Sunday, May 17, 2009

Syllamo's Revenge Race Report

The day before Zeke and I pre-rode the first 10 miles of the course, then got off-course by mistake, and ended up riding an additional 2 hours and 20 miles trying to find our way back to the truck. There were so many ribbons of different colors up on the course we had no idea which ones to follow. I had a map I had printed off the web, but when the thunderstorms struck, it disentegrated. Oh, well, it could have been a lot worse as we were riding on a fireroad along a ridgeline when the worst of the storm struck ... talk about no time inbetween the lightning strikes and thunder!

Luckily, the storms that hit DSG the morning of their race came through Arkansas the night before my race. Race day saw perfect temps and beautiful skies. The start was fast and furious as everyone wanted the "hole shot." The singletrack was super-tight and made passing difficult. The first mile was a fireroad climb at 10% gradient. The rain made it soft and muddy in areas so it was important to fight for the line of least resistance. I followed Zeke as he weaved his way through riders (Zeke is awesome on the fireroads!) I managed to get in the first group to hit the singletrack.

From there it was a bit of a train over the next 8 miles. There were lots of short hike-a-bike sections as we had to maneuver around fallen trees and holes left by the root balls (some were big enough to swallow a small car. Towards the end of the yellow trail I began encountering lots of slippy wet and muddy rocks. These were flat slabs of limestone that were pretty sketchy to ride; you had to keep your rpm's up and have a smooth pedal cadence. At first it was difficult but soon enough I began to find the rhythm of riding these sections and that was where I made a lot of passes as other riders were bumbling around.

I stopped at the first aid station (mile 16)long enough to have my race number marked and then proceded onwards. The next section on the White River Bluff Loop and the Bald Scrappy Loop was even rockier and more technical. I managed to come upon a racer that obviously ridden this before as he was rockin' it. I was content to stay behind him and follow his lines as his were pretty sweet! I eventually went around him when he face-planted on a super-technical downhill that had several creek crossings. I did stop and made sure he was o.k.; he was, save for his ego.

By mile 25, I had settled in with a small group of riders. Our riding abilities seemed equal and we were all moving along very well together. After a rather long river crossing which felt oh so good on my feet, I rolled into the second aid station and refilled my Camelbak and gel flask.

From there began a long arduous switchback climb up Scrappy Mountain. It was here that I was able to pass a few racers with my superior hike-a-bike skills (thank you, Lisa, again). One poor singlespeeder opted to wear the Keen commuter sandals. What was he thinking? I rode what I could, but opted to run when I knew that was the faster method of negotiating the techy trail. I hiked up the "Stairway to Heaven" bouldery section thinking how fun it would be to ride down it!

Once on top, it became fast and flowy again with just a few short logging roads that connected the singletrack. By now, the course was beginning to take its toll on many riders. I still felt good at this point and was relishing getting to the red trail as I had heard that it was superfast and flowy with not much change in elevation.

I arrived at the final aid station, had my race plate marked, and rolled out onto the red trail. Only 14 more miles to go! Shortly though my happy face turned to one of concern as I saw the devastation that Mother Nature had done to this section of the course. It was like riding Brush Creek, but instead of the trailbed being smooth dirt it was a bed of sticks and branches and root ball holes. The trail was ready to eat your derailleur and devour your spokes! Definitely not a time to be racing with your Ipod; you wanted to listen intently to your tires and wheels in order to avoid disaster.

At this point I figured I had a pretty good lead and the race was mine to lose. So instead of rockin' and rollin' this final stretch, I went into conservation mode. I did a lot of soft-pedaling and coasting. I was also off the bike multiple times to pull sticks out of my derailleur and wheels. But I did manage to survive and popped out onto the fireroad descent back into the finish.

Whoo Hoo! What a fast and furious descent! I had my Powertap on for this race and at one point it clocked me at 127.81mph! I crossed the finish line in 5:48: good enough for the women's win and a 9th overall.

