Thursday, March 27, 2014

HardFord 50 Race Report

Every time I would travel through the chicanes of I-40 East to places like Brevard and North Wilkesboro to race, I would catch myself looking up at the mountains and wondering if there were some places to grind out some good rides.  Well, I found out last Saturday that there are some spectacular forest roads in this part of the Cherokee and Pisgah National Forests.

I found out about this inaugural gravel grinder through my FB NewsFeed.  I was itchin' to race my Cysco Ti gravel grinder and so pre registered a couple weeks prior.  In hindsight, I was glad I did.  Because as the time approached, the weather forcast got uglier and uglier.  As I was traveling to the venue, the skies opened up and the rain came down.  Oh, and it was just warm enough for rain ... 36 degrees.

I never thought about bailing.  After my fail at P36 a couple weeks back, I was determined to beat Mother Nature at this one.  I came with an arsenal of wool and waterproof gear and was using this race as a testing ground for the Pisgah Productions races I would come to love/hate later this year.

My SCUBA suit

51 of us began this race.  Wes, of 35 North Produtions, was the promoter.  He was raising money for Grassy Fork Elementary School ... the only school in Tennessee to still be on a well and septic tank!  And yes, it was still raining.

I was warm and happy as the lead group took it easy for the first mile or so.  But as soon as we left the pavement and hit the first dirt climb, the front runners took off like bats out of hell.  I was content to let them go, knowing it was going to be a long epic day and my legs were not quite ready to up the wattage yet.

The first big climb up Black Mountain Road had some steep pitches and a couple sections of freshly laid large gravels.  That made it tough keeping contact with the road and not spinning out. But for the most part, the gravel road was hard packed and fast.  Even though it was raining and temps were in the 30's, I had to unzip a layer.

The second climb up Mt. Sterling Road was much like the first.  It was here that I began to pass a few people and inch my way up the ladder.  I bypassed the first aid station.  Did I mention that it was still raining?  So far my shower cap, GoreTex, and duct tape was doing the job, keeping the wind and rain outside so that I was all comfy cozy on the inside.

The descending was a little slower than I would have liked, but I am kinda new to this CX skinny tire racing with mechanical disck brakes style of racing.  And even though the conditions were miserable, people were still out in their 4WD's and I did not want to become a hood ornament.  As Zeke would say, "You don't get old by being stupid!"

On the second big descent I noticed that when I squeezed my brake levers they were getting closer to the bar.  I tried adjusting them on the fly, but with all the mud and cold fingertips that was near impossible.  I told myself that the next time I stopped I would adjust them.

I was going to stop at the second aid station to refill my bottles.  As I approached mile 26, there was a distinct odor in the air:  BACON!  Probably someone at a campground.  But as I rounded the corner and saw the TVB van and a couple EZ Ups, I realized that it was they that be doing the cookin'!  Thick cut bacon, real French toast, and hot coffee!  I could have easily eaten 5 pieces of bacon, but I wisely chose just one, as the big climb of the day lay ahead.  Can you say BEST AID STATION EVER!

The climb to Max Patch was a humdinger:  2500 feet in 8 miles.  It was here, approximately 2 1/2 hours into the race that I felt the first signs of fatigue.  I had chased my 1 piece of bacon down with 2 gels and was waiting on that to kick in.  At least the grade wasn't as steep as the first two climbs. At about the 3 hour mark, the rain had FINALLY stopped.  As I got towards the top of the climb, the fog had settled in thick.  Climbing through it was pretty serene.  Closing in on the last aid station, I saw two volunteers shrouded in the mist, cheering me on.  "Only 200 yards to the top," they said.

I stopped at the last aid station to take in some more gel.  The volunteers there were awesome, asking if I needed anything, making sure I was warm, and warning me of the first technical descent. 2250 was a 2-3 mile stretch of unmaintained forest road in the Pisgah portion of this race.  On a good day with a full suspension mountain bike, it would be hard!  What with the cold, the fog, the mud, the puddles of water of unknown depth, and the fact that I had forgotten to adjust my brakes made for a pucker factor of 10+ on that first mile down.

Luckily I was able to hang on for longer than 8 seconds (that will the closest thing to riding a bull for me) and when the terrain finally leveled out, I hopped off my bike and adjusted my brakes.  Needless to say, I am NOT a fan of mechanicals.  After what seemed like an eternity (frozen fingers, moisture laden gloves, and mud-caked inline adjustors), I finally had brakes again.  This made for a little more enjoyable second half of 2250.

The remainder of the descent down to pavement was smooth, fast, and furious!  And fun, I might add!  Popping out onto the pavement, the race director said to follow the yellow line and I would be at the finish in 8 miles.  That was a long 8 miles!  Not to mention the boxer who just about nailed my right ankle as I was climbing a nice little kicker halfway (I had difficulty unclipping, but was able to at the last moment, and kick him away).

I would choose the Cysco CX over a MTB again.  Just need to work on my technical descending skills.

I came across the finish line in 4:29, 1st woman and 10th overall.  And, with a gritty smile across my face.  30 out of 51 finished.

What an epic day!  My clothing choices were spot on.  Other than cold toes and fingers, the rest of me was quite toasty all day.

The sun finally came out for the podium.

I loved the course.  Three tough climbs, 1 technical descent, and for the most part the dirt was smooth and hard packed.  The aid stations were great, the volunteers motivating, and the post race barbeque was most delicious!  I hope that I can return next year and race it when it is a bit warmer and drier as I heard there are some killer views.

And hopefully Grassy Fork Elementary will be one step closer to getting city water and sewer.

Thanks Wes for preparing me for my future adventures this year!


Lynda Wallenfels said...

Great post. Nice work staying warm in 36F rain - brr.

I'm interested in your clothing choices and where the duct tape went - perhaps another blog post? How did you keep your hands and feet warm in that cold/wet combo?

Carey Lowery said...


Shower Cap, head band, wool base, SS jersey, Gore Bike GoreTex jacket (the one you have), Pearl Izumi winter tights, Go Lyte waterproof pants, two pairs of socks with chemical warmers sandwiched in between, Sugoi shoe covers with added duct tape, wool glove liners, chemical hand warmers, Specialized Radiant gloves. I made sure the waterproof pants were down over my shoe covers so that the rain would not run down into the shoes.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

The Boxer was tired or had already chase enough bikes when I cam by. :) He 1/2 heartedly chased. I had mechanical brakes I adjusted them 2 times, just wasn't confident in them. Next year I will give my MTB with Hydros a try. I was a great/epic event!