Monday, May 31, 2021

Tellico Highlands ITT Ride Report

At the finish (notice who has the deepest squat hold 😏)

The Tellico Highlands is one in a series of three gravel ITT's put on by Tennessee Gravel.  I had completed the Death March Revival back in the winter and the Dirty 130 last month.  Wanting to finish all three before the end of June (the series runs from July 2020 through June 2021), I enlisted some awesome suffer buds, Jeff Cohen and John Switow.

This would be my 4th BDR for the year.  I suppose I should give you some background into why I call some of my adventures Big Dumb Rides.  BIG stands for a challenge that I think is probable, but that it is going to be hard, really hard. I will have to dig deep, not only physically, but mentally, as well.  There will be times of pure joy smattered with bits of holy hell.  And it is how I respond to the suck that will determine the outcome. I go BIG for me, not for a podium, not to compare myself to others, but to compete against myself.  

DUMB stands for the look I get when I tell non ultra endurance cyclists or athletes what I am about to do.  There are many who just don't get it or just maybe have never experienced that endorphin rush.  To them it seems like lunacy. Why would you want to put your body through that, they say.  Why not?  Where's the challenge of sitting at home, inside, doing nothing but mind-numbing activities? You have this great machine, your body, right at your fingertips, just dying to show you the magic it can perform.  Take it for a test ride and you will be amazed at what you can do, given a little training and mental fortitude.  

Your BDR doesn't have to be what my BDR is.  It can be anything that takes you to the edge of your limit.  And what you will find is that those limits can be pushed beyond what you think they are.  The after effects are phenomenal!  

Now, back to the Tellico Highlands ITT.  90 miles and 11,000 feet of climbing, as fast as you can do it.  Self-supported, you either carry your nutrition with you, or find re-supply along the way (filtering water or finding an open store along the route, of which there are two: Green Cove and Indian Boundary camp store). You can ride with others, but not take any assistance from them.  It is up to you and only you to complete the route.

Mother Nature gave us almost primo conditions.  It rained the day before, settling all the dust, but making some sections a little muddy.  It was 60 degrees and overcast at the start, with no wind.  Forecast called for 15% chance of scattered showers for the morning. I opted for my summer kit and took no extra clothing, i.e. vest or rain jacket.    I knew it would probably be cooler up on the Skyway, but hopefully short-lived.

We started a little after 8 am.  Hitting River Road, I enjoyed a brief warm up on smooth pavement before hanging a right on Wildcat. Let the climbing commence!  Hero gravel!  Smooth and firm made the climb seem almost too easy.  Wait! What?  My legs were not heavy, not barking immediately, and definitely not dead.  Feeling great, but knowing the day was early, I settled into an all day speed.  Everyone was all talky talky on this climb, which then rolled awhile, and then briefly descended to the start of the Dry Basin climb.

Overcast and misty was perfect for this climb which has very minimal tree cover.  The gravel was settled nicely from yesterday's rain, giving us perfect traction; probably the best shape I have seen this climb in. 

Dry Basin climb

At the top, we ran into another rider.  Alex from Knoxville was out doing his own big loop, which included much of ours but then also added more Skyway and the Santeelah gravel climb.  He was sorta new to the area and was out exploring.  He couldn't believe just how beautiful this area of  Tennessee was.  I know, I have lived here my whole life and am still pinching myself when I set out on these mountainous roads.

Holly Flats 

We made good time back to River Road, opted out of the Green Cove stop and refilled our water at the game check station. It had been misting for the last 20 minutes or so, but now it turned to a light rain.  At least it was warm and we were about to hard charge into the biggest climb, North River Road. This 10 mile 2500 foot climb would put us at only 29 miles in, but already having climbed 1/2 of the ride's elevation ... oof! Today would not be a PR, but a steady tempo to the top.  I was still feeling good, but it appears that Jeff was feeling even better, as his pace put him out of eyesight about halfway up.  John and I stayed together, knowing that if we tried to reel Jeff back in, we could easily implode.

Rationing the sweet and salty goodness, one big bite per climb.

My Garmin read 43 degrees at the top and we were enshrouded in clouds.  I was soaked with a mixture of sweat and rain, but so far all the extremities were warm.  The rain stopped, but the climbing didn't. We still had another couple of miles on the Skyway. 

