Saturday, March 18, 2023

Garland Mountain 10K Trail Race


So soft and comfy ... the Vuori of race T's

Initially I had signed up for the 1/2 marathon distance, but a nagging patellar ligament injury led me to drop down to the 10k.  I had raced the 1/2 last year for the first time and had a blast.  Rolling into the venue at 7 am after a 2 hour drive, I was happy to be racing the shorter distance.  Old Man Winter is not giving up too easily this spring and the temperature was 32 degrees with 10mph winds.

After doing half of my warm up from inside the cab of my truck (when you are small, the passenger area of Biggie G is perfect for some glute/hip activation exercises and dynamic stretching), I hopped out and ran a few laps around the parking lot.

My warm up view from inside the truck

The race started with me hitting the single track in the top 5.  Wait?  What am I doing up here?  I was going way too fast ... slow down greyhound!  It was hard to settle in at first since the beginning was a steady descent.  When the trail began to rise, I slowed down as my breathing started to become ragged.  Yes, it was only 6+ miles, but I did not need to implode in the first half.

Yesterday, Lisa had messaged me and said to expect sloppy muddy trails, as she was signing the course in a steady rain.  However, the winds during the night must have helped because it was not as bad as I was anticipating.  Last night had me worried about the integrity of my ligaments if I were to experience a slip n slide (think torn ACL or hip labrum).  Within that first mile, I knew I was going to be ok.  While wet and muddy in spots, overall it was in good shape.  And my Hoka Speedgoats never once lost grip.

As I made my way through miles 2 and 3, I was passed by a few racers.  I was running comfortably hard and knew there were just 2 women ahead of me.  As fast as they had gone out, I wasn't expecting to catch them, but wanting to try to hold 3rd.  

At the point in the race where the 2 distances split (4.5 mile mark), the 10k'rs were sent up this steep ass climb.  This segment was 1/4 mile long at an average grade of 12% ... ouch.  I just kept telling myself at least I was not pushing a bike, just myself.  My running went to power hiking in the middle, but once I saw the crest, I began running again.

The next mile rolled and I was able to recover a little.  The final mile included a long steep descent followed by a gut punch 1/2 mile climb to the finish.  The descent was technical, what with loose rock as well as some deep muddy spots.  For whatever reason, I felt confident sending it.  My footwork has definitely improved over the past year or two.  

The final climb was a challenge to not slow down.  My monkey brain was all about "let's just enjoy this finish and take it easy."  Well, FU monkey!  I pushed through the pain of ragged breathing and heavy legs, wanting to  achieve my goal of a sub 1 hour finish.  So ... stinkin' ... close ... 1:01:21.

I ended up 1st AG and 2nd O/A, so extremely satisfied.  Even though my heart longs for the longer distances, my body quite likes the "fast and furious" short stuff.  Wisdom is telling me that not every competition has to be "big and dumb."  So I am going to take this to heart and rethink the remainder of this season.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Snake Creek Gap TT -- 34 Mile

What a difference one month later makes.  Even though the starting temperature was 33 degrees, I was never once was cold.  The light rain the night before did not affect trail conditions.  The course was dry and fast.  "Fast" for Snake standards is still dauntingly tough; every year the rocks grow and the steeper sections get more blown out.  

I managed to get off the line a little after 8 am, thanking the volunteers for "turning the heat up" this month.  I would be more than happy to contribute to the heat bill next year, if they needed the funds for February, too.  There were still a couple puddles to dance around in the first two miles and I used the first climb to warm up the engine.  The first bit of single track was quite "sticky,"; lots of blow downs and smaller limbs to contend with.  Staying conservative, I dismounted for most of the log crossings; one thing I have not mastered is log hopping.

Cruising down the gravel moguls, I had a difficult time accessing my pocket for my gel flask.  Once I managed to get it, I then had to hold it in my mouth until the ensuing climb.  I got squirrely on the descent off Pine Needle Hill, but managed to save it.  The "horsed up" area around Pocket Road had improved significantly over last month.  I found the "secret passage" through the following creek crossing and kept my feet dry.

