Sunday, September 23, 2018

Dirty 130 Race Report

Finishers patch

Put on by Chilhowee Outdoors, this grassroots gravel race is a self-supported adventure through the Cherokee National Forest.  This is not for the faint of heart, as it boasts 16,000-18,000 of elevation gain, depending on your GPS. There are no aid stations nor is the course marked.  It is up to you to navigate and find resupply points.  Having said that there are a few stores along the route that you can hit up for food and water ... if you get there during business hours.

I ITT'd it last year due to a conflict with the Grand Depart.  My time last year was 12:54 with a moving time of 12:07.  I really was not in "racer" mode then, so I figured that a sub-12 hour time was doable.

"Crockett" be his name, adventurin' be his game!

All this packed onto the bike.  Nothing on my back, save for my phone.

The 6 am start called for the use of a light.  Since the first 10 miles are a climb up Brock Mountain, I used a Bontrager Ion Pro RT mounted on the bar.  Enough lumens to light up the gravel and enough run time to get me out of a jam, should I need a light on the finishing miles.

I was in the fun company of Chris Joice and Scott Rusinko.  We merrily made our way to the top and were greeted with a beautiful sunrise.  Have I said just how much I enjoy riding into the dawn?  Well worth the 4 am wake up call.

They stopped at the top to fiddle with their gear.  Chris had a slow tire leak and Scott needed to take one.  I motored onto FS 80.  Mostly downhill, but chunky as the road bed was made up of rock slabs.  The guys eventually caught me and passed me, along with the TVB dudes and another single speeder.  I approached this descent cautiously, as I did not want to risk a flat for only a couple minutes gain in time.

The Lost Creek (FS 103) passed by swiftly as my legs were feeling sparkly and the was smooth dirt.  I hit Webb Store (mile 32) in 2 hours 43 minutes and caught up to all those who had passed me on the descent.  I took my place in line to refill my bottles from the bathroom sink, dumped in some Infinit powder (this stuff is the crack cocaine of liquid nutrition/hydration), applied some Chamois Butt'r, and began the push to Coker Creek, where the next water stop would be.  I somehow managed to leave before most of the guys.

Crossing creek alongside the rail road in waist deep water, I just "voided" the earlier Butt'r application.  The water wasn't even cold enough to make it pleasant for my feet.  As I saddled back up and hit the gravel of FS 27, I began imagining what my chamois would begin to grow over the next 8 hours. I caught up to Chris and we rode together over to Starr Mountain.  We had some great conversation.

Freshly laid gravel in the first few miles of Starr had me fishtailing through the corners.  Along the false flat, an older gentleman and a young boy had come out to watch us racers.  They also  had a mini aid station set up for us!  That ... was ... so ... cool!  Unfortunately I could not partake, as I had topped off back at Webb's.

Chris slowly pulled away as the road steepened.  I was soon joined by Scott, Colin, and John.  Those 3 miles up to the ridge is one of the harder climbs on the course.  Once at the top, I rolled quickly along and then plummeted down to Hwy 315.  Now that was fun;  the gravel was golden and traction was amazing!

The stretch from Hwy 315 over to Hwy 68 and the Coker Creek Welcome Center is 10 miles of pavement.  But even those are not easy miles.  Ivy Trail and Towee Road have several steep pitches that had me in granny gear.  I even began to question:  Is my brake rubbing?  Is my hub seizing?  Then there are the neverending undulations of Epperson and Hot Water Roads.  Sheez!

I had one of many dog encounters on Towee Trail.  As I passed by a lady who appeared to be holding a GPS like device, I said, "Good morning."  Immediately her 60 pound black retriever mix gave chase.  I soon realized what she was holding was a shock collar remote.  As this dog gave chase, he would be thrown off track by a shock.  It deterred him but did not stop him.  Each time she hit the button, he would wheel around and bite at his side; I suppose he thought yellow jackets were after him.  Even though I was at my limit trying to outrun him (uphill), I had to laugh!

Once the road semi-flattened out, I pulled out my first of two rice cakes.  It had fallen apart in the ziploc so I just tore a corner off and squeezed it like a gel into my mouth.  That savory taste was mighty good going down the hatch.

Rocket fuel!

I rolled in the welcome center (mile 64) in 5 hours 30 minutes.  Still feeling fantastic, I repeated the process I had done at Webb's and rolled out of there chasing John (Team Quigley) and Scott Rusinko.  Joe Brown Highway (FS 40) was a bumpy gradual climb.  Time seemed to fly by and I was wondering why I felt so great.  Could it have been the rice cake I ingested 1 hour earlier?

I descended down to Shuler Creek Road and went into TT mode along this 5 mile flat section.  As I was approaching the turn off to Buck Bald, I came upon Audrey.  WTF?!?  How was she ahead and why was she riding in the opposite direction?  I slowed down just a little (as I was in a zone and feared stopping and legs seizing) as I approached.  She seemed just as confused, turned around, and began back tracking.  I kept it a wee bit slow as I turned onto FS 311, hoping she might catch up.  She seemed to slow up as well, so I went back on track.  I figured it would make for a good campfire story later. (Found out that night that she had ridden the "sucker" part of the lollipop in the reverse direction)

Once again Chris caught me as I was climbing up to Buck Bald.  Which was a good thing, as his phone and Wahoo were both misbehaving.  One of the rules of the race was that you had to take a selfie on Buck Bald.  Since Chris' phone was not working, I vouched for his being there.

How did we ever survive w/o cell phones and GPS?

The mountain in the background is where I am headed.

The descent off Buck Bald and back down to Hwy 68 did not seem as rowdy as last year.  After a brief pedal on 68, I turned left onto Bailey Road and immediately grabbed a good size stick out of the ditch.  Last year I had to fend off two aggressive pit bulls.  Today I got lucky as the owner was out and called one of her dogs back (the other probably had died of East Tennessee lead poisoning or heartworms).  As I thanked her, she responded that it might be wise to carry bear spray or mace.  I had to bite my tongue as I wanted to respond that I wouldn't have to if you were a responsible pet owner.

One steep kicker up to Duckett Ridge (FS 22) and I was rolling along and feeling fantastic.  I love this section; it has super flow!  I rocked it all the way down, crossed the little bridge and then that devil of a 1 mile climb up McCulley Mountain.

I caught back up to Chris as he was HAB'ing this section and throwing some food down.  I must say I really enjoyed his company for a good portion of the day; a great motivator.  Sadly, this would be the last I would see of him.  The remainder of the ride I was by myself.  Which is not a bad thing;  it is during these times of the race, when you are hurtin' and have to dig deep that you truly get to know yourself. Having done hundreds of races, I know that these lows are inevitable.  Where before I feared them, now I embrace them.  They will pass.

Motoring along the pavement of Towee Pike and Childer's Creek, I stopped alongside the road and filled two bottles from the adjacent creek, popping a filter tablet into each.  I did not want to pedal off route to purchase water at the Reliance C-Store.  I knew there was a piped spring around mile 106, but would need water before then.

