I was teamed up with Kip Clyburn (who had been trying to get me to do this race for years, saying what better way to spend a weekend than wandering and wondering hours on end in one of the most difficult National Forests to pedal a bike). Last year I partnered up with Lisa Randall for DD ... and had the absolute best weekend of my cycling life.
|Faith, my trusty steed.|
I had a fairly good cushion on second place Brenda Simril. All I had to do was ride safely, grab the mandatories and a couple others, and finish. However, Kip wanted a top 10 KOP finish and I was all for going hard to achieve this goal.
At 12pm Eric told us that our passports would be awaiting us at the intersection of South Mills River and Bradley Creek. THAT was on the other side of the map from the start at Cove Creek Campground! And the first 3 teams there would get bonus points. Kip and I contemplated route options: in the end we settled on 475 --> 276 --> 1206 --> 5015 --> Bradley Creek. Eric had the teams go off in 30 second increments. This would keep the tag-a-longs to a minimum.
I hoisted my Camelbak onto my shoulders ... and about went belly up! I had not worn a pack since PMBAR. I swear that pack felt like I had just put a toddler on my back!
|13 pounds of mandatory gear + running shoes|
As we headed out, my legs were in complete rebellion mode. They wanted no part of climbing 1000 feet right out the gate. Kip, on the other hand, was like a squirrel who had just emptied a bag of nuts laced with speed. As other teams caught up to us and passed us, he was doing his best to start up a conversation on the meaning of life. I knew he was just being his usual happy self, but I'm sure the other teams thought this was a strategy to slow them down.
Once we hit 1206, I found a happy place and began to work with Kip to grind out the miles to the passport checkpoint. Trish and Sam found us here; it was good to see them being able to race together. Although Trish was very cordial and chatted with me a bit, Kip later said that as Sam passed him, Sam gave him the "I am gonna rip your legs off" look. I told Kip to not take offense as Zeke is one of the few people I know that can get Sam to crack a smile, especially during a race.
25 miles and 2 hours later, we arrived at our destination. Two other teams were already there. We were the third team in, but since we had started off in 30 second intervals, there were 2 other teams that beat us there "time-wise." So we did not get any bonus points. However, being in the top 5 at that point gave me many motivational points.
|Curses you, Eric, for the "no flow" CP gathering today.|
Ever since I started riding in Pisgah, I have been told by the locals to NEVER RIDE TURKEY PEN from east to west. So when I saw where the mandatory was, I let off a string of expletives (in my mind). At least I would not be suffering alone, as all 30 teams would be slogging up The Wall. As we mostly pushed up to the mandatory, we ran into several teams coming down Turkey Pen. Poor souls! They chose to get to the passport checkpoint by riding ALL of Turkey Pen. I wonder what their faces looked like when they saw the mandatory CP at Wagon Gap.
Once at the CP, we could get an additional 1/2 point by hitting a beer can with a slingshot/acorn or write a haiku. So I wrote:
Suffering on the bike, oi!
3 hours and 29 miles later and we had our first CP. Ouch! That called for a little reward, so I pulled out some bacon from my FeedBag. As the motto goes, "Bacon makes anything better," including hike a bikes of death. From there we decided to go collect Cantrell Creek Lodge and Saddle Gap via South Mills River. I got to ride a "new to me" section of South Mills. It was fast and I consider anything greater than 6mph fast in Pisgah!
As we were approaching the Lodge, a team came upon us. One was on a single speed in crazy greyhound mode. He almost took Kip out just after a river crossing. As they passed us, Kip informed me that the guy on the SS was Bob. Bob Moss, I asked? Kip said yes. I was in awe that I had been ahead of Bob "The Hammer" Moss, whose thighs are like tree trunks!
|Kip getting a pic of the Lodge and I while I was getting proof that I was riding with Bob and Dave.|
After attempting to bribe Bob with some salty baby potatoes in exchange for carrying my pack up Cantrell Creek, we saddled up for some riding/some pushing up to Squirrel. Bob, who had burritos in his pack, could not be persuaded. Cantrell Creek is loaded with loose baby heads, making pedaling difficult. But at least you did not have to worry about destroying your derailleur when HAB'ing. At the top of Cantrell we came upon Trish and Sam who were having a picnic. Being the superhumans they were and having their map in their heads, they could afford to chill.
I was glad to be on Squirrel Gap. Following a contour line, it is totally rideable. But still tricky, as I would call it half-track. And a mistake here could easily send you tumbling stright down 50-100 feet. The scaries part of my whole race was right here, where a root grabbed my front wheel and I just about launched off into a ravine. The only "Oh, shit!" moment of my whole race.
