Saturday, September 14, 2019

Black Bear Rampage Race Report

My faithfully fast and furious steed

This was my 7th year racing (2007, 2008, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2019) the BBR.  The BBR is put on by my LBS, Scott's Bicycle Centre, and is in its 13th year. The course consists of all of the trails at the Ocoee Whitewater Center and is 95% single track.  This would be my last high intensity effort before the big one ... the Marji Gesick 100. Having not done much racing this year, especially on trail, I was a wee bit nervous about how the legs would respond and the skills at speed would fair.  It is one thing to race a gravel grinder which is akin to a time trial, but to have to put out constant intense power surges is quite a bit different and something I have just not done much of this year.

It was 65 degrees at the start and conditions had been dry all week, so it was gonna be fast.  I started out hard, making the legs burn going up the pavement climb.  Hard enough that I could not even talk to Loretta as I passed her.  My breathing was ragged and my heart rate above threshold, but at least the legs felt good.  I latched onto a dude (Marty) just as we crested the climb and was able to recover while maintaining speed down the paved road until we hit Brush Creek. Marty turned out to be a great pacer through this first fast slot car like section of trail.

As we approached the Boyd Gap descent, I jumped ahead of him and an older fella.  Not knowing them nor their downhill skills, I wanted both a clear field of vision and and a chance to go at my own speed.  This trail has several sections of loose baby heads and the chances of a catastrophic failure is quite high if you hit them the wrong way.  Within the first minute, I was afraid I had made a mistake, as the guys I passed were right on my heels.  I asked twice if they wanted around, which I would have humbly pulled aside, but both seemed to be cool to follow me.  As we hit the short paved descent to Old Copper Road, I did apologize to the older fella if I hindered his race.  He seemed to be just fine ... so I was hopeful I just made him faster by showing him the line.

My teammate Robbie Burger passed me just before we hit Old Copper Road.  He was looking really strong and took off like a bat out of hell.  I hopped in behind the guys I led down the descent.  The root section on OCR felt like an 8 second bull ride ... not that I know anything about that, but those roots had grown!  I biffed a couple of lines and was glad to not have gotten launched off to the left.
As I was climbing up Bear Paw, making good time and feeling strong, I had a twinge in my inner thigh.  It felt like someone had pinched the crap out of me.  Uh oh, that was my body warning me of a full on cramp if I didn't settle down.  I was completely surprised by the twinge as I am not a cramper and I cannot even remember the last time I felt "the pinch."  But boy did I back it off quickly.  Way too many miles left and not wanting to be one of those poor souls laying off in the woods screaming uncontrollably, I settled.

As tradition would have it Henry was in full Hawaiian luau mode at the intersection of FS1333 and West Fork.  Those coconuts!  Love ya Henry.  You are a wonderful trail angel, be it in full on trail work mode or morale booster mode.  West Fork and Thunder Rock seemed to fly by; a good sign of my fitness.  Even the gravel climb up to Poplar Hollow felt effortless.  I caught back up to Robbie, but he passed me back as I stopped to swap CamelBak's.  The last time I did the race there was a n aid station at the top of the gravel climb but not today.  But my other trail angel, THE Zekester, was there, having hiked all the way up the gravel with cooler in hand, so that I did not have to lug a full hydration bladder up that mile climb.  What a man! What a man!

I passed Robbie back as he stopped at the aid station before the Quartz Loop.  As I entered the loop, I was curious as to where my competition was.  Zeke had told me that I was about 5 minutes behind the top 2 ladies, but how close behind me were the ladies in my age group (>35).  I roared down Bypass and hit Riverview starting to feel tired  Tired, really?  I had only been racing for 2 hours!  Suck it up buttercup, I told myself.

I like riding it in this direction as it feels mostly downhill with the bulk of the climbing at the end.  Knowing that I had a long descent back to the Whitewater Center after that, I was able to dig deep.  Robbie caught back up to my wheel and we finished out this section together.  Nothing like having a teammate behind you to give you a little more motivation to ride fast and smooth.

Once I crossed the bridge over the Ocoee River, the last 10 miles was the first 13 in reverse minus the 3 mile initial paved climb.  I began to smell the barn.  I conserved a little on Old Copper and the paved climb up to Boyd Gap.  Climbing Boyd Gap is a bugbear.  Every year, it gets a little more washed out, the baby heads multiply and the roots get taller.  Keeping my head down with just enough field of vision to see a few yards ahead, I grannied the hell outta that climb! 

Back on Brush Creek, I went into TT mode and made the final push to the finish.  With legs burning and eyeballs bulging, I imagined myself on the final miles of MG100, trying to make the 12 hour belt buckle cut-off. It worked, as I ended up not far off my best time for this section.

I won the 35 and over division with a time of 3:37:29.  Not anywhere near my fastest time, but right where I needed to be given the type of training I have been doing this year leading up to my A race, the Marji Gesick 100, which is coming up in 2 weeks.

Some mighty fine "advanced" women!

Thanks goes out to Scott's Bicycle Centre for putting on yet another wonderful BBR.  The watermelon and the ice old Cokes at the finish line is a welcome oasis, before pedaling the pavement back down to the WWC.  The Dam Deli catering was spot on!  And I have one more podium glass to add to my collection!

Ahhh, the good ole days of  race promoter DIY number plates.  Not bad, Doug!



Thursday, August 15, 2019

Kentucky Gravel Championship Race Report

I finished up my racing in Kentucky this past weekend with the Gravel Championship.  As I was midway into this race, I thought that this, along with the War Daddy and the Forty 5, would be a great Triple Crown series.  All races had a hefty portion of "enhanced" gravel, including mud bogs that you could hit, sink, and never be found again.  The fun part was a sort of choose your own adventure, around these "holes."  I chose my Niner Air 9 RDO for all of these races, as it made my adventure faster and way more funner!

The venue for this race was Flatlick Falls Recreation area.  A great place for the family to swim and cool off in the river while we poor bastards were fighting it out in the Kentucky woods.  I chose to camp the night before and got a wee bit drenched from a pop up down pour that lasted about an hour.

A week before the event, I was the only one in the open category.  Comfortable Carey was ready for a day of play in the forest.  But then Mary Penta just had to sign up and Comfortable Carey got really bitchy.  But the "uncivilized doin' hard things" Carey got really excited for a most uncomfortable race and silenced the Carey who thought it was going to be a cake walk.  Fortunately "CC" makes up less than 5% of my nature.

A gel shot and lubrication 10 minutes prior to the start

The morning was super foggy but a coolish 72 degrees.  The race went off 2 minutes shy of 8 am.  We were led out the initial 4 miles of pavement for safety reasons.  The pace was pleasant and allowed the engine to warm up without sputtering. Once we turned onto the first gravel descent, it was game on.  With gravels flying and bottles launching out of their cages, I was kept my mouth closed to save my teeth and eyes open to not become part of any potential carnage.

