Elevation: 4200 feet
Temperature: 50-73 degrees F
Although I had no problems downing my Christopher Bean Coffee, I had to force myself to eat. Fatigue and the stress of the first 3 stages was catching up with me. The drive up to the Cradle of Forestry allowed ample time for digestion. I got there early to do my 30 minutes warm up, which my legs begged for. Thank goodness I opted for the 30 minute massage yesterday which had a "Phoenix rising" effect.
I took my place in the middle 1/3 of the field. Today's start was 6 miles on gravel, plenty of time to sort things out. I found Patrick McMahon and hung on to his wheel for the gravelly bits. The climb on FunnelTop double track was a doozy. The gravel warm up was perfect and I felt pretty good on this section, despite the steep pitches which is one of my "limiters."
Once again, I found myself riding with John from Jersey. What a positive motivator! I truly enjoyed my time with him on the trail. We, along with his friend Jerry, rallied it down Horse Cove. The upper part was chunky and loose and the lower was fast and flowy. A hard left onto Squirrel and I got to enjoy one of my faves again ... this time in the opposite direction.
|My PSR racing buddy|
Somewhere along Squirrel we pulled away from Jerry, but picked up Rod. Rod was an amazing descender. He also was the one behind the cash prizing for the Enduro category. Even though I was carrying more fatigue, I felt faster on Squirrel today. It was probably the direction as well as having practiced my Pisgah dance the last 3 days.
Quicker than I imagined, I was making the hairpin turn onto Laurel Creek. This was a bugger of a descent, what with the drops, slick water bars, and tight switchbacks. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself passing several racers, off their bikes on the trickier portions. Two of the creek crossings I did HAB through, passing several more who didn't want to get their feet wet. My feet welcomed the ice cold water. Happy feet are fast feet, so I obliged them. The second half of the trail was stick-free, as opposed to when I had pre-ridden, where there were at least 100 derailleur killers. Then a nice knee high creek crossing which brought me to the FS 5015 double track climb.
I settled into a rhythm of seated pedaling and refueling with intermittent periods of standing and stretching the back. It was during this climb that I asked John how he was going to pay his wife back for him getting to play all week. His response, which I absolutely loved, was that she enjoyed just hanging out with nature, reading, hiking, relaxing, and having "me" time. You are a very lucky man, John!
There was a lot of chunky gravel on this climb. I was glad to see the aid station tent, knowing that that the best part was soon to come. We stopped at the aid station and I grabbed a Cliff mocha gel. Not so much for the calories, but for the boost of caffeine.
|Slightly sweetened and with a hefty dose of electrolytes|
I never thought I would be the one to say this, but with Infinit Nutrition, I can now fuel on just fluid alone. This coming from a seasoned racer of 17+ years who needed additonal calories in the form of gels and chews. As of now, I would say that for races of up to 5 hours duration, I will no longer need to reach in my jersey pocket for additional calories. I love that I can dial in the taste, sweet enough to make me want to drink, but not too sweet that my stomach sours. My formula contained electrolytes to my specifications. I also opted for no protein and no caffeine in this blend (but will probably have a caffeinated version the next time I order).
Unfortunately I lost John on the climb up Laurel (he needed a nature break). So once again I was in my own little bubble. Laurel Mountain is a beautiful beast of a climb. I gauge it by the short slabs of HAB rocks followed by 4 climbs, of which today a good portion of each were HAB. Sprinkled between the HAB sections were good bits of fast flowy tight single track. Rounding a corner of one of the easier sections, I came upon a racer with a steady flow of blood from his fore arm. A fellow racer was attending to him. I slowed and offered my assistance, to which they responded they had it under control. I motored on, wondering how he could have sustained that type of injury on the tamest portion of this trail. Later I came to find out that he had impaled himself on a rather large stick. Never underestimate even the "easy" sections of single track.
Having seen this, I reminded myself that I needed to settle in on the Pilot Rock descent, which was still a couple miles away. I soon found myself in the company of Hardwick, one hard core racer who I truly admire. At 65 years of age, he still has the strength and skills to blow the doors off racers half his age. I found myself digging deep to stay with him towards the end of Laurel. He dropped into Pilot just ahead of me. As I rode through the Enduro start, I took several deep breaths to prepare for the penultimate Pisgah descent. Starting at 4800 feet and finishing at 3300 feet, this 2.25 mile stretch of trail is nothing but a large mountain of rock, weathered by water, shoes, tires, and probably a fair share of broken bikes, bones, and helmets.
|No hecklers today, just encouragers. Photo cred: Dave and Dave|
I had a hard time keeping Hardwick in sight. There must be at least 15 switchbacks on this descent. I have cleaned all of them in the past ... just wish I could do that on one run! I was rolling through the first ones with ease, but once I choked, then I kept on choking! Arrgh! I was approaching the infamous rock garden, thinking the hecklers from hell would be there in force. But there were only a few people and they were just ... too ... nice! Well, except for the dog I heard about later at dinner. He was probably worn out and had lost his voice by the time I rolled through.
I popped out onto the gravel and still had a steep climb up to the finish of the Enduro. Ouch! That was just mean! Only 5 miles left. I put my head down and went into TT mode. Thankful for the tailwind, I pinned it to the end. Rolling through the finish line in great spirits, I was thankful I had escaped unscathed and with a relatively happy intact spine.
|Strange cravings brought on by a solid 4 days of racing.|
After a quick bite of recovery, I moseyed over to the massage tent and enjoyed another 30 minutes of bliss. Then a quick trip to Sycamore Bikes where they had a bike wash station set up to clean off my steed. She wasn't that dirty, but going through the motions of washing her down allowed me to inspect and avoid potential disaster should there be an issue I need to address. After a thorough check of the sidewalls, I pulled her off the stand, loaded her up, and went back to base camp to eat some more.
Dinner that night was delicious. I didn't know which was worse: the face that this was the second to last meal I would enjoy or that there was just one stage of crazy fun left.
|Pork loin, two kinds of salad, and grits|
|Salted caramel gelato!|
Here is a recap of the day's efforts.
One stage left. In a comfortable lead, would I be able to just party pace tomorrow?