Thursday, September 22, 2022

Marji Gesick Duathlon Race Report: Part 2, The Run

 I headed out at 4 pm.  I had my Leki carbon poles, Salomon running vest with a 50 ounce bladder filled with water, some food, and a rain jacket.  The first few miles were relatively flat and the body and legs felt surprisingly great.  After that long stretch of Iron Ore Trail leading to Jackson Park, where my legs would fill with lactate any time I tried to hammer, now they felt fresh.  I thought I might have to start out by just walking, but was able to run.

Dave Jolin came riding up behind me shortly after, which surprised me, as I thought for sure he would have been ahead of me, as he has those old man watts.  I was selfishly glad to see him and we chatted for a few minutes, with him giving me some words of encouragement.  I secretly wished he would have paced me as he has been such a great riding/racing partner over the past few years that we have grown to know each other.  But he motored on.

Around the 4th mile, I came upon the second token station on Panorama.  Once again I grabbed 2 and placed them in different pockets on my vest. While running the Stoned Hinge Trail, I heard someone yell my name.  I turned around to see who it was:  Roy Kranz!  Holy smokes!  I was hoping I would get a chance to run with him and here he was.  I just wish it would have been longer than a half a mile.  But it was a joy to see him; I think I may even have gotten 15 seconds of fame on his video.

I was making good time through the first 10 miles, averaging 15 minutes per mile, and it felt easy. I met my crew at mile 10 around the 2 1/2 mark.  Even though I wasn't hungry and my tummy felt off, I took in some fuel while they refilled my hydration pack with more water. This was about a 3 minute stop.

Still thinking I could buckle at this point.

The next 5 miles I was still feeling good, maintaining my goal pace.  The climb up Last Bluff was enjoyable, as I didn't have a 25 pound bike I had to pedal in granny or push up the steepest parts.  I even passed a few bikers on this section. I stopped briefly at mile 15 and grabbed my lights from my crew.  Chris made mention that when I caught Lisa to give her hell.  Wait, what?  I shouldn't be catching her; now I was concerned.  What was going on?  Chris said that she was nauseous and having difficulty eating anything.  I prayed that things would improve for her.  This stop was also about 3 minutes.

The next two miles were on pavement that took me within 100 yards of the finish line.  I was able to see the beer tent full of happy souls, while I trudged onwards.  This section should have been fast as it was flat and smooth.  But for me, the hard surface began working on the support structures around my knees and the first signs of pain began to surface.

Once I got back on the trail, I was able to pick the pace back up a little.  Up and over Daisy Bluff and then onto Deer Shit Trail.  And let me just say, that little added 1/2 mile extension of Deer Shit should be called Bull Shit!  I doubt anyone uses this nasty little section outside of the race.  I passed no fewer than 5 bikers here; unless you are a trials rider and a goat, most of this section is HAB.  As far as running only Kilian Jornet would take pleasure here.  That ... was ... awful!

I met my crew at mile 19.  While I stretched out my back, hips, and knees, they refilled my water.  My stomach was sour, but I took a fig bar anyways as I knew I needed the calories.  If I threw it back up, then so be it. This stop was a little over 4 minutes.

As I got going again, the stretching helped, and the joints felt loose and limber.  The flattish trail for the next couple miles also helped. Then came Sissy Pants, to which I remember Lisa saying, as we were looking at the file prior to the race, that at least they were taking us up the easy way.  The easy way?!?  What was in your coffee that morning?  This climb felt like my poles were pulling me up while my legs were dragging in the dirt like a paraplegic.  The Hampton's Climb wasn't as long, but still a kick in the hoo-ha.  I saw another token station towards the top.  When I got there, an empty pumpkin head, with a note in the bottom,  "Just kidding, blame Danny."  I began to move on, but then stopped, turned around, and looked in again, just in case in my stupor, I missed something.  Nope, still said, "Just kidding." πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

From there it was downhill back to Jackson Park, where I rolled through at 10:43 pm.  My crew was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, tending to my needs.  I took a moment to sit down and finish the rest of my Ramen from earlier.  That tasted so good and it was the first thing that sat well in my stomach in 6 hours.  I hadn't even seen Lisa, huddling in her chair not 3 feet from me.  Talk about tunnel vision.  She was done.  Her body said no more.  She said she could finish it, just that it wasn't worth it, as she would be slower than in 2019 and she got her buckle. I felt a little envious of her, not having to endure any more pain.

That first loop had taken me 6 hours 47 minutes.  I asked Chris to do some math and see how fast I needed to go to get the buckle.  3.06 mph would have me finishing sub-22, if I left by 11pm.  I immediately got up, threw my vest on and got moving.  I was gonna need every minute, so I left at 10:50 pm.  That would give me 6 hours and 40 minutes to finish the remaining 18 miles, which is what I thought I had left.

Adrenaline had me going for miles 25 and 26 and I was on target.  I smiled and laughed as Jenny Acker passed me on a SS; we chatted a little and that helped my fighting spirit as well.  I felt good climbing Dirty Mary and The Luge as these trails were smooth and at a nice steady grade.  As I started descending on Flannel Shirt, the joint pains came back with fervor; I leaned heavily on my poles to try to minimize it.  It felt like someone was stabbing my knees with a knife. I took a 4 minute break when I met my crew at mile 29, stretching and trying to get the joints a little more limber, as they felt very stiff.

I went up Grandview faster than I came down.  Now even the bottoms of my feet had pains shooting through them.  The wheels were falling off the bus.  This is where I had my first thought of quitting.  I could just meet my crew at the next access point and the pain would stop.  This lingered in my brain for for about 3 minutes.  I did not train a solid year, let alone the logistics and $$ of getting here, and taking time off work, to text #quitter.  Finish what you start!  Even if I have to crawl across the finish line.

The second empty checkpoint on AM/FM I didn't even stop at as their was a cyclist ahead of me who discovered it to be a fake one.  Clawing my way up Carroll Jackson, my achilles tendons started getting tight.  I grabbed my third tokens here and stashed them away in my vest and kept motoring on, although now I was more down to just a walk as the pain intensified.

I met my crew at mile 34 (mile 103 of the whole course), and filled my CamelBak for the final push.  I was in such a world of hurt I think I had stopped eating an hour ago, but was still drinking.  Chris encouraged me that I had "just a 10K to go."  It was 2:30 am.  That gave me 3 hours, plenty of time I was trying to tell myself.

I was slowly dying on Sally, Angeline, and 38 Special.  The heart and lungs were willing, but the legs were not.  The pain of going downhill was bringing both physical and emotional tears to my eyes.  I was slowly seeing my minutes/mile increasing and the chances for a buckle once again sliding just out of my grasp.  But the mind was strong and I still wanted to finish.

Hearing Danny and Jill holler out my name and badass made me smile.  All those out on course were amazing, the community, racer's loved ones, and those on bikes.  So ... much ... support!

The double track section I do not remember being so long and up and down and with the many mud puddles. This should have been an easy section since their wasn't much technical footwork, but the legs were shot.  I felt like I was barely moving and the poles had become crutches.  I longed to see Cry Baby.  But first there was Old 56; so damn lumpy!  I said a few choice words here, as in "This wouldn't even be fucking fun to ride!" Once on Cry Baby, the conditions improved some, but my pace continued to slow.  The final section of steep roll downs had me grimacing as I side-stepped down them.  Sorta wished I could have just rolled up into a ball and sent it.