Pedaling along PowerHouse Road, I relished my second rice cake and took a time check.  It would be interesting to see if I had the same surge of energy (in about an hour) as I did with the first cake.  Kim was roadside taking photos.  I slowed down and briefly chatted; she said that Rusinko was just ahead.  I didn't take that to mean too much as "just ahead" could be 30 seconds or 30 minutes!

After crossing the Hiwassee, I began to smell the finish.  Kim had prepared home made chili and I was eager to be off the bike and not seeing food as fuel but as an opportunity to enjoy the company and stories of the other racers.   By now, the rice cake had time to kick in ... and I can say that I did feel the surge of energy.  I hit the 4 mile FS 236 climb aggressively, utilizing every bit of glycogen and grit that I had.  I stopped at the pipe spring to refill one bottle.  Then a short descent, a bit of a false flat, and then the "test your mettle" climb began.

The last big push (1800 feet, 11 miles) was daunting but doable.  I wanted to do it fast! But at 107 miles in, with everything aching, fast was only in my mind.  The first 3 miles I felt great, all things considered.  Yes, my low back was achy, my left shoulder felt like someone had a knife in it, and my right foot was on fire, but I was good.  THEN ... the right hand turn onto the double track of death climb.  Oh My God!  So chunky that I began to cuss every slab of rock.  Just around the corner would be more climbing.  The short descents were no fun either ... just a way of making me climb the f*!! more.  Even drinking water became an effort, causing my heart rate to increase by 10 bpm.  I looked at my GPS, seeing 10:25 elapsed time.  I told myself, "You can suffer 1 hour longer ... you got this."

A mile later, after I tried another little surge, my field of vision narrowed and I got a little wonky.  Hmmm ... this must be what low blood sugar feels like.  So I stopped and threw down a handful of Cliff Shot Blocks.  Hopped back on the bike and eased back into the climb.  Within 10 minutes, I felt better and proceeded to descend the final bit down to FS 68.

Hitting 68, there were still 5 more miles of climbing before I would begin the final 10 mile descent.  As I was chugging along, I was passed by about 15 motos, a wee bit annoying as a couple came rather close to me.  Once at the top, I saw I had a chance to hit the finish in 11 1/2 hours.  I also knew from last year that this descent is not easy.  My body was so thrashed that every little bump felt excruciating.  It's funny, for the past 3 hours, I was looking forward to getting to this point, but now that it was hear, I was dreading it.

The miles ticked by ever so slowly that it felt like climbing miles.  Just get me to the pavement, I kept telling myself.  Never was I so looking forward to blacktop.  I relished the few brief ups as it gave me a chance to stand and relieve the pain in my hands and low back.  I came upon the moto guys who were spread out all in the road.  I had to "ahem" them several times before they gave notice and moved their machines.  If they only knew how many miles I had pedaled under my own power, many egos would have been popped.

Finally to the pavement, where mph's exceeded 40!  Yaaassss! Almost there.  I almost got taken out by the Great Pyrenees, who thinks that section of road is his to protect.  Close call!  I was just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the finish.

I had the brief thought of. "I am getting too old for this shit!"  But then quickly realized I picked a sport that is ageless.  So I guess I am stuck with doing this crazy pedaling for hours on end.

I rolled through the finish line in 11:28, beating last year's ITT by 1 hour 26 minutes!  I also managed a 3rd overall, which I am pretty stoked about.  Guess I am not too old.

Kim Murrell out did herself with this Grand Depart.  I had a cold creek soak, followed by a cold water hose shower, and bottomless chili with all the fixin's.  And great stories to be had around the picnic table as we awaited the arrival of others.


Winner's buckle

Relive 'Dirty 130'


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Pisgah Monster Cross Race Report

This year's course was different, lollipop style and not using the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The "stick" was 20 miles and the "pop" was 31 miles, with 25 of that being new gravel and pavement.  I was glad to have endured an out and back drive from my home a couple weeks back to recon the "pop."  My weapon of choice was my Niner RLT RDO.  Although the new gravel had some chunk to it, there was not enough to justify the Niner Air 9 RDO.  I ran Maxxis Rambler 40/38 combo.

At the start, the temperature was a comfortable 68 degrees, and conditions dry.  I looked around to see both familiar and unfamiliar faces in the women's field.  With no pressure being placed upon myself, I was looking forward to a day of brutal fun, which is what I would expect from a Pisgah Production event.

The start was controlled until the turn off onto FS477.  After that, the dust kicked up as the front runners pulled away.  I was soon among a few slowly churning up the 5 mile climb.  While I was waiting for the engine to come to life (which these days seems like 1 hour), I felt twinges of tightness and slight pain in my left hamstring.  Not like a cramp, but like I had a slight pull.  When the gravel pitched up and I had to up the wattage, the hammie would start to complain.

Me:  Hammie, why are you being so fussy today?
Hammie:  Probably because you made me run twice this week.
Me:  Well that should not be a big deal.
Hammie:  Well, it is.  I don't like it.
Me:  If you keep whining, I am going to go to Revive Massage Therapy and have Virginia work on you.
Hammie:  Oh, GOD!  Please, no!  Not those hands of steel!  I'll be good.  Just give me another 30 minutes to loosen up.
Me:  15 and it is a deal.
Hammie:    O.K.

I endured the tightness up FS477.  Once on the ridge, I was able to connect with a small group and ride their coat tails down to Hwy 276 and over to FS475B.  Fortunately, the tightness and pain worked its way out on the short climb up FS475B.  As I was descending the 5 miles down to FS475, I was smiling almost the whole way, until I realized that I would be climbing back up this SOB in about 40 miles.

The first aid station was at the intersection of FS475B/FS475 at mile 15.  I had no need to stop and so motored on.

I felt life coming back into my legs as I climbed up FS475B and chatted with a JA King racer who had done the Ozark Trail 100, which is coming up in 3 weeks for me.  We were talking so much up the climb that we might have semi-annoyed another racer in our company.

The descent off Gloucester Gap had my eyeballs bouncing around in my skull with all the stutter bumps.  If that wasn't enough jarring to give me an "on the bike" concussion ... sheez!

Taking a right onto Hwy 215, I began the arduous 5 mile climb.  At least it was paved.  I settled into a rhythm which kept my heart rate in zone 3.  For the most part I was alone.  There was one group of 2 that passed me halfway up.  At first I latched on, seeking a little shelter from the wind, but when I saw my heart rate heading to zone 4, I knew I had to back off.

Then Mr. Squeaky Shoe showed up.  He passed me at a pretty good clip so I didn't immediately latch on.  And I really did not want to hear that god awful noise for the next 15 minutes.  But then he must have slowed up a tick or two as I was able to bridge.  Fortunately, the noise was a metronome for my breathing, so I just made a game of it and all was well.  I was able to push it slightly faster, get some drafting in, and do some good abdominal breathing the remainder of the climb.

