, my legs were happy again. It is just something about single track. Spencer Gap --> Spencer Branch --> Never Ending Road --> Fletcher --> Lower Trace was a sh!ts and giggles experience, save for having to maneuver around two dudes on the Lower Trace.
I didn't particularly care for that "little" hiccup of a hike-a-bike (at the beginning of Yellow Gap, I think). Basically a 3 foot ditch at a 20% grade for a tenth of a mile. Not enough room in the ditch for both you and your bike, so you either had to walk the ditch with you bike high on the rim ... or both you and your bike had to skirt the edge of the rim, hoping the bank did not give way or a rhododendron grab your bars and send you plummeting down the ditch with your bike on top of you. Yea ... I played out all these scenarios as I pushed my way to the top.
After climbing on Yellow Gap, I then popped back out onto FS 1206, going the opposite way I had come, meaning I now got to climb for 2 miles. With a squeaky chain, the climb seemed infinite! Upon returning to aid station 3 (which was also aid station 2), I asked for some chain lube. Thank you whoever worked on my bike; I was squeak free the rest of the race. I also refilled my hydration pack again, grabbed another potato, and motored on. As I pulled out, Lisa was pulling in. Well that sent my adrenals into overdrive! Had I slowed on that 20 mile loop, or was Lisa's second wind kicking in?
The remainder of the race was going to indeed be interesting as Eric decided to treat us with a "fanny-kicker" of a 20 mile section. The appetizer was Laurel Mountain: a spectacular presentation of blooming laurel and its spider webs of roots to the nth power and bike portaging spread throughout. All I knew was that I had to giv'r the whole time or else Lisa would catch me. As I was struggling up the last but most brutal hiking portion of Laurel, I came upon a racer in a TVB kit. I just had to ask him if HE was the one in the Knoxville, Tn personal injury lawyer commercial. He said, "No," but still seemed kind of embarrased. I agreed that it was a corny commercial and he graciously let me by; probably did not want to partake in any more of that conversation.
|Hking AGAIN on Laurel Mountain. Photo by Brado|
Next on the plate was Pilot Rock. I would consider this the dessert, kind of like a dark chocolate cheesecake. The first few bites are deliciously rich and mouth watering, but by the time I am half way through it, I am full. Since I cannot take it home, I am forced to finish it. Those last few bites hurt and my body is ravaged by its richness ... or in the case of this trail, the bone/muscle jarring 3 mile descent where I am jack hammered all the way down.
After a blistering section of fire road, a mostly level South Mills River, and what seemed like a never ending ascension of Buckhorn Gap (all the right-handers look the same!), I arrived at Black Mountain. (Insert a coup de grace here.)
Black Mountain, the last course on the menu. This reminds of when my Mom making a big pan of super cheesy 5 layer meat lasagna when I was a little girl. But then the veggie side is a heaping pile of brussel sprouts. No way! Lasagna is a meal unto itself; I shouldn't have to be tortured with these "alien heads." And that is Black. Only 6 miles, but 2 are pure hell, 2 connect the "pure hell" sections, and 2 are heavenly.
|Smiles ... or grimaces?|
The final 6 miles took me about 47 minutes. I finished with a winning time of 8:02:43. I am glad to say I survived another one of Eric's potential "soul-crushing" events. However, for me as well as all the others who survived the day, I think we can say that this was a "soul-lifting" event. Jeff Papenfus may not have been there in body, but he was with each and every one of us in spirit.