At 5:28 am, with 41 miles into my run (which is when I thought I would be crossing the finish line), I had just popped out onto Bluff Street and was heading towards Jasper Knob.  Chris and Rudy were there cheering me on.  I was nauseous, dizzy, parched, and weak, but ready to get this damn thing done!  I grabbed a bottle of water and Chris walked with me until I hit the trail up to Jasper Knob.  Giving him the empty bottle, I drug my body up for the last token.  Coming down, every footfall sent pain from the bottom of my feet up into my hips.  Finally on flat ground I fast walked it to the finish.  I didn't even try to run across the line, as I felt like I was going to pass out.  Thank God the poles steadied my weak legs.  It had taken me 33 minutes to go the last mile and a half, putting the total run mileage at 42.7.  Total mileage for the entire race was 111.7 miles with 13,000+ feet of gain.

I shook Todd's hand and as much as I wanted to "hate" him, I just couldn't.  He had given me the motivation to once again crush old limits and find new ones.  Yeah, I was disappointed I did not buckle.  But that was easily overshadowed by the fact that I had just run a distance I had never thought I could do, especially after riding my bike for 8 hours prior to that.  

A little backstory was that 11 years ago I was diagnosed with a foot neuropathy and for 4 years I could not walk barefoot because of the pain.  I never thought I would run again. It took a foot surgery and several years of wearing custom insoles before I could even run a 5k.  So yeah, I was ecstatic about finishing, just couldn't show it due to extreme pain and exhaustion.  

Only 15 finished the duathlon

I wanted to especially thank Chris and Rudy for crewing for me.  You guys were instrumental in my victory.  

It was great to ride and run with all you Marji Gesick musketeers throughout the day and night.  Dan Luebke, enjoyed going back and forth with you.  Gary, was it as hard as I told you it was gonna be?  Stephanie, thanks for the banana, the yodeling, and being there, like 50 times (or was I hallucinating) throughout the race.  And to all you racers on bike that passed me so graciously, thank you for not using me for traction. So many trail angels, I probably could have run with less food and water than I had.

To Todd and Danny, I think this course is perfect.  Perhaps leave it this way for 2023 ... no need to add more.  And if you feel you just gotta change it up, I would recommend getting it closer to 108 than 115.

When I crossed the finish line Sunday morning, I told myself the duathlon was a one and done.  But as I write this a few days later and feeling more like a human than a corpse, I cursed myself as I made a reminder in my phone for October 14, 2022.  

Let the 2023 Marji Gesick Duathlon training begin πŸ˜†πŸ˜†πŸ˜†!

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Marji Gesick Duathlon Race Report: Part 1, The Bike


As I awaited the 7:30 am start amidst 500+ like-minded fools, I thought about how I got to this very moment.  I had already finished three 100's (more like 105) and one 50 (actually 62). After the 50 last year, I thought I was done. The closest I came to buckling the 100 was in 2016.  I attempted 2 more times, but my finishing times kept getting longer, partly due to the course getting harder (and longer) and me getting older.  I accepted the fact that a buckle was out of reach, but then I heard news of a 1000 mile buckle ... πŸ€”.  And then a week after the 50, Lisa (who had buckled the duathlon in 2021) planted a seed when she said she thought I could buckle the duathlon.  At first I hysterically laughed and immediately shrugged it off.  I thought a half-marathon was hard, so putting 3 of them together after a 65 mile bike was just insane.  But that damn buckle haunted every waking moment, until I finally said f*ck it!  I am going to give this duathlon a go.  What have I got to lose?  If worse came to worse, I could always switch over to the bike only format.

And so, here I stood, awaiting the start of the bike, only fearing the uncontrollable. The body and mind were ready to go to places so dark, it would make a black hole look bright.  I had 22 hours to finish it to get the buckle and 25 hours before I would be DQ'd. I planned on riding the 65 miles conservatively to decrease the risks of flatting or crashing, as this course eats tires and is very technical, about 95% single track.

I was a little concerned about how wet the course might be, as it had rained the day and night before.  The temperature was a pleasant 63 degrees with cloudy skies.  There was a chance of rain but not until the afternoon.  However, that chance extended on into the night.

Lisa was also doing the duathlon.  Her husband, Chris, and his parents, Rudy and Vickie, were our support crew. Her goal was to finish, buckle, and get it done under 20 hours. On our pre ride yesterday, she had asked me was I still going to finish if I couldn't buckle.  I responded with an immediate yes.

It was a LeMans start, with a 0.6 mile run.  I had my Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit cycling shoes, which were super comfy.  I had a CamelBak Bike Vest with a 50 ounce bladder filled with Skratch and a Revelate Designs Mountain Feedbag on the bike which housed my gel flask, Honey Stinger waffles, and SaltStick Fast Chews (electrolytes).

Just before the gun went off, the Star Spangled Banner was played on an electric guitar.  This year we were not lead out by a unicorn, but by a blue haired dude on a Harley.  I managed to get close to the front to avoid getting trampled.  When the rockets were launched, the foot race began.  For once, the LeMans did not seem hard.  When I hopped on the bike, the legs were not heavy as in years past, but warmed up and ready to produce some watts.

I started off easy; my goal was to finish around the 8 hour mark.  The first few miles were relatively easy, being cross country ski trail.  I was quite surprised how dry the trail was.  All the rain had really settled the sand and it was fast. The climb up Jedi was comfortable.  Somewhere along here, Dan Weatherwax shouted out to me.  He told me what an inspiration I was to both him and his wife.  Thanks, Dan, for making one of many happy moments for me during the race.  Oftentimes, I don't know whether I inspire or scare away those from these most difficult events.

There was the usual conga line going down Top O' The World, where I passed 10 racers by HAB'ing down the far left; I probably couldn't have ridden any faster and even my ego agreed that the risk was too high to attempt to clean it on the bike.  This running thing made me pretty adept at negotiating tricky terrain. 

After the fun descent, it was on to the "ge-dunk, ge-dunk, ge-dunk" while riding the old railroad bed with ties intact for 3/4 mile. The loamy, lumpy, rooty ride on Harlow Creek and Rickles was quite pleasant and still so dry, it was hard to fathom that it had been dumping rain in the days leading up to the race. I kept my comfortable pace back to the campground and passed my crew about an hour and 50 minutes in.  Not needing any hand ups, I stopped long enough to see how far Lisa was ahead ... about 9 minutes. Good, I could continue at my pace and not put our crew in a bind being too far spaced out.

Wildcat is always fun, flowy, and fast.  Got a little too carefree and about washed out my front wheel in a berm.  Settle, I told myself.  Pine Knob was its usual ugly self, just slicker with the moist rocks. Still too many people close to me to feel comfortable riding the descents in my own little bubble, so I made the wise call and HAB'd (hike a bike) most of them.  The remainder of the trails over to Lowe's Trail (Blue Heron, Collinsville, Silver Lead) were relatively easy, which I had to be careful not to go too too hard, as I wanted to save ALL my matches for the run.  The Lowe's Trail is always an SOB, as it is uphill with steep climbs and techy features.  I got off and ran when I knew it was more efficient to do so.

And then there was The Beach ... grrrr!  I have never been a good surfer or perhaps I just don't have enough mass to keep momentum when the wheels bog down, so I did some running through this area.  Fortunately most of it was rideable, so not too much energy was wasted.  My crew was waiting for me at the 29 mile mark just before the Highway 41 underpass.  I made it here in 3 hours and 33 minutes and made up a couple minutes on Lisa.  While I stretched and ate some food, they refilled my CamelBak.