The Horn Mountain climb was no easier; this one is always a gut punch for me. I rolled down into the parking lot aid station in 1:59.  Only 9 minutes faster than last month ... hmmm.   And those 9 minutes were probably all due to improved course conditions.  I also noticed my heart rate never exceeded 150 on the climbs; well below what I am used to.  I did the same as last month, ditching the CamelBak, grabbing a bottle, and chugging a gel.

Middle Mountain was pleasant.  I had just ridden this section a few days ago with Honcho leading the way.  I imagined him and his floofy little pantalones just ahead of me as I ground my way up this 1.5 mile climb.

I cruised the descent, plowed through the creek crossings, and then began climbing up to the single track section.  I was tired but in my happy place and looking forward to challenging myself on the endless rock gardens for the umpteenth time.  I dropped my seat on the vomit hill descent and, at the bottome, when I hit the button to raise it ... nothing.  Grrrr!  All momentum was lost.  I stopped, removed my seat bag, uninstalled and then reinstalled the battery, and voila!  It worked again.  This was the second time this has happened to me with my AXS Reverb dropper.  I HAB'd up to a level spot and hopped back on.

I made short work of the remaining single track.  Well, not really, but was having so much fun on this last section, the cell towers were there before I knew it.  I finished up with an aero tuck down to the finish, riding through at 4:23.

My second half of the race went much better, shaving off 12 minutes from last month.  And feeling strong while doing it.  And this second half of the course wasn't much different than last month's in terms of conditions, so I gotta say it was my fitness that did it here.  At least that is what I am telling myself.

No other 40+ women showed up, so I took the W by default.  I wish more women would race The Snake, but it takes you wanting to go to the "hurt locker" to sign up for it.

Huge shout out to all the volunteers in making this happen, for the 19th year in a row.  There is so much "behind-the-scenes" work to make this happen.  It is no small feat and they give up a lot of their personal time, so that we can have fun for a few hours.  I am afraid that next year, the 20th, may be The Snake's last.  As much as I would love to continue to race this long into my 60's, if it is indeed the final one, I will shed some tears, but will continue to challenge myself on the "trail that bites!"

I also need to take a deep dive into my own health, as this inability to hit my heart rate at the higher end of my perceived efforts has me concerned.  I feel ok, initial bloodwork is normal, but my cardiovascular system has been "off" since December.  And then I got 2 respiratory infections, one the week before Christmas, and the other the week after my Florida bike-cation.  Could they be a factor still?  Time to get all "sciency". 

Friday, March 10, 2023

Deka Fit Race Report

WTF am I doing?!?

I was nervous; the usual butterflies were replaced by a knot in my stomach that was making me queezy.  You see, this was a first for me.  I was stepping into the unknown lands of a new kind of competition.  Sure, I had done all these moves before, but at my gym, under no pressure, and not all in sequence, going as hard as you can.

Deka-Fit is just one of many competitions under the "umbrella" of Spartan races.  This one had 10 zones, each preceded by a 500 meter run.  

Zone 1:  30 alternating reverse lunges with a 33 pound RAM

Zone 2:  500 meter row

Zone 3:  20 box jump step over

Zone 4:  25 med ball sit-up throws

Zone 5: 500 meter ski

Zone 6:  100 meter farmer's carry with 2 40 pound dumbbells

Zone 7:  25 calorie air bike

Zone 8:  20 dead ball wall overs with 40 pound ball

Zone 9:  100 meter tank push/pull

Zone 10:  20 burpees with a 22 pound RAM

I had done a "dress rehearsal" at a steady but not hard pace two weeks prior, which had taken me 54 minutes.  My goal for today was sub-47 minutes. This was gonna be a fast and furious sprint!

I had signed up in the age group category.  However, during registration, you picked a wave time, so you were not necessarily going head-to-head with others in your age group.  (Something I wish Spartan would change, so I would know who I was racing against.) We were sent off in groups of 5 every 3-4 minutes.  I was in the back, nervously fretting, when there was room for one more with a group of men.  No other women wanted to move up, so I jumped on in with the dudes.

Let's get the party started already!