On the first major pavement climb, I lost contact of the lead group and Mary.  I knew better than to burn any matches now.  Keeping my heart rate below the red line, I slowly watched her pull away and could only hope that I might see her again.  At mile 10 came was the Indian Ridge descent.  It was steep, slick, and chunky.  I saw two flats on gravel bikes.  I settled so I wouldn't get to squirrely; there were plenty of miles left to make up time.

Popping out of the pavement, I rolled the next few miles just under threshold.  Those that I had passed on the last descent caught back up to me just before the next gravel climb.  Had I known that, I could have saved some watts by tucking in behind them.  It would be like this for most of my race, in no man's land, on my own, under my own power, with no one to tuck in behind and conserve energy.

📷: Ralonda Nicholson

The gravel up to Aid 1/3 was smooth as a baby's butt.  It was hard not to go fast, as the legs were feeling sparkly and Mary was somewhere up ahead.  But the OG Carey kept repeating, "Patience, grasshopper."  Not needing anything at the first aid station (mile 17), I pedaled on. Tussey was full of deep baby fist sized gravel.  I was happy to be rolling 2.0's with front suspension.  Once again, I passed several gravel bikes, only to be subsequently caught on the flat paved road to Horse Lick.

The beauty ... just before Horse Lick!

I did stop at the second aid station (mile 28) to swap bottles.  In and out in less than 20 seconds, I once again got ahead of those who had passed me before.  The gravel began to get lumpy and chunky and soon puddles began to appear.  Fortunately, there were ride arounds, as it had been dry in the couple weeks leading up to the race.

Needed a crash test dummy to determine the depth of this one.

Horse Lick is a 3.5 mile stretch of mudholes that the ATV's come to play in.  I only had to dismount and hike around 2 puddles; the rest I was able to negotiate alternate lines and make my way around the worst of it.  Halfway through, I did manage to catch a gravel racer who became my crash test dummy for the remainder of the holes.  Most were faster to ride through than around.  BTW, this fella had most excellent skills on skinnies, as I chased his ass all the way down Tussey!

This is a county road ... by Kentucky's standards.

Daugherty Wall was the next SOB climb.  Short, but with pitches approaching 17%, it would have many racers off their bikes and pushing.  Once again, I was happy as a tornado in a trailer park, with my Eagle drivetrain.  Hammering out these little beasty climbs is usually not my forte, but today, for whatever reason, the legs were responding when I asked them to.

Rolling along the ridgeline of Daugherty Road, I saw a familiar kit ahead of me.  As I got closer, I realized it was Mary.  Hot diggity dawg!  I caught up to her and together we pounded out the next few miles.  We talked about all things gravel, including DK and The Crusher.  We whoo hoo'd down the crazy steep paved descent of Dry Fork School Road. And then we came up on Jordan, which I thought was unusual.  But then I saw why, for before us were at least 5 cars driving on this gravel road.  They would not ... let ... us ... around! Soon our group of 3 became 5, as we were losing a lot of time.  We must have been behind them for 15 minutes, before they finally got the memo.  One by one, they stopped to let us by.  I called out a "Thank You" to each and every one of them.

After the creek crossing, where there was a water only aid station, I began to contemplate where I would try to make a move.  The initial climb out had my legs a little angry and Mary seemed to be still going strong.  I doubted my ability to open a gap, but just kept pushing the pedals, hoping for something, anything.  Towards the top, the legs came back to life.  We took a right onto rougher gravel and I knew the Carpenter Ridge Wall was approaching.  This 0.6 mile rugged double track climb was an average of 11% but had two pitches of at least 20%.  I started up just behind Mary.  The first steep pitch had us both off our bikes, but I could sense her struggle.  As soon as I was able, I remounted, and pressed down on the accelerator.  I came up to Jordan and told him I was coming around as I thought I had a gap on Mary by now.  I never looked around to see, but just turned myself inside out on this climb.

Carpenter Ridge ... pure evil!

Once I topped out on the climb, I challenged myself to ride this last 20 miles like a TT.  I said, "This is how the last 20 at MG100 is gonna feel. Pain is your friend: embrace it, absorb it, and relish it.  Find enjoyment in discomfort.  Establish new limits."  I was pulling out all of my mantras for this push!  And it worked.  The first 8 miles flew by, as the gravel was smooth and I could hit the rollers with momentum.

As I passed by the third and final aid station, I was told I had 14 miles left.  Ooof, my legs said, as I was thinking only 12.  Having no idea how far Mary was behind, I just continued to pin it!  Lear Road was another technical double track with some muddy sections.  I took it conservatively, as now was not the time for a crash or flat.

A short section of pavement allowed me to refuel and empty my gel flask in preparation for the final 10 miles, 1 of which was that booger of a climb on Indian Ridge.  And it seemed a bit more slippery on the way up.  My rear wheel spun out a couple times forcing me off the bike.  I was probably faster HAB'ing it anyway.

Indian Ridge climb

Despite my ragged breathing and the intense burn in the legs, I kept the hammer down on the rollers of Indian Ridge.  I knew I would get a breather on the long paved descent soon.  I rested while descending Hwy 290, pedaling an easy cadence to keep the blood flowing to the legs.  Atkinstown Road was the final gravel section before the last 4 paved miles to the finish. Just crush this last mile and gravel climb and you can ease up a bit, I told myself.  So I crushed it ... well, as much as anyone can in granny!

Once on the pavement, I could smell the barn.  With slightly renewed energy, I knocked out those last few miles with a vengeance.  Rolling through the finish line, 62 miles later, with a time of 4:46, I was first woman and 10th overall.

Keith Cottongim put on one helluva grassroots race.  Kentucky is brutally beautiful, technical, and even old school.  I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of this Appalachian enhanced gravel.  This ain't your typical gravel race.  Yes, it can be done on a gravel bike, but with less enjoyment and a higher risk of flats.  Out of the 8 divisions in this race, only one was won on a gravel bike.  It really ought to be called the Kentucky Mountain Bike Gravel Championships.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Crusher Ride Report

Sometimes you have to feel like you are dying to know you are alive -- Carey Lowery

This is my answer when asked why I do these ginormous adventures by bike.  For me, when I am at the point on my suffer-o-meter that I ask myself, "Can I go on? Do I want to go on?," I am at the most connected with my spirit, my soul.  This is when I am tuned in to the beat of my heart, the inhalation of each breath, the contraction of each muscle as I turn over the pedal.  It is almost as if I am having an out-of-body experience, looking down at myself and into myself.  

I had two of these moments during the Crusher, a 232 mile self-supported gravel ride from Copper Harbor to Marquette, in the upper peninsula of Michigan.  There were no course markings and a GPS was required to navigate.  I carried two devices, a Garmin Etrex 30x and a Garmin Edge 830.  What you needed for nutrition, I had to carry, purchase along the way, or scoop out of a lake or mud hole.  