Hopping on the Iron Ore Trail, I knew to take a breather, as the trails coming up were going to be spicy.  While I was eating my waffle, I chatted briefly with Jason, who was tackling this for the first time.  He, along with another woman slowly pulled away from me.  Soon, I knew the very sharp right hand turn would come.  Normally there are people to direct you onto the trail as it is kinda hidden.  Unfortunately Josh and the woman were too far ahead to hear me yell turn right!  And they kept pedaling on down the rail trail.  I wonder how many other people made that same mistake.  This was one place where it was important to follow your GPS.

I chuckled a bit on the Greywalls Trail that, as it followed along the perimeter of the golf course, had signs, asking you to be quiet.  Smiley was a flow trail that would have been WAY better in the other direction.  Continuing the climb along Rough Rock Ridge, I had my first low point, where I felt some fatigue settling in.  I popped another electrolyte tab, allowing it to melt like a Certs in my mouth.  The simple pleasures ...

Once on Eh Line, I knew I would see my support crew soon.  I made it to South Trails in 4 hours 45 minutes, 15 minutes behind schedule.  I did not need anything, but just seeing everyone yelling for me, gave me a little shot of adrenalin.  And then there was Gurly.  The rocks had just enough moisture to make them greasy.  I decided to run a good portion of it.  I might lose a little time, but better than losing the ability to continue if I were to crash and break the body or bike.

Doctors was fun.  Being drier I felt confident in letting it go on this descent.  Even got some praise from the dudes that followed my lines down to Marquette Mountain Road.  The gravel road climb up to Scary Trail was arduous, but at least the gravel was firmly packed.  The first bit of upper Scary was slippery and I cleaned it about halfway down before my monkey brain kicked in and said, "STAAAP!"  So I did, ran a short section and then finished the remaining portion. Halfway through Scary was the first checkpoint.  I grabbed 2 tokens, putting them each in a different spot on my person.  Just a little added insurance.  Lower Scary was dry and a joy to descend.

Zueg's was the longest climb of the day at 2 miles.  And the point in the ride when I began to feel some soreness (fatigue) in the quads.  I needed to slow down, but at the same time, I needed to stay on pace. Let the mental games begin!  Once I saw Easy Rider, I knew I was close to my crew at Rippling River Campground.  BTW, Easy Rider is a chunky descent, during which I passed a dude on a bike, no helmet and sandals.  It wasn't even dark yet and the hallucinations were already starting.

As I stopped  to grab a bottle and a waffle, I hadn't lost any more time and I had gained a little on Lisa.  That was motivating, as I wasn't too far off her pace, which allowed for a little wiggle room once the run started.

I don't remember much of the next 5 miles of single track (Off Grade, Pipe Dreams, Old Camp Ridge) other than Pipe Dreams was fun and fast, just watch out for the large bolts on the pipe. And the other trails were tight, twisty, and rooty, but at least dry (in years past I remember them being as slick as snot from the rain).

Why I was expecting the ORV trails to be easy, I don't know, but I suppose this was one of my weaker moments.  A lot of ups and downs, but fortunately they were in great shape and the usual sandy hike a bike spots had been graveled and so now everything was rideable.

As I came to the Iron Ore Trail, the Banana Lady was there.  She had been at other spots previous to this, but I was wanting some real food, so stopped and ate what else, a banana.  Her name was Stephanie and she reminded me that we met last year at the finish, as she was supporting her husband on the 50.  I remembered her bawler Jeep Gladiator.  She told me that I inspired her husband to attempt the hundred this year.  Awesome.  Once again, some feel good vibes to get me through to Jackson Park.

Of course there was a head wind.  I managed to jump on a 3 person train, but only got to enjoy it for a few minutes, as it was just to fast for my barking legs.  All I thought as I made my way on this flat but slightly uphill gravel trail, was how bad I wanted to get off the bike and start running.  My other thought was thank God I was doing the Duathlon, because I didn't think I could ride the remaining miles after Jackson Park.  That's how tired my legs felt.

I rolled into Jackson Park at 3:43 pm, 8 hours and 13 minutes on the bike, 15 minutes off pace.  I had 65 miles of riding, but Lisa had a wheel sensor and got 70 miles.  Oof!  By the time I arrived , Lisa had changed into her run clothes and was slamming a can of ravioli.  Scott Morman was also there changing.  

I had a fairly quick transition, changing clothes and eating some ramen (which was the best food choice I made all day ... thanks Scott, just wish I had brought more than 2 helpings).  Transition time was 17 minutes, as I headed out for my run at 4 pm.

... to be continued.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Gravel Worlds

The calm before the storm

Zeke and I headed out to Gravel Worlds.  This trip was over a year in planning.  It had been too long since my best riding buddy and I went to a big event together.  For me, this one was 2022 New State New Race.  We arrived Thursday; after two travel days, my back was jacked from all the sitting.  I spent a good portion of the lead up time doing various forms of therapy for relief:  hot tub, Theragun, and lots of stretching.  Come race day it had quieted down to a level of pain that I could handle for 153 miles.

Highest percentage of women in any race I have done (40%)

This race had 4 distances:  300, 150, 75, 31 miles.  And even a 50k run.  A total of 2500+ racers were registered.  Weather could not have been any better:  65-83 degrees, partly cloudy, 40% humidity.  150 miles was the championship distance.  Winners in their respective age categories would get a World Championship jersey.  The courses were unmarked; GPS required.  I had my Garmin Edge 830 as well as Ride with GPS on my phone.  1 checkpoint that you would ride through twice at miles 60 and 125.  And various oases along the course run by sponsors as well as citizens: I do believe there were 5-6 of these.

I chose to go without a hydration pack, as there were plenty of places to get water.  I carried two 28 ounce bottles and about 2500 calories, along with several packs of SaltStick Fast Chews; these are da bomb, for me it was like sucking of delicious Certs.  I ran a 34T x 10-42 SRAM drive train and 40mm Maxxis Ramblers.  Never once was I under geared and I only engaged the 42T cog twice.

There was less than 4 miles of pavement and 4 dirt road sections of about 1 mile each.  A true gravel race!

80% of the gravel section were like this

Most roads had areas with no gravel.

It was still dark when the race started at 6 am.  Even with 700 racers hitting the gravel, the dust was minimal.  Still, I was extra cautious for these first few miles.  I stayed in the middle of the road and stayed a couple bike lengths back from those in front.  I took it easy and gave time for my legs to warm up.  My goal was to stay in the high aerobic heart rate range, and only going hard to bridge a gap or get up a hill.  Things were going smoothly, the sun was beginning to rise, and then suddenly the two riders ahead of me hit a patch of deep gravel.  I slowed down, but when I hit it, a rut slung my front tire abruptly to the left.  I tried to hold my line, but to no avail.  I collided with a female racer to my left.  Our handlebars interlocked.  Fortunately, we did not go down, but slowed to a stop.  It took a few seconds to free ourselves from each other.  We were both concerned how the other was.  I was ok, but she hurt her wrist in the process.  I felt so bad and immediately apologized.  We both got going again, but I could tell she was in pain.  Shaken up, I rode pretty slow for a few minutes.  Once I knew she was going to be able to manage, I slowly got back up to speed. I later found out that she finished, but it was a long painful day in the saddle for her.  Sorry, Yun, for ruining your day.

