Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Fool's Gold Race Report (up the creek without a paddle)


The Beginning

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!


Saturday, September 5, 2020

Forty Five Race Report

So I headed back up to Kentucky to defend my title once again.  I told Keith that I was retiring (from Kentucky racing) after KGC, but I guess I was coming out of "retirement" for this one.  Besides, it seems like only Kentucky and Georgia are having racing during this Covid calamity. 

I have raced enough in bad weather to not let Hurricane Laura sway me from this one.  The forecast turned out to be wrong (how could that be?!?), and although there was rain the night before, it was not a deluge and race day turned out to be beautiful!

The start was a 1.7 mile climb, gaining 1100 feet.  I didn't know what was worse:  the "cold" start (not much of a warm up) or the lead vehicle's muffler-less exhaust, but I .. almost ... died!  And to rub salt into the wound, this itty bitty kid, couldn't have been older than 12 or 13, was kicking my ass going up this climb.  My ego deflated a bit as I drafted behind him 😆😆😆, but I figured he would blow up soon.  Nope, he did not.  Towards the top, with the lead vehicle long gone, and my engine finally hitting on all cylinders, I was able to bridge the gap to Mary and Julie and pass the little bugger.  He was like a horse fly, however, and kept buzzing just behind me.

Entering the single track, I forged ahead of Julie but stayed behind Mary and a group of guys.  I figured I would just settle in, hoping to catch my breath from the opening VO2 max effort. Although Keith had mentioned not once, not twice, but three times how slick the bridges were, on the second one, someone went down HARD!  He was just pulling himself out of the ravine as we approached. Fortunately two guys had stopped and said they would help him get out of there.  He shoulder was definitely not where it should be!

The single track was in surprisingly great shape despite the overnight rain.  The roots and rocks were a little slick and on a couple of tricky sections, the train I was in derailed.  I could sense Mary's and my frustrations rising the second time. I zipped my mouth and squelched mine. There would be ample opportunity to get around them and plenty of race left to "flex."  

Midway through the single track, during one of the derailments, the little guy managed to get around me.  I followed in his wake, keeping a respectable distance, and just shaking my head in amazement at how well he rode the single track.  I was riding a steady high endurance/low tempo just keeping him in sight.  

Popping out on the pavement at the dam, I noticed who I thought might be this kid's Dad ... same cycling kit.  I struck up a conversation and discovered their names were David and David, the son being 13 years old.  As little David was pulling a small group of us, I rode up to him and told him just how well he slayed that single track!  You should have seem him smile.  I took my turn pulling the group over to the Southern Loop. Little David took his turn at the front as well.

Little David has heart and grit!

As we turned on to the gravel, Mary and another racer passed us.  I latched on to her wheel and hung on while this big muscular racer pulled us on the initial gravel.  I noticed that he had rainbow stripes on his sleeves and knew that I needed to stick to his wheel as long as I could to try and get some free speed.

It was awful nice of the forest service to throw down some fresh chunky gravel.  I was glad I chose my hardtail mountain bike, for it afforded a little more stability and rubber on this loose and sharp rock.  Unfortunately, it did manage to eat a few tires that day.  I saw about 3-4 racers fixing flats along this 5 mile section.

On the climb just before Aid 2/3, Mary popped off the back.  Curtis, the fella with the world champion stripes, thought I was Mary, and turned around to say that he she popped, meaning me.  But when he saw me and not Mary, he looked a little surprised. As we neared the aid station, I took the lead as Curtis seemed to be slowing a bit.  I said what nice stripes you have to which he replied that this was his first mountain bike race in 5 years and that he is more of a velodrome type of racer. He definitely had a track racer's build; big and burly!

Not needing to stop, I motored on.  Soon enough the right hand turn to Middle Ridge approached.  I was cautiously excited, as their was a slight course change through here.  Of course there were the 20 mud holes, but having done KGC just 3 weeks ago, this was nothing compared to Horse Lick.  I still managed to sink my front wheel hub deep in what I thought was a safe ride around.  The last half (the new portion) of Middle Ridge was a hoot!  The trail was in great shape: downhill, fast, and smooth-ish!

I knew there would be some climbing once back on the gravel, leading up to the aid station.  I had to remain on the gas, despite some barking from my legs.  Mary is a powerhouse on the flats and I did not want her to get me back in her sights, as that is always a motivator for the chaser.  Curtis was right behind me, but struggling.  I was secretly hoping that he would stay with me, as I could use his horsepower on the gravel rollers and pavement back to the single track.  

I had to stop at the aid station to refill a bottle.  Curtis continued on.  I didn't take much longer than 30 seconds, but when I hopped back on my bike, he was out of sight.  He became my carrot.  For several miles I rode without seeing him, but after I respectfully maneuvered around a mule train, I could see him just off in the distance.  That was all I needed to throw out some more watts and slowly reel him in.  

He stopped briefly at the SAG wagon that was tending to a racer that had a mechanical.  I think he was desperate for some water.  I motored on, knowing that he would probably catch me once the road flattened out.  It took him longer than I anticipated, as he didn't make contact until I was on the pavement about a mile from the dam.  He pulled for a short bit, but had to pull off and let me take the lead as his legs were on the verge of a full on lock down.  He hung onto my wheel until the single track and then popped off once the trail began to undulate.  

I was back in my happy place, knocking off those fast flowy dirt miles, one by one.  The trail was clear and had dried up nicely.  I still gave the bridges plenty of respect, coming to a crawl as I approached them.  I enjoyed the techy rocky and rooty sections and managed to nail them, now that I had an open "road."

Once I hit that last mile, which was mostly up, I drilled it.  Tongue hanging out, eyeballs bleeding, legs on fire, and breathing like I was possessed, I wanted to empty the tank.  Coming across the finish line just under 3 hours 20 minutes, I was spent.  I am not used to these shorter races, but they hurt just as much as the longer ones.

That finish was NOT flat ... think 15% for the last 30 yards.

I took the win and am still undefeated in Kentucky.  I think I will now retire on that one ... at least in Kentucky.  Unless Keith comes through with a potential stage race in 2021.  Then I might just have to come back out of "retirement" again.

Three shout outs:

    13 year old David, who had a top 10 finish in the Open Men's

    16 year sister Elizabeth, who had a top 5 finish in Open Women's ... in her first MTB race

    Curtis, it was a pleasure to ride with a World Champion.