After grabbing our 3rd CP at Laurel Gap, we headed down Laurel Creek and over to 5015. We were going to grab the 3 CP's in the North Mills area. Laurel Creek was the dryest I had ever seen it. I had an enjoyable time cleaning most of it. At one point I felt something hit my rear wheel ... or so I thought. A few moments later, Kip catches up and tells me I have a stick in my derailleur. I stop, dismount, and look in amazement.
That stick was jammed so tightly that Kip had to break it in two to dislodge it. Lady luck was with me today, for sure! From the bottom of 5015, we retraced our steps back up to 1206. At the top, we took a moment to eat and put another layer on. It was now about 5:30 pm, the wind was whipping, and the sun and temperature was dropping. I downed a Red Bull and some dates. Sam and Trish caught back up to us and headed down to North Mills River. Knowing that their route was very similar to ours gave us a boost of confidence in CP choices.
At the campground, we stopped and replenished our water. It was nice not to not have to resort to purifying creek water; a time saver.
We decided to get Bear Branch first. This area had been logged over the summer and so looked quite different. We turned onto 5001 and began climbing. This road had seen lots of logging. There were many new roads off 5001 that led us to question if we were headed in the correct direction. We looked for tire tracks, but with it dry and hardpack, it was difficult. At one point we thought about turning back and going up the single track to nab the CP. That decision would have cost us precious time. Kip convinced me to go just a bit further. Fortunately I listened and within a 1/4 mile we realized we were on the right track.
We made it to the intersection, snapped a picture, and then put on our lights for the descent down Bear Branch. This was my first night ride of the year, so I was a bit tentative. I'm sure this trail would be a blast in the daylight, but I took it a bit easy, allowing my eyes to adjust to the setting sun and the 450 lumens my Lupine was casting out.
From there we headed over to the Hendersonville Reservoir CP, motoring along on 142.
We then took Spencer Branch to get to Middle Fork. This trail had a couple creek crossings. Although the creek crossings earlier in the day felt quite good, we were both reluctant to get our feet wet now. The first one we made it across successfully, but the second, Kip took a little plunge trying to maneuver across some rocks. Nothing hurt but his pride; he laughed it off and kept motoring. Where Spencer Branch was tight, twisty, and thick with undergrowth, Middle Fork was smooth, straight, and fast. Once again we exchanged hoots and hollers with Sam and Trish as they came cruising in the opposite direction.
|CP # 6, Middle Fork|
We headed back the way we came. Kip wanted to take Fletcher back to the reservoir. Even though Spencer was a bit of a pain, with the creek crossings and multiple downed trees, I knew it. Fletcher was the unknown. I won; we stayed on Spencer.
As we were climbing back up to Yellow Gap, we began to do some mental calculations to see if we had the time to try for a seventh CP. At this point we were 63 miles in and had 2 1/2 hours left to midnight. A seventh was possible, if all went well and we encountered no mechanicals. Not willing to take the risk (if we came in after midnight, we would be DQ'd and no QOP for me.) We both decided to head back to camp. Right after our decision, the wind began to whip and it started raining lightly. I was also getting cold, so I tucked in behind Kip and drafted off him. On 1206, we once again came upon Sam and Trish, who were stopped alongside the road.
In hindsight, we probably would have had plenty of time to snag the CP on Bennett. But we had both completely forgot about this one.
The descent back down 276 was bitterly cold. It seemed to take just as long to go down as it did earlier in the day to climb up. Towards the end all I wanted to do was climb and get warm again. Those little kickers on 475 after the fish hatchery were leg killers!
We arrived back at camp at 10:48. I had enough time to eat and put on some new clothes for the special test at midnight. This was going to be a short track race through the campground. 10 laps with time bonuses for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Each lap took about a minute. It was all easy save for the 3 foot log you had to lift your bike up and over, unless you were Sam who bunny-hopped it 3 times I believe.
After 88 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing, and with a 1/2 CP for finishing the short track, we had 7 CP's for the day.
Afterwards, I treated myself to a nice hot shower in Cam's RV, ate/drank some more, and then curled up in my vehicle for a few hours of restless sleep. Looking at the stars through my moonroof, I smiled. Today was a good day. Beautiful country, new to me trail,and lots of laughs with an awesome partner. Could Day 2 trump today?
Nutrition on the bike: 6 dates, 6 energy squares, 2 gels, 1 Red Bull, 1 RX bar, 2 Larabars, 6 baby potatoes, 4 strips bacon, and 110 ounces of Skratch.