I continued to ruminate on that event for awhile.  It finally faded when I hooked up with a group of guys and rode their wheel for the next 20 miles.  They were fine to block the wind for me, and I was most grateful for a good average speed.  At mile 33, there was an oasis and we all stopped.  This oasis was hosted by Bobby Wintle and his Mid South crew.  I stopped just long enough to fill one bottle.  I ended up riding the next 27 miles alone, which was ok, as the winds were light, the breeze cool, and the legs were happy.  The scenery for the first 60 miles was mainly of corn and soybean fields, stretching as far as your eyes could see.

10 foot high and no doubt this wasn't non-GMO

At mile 60 I entered the first official checkpoint (for both the 75 and150).  There was two-way traffic as racers were coming back out to continue on course.  This would also be the second checkpoint for the 150 course, too.  There were bikes and bodies everywhere, no less than 60 racers swarming the aid station and portapotties. I was happy with my time as I was 4 hours and 60 miles in.  I stopped to pee, fill bottles, and grab a gel.  Everyone was heading back out the way the came in (or so I thought, there was very little difference in the number plates of the 75 and 150).  *insert foreshadowing* So I headed back out the way I came in, too.  However, I knew I was to turn right, but the volunteer said to go left.  Right then and there I should have questioned her.  But, like a good little lemming, I turned left.  Both my Garmin and RWGPS said I was going to the correct way.  So I rode for about 7 miles, not listening to what my gut was telling me.  As I continued straight on course, everyone else was turning left.  And that is when I stopped, took my phone out, and looked at RWGPS.  Phuck! Phuck! Phuck!  I realized my error.  I was on course but I had leapt ahead 60 miles. πŸ˜’  If I had done my homework better, or had questioned the volunteer, I would have realized that there was a grassy double track back door out of the checkpoint that I should have taken.


While I was backtracking, I had a good ole pity party for myself.  And for just an instant, as I saw Zeke (who was doing the 75) make that left hand turn, I thought of just riding with him back to the finish.  However, "tough AF Carey" immediately kicked in, berating "weak Carey" and telling her to get her sh!t together and finish this thing.  So I began backtracking, which was not easy as I had taken several 90 degree turns during these extra miles and with everything looking the same, I stopped several times to get my bearings. Finally, an hour later and with an additional 15 miles, I got back on course.

I was pretty much all by myself for the remaining 90 miles.  At least an hour behind those who rode at my speed, I was now with groups much slower.  So drafting was of no benefit, other than a handful of times when I encountered a headwind and found racers I could fall in behind and recover a minute or two.  Unfortunately, as I got on into the afternoon, the winds picked up to about 10-15mph, which for me, coming from no winds in Tennessee, was a bane.

I managed to keep a positive mind set.  I engaged those I passed, encouraging them on their journey.  I enjoyed the scenery change, which was now a lot of prairie, wooded lands and hay fields.  Even though I was out of contention, I still put forth a solid effort, hard charging the hills and keeping stopped times at the oases to a minimum.

One of 4 dirt roads. Thank God it was a gloriously dry day.

A little over 5 hours later I arrived back at the checkpoint.  Mile 125 of the course but 140 miles for me.  I took another pee break, filled my bottles for the final time, guzzled a gel, and headed out for the final 25 miles.  Even though I was a hurtin' buckaroo, I remembered my good friend John's words that you always have enough in the tank to finish the final 25.  I fought those headwinds to the finish.  Rolling under the banner, I fist bumped Jason, one of the directors.  With nothing in the tank but fumes, I gladly accepted an ice cold wet towel and a Coke.  168 miles, 12,000 feet of gain, and a time of 12:09.


Even though my race may not have gone as expected, the ride was fantastic.  I was so pleased at how the body performed.  And my mental game was strong!  Had it not been for Zeke asking me where I finished in my AG, I would have not realized that I got third!  Say what?!?  Just reinforces "never give up."  So of course, I had to do some math.  I lost 1 hour and 5 minutes with that navigational error.  And I was only 52 minutes behind the winner.  So that made me even happier.

I would say if you have never raced mid west gravel, this would be one to do.  A reasonable price, great schwag, big expo, awesome aid stations, and a great post-race atmosphere.  But you better do your homework, know how to use navigation, and trust your intuition.

I thought this was a one and done, but now I am thinking about redemption.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Gravelachia Race Report


It had been a long time since I have done a BDR (Big Dumb Ride) and with Gravel Worlds just 4 weeks away, I felt the need to enter that deep dark space in my mind.  You have got to train the mind as well as the body for these huge efforts. Even though Gravelachia is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Gravel Worlds (as far as courses go), I know that Worlds is going to be more of a mental game than a physical one, for me.

T-shirt, backside

This race is put on by Brad and Bess Mathison.  It starts in Norton, a small town in southwestern Virginia, coal country, and works its way around the High Knob Recreation Area in Jefferson National Forest.  There are 5 major climbs:  one cat 1, three cat 2, and one cat 3.  In 88 miles, you will gain 13,500 feet. They also offer a 35 and 65 mile distances as well.  The Mathison's worked hard for our small crowd of 30.  They do it not for $$, but to showcase their home town.  $45 got me a brutally tough but beautiful course, 3 aid stations, a killer t-shirt, and a finisher's pint glass filled with the local brewery's finest.

Perfect weather greeted us for our 8 am start.  I actually had goosebumps with a temperature of 66.  I chose to ride my Niner Air 9 RDO with front suspension, 50mm Maxxis Ramblers, and Eagle Drivetrain with a 32T chainring.  I had done my homework and these climbs are steep AF!  Some had sustained grades of 13%+.  I also knew that the descents could get quite steep and chundery as well.  Even though 30% was paved, I felt that my mountain bike would not even be at a disadvantage because there just wasn't that much flat road.

We rolled out with a police escort until the first climb up High Knob (4 miles, 1800').  This one was paved except for the last mile.  I kept it comfortably hard at a tempo pace.

I was then rewarded with a 9 mile gravel descent with just a few short climbs.  It had some fast smooth sections, but it did get gnarly in a few spots: wash outs and thick gravel.  I was all smiles as my steed rolled through the caution areas (as indicated by squiggly lines of orange paint preceding said gnar, a nice touch on the safety aspect).

The second climb was Maple Gap (4.5 miles, 1700'). It started on Cracker Neck Road πŸ˜†πŸ˜†πŸ˜†, sending you through a gauntlet of pit bulls, fortunately for me (not so much for them), they were tied up with logging chains.  As I made my way through I could hear them hitting the end of the chain and prayed that they would hold.

With all systems warmed up and online, this climb was perhaps the "easiest" of the day. It turned to gravel near the top and the following descent was the hardest of the day.  If you know of any gravel shortages in the Southeast, it is because it is ALL on this descent.  It appeared that there had been a BOGO sale on dump truck loads of gravel.  It was pretty insane, surfing down deep, large aggregate gravel at grades of 8-12%.  I almost came out unscathed, but towards the end, a large briar nailed my left arm.  The thorns grabbed so hard it almost wrenched my arm off the bar.  I had tried to avoid it, but with the speed I was traveling, I was at the mercy of the gravel.  I spent the next 10 minutes licking the blood as it rolled off my forearm.

The next 10 miles was some rolling pavement that trended downhill.  I was able to spin and recover and refuel on the fly.  Well, all until I had a water bottle mechanical.  The black rubber top broke and pulled completely out of the lid, Skratch spewing everywhere. After a few choice words, I managed to switch bottle tops and fortunately didn't lose too much liquid.  The first aid station was at mile 34, and the fella manning it gave me a lid off of one of his bottles.

