Saturday, December 24, 2016

Sponsor Highlight - ReVive Massage

I began using ReVive Massage Therapy last October when I threw my back out picking up my 7 pound cat.  I had made a post on FB.  Virginia, the owner,  responded with a mention of massage in addition to the chiropractic care I was receiving.  Not wanting to sound like an ambulance chaser, she gave me my first massage free. So I drove the 55 miles down to Chattanooga to see if she could "fix" me.

I was impressed with her knowledge of anatomy and the functional relationships of the musculoskeletal and nervous system.  After that first session, along with several chiropractic adjustments, I was well on my way to recovery.

Over the past year, I have been to see Virginia about 8 times.  Several have been for a particular issue such as rotator cuff strain, hamstring pull, and hip flexor strain.  I have also gone when my muscles have gotten "sticky" and tight after a hard training week.  Small, but powerful, she has been able to release the muscles as well as help in recovery of my overuse injuries.

Ladies, if you are looking for a relaxing massage, head somewhere else.  But if what you want is another tool in your recovery game, Virginia is the one.  It is going to hurt and she will make you cry for your Mommy, but those "painful" massaging hands will get your muscles, tendons, and ligaments back on track and ready to perform.

2016 is the first year that I regularly incorporated massage into my recovery regimen.  I have been pleasantly surprised at its effects.  So much so that I wish that I had the time and $$ for a lot more!

She is also IASTM certified.

I am very fortunate to have her for the 2017 racing season!

Friday, November 18, 2016

2017 Marathon Nationals Recon

The wildfires around me gave me the opportunity to seek better air quality.  So I headed west to Arkansas to do a little home work.  Next May is the USAC Marathon Mountain Bike Nationals. The venue is Iron Mountatin at Lake DeGray.  Don't worry, it is nothing like the Iron Mountain course that Chris Scott takes great pleasure in testing your mettle. I have heard nothing but good about this course.  Two lap format with a short parade lap to sort the racers out prior to hitting the single track. Counter clockwise flow.

SS'r paradise!

According to my GPS, the lap is 23 miles with 1700 feet of climbing. The trail has a rocky base and laid out so well that I don't think rain would be an issue at all.  Nothing too technical, and by that, I mean, I didn't have to session any section.  Few roots, but lots of cat head rocks.  Fortunately, most of the rocks are embedded and so won't be taking your front wheel out from under you.  This trail is fast and furious! There are a few short rock gardens that make it interesting, but everything is rideable. I could just give the trail builder a big ole' squeeze! I would guess that the course is about 85% single track.  A few short pavement sections will make it easy to grab some nutrition and fluid.

The Yellow Trail is my second favorite.  Rocky, but plowable.  Kinda like a much tamer version of The Snake. This trail has a good bit of climbing, the longest of which is a double track, access road climb up to the power lines, but only about 1/2 mile at 3-4% grade. Most climbs are 50-100 meters.

Soooo much floooow!

The Green trail, particularly the lower section, is my favorite.  Rocks, rocks, rocks.  Equivalent to the rockier sections of Raccoon. And these you have to pick your way through and be careful not to strike your pedals.  No problem with quick engaging I-9's.  There is an uphill rock garden that I probably wouldn't notice on gears, but on my single speed I had to dance my way up.

Had to hold my tongue just right to clean this uphill rock garden.

Love me some rocks!

The Orange and the Blue Trails are a rockier version of the Small Intestine trail at Raccoon. The climbing is evenly distributed over the length of the trail, but the flow was so good, it was easy to carry a lot of momentum uphill.  These two trails were smoother than the Yellow and Green.

Orange Trail 

The White Trail is a highway!  A cross between Tanasi's Brush Creek and Tsali's Right Loop.  It meandered along a point, offering up spectacular views of Lake DeGray.

White Trail

One lap of the course and I had it pretty much dialed in.  I did a second and was even faster, knowing what was lurking around the corner and when I needed to get ready to stand and grunt up some of the steeper sections and switchbacks.  Today the course was slippery as the drought has extended its reach to Arkansas.  The corners had a collection of loose dirt and gravel, as well as leaves.  I would say that with rain, this course will be fast like Warrior Creek.  Lots of sharp rocks, so run tires with sidewall protection.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


I've been on Niner bikes since 2011.  My first Niner was an Air 9 Carbon that I built up as a SS. I no longer have her, but she is still on the racing scene, under the guide of SuperStrong Mary Sickler. The first of this year I got the RKT RDO and I've just welcomed the Air 9 RDO to my family.

It has taken awhile to get "Echo" dialed in; that's my RKT.  Yes, I name my bikes (and still sleep with stuffed animals). Why Echo?  Because when I was in the Army, my MOS (military occupation specialty) was a heavy equipment operator.  Dozers, pans, graders, and front end loaders took skill and finesse to operate.  And so the same goes for her.  But once you have mastered the skill, it is an absolute blast to be in the saddle and raging single track.

Fox SC 32 in stealth mode

I initially had a RockShox RCT 100mm installed on her, but it just didn't feel or act right.  I was able to warranty it (although I was not told what the problem was).  At first I waited to get my hands on the new RockShox SID WC, but the delivery date kept getting pushed back.  So I decided to try the Fox StepCast 32 Boost.  I am so glad I did.  It felt right ... right out of the box and after removing all the tokens.  I totally agree with Dickey on this fork.

A great stopper

SRAM's Guide brakes are on the opposite end of the spectrum as compared to the Avid's. Plenty of power and I just love how they feel; not squishy like the older Maguras I had on my Jet 9 RDO.

I-9'a are just ridiculous in so many ways

I chose a set of Pillar Carbon Industry 9 wheels.  This is the first carbon wheelset I had.  I really don't notice much difference in them as compared to their Ultralight aluminun hoops, but then again I am but a mere half pint.  What I do notice is that they go where you point them, the engagement is what I need for rock crawling, and the spokes/hubs are sexy!

Completing her build is a Niner bar and stem, Ergon grips, SRAM 1 x 11, RaceFace Next SL with Cinch direct mount, Xpedo M Force 8 Ti pedals, and a Specialized S-Works Phenom saddle. I also installed a Reverb dropper, which cost a bit of weight, but so worth it for confidence in descending the gnar.  Even with the weight penalty, she comes in at 22.8 pounds.