When I initially heard about this race back in the winter, I thought it would be way more fun to have a riding partner. It didn't take much to get Lisa Randall to commit.  I had her, the southern Princess of Adventure, at self-navigation and a long-ass time on the bike  AND, she was able to wrangle her husband into chauffeuring us 1000 miles up to the start, as well as being on standby to rescue us from the Yooper wilderness should we have to bail.  

Fun is my second answer to the question, "Why?"  There is absolutely nothing that makes me feel like a kid again than to ride my bike. When I am on my two-wheeled self-propelled machine, all the stresses of adult life melt away.  Perhaps that is why I like the longer races and rides, as I can disconnect from the matrix for a loooong time.

Crushers in line to get their Beacon tracker .

The race began at 6 am after a 30 minute delay due to the difficulty of trying to get 130 GPS trackers on the bikes.  I had my own SPOT tracker and so waited patiently, talking with Joe's parents and wondering how the hell Tinker made it through the required gear check.

Did he "shrink to fit" all his required gear?

It was a little hectic at the start.  Lisa had to make one last run to the restroom and I ended up losing her when the gun went off.  I didn't see her up in front, so I soft pedaled through town hoping she would catch up.  Once we hit the dirt 3 miles in, I got a little anxious and started asking riders if they had seen her.  One fella said she was behind me, so I stopped and waited at the top of a grunty little climb.  After 90 seconds and seeing the tail end of the string of riders, I realized that she had gotten ahead of me.  So now, I had to make up some time and dig a little deeper than I wanted to this early in the adventure.  I caught up to David Jolin, who had taken a little detour and found his company very enjoyable as we rode those beginning miles together.

This man ... 60 going on 40!  Photo Credit:  Rob Meendering

The early gravel/dirt was in good shape and fast.  There were a few lumpy sections of embedded rock, but my Niner Air 9 RDO and the Fox SC 100mm fork smoothed the road out quite nicely.  Once we hit the asphalt of Lac La Belle Road, David took charge of our group of 10+ and pulled the next 11 miles.  Free speed!  I kept expecting him to peel off as there was a nice pace line, but later DJ stated that he was just cruisin' in his comfort zone.  In the group were old acquaintances (Pete and Tyler from MG 100) and new acquaintances (Teri, who was Joel's training partner) and Tara (who had the most impressive calves!).  

As we turned right onto the next section of gravel, our pace slowed and people began surging ahead.  I knew better than to follow.  Only 30 miles in at this point, I quickly brushed the thought of "only 200 to go," out of my mind.  I elected to hang with DJ as our pace matched each other.  There was a nice pitchy climb around mile 40.  I passed several along this stretch, as I seemed to have a wider range of gearing (32 chain ring with a 10-50 cassette).  As DJ and I were coming around one particular bend in the road, we saw a bike off to the side ... and then caught a horrendous whiff of human poo!  We both looked at each other and commented something to the effect of  "I would have gone deeper into the woods."

As I approached the intersection of Cliff Drive and Hwy 41, I stopped where Chris was parked.  It was ok to have neutral support along the route, so long as what was offered to me was made available to any rider.  He told me that Lisa was about 4 minutes ahead.  I took a pee break and filled a bottle with water.  Just after this stop was the first photo checkpoint.

DJ was here getting his selfie when Joe Urbanowicz rolled in.  I did a double take, asking him, "I thought you were ahead of us?!?"  To which he supplied, "I was the one taking a shit in the woods!"  DJ and I both got a good belly laugh on that one.  DJ was fiddling around in his pack as Joe and I slow pedaled away.  Over the next hour, Joe and I cruised together and DJ caught back up to us on a bit of technical double track.  This was a really fun section as I got to use some skills.

Short lived, the route soon felt like a Rails to Trails.  DJ took the front again and the Rescue Racing train was steaming towards Houghton.  We picked stragglers up on the way, including Lisa.  I was so happy to finally be with her again.  She had been in "no man's land" for a while.  She urged me to go on with the train, as she struggled a bit to stay on track.  Oh ... hell ... no!  WE are in this together.  I dropped off the train, told her what I thought, and then together, we hooked back on.  Free speed, I told her, free speed.

Photo Cred:  Nathan Burks

Thirty minutes later we were dropping down the highway, crossing the Portal Canal Bridge, and heading to our next stop in Chutes N Ladders Park.  The city of Houghton had come out (on their own) in force to support us bike "crack-heads."  They had a cornucopia of food including pasties and fresh water.  Lisa and I stopped at Chris' truck.  The first third done in 6 hours.

While I shoved eggs and rice into my pie hole, Lisa chowed down on pizza and a bacon scone.  We made quick work, went to the rest room, where this time I reapplied with a heavy dose of Chamois Butt'r, signed in, and then beat it out of town.

Coming down off a steep hillside in loose gravel, I was looking ahead at the climb ... a jumble of bouldery rocks.  I made it up about 20 yards when I was forced off my bike.  As I was saying aloud to Lisa, "I was hoping you would tell me I was going the wrong way,"  she said, "You are going the wrong way."  Whew, as what lay before me was at least another 1/8 mile of HAB.  We turned around, leading a small group of lemmings, back down to smooth pavement.

Leaving Houghton on Coles Creek Road, our small group, including Lisa and Joe, hit a nice little 300 foot climb. This was a nice test of the legs and they still felt great.  Taking it easy during the first 1/3 was paying off.  It was no effort at all to ascend this little kicker.  After a brief discussion between Lisa's GPX track and mine, we found the turn off to Freda Mine.  I do believe my track was accurate, only because Lisa's had us going into the lake to get to the smokestack.

The Wonder Boy Joe himself ... was stoked to have gotten to ride with him.

At the 100 mile mark, I began the Subway countdown, trying to keep Lisa upbeat.  She had been dreaming of a meatball sub in L'Anse since we first arrived in Copper Harbor two days ago.  "57 miles to go!"  I yelled.  Her reply was a very weak, "Yea."  I was feeling good, so just kept the pace up and tried to provide as much drafting as I could.  I knew at some point I would be hitting a low spot and would need Lisa to keep me going.  Misery Bay Road led us into Toivola (mile 105), where Chris was waiting.

There were quite a number of crushers and support vehicles here.  I wandered off into the woods to pee again (a good sign I was hydrating well).  I reapplied Chamois Butt'r to my "treasure," which was beginning to get a little angry. Now dudes call it their "junk," but the definition of junk is rubbish, trash, or items of little to no value. Hmmm ... Yeah, I will stick with treasure.

I refilled a bottle while Lisa was working on a McDonald's cheeseburger.  My fueling was going as planned.  I was drinking about 16-18 ounces of Infinit per hour and along with gels, shot blocks, baby food style applesauce/banana, and Stinger Waffles, I was taking in 200-225 kcal per hour.