Cherohala Skyway

As much as I was all climbed out, I was wishing for more as the never ending descent to Indian Boundary began.  By the time we turned onto the road to the lakeside trail, the fingers and toes were frozen, but fortunately the core was still warm.  I looked down at my Garmin as we entered the single track; we were making really good time, as in maybe FKT'able.  Excited that the legs still felt good and we were approaching the halfway point, I kept the pace brisk.  And then this ...


We attempted to just sneak on through, but, of course, state employees were working on a bridge and would NOT let us proceed.  At first, I was a little upset, but knowing it was out of my control, I acquiesced.  After some commiseration with John and Jeff, we decided to ride the trail CCW until we came to the trail closure sign on the other side and then get back on course.  Ultimately we missed about a 100 yard section of the course, but more than made up for it with an additional 2.5 miles and a negative time bonus of 25 minutes ... grrrrr. Bye bye FKT.


Oh, well, today's ride was really not about trying to get the fastest time anyway.  Fellowship was one of the main goals and trumped FKT (it would have only been the fondit on an already heavily iced cake anyways).  We stopped at the campground store and refilled.  I made use of the campground bathhouse to empty the bladder and refresh the Chamois Butt'r.  I was in heaven for a couple of minutes when I found this ...


I ran it a few cycles, warming my hands and drying out my gloves.  Since the re-route had taken the wind out of my sails a little bit, I was damn sure gonna enjoy some moments of luxury!

After yanking myself out of that little oasis, I went back to the store to rendezvous with the boys.  I found Jeff, but John was AWOL.  Man, it's like herding cats!  He was probably joining someone's picnic in the campground.  He finally showed up and with just at 5 hours in, we headed over to the Farr Gap climb.  The approach to it was a muddy mess, what with the recent grading, rain, and holiday traffic.  Once we turned onto Doublecamp Road, that takes us to Farr Gap, it was hero again.  

Jeff felt a little squishy in the rear, so pulled up.  He found a small sidewall tear.  Being that he was not doing the official ITT (a just for fun ride, he says), we were able to assist him.  I plugged it and then John pumped life back into the tire while Jeff held his bike.  We were able to fix that flat in about 8 minutes, and it held for the remainder of the day ... whew!

Happy the legs were still happy on Farr Gap

I was happy when we got rolling again and my legs woke back up quickly and without that heavy dead painful feeling.  I couldn't believe I still felt good!  I was able to hang with Jeff (he was still a beast!) but decided when I saw John falling off the pace to sit up and let him bridge back up to me.  This was a Three Musketeers kind of day:  All for one and one for all.  

Farr Gap climb

Once at the top we stopped for a pee break and to eat some more. I had another big PayDay bite, while John ate a PB&J. 

Careful where you squat ... poison ivy galore!

John must have gotten instant energy from his food, as he shot off like a rocket and blistered that heinous bumpy descent!  

Farr Gap vista

Jeff and I rode a bit more cautious, what with his recent flat issue and me just playing it smart on my slightly skinnier tires than John's.  Our last water refill was at the piped spring at the bottom of the descent.  

Citico Creek Road

The final climb was Miller's Ridge.  While the profile doesn't look bad, it has about a dozen or so punchy little hits that just add up to a TKO.  This is where I began to crack a little.  I wasn't feeling so zippy anymore, but I knew I would get through it.  So I just played the suffering game, inwardly smiling and thinking, "This all you got, MR?"  John ran out of gas again, but then hit the nitrous after inhaling a package of Honey Stinger blocks. I need to set him up with some sort of glucose CRI.

But with Mountain Dews instead of Coke

I finished the last of my PayDay at what I thought was the top, but then quickly found out that there was about another mile of this "up, down, up, down" meanness.  Finally we hit Turkey Creek, a sweet sweet mixed surface buttery smooth descent.  7 miles long and at just the right grade where braking is minimal, I was in heaven.  

Once we hit River Road, it was a 2 mile pedal up to grab our Bald River Falls selfie and then a 6 mile gradual descent back down to the finish.

Smiling me, thinking that it was just all downhill from here.

Well, let me tell you, the hardest part of this whole BDR was the final descent.  With 2 blown pistons, the finish was not coming quick enough.  I just knew I should be able to pedal faster, harder, but every time I tried to eek out more watts, I would redline.  I was so done!  I watched the miles slowly tick off.  Finally the end was in sight.