Have yet to take her on the maiden voyage

I am ready to take this one for a ride.  However, what with all the wildfires, my lungs would be all sad with any HR above 100 right now. So, she sits in the basement awaiting the rain.

Loving the color palette

I've outfitted her with the StepCast and the new Ultralite 235's. Industry 9's new AnoLab page where you can build your custom wheel set is super sick! Pretty much tried to build her similar to Echo, so that I can rob parts if I need to in an emergency situation.  The Guide brakes are probably overkill, but when I was running XTR's on my older Air 9, they just did not have the stopping power I needed.  I like the 4 piston power.  At some point, I would like to try the SRAM Level brakes.

Going BIG

Bruce built her up with an Eagle drivetrain and the RaceFace Next SL G4 with a Wolftooth direct mount 32T.  According to their website, it provides an ideal 49 mm chainline, as compared to RaceFace's 51 mm.

Trying out Wolftooth for the first time

My intention for her is gravel grinds and shorter endurance events where I don't need the FS and drooper capabilities that Echo provides. Right now, she weighs in at 19.25 pounds.

I must give Mike Stanley of Niner, Bruce Blevins of The Outdoor Store, Industry 9, and Xpedo a HUGE thank you for providing me with a less than retail opportunity to shred on this machine.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Trans North Georgia (TNGA) Ride Report

The Trans North Georgia is a mountain bike route that is 350 miles long with 56,000 feet of elevation gain.  It starts just east of Clayton, Georgia on the South Carolina border and finishes on Hwy 20, just west of Rome, at the Alabama border.  The route runs through the Chattahoochee National Forest and runs the length of the Pinhoti Trail (131 miles).  The course consists of single track, ATV trail, gravel roads, and some pavement.

The start, at the South Carolina border

Having missed the Grand Depart back in August due to my work schedule, Lisa and I finally decided to take the plunge last Thursday. The one and only time I had attempted this route was back in 2011. After 118 miles, I had to pull the plug on top of HogPen Gap due to intense foot pain.  I was filled with trepidation as this would be my longest ride ever.  Although my feet had been doing well, even allowing me to race a duathlon the weekend before, I was concerned about aggravating the nerves again and potentially causing a major setback.  I promised myself to listen to my body.

Day 1:  SC state line to Blue Ridge, 170 miles, start 6:45 am, finish 1:30 am, 18:45 ride time

- I didn't have to wait 15 minutes for Eddie O'Dea to show up.
- Riding with the fastest woman, who also has the third fastest time ever, is an honor.
- Watching the dawn break is one of my favorite riding times.
- With the drought, ALL the gravel came to the surface.

Wilson Gap climb

- Wonder how many dirty diapers I will see in the national forest?
- The Darnell Creek Trail was a blast, similar to Butter in Pisgah.

Darnell Creek

- Said the Rabun Post Office employee, "We are not supposed to give you any water."  WTF!
- Patterson Gap gravel climb took two pedal strokes to gain one pedal stroke's worth of forward momentum since the gravel was so deep and loose.
- Made it to Tallulah River Campground on 3 bottles.  Refilled here.

Tallulah River

- The climb up Blue Ridge Gap was WAY more pleasant with overcast skies!
- The descent off Blue Ridge Gap was still filled with chunks of gnar.

The potential for glazing over your brake pads was high!

- Tray Mountain ... the never ending climb.  Halfway up, we got passed by a 1990's blue 2WD tow truck.  We never saw him again.  How the heck did he get down off that mountain?  is a question that remains today.
-So this is what the Hickory Nut Trail looks like.  In 2011 there was so much undergrowth, I was bouncing off all the rocks and having to walk sections.
-Coming down the highway into Helen, two mountain bikers pulled onto the road about 50 yards ahead of us.  Even after 11 hours on the bike, my first thought was, "Let's race them!"  Can't take the competitor out of me, I guess.
-New pavement on HogPen was a delight.  I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I passed by the parking area where I bailed back in 2011.
-I thought it cruel that after climbing up to Wolf Pen Gap, there was still more climbing to be had going up Duncan Ridge.
-The Duncan Ridge descent was the gravel version of Heartbreak Ridge.
-When I am tired, 50 degrees feels like 30 degrees.
-I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.  A solid 4 hours.

Campsite, first night.  Thanks, Loretta!

Day 2, Blue Ridge to Dalton, 110 miles, start 8 am, finish 9 pm, 13 hours ride time

-7 am came WAY too early.  And this comes from someone who normally gets up at 5 am.
- My right IT band began to act up on the Stanley Gap trail.

Sunrise on Stanley Gap

-Stanley Creek gravel road descent down to Cherry Log was smoooooooth as pavement ... and blazing fast!
-The climb up Bushy Head Gap was straight up; must of had Costa Ricans putting this road in as there were no switchbacks.
- Riding through Cashes Valley, I began to smell the forest fire up on Rough Ridge, only 150 acres at that time. (now well over 3000).

Refueling and texting our loved ones.

- Watson Gap gravel climb was a powdery mess.  But powder is easier than loose gravel.

Watson Gap, poppin' with color!

- South Fork Trail was in excellent condition.  Nice to not have to ride through mud and horse poop puddles.
- Pinhoti 0 was a beautiful ride, but still a sum'bitch!

P 0 creek crossing

- 1/2 way up P 0, the smoke got thicker.  Just a wee bit nervous as to what we were headed into.
- Heading up to Potato Patch, the Three Forks parking area was blocked off and numerous forest service vehicles were parked.
- Bear Creek was the first time I needed to purify water.

The smoky Mountaintown Overlook

- The work done on Pinhoti 1 and 2 was well done.  Too bad I was too tired and had an extra 8 pounds on my bike or I coulda raged on those descents and big berms!
-Sunset came as we plummeted down Tatum Lead.
- New discovery:  trails grow at night.  The grassy single track leading to the Dennis Mill section of Pinhoti went ... on ... forever!
- Bats were dive bombing my lights as I descended the single track down to the Dennis Mill trailhead.
- Cracker Barrel never tasted so good at 10 pm, even though I believe my mashed potatoes sat under the heating lamp for the past 5 hours.
- The Super Eight in Dalton was a welcome sight.  I flipped/flopped like a fish all night, as every muscle ached.  6 hours of restless and painful sleep.

