|89 miles and 13,000 feet, not including my little detour at the end.|
I was excited to hear that Kim Murrell of Chilhowee Outdoors, LLC, was bringing back a classic route ... with a couple twists. The Death March route dates back to the original Cohutta 100 mountain bike race. The route was the gravel portion of the hundie. I used to do this ride every year, either as part of the NUE race or as a good hard training ride. The Death March revival route is this route but with a few add-ons including the Big Frog Loop and riding from and back to Mulberry Gap, who was kind enough to host the race. This added a few miles and a few thousand feet of climbing.
Before I get into my race, I wanted to discuss my bike set up as I had quite a few inquiries leading up to race day. The race was completely self supported. No course markings and no resupply, other than water at the 50 mile mark.
|Niner Air 9 RDO, 19.0 pounds without the gear.|
I opted for the Brad Cobb-approved Bontrager XRO 2.0 tires. 50mm wide and with just enough knob to take the "scare" out of drifting through the corners. Drivetrain was an Eagle with a 34T. And Ergon GS3 for multiple hand postions.
|Kept her warm and cozy in the cabin the night before.|
With this being my backyard, I knew the course, but still rode with my Garmin 510 ... with the course uploaded, just in case. I had two Revelate Designs Mountain Feedbags (one for a bottle, the second for food), an Oveja Negra Snack Pack for tools and light battery, a Backcountry Research Super 8 Top Tube Strap (for securing additional clothing), and a Bontrager seat bag with 2 tubes, 2 CO2's, tire levers, repair kit). I normally use the Backcountry Research Race Strap instead of seat bag, but with the additonal gear necessary for a self supported race and wanting to keep most of the weight off my back, I was forced to use the saddle scrotum. I did use the Backcountry Research Tul Bag which I kept in my jersey (it is in the bottom of the picture above). It safely and neatly contains all of my tiny tool bits (multi tool, tire patches, tube patches, quick links, chain links, water purification tabs, cleat bolt).
We were blessed with atypical December weather. Dry and warm-ish with a starting temp of 42 degrees. I still did a 15 minute warm up in my cabin which consisted of jumping jacks, high knees, butt kicks, push ups, squats, and lunges. I've found this little work out to be preferential to warming up on the bike in a less than ideal area (steep hilly terrain) or temperature (less than 48 degrees).
The start was casual and with conversation. Having a hill to climb right out of the gate allowed my engine a gradual warm up and kept the head gasket intact. I could tell that the massage I had 3 days prior by Virginia at ReVive Massage Therapy had worked magic on my legs as they felt fresh and spry (dare I say sparkly?).
Once the group turned onto FS 90, the group blew apart as the front runners turned up the wattage. I kept pace with Elizabeth, but once we turned right onto FS 68, I was seeing heart rate numbers I knew I could not sustain without blowing up, so I backed off and watched her slowly get smaller and finally disappear about halfway up the Potato Patch climb. There was a male racer who had a similar pace to mine about 150 meters ahead of me. Knowing what was to come once I hit the top, I slowly and without too much effort, made my way up to his wheel. I finally connected to him after I turned left at the top. Rolling up to him, I realized it was Van, my old SuperSport team mate. Awesome sauce!
|Photo Credit: Dondiart Photography|
The next 4 miles was rolling ridge line. I tucked in behind Van on the downhills to get as much free speed as possible. I stuck to him like glue. There was a few times where I popped off his wheel, but realizing that I could not go at his pace without detriment, I would ride my own pace and slowly reel him back in at the top of the climb. We yo-yo'd throughout these miles. He got away from me on the final descent to FS 17 ... and blew right by the turn. I yelled at him; he heard me and did a 180 without losing too much time.
FS 17 was fast and furious! I got a glimpse of Elizabeth just ahead and within a mile had her reeled back in. I stayed on her wheel through a few tricky turns. Realizing she was on a rigid fork and being a little more cautious, I opted for the pass when the road opened up and I could safely get by without the risk of becoming a hood ornament should a vehicle suddenly appear.
By this time Van had caught back up to me and then we latched onto another racer who was making awesome time down the mountain and picking good lines. Once the three of us hit FS 16 and began encountering a few short climbs, I knew I was going to have a great race. Instead of the normal "heavy leg syndrome" I get after having descended forever and then having to get back on the gear, the legs felt light and lively. Hot damn! It was going to be a "chainless" day!
