My “new race state” for 2020 is Mississippi. I had wanted to do the entire 4-race series Mississippi Gravel Cup, but life, the Snake Creek Gap TT, and weather kept me from the first 3. Put on by Jason and Wendy Shearer, the series had 3 distances; 25, 50 and 100 miles. I was looking forward to hooking up with teammates Curt Shelman, Desiree White, and meeting new Chamois Butt’r faces, Colin and Matt.
Zeke and I arrived in Jackson to a houseful of purple and yellow. We registered and grabbed our schwag bag at Bicycle Revolution and then settled in for the evening. Morning came too soon, what with Desiree, Curt, and Colin opting to torture themselves with the hundie which was really 108 miles. They had a 7 am start so I was awakened by their hustling around 5 am. Zeke, Matt, and I were racing the 53-mile course. I stayed snuggled under the covers until a little after 6 am.
After my typical breakfast of Christopher Bean Coffee, 2 hard boiled eggs, and a sweet potato, Zeke and I made the 30 minute drive to the booming city of Bentonia, population 400 … and home to the famous Blue Front Café. With 250 racers plus the support crews and volunteers, the town immediately doubled in population.
By the time our 9 am start rolled around, the sun was shining, and the temps were slowly rising. I’ll take 41 degrees when the sun is basking us in her rays. Fortunately, the roll out was neutral for the first 3 miles. My glo plugs were working today and I was comfortably warm at the pace the police car was maintaining. Jason Shearer, the race director, had warned us of a railroad crossing just after we crossed Hwy 49, that was unrideable as all the rails and ties had been pulled out. He suggested that we racers maintain neutrality until after that dismount and run around. Yeah, right! I knew better and so stayed up towards the front of the group.
Sure enough, the race was full gas with everyone running around and over the railroad construction. I managed to stay with the front group over the next few miles. The dirt roads were in great shape and the pace was wicked fast. It brought back memories of Dirty Kanza, what with the dust billowing and small rocks flying through the air. I kept my mouth closed as I did not want any unintentional dental work the following week.
After about 10 miles, I knew this was an unsustainable pace for me, and had to throttle back, along with several others. I managed to hook up with a small group, including Michael Rasch in his neon yellow RH kit. The group worked well together, everyone taking their turn at the front. This was like a road race on dirt.
My Garmin said there were 4 climbs. But coming from where I live, I would liken them to a speed bump. The pack would break up on these “climbs,” but would then all come back together once the road flattened out. Rasch told me he thought there were 2 women ahead of me in the front group. Cool, I thought! I really had no expectations, other than to race at 80% as instructed by my Coach.
The miles flew by! With minimal signage and confirmation tape, I kept my Garmin on the Navigation screen and had no idea where I was in relation to time and mileage. I think this is a great way to race every now and then as it allows me to take a more intuitive approach. It helps me to listen to my legs, hear my breathing patterns, and focus on my mental game.
About halfway through the course (to the best of my ability) my small group came upon at least 7 riders coming back towards us. Uh oh! I looked down at my Garmin; I was still on track. I heard one of them saying they lost the course. Rasch was still going strong so I followed his lead. With his years of experience in the bikepacking racing scene, I trusted him.
Those 7 soon caught up to us and we became an even stronger, faster group. Sa-weet! Back home in the mountains, being in a pack is not as important as it is out here on a flat course. I figured that I probably would have been 15-20 minutes slower if I didn’t have the draft of a pack.
No one stopped at the aid station at mile 35. I had plenty of fluids and nutrition left. I was not going to leave the benefit of this group. Everyone was still working well and taking turns pulling. Rolling through, we swallowed up a small group of 3 or 4 racers, one being a woman. I went into stealth mode initially, just to try to gain some sense of my competition. I was racing in the 50+ category and she looked like she was probably in the Open category. Once I assessed she was not a “threat,” I moved up through the pack, taking my turn at the front and allowing myself to be seen by her. I had a small chuckle as I could tell she thought I was in her category. I could feel the tension well up in her. I remember those “Oh, shit” moments back in the days when I was much younger. And no, I did not tell her what category I was in; I was having too much fun with this!
She stayed towards the front of the group most of the time. I stayed mid-pack and kept it at 80%. A couple of times the leaders, including the woman, missed a turn. I guess they did not upload the course. But one time, I was 4th person back and obviously in “lemming mode,” as I almost missed a turn. Fortunately Rasch shouted at me and I did not have to back track.
Knowing that there were not many miles left, I was curious to see if any would make a break. And if they did, should I go with them or not? At one point, a dude in a Jose Jalapeno green and white kit, made a break. I figured, what the hell, I will go with him. As soon as I bridged up to him, he let off the throttle expecting me to pull. I told him I had just bridged the gap so he kept pulling. We took a couple of turns pulling, but the pack caught back up to us pretty quickly. From that point, I knew that it would be a sprint finish.
Having had my fun for the day. I decided to just roll it on in. No need to try to out sprint anyone that wasn’t in my class. So I rolled through the finish line at 2:57:00. 1st 50+, 4th woman, and 22nd overall.
And here I was thinking that it would probably take me 3:45 to finish. Mississippi gravel is fast and furious! This course was about 75% gravel. The gravel roads were in as good of shape, if not better than a lot of the paved roads, what with potholes galore and asphalt that looked like it had been flung off the back of a dump truck and patted down with a shovel. I will never complain about Tennessee roads again.
Wendy and Jason did an outstanding job in putting on this race. No doubt as they sold out every race well before the deadline. They even passed out flyers to the residents along the route asking if it were possible to keep their dogs up the day of the race. I only had 1 dog give chase on a route that was all county dirt roads.
The post race meal was probably one of the healthiest I have seen in awhile and the and the blues were played by a local during lunch.
|The strays/ferals appeared to be well fed and were friendly.|