Turning left onto FS4663, I passed Mr. Squeaky Shoe and saw some racers just ahead.  So now the carrot game ensued.  This section of gravel was more of a freshly graded dirt surface.  Mostly packed, but with some soft spots, I was grateful that it was not raining as this would have been a muddy mess.  This section was rolling and with just a few short kickers that I could stand and power over, I was in my zone!  Towards the end it turned down sharply and I had to be light on the bike as pointy little rocks began showing up through the dirt.

The gnarliest descent of the day was on FS 4663C, about 1 mile of pretty steep chunky and loose rock.  This was one place, albeit short, where a mountain bike would excel over a gravel bike.  I caught up to Rich here, but having a hard tail with fat tires, I soon lost sight of him.  I just told myself to settle and not do anything stupid, like bang a rim or slice a tire.  I had already seen at least 5 racers with flats leading up to this point.  I would rather be a bit tentative than have to plug or tube a tire.

Popping out onto Charley's Creek road, I rode onto the wheel of none other than THE Rich Dillen, who was questioning his decision to be out here today.  I am not sure what happened to his "old man watts" as he is usually far ahead of me.  Mebbe too much carbo loading the night before or mebbe (as I can attest to) being a parent of a teenager had his adrenals shot.  Whatever the case maybe, I think I stoked his fire a bit, as he passed me on the next section of gravel, Wolf Mountain Road.  This 5 mile section was fairly rugged on a gravel bike, what with dodging mud holes and wash outs, descending chunky embedded rock, and then climbing short but steep pitches.  My eyes were definitely glued to the "road."

I came into aid 2, mile 38, did a bottle swap, and gulped a caffeine laden gel.  Hopping back on the bike quickly enough so that my legs did not think the day was over, I hit the second deep gravelly descent (the first was just before the aid station).  Not fighting the bike but letting it go where it wanted to, I "skied" down to where the road turned to pavement.

I let go of the brakes and enjoyed some free speed off the mountain, about 2 miles worth of curvy ass road.  That ... was ... fun! Turned left, rode across a bridge, and then the road went straight UP!  Ouch!  This 1 mile grunt had my legs calling me all sorts of terrible names.  Cresting the top, I enjoyed some more free speed downhill before hitting the final 4 miles of pavement back to Hwy 215.  After looking behind me and seeing no one in sight (I was hoping I could latch onto a train), I put my head in TT mode and drilled it.

Hwy 215 came and went and then I was back on the "stick" portion of the route.  Indian Creek Road came and went as I had a racer pass me, which then encouraged the body to go a little bit harder. When I turned onto FS475 and hit the stutter bump section, I had to fight for every inch of that climb.  Too loose for me to stand and hammer, I had to sit and endure the back wrenching bumps.  Time seemed to come to a standstill here.  I finally hit Gloucester Gap.  My back still felt like someone was putting a hot iron to L5.  I endured the pain during the 4 mile descent, knowing relief would come during the 5 mile climb up FS 475B.

I think the caffeine finally kicked in on this arduous climb, as I flew by several racers.  One told me that I was the second woman.  That was a pleasant surprise, for all day long, I had no idea, other than Kaysee, who might be ahead of me.

It felt oh so good to just stand and hammer, giving the back some much needed relief. Standing for 20 revolutions, sitting for 20, I repeated this process until the short descent down to Hwy 276.  As I began the final climb back up the highway and onto FS477, I felt like I was carrying some pretty good speed.  But halfway up, I had a single speeder pass me.  I couldn't let him go without a fight.  I picked up my wattage and bridged the gap.  As we hit the rollers, I passed him slowly, allowing him to latch onto my wheel.  We stayed together until the gravel pointed downwards.  At this point I seemed a little more willing to take chances through the sketchy corners and dropped him.

As the road flattened out beyond the horse stables, I was in as low a gear as I could go.  I had two guys (who I had passed earlier on the FS475 climb) pass me doing mach 4 and didn't even have a chance to give chase.  They managed to just stay out of my reach.  Dang!  That would have been nice to tuck in behind them for the last mile or two!

The barriers make it Eric Wever legit!

Photo Cred:  Icon Media Asheville

Too tired to attempt barrier hopping, I at least managed to crawl over them without falling.  I finished with a time of 5:38:37, good enough for second.  But most importantly another coveted buckle!

No better podium company than these fine lasses!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

HardFord 50 Race Report

This second running was a far cry from the first back in 2014.  Back then, Mother Nature unleashed her fury upon me and 50+ other racers in the form of rain, sleet, and snow.  Temps hovered in the 30's and the visibility was down to 50 feet at the highest points of the race due to heavy fog.  I dressed appropriately and survived.

2014 race attire!

I was much happier at the start this year in a sleeveless jersey and shorts.  I chose to race my Niner Air 9 RDO with 2.0 Bontrager XR0 tires.  This was a "six of one, half dozen of the other" course.  I chose the mountain bike more for comfort as this was a training race for me.

With sunny skies and a starting temperature of 70 degrees, the Knoxville SS Mafia (Gary, Chris, and Jimmy) paced us comfortably on the pavement to the first climb.  After the hard right, all hell broke loose and the race was on!  I chose to ride a comfortably hard pace up the first climb.  I wasn't sure where all the ladies were; well, save for Kaysee, who was probably in the lead group putting a hurtin' on the boys.

At the top of the climb I was feeling good, so stayed at that effort.  Rolling along the ridge line, I caught up to Sierra and hopped on her wheel.  She was on a gravel bike and not knowing her, I bided my time. I just kept it in my happy power place.  A short gravel climb had me slowly pulling away from her.  Not looking back, I just kept the pedals turning.

Further up the climb, Elizabeth caught me. We fist-bumped, chatted about how stoked I was to have my team wearing her socks ... and then she just rode me off her wheel.  WTF?!? After all the warm fuzzies she showered upon me, she abandoned me?  Nah, but seriously, she was going faster than I cared to so early on.

That 3 mile descent was a hoot!  I was loving the extra 10mm of tread, straightening out the corners, and passing several skinny tired bikes in the process.  I was extra careful in the corners as I did not want to become someone's hood ornament.

Crossing under I-40, I caught sight of Elizabeth on the pavement paralleling the Pigeon River.  This was a gorgeous stretch of road and with my legs feeling good, I decided to try and reel her in.  "Slow is fast," I kept telling myself.  I did not want to blow myself up, so just barely kept her in sight.  As the pavement turned to gravel, the forest enveloped me.  Shade was good!  This climb was 4 miles long, but at a "perfect for me" grade.  About midway up, Sierra caught me. She put the hammer down as she passed.  I didn't respond because I knew exactly what I needed to do to save it for the Max Patch climb.

For a short period, I lost sight of them both.  But at the top of the climb, I saw them turn left onto the gravel of Buzzard's Den.  Sweet!  I rallied a bit at the top and kept them within 100-200 yards as we rolled the undulations of this section.  I let them play the cat and mouse game over the next several miles and slowly caught up to them.  I was most impressed with Sierra's descending skills on her gravel bike.  It was all I could do on my bike to stay connected!  Had I been on my gravel bike, I would have had to take more risks than I would have liked.

