Monday, August 9, 2021

Ubaye Trail Half Marathon

Back in June, when I was planning my trip to France, Kip mentioned this trail run that was taking place in Barcelonnette.  Sure, why not?  Let's do ALL the outdoor things, as this might be my only trip over to Europe.  I replied I was in for the 12k (7.5 mile), as I saw that as doable for not having trained for a running race since the 2019 Cloudland Canyon Half Marathon. Kip immediately responded that I needed to sign up for the 23k (14 mile) race, as I would go through two Cols (Gaps) and see so much more! I had to think about this, for a little bit, as I had not run that distance in 2 1/2 years.  Not to mention the fact that there was over 1000 meters (3500 feet) of gain, twice that of Cloudland Canyon.

The masochist in me had me pushing the "enter" button in less than a day's thought.  So be it, BDR #5 was going to happen August 8 at 9 am. With only rest day on Saturday, as I had been riding and hiking every day prior to that, at altitude nonetheless, this was going to be a challenge.  Oh, and no poles allowed;  it seems that racers were getting stabbed at the Start in previous years, so they were outlawed.

Being the only American in the half, the announcer gave me a shout out at the start.  Not that I needed any more pressure to perform (or finish). There were 390 in the race and EVERYONE looked fast! 

Thinking what have I gotten myself into

The start was fast as it was flat'ish for the first 3 miles.  I settled into a sustainable pace and watched as dozens passed me by.  The pavement soon became gravel and then once I arrived at the small town of Uvernet-Fours, the course pitched up steeply as I entered the single track.

The start of the climb

Up up and away we go

The first 1 1/2 miles was at no less than 20% grade with several sections at 30+%.  This is where my power hiking skills came into play and I began passing a lot of racers.  The difficult part was that the single track was tight and many did not want to yield slightly so I could get by. Then there was about 1 mile of reprieve before the next push began.

A brief respite before the second push.

Although the weather was perfect, 50 degrees, low humidity, the sweat was dripping off my nose like a leaky faucet, as I ran/hiked to the top. The second push was 3 miles starting at 5000 feet and topping out at 6900 feet. 

I was still in my happy place despite the grueling climb, as I continued to pass people.  I stopped briefly to take some photos at the Col de la Coche.  The trail flattened a bit along the ridge and I was able to take more of the absolutely stunning views in and shoving my mouth full of nutrition. 

Along the top, I also had to avoid cow patties and even the cows themselves.  They were right there trailside, but fortunately very docile and allowed me to pass without incident.

Col de la Cloche

At about the 9 mile mark, I hit the Col de Alaris, and then the long descent back down to the finish began. This was where I began to implode.  The trail was maddingly steep, loose, and rocky.  The average grade had to be around -17%.  Looking back on my Strava, there were times when it was -35%.  I thought my quads and ACL's were going to explode.  It would have probably been less painful to ball up like a hedgehog and just roll down.  I am a mountain biker; this is the part I would coast down.  But when running, the downs are worse than the ups, at least for me.  

Down, down, down

Took an unexpected butt slide down this -30%

All those racers I passed on the way up easily passed me back on the descent.  Some were absolutely flying.  I was most impressed by how they seemed to easily tackle what for me was some of the hardest terrain I have ever run upon.  My knees really began to bark about 1/2 way down and there were times when I could only muster a walk.

There was a short break where I popped out onto a double track road and got to run uphill.  I have never been more thankful for seeing a positive grade!  I was able to pass several as they slowed to a walk.  But then the final tortuous descent began.  Think running down the most eroded section of Black in Pisgah; I was throwing F-bombs left and right!

Finally I hit flat paved road for the last 1/2 mile back to the finish.  My legs were trashed; I don't even think I could call what I was doing a "run" to the finish.  More like a shuffle ... in slo-mo 😂.  I finished in 3 hours and 28 minutes.  At least I met my goals: no face plants, no rolled ankles, and finishing under 3:30.  The women's winner came in at 2:17!


Not sure if more impressed by his running attire or age.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Tour de Burg part 3

east ridge of the Ring 

 Stage 5

The final day was the Queen Stage:  Massanutten Twin Towers.  I woke up with a foggy brain and heavy legs.  Spirits were good, but I was a little concerned with having a PTSD moment.  You see, I rode (and HAB'd) the full pull on The Ring last year and today was two 11 mile stretches along The Ring.  