Day 3, Dalton to Alabama border, 70 miles, start 7 am, finish 7 pm, 12 hours ride time.

- The climb up Dug Gap was brutal.  I was praying for my taint to just go numb.  Thank goodness I had the ability to stand and climb, which is what I did alot of today.
- Lisa was on fire today.  I don't know where she got the energy.  I was dying a slow death.
- It took me 5 1/2 hours to ride The Snake course (backwards)!

So, this happened. The Pine Hill climb along The Snake.

- Logging ... a necessary evil, decimated the section of The Snake between the beginning of Pine Hill climb and the crossing on Pocket Road.
- I was wanting a dropper post, not for the technical descents, but so I could get off/on the bike easier.  After 300 miles, getting a leg over the saddle was no small task.
- Frito-Lay is making money selling air!  I was able to get a 12 ounce bag of chips into a small Zip-Loc.  The guys at the gas station were enthralled!

No guilt in eating the whole bag!

- Unfortunately I did not get to enjoy my Pepsi with the chips.  All the rattling in the Mountain Feed Bag on my handle bar caused the seam at the bottom of the can to come undone.  I had been feeling small drops of liquid the last 10 miles, but had no idea it was my Pepsi leaking. Very sads.

Desperately needed those 150 calories

-Second time I needed to purify water was at Dry Creek.  Bear Creek definitely tasted better than Dry Creek.

Chlorine dioxide.  30 minutes for most bugs, and 4 hours for Giardia and Crypto ... and no bad taste.

- We had to ride around Strawberry Mountain.  It was closed due to a fire.  That allowed me a much needed Coke in Subligna.  I hardly ever drink sodas, so this was a real treat.  I never knew that a Coke could breathe life back into me.  A much needed boost for Taylor's Ridge.
- Fifty seven hours into this journey and I still had some spunk to enjoy the single track on Taylor's Ridge.  Well, at least the flats and descents.
- I was so happy to see the rail-trail.  And that it was in excellent condition.

Lisa says, "C'mon, only 12 miles left!

- I swear I think Lisa had a motor in her down tube.  The final 12 miles she kicked it into high gear and pulled me ALL THE WAY!
- So blessed to have her as my friend.  I could not have done this without her.  She is the Queen of Adventure! When I was not feeling good (which was a lot), she was there to guide me through the dark places.  Her energy was good to feed off of.

P'd and Gap'd out!

60 hours, border to border.

Other than an angry IT band and a numb left pinky finger, I survived without any major issues.  My 2012 Niner Jet 9 RDO was flawless.  With two bottle cages, I was able to carry 3 bottles on my bike and keep the water weight off my back.  This helped to lessen shoulder and back pain, but did not help much with the taint pain.  I had a 1 x drive train with a 28T chain ring. More than once I was wishing for an Eagle drive train.  My bike, with loaded bags and water bottles, weighed in at 33 pounds.  My CamelBak weighed 5 pounds.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Dirty Duathlon Race Report

Four years ago, I thought I would never be able to run again.  I had developed a foot neuropathy in 2011. Too many 24 hour solo events and an attempt at TNGA, where I had to pull out at Hogpen after excruciating foot pain, had caused a multitude of foot problems (Morton's neuromas, dropped arches, and metatarsal fat pad atrophy). Even after a foot surgery in 2012 and wearing custom orthotic inserts, for 3 years, I still could not walk barefoot for any length of time without being in pain. And I had to severely limit my long distance bike events. But time heals all wounds and just this year, I began running a little.  Baby steps turned into 1 mile, then 2 miles, and finally I could run 3 miles without any significant discomfort.

So it was only logical (in my mind) that after a few 5K lunch break runs that I make an attempt at racing one.  But since running is not fun, seriously, how many runners do you see that are smiling?, I sammiched the run between two mountain bike legs.  Hence, Mountain Goat Adventures' Dirty Duathlon.

I decided on the SS, since Mary had signed up in my class.  Well, the little stinker decided to race gears, as she thought the start would involve the 1/2 mile of greenway.  Oh well, the course is well suited to one gear.  Just not sure I was, having raced 5 Points 50 the previous weekend.  Recovery is not as simple as it used to be.

The first bike leg was the Mill section.  Five miles of fast and flowy, where momentum could be easily carried through the turns.  The race started out XC fast, something I had not done in awhile. All I can say is "Dayem ... that hurt!"  With Mary on my wheel, I went hard on the gas. I don't think I sat much at all on that leg.  I was hammering on the ups and the downs were just bumpy enough that I needed my legs for suspension.

Mary and I entered the transition together.  This is where I became all thumbs!  The cold brisk air had chilled my fingers to the point where tying my running shoes became an event in of itself. I began the run with all my bike crap in my pockets, so made a quick U-turn, dumped out my contents, and then began my run, again. Breathing the cold air during the bike had irritated my throat and for the first 10 minutes or so, I coughed and hacked like a smoker.  The run was on the Explorer Trail which had its ups and downs, but nothing too steep.  There was definitely a good flow.  I would not call myself a runner, but a fast plodder.  I passed only one person while getting swept into the wakes of at least 10 runners.  The only thing that hurt during this effort were my lungs.  Well, until I tripped over a stob and "Superman'd" into the dirt.  Next time, if there is one, I will keep my cycling gloves on.  I popped up and looked around to make sure there were no witnesses.  Crashing during the run ... only I could pull that off!

Explorer Trail

As I came back to the transition area, Lisa told me that I was 2 minutes behind Mary.  I wouldn't call that getting "smoked," but it came pretty close!  This transition went a little quicker as it is easier to put bike shoes back on.  I took a few swigs of fluid, put my bike crap back into my pockets and hopped on the bike.  

The legs were NOT happy.  I had to HAB up the first few yards of the Avalanche Trail.  The trail finally leveled out somewhat where I could hop on and pedal with a cadence of 40.  That initial climb about did me in!  And I realized I had forgotten to put my glasses back on.  So for the remainder of the race, I had images of a stick being rammed into my eyeball.  Call me paranoid, but after seeing many dogs and cats with severe eye injuries, I ALWAYS wear glasses.

Avalanche Trail - more enjoyable with fresh legs.

