83 degrees at the 8am start would make for a scorching race. Knowing that staying hydrated and keeping the core cool would be crucial, I started the race with a cold, wet jersey and my Camelbak full of iced down Rapidade. I had also stuck bottles of water in my drop bags, not for drinking, but for pouring over my head at the aid stations.
The race rolled out of Old Fort at a neutral pace, giving me time for my legs of 41 years to come around. I can start fast when needed, but I really like these easier starts. Having broke a spoke on my Powertap wheel during the pre-ride the day before, I would have to rely on HR and PE to keep me from blowing up in the first 25 miles as I had last year.
The race began as we hit the 5 mile climb up Old Hwy 70. Lisa and I rode together for a ways, neither one of us talking much, but watching as Andrea slowly pulled away from us. I was focused on a steady rhythmic turning of the pedals and making sure my HR didn't get too high. I soon caught Andrea as well as a bunch of guys and was able to make it to Kitsuma's single track with a clean trail ahead.
Halfway up, I encountered Rich. From reading his recent posts, he and I both had the same goal: a sub 6 hour race. But seeing him this soon in the race bothered me a little. I was hoping that I was motoring on and that he was not sputtering. He was pretty chatty and in good spirits, so if that continued and I could keep up, then perhaps a sub-6 was doable.
I let him take the lead on the descent. Not that I was being nice, but I wanted to follow his lines on this descent of mayhem and hell. You see, this bit of trail has gotten a lot more chewed up in just a year, what with bigger drops, more log crossings, more root exposure, and one hell of a hole left by an uprooted tree. Rich is like a Jedi knight, Yoda in particular. Just by looking, you wouldn't think him to be much of a mountain biker, but when his game is on, it takes everything you got to hang on! Needless to say, I hung with him through the trickiest parts and then he just got smaller and smaller ... and was gone!
I hooked up with Justin and rode with him over the next hour or so. The single track up to Star Gap was quite entertaining with several steep hike-a-bikes. I knew I would be coming back down this later in the day so every now and then I would take a look back down and study the lines. The climbing was steep but manageable other than a couple CX off the bike moves to negotiate some sharp, steep switchbacks. Once again, I encountered Rich and asked if we were on pace. He wasn't too sure and didn't seem too confident at this point. Oh, well. I was feeling really good, so I stayed optimistic.
On the descent I rode behind Matt, the Outdoor Store's Specialized rep. He was kind enough to take a digger on one of the switchbacks, allowing me to dismount and make it down nice and safe. Once I finished the descent and popped out onto the doubletrack-turned-singletrack climb, the fun began. The next seven miles on this old logging road was like riding on marbles, blindfolded. Very sketchy and you couldn't see what lay ahead due to the weeds almost choking out the trail. Oh, goody! Luckily I had Justin ahead of me and I could follow his lead.
Rolling into the second aid station, I was handed my drop bag. I poured a bottle of water over my head, swapped out water bottles, downed 1/2 a can of Coke and headed out for the next little hill. At this point in the race, I was feeling great, the legs were sparkly, and I was ready to conquer the 9 mile Curtis Creek climb.
to be continued....