Once the road pitched down for the 5 mile descent to Harmon's Den, I bridged the gap and we three rode as one.  The road was a bit slick and muddy in sections, what with all the heavy rains leading up to the race.  I followed their lines down the mountain.  Hitting the flat section just prior to the aid station, I checked my bottles.  One empty, one 3/4 full.  Perfect.  I would not have to stop at the second aid station.  And there would be one less bottle to drag up the 8 mile climb.  I knew I would be able to fill up at the third aid station at the top.

As the three of us approached the aid station, Elizabeth peeled off.  Sierra and I continued. We chatted for a couple minutes, her saying how sketchy the Buzzard's Roost descent was and me saying how she raged it like a pro, right on the edge and just barely in control!

Just before you begin the climb up to the heavens.

At this point, 25 miles in, the legs were feeling sparkly.  I turned the dial up on the wattage meter, seeing if Sierra would respond.  At first she did, but within a few minutes I had opened up a gap.  Turning it up another 10 watts, I decided then and there I needed to make my move.  She, as well as Elizabeth, were equally fast on the descent, and with the last 6 miles being pavement, I needed to put some time on them.

From bottom to top, I felt fantastic.  I once again played my little game of stand and hammer the steeps and sit and spin the "less steeps" in this case, as their were no flats or even false flats.  Towards the top, I caught sight of Jimmy.  In order to catch him, not only was I feeling really good, but he had to be feeling really bad.  He was a BIG carrot and I slowly rolled up to him, finally making the pass after the left hand turn.  He gave me words of encouragement and let me know that Kaysee and Eleanor were ahead.

I had my bottle filled at the third aid station in record time and tried to punch it to the top where the left hand turn onto 2250 was.  I must have been in oxygen debt, as I saw an unmarked left turn and swore that was where I needed to go.  I almost did, but circled around, hoping that Jimmy wasn't too far behind.  I probably only lost about 20 seconds, but it felt like an eternity!  I didn't turn left but stayed straight and soft pedaled.  Jimmy came around the bend and said I was on course.

Great descent for maintaining a healthy bone density, although you might rattle out a filling or two.

Back on the gas, it was that much further when I saw the arrows for 2250.  Turning left, I began the gnarly rutted, cat head littered descent.  Way more fun on the mountain bike!  Having suspension and fatter wheels, I felt like I was flying down it!  After a couple miles of descending, I came to a fork in the gravel road where I knew I needed to go left.  However, ALL the course markings pointed me to the right.  Even the "X" sign (meaning wrong way) was on the road to the left.  All the tire tracks went right.  So if I was wrong, I was in the same boat as everyone else.

This was a hard descent.  I had to be on point as there were washed out sections that I quickly had to bunny hop or maneuver around.  Although it was a net loss of elevation, there were some "ups" that had me feeling a bit of fatigue in the legs for the first time.  Fortunately they were short and I could just grit my teeth and power through.

Towards the end were two creek crossings.  The first was bottom brackett bearing deep, so I opted to cool off the feet and calves.  The second I rode through.  Then a short pedal and the road I was currently on connected back into the road which I should have been on.  I even saw the backside of the wrong way sign (on the road I had been on that I thought was wrong) as I turned right onto the correct road.  Indeed!  Hooligans and their shenanigans!  Fortunately it looked as if all racers had been tricked and at least we were put right back on track eventually ... instead of a 4 mile descent to a dead end!

A few more minutes of gravel descending and then I would be experiencing a time trial of paved hell to the finish!  But as I popped out onto the pavement, I saw my savior!  A Sycamore Cycles racer on a cross bike!  Hoo rah!  Bill made my day!  After hopping onto his skinny ass ... wheel, he pulled me 5 miles to the finish.  It was mostly downhill, but with my fat tires, it still would have been miserable.  And I would have had the added stress of Sierra or Elizabeth catching me. 

Another #bestdayever with me rolling under the finish banner in a time of 4:12:03.  Good enough for third!  I'll take it!  It had been a long time since my legs have felt that good.  I am hoping I am doing everything right and that spark doesn't fizzle out as my A race is September 28, The Ozark Trail 100.

The other podium shots were boring.

Shout out to Eleanor for raging it today on gears (is she getting soft?) and to Kaysee who has grown exponentially into a world class racer.  For me to grace the podium with these Knoxville power houses is humbling.  And I have no doubt that Sierra will be kicking my arse soon!

Not a bad way to finish a great day!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Tatanka 100 Race Report

Let me preface this by saying that all hundie mountain bike races are hard ... damn hard.  If you can finish any of these, you are one tough athlete.  The past few years, I have sought out hundies that are particularly brutal:  100+ miles, shit ton of climbing, point to point, extreme temperatures, huge percentage of single track ... all the things that would push me to my limits and find new ones, and make me cry for my mommy in the process.

So my new hundie in a new state was the Tatanka in South Dakota.  Hosted by the town of Sturgis, the format was different this year.  Instead of a point to point, it would be 3 loops, with each one finishing downtown.  The majority of single track was still the Centennial Trail,  but new this year would be some purpose built single track in Sturgis.  The hundie was actually 90 miles, but with 12,500 feet of climbing and sweltering temperatures, it would be plenty long enough to destroy bodies and minds.

The degree of brutality that this race dishes out was further evident when I rolled downtown to the start line 20 minutes before, the temperature was already 82 degrees (with a high of 99 expected). There was nary a soul, just a few tumbleweeds. My first thought was that the 7 am start was delayed; it wasn't until 5 minutes before the gun went off that the total field of 60 showed up.

The police escorted us out of town at a pretty casual pace.  After an easy 2 mile pedal, we were unleashed onto the first dusty double track that headed up into the Black Hills.  I must make mention that my definition and a SoDak's definition of a "hill" are as different as night and day.  These "hills" were mountains and the dirt and gravel took us straight up.

Aid station at end of each profile

This first double track was steep and loose.  I had managed to stay up with the first 10 or so during the lead out, but ended up getting passed by quite a few on this first section. Having done these races for so long, I paid them no mind; it was going to be a long day and I knew I would see many of them later in the race, hollow shells of their former selves.  I kept to my "slow is fast" pace.  I was rewarded with my efforts by being able to ride with Kevin, the previous director of this race and Perry, the director of the Dakota 5-0.  They were gracious in offering up tons of beta on this new course, as well as taking the time to discuss their passions of being race directors.

Photo Credit:  Randy Ericksen

There were some really sweet hard packed, dirt roads that had been sprayed with a dust retardant.  I was able to make good time along this section, save for the sweeping downhill turn where I lost every stinkin' bit of my momentum due to a group of black angus calves that decided to play in the middle of the road.  Thanks, future rib-eye steak guys, for making me pedal all the way up the big ass hill on the other side.