The peloton started at Roosevelt Camp and slummed over to Edinburgh Gap, about a mile from the top.  The first timed segment would start here, hit the trail at the gap and traverse the ridge to Woodstock Tower, and Super D it down to Little Fort campground.  I was grateful for this long transition, as my legs were soooo dead.  But they came back to life (a little) once the timing began.  I felt pretty darn good riding and then finishing the Waonaze peak climb pushing my bike.

The ridge riding was spectacularly rocky, but at least it was a slight steady descent, with just a few punchy climbs.  I was feeling the rhythm of the trail, about a mile into it, when I heard the sickening sound of my tire spewing sealant on the rocks.  I calmly dismounted, whipped out my plug kit, and quickly inserted the first plug.  But still it leaked.  So I shoved a second in.  Damn it!  Air was still leaking.  I tried to let what little sealant was left soak into the plugged area.  In the meantime, Sue came up on me and asked if I needed help.  Getting frustrated, as I realized I was going to have to tube it, I graciously accepted her assistance.  Together we got Blaze back up and running.

I was cautious at first, since the bead had not seated fully and I was scared to death of pinch flatting.  I knew I had to move quickly, to beat the time cut off, so I had to push it a little.  Man, that back end was rowdy, though, what with 30+ psi.  I slowly found some flow again, as I became more confident that the tire was going to hold.  I ended up finishing the timed section in 2:02, and had 3 minutes to get done what needed to be done.  I quickly ate some food, filled my CamelBak with ice cold LaCroix, and took a pee.

At least with not much time to mess around, my legs did not lock up, and the party pace over to the second segment was quite nice.  Well, at least while I was descending and pedaling the flats.  But there was a really steep climb up to Milford Gap that about sucked the life out of me.  Crikey! And I have to "race" an 11 mile east ridge section from the gap back down to Camp Roosevelt.  This was where the mental game came into play.  I would say about 40-50% was unrideable for me.  Kelly and I rode/walked together for a large portion.  We fed off each other's grit and fortitude.  I knew I would finish the full pull, even if I had to walk this whole damn section!

East Ridge vista

Towards the end of the ridge, the trail mellowed just enough to where I could ride for an extended period.  But my shifting was off; I thought it was due to chain wear, but when my rear wheel got all wonky, I stopped to assess the situation.  Well, shit!  My axle was 1/3 of the way out!  I had hit a rock a while back and I suppose it knocked my axle lever loose and it slowly was backing itself out.  Dang!  That could have been catastrophic had it happened on the final descent.

A rideable section

Finally, after 2 1/2 hours, the descent began down to Edith Gap, and then down to the finish.  But it was still really hard.  With nothing left in the tank, my rock riding skills were abysmal.  And then there was that damn double track section which had me thinking I was in Purgatory ... it went on and on and on and on.

The final 1 mile descent

I was never so happy to hear that beep as I crossed the finish of the final Super D.  Pedaling on back to Camp Roosevelt, my legs may have been heavy, but my heart was full.  I had a spectacular week at the Tour and had accomplished my goal of finishing this beast.  With this final section taking 2:32, today's stats were 32 miles, 5300 feet, and a total time of 6:34.  I had a total saddle time of 28 hours over the 5 days.  

Mike had a spectacular spread of food awaiting the racers.  I filled my belly with meat, more meat, and some yummy sides. I got to chat with Preston, the "Rockfather of The Ring."  He had put me up at his place back when Sue Haywood and I rode The Ring over 2 days back in 2015.  This master of rock crawling could make short work of Short Mountain.  So it was great to see him again.  

Sue, my trail angel and flat fixing buddy.

A big thanks to Melissa, for inviting me.  Had it not been for her, I would have missed out on an incredible experience.  Sign me up for 2022!  

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Tour de Burg part 2


Stage 3

I was seeing this as a "rest" day, being as it was all road save for an 11 mile gravel segment.  At 9 am, the slum rolled peacefully slow towards Shenandoah Mountain on smooth pavement, quite a change from the last two days' chundery gnar.  After 25 miles, the first timed segment began with a climb up and over Briery Branch Gap, then down to the gravel of FS61 and FS61H, a distance of about 16 miles.

Over and back on that mountain in the distance

The legs were great on the slum, and semi-decent on anything less than 6% grade, but once the road pitched up to 9% or greater, they just would not go.  I settled in and focused on Sue and Tomi's wheel, just trying to hang with them to the top, but even with their help, I still popped off with about a mile to go.  I was so happy to see Mike at the top because then I knew the descending would begin.  The backside off the gap was buttery smooth pavement that I could take at a good speed.