Each 500 meter run was 2 trips around the arena.  I had done a proper warm up, so I felt good at the start.  Although I felt I could run faster, I wisely settled in behind the guys.  I entered Zone 1 and began lunging out the reps.  There were referees that made sure you did the movements properly, as well as counting out the reps for you.  I made a rookie mistake here, of not touching my knee to the ground ... twice.  The ref did not catch it and gave me credit for the rep, but I corrected myself and ended up doing 2 extra reps.


The second 500 meter run I don't even remember, probably because I was still feeling good.  I do remember, though, having to weave around slower runners.  Starting at 10:30 (first wave went at 9 am) meant there was a lot of traffic on course.

Coming into Zone 2, I made a quick transition onto the rower and began stroking out the meters.  All systems were still going strong.

Coming off the row, my legs were still feeling great.  I made quick work of the 2 laps and settled into Zone 3.  The box here at the competition was padded and not as heavy as the wooden boxes at my gym, but my body adjusted quickly to the slight movement underneath as the stepped over.  

As I headed out for my 4th run, I felt the "sting" of the box overs and it took about a half a lap before the legs livened up. I entered Zone 4 and got into sit up position. Having practiced this at my gym where I was throwing the ball above a 4 1/2 foot line, I was pleasantly surprised that the strike plate here was significantly lower, which made knocking out those 25 reps much easier.

Two more laps around and I entered Zone 5.  By far, the ski felt the easiest.  I focused on using my upper body to pull down, allowing my legs a little bit of a breather. 

With happy running legs, I knocked out another 2 laps and entered Zone 6.  Carrying 70% of my bodyweight, I meandered through the 100 meter maze.  Once again, I was happy that I had misjudged the distance while practicing at my gym (carried the weights 125 meters) because it made this zone easier to manage.

Five hundred more meters of running and next up was Zone 7, my nemesis, the 25 calorie bike.  As much as I love cycling, the hate this machine.  I get nowhere ... slow.  That big resistance fan only makes it harder the faster I try to go.  And this is where the sh!t hit the fan.  My first mental struggle as my body was feeling the effects of the last 7 runs and 6 zones.

The run following the bike was hard!  I focused on just keeping a fast cadence and belly breathing.  I entered Zone 8 and began picking up the 40 pound ball and hoisting it over the 4 1/2 foot wall.  I felt like I was in slow motion. Would 20 reps ever get here?  After what seemed like an eternity, they did.  

Just 2 more runs and 2 more zones I told myself, as I struggled to maintain a "fast for me" pace.  Fortunately there were many "carrots" out on the course for me to try and chase down.  They may have not been in my age group nor my start wave, but I was treating each one as if I was in direct competition with them.

Zone 9 was the tank push/pull.  This was also a resistance machine, meaning that the faster you tried to move it, the harder it got.  I found my sweet spot and just kept the feet moving.  I was so thankful for the volunteer who kept up with my laps; I was no longer mental math capable.

The last run, I was on autopilot.  Running on fumes, I managed to stumble into Zone1, the reverse lunge station, and picked up the RAM to start doing burpees, when the volunteer told me I was in the wrong zone.  HaHa!  I was so fried!  I managed to find my way over to Zone 10 and picking up the 22 pound RAM, which felt like 44 pounds, started to execute 20 burpees.  The fatigue monster was upon me ... so hard to push off the RAM and then get my hips under me so that I could lift this cylindrical weight above my head.

Fortunately the finish line was 5 meters away and I crossed it in 45:45, good enough for second AG and 15th O/A.  I was only 30 seconds off of 1st place.  My 5k running time (10 x 500 meters) was 26:08, fastest in my age group.  I lost all my time in the zones.  But with more practice and more strength, I can better my zone times and hopefully maintain that 5k pace.

Sign me up for the next one, I am hooked!

Zone 1: 1:08 (those 2 extra cost me)       

Zone 2:  2:36 (gotta get stronger)

Zone 3:  0:57 (gotta improve technique)

Zone 4:  1:14 (good enough)

Zone 5:  2:38 (good time and a good place to rest some)

Zone 6:  0:59 (good enough)

Zone 7:  3:28 (pitiful!)

Zone 8:  1:32 (gotta get stronger)

Zone 9:  3:05 (I'll take it)

Zone 10:  1:56 (work on that muscular endurance, you maggot!)