This was one of my favorite courses so far in my history or riding. Not many places you can race that has 99% singletrack in one big epic loop! And the rocky terrain makes for one hell of a ride; there are several spectacular views along the course.

Thanks to Saris for making a power meter that can handle the abuse I give it. Thanks to Specialized for one awesome ride. Indy ate this course up!

My trophy weighed in at 30 pounds ... a slab of Arkansas flat rock engraved with the race logo. Awesome!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tour de Blount

Yeah, I know I need to write up Syllamo's Revenge. However, today's ride with my Dad and daughter was just too amazing not to write about ... and it is fresh on my mind. Syllamo's Revenge will follow ... shortly.

Today was an organized road ride (or race?) of 27 miles. We opted for the shorter route; Carly has built up to a max saddle time of 3 hours. We left the high school parking lot at 8:30 am. I am so proud of my Dad for he usually is NOT awake at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. The ride started out easy enough with us enjoying the breathtaking views of the Smokies. This was good as I was scheduled for an easy ride of about 3 hours. It was short-lived, however, as a Daddy/daughter trail-a-bike tandem soon passed us.

I was content to keep my easy pace; however, Carly was not. I guess the racing bug is in her genes. She immediately told me, "They are getting ahead of us, Mommy." I told her that this was just a ride, not a race. We did manage to keep them in sight. The Dad (John) was on a Cannondale road bike. We were faster on the descents and would catch up. But then they would pull away on the flats and climbs. We soon lost sight of them.

As we rolled in to the first rest stop (mile 9), guess who was there? Carly enjoyed the cookies and Starburst candies. I was content with bananas. After about 5 minutes we took off. We managed to get a head start on John and Sarah. Carly was all smiles since we were in "the lead." After about 15 minutes, Carly pointed out the fact that they were catching up to us. She told me to go faster and then I felt Carly pedaling for all she was worth. We were able to stay ahead of them until the pavement kicked up to a 10% gradient. Sadly we had to watch them pull away from us.

Meanwhile, Dad is watching this from all angles: behind, alongside, and sometimes in front of us. At this point, he was probably empathizing with Zeke! But he was holding his own quite well; he later said to me that his RPE was a 7.

For the next several miles, we climbed quite a bit, with some rollers thrown in as well. As we came around a curve, there was John and Sarah, stopped. John was answering his phone. Now was our time to attack! And we did. Carly told me she had energy so we dug deep. Once we finally crested the long climb, the view was spectacular! I had to stop and take some pictures. Carly was not pleased. She said, "They are going to catch up." And they did.

John was nice enough to stop and take some pictures of the three of us. And my Dad returned the favor. Carly, in the meantime, was rocking the bike, indicating she was ready to go! The next 3-4 miles was mostly downhill. We had a blast! This was Carly's favorite part. One section was like a rollercoaster ... we topped out at 30mph. (Yeah, some knothead will read this and have me arrested for child endangerment!) We whoo-hoo'd the whole way. Carly said she was going so fast, her shorts were coming off. She could feel the wind billowing up her soccer shorts.

At the second rest stop(mile 18), John and Sarah caught up to us. We talked for a bit and found out that they were pretty cool people. Sarah was Carly's age, just a few months older. They were just as enthusiastic as us about riding together. Carly was once again pushing the pace as this pit stop was shorter than the first. We left John and Sarah sitting in the parking lot, eating cookies.

The last section along River Road was fun, mostly flat. When I asked Carly how she was feeling, she said, "Good." When I asked her if she wanted to take it easy or go for the win, she said, "What do you think?" I don't know how she did it, but I could feel the engine in her the last 9 miles. Our only close call was when my tire kicked up a worm on her leg. She started screaming and bouncing back and forth. It was all I could do to keep the bike tracking forward! She finally managed to flick the worm off and then all was o.k.

She kept looking back for the other trail-a-bike and would give me updates every few minutes. With about a mile to go, we thought we had it. But then, just ahead, was a stranded cyclist. Doh! I did not want to stop, but knew it was the right thing to do. As I was handing him a CO2 cartridge, John and Sarah passed us. Dad pointed his finger at the cyclist and said (jokingly, I think), "If we lose, I am going to blame you."