Pit stop, brought to you by Chamois Butt'r

The third climb (6.6 miles, 2500') was up the backside of High Knob.  It started out gentle enough, for the first mile, but then went straight up for 4 miles.  I guess switchbacks are not a thing in these parts.

Finally, I was beginning to see the sky.  Almost there, but then a false summit.  Climb some more, see the top, but then another false summit.  This went on for what seemed like eternity.  The climb of no less than 6 false summits!

False summit #1

False Summit #2

False Summit #3

Exasperation face!

Finally my Garmin showed "Climb done!"  Good Lord, that was a toughie.  First mental test done.

The following descent I don't remember much of, other than it was fairly smooth, gentle, and rolling. I was able to latch on with 3 guys and plug along until we hit the second aid station at mile 49.  Bess and the kids were manning this one.  I filled up my bottles, ate a banana, and secretly wished I could partake in a freshly cooked chocolate chip pancake.  

This next section of the course was a 12 mile loop bringing me back up to this aid station, which doubled as the third one as well.  I got out of there pretty quickly and ahead of the guys I had been rolling with.  I never saw them again, as the descent quickly turned to double track that had bits of tech, including wash outs and embedded rock.  It reminded me of the Big Frog gravel loop. Six miles of downhill was followed by a brief ride through the valley on freshly graded gravel (think loose and soft).  

Bark Camp Climb

Then the Bark Camp gravel climb began (3.6 miles, 1500 feet).  I saw and felt solid stretches of 20+% grade, where I was grinding in a 32 x 50.  The sun was out and it was definitely heating up.  A constant drip of sweat was running off my nose and I meandered up the road, seeking all the shady spots. As if it wasn't already physically and mentally taxing enough, I started to get "hot foot" in both feet as well.  Each push of the pedal felt like a hot iron being poked into the balls of my feet. But I had no choice to embrace it and deal with it, knowing that once I got back up to the aid station, I would have a brief respite.

Back at the aid station, I filled my bottle one last time and ate another banana.  Although food was aplenty here, most was not gluten free and besides that, I was getting "tired" of eating.  You know that feeling, well into the latter stages of the race, when your stomach says "enough."  Fortunately it was no more than just a lack of appetite: no gut bombs, no nausea.

From here it went gently downwards and then rolled a bit on some of the smoothest gravel I had seen.  This Little Stoney Creek section was absolutely gorgeous.  Clusters of giant ferns were found in abundance in forests you could look into for several hundred yards.  I was popping the last few Cliff Shot Blocks, preparing myself for the final climb.  Although most of it was paved and had step ups, it was still a bug a bear at 9 miles and 2600'.  The hot foot had subsided, only to be replaced by some mild IT band pain at the right hip, probably a result of hours of mashing on the steeps.  But I would take this well over that hot foot any day.

Halfway up, I started to feel a surge of energy.  Not knowing why, but hells yeah!  I'll take it!  And so I began alternating seated with standing, and feeling good. Perhaps smelling the barn?  Or that final 6 mile descent? The miles and feet ticked off quickly and there I was, at the High Knob Forest sign.

Hell, yeah!

All down hill from here!  I love it when race directors are able to reward us in this way.  I hit 46mph here, but just for a short bit, as this descent was the first climb of the day and very tight and twisty.  I rode within my means, as going down would have been a skin sacrifice to the asphalt gods.  The final mile was rolling back into town, to which I was greeted with a headwind, but the only one of the day and short-lived.

I had a finishing time of 8:39.  I had metered the day's efforts well and felt strong until the end.  I went into the dark places in my mind and dealt with those times in a positive way.  I saw hard climbs and beautiful mountainous areas.  My heart was full ... and my legs were dead.

This is what I am talking about.  The Appalachian Mountains, the small town feels, the "enhanced" gravel.  All this is my cup of tea!  I suppose that coming into gravel from a mountain biker's standpoint, I like this type of race.  For me, this is more of mountain bike racing on gravel, as opposed to road racing on dirt.  Which I am about to do and which is going to really really hurt, but also be really really good ... as in finding new limits and capabilities in my mental tool box.

Thanks Brad and Bess, for pouring your heart and soul into this one.  And to John, for talking me into this one ... even though he only wanted to do the 65.  AJ payback is hell, isn't it John ... 🀣🀣🀣

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Garland Mountain Half Marathon


Two weeks of being 100% pain-free after an 8 week bout of a hip injury and I was ready to test the body.  Back in February, a gym session involving several sets of split squat jumps followed a few days later by a 8 mile out and back trail run up Oswald's Dome (2300 vert straight up and back down) set the stage for a deep hip flexor injury.  I was so thankful it was just that, as I had feared I had torn my hip labrum.

This course was pretty tame: smooth trail that rolled with no intense climbing or descending.  I would call it a "roadie" course. Feeling like a poser (this was only my third trail race in 4 years), I lined up towards the back.  The start felt fast, but it was mostly descending for the first 4 miles.  I settled in to a nice steady pace, keeping some distance between me and the runner ahead.  My mantra for the day was "pick up your damn feet."  Tired of Superman'ing during my trail runs, I wanted to keep focused on the trail ahead, and not embarrass myself.  I did have two dudes roll around in the dirt, one in front and one behind me, during the first few miles, which helped to remind me.

At the first aid station (mile 4), I grabbed a cup of Heed, swallowing half of it and wearing the rest.  I didn't feel like I needed it, but wanted to stay ahead on hydration.  I opted not to wear a pack or belt, as I can normally do this distance with minimal nutrition.  It was also cool and humidity was low.  

The middle third was rolling and the body was happy.  As I began to pass a few runners, I shouted out some words of encouragement.  Runners seem to differ from mountain bikers as they are not as talkative during the event.  I suppose it has a lot to do how much more intense overall running is:  it is hard to form words when the whole body is working.  I also tried to smile, which was easy to do, because I really felt good today.  And just happy that I CAN run.

I stopped briefly at the second aid station (mile 8) to gulp a gel and drink another cup of Heed.  A couple miles later, I began to think that was a mistake as my gut started sloshing.  Fortunately there were no eruptions during the remainder of the race.  

The last third of the race gradually had you climbing back to the top of the mountain.  Even though I still felt great, I suppose I was getting a little tired, as I hit a stob or root and almost ate dirt.  My arms cartwheeled for a few strides and somehow I managed to save it.  With two miles to go, I put the hammer down and went as hard as I could.  I was happy that the final 1/2 mile stretch was uphill.  I am definitely a better climber than descender, and with the fatigue finally settling in, crashing uphill would be less traumatic than on a descent.

I crossed the finish line in 2:07:32, 1st AG and 4th O/A.  I bested what I thought my finishing time was going to be and I felt good the whole race, so I was completely satisfied with my performance.  And my hip was happy, so that was a bonus.  The course kinda felt like it was mostly downhill.  I kept waiting for a climb that would have me hurtin' but it never came.  I guess that says something about my training leading up to this event, so thanks Coach!

There were 5 in my age group.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

PMBAR Race Report

Riding Blaze, my Top Fuel

I had not planned to do this race, but when Kip's partner had to bail, I jumped at the opportunity.  For one, it is one of my all time faves, and two, Kip and I have partnered up before (Double Dare) and he is THE BEST team mate: strong, supportive, and always positive. The weather was un-Pisgah Productions like:  warm and dry.  I did not have to layer up, I only packed a rain jacket because it was a mandatory item, and I left my shower cap at home.