After a short bit of racing on a paved road, I was dumped onto another double track road that morphed into a ORV chunk and gnar.  After feeling like I was on a rodeo bull, I eventually hit the Centennial Trail.  This first section was high in the Black Hills and was absolutely a hoot.  With a rocky base, exposure, and twisty turny, uppy-downy, I had to be on my toes.  It was similar to Live Wire 2, East Rim, and Grindstone Trails at Raccoon Mountain.  I had my first mechanical here when a dildo shaped rock flew up and wedged itself between my frame and chainring.  WTF!  It was a wonder my turning of the cranks did not break my chain ring or the frame.  I dismounted, said a few choice words, and unwedged the rock, finally getting it out of my bike.

After a few creek crossings which were most welcoming as the temps began to creep up into the 90's, I began a long hard climb up to the Bulldog aid station.  Wishing for switchbacks to lessen the steep grade, I slowly ground my granny until I saw the first welcoming sign that cold Cokes were just ahead.  And chocolate milk!?!  Yeah, I'll take the Coke.  The volunteers were there in force.  My neck was immediately draped with an icy cold wet bandana.  Another volunteer grabbed my CamelBak (which had been dry for the past 2 miles) and refilled it with ice and Heed.  I chugged half a Coke, took a gel shot, and headed back to the bike.  Ryan was there getting brief interviews on his iPhone.  I told him to not count this old mare out yet.  I wasn't quite ready to be a pasture ornament.

Photo Credit:  Randy Ericksen

The 3 mile descent after the aid station was a welcome sight.  It was not easy by any means, as it was steep and loose.  But I did have fun without any squirrely moments.  I knew all this free speed had to come to an end.  It did, with a "kick in the ____" one and a half mile climb up a wall.  But then my favorite part of the course:  a 6 mile flowy descent from the rocky hills to the highway fast single track through the prairie.  Of course, there were some short ups, but with a quick stand and hammer out of the saddle, I was up and over the small bump and on to the next shits and giggles section.

At the bottom, I rode through a culvert under the highway (or maybe some railroad tracks) in which the temperature dropped 20 degrees.  I wondered how many racers bivy'd here, because I could feel the heat rise as the elevation dropped.  I caught up to fellow Rescue Racing team mate Alan Miner in the open fields.  We rode together through the post-holed trail which felt like riding across railroad ties.  While the cows moo'd and watched us from the pond, we slogged our way through the sandy hoof trodden Rough Rider Trail.  At the road crossing, trail angels handed us a bottle of water.  Then on to the hotter than Hades Gasline Trail with its switchbacks of death.  At 95 degrees, I don't care if it is a dry heat or just stupid humid, hot is hot! And my CamelBak ran dry again.

Once on the PeaceKeeper Trail, ice cold water was just a technical descent back into town.  Just had to rail down this one and the Main Trail.  Nailing it, I was on Main Street.  Luckily, the airBNB I had rented was on Main as well.  I had a nice little stockpile of ice cold life-giving goodness in my Yeti.

The only time you will catch me in panty hose.

I refilled my CamelBak with my custom Infinit Endurance liquid gold, ate 1/2 a banana, and wrapped one ice filled panty hose around my neck and underneath the back side of my jersey.  Then I motored on to the start/finish to begin my second loop.  I managed to find a windbreaker and stuck behind him through town, until the interstate crossing, when he started going backwards.  I broke free and was on my own for the 5 mile climb up Vanocker Canyon.

This was an exposed paved climb.  Fortunately the asphalt was light in color or else my tires or brain may have melted.  I repeated a little mantra I had picked up from John Lewer, whom I met and rode with during the Pisgah Stage Race.  "Yard by hard it is hard, but inch by inch, it is a cinch."  I just focused on puting one pedal in front of the other.  Having a couple racers just ahead of me was what I needed to keep me motivated.  I slowly reeled them in.  At the top, where the course peeled off onto double track, there was a pipe coming out of the mountain.  Having my ice filled nylon sock wrapped around me kept me from stopping and perhaps laying in that flow of water for who knows how long.

The double track descent was welcoming but short lived.  Within 1/4 mile, I was once again pedaling uphill ... on Unnamed Trail #1.  After about a half a mile, I named it ... Little Focker!  It was at times an off-camber loose steep grind.  Blessed with an uncanny ability to pedal at 40 rpm on 12% grades, I put my head down to give me an illusion that the trail was flat.  I was granted a 1 mile respite with some beautiful views before hitting Unnamed Trail #2.  I quickly named this one Mother Focker!  Another upward grind.  My teammate Alan managed to get ahead of me during my last stop, as I saw him just ahead ... well, more like overhead.  I could see this dang trail high above where I currently was.  Inch by inch ... I caught him, exchanged a few words, and motored on.

Finally I topped out onto the Horse Trail.  This trail was half-track and appeared to be fresh cut, or perhaps it just wasn't ridden much.  Having a rocky base, it meandered between two peaks, crossing a few low lying wet areas.  It was really pretty, but still really hard.  I was thinking this was more of a game trail than bike trail and had my suspicion affirmed when I passed by a tree stand.  This trail then had one grassy steep ass pitch around mile 60 that went upward to the heavens.  This was my low spot, as once again my CamelBak had run dry and I had a raging head ache.  There was water in my bottle on the bike, but was just too hot to stomach.

I think a tear (just one as that was all my body could afford) came to my eye when I saw the paper plate signs that indicated the BullDog aid station was just ahead.  The first and second loops merged here and followed the same trails back down to town.  I rolled up, dropped my bike, and repeated the process I had done 3 1/2 hours ago.  Funny, but the Coke I had half drank the first time was still in the same spot and half full.  Down the hatch it went.

Rolling down the technical loose, rocky descent, I banged my pedal hard, so hard that it knocked me slightly off course.  And then about 2-3 minutes later, my rear tire got squishy.  I stopped, found the puncture in the tread, whipped out my DynaPlug, plugged it, fired the tire up with CO2, and within 2 minutes, I was rolling downhill.  That was by far the smoothest and quickest flat I had ever fixed.

Unfortunately, my self confidence took a hit with that flat, and made me more cautious than I needed to be on finishing that descent.  Hitting the Bulldog wall climb for the second time, my legs filled up with peanut butter!  That 1/2 mile climb was super painful, but I managed to stay on the bike, knowing that my Walt Disney World ride lay just ahead.  Cresting the Wall, a smile quickly spread across my face as I "whoo hoo'd" my way down over the next 15 minutes.

Then onto the open prairie with the sun baking the landscape.  This was my low spot, but having had this feeling many times before, I knew it would pass.  I focused on drinking and eating and managing what energy I had left.  I ran my CamelBak dry at almost the same exact spot on the Gasline Trail.  I hit the final descent without incident and soon saw my little Oasis on Main Street.  Zeke was there this time. As usual, he gave me encouragement.  After a quick pit stop, I rolled to the start/finish to begin my final loop, with my ice filled panty hose keeping the engine from blowing a gasket.

Rolling through the start/finish and heading out for the final loop.

