At 9am, 60 or so set off at a leisurely pace. Up P3 was a rude awakening for the legs, but I was in my happy place, in the woods riding dirt ribbons. Lisa and I were riding together: I had a gpx file and a paper map to back it up. I let a few guys around me, as they seemed to be biting at the bit. For me, today was about keeping a steading endurance pace. About 1/2 way up, on a short descent, I noticed a hole in the trail 15 yards ahead. Before I could think twice about stopping, I saw that it was a yellow jacket's nest, with about 50 of those little bastards buzzing around. I gave it my best bunny hop and awaited the stings of pain. None came. How I came away unscathed, I don't know. I yelled out as loud as I could about the impending danger, but Lisa took 3 hits.
At the top, I took a breather while Lisa took some prednisone. Randall and Mary came up behind us, pushing a gear on their single speeds I would never have any hopes in turning over on the steeps. With the course being unmarked and their aging eyes having a time reading the cue sheet, I told them how to get to P4. Wondering how they were going to finish this ride without wandering in circles, I hit P4 to Tatum Lead to Hwy 52 to Fort Mountain. Once we entered the park, Mary and Randall were looking all confused and glad to see Lisa and I. They hopped on the train and we all enjoyed a nice paved descent all the way down to the campground. Then a hard right onto Trail 302 and I got the pleasure of climbing all the way back to the top. It was here that Lisa had her first Drama Queen moment. This was beginning to feel like a Pisgah Productions event.
The trails in Fort Mountain are wide, but steep and "marbly," similar to Club Gap in Pisgah. Mike was nice enough to put in a few small signs to guide us through the trails in the park. I stopped at SAG 1. Although I was not in racer mode, the volunteers were. "The first group of 4 is only 4-5 minutes ahead. They did not even stop!" cried one volunteer. Another volunteer gave us a play by play on how to get down the mountain to the paved road. "Left, right, left, left, right, ... and after that I lost him. It was quite comical; how many would be able to sort out all those rights and lefts?
After taking a couple gels, which, by the way, Honey Stinger has the best vanilla gel ... ever, I got to slide down Fort Mountain. That was a hard descent. I was wishing for a dropper, but managed to keep the bike upright. A few pitches approached 20% and were littered with baby heads, similar to the upper section of Farlow Gap. Speeding down Emery Creek road, I was greeted by the "par for the course" parasite riddled pack of mixed breed curs that wanna mess up your day. I was able to out dodge them, and hoped Lisa would, too. I waited around the next bend for her. I was happy to see her make it through the gauntlet.
A bit of pavement before we headed up the forest service road to Windy Gap. I did not realize until Lisa told me that we would be going UP Upper Windy Gap Trail. With Tibbs being decommissioned a few months ago, we could not take Milma to Tibbs to Lake Conasauga. Oh, goody! I was careful to keep my Drama Queen moments all to myself. Lisa, not so much. So after climbing the roller coaster of Lower Windy, I then had the pleasure of HAB'ing Upper Windy. 4 miles and 2000 feet of climbing! I had a 30T ring up front, but was really wanting a 20!
|The Wall on Upper Windy|
During this hour and 15 minutes of hell, when I was not riding, I was experimenting with hand positions (left hand on grip, right hand on grip, stem, top tube, seat, seat post) hoping to find my bike's G-spot, and be carried up the mountain by sheer pleasure. Yeah, well, that didn't happen.
The air was stale and thick on the climb. The sweltering heat had sweat dripping from my nose like a leaky faucet. Unable to approach gnat speed, I was inundated with them ...but only on my left side, weird.
Towards the top, when I was slogging through a particular hard section and had my head hanging down, I heard something. Rounding the bend, I saw the biggest black bear ever! Put two English Mastiffs side by side and that is how big he was. I'm sure what saved me from running right up his ass was the whirr of my wheels! He bounded all 350-400 pounds of brute mass up the trail like it was nothing. I am thankful my I-9's have a second use as a bear deterrent.
|top of Upper Windy Gap|
Once I was able to hop on the bike and ride the remainder of Upper Windy, I found peace and was able to work on skills I will need for the upcoming Marji Gesick 100 in September. This stretch of Windy felt like Laurel in Pisgah. I sessioned a couple areas while waiting on Lisa.