No stupid pet tricks and no prologue, Thank God!

I leaned heavily on Kip's 14 years of PMBAR experience and trail knowledge.  While I knew the forest pretty well, Kip knew it like his back yard, especially since he just raced it last fall.  It was nice to plot out our course at the Start/Finish (with a HR of 70), as opposed to racing up Black and then stopping at Pressley Gap (gasping for air at a HR of 160+). With well oxygenated brains, we decided to to for Squirrel Gap first.

Most everyone else was in front of us, so we took a leisurely pedal up Black ... if you can call an average HR of 155, in the granny gear, leisurely.  Halfway up, I heard a voice from the dead call out my name from behind.  It was Scott "Smooshie" Harper, partnered up with Eric "Dirty Diesel" Henderson.  It had been several years since I have enjoyed Scott's company.  Seeing him gave me all sorts of good energy.  They were on SS and so only had one speed:  hard AF!

We were silent as we headed to Pressley Gap, immersed in our own thoughts about 4 or 5 CP's, do we skip Bradley and just go for 4, or do we go for all 5 and hope we have enough energy at the end to make the 5th one productive.  By nabbing 5 you get a 2 hour time bonus, but you don't want it to take 2 hours to get the 5th one, or the time just cancels itself out.  When we hit the top, we decided to go for Bradley Creek/FS 5015 next, followed by Trace Ridge, and Fletcher Creek.  Then at that time reassess going for the 5th one at Pilot Cove.

South Mills --> Buckhorn --> Squirrel seemed like a more funner way to CP #1 as opposed  to South Mills --> FS 476 --> Funnel Top --> Horse Cove --> Squirrel Gap.  We were not sure if it would be any faster, but at least I would get to ride more of my favorite trail, Squirrel Gap.  Fast forward 30 minutes later and I was giving all the roots on Squirrel a good cussin.'  Having not ridden technical trail since The Snake Creek Gap TT, I was definitely rusty.  Kip probably got a chuckle here and there, at me cussing my favorite trail. 

We nabbed the first CP at 10:30;  2 1/2 hours to cover 16 miles. Pretty standard for Pisgah. We had been yo-yo'ing with several other coed teams, none of who I knew.  All I could say is that they were all podium contenders, for this race relies heavily on navigational skills, overall fitness, and just a downright doggedness to finish. 

We then rode Squirrel Gap over to Laurel Creek.  I let Kip take the lead here, as I knew this was a tricky and often times sketchy, muddy, descent riddled with slimy water bars.  And I didn't want anyone behind me giving that NASCAR push.  Two-thirds of the way down, I see Kip unwrapping himself from his bike.  Apparently a guy was walking down "the line" and Kip decided to hit the alternate, which when he dropped his front wheel over the water bar, it sunk up to the axle in mud, catapulting him down the trail in a somersault fashion.  Fortunately only his pride was hurt and with a quick wrench of the handle bars, he straightened everything out.

It was tight riding to the intersection of FS 5015 because the rhododendrons had enveloped the trail.  I took it conservative, since I was riding blindly through the thick underbrush.  We arrived at CP #2 at 11:24 am with 21 miles in our legs. We got our passports stamped, took a nature break, and shoved some food down our pie holes. 

Bradley Creek/FS 5015 CP

Kip could have refilled that bottle by wringing out his shirt.

FS 5015 was off-limits, so we were afforded the opportunity to see the trail work on Bradley Creek the local horse group of Pisgah did, taking out 30+ trees (or was it 60+?).  Despite the work, we still had to push our bikes for a majority of the trail and there were still about another 30+ trees down to negotiate.  At least the 11 creek crossings were only knee deep and the water was refreshing.  Rich Dillen and Watts Dixon passed us during this walking section (they were hauling ass!)  How were they behind us?  

Since we had so much time on our hands to think, while walking, we were trying to do the math on our competition.  Some teams we had passed (we thought), and we were leap frogging one on this section. We saw a couple teams coming down Bradley Creek:  were they coed or female?  As good as we could surmise, we were at least in the top 5 (there were 13 coed teams).  Kip seemed to be in a more competitive mood than I. I was just wanting a good day playing bikes ... that mindset would change later.

Once up on FS1206, we motored over to North Mills.  Just 30 yards before the bath rooms where we were stopping for water, there was a team filtering water from a creek. πŸ˜†πŸ˜†πŸ˜†... poor rookies! Here I refilled my CamelBak, took a modern nature break in the rest room, re-lubed with Chamois Butt'r, and ate some more food.

Saving my ass one race at at time

Then we began the arduous climb up FS5000 to Spencer Gap to Trace Ridge, CP #3.  At 5 miles long and 1000 feet of gain, we had plenty of time to make small talk.  This section brought back the hilarious story riding the North Mills area trails with only a front brake.  You see, several years ago, my friend and I did a bike-cation here.  Prepping for the trip, I was in somewhat of a rush to remount a tire on my rear wheel in which I just had the rim replaced.  Fast forward to starting the Spencer Ridge descent and the rear brake didn't seem to have any power. Upon stopping and inspecting the issue, I had forgotten to put the brake rotor back on 😝.  Oh well, I must have survived, because here today I was going to experience that descent again, with full stopping power!

We arrived at the Trace Ridge CP, our 3rd one, at 1:28pm, and 33 miles ridden.  Allie was manning the station and had trays of homemade goodies.

Oasis at top of Trace

Holy moly!  So scrumptious!

I ended up eating 3 of the chocolate chip/peanut butter/oatmeal/coconut balls.  Kip was enjoying all the food, what with a wrap in one hand and a ball in the other.  He made a sad face when I told him the picnic was over and that we needed to go go go.  The racer in me, now with a belly full of goodness was ready to haul butt to our next checkpoint.  

The Spencer Gap descent was sh!ts and giggles all the way down.  I think Kip wanted to go faster, but after the Laurel Creek mishap, the mother hen in me made him follow me.  As we were railing down Spencer, we had to slow for two racers HAB'ing up.  WTH?!?  I am not sure that was the wisest of route choices.  "Bless their hearts."  

At the intersection of Spencer, Fletcher, and Middle Fork, we had to head south on Fletcher to get to the next CP.  We both had a confused look on our face, trying to figure out which way to go.  We decided to follow the the section that appeared to have more traffic.  Fortunately we guessed correctly and soon arrived at our 4th CP, at 1:50 pm, 36 miles into our day.  Looking back in hind sight, I don't know why we had such a hard time deciding which way to go on Fletcher.

Fletcher Creek CP

No sooner had we had our passport stamped when Lea and TJ rolled up.  Where the heck had they come from?  Kip knew this team and had told me how strong they were.  We had leap-frogged a little with them in the beginning, but had not seen them since the second CP.  With my racing blood now reaching the boiling point, I was anxious to take off.  Meanwhile, Kip was giving away our tactics as TJ asked questions about how we getting to the finish.  I gave Kip the "stink-eye," motioning him to c'mon.  However, it did make me ponder on whether or not they were going for Pilot Cove, since they didn't ask how we were approaching that one.

Finishing the descent on Fletcher, we came upon another team hiking up ... poor newbie souls.  Once we backtracked down FS5000, we began climbing back up to Yellow Gap.  Even though the fatigue monster was grabbing at my rear wheel, I dug deep to find every available watt to try and put as much distance between us and Lea/TJ. Once at the top there was a bit of a reprieve as we continued on FS1206, bypassing the first entrance to Pilot Cove.  