Sunday, February 5, 2023

The Snake Creek Gap TT - 34 Mile

In its typical fashion, the February edition was brutally cold and sloppy.  Heavy rains in the week leading up to race day made me change my mind from resting and attempting a fast time to continuing a build week and treating the race as another day of training.  I knew I would be tired, but my goal was to stay warm and have a healthy mix of type 1 and 2 fun.

I wore ALL the layers for the 21 degree start, including my finger/hand saving SealSkinz electric gloves.  Although bulky, they kept my hands happy for the first half; I switched to HandUp Colder gloves and chemical inserts for the second half.  Although shifting/braking wasn't an issue with the SealSkinz, they were too bulky to pull nutrition out of my pockets, so I opted just to shotgun two gels at the start and rely on Skratch hydration for calories and fluids.  

The 2 mile gravel road lead-in to the climb was full of huge mud-holes, most of which had no ride arounds.  I managed to stay dry by tip-toeing around or riding slowly along the edge.  It probably cost me a few minutes, but I was happily warm and dry. Fortunately the 2 added sections of the temporary Dry Creek bridge made for a dry crossing; that was probably the most swollen I have seen Dry Creek.

Climbing up John's Mountain double track and on to the single track, I could feel the past week's strength training ... ouch.  Granny gear kept my legs' whining to a minimum. Fortunately most of this section was frozen. After crossing pocket road, the mud games began.  Pretty much, after the short initial climb, the next 2 miles were under water.  And I managed to submerge my left foot in the creek crossing. 

The Horn Mountain climb felt a mile longer; what a grind!  My derailleur froze, but luckily I had the three easiest gears to use.  Lord, those 3 kickers to the tippy top hurt!  I sailed down into the Snake Creek Gap parking lot and took my time swapping out gloves, sucking down 2 more gels, and ditching my CamelBak for a bottle.

The sun was out and the temps had risen into the 30's.  I never knew the 30's could feel so warm.  I ground my way up the Mill Creek climb and enjoyed the ridge riding.  It was finally warm enough that I tempted fate and used my dropper for the first time on the Swamp Creek descent.  Past memories of dropper issues in sub-freezing temperatures led me to stiff post the first 17.  It worked and popped back up when I asked ... whew! 

The creek crossings were super deep, but I was glad to have reconned them last month.  Knowing the smoothest and shallowest lines kept me from submerging my feet, again. The climb up to the final section of single track was not as bad as I expected. 

The final 8 miles of trail was its usual brutal self:  my favorite part!  Although slow going, I was in my happy place rock-crawling through the gardens.  I believe the rocks (and roots) are growing!  On the final tricky climb in the last half-mile or so, I was at the top when I ran out of gas and could not push over the final pedal stroke.  I tried to unclip, couldn't, and ended up going down off the trail a few feet.  Turtling around in the rocks, with my bike on top of me, it took me a few seconds to free my foot from the pedal.

Fortunately my bike never hit the ground; I took the full force of the impact.  Both the bike and my body were ok; just a bruised ego. I was able to recover enough to clean the "gunsight pass" section and then cruise down to the finish.

I finished in 4:46:08.  My second slowest time, but I did not mind.  I achieved my goals today: finishing with a smile.  And with fingers crossed that March will be its typical self:  warm and fast!

That smile is genuine! Is Ray checking for a motor?

Friday, February 3, 2023


Tomorrow I will be racing The Snake Creek Gap Time Trials for the 19th year in a row.  I really have raced it close to 50 times as there have been anywhere from 2 to 5 opportunities each year to set your best time. 

I remember the first year, 2005.  I can't put a finger on how I found out about this race. Up until this point, I had only been on tame lap courses, racing cross country.  The Snake was where I first cut my teeth on rocky terrain. I was on my aluminum Specialized S-Works Epic, with 26" wheels, rim brakes, triple chainring, a squiggly SID fork, and a stiff post.  

