Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Bentonia Burner Race Report

My “new race state” for 2020 is Mississippi.  I had wanted to do the entire 4-race series Mississippi Gravel Cup, but life, the Snake Creek Gap TT, and weather kept me from the first 3.  Put on by Jason and Wendy Shearer, the series had 3 distances; 25, 50 and 100 miles. I was looking forward to hooking up with teammates Curt Shelman, Desiree White, and meeting new Chamois Butt’r faces, Colin and Matt.

Zeke and I arrived in Jackson to a houseful of purple and yellow.  We registered and grabbed our schwag bag at Bicycle Revolution and then settled in for the evening.  Morning came too soon, what with Desiree, Curt, and Colin opting to torture themselves with the hundie which was really 108 miles.  They had a 7 am start so I was awakened by their hustling around 5 am.  Zeke, Matt, and I were racing the 53-mile course. I stayed snuggled under the covers until a little after 6 am. 

After my typical breakfast of Christopher Bean Coffee, 2 hard boiled eggs, and a sweet potato, Zeke and I made the 30 minute drive to the booming city of Bentonia, population 400 … and home to the famous Blue Front CafĂ©.  With 250 racers plus the support crews and volunteers, the town immediately doubled in population.

By the time our 9 am start rolled around, the sun was shining, and the temps were slowly rising.  I’ll take 41 degrees when the sun is basking us in her rays.  Fortunately, the roll out was neutral for the first 3 miles.  My glo plugs were working today and I was comfortably warm at the pace the police car was maintaining.  Jason Shearer, the race director, had warned us of a railroad crossing just after we crossed Hwy 49, that was unrideable as all the rails and ties had been pulled out.  He suggested that we racers maintain neutrality until after that dismount and run around.  Yeah, right!  I knew better and so stayed up towards the front of the group. 

Sure enough, the race was full gas with everyone running around and over the railroad construction.  I managed to stay with the front group over the next few miles.  The dirt roads were in great shape and the pace was wicked fast.  It brought back memories of Dirty Kanza, what with the dust billowing and small rocks flying through the air.  I kept my mouth closed as I did not want any unintentional dental work the following week.

After about 10 miles, I knew this was an unsustainable pace for me, and had to throttle back, along with several others.  I managed to hook up with a small group, including Michael Rasch in his neon yellow RH kit. The group worked well together, everyone taking their turn at the front.  This was like a road race on dirt.

My Garmin said there were 4 climbs.  But coming from where I live, I would liken them to a speed bump.  The pack would break up on these “climbs,” but would then all come back together once the road flattened out. Rasch told me he thought there were 2 women ahead of me in the front group.  Cool, I thought!  I really had no expectations, other than to race at 80% as instructed by my Coach. 

The miles flew by!  With minimal signage and confirmation tape, I kept my Garmin on the Navigation screen and had no idea where I was in relation to time and mileage.  I think this is a great way to race every now and then as it allows me to take a more intuitive approach.  It helps me to listen to my legs, hear my breathing patterns, and focus on my mental game.

About halfway through the course (to the best of my ability) my small group came upon at least 7 riders coming back towards us.  Uh oh!  I looked down at my Garmin; I was still on track.  I heard one of them saying they lost the course.  Rasch was still going strong so I followed his lead.  With his years of experience in the bikepacking racing scene, I trusted him.

Those 7 soon caught up to us and we became an even stronger, faster group.  Sa-weet!  Back home in the mountains, being in a pack is not as important as it is out here on a flat course.  I figured that I probably would have been 15-20 minutes slower if I didn’t have the draft of a pack.

No one stopped at the aid station at mile 35.  I had plenty of fluids and nutrition left.  I was not going to leave the benefit of this group.  Everyone was still working well and taking turns pulling.  Rolling through, we swallowed up a small group of 3 or 4 racers, one being a woman.  I went into stealth mode initially, just to try to gain some sense of my competition.  I was racing in the 50+ category and she looked like she was probably in the Open category.  Once I assessed she was not a “threat,” I moved up through the pack, taking my turn at the front and allowing myself to be seen by her.  I had a small chuckle as I could tell she thought I was in her category.  I could feel the tension well up in her.  I remember those “Oh, shit” moments back in the days when I was much younger. And no, I did not tell her what category I was in; I was having too much fun with this!