Upon leaving, we reconnected with Dan, Marvin , and Tyler.  We had been leapfrogging with them from the beginning.  Unfortunately the train was moving faster than I wanted to, even being in the draft.  Once again, Lisa said I could go on if I wanted to.  And once again, I did not travel 1000 miles to do this adventure solo.  It was nice of her to give me the reins, and I might have been able to stick with the bunch, but there was still 125 miles to go.  I knew I was going to need all my matches for the last 3-4 hours.  Besides, Lisa has been my go to adventure partner for years.  I thoroughly enjoy riding with her.  We are not super chit-chatty, but feed off of one another's energy and can embrace the suck together like "nobody's business."

We popped off the back and watched Joe roll away with the bunch.  Man, I was gonna miss that kid!  Maybe our paths would cross again ... if he had another poop break. 😂😂😂

"47 miles to Subway!"  Another weak little "yea."  I continued to pull. "37 miles to Subway!"  The "yea" became a little louder.  "27 miles to Subway!" "I am tasting those meatballs!" Lisa said. Around the 123 mile mark, we turned left from Hazel Swamp Road onto Laird Road.  In 0.4 mile we turned right onto Hazel Road (which in my mind was the same road as the previous Hazel because I did not remember the Swamp portion) and then in another 0.4 mile the road took another hard right.  Now if you know anything about geometry, we had just ridden 3 sides of a square.  I was thinking to myself, "Damnit, Todd, if you make us turn right again, I ... will ... hunt ... you ... down!"  Because at this point, I was thinking we may have just entered The Twilight Zone and would be riding this square forever.

Photo cred:  Nathan Burks

But no, we soon turned left on Clavco Road and back to some sense of normalcy again.  "17 miles to Subway!" to which she replied, "Hell, yeah!" By this time, I had the first bit of pain begin to show up in my sit bones.  And my treasure was angry ... again. For some reason, mincemeat kept coming to my mind. It was probably a combination of wearing a 6 pound pack and riding 95% seated for the last 9 1/2 hours.  This butt pain would come and go for the remainder of the adventure.  I made sure to drink out of my hydration pack first, lightening the load, so that I could stand a pedal every now and then and give my tush a break.

More free miles were to be found on a 6 mile stretch of Hwy 38.  But instead of just continuing on this road for a short 8 mile stretch on into L'Anse, we had to complete a 20 mile circuitious section deep into the Baraga Plains Wildlife Area, with some more climbing, just for good measure.  Lisa and I grumbled a bit about this "excursion," but it was truly a beautiful section of the course.  But first, we had to pass the "special test."  At about mile 136, our Garmins had us turn right.  I thought it looked oddly like a driveway.  Five seconds later we realized we were on a driveway.  The owner of the driveway was out gardening and kindly told us how to get where we needed to go.  I asked her how many times she had given out these same directions.  "Several times and then some," was her reply.

Southern Fried (mind, that is) Shred Sistas!  Photo Credit:  Rob Meendering

We managed to reroute ourselves back onto the course with her help and our superior map reading skills.  We got 1 1/2 bonus miles on that one. Then we were treated to some great dirt roads that wound their way through the forest. With a 5 mile rewarding descent at mile 150, I hollered "7 miles to Subway!", and we boogety boogety boogetied it down to L'Anse!

After negotiating the roundabout construction zone, we pulled into a parking lot adjacent to Subway, 6 1/2 hours after leaving Houghton.  Chris helped us to refill bottles and relube chains.  I sat down and made a longer effort to enjoy my bowl of rice and eggs.  Todd P. came by and asked us how we were doing.  I joked to him about his "special test."  I made a trip into the Subway to pee, reapply Chamois Butt'r, to which my treasure cried out in joy, and then thought about just sitting there for a few minutes, basking in the cool A/C fortified restroom.  No, no, no ... do not get comfortable, must ... keep ... moving.

A lady in a vehicle parked next to where Lisa and I were picnic'ing NASCAR style asked if there was any "free trail."  I laughed as I couldn't believe she connected me to that quote from the 2016 MG100.  I replied while there was no free trail, there was some free speed on the paved sections that I was taking advantage of.

20 minutes later with full bellies, lubed chains, and Lisa with one pedal only functional on one side (the other side the bolt had sheared off), we slowly pedaled out of town.  Taking it easy for the first 30 minutes, we gave our stomachs the necessary blood flow for proper digestion.  At mile 174, the climb up Mount Arvon began.  It looked ominous, as I could not see the end of the climb, as with all the other previous climbs of the day.  Fortunately, the legs were properly fueled, and it felt like I made quick work of the climb.  I did get a little nervous as I thought I should have seen the mailbox checkpoint by now.   Lisa assured me that we hadn't reached the peak yet.  Sure enough, a little more climbing and there it was.

I think I was in a slightly more positve mood here ... than Lisa.

Miss Mountain Goat Adventure was not too fond of this climb at mile 175.

The descent off the mountain was short lived as we hit a pitchy 2 mile climb.  From there it was a gradual descent down to Triple A Road.  I don't remember much, but what I do remember is the constant sections of deep sand where all my momentum would stall, my front wheel would wash to the left, sometimes causing me to have to put a foot down. I was not in my happy place anymore and I voiced my frustrations with 1-4 word expletives, most of which I had learned in the Army.  But then I would duct tape the monkey, laugh at myself, and motor on.

Photo Credit:  Nathan Burks

Around 10 pm we stopped just across from Eagle Mine to hook up our lights.  Holy hell!  I was immediately swarmed. Think of the Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Birds, but with blood sucking mosquitos instead.  I could feel my hematocrit drop as I got my lights going and took a final pee.  The gravel here was mellow.  I saw some lights just up ahead.  Was I hallucinating or was I seeing a small oasis and smelling something really delicious?  OMG!  A couple folks from RAMBA had set up a small SAG.  They asked if I wanted a twice baked potato.  Heck yeah!  It warm, savory, and gooey with cheese, bacon, and maybe sour cream.  I had died and gone to heaven.  The gentleman who handed me one had it breaking apart in his hands, but I woulda licked his fingers had he let me!  While another volunteer filled by water bottle, I enjoyed this unexpected pleasure.  Then he asked if I wanted another.  My first thought was that I didn't want to be a glutton, but he read my mind and said there was plenty.  So I enjoyed another scrumptious bite.

Belly happy, smile-o-meter pegged, and morale lifted, Lisa and I pedaled on into the night.  Turning right off of Triple A, we once again encountered deep swaths of sand.  It was more manageable as this section was slightly downhill.  Throughout the day, I had intermittently thought of having to use my snorkel.  Now, as the miles were ticking down, it weighed heavily on my mind.  Was this piece of required gear for real, or just part of Todd's evil plan to freak us out?

We saw this at night.

So we came up to the trailer that had been left out in the woods for us to resupply if necessary.  That was a nice gesture ... just before the Yellow Dog river crossing and Mosquito Gulch.  Fortunately we did not need to partake due to the awesomeness of the RAMBA oasis.  So we coasted down to the river.  No snorkel needed, as it was only calf deep.