The course was run in the opposite direction, starting at the gravel road on top on Dug Gap.  I was redlined from the git go.  I rode down "The Wall" white knuckling my skinny bar, pulling on the brake levers with all I had, belly on the saddle.  The finish was not at Dry Creek parking lot (it did not exist then), but where the Pinhoti crossed East Armuchee Road. Bodies piled up in the ditch along the road as we waited for enough of us to collect and be shuttled back in volunteers' pickup trucks.  I can still remember lying flat on my back looking at the blue sky, heart pumping and lungs gasping, trying to bring life back into my thrashed body.  My first coherent thoughts were A) that was F'ing hard! and B) sign me up for next month.

Even though the trail has remained virtually unchanged since then, each year has its own character.  Be it the weather, where I am on this journey of life, or what bike I am riding, this course is brutal and indifferent to you.  While we are timed against others, the true race is against the trail and our own inner demons.

Like February 2013, where there was no bridge at Dry Creek and it was thigh deep and 22 degrees. Somehow I managed to keep my legs dry with large animal OB sleeves.

February 2020 was the closest I came to ever having a DNF at this race.  I was so cold and so miserable at the 1/2 way point, I came up with half a dozen excuses to pull the plug.  But fortunately my good friend Dave was there, racing alongside and helped get my mind right.  Besides the conditions of the roads out of there looked a whole lot worse than just trudging on through the trail.

January 2008 I almost didn't even make it to the start.  I was on "that bus."  As I was riding the school bus over to the start, the driver got behind this slow poke Subaru on the descent off Dug Gap.  She lost air pressure to the brakes, almost plowed over the Subaru, but managed to save it by passing the Subaru on a blind curve.  We were all so fortunate no one was coming up the mountain as well as the drivers' mad skills.

March 2010 was my third fastest time, on a single speed, 3:27.  My second fastest time was March 2009, on my 26" Stumpjumper.  3:26, and just 13 minutes behind Willow Koerber.  March 2014 was my fastest time on my Niner Jet 9, 3:21.

I am not sure why the memories have flooded my thoughts, so much this year in particular. Perhaps it is because I have recently turned 27 for the 27th time.  And have been thinking about my own mortality ... alot. As I have gotten older, the days of the butterflies and the nervous poops are mostly gone.  But I still look forward to putting on that number and tackling the challenges that race day brings.  I feel grateful that I still have these opportunities to play bikes and push my limits.

So as long as the good folks of Northwest Georgia SORBA put on this race, and I am amongst the living, you will see me toeing the line.  This is one tradition I cannot break.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Dirty Duathlon


I couldn't have planned it better than to cap off this year's racing with a sprint against kids and Old Man Winter.  I had signed up in the Expert Open category and all my competitors were teenagers.  Oh boy!  I was fixin' to get schooled!

The course was at Rope Mill and included 5.5 miles of the Mills trails (fast and flowy) for bike leg # 1, 3.3 miles of the Explorer Trails (fast and flowy) for the run leg, and 5.5 miles of the Avalanche trails (old school, rocky, rooty, grunt climbs) for bike leg #2. Although Hurricane Nicole had dumped a bunch of rain the day before, the SORBA volunteers had blown all the leaves off the trails and they drained well.  It was tacky and fast, with only a couple muddy spots.

The body wasn't quite ready for this fast and furious exertion level as I was still recovering both from the Death March Revival and Fall Invitational the week before and nursing a heel injury.  Heck, it probably wouldn't even be ready if I had fully rested and had no issues.  Despite this, I was ready to give'r as much as I could, and no doubt these GCA and NICA cycling kids were gonna push my limits.

The start was not chaotic and we all survived the slick bridge crossing over to the single track.  I was already anaerobic going up the first climb and graciously gave way to those behind.  The youngsters were very respectful as well as skilled in their passing.  Well, all but one who came close to taking my front wheel out as he just had to do a tail whip on the first descent ... kids will be kids.

📷:  Dashing Images

By the time I finished the Mills bike leg (0:25:16), I was just starting to get warmed up.  I was so grateful for the 60 degree weather, as it made it easy to tie my running shoes.  I chased a gel with some water and took off for the run.  I started off cautiously, wondering if my heel pain would flare up.  It was 17 days since the pain started and the pain had resolved 6 days ago, but I still stayed away from any running, fearful of the pain returning prior to the race. Fortunately, the heel was good the whole way. My heart rate soared (hadn't seen THOSE numbers in awhile) as I tried to keep a fairly quick pace.  