13 miles and 1600 feet of climbing left.  I was currently in second and realistically had no hopes of catching.  But I could still reach my goal of finishing within an hour of her, which would be a huge accomplishment as she is a maniac on two wheels.  I passed by a father and daughter (who was pedaling a Trail A Bike) on the pavement out of town.  The little girl and I discussed how awesome our bikes were and how fun it is to pedal them.  I bid good day to them as I hit the final bit of gravel to the Sabre Trail.  This paralleled I-70 and had a huge kicker in the middle.  I just stuck my front wheel in the deep groove of the trail and clawed my way to the top.  A left on the Centennial Trail put me on a doozy of a climb up to the ridge.  As I was moving on up, my right pedal felt wonky.  Suspecting that my cleat bolts were loose, I hopped off and checked.  Nope!  Uh, oh!  I grabbed my pedal and it wiggled ... a lot!  Oh, crap!  Upon closer inspection, it appeared that the crank thread insert into the carbon crank arm had broke free.  I had 9 miles to go.  Hopping back on the bike, I gingerly clipped back in.  Fearing that any force applied when unclipping just might completely break the insert and I would be left with only one functioning pedal, I babied the drive side and did not unclip again.  And there was still some steep trail ahead.  I had to go into Mighty Mouse mode!

I saw time slipping away from me during the remainder of the Centennial and Anthem Trail.  I gritted my teeth when sections pitched up to 15% and greater.  But ... I ... stayed ... on ... the ... bike!  Once I hit the Main Trail, I knew I could run it back to the finish should my pedal explode!

I hit Main Street and enjoyed the slow pedal towards the finish with a huge sense of accomplishment.  Earlier that day I had no expectations of a podium finish. I just wanted a fun day on the trail and would let the chips fall where they may.  So when I rolled across in second (10:12:56) with Larissa my biggest fan, I was overwhelmed with emotion.

Just a couple of kids that like to ride bikes ... all day!

Five minutes later, once the adrenalin wore off, I was a wreck.  Funny how focused and intense I can be on the bike, but once my body knows the race is over, it has a major meltdown.  I managed to pedal back to the house and clean my bike and gear.  I then crawled to the shower/tub, turned the cold water on, and laid down in the bathtub for 20 minutes while cold water from the shower head rained down upon me.

I want to thank all involved in bringing this race to fruition.  I could see the tons of love and work that went into it.  I was treated like a rock star out on the trail.  I never had that sinking feeling of being off course; there was plenty of affirmation tape.  The ice at the aid stations was a life saver!  I am not sure if the peel away elevation profile top tube sticker was a blessing or a curse, but it garnered a lot of attention.

I was grateful to be whooped up on by Larissa.  I didn't meet that goal, but should our paths cross in the future, I will try again.  Her bubbliness was contagious and I managed to smile 95% of the race.  Thanks for being an inspiration to all women.

Thank you, Alan, for the words of encouragement out on the trail, even when you were not feeling super duper yourself.

Over the course of 10+ hours, I consumed 230 ounces of Infinit and water.  It took me two hours, 1 Coke, and 1 bottle of water, to work up to a pee.  Unbelievable!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Iron Mountain 100K Race Report

Better put your "big girl pants" on for this one.

New to the NUE Marathon series this year, the Iron Mountain 100K was sure to surprise the average endurance racer. This 54 miler, with 8400 feet of climbing is about as raw and rugged as you can get.  These trails are old school hiking trails that follow fall lines, creek beds, and old logging roads reclaimed by Mother Nature.

Having raced this one 3 years ago and pre ridden portions of it last week, I knew what to expect:  a long ass day suffering in the back country of the Appalachian Mountains.  The course was going to be a little bit greasy due to the recent rains and a forecast which called for the potential for more.  I was ok with that, as I had pretty good experience being a pin ball.

Their were some heavy hitters here to play.  I had no big goals other than to go hard and let the chips fall where they may. In 2015 I had an awesome race, finishing in just a little over 6 hours, in similar wet conditions.  I was hopeful that I could come close to that time.

I chose to wear my Camelbak, as I would have a better time staying hydrated on the mostly technical single track course.  I also decided to refuel with what the aid stations had as opposed to leaving drop bags; I did not want to have to wait a long time for my drop bags to arrive back at the finish.  Hammer gel, bananas, Hammer Heed, and Coke would all work for this engine.

Thankfully no rains rolled in the night before.  The morning brought with it cloudy skies and a starting temp of 68 degrees.  Perfect!  While my Rescue Racing team mates were posing for the Boy Band Rejects calender, I was out on the Creeper trying to bring some snap to my legs.

The start was neutral through town.  Once we hit the Creeper Trail, the pace increased a little and I comfortably stayed mid pack.  About a mile from the road crossing and onto Beech Grove Trail, someone let the rabbit loose and the hounds gave chase.  I initially responded and the legs felt good.  But my heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest!  I looked down at my Garmin and my heart rate was 180bpm!  Not good!  I hadn't seen that number since Michael Jackson was alive and playing on my Sony walkman.  Not feeling good with my heart beating like a hummingbird, I had to pull up and slow it down.

Beech Grove Trail is only 1 mile long but shoots straight up the mountain to connect into the Iron Mountain Trail.  On a dry day and by yourself, it is easily rideable.  But with a train of racers and rocks slicker n snot, I made it about 100 yards, hit a wall of racers, and began the long HAB up. Fortunately, this allowed my HR to stabilize in the high 160's.  At this rate, it did not feel like an alien was going to rip out of my chest.

Once on the Iron Mountain Trail, the trail began to roll along the ridgeline. But that didn't make it any easier.  Some sections were fun, fast, and flowy, but few and far between as the overall profile still had you climbing.  Mostly it was narrow and strewn with large rocks that would smash your pedals or kick your front wheel out from under you or straight up a wide, washed out, rooty nightmare of a climb.  Doable, but once you dabbed or spun out, it was a HAB.  My pace was slower than I wanted; my legs felt good, but anytime I tried to push the power, my heart rate would go in the red.

I was frustrated, but focused on the positive.  I told myself that by staying steady now,  I would have some reserves for the last long climb up the backside of Iron Mountain.  A short section of gravel allowed a short reprieve before hitting another HAB.  I rolled a short bit of ridge and then dropped down a nasty chunky descent.  After a hard right, I was on the Beartree Gap Trail, 3.3 miles of dropper down free speed!  There were a couple short sections of easy pedaling and it was on one of these that I passed by Lara, who was being assisted by another rider.  I found out as she caught back up and came around me rooster-tailing leaves as she sped by that she had dropped her chain and had a difficult time getting it back on.

Checking my CamelBak as I popped out onto Beartree Road, I still had plenty of Infinit and so did not need to stop at Aid 1.  I saw Lara just ahead on the pavement and decided to try to reel her in over the next 3 miles of asphalt.  The rain settled in here.  It didn't take long for the drizzle to settle into a steady downpour.  I whipped out my handy dandy Hampton Inn shower cap and covered my helmet.  Not knowing if this rain was going to last just 30 minutes or all day, I did not want a steady stream of sweat and rain pouring over my eyebrows and into my eyeballs.  This little trick keeps my vision clear and is easy to take off and on as needed.