This bike leg was more at a ride pace than race pace.  My legs were hurtin' buckaroos.  I guess the transition from bike to run is something that one just has to work on to get the body used to it.  I was wishing for one easier gear, as it was difficult to turn the pedals over on the steeper climbs.  I didn't turn myself inside out on this legs as I couldn't, so just tried to enjoy it as much as possible.  This trail was not flowy like the first one and had more climbing.  The corners were sketchier, too.

1 hour 30 minutes later, I rolled across the finish line.  I suffered in a whole new way today.  I enjoyed the challenge, but not sure if I will do it again.  I will still run as it compliments my cycling and the bones do need a good pounding every now and then.

Hard chargers!
Another awesome and fun'ish event put on by Lisa Randall of Mountain Goat Adventures!  Tons of volunteers, well marked course, and post race Skittles!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

5 Points 50 Race Report

Earlier in the month I was a bit torn between this race and the Payne's Creek 6 Hour.  Both are super fun in their own unique ways.  Did I want chunk and gnar on full squish or fast and flow on my SS?

HandUp Gloves made my decision easier.  A pair to each registrant ... SOLD!  I was also loving my Niner RKT, especially after putting a Fox StepCast 32 on her.  We had bonded pretty tightly at the Marji Gesick and I just could not let her sit at home this weekend.

After last year's mudfest, conditions this year were on the other end of the spectrum.  Dry, dusty, and fast!  Justin and Amy Mace of Roost Racing had taken the race over and with the addition of a 25 mile course, had nearly doubled the registrations.  Thumbs up to the 9 am start!  1 hour later made it a bit easier to negotiate the off-camber venue and allow for a little more sleepage.

I managed to park beside the Quadinator, Mr. Scott Harper himself. Although we had been FB friends since last year, I finally got a chance to chat with him about SS, CrossFit, and stomping him at Iron Mountain (he brought that subject up).

As I dug in my cooler for my flask of Gu Roctane, I realized I had left it at home.  Panicking, I reached into my gear bag and pulled out 2 gels, a Honey Stinger waffle, and a Larabar.  I don't do well with protein and fat during a high intensity race, so I would save the Larabar for the end, where I would expect my heart rate to drop and so could better tolerate this type of fuel.  Mark was also kind enough to give me some Cliff Shot Blocks.

The start was a neutral roll out on pavement for 5 miles.  The first couple miles were at a great pace for me to warm up.  The big engines up front put the hammer down around mile 3 and I quickly settled into the second group, heart rate in the red zone and the legs burning going up the climbs.

The legs were happy to hit the single track.  I was sandwiched in between two single speeders.  Rich was in front, showing me which lines NOT to take, and the SS behind me (sorry, didn't get your name) was heckling Rich on his lack of skill.

They eventually got away from me, as the trail pitched upwards and Rich found his groove.  The first 8 miles of the 5 Points system was a blur. The flow was on!  Some loose over hardpack, but nothing too sketchy.  I had Scott on my tail through most of this.  I just knew he was itching to get by, but when asked, he was content to ride my coat tails.  Finally, as we approached the last half of Kettle Bottom Trail, he slid on by and slowly pulled away.  Pretty sure he was thinking "unfinished business."

The legs started getting a bit heavy grinding up Cross Cut and I had to back off less I take the chance of blowing up.  And I knew, from having done this race twice before, I had to save some for the last 12 miles.  I caught Mary out of the corner of my eye as I was switchbacking up the trail.  There went any hopes of a rest.  Trish was also back there. If I could just stay ahead on these nontechnical bits, I could possibly gain some time through the rock gardens.  I decided to use a couple matches.

Coming into the rock garden on Cap Rock, I knew the line that would see me through cleanly.  A heckler was there and "poo-poo'd" me when I took a left after I made it over the first couple boulders on the climb up.  Calling me out for taking the easier line, I could care less cuz' I cleaned it!  Then he started on the guys behind me as they followed. That gave me quite the chuckle.

Rolling through Aid 1, I saw Jen seated next to her vehicle, covered in a blanket, and giving  moral support as I blew by.  I was disappointed for both her and myself that she was nursing a knee injury and could not race.  She would have absolutely ate this course up, not to mention pushing me into the pain cave with her fitness and skills.

The trails on the other side of Ascalon parking lot are some of my favorite of this course.  Barkeater and Kindergarden are full of rock gardens and will have you doing all kinds of dances on your bike to keep upright and make it through unscathed.  I was digging my I-9's through this as I had to back pedal quite a bit to avoid pedal strikes.  A spectator at one of the toughest parts told me I rode it as well as any of the guys.  Thank you, Mr. Boost of Self Confidence!

Finishing up this section, I was happy to see my BRF Zeke Lilly out there.  He heckled a few guys as I was dragging them up a hill.  Little did he know that they were just being polite and waiting for room to pass.

Not needing anything, I blew by Aid 2 and headed out to finish the remaining miles of 5 Points.  22+ miles in and my lower back was killing me!  I needed to stand up and stretch it out, but the ups/downs/lefts/rights of Hogsback and Bankhead kept me from doing so.  The pain worsened!  Time to embrace the pain cave!  I kept telling myself that this is only temporary; it helped mentally, but physically I was having a difficult time pushing the power.  Finally I hit the connector and was able to stand and stretch, which brought some much needed relief.

With a brief respite from the achy back, I made short work of Peace Can and Tailings.  So stinkin' fast, I was loving every minute of it. Then onto the LongBranch connector ... not so much fun. Chewed up, horsed up, ATV'ish double track littered with baby heads.  The back pain set in once again so I would stand up and stretch whenever I could.  A lot of the corners had deep sand and my front wheel washed out more than once.  How I did not end up on the ground I do not know!

Entering the LongBranch Community's private trails, I gulped my last bit of hydration from my CamelBak.  The 3 creek crossings were totally dry ... and rideable.  The climb up Theo's Trail was hell, as it set my back off once again.  I finally figured out that if I just stood and rode my bike like a single speed, my back stopped barking.

I stopped at aid 3, chugged a Red Bull, dropped my CamelBak, and grabbed a bottle for the final push.  Down the pavement, right onto a highway, climb for 3/4 mile, left onto private property, down a loose and deep gravel road, and then UP just one of many steep double track climbs.  I can see where this last 10 miles can be so demoralizing for some.  But I had saved enough for this stretch and, aside from my back, I was in my happy place.  Thankful that my "scavenged up" nutrition was working, I motored on, knowing that soon the scent of the barn would be near, giving me that extra bit horsepower to finish strong.

