Sunday, November 29, 2020

Death March Revival

 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.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Skool of Hard Nox Race Report

I decided to finish out the year with a mountain bike race in Ackerman, Mississippi. I didn't even know Mississippi had single track. I mean, how hard could it be? Mississippi is flat as a pancake, right? After riding a section of the Natchez Trace two days before, racing on some fast and flowy single track would be a blast. So the next day, I went over to the venue and pre-rode the entire 27 mile course. Oop-sie! I would have definitely got the frowny face from Coach, but the weather was so stinkin' beautiful and it felt great to spend ALL day outside. So my 45 minute pre-ride turned into 4 hours of adventure. And lemme tell you. Mississippi single track is legit! Hell, a good portion was more like 1/2 track on bench cut trail carving around contours of hills and then diving down through ravines and climbing back up the other side. Good ole fashioned old school trail.
Even though the race start was at 8 am, it felt more like 10 am, due to Daylight Savings Time and traveling from Eastern Standard Time. There was the tradtional Lemans start; fortunately it was only about a 30 yard run. There were about 50 in the 2 lap race, so getting to my bike was smooth. The first mile was on pavement, so by the time I hit the single track, traffic had thinned out. Entering the single track, I noticed that someone had blown the leaves off the trail. Nice! I was wishfully thinking that perhaps the entire trail had been cleared of leaves. Yeah, that didn't happen. After the first half mile, I had to employ my surfing skills.
The second trail was Rabbit's Run. Aptly named, as it twisted tightly both left and right and up and down. This course was all about being efficiently fast: going just hard enough to flow through the corners, but not so hard that you had to brake check through the corners. That allowed me to conserve my energy for the short but punchy power climbs. It was a challenging course as it required 100% focus in order to stay on the trail. The stark shadows cast by the sun was an eye-ball bonus!
After about 5 miles of single track, the course followed some double track that climbed and descended over the next few miles. I had caught up to Jedi-Master Hardwick Gregg and should have been content to follow his wheel. But, I got sight of "the rabbit," and my inner Greyhound came out and so I passed him. I caught up to another racer and followed his wheel on the descent. When it flattened out, we were still carrying alot of speed when he hit a mudhole head on. Now, I had ridden this the day before and knew, knew, knew to go to the right. But it came upon me so quickly that I "lemming'd" on to his wheel and when I hit the mud, my mass was not enough to propel me through the slop. I went from 15mph to 0 in a wheel length. Fortunately I did not endo into the mud pit, but I managed to thoroughly coat my bike in mud, and be passed by several racers, including Hardwick. Lesson learned ... again!
After some switchback and landslide tech on Three Bridges Trail, it was on to RockCrusher Trail. You could see the love that was poured into this one, what with the rocky step-ups, and rock armored switchbacks. I felt kinda bad for the trail builder tho' (forgot his name), as rocks in Tombigee National Forest are scarce. I think he used every single rock in the area and was still about 1500 short. At the top of the climb on RockCrusher, a volunteer had a small aid station with Halloween candy. I was in full racer mode or I would have stopped as I eye'd several Reese's Cups. The descent off the backside was open, fast, and flowy fun.
Sheep's Ranch Trail was the longest trail at 4.3 miles. There was nothing particularly special about this one, other than it seemed to go by fast. Of all the trails, it probably flowed the best. I had been following Hardwick since I had caught back up to him after my mud hole incident, but it was here that he slowly began to pull away from me. I enjoyed following him, as his pace was super consistent and watching him made it easier for me to react to the trail conditions hidden by the leaves. 

 Charlotte's Web Trail was AWFUL. A spider web of roots that felt like I was operating a jackhammer instead of a full suspension bike. There was a brief respite of gravel road in the middle that offered up some relief before hitting the second section. I was happy that all my teeth were mine, as any "false" ones would have rattled out of my head. After the thousand roots, I was able to pick the speed back up on a couple miles of fast dirt roads that took me over to the last two trails in the 27 mile loop. Both Beaver Lodge and Lakeside Trail were flat and fast. I had to be careful on the Lakeside Trail as it was more of a fine gravel path than single track. The corners were sketchy loose, but the multiple bridges had ample traction as they were dry. A short punchy grassy climb up to the Start/Finish line and after 2 hours 53 minutes, Lap 1 was done.

 I rolled over to my truck and refilled my CamelBak and headed back out for Lap 2. I had passed Hardwick in the transition area, but his transition time was quicker and I saw him go by as I was still refueling. Having now seen the full lap twice, the course seemed to flow better, as the body memory took control guiding me through the leaves and over the roots and rocks. However, the roots seemed to grow 2 inches since the first lap and the grunty climbs multiplied. I rode the second lap all alone, but that was fine by me. My eyes and brain were able to relax a little and I found myself thinking about this Covid year. Although, it has been extremely hard, painful, or full of sorrow for so many, my family and I have been very fortunate that we have been able to a somewhat normal year. My husband has now begun to have real banquets and the money has been flowing very well for the ducks. Even though UTK did not work out for Carly, she has since gotten a steady job and will be starting Cleveland State in the spring. And I have had a very successful year as both a veterinarian and bike racer. I have been able to do 10 races, several big dumb rides, and raise over $8000 for my local animal shelter. 

 I did stop at the top of the RockCrusher Trail climb to claim a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, but they were all gone. Noooo ....! I had the disappointment of a trick or treater when looking into the candy bowl only to see candy corn. Dang it! I had been looking forward to that corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oil filled peanut butter goodness! So I snagged a mini Hershey's bar and motored on. I rolled across the finish line in 5:54. My second lap was only 7 minutes slower; not too shabby. I climbed on to the top box and claimed my coaster and bag o'coffee.
A big thanks to Wendi and Jason Shearer for keeping the racing alive. Even though the numbers were capped at 100, they opted to go through the headache and hard work of having a race (where they were probably lucky to break even) to support our passion.