Friday, November 18, 2016

2017 Marathon Nationals Recon

The wildfires around me gave me the opportunity to seek better air quality.  So I headed west to Arkansas to do a little home work.  Next May is the USAC Marathon Mountain Bike Nationals. The venue is Iron Mountatin at Lake DeGray.  Don't worry, it is nothing like the Iron Mountain course that Chris Scott takes great pleasure in testing your mettle. I have heard nothing but good about this course.  Two lap format with a short parade lap to sort the racers out prior to hitting the single track. Counter clockwise flow.

SS'r paradise!

According to my GPS, the lap is 23 miles with 1700 feet of climbing. The trail has a rocky base and laid out so well that I don't think rain would be an issue at all.  Nothing too technical, and by that, I mean, I didn't have to session any section.  Few roots, but lots of cat head rocks.  Fortunately, most of the rocks are embedded and so won't be taking your front wheel out from under you.  This trail is fast and furious! There are a few short rock gardens that make it interesting, but everything is rideable. I could just give the trail builder a big ole' squeeze! I would guess that the course is about 85% single track.  A few short pavement sections will make it easy to grab some nutrition and fluid.

The Yellow Trail is my second favorite.  Rocky, but plowable.  Kinda like a much tamer version of The Snake. This trail has a good bit of climbing, the longest of which is a double track, access road climb up to the power lines, but only about 1/2 mile at 3-4% grade. Most climbs are 50-100 meters.

Soooo much floooow!

The Green trail, particularly the lower section, is my favorite.  Rocks, rocks, rocks.  Equivalent to the rockier sections of Raccoon. And these you have to pick your way through and be careful not to strike your pedals.  No problem with quick engaging I-9's.  There is an uphill rock garden that I probably wouldn't notice on gears, but on my single speed I had to dance my way up.

Had to hold my tongue just right to clean this uphill rock garden.

Love me some rocks!

The Orange and the Blue Trails are a rockier version of the Small Intestine trail at Raccoon. The climbing is evenly distributed over the length of the trail, but the flow was so good, it was easy to carry a lot of momentum uphill.  These two trails were smoother than the Yellow and Green.

Orange Trail 

The White Trail is a highway!  A cross between Tanasi's Brush Creek and Tsali's Right Loop.  It meandered along a point, offering up spectacular views of Lake DeGray.

White Trail

One lap of the course and I had it pretty much dialed in.  I did a second and was even faster, knowing what was lurking around the corner and when I needed to get ready to stand and grunt up some of the steeper sections and switchbacks.  Today the course was slippery as the drought has extended its reach to Arkansas.  The corners had a collection of loose dirt and gravel, as well as leaves.  I would say that with rain, this course will be fast like Warrior Creek.  Lots of sharp rocks, so run tires with sidewall protection.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


I've been on Niner bikes since 2011.  My first Niner was an Air 9 Carbon that I built up as a SS. I no longer have her, but she is still on the racing scene, under the guide of SuperStrong Mary Sickler. The first of this year I got the RKT RDO and I've just welcomed the Air 9 RDO to my family.

It has taken awhile to get "Echo" dialed in; that's my RKT.  Yes, I name my bikes (and still sleep with stuffed animals). Why Echo?  Because when I was in the Army, my MOS (military occupation specialty) was a heavy equipment operator.  Dozers, pans, graders, and front end loaders took skill and finesse to operate.  And so the same goes for her.  But once you have mastered the skill, it is an absolute blast to be in the saddle and raging single track.

Fox SC 32 in stealth mode

I initially had a RockShox RCT 100mm installed on her, but it just didn't feel or act right.  I was able to warranty it (although I was not told what the problem was).  At first I waited to get my hands on the new RockShox SID WC, but the delivery date kept getting pushed back.  So I decided to try the Fox StepCast 32 Boost.  I am so glad I did.  It felt right ... right out of the box and after removing all the tokens.  I totally agree with Dickey on this fork.

A great stopper

SRAM's Guide brakes are on the opposite end of the spectrum as compared to the Avid's. Plenty of power and I just love how they feel; not squishy like the older Maguras I had on my Jet 9 RDO.

I-9'a are just ridiculous in so many ways

I chose a set of Pillar Carbon Industry 9 wheels.  This is the first carbon wheelset I had.  I really don't notice much difference in them as compared to their Ultralight aluminun hoops, but then again I am but a mere half pint.  What I do notice is that they go where you point them, the engagement is what I need for rock crawling, and the spokes/hubs are sexy!

Completing her build is a Niner bar and stem, Ergon grips, SRAM 1 x 11, RaceFace Next SL with Cinch direct mount, Xpedo M Force 8 Ti pedals, and a Specialized S-Works Phenom saddle. I also installed a Reverb dropper, which cost a bit of weight, but so worth it for confidence in descending the gnar.  Even with the weight penalty, she comes in at 22.8 pounds.