However, they slowed down and as we caught back up to them, asked us if we and the other cyclist was o.k. They were gracious enough to allow us to finish first ... a Lance Armstrong kind of manuever. Carly, Dad, and I pulled in to the high school parking lot with smiles. Carly had to high-five me. The racer in me wanted to celebrate, but the parent in me explained to Carly how this wasn't a race, but just a really fun ride. It is not about winning ... but just having a really good time with your family. I guess I will see, over time, how she responds (I am secretly hoping for that racer's energy and drive!).

Post-race (no, ride) meal was Papa John's pizza. I fell off the wagon and had 3 pieces. Man, was it good! Sarah and her Dad sat down beside us and the girls chatted. Come to find out, Sarah had a soccer game at 2 pm. Wow, I hope she had some energy in reserve. But after looking at Dad, I suspect she did. John looked about how I felt. I was tired! But what a great day!

Needless to say, my 3 hour easy ride turned out to be a 2 1/2 hour tempo ride. Sorry, Coach, but Carly made me do it. My power file will be uploaded soon ... or maybe it should be accidentally deleted.

I will definitely be looking for another ride in the Maryville area. Mostly because our Friday night meal at Aunt Jo's was spectacular. That woman can cook! Antipasto salad, white chicken chili, zucchini casseroles, herbed ciabatta rolls, and brownies. I ate so much I was still full Saturday morning. Thanks, Aunt Jo!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Made It To Arkansas

After a long day of travel, with a midway stop at Montgomery Bell State Park to loosen up the legs on some sweet singletrack, Zeke and I finally arrived in Mountain View, Arkansas. This will be our base for Syllamo's Revenge.

Since Zeke had done this race before, he was given the task of acquiring a room for the 3 days that we would be here. All I requested was a coffee pot, microwave, frig, and wi-fi. Being the nutrition geek that I am these days, I like to bring all my food so that I know EXACTLY what food I am fueling my body with.

So when we pulled up to the Dogwood Inn, my first thoughts were "No Tell Motel." There was bird poop on the room door and a fly swatter on the AC unit. There was also a peculiar odor to the room, one that I did not quite recognize ... other than it not being smoke. But all the appliances worked, the bed was comfortable, and the shower hot. And the fly swatter works!

The funniest, or perhaps saddest, thing that happened to us on our drive here, was being "strafed" by a group of kamikaze honey bees. Yes, as we were speeding along at 70mph, the windshield was hit all at once by at least a hundred bees. It was so loud, it sounded like pea-size hail. At first I thought we were "poo'd" upon by a flock of birds. Then I noticed about 10 honeybee carcasses stuck on the windshield wipers.
I have never really thought about the carnage that occurs on my windshield on a daily basis. These poor bees, with legs full of pollen, dutiful little workers, on their way back to the hive to deliver food to the family, were now smeared across the truck, their lives snuffed out in a second. I had a small "Awww...." moment. Back to reality ... now we had to stop and clean the windshield so that we could see where we were going!

Tomorrow is a recon of the first section of the race. From what I have been told, it is an all out start on a fireroad climb, about 1 mile, to get the "hole" shot into the singletrack, where, for the next 49 miles, it is difficult to pass.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fowl Play and Swine Flew

