Moving Time: 7:35
Elevation Gain: 8500ft
Hi Temp: 65
Lo Temp: 21
Food Consumed: 4 strips bacon, 5 Larabars, 4 dates
Fluid Intake: 150 ounces Scratch, 1 5 Hour Energy
5 am came quickly. After a few hours of fitful sleep, I slowly wormed my way out of the sleeping bag, started the engine, and began the arduous task of putting cold clothes on. At least I was in my vehicle and within 10 minutes, I was quite toasty. The advantage to only getting 3 hours sleep was that my body did not have enough time to seize up.
Breakfast consisted of 2 hard boiled eggs, a sweet potato, and a Red Bull. Then I stumbled out of the car, and grabbed my Camelbak (damn, it seemed to have gotten heavier overnite) and bike, and made my way to the fire. At 6 am, Eric told us to ride up to Pilot Mountain (Farlow Gap). There we would receive our passports. However, teams would be sent off every 30 seconds in reverse order of how they placed on Day 1. Kym's and Kaysee's team started ahead of us; good to know as I was unsure of where we were after the first day.
As we began our journey up FS 475, my legs woke up surprisingly well. I had started out in a heavy base layer, jersey, rain jacket, and winter tights. Halfway up I shed my jacket. As we approached the top, we noticed bikes without riders. The volunteer instructed us to ditch our bikes and hike up to the shelter where we would receive our passports. Legs were NOT happy about that; they wanted to keep spinning. Mountain goat Lisa went on ahead while I argued with my feet. By the time I got there she had the passport and map opened. I love this part of the game. It is like opening up a Christmas gift from your best friend. You have a general idea of what you might be getting, but then SURPRISE!
|I wanted a smile, but got a "Just take the damn picture," from the Princess.|
After 10 minutes, we had the first half of our route dialed in. We went back to our bikes and then back tracked to the intersection of Farlow Gap and the FS 229 for our first CP. Then we turned back around to head down the gravel roads to Daniel Ridge. On our way back up FS 229 (we were climbing), we had to yield to more than I care to count downhill riders. Ahem, but I DON'T think that is proper trail etiquette. Any other day, it would have not irritated me so much, but after 85 miles, ???? feet of climbing, and at 7:30 am, my blood began to boil.
Going back down the gravel roads, I made the mistake of not putting my jacket back on. By the time we turned off to begin the climb up to the intersection of Daniel Ridge and Farlow, I was a popsicle. Rookie mistake. It took me 30 minutes to thaw out and made even the flattish section of Daniel Ridge miserable.
|The Queen of time management at CP #2.|
Warm again, we motored down to the fish hatchery. We did an out and back on Cat Gap to Butter to gain our third CP at the intersection of Long Branch and Butter. It was the climb up Butter that my legs died. I did not even have the power to lift the front end over the water bars and so had to push most of it. This was about 3 hours into our journey.
|My legs were happy to see this CP!|
The ride back down to the fish hatchery was fast and furious. This was a much needed break for my thrashed legs. We locked our bikes at the hatchery and ran up to John Rock to get our 2 CP bonus. Run is a relative term. I started out that way, but then digressed to a shuffle, walk, crawl, and even a hobble. My foot neuropathy reared its ugly head in the form of electrical type pain in my left foot and then my right IT band joined in the "pain-fest." Chris Brown, his team mate, and Garth caught up to us. They did not want to take the lead, so this forced me to keep the pace up ... which was a good thing.
|John Rock ... the fish hatchery is right where my left elbow is, 1500 feet straight down!|
Lisa and I let the guys go on the way back down. After what seemed like an eternity, we were back at our bikes, rummaging around for food, when somebody said to us, "Do we know you?" It was Andrew and Kate ... of Mulberry Gap fame! They were on their honeymoon and just happened to stroll into the parking lot. That was cool! We chatted a bit while changing shoes and base layers, eating, and filling Camelbaks at the fountain (which, BTW, is not near as good tasting as the creek at the bottom of Pilot).