Have yet to take her on the maiden voyage

I am ready to take this one for a ride.  However, what with all the wildfires, my lungs would be all sad with any HR above 100 right now. So, she sits in the basement awaiting the rain.

Loving the color palette

I've outfitted her with the StepCast and the new Ultralite 235's. Industry 9's new AnoLab page where you can build your custom wheel set is super sick! Pretty much tried to build her similar to Echo, so that I can rob parts if I need to in an emergency situation.  The Guide brakes are probably overkill, but when I was running XTR's on my older Air 9, they just did not have the stopping power I needed.  I like the 4 piston power.  At some point, I would like to try the SRAM Level brakes.

Going BIG

Bruce built her up with an Eagle drivetrain and the RaceFace Next SL G4 with a Wolftooth direct mount 32T.  According to their website, it provides an ideal 49 mm chainline, as compared to RaceFace's 51 mm.

Trying out Wolftooth for the first time

My intention for her is gravel grinds and shorter endurance events where I don't need the FS and drooper capabilities that Echo provides. Right now, she weighs in at 19.25 pounds.

I must give Mike Stanley of Niner, Bruce Blevins of The Outdoor Store, Industry 9, and Xpedo a HUGE thank you for providing me with a less than retail opportunity to shred on this machine.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Trans North Georgia (TNGA) Ride Report

The Trans North Georgia is a mountain bike route that is 350 miles long with 56,000 feet of elevation gain.  It starts just east of Clayton, Georgia on the South Carolina border and finishes on Hwy 20, just west of Rome, at the Alabama border.  The route runs through the Chattahoochee National Forest and runs the length of the Pinhoti Trail (131 miles).  The course consists of single track, ATV trail, gravel roads, and some pavement.

The start, at the South Carolina border

Having missed the Grand Depart back in August due to my work schedule, Lisa and I finally decided to take the plunge last Thursday. The one and only time I had attempted this route was back in 2011. After 118 miles, I had to pull the plug on top of HogPen Gap due to intense foot pain.  I was filled with trepidation as this would be my longest ride ever.  Although my feet had been doing well, even allowing me to race a duathlon the weekend before, I was concerned about aggravating the nerves again and potentially causing a major setback.  I promised myself to listen to my body.

Day 1:  SC state line to Blue Ridge, 170 miles, start 6:45 am, finish 1:30 am, 18:45 ride time

- I didn't have to wait 15 minutes for Eddie O'Dea to show up.
- Riding with the fastest woman, who also has the third fastest time ever, is an honor.
- Watching the dawn break is one of my favorite riding times.
- With the drought, ALL the gravel came to the surface.

Wilson Gap climb

- Wonder how many dirty diapers I will see in the national forest?
- The Darnell Creek Trail was a blast, similar to Butter in Pisgah.

Darnell Creek

- Said the Rabun Post Office employee, "We are not supposed to give you any water."  WTF!
- Patterson Gap gravel climb took two pedal strokes to gain one pedal stroke's worth of forward momentum since the gravel was so deep and loose.
- Made it to Tallulah River Campground on 3 bottles.  Refilled here.

Tallulah River

- The climb up Blue Ridge Gap was WAY more pleasant with overcast skies!
- The descent off Blue Ridge Gap was still filled with chunks of gnar.

The potential for glazing over your brake pads was high!

- Tray Mountain ... the never ending climb.  Halfway up, we got passed by a 1990's blue 2WD tow truck.  We never saw him again.  How the heck did he get down off that mountain?  is a question that remains today.
-So this is what the Hickory Nut Trail looks like.  In 2011 there was so much undergrowth, I was bouncing off all the rocks and having to walk sections.
-Coming down the highway into Helen, two mountain bikers pulled onto the road about 50 yards ahead of us.  Even after 11 hours on the bike, my first thought was, "Let's race them!"  Can't take the competitor out of me, I guess.
-New pavement on HogPen was a delight.  I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I passed by the parking area where I bailed back in 2011.
-I thought it cruel that after climbing up to Wolf Pen Gap, there was still more climbing to be had going up Duncan Ridge.
-The Duncan Ridge descent was the gravel version of Heartbreak Ridge.
-When I am tired, 50 degrees feels like 30 degrees.
-I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.  A solid 4 hours.

Campsite, first night.  Thanks, Loretta!

Day 2, Blue Ridge to Dalton, 110 miles, start 8 am, finish 9 pm, 13 hours ride time

-7 am came WAY too early.  And this comes from someone who normally gets up at 5 am.
- My right IT band began to act up on the Stanley Gap trail.