The gravel section was everything from chunky bedrock to smooth dirt.  It undulated in such a way that I was able to carry momentum through the rollers and turns, finding a good rhythm that my legs were happy with.  Ferns, ferns, ferns lined the gravel ... absolutely beautiful.

A good number of riders opted to ride their road bikes.  I would say the puncture rate was 50%.  I arrived at the lunch stop with plenty of time to fuel and rest.  My time for the segment was 1:52

Lunch break selfie, bellies happy

We then party paced over to the next timed section, which was back over Briery Branch Gap from the opposite direction, all pavement and 12 miles.  I was toast even before I got started; my legs didn't feel good until the descent 😅.  My time for this segment was 1:02. At the end of the segment, all the ladies (one of the biggest fields in TdB history) were called up to have a group photo.

Such a strong showing of powah

After this, we were supposed to slum the 25 miles back to town.  Well, that party pace must have been on amphetamines because once the pavement leveled off, I could not even keep up in the draft, first popping off the front group and then the second group.  I eventually found my group and slowly pedaled back to the Court Square.  The road day ended up being 85 miles, 8000 feet, and total ride time of 7:05.

Stage 4

Back to the mountain bikes, this day started off with a mere 2 miles to warm up the legs before hitting the Lookout climb on the Wild Oak NRT.  At least the trail was dry, for had it not been, it would have made for a long HAB.  The trail opened up and smoothed out a little, but the Hanky double track climb, a series of 5 pitches, was still an SOB.  Once on Dowell's Draft, I could catch my breath a little, but this was still a technically tough descent, at least until I got to Magic Moss, where I could open it up.  But, oh, how those little uphills hurt so.  My legs got bogged down in lactic.  This timed section was 12 miles and took 1:57.  

Magic Moss exit

A nice 7 mile gravel pedal over to the beginning of the second timed segment allowed me to prepare myself for the next heinous climb, the Horse Trough Hollow section of the Wild Oak NRT, a 3 mile 2000 foot beast.  I tried staying on Lindsey's wheel, but about halfway up the front wheel began wavering due to the steepness and my fatigue ... and I was off, walking.  The next 30 minutes of this hour climb included small bits of riding, but mostly HAB, especially when the underbrush got so thick I could not see the trail.  Finally on top, it was not much easier, as the Chestnut Ridge and Grindstone descents were loose and sketchy and interspersed were short grunty climbs.  This was some seriously fun, but difficult trail.  Time for this 10 mile section was 2:00.  Overall, it was a 30 mile, 5600 foot, 5:28 total time day of a good ole mountain beat down.

Today's reward was a good cold soak in the Stokesville blue hole.  Nothing like an ice'ish like soaking in the river to numb the thrashed legs.

To be continued ...

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Tour de Burg


The Tour de Burg is an annual event in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It dates back 24 years when Mike and Chris decided that they wanted to ride multiple epic days during the time that the Tour de France was happening.  They would hammer out big back-to-back-to-back-to-back, etc...., days in the mountains of George Washington National Forest. Every year more and more friends would join in this hillacious sufferfest.  And then sometime in the early 2000's, it officially became an unofficial event, attracting the most hardcore mountain bikers around.  Soon, non-locals got wind of this event and would make the annual pilgrimage to this mountain bike mecca.

The director sportif himself

I had heard about TdB for about 10 years.  But, for various reasons, I just couldn't make it happen.  Or perhaps it was because I was intimidated by it.  There are no GPX tracks and no to minimal course markings; the only way to find your way along the stage is by listening to the Mike's pre-race briefings and the one page PDF file that is sent to you the week before the event.  Not to mention the big names that come out to play:  Jeremiah Bishop, Sue Haywood, Kyle Lawrence, Lindsey Carpenter, Cheryl Sorenson, Libbey Sheldon, to name a few.

So when I got a text message from Melissa asking if I had heard of it and was I interested, I answered yes and yes and immediately cleared my calendar.  Now, it had been in my head that the whole stage was "raced."  Apparently I had not heard of "slumming."  I was pleasantly surprised when Melissa told me that only certain sections were timed and that the transitions were at party pace. There were 2 timed sections per stage and after the first one was a lunch break.  However, the lunch break only lasted 1 hour after the first person finished the timed section.  And if you didn't make that 1 hour cut off, you either had to bleed out your eyeballs to catch up to the peloton as they made their way to the next timed section or get SAG'd out in a vehicle.

