|Try as you might, Eric, there was no soul crushing here!|
9 1/2 hours, 50 miles, 13,000 feet of climbing, 36-46 degrees, mist to drizzle to rain. I am GLAD I did not know that those would be our stats as we started up Black Mountain that morning at 8:10 am. When Eric said, "Go!", Lisa opened up the passport and began reading for any trickery that Eric might bestow upon us. I opened the map and together we plotted our course. At this point we should have ridden up Black to Pressley Gap and then plotted our route; by doing this we could have avoided the cluster in the beginning. Chalk that one up to not having done enough PMBAR's to know any better (we both had 1 PMBAR under our belt) and still being scared of missing something in the passport.
Opting to go for the optional check at Clawhammer on the Black Mountain, we rode when we could and hiked when the trail shot straight up. Lisa "ants in her pants" Randall decided she wanted to run instead of hike and put down a blistering pace up Black, passing people right and left. I had to settle into my own rhythm (read: this old lady's engine takes a while to get all 8 cylinders going).
We finally managed to claw our way up to the intersection with TurkeyPen. From there it was a 1 1/4 mile out and back, which took 21 minutes to get to the check and 18 minutes to get back to Turkey Pen. Talk about cruel and unusual.
We rode most of TurkeyPen over to the intersection of South Mills River and Bradley Creek to grab our second checkpoint (1st mandatory). This trail has some awesome downhills that seem to go forever. However, today, we had to be on our toes as there were a lot of very large trees down on those descents. The waterbars on some of the steeper descents were quite entertaining. I had to dig deep into my bag and pull out my cat-like skills to stay upright.
We got our passport stamped, inhaled some food, and made our way up Mullinax to Squirrel. We were headed to our third checkpoint at the intersection of Squirrel and Cantrell Creek. As we were headed up Mullinax and then onto Squirrel, it seemed that every few minutes we ran into a team going the opposite way. Hmmm ... we began to second guess our route. Squirrel was most fun! It was here that I was feeling oh so strong and could just hammer this whole trail into oblivion. However, I think racing the Big Frog 65 the weekend before was beginning to have its effect on Lisa.
Although the body was great, my bike was suffering with some shifting issues. Somewhere along Squirrel, I went from 20 gears down to just 2 or 3. My chain was wanting to jump all over the cassette. Arghhh! I had to slow down and "baby" the shifts. I was concerned about chain breakage or wrapping my derailleur around the cassette. And then my single speed mind kicked in and all was good. I played the cards I was dealt with and enjoyed the ride, either spinning my brains out or grinding out the big gear. Fortunately, somewhere between Pilot and Avery Creek, my shifting improved to a point where I had most of my gears.
We made it to Cantrell and stayed just long enough to get stamped and scanned ( I wore a little plastic card on a lanyard around my neck and at each checkpoint it was scanned with a Star Trek looking device which gave us a time stamp). We continued on Squirrel, took a right on Horse Cove, and topped out on FS 5018 (Funnel Top Mountain). As we took a left on the double track, we both noticed this dude scooping out a big spoonful of peanut butter from a jar! Oh, man, that looked good ... as I pulled out yet another Larabar. Yep, I existed on Hammer Gel, Larabars, and IronMan Perform drink. Unfortunately for me, my ride/race food is VERY limited. But the way I optimistically look at it is like this: you can't put junk fuel into a jet engine and expect it to perform the way it was designed to.
|Funnel Top Mountain - mist/fog/rain all day long|
We cruised along some fire roads before beginning the hike a bike up Pilot, 4 miles of unrelenting pushing, lifting, and grunting. The fast section of fire road chilled me, so before beginning Pilot, I pulled out my thermal head band and shower cap. Yep, it is amazing how well this hotel item can insulate you and keep the rain off your head.
Lisa took off like a bat out of hell ... she is crazy fast on her feet! Later I came to find out that she was on an Ingles' apple fritter buzz. No wonder! We slipped and slided along Laurel (think thick black mud) over to Sassafras Gap and secured our fourth checkpoint (2nd mandatory). It took us about 65 minutes. As we began our jaunt back to the Pilot descent of gnarly rocks, the wind picked up, it got really cold, and it started to rain. I thought the trek back would be a lot quicker, but there are still some steep, butt-kicking climbs on Laurel and the soupy trail bogged us down. My hands went numb on the Pilot descent, which made it hard to brake. I don't know if that is good or bad, but I do think that it was the fastest I have ever went down it.
At the bottom of Pilot we opted NOT to go for the optional Pilot Cove checkpoint. The weather was getting worse, we were both getting cold, and we had never ridden that trail. What time we would gain from the 1 hour bonus would not be worth the effort. After treating some water and pulling on our water proof jackets, we made the trek on FS 1206 to Hwy 276 to FS 477. Drafting was not an option as it continued to rain lightly and the roads were soaking wet. From FS 477 we took Club Gap up to Avery Creek. Lisa's hummingbird metabolism was in effect and at one point instead of riding the trail we walked at a brisk pace and stuffed food in our mouths. I think I was burning as much energy trying to stay warm as I was turning the pedals/feet over.
Avery Creek was a blast! It had been a few years since I had ridden it and I forgot just how fast you could bomb down this descent. You just had to stay focused because there were a few washed out sections where the wrong move might leave you a paraplegic. Lisa managed to take a digger, but at least she chose a soft muddy landing. The checkpoint at Avery Creek Falls was somewhat of a bugger to get to. I could have used some rapelling gear to get down to it.
|Lisa is bull dog tough! A perfect PMBAR partner!|
With our 3 mandatories (Avery Creek the last) and a minimum of 5, we were done. Well, all but the climb back up to Pressley Gap and then up and over Black and down to the finish. Once we hit the double track climb back up to Pressley, I was smelling the barn. I still had plenty of get up and go in my legs, but I was getting cold despite the increased effort. After 8-9 miles of hike a biking throughout the day, the last hiking section up Black was NOTHING! And then, I could finally say it was all downhill.
We rolled through the finish, first women's team and 17th out of 107 starters. Funny thing, I think the hardest thing I did all day was taking my helmet off at the finish to hand back the timing chip. My hands were not working at all. I refused help ... By God, I was going to get this thing off my head all by myself! And I did, about a minute later.
In hindsight, we questioned our route. Perhaps we should have continued on Black after the Clawhammer check instead of an out and back. Perhaps we should have ridden Squirrel "down" and then went up Bradley Creek with its 15 million creek crossings. Maybe we would have been faster, but then again, maybe I would have gotten too cold too quick with all those water crossings and suffered/slowed a lot more towards the end. The other issue I have to contend with is Reynaud's in my fingers and toes. I have come close to losing a toe at the Snake Creek Gap TT. I would rather sacrifice a bit of time as opposed to an appendage. I have no regrets. And since I cannot eat Stephen's famous grilled cheese, that would have been pure torture to ride past his sag. I am sure Lisa would beg to differ on that one.
I can honestly say that this adventure is in my top 10 of all time "fun" races. Maybe fun in a sick let's see how long I can push a 24 pound bike uphill sort of way, but fun nonetheless. Why, you may ask? Because of the challenge, the terrain, the conditions, and my super tough team mate. I am so looking forward to the Double Dare!