The ride up Hwy 276 to Pink Beds was my low point of the day. This was, by far, the hardest part of the journery for me. My batteries were at 5% and Lisa had to slow down as I kept popping off her wheel. I used this time to eat and drink some more. I did note that we were at the 6 hour mark and from the days of my racing "hundies," I would always seem to have a lull around 6 hours in.
The Pink Beds Trail was new to me and my legs welcomed the flats. This was the mandatory CP and our 6th CP (including the 2 point John Rock bonus). We had the opportunity to earn an additional 1/2 CP by hitting a target with a BB gun or each eating 2 pickled eggs or sausages.
Either shoot a piece of shit and hope Lady Luck is on my side ... or die a slow, horrible death. I took the BB gun.
|Maybe if I was cross-eyed, I could have hit the target.|
Needless to say, I failed the special test. However, while I was taking a 5 Hour Energy shot, Lisa tried her hand at the BB gun ... and failed miserably, too. The section of Pink Beds over to South Mills was tight, twisty, and rooty. That was NOT what the map said. It was rather slow-going and arduous ... for a flat trail. However, while I was negotiating the twists and turns, little did I know that the 5 Hour was slowly rekindling the fire in my legs. By the time we hit South Mills, I was "go-go gadget" legs! I flew up South Mills and Buckhorn. Lisa said it was all she could do to hang on! Red Bull may give you wings, but 5 Hour Energy gives you rocket engines!
|CP #7: Buckhorn Gap shelter|
After grabbing CP #7, Lisa was all about hiking over the Black Mountain Trail to Pressley Gap. Whoa, Nellie! I had to reign her in; I told her that would take us AT LEAST 1:15. I don't think she believed me. At this point in the game, I was done with pushing my bike. My left ankle was killing me and my feet were about to go on strike. Lisa finally relented and we began to make our way down Clawhammer and up Maxwell Cove. Whoo hoo! The forest service had recently graded these fire roads and they were uber fast! I was smiling so much my face almost cramped. It was here we hooked up with Brad and Matt and rode their wheels up to CP #8 at Pressley Gap on the Black Mountain Trail. Total time to this CP was 42 minutes
|Pressley Gap, 26 hours into our adventure.|
We flew down to the horse stables and made our way over to the Bennett Gap Trail. The climb up Bennett was tougher than I had imagined. Not only was I dealing with a sore ankle, heavy legs, and water bars, but we had to dodge a couple groups of downhillers that were bombing down the trail at breakneck speeds on their big travel bikes. I don't even think they saw us, and if they did, probably thought we were a mirage. Who would push their bikes up Bennett anyway?
We grabbed our final CP, #9, at the intersection of Bennett and Coontree. Once again, we descended Coontree, this time during daylight, and were able to make much better time. As we began heading back up Hwy 276 to FS 475 to Cove Creek campground, I began doing the math in my head. We might, just might, be able to go back up and snag the CP at the top of Butter. A little battle in my mind began to play out: the competitve side said "hell yea!" while the rational, tired side said "hell, no, I wanna eat the 16 ounce T-Bone that awaits!"
We actually stopped at the entrance to Cove Creek, pulled out the map, and spent a few minutes comtemplating. The rational side won. Lisa gave me the biggest hug ever! And we pedaled up the gravel to complete our soul lifting journey.
17 CP's in 20:30 netted us a 10th place and secured my Queen of Pisgah title.
|Smiles, not grimaces!|
It took 5 years and plenty of heckling from certain individuals who will be nameless, to get me to compete in this huge undertaking. My excuse: I had to wait for the right partner. This was, by far, my favorite race of the season. The weather did play a big role, but it was a combination of my fitness, the terrain, the adversity, Eric's evil scheme, and team mate that made for an epic journey. After 7 days, I am still riding a high. And looking forward to P36, I think.