Stage 1

Talk about throwing the baby in the deep end!  This rookie's legs were screaming and heart rate soaring as this stage immediately started with a timed section, a 6 mile single track loop.  It began with a 2 mile, 1200 foot climb up Big Hollow Trail.  Super steep and super rocky, I was happy that my skilz were there, but damn, there were no flats where I could get a quick breather.  I ended up with some HAB as my lungs could not keep up with the oxygen demand. I got a brief respite on the Hone Quarry Ridge Trail, as it rolled along, but was still technical as the rocks were hidden by tall grass, which made for a few squirrely episodes.  The 1.3 mile descent down Heartbreak Trail was super rocky with several rockslides to negotiate and some ledgy drops. 


top of Big Hollow


I came into this race knowing that I did not want to do anything stupid or above my pay grade, for fear of ruining my France bike-cation at the end of the month.  So I chose to race hard, but also ride for the experience and take some pics along the way.  Still, this 6 mile timed section took a 1:09.

At the finish was lunch.  I managed to have about 30 minutes to fuel and prep for the next timed section.  We slummed on the pavement climb up close to Reddish Knob.  This timed section included a chunky ATV trail up and over Flagpole Knob and a full mountain descent on Meadow Knob Trail to Cliff Trail.  The descent was chunky and I was having to focus the whole time; kind of felt like the Heartbreak descent in Pisgah.  I did stop at the overlook and take a few photos.

Cliff Mine Tr vista

With about 1/2 mile left on Cliff Mine, my handle bar clipped a tree and down I went ... hard!  My bike and I looked like we were engaged in a game of Twister.  After freeing myself from Blaze, I was bruised and battered, but not broken.  Blaze's handle bars were all catawampus and in the process of trying to straighten them, I managed to give myself a 2nd degree burn on the knee from the searing hot brake rotor.  Well, THAT woke me up!  I had to walk down the trail a few yards, making sure all parts (bike and body) were working before I mustered the courage to finish out the descent.

The second timed section took 1:26.  For the day, it was 24 miles, 4600 feet of climbing, and an elapsed time of 4:42.

Stage 2

We started out with a 4 mile gravel slum over to the first timed section:  Up Magic Moss Trail and down Dowell's Draft Trail.  I was happy for this little warm up, as I think my legs were still in shock from yesterday.  Magic Moss was a 2.5 mile, 1000 foot climb.  It was very smooth and buttery, compared to the previous day.  Despite the overnight rains, the trail was hero dirt.  The Dowell's Draft descent was a hoot.  The grasses along the edge were really tall, making this trail half-track.  With it being slightly off-camber, it was a little slickety-slick at speed.  My brain was having a hard time processing at these high speeds and so had to back off, after I about slipped off the mountain.

Familiar with this, from SM100 race.

Time for this section was 47:35.  I grabbed some food from the SAG and caught my breath.  BTW, the SAG lunch stops were a cornucopia of awesome items:  sandwiches, soft drinks, chips, pickles, hummus, wraps, trail mix, candy, and fruit.  No one went hungry!  From there we bushwhacked up and over a ridge to hook into a trail that dumped us out onto pavement. We then slummed (party paced) down Deerfield Valley on a long paved slight descent which felt oh so good!  Then began a gravel climb up to the beginning of the second timed section.  I loved these transitions as it gave me a chance to recover and make new friends.  This section was a 10 mile traverse of the North Mountain Trail, followed by a 3.5 mile screaming descent down Chimney Hollow Trail.  By now, the pecking order had been established so we all staged ourselves appropriately.  I was glad to be towards the back, as this trail had dense undergrowth, including briars and nettle.  I pitied the poor fool who had to "break trail."  This section was stunningly beautiful, the trail near Elliot's Knob was rocky and slicker n snot, and the soul crusher was the 5 HAB sections that climbed 700 feet to the top of the Chimney Hollow Trail.

Slummin' through Deerfield Valley

North Mountain floral gauntlet

Near Elliot's Knob, the F-bomb section of North Mountain

The upper part of the Chimney Hollow descent was quite chundery and I unleashed a few F-bombs.  The lower section smoothed out and was ridiculously fast!  So ... much ... fun!

lower Chimney Hollow

This section took me 2:45.  The day's totals were 43 miles, 6000 feet, and total time of 6:24.

Melissa and I had every good intention of heading to dinner that evening, but where we were staying in Mt. Solon, it would have been an hour commute, and we were tired!  Every night at 7pm, dinner was served at Hillandale Park in Harrisonburg.

I knew I needed to recover as best as possible, which meant getting off the legs, squeezing the legs with my Elevated Legs, and getting to bed early.  I needed a solid 9 hours of sleep, which I did manage to get every night.  The stages would start between 9 and 10 am.