Towards the end of FS 16, I caught up to Eric who was in the midst of eating a slice of pizza while racing his single speed. At the start of the race, he had told me he felt under prepared after seeing my set up, since all he had to eat was a pizza. I thought he was joking. Crazy singlespeeder! But I was also a bit envious of his ability to eat whatever and still have a good performance. He has since become The Dirty Diesel in my book of superheroes.
After finishing off his gluten bomb, he quickly passed me back. I made a feeble attempt to follow in his wash, but could not hang on. I did, however, manage to catch back up to him on the flat section on FS 221. Ahhh, the power of gears!
On this only mellow section of the course, I made some mental calculations of my nutrition intake up to this point. I was holding steady at 200 kcal/hour and 18 ounces of fluid/hour. I was still feeling fresh, which was good, as the Big Frog Loop was fast approaching, the most technical portion of the race. I caught up to a few more single speeders on the flats, one being Chris Joice. Either he was having a bad day or I was having an extremely good one, as I usually never see him during the race. I was hoping for the latter. But after he refilled his bottle at the spring on the beginning of the loop, he left me for good on the subsequent climb.
The climbing was over before I knew it and then the fun began. A screaming fast descent, littered with leaves, baby heads, and embedded slabs of rock. I wanted to go, go, go, but also held a little back, as now was not the time for any stupid mistakes. Halfway down, I hit a rock HARD with my rear tire, felt the rim kiss the rock, and then the rear end began feeling loose. God bless America, I said to myself, as I felt the rear tire going flat. That saying has become my new "swear" word, keeping my explicatives civil, yet still allowing for that release of frustration.
I pulled over, saw an ever so tiny puncture along the tread, and thought I would at least try to see if it would seal. Several racers passed by and asked if I was ok and if I needed anything. I want to thank them for their concern: true gentlemen.
I had just recently switched from Stan's (which I had never had a successful outcome with anything bigger than a thorn puncture) to Trucker Co. Cream sealant. I whipped out my CO2 inflator and began screwing it onto my cartridge. 2 turns on and CO2 spewed out from the threads, to which I quickly learned that I won't ever again use a cartridge with rusty threads! I grabbed my hand pump and began vigorously pumping the tire back up. After what seemed like an eternity, the puncture sealed, the tire held air, and I was back in business.
I still had plenty of rough descending left. I was nervous about the tire and so gingerly made my way down. I absolutely did not want to put a tube in. When I finally made it off the loop 20 minutes later and back onto FS 221, I convinced myself to giv'r and not worry anymore about the tire. Back on a smooth surface, I ramped up the power again.
I flew back across the ridgeline, plummeted down to Big Creek, and once again caught up to The Dirty Diesel who, guess what? Yep, enjoying another slice of pizza! Finishing that slice off, he hammered his way up the short but steep climb out of Big Creek and left me again.
Upon seeing mile 47 on my Garmin, I realized I had about another 3 miles to the checkpoint manned by Zeke. It was here that I began to play in my head the sequence of events that would happen when I hit the CP. I always do this prior to hitting an aid station, so that hopefully I will not forget anything once I arrive.
|Scott's Bikes ... a surprise oasis!|
Upon arriving I was greeted by Doug and my LBS. They had brought out their cheerful smiles and some food for us crazies! Although they could not physically help in any way, the moral support was priceless.
|Zeke reaching down to pick up a dose of Revolution for his cat that I brought for him.|
After checking in and writing down my name and time of day, I went about refilling my bottles, giving Zeke my trash, putting my phone on airplane mode, grabbed a banana, and heading back out on course.
I managed to catch up to Van as well as those who had passed me while I was fixing my puncture. I also managed, in NASCAR fashion, to beat them all out of the checkpoint.
Van caught back up to me on the descent and together we worked with one another to conquer the "Three Bitches." Some call these three little climbs "The Dragon's Tail," but I like Zeke's name better. I felt good going up these nasty pitches. Van kept looking at the remaining profile and commenting on all the climbing. I know once he started talking like that, he was feeling the fatigue monster on his back. We stayed together through Tumbling Creek, making our way back into Georgia on FS 22. We caught up to Gary and Mark and rode with them for awhile as we made our way up to Dally Gap.
Just before Dally, Gary and Mark popped off. Soon after passing Dally and headed towards Watson, Van popped off. I was on my own now. I missed the company, but not enough to slow down my happy pace. I couldn't believe how good my legs were feeling. Yeah, fatigue was setting in, no doubt, but it wasn't painful. I was enjoying the intensity of the climbing, listening to the rhythm of my breathing, and feeling the musculature contractions as I pushed the pedals over. I was so in tune to my body, living in the now, and just melting into the wildness of this beautiful country.