She stayed towards the front of the group most of the time. I stayed mid-pack and kept it at 80%. A couple of times the leaders, including the woman, missed a turn.  I guess they did not upload the course.  But one time, I was 4th person back and obviously in “lemming mode,” as I almost missed a turn.  Fortunately Rasch shouted at me and I did not have to back track. 

Knowing that there were not many miles left, I was curious to see if any would make a break.  And if they did, should I go with them or not?  At one point, a dude in a Jose Jalapeno green and white kit, made a break.  I figured, what the hell, I will go with him.  As soon as I bridged up to him, he let off the throttle expecting me to pull.  I told him I had just bridged the gap so he kept pulling.  We took a couple of turns pulling, but the pack caught back up to us pretty quickly.  From that point, I knew that it would be a sprint finish.

Having had my fun for the day.  I decided to just roll it on in.  No need to try to out sprint anyone that wasn’t in my class.  So I rolled through the finish line at 2:57:00.  1st 50+, 4th woman, and 22nd overall. 

And here I was thinking that it would probably take me 3:45 to finish.  Mississippi gravel is fast and furious!  This course was about 75% gravel.  The gravel roads were in as good of shape, if not better than a lot of the paved roads, what with potholes galore and asphalt that looked like it had been flung off the back of a dump truck and patted down with a shovel.  I will never complain about Tennessee roads again.

Wendy and Jason did an outstanding job in putting on this race.  No doubt as they sold out every race well before the deadline.  They even passed out flyers to the residents along the route asking if it were possible to keep their dogs up the day of the race.  I only had 1 dog give chase on a route that was all county dirt roads.

The post race meal was probably one of the healthiest I have seen in awhile and the and the blues were played by a local during lunch.

While the flats are not my forte, I did enjoy a change in the terrain.  The canopies of trees over some sections of ribbon like dirt roads set a beautiful scene.  A few residents came out to cheer us on.  I hope to be able to return in 2021 and race at least another one. 

The strays/ferals appeared to be well fed and were friendly.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Pedaling For The Paws Fundraiser Update

It has been a little over a week since I announced my commitment to the McMinn Regional Humane Society.  We have already hit $2300 in donations.  That gets me excited.  My brother Todd helped to design the logo you see above.  My husband Charlie created a flyer for me to post around town.  Eventually I will create an event page to spread the word and hopefully have some friends on board (virtually) to help me tackle the vEverest on Zwift on July 3.

My LBS, Scott's Bikes, has informed Saris about my event.  I am hoping to secure a deal on a Saris H3 Smart Trainer.  Initially, I was just going to use the shop's H3 the day of the event, but a cycling friend made me aware that in order to "unlock" the climbs on Zwift, I have to accumulate experience points.  So I am gonna have to "pony up" and get on the Zwift wagon sooner than I expected to.

I have also emailed a potential major donor to match the private funds I have been receiving.  Fingers crossed I hear back from her with pawsome news.  I have another option or two, in case it doesn't happen.  But this person does have a soft spot for shelter animals, so please, if you are reading this, consider this a great cause!

I am also working on some raffle items, for both cyclist and non-cyclist donors alike, in appreciation of your hard earned dollars.

If you have already donated, thank you!

And if you have not, please consider.  Even if just a dollar ... in the end it all adds up.  I am still one of those who picks up pennies in parking lots.

Donations can be made HERE

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Snake Creek Gap TT 34 Mile Race Report

I have never forgotten the pain of childbirth, but apparently I had forgotten the pain of the February 2013 edition ... 22 degrees at the start, riding through 2 feet of water at the Dry Creek crossing when there was no bridge, and the snow/ice that accumulated during the second half of the race.  Because here I was, lining up at the start, knowing it had rained 4 inches in the last 2 days and now was snowing flakes the size of chicken feathers.

DJ was in da house, so there was no way to bail from this one.  David had driven down from Ohio, with the snow in tow.  Since we were signed up for The Appalachian Journey in April, we both decided to race The Snake together.  With these conditions, it would be a true test of our abilities to ride as one.

My toes and fingers are my Achilles' heel when it comes to cold weather racing.  Because I have Reynaud's Disease, I put a set of chemical warmers in my shoes and duct taped them.  And in between two layers of gloves, I inserted 2 more sets of chemical warmers.  My core was quite toasty with my wool baselayer and thermal bibs.

Apparently I am gonna have to give David a lesson in poopin' in da woods, as I waited on him to use the restroom.  Meanwhile, all the 34 mile racers departed, leaving me to do deep squats and jumping jacks to stay warm.  We finally took off and soon came to realize that starting so late left us with a clear trail ahead.  We deftly dodged the mud holes, which had doubled/tripled in size compared to last month.