To be continued ...

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Mohican 100K Race Report


Ripley ate this course up

With the start being at Mohican Adventures, instead of downtown Loudonville, Ryan added additional single track this year.  Effectively, the course was 33 miles single track and 33 miles gravel, with 8300 feet of elevation gain.  My race started at 9 am, but that additional 2 hours of sleep cost me  an extra 10 degrees of heat at the start, at an already steamy 74. I was racing Open Women, as that was the only category.  We had a good field at 32.

I opted to start with my Camelbak, as the first 22 miles were all single track.  I did get a decent warm up in and lined up in the 3rd row.  The start was a narrow gravel road that dumped us into single track after 0.4 miles.  I was able to work my way up into what I thought was in 10th place before I entered the trail.  Thankfully everyone in front was able to climb that first steep pitch, but the second one we were all off our bikes.  Fortunately it was short and I got back up to speed pretty quickly.  While my legs were nowhere near "sparkly," I thought they were going to be alright.

The state park trails were hero dirt and I settled in behind two other ladies.  The pace was not blistering, but something I thought I could hold for the day.  For the most part the state park trails were smooth and flowy, occasionally interrupted by a short section of roots or rock gardens.  One of the ladies in our little group was a little hesitant at flying over the rough stuff, so Janet and I passed her about a 1/3 of the way through.

I gotta call Janet my flow sister, as it was fun to follow her lines. I was able to dial down the focus just by following her wheel, which gave me some brain power to ensure I was eating and drinking adequately.

Probably around mile 11 where the covered bridge climb began, I knew the day was going to get ugly.  I was only a little over an hour in and already feeling subtle signs of fatigue. Even though I was shaded from the sun, it was beginning to feel like a sauna. I told myself to just get through the next half and let's see what happens.  

Janet was feeling it too, as she started to slow on the climbs.  I got around her just as we approached the largest rock garden in this system.  This was a fun section for me, and for a few minutes I was able to block the pain that the heat and fatigue was causing.  

The state park trail felt unbelievably long, especially when the single track "crossing guard" said he would see me again in 3 miles.  Three miles!!!  It took me 28 minutes to do this section.  Let the suffering begin!  Or not, as I came really close to pulling the plug when I hit the pavement after the waterbar-less horsey trail downhill.

I had a deep inner conversation with myself as I climbed the horse trail on the opposite side of the SR97. What I tried to block from my monkey brain was my strategy to finish:  just get to Camp Mohaven, the furthest point from the finish and then you will have no choice but to finish.  But could I keep this hidden from Mr. Monkey, who wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of the day lying in a cold creek?

That horse trail climb reminded resembled a muddy Club Gap climb; I was off/on the bike quite a bit until I hit the top.  Then I had to negotiate mud bogs along the ridge before finally descending down to gravel.  Oh, and apologizing to the ladies on horses as I rounded a corner with my I-9's buzzing.  Fortunately the horses stayed calm during this meet up.

The gravel roads over to The Outpost were a slight reprieve. I hadn't planned on stopping at Aid 2, but they had me with a Coke hand up.  Such a little slice of Heaven.  I didn't stop long for fear of the "Q" word.  The single track leading out was pleasantly dry.  

There was a nice 2 mile pedal over to the Mohican Wilderness single track.  It was now "Hot as Hades" in my book.  With not much tree cover on the gravel, I was hugging the side of the road that afforded any bit of shade, even for just a few yards.  I came upon another woman; we commiserated briefly, but she sped up as we closed down upon the single track.

As technical a trail as the Mohican was, I actually felt pretty good through this 5 mile section.  Once again, I had to focus on the rock features and not the fact that I was dying a thousand deaths.  I cleaned all the rock gardens, save for a "dab" on that final right hand turn through it ... a small victory I will claim.

I was slowly closing on the woman who I briefly met on the previous section of gravel.  We hit the aid station together.  She was looking pretty cooked! Alyssa was there supporting her husband Jordan, as well as several others, including me.  Sweet!  I dropped my Camelbak and she handed me two bottles and I was in/out before I could even consider quitting.  I also made it out before the other woman.   

At this point in the race, I was 36 miles and 4:22 elapsed time.  I knew I was slow, but damn!  I had expected to reach Aid 3 in 4 hours.  I rode a short bit of pavement over to the heinous powerline climb portion of the Wilderness system.  Although it was only a mile long, it was a sum bitch.  I died a little more here, pushing some sections.  

Just one of a few shady sections of grav grav.