Stopping at SAG 2, Lisa and I were told that we were the first ones to arrive. Say what?!? What happened to the guys ahead of us? They must have strayed off course.
|Sufferin' and smilin' is how we roll!|
Lisa destroyed her heels (even adventure race veterans make rookie mistakes) on the HAB up Windy, and stopped for a moment at the SAG to apply Band-Aids. I took the time to refuel on Honey Stinger Pink Grapefruit energy chews. I am not sure if it was because of the intensity of the ride or the product itself, but I was quickly growing fond of Honey Stinger. Their products hit the spot, even the Pink Grapefruit flavor was surprisingly tasty.
I was really trying hard to suppress the inner racer in me, especially after being told we were in 1st! After a few minutes we were off on the 12 miles of gravel to Mountaintown Creek Trail. At the higher elevations and with some clouds that had rolled in, the temperature was bearable. With a cool breeze on the descents, Lisa and I were able to make good time to the next SAG at Three Forks.
The volunteers were happy to see us; they had been there a couple hours just twiddling their thumbs. We had first dibs on the food and were treated like royalty. As we were pulling out, Matt rolled in. We came to find out that he, Chris, Chris, and Dave had made a wrong turn coming down off of Fort Mountain. Took them a mile or two before they figured the error of their ways.
I let Matt around me as we entered the single track. I figured he wanted to make some time on us as well as his buddies who had lagged behind on the gravel section. I also wanted to enjoy this descent, by myself. The trail was spec-friggin'-tacular! It was like a cross between Avery Creek and Cantrell Creek in Pisgah. There were 14-15 creek crossings. Most were rideable, which is what I don't remember from when I had ridden this trail about 7-8 years ago. I remember it being more like Farlow Gap's creek crossings. All in all, I would say I rode about 10 of them. The 4 crossings I walked across either had rocks thick with slippery algae, or entry/exit points that had steep penalties for failure.
|One of the 15 creek crossings on Mountaintown.|
As I was approaching the end of the trail, I saw Matt off in the bushes. He warned not to approach, saying that it was not a pretty sight. Apparently the burrito he had eaten earlier put his system into overdrive and now he was fertilizing the flora.
Popping out onto Gates Chapel Road, Lisa decided she had enough and was taking the pavement back to Mulberry Gap. After 6 hours, I was spent, too, but the racer in me had to finish this beast! Matt and I rode up Bear Creek Road, then onto Bear Creek a short ways, before the steep, but usually easy climb up P1. It was here that Matt pulled away. I still had a bit left in the gas tank, but anytime I made any hard effort, I started getting goose bumps and felt light headed. A sure sign that I was a couple steps away from heat exhaustion, I had to throttle back. Which made the death climb up P1 go ... on ... forever. However, I still had enough focus to have fun on the descent.
A short uphill gravel pedal to P2 and I was on my way to enjoying a feast at Mulberry Gap. Chris Coren caught me here. We hashed over how our day went; he was a bit nervous that Renee might disown him for encouraging her to do this ride. He pulled away towards the end of the climb, but I was able to keep him in my sights on the descent. The P2 descent is one of my faves in this neck of the woods. As I popped out onto the gravel, Chris had caught up to Matt. I was glad to see Matt just up ahead; I figured I was so slow in the last miles that I just knew he was already at Mulberry enjoying some frosty brew and the endless burritos.
I rolled into the barn a little after 4pm, 56 miles, 9500 feet, and 7:25 total time. 3rd finisher out of 10 total, I believe.
I grabbed my two beers; not for me, but for Charlie and future kitchen passes. Just one (of many) niceties of starting a ride at MG is the shower at the end. No "whore baths" with just a gallon of water. A nice hot, or in today's case, cold shower, is icing on the cake. Afterwards, I was treated to a HUGE grilled chicken salad; no burritos for me due to my gluten allergy. And, NO ONE goes hungry here at Mulberry Gap.
Yep, that pretty much puts this ride up there with the Pisgah 111 and ORAMM. And I found Eric Wever's evil triplets in the likes of Mike and Ben. That was one heck of a ride. Thank you to everyone who made today's sufferfest possible!