So up the horrendous climb to Jedi, a shred fest of flow!  Then up another climb to enjoy the slightly technical and off camber Homestead Trail.  Then bomb down gravel, surf the corners, and hit the South Creek Trail.  As I negotiated its tight and twisty turns, I got to smell the food and listen to the music as it took me right by, but across the creek from party central! Soon I came to the creek crossing, which was not much more than a trickle.  Last year it was up to my heart rate strap and I had to hold onto a rope with one hand and shoulder my bike in the other!  Once again I passed by the finish as I climbed my way out of the Trust's lands to begin the final section of private trail.  But first, a two mile rolling section of pavement.  Thank you Jesus for the trailwind!

These last few miles really test your mettle.  By now, my legs were trying to die, my back was on fire, and my stomach was growling for real food. Any normal person would ask, "Why?"  To which I would respond, "because this is what makes me feel ALIVE!"  So I enjoyed the powerline climb, the loose and ledgy descents, followed by more powerline.  Because I knew that on the other side was some sweet bits of final single track.  On the edge of losing it in the corners to mustering up enough torque to grind out the final climb, I relished being able to feel my heart beat and hear the ragged breathing, signaling that I was living on the edge.  Hitting that final crest, I let up and let gravity do its thing, sending me over those last rocky drops and feeling my bike use up every bit of suspension, as I found the ground again.

Trying to time trial it to the finish, the final mile was the hardest. Slightly downhill, but I was having a hard time pushing over the pedals, the legs filling with lactic.  Seeing the finish line, all smiles, and happy to be the first woman across.  4:41, almost 40 minutes faster than last year!  That tells you just how great the conditions were, as I feel that my fitness is about the same.  Little did I know that only Trish's ghost had been chasing me down; she had taken ill and without much sleep the night before (seems they were the only ones in the hotel that did not have bloodhounds as there was a dog show in town), decided not to race.  I was glad I did not know, as her ghost kept me pushing to hit that red zone all day.

Only thing missing was the mattock trophy of years' past (hint, hint)!

I want to thank Justin and Amy for putting on a great race with great schwag, prizing, food, and beer (so I heard).  The volunteers were awesome and much appreciated.  I chose the right race this weekend!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Marji Gesick 100 ( err, 110) Race Report

Suffering is easier in the company of a best friend.

Wow!  Where to begin on this behemoth of a race?  Last year was the inaugural one.  Todd Poquette of the 906 Adventure Team and Danny Hill, the Jedi Master of trail building for RAMBA, are the deviant masterminds behind the event.  The race is named after the Chippewa Chief who led the Jackson Mining Company to a large iron ore deposit in what is now Negaunee, Michigan.

No bikes allowed beyond this point.

100 miles wasn't good enough, so they through in an extra 10 for this one.  AND, there would be a 0.4 mile run to your bike.  Aside from the Vapor Trail where I started out with lights, this was the first time I put lights in my drop bag.

The race was unsupported (by the race organization).  They would take your drop bag out to Jackson Mine Park (mile 70 and mile 90), but that was it.  It was mentioned in BOLD in every email that you are on your own. You were allowed to have support crew meet you along the course. But it was up to you to get to the finish ... or get yourself out of the woods if something went wrong.You were strongly encouraged to ride with a GPS, as they did not guarantee that the signage would still be there by the time you rolled through.

This sign was the pre race meeting.

Having said all of that, the towns people came out in droves!  I counted no less than 10 "unofficial" aid stations set up by volunteers, community members, and friends/family of the racers.  I even saw an old couple alongside one of the very short greenway sections, in old-timey lawn chairs, with Mason jars scattered around their feet full of clear liquid.  Now, I did not stop, so I cannot tell you what that those jars contained!

Made to order at an "unofficial" aid station!

300+ racers lined up at 7:30am.  The national anthem was played.  ALL placed their hand over their heart and most took off their helmets.  As soon as it ended it was a mad scramble to replace the helmet because Danny was lighting the home made bottle rocket.  As it went up, then over, and then DOWN into the crowd, I was off on my journey.  Thank goodness I had been incorporating 3 mile runs into my work out schedule.  THAT was a long assed run ... in carbon soled shoes!  Lisa shot off like a rabbit and I would not see her again for awhile.  After about 7 minutes, I hopped on my bike and attempted to turn the pedals over quickly.  I wanted to reconnect with Lisa.  We had discussed racing together and from doing TransRockies, PMBAR, and Double Dare, she was the peanut butter to my jelly.

The first few miles was wide open, soft cross country ski trail. Why did we need a Lemans start?  The first thing I noticed was that there were alot of fat bikes.  But of course, most of the racers were from this region and probably have a longer fat bike season than a skinny tire one.  Everyone played nicely during this rolling section.  My legs were quite angry at this point; I blame the run as they had felt really good in the days leading up to the race.  I caught up to Lisa just as we arrived at a fairly nice double track descent.  From there we hit a flat trail that at one time was a railroad.  Somebody forgot to tell them to remove the railroad ties, however.  Even though there was some soil in between the ties, it was still annoyingly rough!  Ker-chunk, ker-chunk, ker-chunk went my bike for about a mile.

Glad to be off that and finally into real single track.  Lisa was rocking the gnar and I was glad to follow her lines.  Unfortunately we did not get the chance to ride the Top O' The World section as there were lots of racers around us and it ended up being a HAB both up and a short bit down.  But there was plenty of tech to challenge us.  The trails were tight and twisty with short, punchy ups and steep droppy downs. And littered with rocks and roots. Overnight there had been a heavy dew which made the rocks and roots that much more interesting.  I used my upper body alot, working through the gnar.  I hit my 710mm wide bars more than once on the ever abundant trees.  Lisa and I were passed by a few locals, who knew what was lying around the next tree or rocky outcropping.  Most were nice and patient as there were not many opportunities for passing.  One dude who was up my butt and way to antsy for only being 10 miles into the race, bit it hard.  The trail demanded too much attention for me to look back, but I heard him say that he was o.k. That is why you leave more than one wheel length between you and the rider ahead! 