Approaching the bridge across Dry Creek, I noticed a handful of racers off to the side. Becoming a little nervous, I watched one roll up on the bridge and upon exiting it, being completely swallowed up by the creek (now river).  Before I could have any second thoughts, I hit the bridge with some speed.  F = ma was repeating in my head.  Unfortunately the m part of my equation is not enough to overcome the 2 1/2 foot depth of the creek on the far side.  I stalled out and both feet ended up in the drink.

Dry Creek not so dry after 4 inches of rain

Whelp, there went all hopes of my toes staying alive.  Pedaling up the watery fire road, my feet slowly froze and felt like blocks of concrete.  David was feeling good and so kept a spicy pace up to the single track.  Despite my poor toes, my core was warm and my spirits were still good.

The snow really started coming down as we hit the single track.  Soon, we began to pick up the end of the race and conservatively made our way around them.  Rolling down the fire road covered in snow, an ice cream headache attacked me with a vengeance.  Snowflakes began piling up on my glasses like a team of rugby players in a scrum.  Are you kidding me?!?  Now I couldn't see shit and my forehead felt like I had been hit with a hammer.  It was at this point, I knew it was gonna be a long and arduous day.

Even the climb up Pine Needle Hill could not rekindle the fire.  My core temp began to smolder, and my fingers froze.  I really need to design a pair of chemical warmers in the shape of a hand and that you can put on like a glove.  I fared the second creek crossing well, and slip n slided my way to the muddy HAB climb. During the four pitchy climbs along Horn Mountain,  my mental game began to slide away into the depths of hell. 

I was thinking of every way to pull the plug at the SAG:
          You don't have to prove anything to anyone.
          Better to DNF than to risk an injury.
          You are not going to improve on last month's time.
          Don't lose a finger or toe over a silly race.
          You don't want to do anymore damage to your bike's bearings.
          You have enough buckles.

Then a memory of Grace Ragland washed over me.  It was during the 2015 running of The Snake, when we rode together along this section where I was now wallowing in self pity.  Believe me, she was having a hard time of convincing me NOT to hop into a warm vehicle at the SAG stop.  But I could not get out of my mind how much she had suffered over the thousands of miles during the Tour Divide.  And here I was, with only 20 miles left.  She and the monkey on my back got into a WWE style wrestling match for a few miles.  But as Grace had done many times in her life, she booted that monkey off in the end.

2015 Edition of The Snake

As I pulled into the aid station, I told Grace I would tough out these next 17 miles.  But first, I stood by that heater to semi-thaw out my fingers and toes while the volunteers cleaned my glasses and filled up my bottle.  I ate a frozen banana and squeezed my flask of frozen gel until I was able to get a couple swallows of it.

David asked how I was doing, to which I could only respond with slurred speech.  I was too cold to even form words! He led the charge up Mill Creek Mountain.  I doggedly followed.  My bike felt so heavy on this climb.  I looked down to see nothing but a block of ice encasing my rear triangle, crank, and derailleur.  No wonder my shifting was less than optimal! 

The snowfall began to slow a bit.  I noticed that there were less tracks this half of the race.  Hmmm ... I suppose quite a few had bailed at the halfway point.  I didn't have to worry about line options because there was only one.  If you got off track, the snow would ball up on your tires and stop you dead in your tracks.

Funny, but the second half was surreal.  With 3 inches of snow, nothing looked familiar.  It didn't even seem like I was on The Snake. My thought processes were in slow motion due to me being so cold.  This must have been a protective measure on my body's part, because before I knew it I was descending down to Swamp Creek.  The road up to the last section of single track was a slog!  Now instead of snow on my glasses, I had red mud droplets.  I stopped at the aid station briefly for a bananasicle.  I had not drunk anything since the halfway point, so forced myself to take a few gulps.

About 2 miles into the single track, I began to feel my fingers again.  And I noticed that the snow was melting a little, what with big chunks of it falling from the trees and hitting me in the face and head.  I had plenty in the tank to propel me through the techy bits and the climbs, but the trail conditions began to deteriorate with the melting snow.  I ended up HAB'ing more than usual and then trying to clip back in with snow/ice/leaf debris packing into my cleats, well it made for some interesting expletive runs.  I began to say Larry the Cable Guy's famous words in my head, "Lord I apologize." That made me smile and the day began to get a little bit better.  With Grace in my heart and David offering words of encouragement, I could finally smell the barn. 

