The last time I had raced this event was 2014. Back then, it was only 54 miles and it didn't have the new "trail" just beyond Cooper's Gap. The weather had been great all week and I was looking forward to those mud holes I encountered the weekend before being all dried up. As a light rain started while I was putting on my number plate, I swore I heard a "Muah-ha-ha-ha" from the heavens above.
Because of Covid, there was no mass start, which suited me just fine. The Open Women had their own start at 7:42, 2 minutes behind the Open Men. This was to my benefit. Not being as strong as some of my competition, I am always on the struggle bus trying to stay with the Open Men during mass starts. I am not a fast starter; it takes a while for my engine to fire on all cylinders. And with mass starts, I usually fall off the main group pretty quickly.
So the beginning pace was quite nice and allowed a nice steady rise in heart rate. We were all content to party pace the beginning miles of pavement. But then the single speed men had to spoil my fun, as they rode steadily by us on a climb. We all managed to jump on the SS train and hold their wheels for a while.
On the first gravel climb is where the women's pack was blown up. The men made a surge and Jen, Beata, and myself made the selection. Although I had about 4 miles and 15 minutes to warm up, that first little climb was a kick in the arse! I managed to hang on, but when the main climb up to Cooper's Gap started, I had to let them go as I began to get cross-eyed!
I was currently 3rd woman and was gonna make damn sure to hold this position as long as I could. As leaders of the men's age groups began to pass me, I would latch on while I could, getting some free speed up Cooper's Gap. A very light rain continued to fall and the higher I got, the lower the visibility became as I was enshrouded in fog.
At the 11 mile mark, the course took a turn off the main gravel road onto a double track descent. Enough rain had made the rocks greasy. I kept the braking to a minimum and just let the bike do all the work on the downhill, hoping that a stray loose rock would not take my front wheel out from under me.
The next climb was a gradual 3 miles up to Frozen Branch Trail. This single track was old school, downhill, greasy technical with some chunky rocky areas. Super fun! Just wish visibility was a little better. While most racers opted not to wear glasses, despite mine fogging up at times and accumulating mist on the outside, I kept mine on. I value my eyeballs and many a time have had sticks and rocks hit my glasses, and don't want to chance losing an eye to a severe injury. And secondly, I have "old people" eyes and cannot see my Garmin nor could I fix a flat without them.
Popping back out on more "civilized" gravel, I made my way up to Aid #1. I stopped, grabbed my hydration pack out of my ZipLoc, deposited my empty bottle, and placed my drop bag in the return container. I had been thinking this on the climb up, as I did not want a 15 minute time penalty. I also had the volunteer throw me a couple paper towels my way so I could clean off my glasses.
A few more miles of climbing and then onto the Winding Stair descent. It was as foggy as a Basic Training gas chamber, but fortunately the gravel was smooth, and the cars driving up were honking their horns, because I couldn't see shit!
Despite the light rain, Turner Creek was in good shape and I was able to let it rip. I was in my own little bubble of high speed pleasure! Popping out onto gravel, I pedaled my way over to Jones Creek TH. There was a slight break in the clouds and for a moment, rays of sunshine washed down upon me. As I climbed up Jones Creek, a racer hung onto my wheel. Towards the top, I let him pass. But on the subsequent series of switchbacks, he biffed it, and I almost rolled right over him, it all happened so quickly. I got ahead of him and fell back into my groove, when I rounded a turn, and there lay another dude, playing Twister with his bike. I came this close to rendering his derailleur inoperable. I made sure he was ok, as I maneuvered around him. He was very apologetic about impeding my progress, though. The new Jones Creek re route over to Bull Mountain was very fast and very fun!
As I crossed the dam, more clouds rolled in and the sunshine disappeared. A light rain started as I approached Aid #2. Not needing anything, I rolled along. As I began the never ending ascent up Bull Mountain, the skies opened up, and soon the trail became Class 1/2 whitewater. At times, the water was running downhill so fast, I could feel the resistance trying to pedal up through it. Leaves, small sticks, and other debris were rushing past my wheels. The only good thing about this torrent of water was that somehow, some way, it made my mind perceive the trail as not being as steep as it truly was. I lost track of time and before I knew it I was at the top.
The descent off Bull was crazy insane! The trail was completely underwater and I was riding blind. I only knew I hit a mud pit when I got all squirrely. I had my glasses down on my nose like a librarian, trying to see where I was going as well as trying to keep the mud out of my eyes at the same time. I was light on the brakes, since this soil is known to eat through pads at warp speed. It felt like the descent took twice as long as the ascent. I made a decision I have made only one other time in my life and that was at the 2007 La Ruta: I pee'd my bibs. I really had to go and what with the downpour, why bother stopping?
Despite the cooler weather and the rain, I still managed to drain my hydration pack. I stopped at Aid #3 and grabbed my bottle out of my drop bag, once again, dumping my empty bag into the return container. The rain was still coming down hard and I was secretly praying that we would be routed off Jake and just ride gravel back to the finish. And my bike was hating me, making some god awful noises. I stopped on the gravel climb up to the last bit of Bull single track, got off my bike, and spun my wheels. OMG! Two revolutions was all they made before they came to a squealing halt. This ... was ... going ... to ... be ... a ... painful ... 15 ... miles to the finish.
I slogged my way over to the beginning of Jake. Zeke was marshaling us onto the Jake single track. I let out an exasperated sigh! I could tell I didn't have much brake pads left, and I still had about 8 miles of sloppy single track left. Now Jake is usually smooth, fast, and flowy, but after today's rain, it was anything but. I tried to find the flow, but then I would suddenly be off the trail and into the underbrush, as I tried to brake for the corner, but there was no slowing down, as my bike shuddered and squealed. Yep, I do believe it was metal on metal. I think I repeated this scenario about 4 times. Fortunately the landings were soft and I was able to muster a laugh or two.
Finally, it was just some gravel and pavement between me and the finish. With brake calipers completely pushed out of their housing, the noises emanating from below was akin to waterboarding. I kept apologizing to my bike and trying to keep my mind off of how my LBS was going to get my third place winnings.
I came upon a junior racer, who was a little climbing phenom up Bull, tackling the techy sections with ease, while I opted to HAB a couple, and save the legs. I complimented him on his climbing prowess and motored on. A few more years, young man, and you will have that endurance to crush it all the way to the end.
Thinking all the madness was over, I forgot about the grassy slip n slide down to the creek crossing. With no brakes left at all, I was all over that descent and almost bee lined it into the briar patch. Seeing the arch just up the hill was like seeing the gates of Heaven. I was soooo glad to be done. I had anticipated a 5 1/2 hour finishing time, but ended up being out there without a paddle for 50 minutes longer.
|The Finish: 6 hours 21 minutes later|
But not for the expenses to repair brakes and bearings, I would say I had a fun day on the bike. How often do you get to ride through mud puddles all day long and not have your Mom yelling at you for trashing your clothes?
Thank you Lisa, Chris, and all the volunteers who made this race happen. I know it must be mentally and physically challenging and exhausting to run an event during the Covid pandemic. And with limited numbers of participants, it has gotta be hard to break even. I am happy as a tick on a fat dog that this race happened.
|In great company!|