Drafting off available men, I was able to catch back up to Lara. In am attempt to look back and assess where to hop on the train, her front wheel went off the pavement onto the muddy shoulder.  She narrowly missed hitting the pavement and taking out the train.  I felt bad for her as we rolled past and she mentioned something about her rear derailleur.  I could tell she was frustrated and I hate seeing any racer struggling due to a mechanical.

By the time I hit the Lum Trail, the rain had slowed and was just a drizzle.  This trail starts off relatively easy, but about a 1/3 of the way in, it turns into a beast of a climb.  Several creek crossings with steep entry/exit points and littered with slimy rocks, I struggled keeping the front wheel tracking where I wanted it to go.  At times it seemed to have a mind of its own and I would suddenly be off the trail and pedaling through brush and fallen limbs. I could only laugh at myself!

Passing the shelter, I readied myself for the descent.  Chunky and Pisgah'ish and now wet and slimy with the rains, I "ski'd" down it and hit the "marbles and banana peels" section of Iron Mountain.

0.7 miles of this shit and then later I get to go back up it!

I managed to stay upright and not wander off into the brush on this descent.  After riding through some muddy bogs, I was back on a more manageable section of Iron Mountain and heading for Skulls Gap.  Crossing SR 600, I began the 1 mile gravel climb up to Jerry's Creek Trail.  At 10% pitch, this one is a doozy.  I felt pretty good and my heart stayed in my chest.

Jerry's Creek descent ... a love-hate relationship!  Gets the adrenalin flowin' and the ass puckerin'!  Ahh, good ole half-track, side bench, off-camber, diagonal roots and algae-fied rock Jerry's Creek!  Throw in some rain and about 40 racers in front of me and it turned out to be a "Flintstoning" cuss fest all the way down the initial 2 miles.

This is one of the tamer sections of Jerry's Creek.

I swear my bike tried to buck me off a couple times due to her total embarrassment of my sudden lack of descending skills.  Left foot unclipped, pushing off rocks, and the use of the "butt" brake ... yeah, that was not pretty.  Glad no one saw!

I rolled into Aid Station 2, being manned by Mark Prater, of Karl's Kaleidoscope fame!  This was a full service fill up and windshield cleaning (eyewear, in my case).  Mark asked where Zeke was, to which I replied, "smart enough to have not signed up for this ass-whoopin'!"  After a quick pit stop, it was onto another gravel climb, albeit at a much nicer grade.  I loved the next section of single track, Barton Gap.  One mile up followed by a hoot of a 1 mile descent.  I suppose this was the flow trail of the course.  It was over way too soon.

Trying to get my legs to turn over the pedals on the next 3 mile (with 1000 feet of gain) gravel climb, I felt the first signs of fatigue.  The legs balked but after a few minutes gave in and began cranking out the power.  To make the climb go faster, I alternated between seated and standing.  Doing ascending/descending pedal revolution intervals kept my mind focused on numbers as opposed to how stinkin' long this climb was.  For me, playing these little games during times of suffering makes it a little less painful.  Racing is as much a mental struggle as a physical one; if you can get into the right mindspace, the miles and hours flow better.  And there will be less grimacing and more smiling!

The two mile descent on Iron Mountain Trail back down to SR 600 was where my day almost ended. This section is steep, narrow, and with thick underbrush, it is hard to see the trail at times.  I was in a rhythm of avoiding the baby heads and getting face smacked by rhododendron branches when I hit the two foot rock slab drop a little faster than what I wanted to.  Upon hitting the drop, my right foot suddenly unclipped from my pedal.  This caused me to veer off track and smack a tree with my left shoulder.

After a quick triage of bike and body, I continued on; a little rattled and a little slower, but still moving.  I stopped at Aid Station 3, ate a banana, and topped off my Camelbak for the final push.  Climbing back up the trail, I knew I had a bugger of a section to work through.  The "marbles and banana peels" section followed by a HAB back up to the ridge.  It was here that I thought about Grace Ragland and the Tour Divide.  Not only did she have many HAB's of hell, she had to push a fully loaded (I'm guessing 40-45 pounds) bike up and over Rocky Mountain passes.  Suddenly what I had to do to get up to my "mountain pass" seemed like nothing.

After riding the perpetual rock garden along Iron Mountain over to Shaw Gap, the descent down Chestnut Ridge pushed my forearms and calves to their limits.  By the time I hit the tight right handed switchback, followed by the free fall to the creek, I had lost most of my grip.  I closed my eyes and just sent it!  My Trek Top Fuel squealed with joy; she liked me again!

I stopped at Aid Station 4, chugged 3 cups of Coke, and began the loooong pedal back up to the Iron Mountain Trail.  I was glad that I had eased up at the beginning of the race because I had just enough left to clean the uphill, save for the last 10 yard steep pitch up Sawmill Trail.  During this grind up the mountain, I had caught fleeting glimpses of one of my team mates, Spencer.  He was sangle-spudding it and at times looked to have a cadence of 20 rpm.  Little did he realize but he was motivating me all the way back up to the top.

Feather Branch Trail was one of my favorite climbs as it had a gnarly creek crossing followed by a short HAB, but then planed out to a beautiful piece of single track.  I was able to catch my breath along this 4-6% grade and listen to the songbirds and smell the forest. I took a break racing and just soaked in the beauty of this place I was traveling through.  Damn!  I am one lucky lady to have the time, money, and fitness to witness the grandeur of this country!

Ok, time to focus my eye on the prize again.  I hit Iron Mountain with all 8 cylinders.  I knew it was mostly downhill and no more HAB, so I put my head down and pushed forward.  I thought I was in 5th place, which was cool, because that would earn me a ticket into this event next year, when I turn 50.

I finally caught Spencer; we rode together for a short piece, which reminded me of our travels over the final miles of the Snake Creek Gap TT earlier this year.  Something about riding with teamies that will bring out the best of you.

Then final descent down Moe Holler was beastly.  Steep, baby-head strewn, slick-ass rocks, had me pinballing left and right!  Eyes wide open, knuckles white, and dropper down, I hung on for dear life, relying on the steed beneath me to see me through to the end.  By the time I hit the pavement, I was smoked!  Looking down at my Garmin, I saw 6:31:36.  27 minutes slower than 2015, but I was alive and had made it out of the back country unscathed ... well, except for a sore shoulder.

Content to have rounded out the podium with these speedy lasses!

I really appreciate the hard effort of Chris Scott to bring back this race.  It is one of the hardest I've done, but a favorite.  To complete this beast is a true test of not only one's fitness but mental toughness, grit, and fortitude.  The week before, I had ridden or walked over at least 35 downed trees.  Today, less than 10.  I heard even Jeremiah Bishop was out sawing logs the day before;  one class act!

I must make mention of a fellow competitor I met while scarfing down my burger post race.  This young woman approached me and introduced herself as Nina.  She reads my blog (humbled that I have yet another fan) and told me how it helped her to prepare for this race.  As she was telling me how hard this race was and how much climbing it had, I was looking at her and thinking that she looked so young.  I asked her how old was she.  My jaw dropped and I just about fell over backward when she said 16!  Now that was MOST impressive.  Nina, YOU now have a fan!