Back out onto a sandy road, Lisa motorpaced me to the next single track.  My legs still felt like cement had been dumped into them.  I threw down a Honey Stinger waffle and hoped that they would come around soon.  The next trails that carried us back to Marquette (Noquemanonn, EZ-PZ, The Cedars, Dead River) were relatively smooth and flowy. We finally felt like we were gaining some ground.  The trails in this area were a network of spiderwebs.  I had to pay close attention to signage as well as my Garmin to make sure I was on track.

Then we hit the Lowe's climb, which paralleled the power lines. Nothing technical, just a crap load of up. I knew we were close to the Hwy 42 crossing when we hit the back door of a strip mall, which included Lowe's.  From there we worked our way through a culvert to avoid becoming a pancake on the highway.

Just enough light to avoid the large rocks ... or body parts?

Once on the other side, we stopped and Lisa grabbed some water from our support crew.  This gave me a chance to throw down down peanut butter filled salted dates (what the diesel engine likes).  And then we were on a couple miles of the Iron Ore Heritage Trail (greenway) over to the South Trails. My legs had finally arrived and I was ready to lead the way!  I was glad there was a cyclist at the turn off point because it was a very sharp right and hidden.  The first section of trails were machine built and full of flow.  Lots of bermage!  I was definitely in my happy place here, running on all 8 cylinders.  We slowly worked our way around the Marquette Golf Club.  I saw several signs as we approached close to the fairways that said, "Be quiet, golfers nearby." I kept my inner wild child at bay, but put the I-9's in full on coast mode!

At mile 45, Lisa and I rolled into the South Trails parking lot where Rudy and Vicky awaited.  Here we both refilled our hydration packs and took on more food.  Now 5 hours into the race, I thought our chances of securing a buckle were good.  Right out of the parking lot the South Trails turned into Mr. Hyde.  As we were negotiating a rocky uphill, we saw the trail had claimed a victim's bike.  The derailleur and cassette of his bike were intertwined like newlyweds, probably a hard upshift under extreme torque, as this was a heinous climb.

With a 28 on the front, I made easy work of this climb.  The trails had hero dirt, the knobbies were all grippy, and I was in my rock crawling mode.  Had it not been for a fellow racer walking his bike on the ensuing descent, I woulda cleaned that rocky drop as well.  Then came the gravel road climb up Mt. Marquette.  360 feet in 0.75 miles = alot of 12-13% grade.  As we slowly made our way up, I talked to a racer that said the best downhill was just to come.  I asked, "Is it the Scary Trail?" to which he replied, "Yes."  Sa-weet!  I had heard about this one and was looking forward to it.

Finally at the top, I dropped in, having no idea what to expect.  I could tell that the shit was about to hit the fan when I saw a cluster of racers off their bikes.  Pausing for only a moment, I said, "rider back." One guy said, "It's slick; are you sure?"  I did not answer as I hit my drooper button and sent it!  I think I heard a gasp or two as I continued down the trail.  Although it was indeed technical, the pucker factor was just a 3.4.  By far, this was my favorite trail of the day.

Halfway down Scary was the second checkpoint.  There were 4 of these CP's in the race.  You had to grab a poker chip at each one.  This was proof that you completed the course and would get a finishing time. The first one had been somewhere in the North Trails.  I grabbed one for Lisa, stuck it in her pack and off we went.

One more punchy climb and then another fun descent on Ezy Rider. Somewhere on the climb Lisa picked up a stick that jammed into her cassette.  She lost a couple gears and we could not get that little bastard out. I knew our support crew would be waiting for us around mile 55, so I took an opportunity to forge ahead and prepare for a surgical extraction.  While we awaited on Lisa's arrival, I made sure to eat and drink.  After several minutes, she arrived.  Rudy was ready with an array of tools.  At this point, Lisa told me to go on.  I really did not want to. But she was insistent  The day before we had discussed riding together, but that if one of us felt we were holding the other back, we would let the other go. As much as I hated too, I pedaled off.  At this point, I was 6 1/2 hours into the race.  That left 5 1/2 for the last 50'ish miles.  A challenge, but still doable, or so I thought.

I soft pedaled for a couple miles, hoping that I would here the familiar buzz of Lisa's wheels catching up to mine.  But after 10 minutes, I knew I was on my own.  The next 15 miles to the town of Negaunee was a steady slog uphill on mind numbing trail.  On paper, it looked fast, but with a rather large chunk of it being snowmobile trail, it turned out to be a death march in ankle deep sand.  There were a few sections where I could ride up on the lip of the trail, but then it would disappear.  On more than one occasion, I had to push, not uphill, but on a flat section!  At this point, with still 5 more miles to get to Jackson Mine Park where my peoples would be, I could see the buckle slowly slipping away from me.

Finally, I hit the Iron Ore Heritage Trail, a mix of smooth gravel and pavement.  I could see a racer 100 yards in front of me.  Head down, I hammered to catch up, where I could take some respite from the headwind.  50 yards ... 25 yards ... 10 yards ... and locked on to his rear wheel!  I could not help but notice his snazzy orange I-9 hubs on his orange Salsa with the orange Fox SC Fork!  After a couple miles, it was my turn to take a pull.

Jackson Mine Park, mile 70

As I arrived into the outskirts of town,  I went through my mental checklist of what needed to be done at the SAG stop.  Jackson Mine Park was full of support crews and spectators!  I had a hard time finding Rudy and Vicki in the throngs, but they saw me and waved ecstatically.  While I grabbed food and drink, they told me they were able to get the stick out of Lisa's cassette.  And that she was still feeling good, but not "Carey pace" good.

Leaving out of the park, I had 4 hours to complete 40'ish miles. Easily accomplished in other hundies I have raced), but near impossible here. I was determined to leave it all out here, tho'.  The initial climb up Malton was pretty chewed up and whereas it was rideable during my pre ride, now with 70 miles in my legs, I HAB'd it.  Up top, this trail was super tight and twisty, and at times I thought I was going to be turned into a pretzel.