From there we entered the 3 mile "single track" section. The first 1 1/2 miles were semi-rideable but equally fast if you just HAB'd it.  Having had such a great hike-a-bike mentor (thank you Lisa), this part was easy and did not faze me in the least bit.  I was thinking of the poor souls, however, with 45 pound bikes.  From there however, the shit then hit the fan.  Ahead of us lay 1 1/2 miles of either a mine field of mud holes or descents of rocky cavernous ravines. 

A solid test of my night riding skills.

Photo Credit:  Gary Durian

Being 200 miles in with 30 to go and not wanting to do anything disastrous, forcing me to DNF, I walked more than normal.  Sometimes you just gotta leave the ego at home.  I came away unscathed, but I almost had to fish Lisa out of quicksand as she tried riding through one of the mud holes and quickly became mired up to mid-fork.

Our bikes quickly shed the extra weight of mud as we hit Red Road.  I was feeling heavy fatigue set in and my knees felt like the Tin Man's, after 75,000+ revolutions of the pedals.  It was here that I had to embrace the suck and stick to Lisa's wheel as she pulled me to the final checkpoint at the intersection of Red Road and 510. We stopped for a moment and took our final selfie.  Chris had graciously met us, more for moral support and to tell us he had gotten us a hotel in Marquette.  I was good on nutrition.  Why I ate that bag of crunched up potato chips, I don't know.  I shouldn't have, as my stomach had gone to sleep about an hour ago and it became a total gut bomb! I tasted those chips several times in the remaining 15 miles.

Those last 80 minutes were hard fought.  I was a shell of the person who left Copper Harbor 18 hours ago.  By this point I was too tired to be grumpy.  My botttom bracket had developed a tick and I used this like a metronome to maintain focus on just pushing the pedals over.  Lisa was still at the helm guiding me in the final stretch. 

With about 5 to go, we caught up to a small group who appeared to be having GPX hiccups.  Seeing them awoke the competitor in me, not that this was a race, but anytime you get me around a group, I get fired up!  We took the lead, showed them the way, and then they blew by us on a descent.  We played this game a couple more times at tricky intersections. We had a bridge to negotiate our wide bars through, lifting our bikes up and over a middle barrier.  That was interesting!  Thank God for my 21 pound bike, which was now devoid of 2 L of water and 200 kcal of nutrition.

Seeing Forestville Road brought a beaming smile to my face.  Together we rode finished our 234 mile journey, our wheels rolling across the line together at 1:49 am Sunday. (7 hours 19 minutes on the stretch for L'Anse to the finish)

19 hours 49 minutes of adventure, soul searching, and self exploration (sprinkled with little bit of dying)

Thank you, Thank you Todd for giving me this opportunity to enhance my life.  It is easy to die, but hard to live.  Easy is nice, but hard teaches you things about your soul you would never know otherwise. This adventure had some lows that I knew I could push through, if I set my mind to it.  But mostly highs, as I pushed my body and my mind to new limits.

Todd and Stacie Poquette  Photo Credit:  Rob Meendering

Thank you, Thank you Volunteers, for whom this journey would have been so much more difficult without your devotion to assisting us "poor bastards."  And to the person who handed me that ice cold Dr. Pepper!  I hadn't had one of those in well over 5 years.  That was like COCAINE! 

Thank you, Thank you Chris, for being the Southern Shred Sisters mule.  For getting us 100 miles to Copper Harbor and 100 miles back home.  Your job was just as hard as ours.  Yet you were always upbeat and smiling.

Thank you DJ for riding alongside as well as in front for those first 70 miles.  Good times, my friend, good times.

Last but not least, thank you Lisa, for another notch on my belt of endurance slogs across states.  You are the bestest team mate, and I cannot wait for our next adventure, and fall asleep at night dreaming of what that might be.

The UP's glorious gravel goodness!  Photo Cred:  Nathan Burks

What I started with on my journey.

My naked 19.7 pound bike.  Fully loaded ... 26 pounds.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Nutrition Can Make or Break Your Race

At Marji Bike Camp a couple weeks ago, I gave a post lunch talk on nutrition.  While I made several good points, I feel that I left a lot out, and perhaps did not organize it as well as I should have.  I am gonna blame it on Matt Acker for dragging us around Ishpeming at my race pace (his party pace) and the 231 West food coma I was failing to fight off.

To give you some background, I have been racing for 19 years.  In the beginning, I would carbo load the night before with a big ass bowl of spaghetti, my race morning meal was brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts, and my race food was an odd mix of gels and whatever C-store "sports" drinks I could grab in town the night before.  And I did absolutely fine with this.

But what works for us today may not in 5 or 10 years.  In late 2009, I hit a "wall."  My wattage began to tank, and recovery was taking twice as long.  I was carrying huge loads of fatigue, had frequent headaches, and then my GI tract began to act up.  I was on a rollercoaster of bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.  After 2 year, seeing 3 doctors and getting nowhere, except for having my gallbladder removed and being put on a "pill" for IBS, my coach told me to go on a gluten free diet.  After 2 weeks I began to feel better and by the 6th week, I was golden again!  So I took this info back to my primary doc, additional testing was done, and I was found to have celiac disease.

From there I did the Whole 30 Challenge and discovered that I was also intolerant of grains, legumes, and dairy.  The symptoms were celiac-like (bloating, constipation, fatigue, low energy) but were not as severe and would not last as long (a week as opposed to 6 weeks if I got "glutened.")  Every year I would repeat the Whole 30 Challenge, during my off season, which was around Thanksgiving.  And then I would re introduce a trigger food like rice, corn, or beans to see if I still had a negative response.  After 5 years, my GI tract now tolerates rice, corn, and legumes (in moderation) but still has negative effects with dairy.  "In moderation" for me means having  the above 1-2 times per week and no more than 1 cup.

So ... NUTRITION is an integral part of your success on the bike.  You can have a well-oiled machine, you can be producing all the watts, but if you neglect your nutrition, it can be what DNF's you.  And the older you get, the more important it becomes.  You cannot take a cookie cutter approach to nutrition.  It feels like I have been a science project for the past 8 years, constantly tweaking and dialing what works for me. 

I am going to tell you what works for me, both on a daily basis as well as during a race.  This is not to say this is what you need to do, but generally speaking, it might be a good starting point.

My almost daily Big Ass Salad

Day to Day Nutrition

  • vegetables/fruits:  8-10 servings/day.  If I need more carbs, I will add in sweet potatoes or white potatoes.
  • protein: 90-100 grams/day.  I shoot for 0.8-1.0 grams/pound.  High quality, as in pastured meats, wild game and fish.  I am lucky for my in laws raise black angus and my family gets a steer every year. My husband is also an avid hunter and we feast on deer, duck, and turkey.
  • fats:  healthy (EVOO, avocado, coconut), NOT industrial (canola, corn, sunflower) --leave those for filling hydraulic lines  
  • I don't drink my calories.  
  • Fluids include my morning Christopher Bean Coffee, water, and Stevia sweetened iced tea.
  • Treats include dark chocolate (70% or darker) and home made grain free goodies like chocolate zucchini bread, tahini blondies, or fruit crisps.