Trying hard to remember what I was doing when I was 16, I think I was pretending to be a 5K road racer.  So remember this name, fellow racers:  Nina Machnowski.  I predict she will be a lethal machine in a few years!

As far as my heart goes, I have felt no ill effects of that rapid HR.  I am still not sure of what to make of it.  I just hope it doesn't happen again at the Tatanka 100 in a couple weeks.  And if it does, you betcha I will be calling my doc!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Pisgah Stage Race: Stage 4, Fox Factory's Carl Schenck Route

Distance:  32 miles
Elevation:  4200 feet
Temperature:  50-73 degrees F
Time:  3:51:35

Although I had no problems downing my Christopher Bean Coffee, I had to force myself to eat.  Fatigue and the stress of the first 3 stages was catching up with me.  The drive up to the Cradle of Forestry allowed ample time for digestion.  I got there early to do my 30 minutes warm up, which my legs begged for.  Thank goodness I opted for the 30 minute massage yesterday which had a "Phoenix rising" effect. 

I took my place in the middle 1/3 of the field.  Today's start was 6 miles on gravel, plenty of time to sort things out.  I found Patrick McMahon and hung on to his wheel for the gravelly bits.  The climb on FunnelTop double track was a doozy.  The gravel warm up was perfect and I felt pretty good on this section, despite the steep pitches which is one of my "limiters."

Once again, I found myself riding with John from Jersey.  What a positive motivator!  I truly enjoyed my time with him on the trail.  We, along with his friend Jerry, rallied it down Horse Cove.  The upper part was chunky and loose and the lower was fast and flowy.  A hard left onto Squirrel and I got to enjoy one of my faves again ... this time in the opposite direction.

My PSR racing buddy

Somewhere along Squirrel we pulled away from Jerry, but picked up Rod.  Rod was an amazing descender.  He also was the one behind the cash prizing for the Enduro category.  Even though I was carrying more fatigue, I felt faster on Squirrel today.  It  was probably the direction as well as having practiced my Pisgah dance the last 3 days.

Quicker than I imagined, I was making the hairpin turn onto Laurel Creek.  This was a bugger of a descent, what with the drops, slick water bars, and tight switchbacks.  I was pleasantly surprised to find myself passing several racers, off their bikes on the trickier portions.  Two of the creek crossings I did HAB through, passing several more who didn't want to get their feet wet.  My feet welcomed the ice cold water.  Happy feet are fast feet, so I obliged them.  The second half of the trail was stick-free, as opposed to when I had pre-ridden, where there were at least 100 derailleur killers.  Then a nice knee high creek crossing which brought me to the FS 5015 double track climb.

I settled into a rhythm of seated pedaling and refueling with intermittent periods of standing and stretching the back.  It was during this climb that I asked John how he was going to pay his wife back for him getting to play all week.  His response, which I absolutely loved, was that she enjoyed just hanging out with nature, reading, hiking, relaxing, and having "me" time.  You are a very lucky man, John!

There was a lot of chunky gravel on this climb. I was glad to see the aid station tent, knowing that that the best part was soon to come.  We stopped at the aid station and I grabbed a Cliff mocha gel.  Not so much for the calories, but for the boost of caffeine.

Slightly sweetened and with a hefty dose of electrolytes

I never thought I would be the one to say this, but with Infinit Nutrition, I can now fuel on just fluid alone.  This coming from a seasoned racer of 17+ years who needed additonal calories in the form of gels and chews.  As of now, I would say that for races of up to 5 hours duration, I will no longer need to reach in my jersey pocket for additional calories.  I love that I can dial in the taste, sweet enough to make me want to drink, but not too sweet that my stomach sours.  My formula contained electrolytes to my specifications.  I also opted for no protein and no caffeine in this blend (but will probably have a caffeinated version the next time I  order).

Unfortunately I lost John on the climb up Laurel (he needed a nature break).  So once again I was in my own little bubble.  Laurel Mountain is a beautiful beast of a climb.  I gauge it by the short slabs of HAB rocks followed by 4 climbs, of which today a good portion of each were HAB.  Sprinkled between the HAB sections were good bits of fast flowy tight single track.  Rounding a corner of one of the easier sections, I came upon a racer with a steady flow of blood from his fore arm.  A fellow racer was attending to him.  I slowed and offered my assistance, to which they responded they had it under control. I motored on, wondering how he could have sustained that type of injury on the tamest portion of this trail.  Later I came to find out that he had impaled himself on a rather large stick. Never underestimate even the "easy" sections of single track.

Having seen this, I reminded myself that I needed to settle in on the Pilot Rock descent, which was still a couple miles away.  I soon found myself in the company of Hardwick, one hard core racer who I truly admire.  At 65 years of age, he still has the strength and skills to blow the doors off racers half his age. I found myself digging deep to stay with him towards the end of Laurel.  He dropped into Pilot just ahead of me.  As I rode through the Enduro start, I took several deep breaths to prepare for the penultimate Pisgah descent.  Starting at 4800 feet and finishing at 3300 feet, this 2.25 mile stretch of trail is nothing but a large mountain of rock, weathered by water, shoes, tires, and probably a fair share of broken bikes, bones, and helmets. 

No hecklers today, just encouragers.  Photo cred:  Dave and Dave

I had a hard time keeping Hardwick in sight.  There must be at least 15 switchbacks on this descent.  I have cleaned all of them in the past ... just wish I could do that on one run!  I was rolling through the first ones with ease, but once I choked, then I kept on choking!  Arrgh!  I was approaching the infamous rock garden, thinking the hecklers from hell would be there in force.  But there were only a few people and they were just ... too ... nice!  Well, except for the dog I heard about later at dinner. He was probably worn out and had lost his voice by the time I rolled through.

I popped out onto the gravel and still had a steep climb up to the finish of the Enduro.  Ouch!  That was just mean!  Only 5 miles left.  I put my head down and went into TT mode.  Thankful for the tailwind, I pinned it to the end.  Rolling through the finish line in great spirits, I was thankful I had escaped unscathed and with a relatively happy intact spine.

Strange cravings brought on by a solid 4 days of racing.

After a quick bite of recovery, I moseyed over to the massage tent and enjoyed another 30 minutes of bliss.  Then a quick trip to Sycamore Bikes where they had a bike wash station set up to clean off my steed. She wasn't that dirty, but going through the motions of washing her down allowed me to inspect and avoid potential disaster should there be an issue I need to address.  After a thorough check of the sidewalls, I pulled her off the stand, loaded her up, and went back to base camp to eat some more.

Dinner that night was delicious.  I didn't know which was worse:  the face that this was the second to last meal I would enjoy or that there was just one stage of crazy fun left.

Pork loin, two kinds of salad, and grits

Salted caramel gelato!

Here is a recap of the day's efforts.

One stage left.  In a comfortable lead, would I be able to just party pace tomorrow?