We were going to do an out/back at the west entrance.  Our only question was to stay straight on Pilot Cove-Slate Rock or right onto the Pilot Cove Loop, once we entered the single track.  Kip saw a team ahead of us and rode up to them to gather some intel.  Based on what they told Kip, we opted to just stay on Pilot Cove-Slate Rock.

I have only ridden this trail twice in my life so I forgot about the nice but short meandering path that led to a 10-15 minute HAB.  Now, I don't mind HAB's as it gives me a break from sitting on the bike.  However, today this one almost made me cry for Mommy.  I don't think Kip has seen this side of me before, but even a former QOP (Queen of Pisgah) can have her low moments. 

My calves were shot, especially the left one.  I felt a couple twinges of a cramp coming on; fortunately it never happened, but oh, they were tight!  Finally we crested the top.  I was thinking we were there, but we had to descend a couple hundred yards to the CP.   It was now 3:45 and we had gone 48 miles. Bryan, the one manning it, was filtering water for everyone.  That was a life-saver, as we were both running on empty.  A quick refill had us turning around and HAB'ing back up.  The descent back down was not easy and required more effort than I wanted to give ... me tired!  It had taken us an hour (just as Kip had predicted) for us to nab that final CP, so that was a small victory in netting an hour to our advantage.

Now all we had to do was make our way back to the finish.  Having not seen TJ and Lea, we assumed they didn't try to nab a fifth one.  So that just left us thinking about any teams that might have done the route clockwise.  Bryan had told us we were the first ones with 5 CP's in the CCW direction, but that two teams had come through his check earlier in the day in the CW direction.  

We went FS1206 --> FS476 --> South Mills --> Buckhorn --> Clawhammer --> Pressley --> Black.  We figured it would be a 2 hour push to the finish.  I was poop dog tired, but kept trying to rally.  At the intersection of Black and Clawhammer, I waited on Kip as he stopped to filter one more bottle.  There was a fellow there, didn't see his partner, but he was debating going up and over Black or taking the gravel over to the final descent on Black.  He also told me he was 60 miles in and only had 2 CP's ... ouch!  I advised the gravel back.

The climb back up to Pressley involved tales of rattlesnakes and what's for supper.  I was now smelling the barn.  And with the new re-route on Black, there would be no more HAB.  I let Kip take the lead down Black, but mothered him to riding safely within his means.  Together we crossed the finish line at 6 pm, 65 miles and 9700 feet of climbing later.  

Eric told us that we were the first coed team to get all 5 CP's.  We nearly knocked each other over leaping and hugging one another.  That was a mighty fine, but hard day playing bikes.  We were both stoked, as this was Kip's first PMBAR podium, and the top step at that.  Mr. Positivity pulled my sinking spirits upwards more than once.  And for the first time ever, I got all the check points and had ridden the most efficient route to get them.  We only took the map out twice during the day, which made me feel that I finally earned my Pisgah "stripes."  I do believe this was Kip's first time finishing in daylight.  

We were both a little disappointed that buckles were only given to the men's podium.  Not as much for me, but for Kip, so that he could proudly wear a Pisgah Productions buckle.  Because those are hard fought and hard earned.

Kip, I had the ride of my life.  This was the "easiest" PMBAR yet.  But how could it not be, with you at the helm.  Thanks for the support, friendship, the laughs, the ponderings, and telling me about your little πŸ’œissue AFTER the race was over 😲.  If you need a pinch hitter for 2023, count me in.

Eric, thanks for doing what you do.  Your events are the hardest ever (in my book) and constantly challenge my mental fortitude as well as my physicality.  The day after was one of the worst bike hangovers ever.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

War Daddy Race Report

John and I with THE Trevor Wells, Kentucky's greatest storyteller and ex-pro "brakeless" bike racer

This race is touted as THE hardest gravel race in Kentucky, what with 68 miles and 9500 feet of climbing.  You know it is when 95% of the bikes are mountain bikes and the lead out vehicle is a side by side. Every type of terrain is in this race: pavement, chip seal, gravel, chunky two track, ORV trail, single track, a creek, and finishing it off with an abandoned coal mine.  It is a perfect blend such that you actually feel like you are going somewhere and not just riding in circles, thinking you have repeated a section. I chose to race Ripley, my Trek SuperCaliber with 2.2 XR1 tires.


This was the first race of the year where I felt really ready.  I had decided to defer the Big Frog 65 to 2023, knowing that my body is not quick to recover from back to back races.  My hip injury had finally resolved, putting me in a much better mindset.  Having tapered and rested well for Saturday, feelings of doubt crept into my head after John and I did a short ride after arriving at Mary Breckenridge's Wendover, which is where we stayed for the race. My legs felt really heavy during the ride as well as after when I had to climb two flights of stairs up to my room. 

I had convinced John Switow to join me on this adventure, especially after he MADE me to the 110 mile course of the Appalachian Journey; I had initially only planned on doing the 65.  And, knowing the photographer that he is, he would capture the course on film, from which I could then steal for my blog.  Poor guy, I use and abuse him all the time, but he still plays bikes with me πŸ˜†πŸ˜†πŸ˜† 

I had raced this back in 2019 and so got the traveling trophy, a WW1 helmet, that the winner gets to sign and then bring back to the following year's event.  Well, 2020 didn't happen (COVID), and then in 2021, I had wanted to race it, but Marji Gesick was the same weekend.  Julie Durkee won the race in 2021 and was back to defend the title.  There was no doubt I was nervous about this slightly built, yet powerful woman, who could not only climb like a goat, but fly on the flats.

After a great night's sleep, I was able to kit up with the sleeveless jersey.  Starting temperature was 61 degrees!  Highs were supposed to reach the mid-70's, with no rain in the forecast.  About ... damn ... time! It was a shotgun style start ... meaning once Trevor "shotgunned" a can of Busch, it was go time.  

The start was a 5 mile neutral roll out through the town of Hyden.  Neutral enough that I could actually carry on a conversation with others.  This was a perfect 20 minute warm up for my engine. A few people came out to cheer us on, including one that had a sign saying, "It is OK to cry."  πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ The race was on when the Sheriff's car pulled off at mile 5.  The humming of 100+ tires on this one lane country road kept the dogs at bay, as not one wanted to tangle with what sounded like a swarm of African honey bees.

At mile 7, the first big climb (paved), Owl's Nest, let me know that my legs had come to play.  Dare I say "sparkly" so early in the race? Even with pitches of 18%, the legs did not bark. That put the needle square in the middle of "F*ck yeah" on my confidence meter.

Julie passed me about 1/2 way up.  Not wanting to burn any matches, I let her go, but kept her in sight. Once I reached the top, I knew the descent was going involve a lot of drifting through the loose gravel.  Feeling I could faster, I passed by Julie, bidding her a fun day, and then let 'er rip!  I didn't go above my pay grade, but I was living on the edge. I did get squirrelly one time, but fortunately had enough road to ride it out.

This gravel road rolled on a bit with a few more small climbs and descents.  A couple of guys joined me on this section, for which I was grateful:  Rico, Harry, and another fella whose name I did not get.  Popping out on River Road, I was fortunate to be in a group.  Harry, who had meat sticks that could push a sh!t ton of watts, led a fast pace along this smooth section of pavement and gravel.  I was still pedaling comfortably hard in his wake.  I may have burnt a match or two staying on Harrly's wheel.  But I also knew that Julie was just behind me and was an absolute hammer on the flats.  I did pop a couple of times, but managed to latch back on when the road tilted upwards a short piece.  