Grain Free Blondies -- just ask my Rescue Racing team mates how good they are!

Week of the Race

  • I will gradually add in a bit more carbs in the form of potatoes, in the two days prior to the race.
  • I won't necessarily drink any more water than normal, but will throw in a electrolyte tab (NUUN or Hammer Fizz) into my water.
  • I do my best to stay away from junk food.

My daily jet fuel

Morning of the Race

  • Christopher Bean Coffee with honey and collagen peptides
  • sweet potato
  • 1 hard boiled egg

10 minutes before Race Start

  • 1 gel, chased with a couple ounces of water

Their registered dietitians will gladly consult with you on a custom formula.

During Race

  • Infinit Nutrition, customized for me (slightly sweet flavor, carbs, and additional electrolytes).
  • 6 ounce gel flasks (4 parts gel to 2 parts water)
  • for races longer than 10 hours where intensity will decrease as fatigue increases, I might incorporate some solid food or real food (Honey Stinger GF waffles, Cliff shot blocks, rice cakes, dates with almond butter and salt, crunched up potato chips).
  • I will take a hit of caffeine (50-100mg) 2/3 into a race in the form of a gel, Coke, or I have a custom Inifinit mix with 200mg of caffeine per 22 ounce bottle that I will drink in the latter 1/3 of a long race.
  • I aim for 200-225 calories per hour.  I am always sipping my drink or eating small amounts.  I don't take this in all at once.
  • I have a reminder on my Garmin to drink and eat every so often.  It is easy to be so focused on the trail that you forget your nutrition.  For those of you who don't have this option, write it on your forearm; that is what I used to do.

Other Take Aways

  • Practice eating your race food at the intensity you will be racing at.  Don't think that eating a PB&J during a social ride will work for you during a race when your HR is pegged!
  • Find sports drinks that are the same osmolality as your blood.  Here is a good article:  Gatorade is NOT a good idea ... unless you dilute it.
  • Put lots of variety in your drop bags.  What may look scrumptious to you at the beginning of a race might not be so tempting 65 or 80 miles into it.  Temper sweets with some savory bites!
  • In a race as long as the Marji Gesick, start your nutrition in the first hour.  Don't get behind, as you will never be able to catch back up.
  • Do what works for you.  If that is an extra large supreme pizza, then so be it.  (I am jealous!) Some racers are dirty diesels, some are jet fighters.  I am the latter.

Listen to your body.  It might not be overtraining or undersleeping or job related stress.  It could be what is going into your pie-hole.  I am still learning.  At Marji camp, I just didn't feel on top of my fitness.  At first I attributed it to coming off my 2 week vacation with my daughter and having dead legs.  But I explored it a bit deeper and discovered that my GI tract was having some cross reactivity with some gluten free certified oats that I was making granola out of.  Since having stopped eating oats for the past two weeks, my gut is back on track!

Check out Kelli Jennings' website.  A couple years ago, I sought out her coaching plan for 6 months just to see if I was missing anything.  Like I said, everyone is an individual, and she helped me to discover a few more missing pieces of my puzzle. I highly recommend her e-book Fuel Right Race Light.  I printed it out and it sits on my nightstand ... next to my Bible.

Creamy pesto zoodle pasta with veggies

Sunday, May 19, 2019

My Everest Experience

Our spouses probably think we need to be committed.  We are, it is just that our definition is different.
Endurance:  the struggle to continue against the mounting desire to stop.

Late last year, I was deciding on ways to try to test myself through cycling challenges.  Turning the big 5-0, what better way than to attempt an Everest.  The challenge is to take one climb and do enough repeats in a single activity to gain 29,029 feet.  Strava stalker Scott Morman saw what I was up to and asked if he could join in this "awfulness" -- what my daughter said.

The morning of, I awoke to my inner alarm clock at 3 am, grabbed a cup of Christopher Bean Hawaiian Kona, poured enough honey in it to cause a diabetic to go into a coma, and headed out the door.  The place was the Foothills Parkway, about an hour's drive.  Scott and I both arrived 30 minutes before we said we would, which shows our A-type bike-aholic personalities.  We both brought back up bikes, back up recording devices, back up batteries ... pretty much we had double or even triple of EVERYTHING.

My 13.7 pound Trek Emonda ... well maybe a bit more with all the electronic crap on it.

We parked at a pullout which was about 3 1/2 miles up the ascent. The climb I chose was 5.3 miles long with an average gradient of 5.5% and a total gain of about 1450 feet.

We began at 5 am.  The temp was 65 degrees. Storms had blown through earlier, leaving the pavement wet and the road foggy.  No sooner had my adventure begun than it almost ended, as I did not see a large stick in the road on the way down to the beginning of the climb.  I hit it full speed, but employing all my mountain bike skills, I saved it.

Halfway up the first ascent, it began to rain.  I stopped to  cover the connections from my external battery to my GPS device, worried about them crapping out from any moisture that could get in through the open ports.  It soon stopped.

Scott and I stayed together for the first two laps.  We enjoyed the whippoorwill calls and listening to the cascading waters as the sun rose.  The Smoky Mountains were enshrouded in fog and low lying clouds ... stunning!  My plan was to feel like I was going too slow the first 4-6 ascents and then see how I felt after that and reassess my game plan.

I stopped every two ascents at the truck to refill my bottle and grab a bite of something to eat then and there, allowing my stomach some blood flow for digestion on the descent back down.  I also shoved either a Honey Stinger Waffle or some Cliff Shot Bloks in my jersey pocket for the second descent down.

On the third or maybe fourth ascent, Scott slowly rode away from me.  No worries, as this is a ride where we need to settle into our own rhythm.  At the end of the day, he had lapped me.  We still saw plenty of each other throughout the day as we completed our ascents.  As we would pass by, going in opposite directions we were always encouraging the other with words or sign language. 

The first few pit stops for me, I had to pee.  This was a good sign, as I was staying hydrated.  The stormy morning was of benefit as the skies stayed cloudy through noon.  The heat of the day was from 12 pm to 5 pm, with a high of 82 degrees. The cloud cover had cleared and I could not hide in the shade from the overhead sun.  I had to back off a bit as I was seeing a heart rate that could very well spell disaster should it stay that high. 

Keeping the pit stop times to a minimum through multitasking. 

I picked a weekday for this challenge, hoping that traffic would not be as bad.  We pretty much had the road to ourselves, except for 11- 6 pm.  It was the usual parkway mix of Harley's, crotch rockets, sports cars, and beat up pick up trucks.  Gotta ask.  What is up with Harley riders blaring their radios while on a scenic drive through the mountains?  It's not like they can even here the music above that 100 decibel pipe noise!