I have been riding the Rich Mountain trail for years.Monday I did the Stanly Gap section.Upon arriving at my truck I realized something was missed.The rooster!Yes the rooster.For whatever reason a rooster has been living on this trail.He would attack you on the way down the single track.He jumped on Sam Curlee's helmet two years ago.Of course on these technical trails the rooster is way faster than us so the guy has a big advantage.And yes it is a rooster,not a quail,pheasant or grouse!It must have escaped or was chased off by the hens and like myself lived in solitude.We have many wild things up here;hogs,bear,bob cats,coyote,wolf and panthers.But a rooster is most strange. > Over the years I have met other birds on the trail.I was riding in Stanley,Idaho and ran into a tall bird.The thing was at least the height of my son(6'6").Man I thought the 60's were catching up on me!But sure nuff it was a dang big bird.It would not get off the trail and I was forced to ride behind it.Gee I hoped a ranger or PETA person didn't see me cause they would have thought I was chasing it.Finally the thing got off the Fisher Trail and I was free.Fifteen miles later I saw why the bird did not want to leave me,a big cougar!Way too much wild life for this ole boy!The locals told me the big bird was a Sand Crane. > In 05 I was racing the NMBS marathon in Waco Texas,held on a huge ranch.Around the ten mile point I had to pass Long Horn Cattle but hey,this is Texas.BUT I was not expecting to be nose to beak with an ostrich!The neighboring rancher had them and they mingled with the cattle.Well this thing came running up to me and started pecking at my nose.Yes my nose is a big target!I had to swat the ostrich to make it leave me a lone. > My most humbling bird experience was a dang turkey right here in Hells Hollow.I was hiking a mile from my house when I saw a flock of turkeys.Big ole Mr.Tom attacked.Now a turkey's beak is the same height as my hips,so guess where Tom was leaning in to attack!Having had a V,I did not want to set on ice bags ever again!I riped off my hat a started slapping ole Tom on his head.I ran but he was faster!So I had to kick him.Great!He liked that!My only resort was to slug him,which worked. > Seems I have had more than my share of weird animal experiences:One day I was driving on I-285 around Atlanta when traffic jammed up.Ha,nothing new.Inching my way north I spied an eighteen wheeler on it's side,nothing new either.BUT what was new was,pigs!Pigs all over the road;some dead others running.Those Swine Flew all over the place!---- GOD speed-- Zeke.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Play Day at Chilhowee

Today's training called for 4 hours of mountain biking at a "comfortably fun" pace. My legs were happy again so I was all for a good day in the mountains. Zeke was excited to be riding for 4 hours without having to stop every 2-3 minutes to string tape or move debris off the trail.

We headed up to Chilhowee, one of the more technical trail systems in our area. There was a threat of rain/thunderstorms all day, but we did not care. After last week's win, I was ready to ride under any condition.

When we started, it was raining, so I threw on my Dollar General rain gear: a plastic shower bonnet on the helmet and a 13 gallon Glad trash bag over my core. I have found that this $0.25 combo works better than any high dollar rain gear. And once the rain clears I get to do "the Incredible Hulk" thing to remove it.

I could still feel last week's efforts in the legs, but after about an hour, my legs came alive. We rode up Clemmer and stopped at our prayer rock, something we always do when we ride here. Today's prayer went out to Dan and his family. He suffered a heart attack a few days ago. His coronary artery, the one they call the "widowmaker" became 100% blocked. The doc didn't know how he survived, but he did and is recovering well.

We then hit Azalea, which dropped us out on some fireroad. We rode the 15 miles of fireroad, which includes one screamin' downhill and one 3 mile Potato Patch-like climb.

On the descent, we whipped around a corner and came upon Mr. Bobcat. What a scare we gave him! He jumped up, legs spread eagle, and rushed off into the undergrowth. I always like seeing wildlife and tell my daughter about my "critters of the day." Carly was not impressed. So I asked her what would ... she replied, "a cougar, Mommy!"

On the climb back up, the sky cleared and the sun came out. I was feeling good, so I ramped it up a bit, but still in a comfortably fun pace. I pulled ahead of Zeke a bit, rounded a corner and bumped into two turkey toms. I expected them to fly at any moment, seeing as how I was only 30 yards behind them, but I guess they were getting in a leg workout as they ran up the road, just ahead of me, about 10 mph, for 1/4 of a mile. Yes, I watched my odometer! They looked like two velociraptors from Jurassic Park. It was quite funny. At the top of the rise they turned right and went over the ridge.

Zeke caught back up to me at the top and we had an enjoyable ridgeline descent back to the singletrack. We finished up the day with Slickrock and then bombed back down Clemmer. It was a great finish to a great day ... just me and my best bud!