I did the first edition of this race in 2017, back when mass starts were the norm. It then went on a 2 year hiatus and ended up turning into an ITT this year (damn Covid). I chose Black Friday to do the route. Because why else would I want to get up at 3 am?
Not being on any structured training for the past 2 months, I chose to ride comfortably hard. It is kind of hard for me to get into "race" mode when I am the only one that shows up at the start line at 5:40 am. I kept my stops and picture taking to a minimum as I set a goal of a sub-9 hour attempt. I started super early to have enough of a daylight buffer in case something went wrong.
I chose to ride "Ripley," my new Trek SuperCaliber with a SRAM AXS drivetrain and Specialized Renegade 1.95's. She weighed in at 23 pounds (was outfitted with the AXS dropper post as well). The starting temperature was 36 degrees. I was warm heading up Potato Patch. The benefit to climbing this in the dark is that it doesn't feel near as long or steep as it truly is. The sun just began to rise as I hit the intersection and turned left. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy sunrise rides? It is this time of day when I am doing the thing I love that I am in awe of the beauty of the mountains and grateful I am able to do these Big Dumb Rides.
Fortunately I had ridden the climbs below my "sweat threshold," so I did not get cold descending FS17. A bear was crossing the gravel as I rounded a corner, about halfway down. I was not startled, but got him moving a little quicker by hootin' and hollerin' at him. I was pleasantly surprised at how good the road conditions were and the bike just soaked up the chatter. The only limiter on my speed was that it was still somewhat dark, as the sun had not risen over the mountain yet.
Once past the game check station, my hands and feet started freezing. It was a little after 8 am, and I was still in the shade. Brrrr! I was looking forward to the Big Frog climb. I leap-frogged with a pick up truck along this flattish stretch. I momentarily was a little concerned for my safety, but figured he was more interested in deer than a dirty old woman.
I stopped at the piped spring to refill my bottles. That slow dripping of water into my bottle got my bladder all excited, damn it! Try unzipping a windbreaker with frozen fingers. But I managed to get it done and not pee in my bibs.
The 6 mile undulating climb up to the high point of Big Frog was pretty tame. I was feeling good, now that I had warmed back up, and the legs were singing "Happy" by Pharrell Williams. Descending down off of Big Frog brought back memories of me flatting here in 2017, so I played cautiously. It was nice to be able to see the roadbed, as two weeks ago it was covered in leaves.
Popping out on FS 221, I was pleasantly surprised by the firm smooth surface. I had heard that the Forest Service was grading this section between Big Frog and the Whitewater Center. I imagined a lot of loose chunked up dirt and rock, but obviously someone knew what the hell they were doing. This made the going fast! And the legs were still there, so it felt like I made short work of the next 10 miles.
I crossed paths with Zeke as he was heading towards Big Frog. He would be the only cyclist I would see all day.
Beyond the intersection of FS 45 and FS 221, the road got dicey, what with washouts and some mud. The three bitches were their typical nasty self, but I motored right up them. I had been fueling with Scratch and gels mostly and had one Honey Stinger GF waffle. My energy was good, back was happy, and legs were churning out the watts. On my Garmin, I could see my overall average speed. I have always been one to do math while riding and/or racing, so I was trying to keep my speed at/above 9.8 mph, thinking that if I could maintain this to Potato Patch, I could gain an additional 0.2 mph on the final descent and hit a sub-9.
About a half mile past the Tumbling Creek campground, Mr. Brown (UPS) past me going the opposite way. WTF! Where did he think he was heading? Either he was following his whacked out GPS or he had a body to dump. That kept my mind occupied until I hit the climb up to Dally Gap. Gentle, with some rollers, I got this. The shit hit the fan on the last pitch up to Dally. And then it just kept going up hard to Watson Gap. I had forgotten just how difficult this section was. Now my legs began to say some bad words.
Finally I got a bit of reprieve on the rollers over to Watson Gap. But then 2 miles of bonus SUCK before the descent down to Jack's River campground. At one point, as I rounded a corner thinking I was finally there, at the top ... but NOT, I yelled out loud, "Come the fuck on!" And then I laughed at myself, knowing that I always have this low moment about 2/3 the way through any long event.
Before I started the 9 mile trip back up to Potato Patch, I had to stop and get off for some horse people coming down the gravel. So I pulled out my King Size PayDay and had a moment of bliss, chewing on the sweet and salty candy bar. I got to chew for a while as the horse train passed by.
The first mile is the hardest, and then after that I just settled in to 70 minutes of just grinding away the miles. I stopped by the piped spring and refilled one bottle ... and pee'd again. I was back in the right mindset now and enjoyed the undulating climb. I checked my average speed and saw that I was going to miss my goal, but not by much. No worries, it was fun playing the game.
As I turned left and gathered up speed, I yelled out in triumph. It was now all downhill; even better was knowing that I would NOT have to make that horrendous climb on the Mulberry Gap property. I just had to make it to the gate. That 18 minute descent was friggin' spectacular. I didn't even mind that short 1/4 mile climb back up to the finish.
Ripley was the perfect weapon for this course. I could have done without the dropper though and would have saved a pound. Hmmm, did that extra pound cost me 11 minutes? Probably not.
I even got to see Ginni, the Master Chef, who after 15 years is retiring. We had a nice long chat. Hard to imagine she is 80 and still has spunk. But it is time for her to pursue happiness elsewhere. Her feisty attitude and soul-filled food will be missed. She played a lead role in making MG what it is today. No doubt the young pups, Kate and Andrew, will continue to improve upon what is already a great mountain getaway.