Looking at this challenge in its entirety can be daunting.  I took the "eating an elephant one bite at a time" approach.  I first broke up the number of ascents into two groups of 10.  21 was the number that we had to do, but anyone can do "just one more," so I told myself I had to do 20.  Once I finished the 10th one, it was a descending pyramid after that.  Then I decided I would ride 2 ascents before stopping at the truck to resupply.  Once I finished the 7th ascent, I had completed 10,000+ feet.  From here it started to get hard, so I broke up each ascent into five 1 mile bits that I could focus on.  And believe me I focused hard.  By this time I knew where the smoothest section of pavement lay and subconsciously would find my wheel tracking to it.  I knew where I could stand and hammer, working different muscle groups, stretching the back, giving the va-jay-jay and the sit bones a moment of relief. BTW, the Specialized Power with Mimic is the "bee's knees" of saddles, at least for my anatomy.  But still, getting off those parts does keep them happier.

The first, third, and the last half of the fifth miles of the ascent were the hardest.  They had the highest grade and were unrelenting.  Fortunately they were broken up by some flatter stretches, and overall, this ascent was almost perfect.  I say almost, because, although the pavement was fairly smooth, I was wishing for buttery smooth asphalt (like on the newly opened section of the parkway) by mile 150.

On either my 8th or 9th time up the mountain, I thought I was hearing things.  Sounded like a musical instrument.  As I came around a corner, there was a gentleman at a pull off, sitting in a chair, and playing his trombone.  Weirdly cool!  In the races I have done I have heard a fiddler (New Hampshire 100), electric guitar (Marji Gesick 100), drums (MG100), and the bagpipes (Karl's Kaleidoscope?), and a harp (?).  I should have taken a picture.  On the subsequent descent, he was smoking a cigar.  Stuff I see on rides never ceases to amaze me.

As 6 pm rolled around, the road became shady again. I was now into my 14th hour and my 16th ascent. Throughout the day, I had occasional aches and pains and would come and go (left knee, right ball of my foot, left shoulder blade), but now I was beginning to have some discomfort in the palms of my hands and my left rear deltoid.  I was constantly shifting my hands and doing left arm windmills to alleviate the pain, but it pretty much was a nagging constant throughout the remainder of the challenge.  I could accept this pain, for at least I wasn't having any more foot pain and my lower back was staying happy.

With 5 laps to go (my mental number, with 6 being the physical number), I could now see the finish line.  Whether it was going to take me 17, 18, or 19 hours, I was going to win.  Although physically I was becoming a mess, my mental game was strong enough to keep my lap times consistent.  My knees began to feel like the Tin Man's.  My left deltoid was fussing at me on the descents.  My breathing became ragged anytime I was out of the saddle.  The descents were now becoming hard.

At the beginning of the ride I told Scott that the word of the day was savor.  It was our choice to do this, to experience the lows as well as the highs.  I believe that the lows teach you more about life then the highs.  So when your monkey brain is screaming at you, place a piece of mental duct tape over its mouth, and live in the moment. Take it in, process it, and then you will realize that it is not really as bad as you think it is. 

As I finished my 17th ascent and began to head back down the mountain, Scott was finishing up his 18th ascent.  Earlier in the week, I had communicated to him that it looked like we needed to do 20 laps.  I pretty much had figured it out by lap 7 that it was going to take 21 to solidify the 30,000 feet of gain.  I wanted a hefty buffer because all recording devices are not equal.  As I approached I slowed down and told him that he needed to do 21.  The look on his face was the equivalent of a toddler about to go into an all out fit!  I had to chuckle, to myself of course.

The sun began to set on my 19th ascent.  With clear skies, the full moon rose with all its beauty over the Great Smoky Mountains.  As my field of vision narrowed down to just beyond my front wheel, my other senses began to take over.  The sounds of hoot owls, whippoorwills, frogs, and other unknown noises (mebbe Sasquatch?) began to fill my ears, making me smile.  Around one particular bend, on each of the last 3 laps, I smelled cucumber salad.  And at another spot, something earthy and strong (bear?).

The last two times down the mountain, I started to get chilled, despite the warmish night.  That, along with the fear of a deer running across the road and taking me out, caused me to slow down a bit. 

Scott and managed to hook up for his last and my second to last lap.  Although we were both in zombie mode, we did manage to eek out a few sentences of how our day went.  On my final ascent, the moon was at my back.  With only an occasional car now, I turned off my headlamp so I could  take in the beauty of a dark sky, a rarity these days, what with so much wasteful artificial light.  ABSOLUTELY SPECTACULAR!!  This experience washed away all the pain I was feeling. I had a brief moment where I did not want this to end.  Crazy, huh?

But then it was over.  I was back at my truck, 18 hours and 218 miles later, having climbed 30,000 feet.  Suddenly the fatigue hit me like a tidal wave.  But first, I had to stop my recording devices and save the data.  I even wrote down instructions for my Garmin Etrex in case I forgot the sequence of buttons to push ... ha!  How quickly one can go from a strong determined racer to a bumbling hollow shell in just moments of getting off the bike.

The faces of Everesting

As I changed clothing, put away my gear, and collected my emptied wrappers of nutrition, I reflected on the day.  The one thing that will truly be memorable was having Scott there to experience it with me.  It was NOT a "misery loves company" day, but rather a wonderful day to be alive, strong, resilient and with the fortitude to succeed in this endeavor.  Thank you, Scott, for being my co-pilot!

Other stats

9 bottles of Infinit (1 having 200 mg caffeine)
1 bottle of water
1 mini Coke
3 caffeinated gels
4 Honey Stinger waffles
3 Cliff Shot Blok packs
6 home made rice cakes
2 external batteries to run the Pioneer head unit
Garmin Etrex 30x with only 25% battery usage
2 close calls with vehicles (dumb ass blonde in an Infinity and an old man in a beat up pick up)
1 rattlesnake
1 skunk
3 Chamois Butt'r reapplications

0 moments of self doubt

Saturday, May 11, 2019

PMBAR Race Report

5 years since my last one ... long enough to forget the pain ... mostly.

Lisa Randall and I teamed up. Five years ago we toed the line and sped off at warp speed, as I was chasing the Queen of Pisgah and hungry for victory.  This year, I just wanted to have an all day adventure in the woods with no strings attached.  Meanwhile, Lisa, was still recovering from an NUE race director hangover.

We arrived at the Hoffmeister Temple Friday evening and Beth prepared us an extraordinary last meal.  She definitely went the extra mile with a chicken pasta dish topped with goat cheese and toasted pine nuts and a mixed green salad with dried blueberries.  Her culinary skills are top notch.