5 Points on Steroids!

One section I particularly remember is a sign that said Sharp right turn with a sheer drop off on your left!  No effin' joke!  No guard rail, no yellow tape, just an 80 foot free fall to your death.  I rode it, but kept my eyes firmly planted on the trail in front of me.  This trail was definitely old school, created by lots of back breaking hard labor with simple tools.  Lots of punchy ups and downs over big rocks.  More half-track than single track, with side cuts that would be quite a tumble down should you stray off the 12 inch path. Although slow going, I was having an absolute blast working the bike through this section. Got to give a big shout out to Joshua Hicks of Result Fitness and the 10 months of burpees, jump squats, box blasts, hang cleans, dead lifts, etc.  After 70+ miles of racing, I still had that upper end torque necessary to clean this trail.

At about the 78 mile mark, the course dumped me out into downtown Ishpeming.  This was the hardest portion to navigate as it was hard to make out the signage and avoid traffic, too.  I did see a racer up ahead and followed his lead, while at the same time looking at my GPS for confirmation. Just to throw salt in the wound, Todd made sure the course went right by the finish!  The 50 mile racers were finished and I could see them enjoying beer and barbeque!

Motoring on, I caught up to the racer.  His name was Derek, from Marquette.  I truly enjoyed his company, as I was in a low spot at this point.  Working together, the mileage seemed to move on somewhat quicker.  I shared some water with him, as he had missed his last feed. He seemed genuinely concerned that I was getting top notch treatment from the locals.  To which I replied, yes, the "yoopers" were a friendly bunch.  At some point, while climbing up to the 53rd bluff in this 20 mile section, he popped off my wheel.  I kinda missed that big burly bear and his awesome attitude the remainder of the race.

After 2 1/2 hours of constantly being on the gas, I arrived back at Jackson Mine Park.  It was now 6pm.  I grabbed my helmet with the light, refilled my hydration pack one last time and headed out for the final 15 miles.  15 miles in any other race would be doable in 90 minutes or less.  But I figured I had another 2 hours of gnar to tackle.  And, it was already getting dark in the woods.

This last section ought to be titled, "How many times do I have to climb to the top?"  I would cough up a lung on the loose and steep ATV trail climbs and then have just enough left in me to tackle the gnarly descents.  These hill repeats of death seemed to go on forever. A few of them I had to walk. Getting back on the bike after an arduous push to the top was a feat in of itself.  I laughed out loud at how silly I must have looked trying to clip back in. And just to make sure we had muddy bikes at the end of the race, prior to each climb was a green quagmire that ran the width of the trail.

At mile 97, I asked Tyler on a fat bike if he could smell the barn yet.  I suppose that is a southern colloquialism, as I totally threw him off guard.  I shoulda thrown out some "yonders", "up and unders", and "over thars." That would have really messed his mojo up ... hehe.

At around mile 98, I lost Tyler on a long fireroad descent that popped me out onto a road.  A real paved road, with houses nearby.  Surely to God I must be close to the finish!  No sooner had I thought those words than I was immediately turned back into some single track with yet another steep climb. I saw a sign ahead for another checkpoint, the fourth and final one.  And then I saw a two way traffic sign.  I was befuddled momentarily.  And then I let loose (in my mind) a Yosemite Sam tirade of expletives.

The last CP was an out and back!  As much as the fatigued 47 year old whose legs were about to fall off wanted to sit down and throw a fit, the maniac who loves to suffer embraced it, knowing that I was going to finish this!

Grabbing that last poker chip gave me renewed strength.  Turing my light on now for the steep descent, I railed it.  This last bit of single track still required constant focus, and now with the sun setting, the trail was even more difficult to read.  Night riding is tricky, especially at last light.  I would much rather be racing in the pure dark as opposed to dusk, where shadows play with your depth perception.

The last mile was all paved and all downhill.  Crossing the finish line at 8:11 pm brought with it a roller coaster of emotions.  After 12:41 minutes of racing, I was happy to have completed this monster, bike and body intact.  Yeah, I was a bit disappointed in not getting the buckle, but that was short-lived.  After a year of preparing for this one, so many things could have potentially gone wrong. But not one bad thing happened, for which I am so blessed.

1st woman, 28th overall.

I have to bow down and give tremendous kudos to all the peeps that allowed this amazing event to happen.  From race director on down to the smiling kid who handed me a cup of water trailside at mile 25, this race is in the top 5 of volunteer and community support.  Even though it was proclaimed as a "self-supported" event, there were hundreds of people out there who would have helped in any way they could, should I had needed assistance.

The pre race schwag, including a poster, patch, sticker, and unlimited Hammer Gels were spot on! There were no podiums, only a $1.00 to the winner, and a buckle to the sub-12 hour finishers.  The Marji Gesick 110 is about racing the course, not each other, and I liked it that way.  And each person finishing this beast was a winner.  The attrition rate was high; less than 53% finished.

An unbelievable adventure through the craggy wilderness of the UP.

I have already signed up for 2017, as I have unfinished business.  For those of you that live and love the Pisgah Productions type events, then this is right up your alley.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Black Bear Rampage Race Report

My heart was heavy going into this race.  Just the day before, fellow mountain biker whom I was blessed to know, lost his 11 year battle with cancer.  Kevin Scoggins lived each and every day of his 46 years of life with strength, humility, and his unwavering faithfulness to God. As I prepared that morning for my race, I thought of nothing but him and what his beloved wife Leisa must be going through.  Even though I wasn't feeling too great myself, for I had been "glutened" a week ago and was now carrying around a 3 pound "Buddha Belly,"  I was determined to race my legs off in his honor.

Relentless was how Kevin lived each day.

As the gun went off at 9am,  I charged up the 2.5 mile pavement climb.  It wasn't long before I knew I could not hang with the front pack, so I let my legs come around on there own terms.  Jen disappeared with the big boys, but I wasn't concerned about how I placed today among my fellow athletes.  I just wanted to have a good clean run.

After 10 minutes of hammering up the road, I hit Brush Creek.  I was glad for the rain that had settled the dust on the trail, but it had also made the bridges slick as snot.  I approached them with extreme caution; bike upright, hands off the brakes.  Halfway through Brush Creek, my legs woke up.  I was easily able to pick up the pace.  I was pleasantly surprised that my heart rate easily soared into the low 160's with a perceived effort of 6-7. I had been unable to attain that HR since getting sick.

Before I knew it, I was flying down Boyd Gap.  I had recently installed a dropper on my Niner RKT and was making the most of it.  The corners were a little slick, but without my seat getting all up in my butt, I was able to fishtail around them without getting squirrelly.  So worth the 0.7 pound weight penalty!