📷: Dashing Images

While running and trying to forget just how HARD I was breathing, I went through several mantras (pick yo damn feet up, quick steps, hankle -hinge at the ankle) that I had learned from my physical therapist, Meghan Guler, who also does gait analysis.  She has helped me immensely on this running journey, as I try to go from an imposter to an actual runner.  I ended up having my highest heart rate during the run.  I finished the run in 31:40, quickly transitioned back into my cycling shoes and headed out for the second bike leg on the Avalanche trails.  

These were more old school, narrow cut, with rocks and roots and punchy climbs/descents.  I grannied up the first climb, as my cycling legs were not quite ready.  Soon I found myself in a rhythm, following a fella with good line choice.  I rode behind him for a couple of miles, until I could see that he was struggling a bit on the climbs.  With about a mile to go, I passed him and then put my head down and gunned it to the finish.  This leg took 35:25 and with the transition times, I finished in 1:35.  I managed to eek out a 3rd place finish.

First and second place, Maxine Richards and Helen Rhymer had blazing fast times.  It was so good to see so many young women racing their bikes HARD.  I think the youth outgunned the adults today. 

Mountain Goat Adventures never disappoints.  Super comfy soft race t-shirt, plenty of useful schwag, reasonable pricing, and lots of prizing, in addition to the fun courses, makes me a repeat customer.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Death March Revival ITT


Bear Creek Overlook

This, by far, is my favorite route in my neck of the woods.  I have been doing some version of this every year since 2006 when Zeke Lilly drug my ass around a shorter 65 mile loop while training for the Cohutta 100.  I love it for its beauty:  the vistas, the multitudes of roadside creeks and rivers, and the wildlife.  I love it for its brutality:  the relentless climbs, the blistering descents, and only 1% paved.  So when Randy Kerr messaged me last week about doing it, I responded with an emphatic "Hell, yeah!" after seeing that the weather was gonna be as close to perfect as November can get.

I started at 6:45 am, in the dark.  It was cold at Thunder Rock campground, around 44 degrees, but I wanted some daylight insurance on the back end, in case things went awry.  I was figuring on a 10+ hour day, but hoping I could pull out a sub-10.  Randy opted to start at daylight.  He had plenty of daylight to single speed his way around the course, as his previous time was 8:34.

I opted to ride my 2017 Niner Air 9 RDO, with 50mm Maxxis Ramblers mated to Industry 9 UltraLite aluminum wheels, and a SRAM 1x (32 x 10-50). A SpeedSleev saddle bag carried a two tubes and tools, a Oveja Negra top tube bag and a Revelate Designs feed bag carried my nutrition, and a SpeedSleev Diego handle bar bag was there to pack my extra layers as I would be shedding them as the day warmed up.

 My light punched a small hole in the darkness as I climbed up FS 45.  The skies were clear and the stars visible, something these days that comes hard to find.  The first descent was sketchy because of the darkness, the leaf cover, and the blown out road.  I cautiously made my way down, eager to see the sun rise.

The Three Bitches are a series of relatively short, but punchy climbs around mile 5.  They are always wet and chunky.  As maddening as it is to find "the line," at least today, in the dark, they seemed to pass quickly.  Just before the descent to Tumbling Lead, the sun rose over Boyd Gap.

Just doesn't do it justice

It was still semi-dark as I descended down to Tumbling Creek.  Once again, conditions were less than ideal, so I kept it well under the speed limit.  It was also really cold in this spot; another good reason to not throw caution to the wind.

Tumbling Creek

With most of the leaves fallen, the views along this stretch of road were incredible.  No dogs gave chase at the usual spot along the short stretch of paved road, and I made my way into Georgia and began the climb up to Dally and Watson Gap.

This stretch of gravel was more lumpy hard packed dirt, with sections that were soft from the earlier week's rains.  It had a light washboard feel, but at least I wasn't fighting loose gravel.  It rolled nicely along the ridgeline before dropping down to Watson Gap.  This section was loose gravel, but at least not deep.