The trail finally dumped me out onto Wally Road.  I then pedaled a miserable 5 miles of gravel over to Camp Mohaven.  At least it afforded me the opportunity to do some 1-legged pedaling in an attempt to relieve my left foot of some pretty intense pain, that had ratcheted up in intensity on the last bit of single track.  Hot foot, as what most cyclists call it, where it feels like a hot iron is being placed on the ball of your foot. 

Entering Camp Mohaven, I was familiar with this 5 miles of single track.  As I began the climb to the top, I passed several guys that were off their bikes, just sitting, beaten down by the heat. I made it to the top and got another ice cold Coke hand up.  Ahhh!  The volunteers were rocking it today.  In and out after a 15 second guzzle, I motored on, hitting the techy sections with ease.  So thankful for a course that was near perfect condition.

Camp Mohaven rock drop

Finishing up Camp Mohaven put me at the furthest point from the finish.  So now I knew I could get it done; it wasn't going to be pretty or fast, though.  I pedaled the gravel, once again doing some 1-legged drills to give my left foot a break.  As if I didn't have enough problems, my front rotor began to make some metronomic wailing noises.

Aside from the initial 20 miles in the state park, I had been riding by myself most of the day.  I was so relieved to be able to latch on to a fellow racer's wheel, if only for a couple of miles.  That little breather felt so good.  But once the gravel pitched upwards I was on my own again.  I came upon Nina about the 53 mile mark.  She was off her bike, pouring water over her head.  As I rolled by, I told her to catch me.  I first met Nina at the Iron Mountain 100K, where she had a fabulous day on the bike, at 16 years of age.  She was now a freshman in college and a bright young fiercely determined racer.  I don't foresee me ahead of her in many more races.  We rode together up the climb, but towards the top I slowly pulled away. I latched on to my drafting buddy and gained a few mph on the descent.  (Whoever you are, I still owe you a beer!)

With about 11 miles of racing left to go, something told me to look behind me.  As I did, I saw my team mate Dave about 30 yards back.  For  just a millisecond I was disappointed because one of my goals was not to let him catch me, but that was immediately replaced with joy.  His presence gave me an astronomical morale boost.  Perfect timing, too, as we hit the last section of single track before aid station 4.  And it was a beast of a sloppy climb.  I let David take the lead and pace me up that hill.  This was followed by a heinously steep descent where I did get squirrely and off track, but managed to save face.  The swinging bridge was rideable, but I flintstoned it across, not trusting my balance to keep me from getting entangled in the support cables.

I stopped at the final aid station to refill 1 bottle for the finish.  My stomach had held up good all day, but after 6 1/2 hours of intensity in the heat, it would tolerate no more than plain water.  Dave and I left out together and together we tackled the Valley Stream climb, followed by several more miles of gravel, and then that last ugly mess of trail which dumped you into the mud pit (I tiptoed around it, not wanting to go axle deep into that petri dish of mud).

I was so happy to see that the final bit of single track in the state park and the Mohican Adventures campground. Although my bike wailed like a banshee all the way home, at least my hot foot subsided.  We crossed the finish line together.  I finished in 7:29 (only 6 minutes of stopped time) which put me in 6th in Open Women.  Dave finished in 6:59 giving him a third place in Masters.

Well done ... as in how do you like your steak

I was completely shelled after that one.  The BDR the previous weekend probably didn't help matters any, despite all the recovery tactics I employed.  Dave and I took a 30 minute soak in the cooling waters of the Clear Fork River. Normally, I am ready to eat and drink right after I finish, but today although I did drink, it took me 3 hours before I felt ready to put food in my belly.  Now THAT was a hard fought finish.

And now to try to heat acclimate for the next one ...

Monday, May 31, 2021

Tellico Highlands ITT Ride Report

At the finish (notice who has the deepest squat hold 😏)

The Tellico Highlands is one in a series of three gravel ITT's put on by Tennessee Gravel.  I had completed the Death March Revival back in the winter and the Dirty 130 last month.  Wanting to finish all three before the end of June (the series runs from July 2020 through June 2021), I enlisted some awesome suffer buds, Jeff Cohen and John Switow.

This would be my 4th BDR for the year.  I suppose I should give you some background into why I call some of my adventures Big Dumb Rides.  BIG stands for a challenge that I think is probable, but that it is going to be hard, really hard. I will have to dig deep, not only physically, but mentally, as well.  There will be times of pure joy smattered with bits of holy hell.  And it is how I respond to the suck that will determine the outcome. I go BIG for me, not for a podium, not to compare myself to others, but to compete against myself.  