Loving my rocket ship

Old Copper Road was a highway as I flew down the trail.  I was beginning to feel a hint of sparkle in the legs.  I was fearful the feeling would be short-lived and that I would go back to my slump once I hit the climb up Bear Paw.  After the creek crossing, Zeke handed me a bottle and told me I was 30 seconds behind Jen.  What what?!?  Jen is so strong I was sure that she would have been farther up. Beginning the climb up Bear Paw, I ratcheted down a bit, worried that I would feel the dreaded cement legs.  But that never came to be.  My legs were alive and ready to hammer.  Locking out my rear suspension, I began to stand and throw my bike around on the climbs as if it was my single speed.

Feeling great, I gave Henry a fist pump as I rolled through his station. He yelled out that I was 20 seconds behind Jen. As I sailed down the descents and flew up the climbs of Lower Chestnut, I had a feeling that I was not alone.  Call me crazy, but Kevin's spirit was with me.  I had wings ... and this time not from drinking Red Bull.  Towards the end of this section, I began to see glimpses of Jen.  By the time I hit Thunder Rock, I was on her wheel.  I followed her in awe down this descent.  For not having ridden this trail, she was raging it.

On the climb up FS45, I popped off her wheel.  I needed to eat and drink and allow the legs to come back around again.  As I get older, it takes my body more time to shift from descending mode back to climbing mode.  Fenton was at the aid station at the top and cheering me on.  That gave me just what I needed to get back to task.  Looking at my time, I was en route to a PR.

Climbing up to Quartz, I wanted to reel Jen back in, because I knew that together we could push each other and go harder than if we were each alone.  Together we entered the Quartz Loop.  I could tell she was a bit unfamiliar with the terrain.  She also mentioned that she had been riding quite a bit in Pisgah on her big bike and that she felt a little discombobulated on her shorter travel Lust.  I know that sometimes it can be hard to transition from one bike to another; been there done that.

As we approached Bypass, I took the lead, hoping that this might help our little train get down the mountain quicker.  It seemed to work as I was feeling very comfortable pushing my bike to its limit on the descents.  Together we made short work of Riverview.  As we approached the last climb out of Riverview, I was passed by a racer. Feeling competitive, I hopped on his wheel and followed him down 1331 and BearPaw.  1331 was really washed out and I had to hop a couple of ditches that came up super fast; definitely a couple of "Oh Shit!" moments.  At one point, I looked behind me and realized that I had dropped Jen.  I could have swore she was right behind me.  You know, the sound of sticks breaking, rocks getting strewn about, brake squeals. No one ... but me.  That was eerie!

Coming back across the Olympic Bridge, I was cautioned by spectators to take it slow.  I'm glad they did that, as I was feeling so good I just wanted to GO!  Grabbing my last bottle from Zeke, I headed back up Old Copper Road to the finish.  I was lucky enough to tuck in behind two racers all the way to the pavement.

Headed back up Boyd Gap, I remembered past races when I was on my single speed ... and how I had to get off and HAB up two short sections.  The challenge today was to not dab.  Some poor soul behind me was riding a bike making all sorts of pitiful noises.  It sounded like it belonged on the Island of MisFit toys.  He told me his shock or maybe his fork was blown.  He was indeed struggling. I let him pass on a flatter section so that he could get some speed up to try and make it up one of the punchy parts.  He hit it hard but that poor bike was not cooperating and he was bucked off.  I managed to make it around him, gassed it, and dropped him.

Entering Brush Creek I had only 7 miles to go.  I tried to imagine this as a 20 minute L4 interval.  I started out good, but forgot about that first bridge, was carrying too much speed going into it, and kissed it HARD.  My left shoulder and hip made contact first and I heard a pop in my low back.  I immediately jumped up and swiveled my bars back around. In my mind, the quicker I get back on my feet, the better my chances of avoiding a race ending injury.  Although I could tell I was "out of alignment," it did not hurt too bad.  I just figured I would out race my pain.

The first few miles, I had adrenaline fueling me.  The last few miles, the pain was catching back up to me.  I fought hard to keep my speed up, but after 3 hours and 15 minutes, I was about spent.  I did not want my PR to slip out of my grasp.  I locked out my suspension, stood, and mashed the pedals in fury for the last 1/4 mile.  I could feel a twinge in my left inner quad, but pushed on ... relentless. I wanted Kevin's approval for fighting for every inch of trail!  I crossed the finish line in 3:24, first woman.

I managed to get off the bike, but it took about 5 minutes before I could straighten out my back. Brad Cobb handed me an ice cold coke which I quickly chugged.  Slowly but surely I started coming back around.  Zeke was kind enough to drive me back down to the start.

Every racer got a hoodie.  I got a first place mug and some Tifosi's, which I will wear.  Although I think that in the future they ought to award the Masters' winners with a pair of Tifosi readers!  Part of the draw to the race is the fantastic schwag that Scott's Bikes has.  And the number plates are defintely wall worthy.

Lisa managed 2nd despite racing on very tired legs.

While cleaning up, I reminisced about the past 3 1/2 hours.  I couldn't explain my "chainless" day. It could have simply been my coach's training plan and the fact that I was getting ready to peak for my "A" race.  It could have been the easy week leading up to this race, especially since I wasn't feeling well and had backed off the training plan a bit.  But I BELIEVE it was Kevin's spirit that touched my soul and propelled me forward.

Every time I race, at some point the "pain cave" appears.  It can be a very dark and self destructive place.  It is when the legs are burning, the breathing is ragged, and focusing becomes difficult.  This is where the mental games take place.  You must know what you want and no matter how difficult and perhaps unreachable you may think your goal may be, you must conquer those inner demons.

Well today, I would take Kevin's motto and turn it into my Power Phrase.  I must have said "Be Relentless" a hundred times as I tackled the climbs and the steep grunts.  And it worked!  I threw everything I had at the course today.

Unfortunately I missed my PR by a few minutes.  But I was ok with that, because it still felt like the ride of my life.  And that is how Kevin treated each and every one of his cancer filled and cancer free days.  I will miss him.  But every ride from here on out, I will carry a piece of him.

2 Timothy 4:7:  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.