So happy to see that banner!

Today I definitely got my money's worth, with a finishing time of 5:00. Longest 34 mile Snake ever!  But I am grateful to have had DJ by my side the whole time.  I think we are gonna do aite come April.


Thursday, February 6, 2020

Pedaling For The Paws

If you drive down Alford Street, past the Public Works Department, just follow the paw prints past the school bus graveyard, the piles of sewer pipe, and dempster dumpsters, you will soon come to a dead end.  There, among the rubble, is a small 40+ year old building that houses the Athens Animal Shelter.

But step inside and you can see the love that has been showered upon this structure that houses the unfortunate, abandoned, abused, and previously unloved.  The McMinn Regional Humane Society has made leaps and bounds over the past few years to see that 2019 became the first year where no animal was euthanized because of lack of space.

Headed by those board members, with full-time jobs, they, along with a handful of volunteers, have poured countless hours into devising and executing plans to work with rescue societies to transport animals up North to their forever homes.  And they vet the locals wishing to adopt to ensure the dogs and cats go to good homes.

I tragically remember my rookie year of veterinary practice.  One of my jobs was go to this shelter every other week, to perform euthanasias.  Some were medical, some were because of aggression, but the majority were due to overcrowding.  The dogs and cats, most of which I remember as litters, were lined up and "put down."  No disrespect to the survivors of the Holocaust, but to 22 year old me, this was how I thought about this duty.  AWFUL!  I would often cry on the way back to the clinic and have to put a cold compress on my puffy eyes before I could begin seeing clients and patients that afternoon.

Fortunately through the hard efforts of the McMinn Regional Humane Society, almost all animals now go to a forever home.  Before heading out, all animals are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and dewormed.  All cats are FeLV/FIV tested and all dogs are heartworm tested.

Community cat room where they get a chance to socialize and stretch their legs.

It takes a small army of volunteers to provide the necessary exercise, socialization, and thorough cleaning of the kennels, cages, and facilities.  The shelter has been blessed with a lot of local businesses donating money, food, treats, and kennel supplies.  But only a small portion of the dog kennels are heated.  The remaining 75% are open to the elements.  Steps are taken to ensure that the dogs have extra bedding and the kennel gates are wind-proofed in the winter.

Most kennels don't have heat/air.

Since most of the donations go directly to the medical care and feeding of the animals, there is little left to devote to building maintenance and improvements.

Most recent update was the addition of an exercise yard.

So, to pay it forward (it has been 10 years since my last fundraiser where I raised $5000 both City Park and  Ingleside Elementary school playground improvements), I have aligned myself alongside MRHS fundraiser coordinator Erica Allen Peden in an attempt to raise at least $5000 for much needed infrastructure improvements.  I am also going to try to secure a major donor to match the individual funds.

On July 3, 2020, I will be tackling a vEveresting at The Animal Clinic of Athens.  This is a challenge to climb the height of Mount Everest, in a single activity, on one hill (by doing repeats) with no sleep.  The "v" stands for virtual, meaning that I will be riding on a stationary bike, using an electronically controlled smart trainer, that will simulate climbing a mountain.  I will be using the Saris H3 smart trainer and the Zwift platform.  In May of 2019, I completed an Everest Challenge on the Foothills Parkway.  It took 17 hours 25 minutes, 22 hill repeats, and 218 miles to climb 29,029 feet. I plan to start just before the clinic opens at 7:30 am and hopefully finish by the time it closes at midnight.

I can say that this will fall under the moniker of #doinghardthings.  I abhor the trainer.  Anything longer than 2 hours on this piece of torture equipment takes a hell of a lot of grit, gristle, and gumption.  I am looking at a time of 17 - 19 hours on this machine to complete this vEverest.  No doubt I will be suffering, but I have chosen this path.  These animals don't get a choice; it is thrust upon them unmercifully.

Scott's Bikes has graciously offered their support in the use of their Saris H3 Smart Trainer and the necessary equipment to run the Zwift platform.  I am still old school and have only a dumb trainer, which I practice mental sufferfests by looking at a wall when I train inside.

In the upcoming weeks, I will be putting together a FaceBook event page, where you can follow me on this adventure and perhaps give a small donation.  I also hope that on July 3, I can get some of you to join with me on my adventure through the Zwift platform.

Please help me to help them.