Sunrise on Stanley Gap

-Stanley Creek gravel road descent down to Cherry Log was smoooooooth as pavement ... and blazing fast!
-The climb up Bushy Head Gap was straight up; must of had Costa Ricans putting this road in as there were no switchbacks.
- Riding through Cashes Valley, I began to smell the forest fire up on Rough Ridge, only 150 acres at that time. (now well over 3000).

Refueling and texting our loved ones.

- Watson Gap gravel climb was a powdery mess.  But powder is easier than loose gravel.

Watson Gap, poppin' with color!

- South Fork Trail was in excellent condition.  Nice to not have to ride through mud and horse poop puddles.
- Pinhoti 0 was a beautiful ride, but still a sum'bitch!

P 0 creek crossing

- 1/2 way up P 0, the smoke got thicker.  Just a wee bit nervous as to what we were headed into.
- Heading up to Potato Patch, the Three Forks parking area was blocked off and numerous forest service vehicles were parked.
- Bear Creek was the first time I needed to purify water.

The smoky Mountaintown Overlook

- The work done on Pinhoti 1 and 2 was well done.  Too bad I was too tired and had an extra 8 pounds on my bike or I coulda raged on those descents and big berms!
-Sunset came as we plummeted down Tatum Lead.
- New discovery:  trails grow at night.  The grassy single track leading to the Dennis Mill section of Pinhoti went ... on ... forever!
- Bats were dive bombing my lights as I descended the single track down to the Dennis Mill trailhead.
- Cracker Barrel never tasted so good at 10 pm, even though I believe my mashed potatoes sat under the heating lamp for the past 5 hours.
- The Super Eight in Dalton was a welcome sight.  I flipped/flopped like a fish all night, as every muscle ached.  6 hours of restless and painful sleep.

Day 3, Dalton to Alabama border, 70 miles, start 7 am, finish 7 pm, 12 hours ride time.

- The climb up Dug Gap was brutal.  I was praying for my taint to just go numb.  Thank goodness I had the ability to stand and climb, which is what I did alot of today.
- Lisa was on fire today.  I don't know where she got the energy.  I was dying a slow death.
- It took me 5 1/2 hours to ride The Snake course (backwards)!

So, this happened. The Pine Hill climb along The Snake.

- Logging ... a necessary evil, decimated the section of The Snake between the beginning of Pine Hill climb and the crossing on Pocket Road.
- I was wanting a dropper post, not for the technical descents, but so I could get off/on the bike easier.  After 300 miles, getting a leg over the saddle was no small task.
- Frito-Lay is making money selling air!  I was able to get a 12 ounce bag of chips into a small Zip-Loc.  The guys at the gas station were enthralled!

No guilt in eating the whole bag!

- Unfortunately I did not get to enjoy my Pepsi with the chips.  All the rattling in the Mountain Feed Bag on my handle bar caused the seam at the bottom of the can to come undone.  I had been feeling small drops of liquid the last 10 miles, but had no idea it was my Pepsi leaking. Very sads.

Desperately needed those 150 calories

-Second time I needed to purify water was at Dry Creek.  Bear Creek definitely tasted better than Dry Creek.

Chlorine dioxide.  30 minutes for most bugs, and 4 hours for Giardia and Crypto ... and no bad taste.

- We had to ride around Strawberry Mountain.  It was closed due to a fire.  That allowed me a much needed Coke in Subligna.  I hardly ever drink sodas, so this was a real treat.  I never knew that a Coke could breathe life back into me.  A much needed boost for Taylor's Ridge.
- Fifty seven hours into this journey and I still had some spunk to enjoy the single track on Taylor's Ridge.  Well, at least the flats and descents.
- I was so happy to see the rail-trail.  And that it was in excellent condition.

Lisa says, "C'mon, only 12 miles left!

- I swear I think Lisa had a motor in her down tube.  The final 12 miles she kicked it into high gear and pulled me ALL THE WAY!
- So blessed to have her as my friend.  I could not have done this without her.  She is the Queen of Adventure! When I was not feeling good (which was a lot), she was there to guide me through the dark places.  Her energy was good to feed off of.

P'd and Gap'd out!

60 hours, border to border.

Other than an angry IT band and a numb left pinky finger, I survived without any major issues.  My 2012 Niner Jet 9 RDO was flawless.  With two bottle cages, I was able to carry 3 bottles on my bike and keep the water weight off my back.  This helped to lessen shoulder and back pain, but did not help much with the taint pain.  I had a 1 x drive train with a 28T chain ring. More than once I was wishing for an Eagle drive train.  My bike, with loaded bags and water bottles, weighed in at 33 pounds.  My CamelBak weighed 5 pounds.