DUMB stands for the look I get when I tell non ultra endurance cyclists or athletes what I am about to do.  There are many who just don't get it or just maybe have never experienced that endorphin rush.  To them it seems like lunacy. Why would you want to put your body through that, they say.  Why not?  Where's the challenge of sitting at home, inside, doing nothing but mind-numbing activities? You have this great machine, your body, right at your fingertips, just dying to show you the magic it can perform.  Take it for a test ride and you will be amazed at what you can do, given a little training and mental fortitude.  

Your BDR doesn't have to be what my BDR is.  It can be anything that takes you to the edge of your limit.  And what you will find is that those limits can be pushed beyond what you think they are.  The after effects are phenomenal!  

Now, back to the Tellico Highlands ITT.  90 miles and 11,000 feet of climbing, as fast as you can do it.  Self-supported, you either carry your nutrition with you, or find re-supply along the way (filtering water or finding an open store along the route, of which there are two: Green Cove and Indian Boundary camp store). You can ride with others, but not take any assistance from them.  It is up to you and only you to complete the route.

Mother Nature gave us almost primo conditions.  It rained the day before, settling all the dust, but making some sections a little muddy.  It was 60 degrees and overcast at the start, with no wind.  Forecast called for 15% chance of scattered showers for the morning. I opted for my summer kit and took no extra clothing, i.e. vest or rain jacket.    I knew it would probably be cooler up on the Skyway, but hopefully short-lived.

We started a little after 8 am.  Hitting River Road, I enjoyed a brief warm up on smooth pavement before hanging a right on Wildcat. Let the climbing commence!  Hero gravel!  Smooth and firm made the climb seem almost too easy.  Wait! What?  My legs were not heavy, not barking immediately, and definitely not dead.  Feeling great, but knowing the day was early, I settled into an all day speed.  Everyone was all talky talky on this climb, which then rolled awhile, and then briefly descended to the start of the Dry Basin climb.

Overcast and misty was perfect for this climb which has very minimal tree cover.  The gravel was settled nicely from yesterday's rain, giving us perfect traction; probably the best shape I have seen this climb in. 

Dry Basin climb

At the top, we ran into another rider.  Alex from Knoxville was out doing his own big loop, which included much of ours but then also added more Skyway and the Santeelah gravel climb.  He was sorta new to the area and was out exploring.  He couldn't believe just how beautiful this area of  Tennessee was.  I know, I have lived here my whole life and am still pinching myself when I set out on these mountainous roads.

Holly Flats 

We made good time back to River Road, opted out of the Green Cove stop and refilled our water at the game check station. It had been misting for the last 20 minutes or so, but now it turned to a light rain.  At least it was warm and we were about to hard charge into the biggest climb, North River Road. This 10 mile 2500 foot climb would put us at only 29 miles in, but already having climbed 1/2 of the ride's elevation ... oof! Today would not be a PR, but a steady tempo to the top.  I was still feeling good, but it appears that Jeff was feeling even better, as his pace put him out of eyesight about halfway up.  John and I stayed together, knowing that if we tried to reel Jeff back in, we could easily implode.

Rationing the sweet and salty goodness, one big bite per climb.

My Garmin read 43 degrees at the top and we were enshrouded in clouds.  I was soaked with a mixture of sweat and rain, but so far all the extremities were warm.  The rain stopped, but the climbing didn't. We still had another couple of miles on the Skyway. 

Cherohala Skyway

As much as I was all climbed out, I was wishing for more as the never ending descent to Indian Boundary began.  By the time we turned onto the road to the lakeside trail, the fingers and toes were frozen, but fortunately the core was still warm.  I looked down at my Garmin as we entered the single track; we were making really good time, as in maybe FKT'able.  Excited that the legs still felt good and we were approaching the halfway point, I kept the pace brisk.  And then this ...


We attempted to just sneak on through, but, of course, state employees were working on a bridge and would NOT let us proceed.  At first, I was a little upset, but knowing it was out of my control, I acquiesced.  After some commiseration with John and Jeff, we decided to ride the trail CCW until we came to the trail closure sign on the other side and then get back on course.  Ultimately we missed about a 100 yard section of the course, but more than made up for it with an additional 2.5 miles and a negative time bonus of 25 minutes ... grrrrr. Bye bye FKT.


Oh, well, today's ride was really not about trying to get the fastest time anyway.  Fellowship was one of the main goals and trumped FKT (it would have only been the fondit on an already heavily iced cake anyways).  We stopped at the campground store and refilled.  I made use of the campground bathhouse to empty the bladder and refresh the Chamois Butt'r.  I was in heaven for a couple of minutes when I found this ...