The climb up to Dyer cemetery snapped me out of the meditative state I had been in as I felt the first lactic acid build up in my legs. I don't know why this 1 - 1 1/2 mile gradual climb felt so awful, but in every race I always have a low point. Usually it lasts a lot longer than this 10 minutes, so I was fortunate I got back to my happy place while I was bombing down to Jack's River Fields.
Now I knew I only had 9 miles of "climbing" left. I say that in parentheses because there were some short descents and false flats in this section back up to Potato Patch. The first climb out of Jack's River was steep and tough, but I welcomed it with open arms. I laughed out loud, shouting, "Is this all you got?" I wasn't bonking, but using the power of positivity to claw my way up this mountain. And it worked! I forgot about the pain that was settling in my back and legs.
Once on top, I hit the rollers like a mad woman. I pretended I was on my single speed, hammering up the climbs, seeing how long I could stand and pedal. The feelings of strength, power, and sheer fortitude were amazing!
The euphoric state quickly vanished as I was coming down off that blistering straight fast descent (with the overlook on the left) and had to come to an almost complete stop as some idiot with a trailer was parked right in the middle of the dang road! At least I made him think I might just run his ass right over as he was outside of his vehicle and leapt out of my way as I slowed from 25mph to 5mph.
It was a bit difficult to find my mojo as the road suddenly kicked up towards the heavens. There are 2 (maybe 3) steep ass climbs leading back up to Potato Patch. Just as I thought I was near the top I would round the corner and road ... kept ... going ... UP. The pain was about to be over as I looked at my Garmin ... just a half mile to go.
And there I was, with plenty of daylight to spare about to descend down Potato Patch and back to Mulberry Gap. I began to fantasize what Ginny and crew had prepared for dinner. Even though I was probably somewhat dehydrated, I managed to salivate at the thought!
|OMG, the corn pudding!|
That descent was brrrr cold! My eyes were watering so bad I had to slow down as my vision became impaired. Halfway down I lost feeling in my fingers. I should have thrown my vest on for the descent, but not knowing where second place was and having lost a chunk of time with the tire fix, there was no telling how far ahead I was. Every ... second ... counted.
Right at the fork continuing on FS 68, I was ready for some climbing to thaw out my body. I went through the Land of Luxuious Cabins, pedaling wherever I could to keep the engine going. I started descending again and as I rolled around a corner to the right I happened to look back and see a road on the left. It looked somewhat familiar, perhaps someone's driveway. I didn't have the course turned on as I thought I knew it ... hehe. So I continued racing down the road until I saw some road construction I had not seen on the way out, earlier that morning. God bless America! I was going down CCC Camp Road towards Eton!
I whipped my bike around and high tailed it the 3/4 mile back up to where I had gone off course. I was in panic mode and even though the climb was steep, I felt no pain as the adrenaline was being squeezed out of my adrenals. I just knew I was going to get passed in these final minutes. Once I got to the intersection where I should have slowed down and gone left, I shook my head. Dumb mistake! I continued as hard as I could racing back to Mulberry, climbing that 23% grade back up to the barn.
|This photo does no justice to how insanely steep this climb is.|
Despite my best efforts to finish out of first place, I ended up winning with a time of 8:06 and with an 11th overall. Crossing the finish line, I was super proud of my effort all day long. When asked how my race went, I replied "comfortably hard." I attribute this feeling to the rest and recovery techniques I employed in the week leading up to this event. I was blessed to be firing on all cylinders and to have the calmness and patience when faced with adversity. It also helped that the weather and course conditions were near perfect.
Twenty minutes after finishing, the tidal wave of fatigue hit me and swept me off my feet. I was an empty shell. But no better place to be on "E" than at Mulberry Gap. Kim had provided a great post race meal followed up with Ginny and Andrew's comfort food a little while later. My belly was in paradise! After dinner, I waddled back to my cabin and fell into a food coma.
|Missy was absent for the podium as she was out on course trying to find something to huck off of.|
You could see the effort, love, and detail Kim put into this race. Everyone was thrashed but happy to have accomplished such a lofty goal. This was by far the hardest 1 day gravel event in Tennessee and Georgia!
May the weather set a precedent for all future DMR's. I am writing the Saturday following the race where it snowed the night before and the temperatures were 29-40 degrees.