Watson Gap

I stopped at Watson Gap to shed a layer, take a pee break, and eat one of my rice cakes.  Temps were now perfect and my fingers and toes had thawed out.  Although I was behind schedule, I was feeling good, and if course conditions remained favorable, I knew I could increase the pace.  I climbed some more and then had a blistering descent down to Jack's River campground.  I briefly refilled my bottle at the piped spring and then continued on the climb up to Potato Patch.  I really enjoy climbing up from this side, as there are breaks where you get to roll along a contour line or enjoy a small descent.  And the gravel was "hero."  

Mountaintown Overlook

The descent from Potato Patch was also in great shape.  It took you 5 1/2 miles and 2000 feet down to Mulberry Gap.  It is not an easy descent, as I spent most of it just hovering above the saddle as to avoid any ass-smacking that might come from a sudden dip or exposed rock.  My legs definitely did NOT like that short climb up to Mulberry Gap.

Refilling my bottles at the barn

I stopped in the office briefly to say hi to Kate, and then made my way to the restroom after refilling my bottles.  

If you haven't been here, you are truly missing out on a great experience.

Here I was 41 miles and 5 hours into my day.  And a daunting climb back up to Potato Patch.  Although my stopped time here was short, 12 minutes, my legs thought they were done for the day and shut down.  It was also here that Randy caught me and passed me.  He had started at 7:55 am; he was on fire!

I managed to keep pace with him for all of 100 yards.  And then my legs said, "Hell, no, you are asking for too many watts!"  And suffice it to say that my low moment of the day was the next 50 minutes struggling back up to Potato Patch.  I knew eventually I would feel good again, so I just stayed present and enjoyed the ride, no matter how slow.

Bear Creek Overlook

Even though there were still a couple miles left of climbing after turning at the top of Potato Patch, I was beginning to feel better and turn the pedals over quicker and with more force.  The gravel over to Lake Conasauga was hard packed and smooth. I put a couple hundred calories in the belly knowing I would have a big descent soon, allowing for adequate digestion and usage.

FS 17 (West Cowpen) was in as good a shape as it could be.  The rains had settled the dust and the gravel some, but it was thick in leaf cover, which made it spicey!  Not one of the fastest times down it, but I arrived safely at the bottom.

The flats over to Big Frog went by quickly.  All that food I had ingested at the top of the mountain was now providing the energy I needed.  Just 22 miles left.  Turning right onto Big Frog, I climbed up to the piped spring and refilled one bottle and ate my last rice cake for the final push.

Rice cakes: life savers

Big Frog, over the past 15 years, has gone from smooth and gravel bike enjoyably rideable, to blown out I need a full squish trail bike to get through this on a fun note.  Most of it is riding over chunks of bed rock and feeling your way through deep leaves and praying one of a thousand loose baby heads doesn't take your front wheel out from under you.

So focused on staying upright I forgot how thrashed my legs were.  Up and over the top, I rode the brakes most of the way down the descent.  I would rather lose time going slow as opposed to fixing a puncture or making a sling out of an inner tube.  

Deceivingly enhanced

The top of Big Frog

Back out on FS 221 I felt renewed.  The five miles of rolling hard packed dirt made it feel like I was flying down to Big Creek.  I had already figured that a sub-10 was not going to happen, but there was still a chance for a PR.  That had me fired up on the steep ass climb out of Big Creek.  However, in the ensuing final 4 miles over to FS 45, I do believe those short punchy climbs doubled in number since the last time I rode here.  At least that is how it felt to the mind and legs ... the longest 4 miles EVER! F bombs battered this section, as I could see the minutes closing down to a PR.

Finally I began the three mile descent down to the finish.  With no thought to puncturing or breaking a bone, I let Freedom scream down the mountain.  I bettered 2021's time by 8 minutes.

True gain was closer to 14,000

I rolled in to the campground and lay on the ground for a few minutes, allowing the body to finally relax.  Randy had finished up his day a while ago, and also rode a PR (8:29 on a single speed!).  He was busy attending to his body with some yoga.  I soon did the same while we talked about our day.  Thanks Randy for inviting me out to play.  Yet another brutally wonderful experience in the Cohuttas.