I ran it a few cycles, warming my hands and drying out my gloves.  Since the re-route had taken the wind out of my sails a little bit, I was damn sure gonna enjoy some moments of luxury!

After yanking myself out of that little oasis, I went back to the store to rendezvous with the boys.  I found Jeff, but John was AWOL.  Man, it's like herding cats!  He was probably joining someone's picnic in the campground.  He finally showed up and with just at 5 hours in, we headed over to the Farr Gap climb.  The approach to it was a muddy mess, what with the recent grading, rain, and holiday traffic.  Once we turned onto Doublecamp Road, that takes us to Farr Gap, it was hero again.  

Jeff felt a little squishy in the rear, so pulled up.  He found a small sidewall tear.  Being that he was not doing the official ITT (a just for fun ride, he says), we were able to assist him.  I plugged it and then John pumped life back into the tire while Jeff held his bike.  We were able to fix that flat in about 8 minutes, and it held for the remainder of the day ... whew!

Happy the legs were still happy on Farr Gap

I was happy when we got rolling again and my legs woke back up quickly and without that heavy dead painful feeling.  I couldn't believe I still felt good!  I was able to hang with Jeff (he was still a beast!) but decided when I saw John falling off the pace to sit up and let him bridge back up to me.  This was a Three Musketeers kind of day:  All for one and one for all.  

Farr Gap climb

Once at the top we stopped for a pee break and to eat some more. I had another big PayDay bite, while John ate a PB&J. 

Careful where you squat ... poison ivy galore!

John must have gotten instant energy from his food, as he shot off like a rocket and blistered that heinous bumpy descent!  

Farr Gap vista

Jeff and I rode a bit more cautious, what with his recent flat issue and me just playing it smart on my slightly skinnier tires than John's.  Our last water refill was at the piped spring at the bottom of the descent.  

Citico Creek Road

The final climb was Miller's Ridge.  While the profile doesn't look bad, it has about a dozen or so punchy little hits that just add up to a TKO.  This is where I began to crack a little.  I wasn't feeling so zippy anymore, but I knew I would get through it.  So I just played the suffering game, inwardly smiling and thinking, "This all you got, MR?"  John ran out of gas again, but then hit the nitrous after inhaling a package of Honey Stinger blocks. I need to set him up with some sort of glucose CRI.

But with Mountain Dews instead of Coke

I finished the last of my PayDay at what I thought was the top, but then quickly found out that there was about another mile of this "up, down, up, down" meanness.  Finally we hit Turkey Creek, a sweet sweet mixed surface buttery smooth descent.  7 miles long and at just the right grade where braking is minimal, I was in heaven.  

Once we hit River Road, it was a 2 mile pedal up to grab our Bald River Falls selfie and then a 6 mile gradual descent back down to the finish.

Smiling me, thinking that it was just all downhill from here.

Well, let me tell you, the hardest part of this whole BDR was the final descent.  With 2 blown pistons, the finish was not coming quick enough.  I just knew I should be able to pedal faster, harder, but every time I tried to eek out more watts, I would redline.  I was so done!  I watched the miles slowly tick off.  Finally the end was in sight.

With the on the fly reroute at Indian Boundary, I ended up with 94 miles, ride time of 8:32, and a total time of 9:30.  That ride has got to be in my top 10 of local gravel routes.  The "eye candy" was just phenomenal. Good Lord, I live in such a beautiful place!

And my partners!  I could not have asked for anyone better ... maybe equal ... but not better.  Such awesome dudes with positivity all day long.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jeff and John, for one of the best days ever on a bike.

And that post- ride potluck fellowship meal was 5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐.  Pasta salad, potato salad, potato chips, and strawberry shortcake.

Post ride feeding frenzy

You see the rocking chair John is sitting in.  Not 5 minutes prior to this photo, John, with open can of Mountain Dew in hand fell backward into it with enough force that he "endo'd", but still somehow managed to only spill a drop of his drink.  I never belly laughed so hard!  Unfortunately I was not quick enough with my phone then, but it is forever ingrained into my memory.  Thanks John 😂😂😂

So while the FKT remains with Elizabeth McCalley, much more important to me are the memories we made together.  Times may be forgotten, but not all the laughing we did that day.

And this would have never happened:  scaring the beJesus out of Jeff on the Farr Gap descent.

Big climbs deserve a King Size PayDay