I did not stop at Aid Station 1, as I still had 1 full bottle.  I noted my time of 1hour 17 minutes, which was darn near close to my 2019 time.  How did I know that, you ask?  Because even I read my race reports for the beta.

The second climb, War Baby, came at mile 21.  Although it was only 1.3 miles long, it averaged 8.3% and saw grades of 18, 23, and 28% pop up on my Garmin. Even though it was mostly paved, the steeper pitches were loose gravel.  The legs never whimpered and I was able to give 'r to the top.  Gone were the mud bogs of 2019; so I was able to send it straight down the descent off the backside.  I parted ways with Harry, who was riding a rigid hardtail.  Later that evening at Wendover, while waiting to shower, we discovered that we had both attended TMI Academy in Sweetwater, Tenessee, during the early 80's.  Crazy how that happens.

Halfway down was where the road became a creek for about a half a mile.  Employing Trevor Tip #1, I "saw the line and became the line," which was pretty much following the flow of the creek water.  Amazing what 60mm of rear travel can do, as I was able to pass a couple of fellas on this section.

Confluence Road after the creek descent.

Confluence Road, after the watery descent

A short respite of "flattish" dirt roads with a few scattered mud holes and short creek crossings led me over to the War Dwarf climb at about mile 25.  I was on fire, in a good way, and able to utilize Trevor Tip #2: hard charge it.  And so I did making quick work of this climb, alternating between sitting/spinning and standing/hammering.

Off the backside was a sick sweet 1-lane pavement descent aptly named Hell For Certain because it went down, down, down.  Don't tell my mother but I hit 43 mph here!  Then another short but buttery smooth section of pavement followed by a left-hander onto Twist-n-Sourwood.  This is one of my favorite gravel roads.

Twist-n-Sourwood climb: smooth gravel and 5% average grade

This 2 mile climb had me in my happy place, what with all the eye candy.  Aid Station #2 (mile 32) was at the top.  This is where I refilled my bottles with Gu energy provided by the race, and washed down a Salted Caramel Gu with a cold Coke ... heaven!  Once again, I glanced at my Garmin and was only a few minutes down from my 2019 time.  

I found myself in single speeder mode along Grannie's Branch.  This was some mighty fine ridge line riding with nice rollers where I could stand and hammer up the short climbs and then sit and enjoy the short descents.  The flow along this 4 mile section was SA-WEET!

It only got better as Grannie's ended with a 2 mile baller descent down to Aid Station #3 (mile 42).  I didn't stop at this one either.  The next 5 miles was my Achilles heel:  5 miles of pancake flat asphalt.  I tried to TT it, but even with my hands resting just on either side of the stem and spinning a 80+ cadence, I just didn't seem to be getting anywhere ... oh, and a head wind.  About 2/3 into this less than pleasant section, Harry and another come ripping by me like they were on e-bikes.  I waited too late to jump on and just floundered in their wake ... meh.

I couldn't wait to see the War Daddy climb; am I crazy to dislike the flats?!?  Finally off the pavement and slowly climbing up to the ultimate beasty climb of the day, I was getting excited!  And there it be:  1 mile of nasty gnarly chunky steep AF enhanced gravel, at an average grade of 11%.  I shifted up to the pie plate and began climbing one pedal stroke at a time.  This was the only climb with limited shade and at 12:45pm it was getting hot!  Bring it, Ken-tuc-ky!  Is this all you got?  I was groovin', enjoying the punishing climb, because this is what living it about!  The sparkle was definitely in me today.  I caught back to Harry and the other fella, tried to give them some words of encouragement, passed them, and didn't see them again until after I finished.

At the top of War Daddy, the climbing doesn't stop.  Another 5 miles of rollers to Aid Station #4.  These rollers were not as tame as those on Grannie's Branch, but still had a decent amount of flow that you could use momentum to your advantage if you didn't touch your brakes.  Using every bit of body english and both sides of the road, I tried to expend as little energy as possible, because I knew the last 13 miles was going to be an SOB.

I stopped at the final aid station to fill one bottle and enjoy another cold Coke.  This time I just grabbed the whole can, instead of the little "pee" cups they had at Aid #2. No sooner had I pulled out of the aid station to begin a nice gravel descent, I came upon at least 10 horseman coming up towards me.  Dag nab it!  I stopped, got off my bike, and began walking.  The lead horse was still acting spooky, so then I picked up my bike and carried it.  Apparently, they don't like hearing the "buzz" of my Industry 9's as much as I do.  Soon they were past me and I was able to remount just in time for a hard right and a steep climb.

And then the Redbird Crest Trail began.  This moto trail is very similar to the Tibbs Trail in North Georgia.  Chunkified, steep, and off-camber.  It was during this 2 mile ascent that I had no less than 5 dirt bikes pass me.  This trail is hard enough to manage when you are in your own little world of hurt; now imagine trying to stay upright and give way to motos spitting dirt and noise at you.  Fortunately, the dudes were polite and took the more difficult line; a few even gave me hoots and hollers of encouragement.

Once at the top, it leveled off (kind of) and I could not believe how good of shape the trail was in.  Had it not been for the 2 HAB's that I remembered, I would have swore I was riding different trail than in 2019,  Kudos to the TrailSick crew and others who put in a lot of hours of hard work cleaning out 6 miles of trail.  As opposed to the umpteenth number of mudholes in 2019, this year there were 5.  The trail was in such good shape, I popped out onto the mining property in record time.

Smelling the barn, I put the remainder of my energy into hammering out this section that ran through an abandoned coal strip mine.  After about 15 minutes, I kept expecting to see the final descent just around the next corner.  Well that corner turned into another that turned into another that turned into another.  You see where I am going with this.  I was slowly dying up here and I could swear that this mine had grown in the last 3 years.

And it wasn't flat by any means; it just kept on undulating.  I think it was here that I finally cracked and let out a Yosemite Sam rant.  That final descent down to the finish line never tasted so good!  I came under the arch with a time of 5:41 and took the "W."  I was only a minute slower than in 2019!  I was super stoked with my result, considering how miserable (physically) I felt during the Appalachian Journey just 3 weeks ago.

After recovering with another ice cold Coke, a sponge bath, and a change of clothes, I hung out at the finish waiting on John, and just enjoying the stoke.  It is so good to have that spark back; I just wish I knew the formula, as it seems to be constantly changing.  Oh, well, I should and try to live in the moment and be gracious that I can do this at all.

Reclaiming the helmet!

John ended up having a good race as well, beating his expected time by 15 minutes.  And after subjecting him to a truly "enhanced" gravel race, we are still friends.

That evening, the racers were treated to an afterparty prepared by John Maggard's family and close friends, including the mayor.  The food was bountiful and amazing and getting to hang around the fire and meet new friends and catch up with old ones was a bonus.  Moonshine and bourbon was plentiful; people enjoyed, but did not get stupid.

This is by far, one of my favorite gravel races.  I love the small town grassroots flavor.  You could see the love that the race director has for the area that he lives in.  And the town supported him fully!  The schwag, finishing award, and podium awards were flowing over.  No one left this race hungry.

Good times and great memories that I will cherish forever.  Writing this just a few days after the event has kind of left me #trailsick.  Fortunately I have a trophy that has to be returned to next year's event, so I guess I am going!