Race morning was warm and dry ... wait, what?  This not Pisgah. Looking at my weather app at 5 am, I saw the heavens were expected to let loose with a torrent of wind, rain, and hail around 1pm.  Now, this is Pisgah.  Passports were handed out at 8 am and the game was on.  I had heard about the 2018 version with the preamble Thrift Cove-Lower Black loop.

You WILL do the parade loop and you WILL like it! 📷 Icon Media Asheville

We got the joy of doing it again, in reverse, this year, too.  Lisa took the lead and began the 3 mile and 1200 feet elevation warm up lap.  I was busy trying to keep my heart rate low enough so I could process all the chatter around me, trying to glean any strategery from the locals, who knew the forest better than I.

After an hour, we finally made it to Pressley Gap.  I hopped off my bike, pulled out the map, and tried to think of how to go about collecting 4, possibly 5 checkpoints.  Trying to get my brain to work while my heart rate was still 160 was damn near impossible.  After circling all the CP's on the map, we began connecting the dots.  We opted to ride Turkey Pen to get the first mandatory at South Mills/Bradley Creek.  I had not forgotten the HAB on Black up to Turkey Pen, but these days, HAB's don't really bother me ... it is just part of the Pisgah experience.  For the first time, I truly enjoyed Turkey Pen because it was bone dry! 2 hours 46 minutes from starting our PMBAR journey, we grabbed our first CP.

Knowing how much rain this area has had in the past two weeks, I opted for taking Mullinax to Squirrel to upper Cantrell Creek for our second CP.  I could only imagine what South Mills and lower Cantrell would be like.  Besides, I LOVE Squirrel and had not ridden it since the 2018 Pisgah Stage Race.  Once again bone dry and with all the chirping birds lighting up the forest, I was in my happy place.  We came upon several teams going the opposite direction, which made me question my route for a few minutes, but I quickly pushed those thoughts out of my mind. The descent down Cantrell was pretty sketchy; most of it was under water and there were thousands of baby heads to contend with.  I opted more than once to walk my bike as the risk (broken derailleur) to reward (3 minutes faster) was high.

4 hours and 16 minutes from go time, we got our second CP at Horse Cove/Cantrell Creek.  Lisa's heels had taken a fairly good beating on the Turkey Pen HAB's, so while she tended to her blisters, I grabbed some water from the creek, relieved myself away from the creek, ate a couple hundred calories, and plotted our next move.

There was really no other choice than UP via Horse Cove. My bike was going to hate me, as it was pushed more than it was ridden.  And then the birds grew quiet and the sprinkles started.  Halfway up I ran into Patrick and had a brief conversation about how to go about snagging the 2nd mandatory at Farlow/Daniel Ridge.  We were both on the same page, so that made me feel good about my route.


Once we hit Funneltop, it was all downhill to FS1206 ... well, mostly.  At this point we were 5 hours in and Lisa began to fall a bit behind.  Up until today, 4 hours was about the longest she had ridden this year and after having a 72 hour adventure last weekend, I would say her body was in WTF mode.  The rain began to come down a bit harder and I put my shower cap on my helmet.  By the time we had finished Funneltop and were approaching the intersection with FS1206, the skies opened up.  I quickly put my rain jacket on, not to keep me dry, as I was soaked in my own sweat, but to keep me warm.

📷: Lee Neal

One lightning bolt struck close enough to make me double my cadence for about 30 yards before I realized that I couldn't outrun electricity.  I told myself if I am gonna die today, at least it will be on my bike. Once we turned on FS1206, we collectively made the decision not to go and get the CP on Pilot Cove.  Lisa's engine was sputtering and although I had my required head lamp, I really did not want to use it.  And who knows when and if this storm would let up.

So we turned left and began to make our way to the second mandatory CP at Farlow and Daniel Ridge.  The rain continued to pummel us as we dropped down 276 to FS475B to 225.  I didn't have to drink from my CamelBak, as I had enough rainwater mixed with sweat running down my face for my own electrolyte drink.

📷: Icon Media Asheville

Daniel was a mess with water pouring over the million roots.  I was all over the place trying to stay upright.  Finally we arrived and got our passport stamped at 3:05 pm. We continued on down Daniel, crossed the bridge, took FS475 to Davidson River to 276 to FS477.  The rain was coming down enough for me to worry about us getting pancaked by traffic on 276 so I motored on as quickly as I could.

As we turned onto FS477, the rain began to let up, nearly 2 1/2 hours later.  As I approached lower Bennett, I mentally prepared myself for the HAB.  I also hoped Lisa would still talk to me afterwards, especially after we hit the super steep pitch where I had to lift my bike up and over some root/rock shelves.  Fortunately I had gotten ahead of Lisa and she was out of my sight on this part, so she did not have the opportunity to kill me and stash my body.


I stuck my passport through the small opening in the tent.  It came back out with some heavenly goodness.  They asked if I wanted a Snickers to which I replied yes.  What I wasn't expecting was a homemade one!  OMG!  It was so cold, I thought it was made with ice cream.  That marshmallow cream was all it took for a foodgasm!

It took 45 minutes to climb up Bennett but only 15 minutes to descend.  The water flowing down the trail showed us the line.  We popped back out on the gravel and began the final push back to the finish.  The sun began to pop out once we hit Clawhammer and it felt so good.  Maxwell went on forever.  We were both ready to be done, but still had to hit the HAB on Black before we could stop pedaling and enjoy the descent.

The  Gods of Pisgah weren't finished playing with me yet.  I was holding my own until I came to the root staircase with the sharp right-hander at the bottom.  I decided to dismount at the last second; as I got off the bike both feet slipped in the mud and I ended up bouncing down on my ass. With only an injured pride, I hopped back on the bike and continued.

Halfway down, my left calf began to cramp.  Holy Mother of God!  Normally I can slow pedal and calm down the angry muscle.  But that was not an option.  I just gritted my teeth and went faster.  I hit one rock garden with way too much speed, my front wheel hit a rock, twisting my bars so forcefully I almost lost connection.  How I managed to correct the bike and get it back on track I do not know, but am forever grateful because that would have left a mark.

Once I regained my composure I nursed the remainder of the trail.  Lisa and I crossed the finish line at 6:32 pm, 10 1/2 hours after beginning our adventure, with 62 miles, and 10,000 feet of climbing in our legs.

No land speed records were set, but we accomplished our goal of having a wonderfully suffery day.  Our route choice was good, although looking back now, I see where we could have made a better choice going after the last two CP's.  I was glad we chose to knock out the first two CP's the way we did, as it allowed us to ride Turkey Pen and Squirrel in perfect conditions.

This was great training for the Crusher in July, which we will be tackling together as well.  Feeling as well as I did also helped to boost my confidence for another challenge I will be tackling on Friday, which will have a wee bit more climbing.

Thanks Eric for always challenging me and providing a course where I am not just following flags all day.  It is these style races that I have grown to love.  And thanks Steve for the photos.  What a master of photography you are!