With the on the fly reroute at Indian Boundary, I ended up with 94 miles, ride time of 8:32, and a total time of 9:30.  That ride has got to be in my top 10 of local gravel routes.  The "eye candy" was just phenomenal. Good Lord, I live in such a beautiful place!

And my partners!  I could not have asked for anyone better ... maybe equal ... but not better.  Such awesome dudes with positivity all day long.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jeff and John, for one of the best days ever on a bike.

And that post- ride potluck fellowship meal was 5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐.  Pasta salad, potato salad, potato chips, and strawberry shortcake.

Post ride feeding frenzy

You see the rocking chair John is sitting in.  Not 5 minutes prior to this photo, John, with open can of Mountain Dew in hand fell backward into it with enough force that he "endo'd", but still somehow managed to only spill a drop of his drink.  I never belly laughed so hard!  Unfortunately I was not quick enough with my phone then, but it is forever ingrained into my memory.  Thanks John 😂😂😂

So while the FKT remains with Elizabeth McCalley, much more important to me are the memories we made together.  Times may be forgotten, but not all the laughing we did that day.

And this would have never happened:  scaring the beJesus out of Jeff on the Farr Gap descent.

Big climbs deserve a King Size PayDay


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Loyston 6 Hour Race Report


Having not ridden my mountain bike much this year, as I have been having way too much Type 2 Fun on the gravel bike,  I was thrilled when John invited me to team up with him for this race.  There is not a better way to refresh the trail skills than at high speed.  I came up the week before and got 2 laps in, just to familiarize myself with the tread.  It was a lot like Enterprise South, what with the loose over hardpack, but not near as tight and twisty.  You could really mess yourself up, flying down the trail and carrying too much speed into a loose corner.  

The morning of the race, we decided that John would go first.  Unless we were able to get sub-hour laps on every one of them, we would only be able to do 5.  I was 40 hours out from receiving my second Covid (Moderna) vaccination, and while I was feeling o.k., the day prior I was pretty wiped and ended up going to bed at 8:30.  So I was pretty stoked that I only had to do two.  

The race started at 10 am.  John told me he thought he would do a 1:01 on his first.  I had about 30 minutes to chill before I did my warm up. After my warm up, I felt pretty good.  I didn't think I could get a sub-hour lap, but I thought I would be pretty close.  Just like clockwork, John showed up at 11:01.  I headed out going full gas.   I though that there was one Coed team ahead of us.  Should I go hard or stupid hard, I asked my inner self.  Well, I only had to do two ...  I tried to keep it in the red on the climbs and flats and smooth on the descents and corners.  I only had one "Oh, shit!" moment when my front wheel nearly washed out into a loose turn.  How I managed to save it, I do not know.

I caught Misty (first Coed team) a little over halfway through the 12 mile lap.  She graciously allowed me around and then I just continued to lay down a blistering pace (for me) for the next 4 miles, hoping to gain a few minutes on them.  The reward is that the last mile is not too strenuous with final 1/2 being a fun descent.  I came through the chicane finish with a time of 58:32.  Hells yeah!  I was pretty stoked about that one.  That gave John about a 90 second lead, but Misty's partner was really fast (and also 20 years John's junior).  That was just fine; we both love a good challenge.  

While I was waiting, I got to hang out with one of John's UK college buddies, David Brockwell. We talked about our kids, but mostly our pets.  John's partner had bailed on him, so he decided to do the 3 hour, which didn't start until 1 pm.  We strategized over lap times and what they would have to be in order for me to have to go out for a 6th one.  I was pretty confident that wasn't going to happen, but tried to get in the right frame of mind if it did.

Misty's partner came in at 12:58pm.  Duly noted, I tensely awaited John's arrival.  I was hoping he would arrive before the 3 Hour racers left.  And ... he didn't.  He came in 1:03:27 lap, putting me 5 minutes off of Misty and 3 minutes behind all the 3 hour people.  Glad I packed a book of matches as I figured I was going to use a lot of them on my second lap.

Hitting that pavement hill the second time was NO FUN.  My legs were on fire!  Oh, the burn!  I began catching the 3 hour racers within the first mile.  I must have passed 25 of them over the course of the lap.  I was very patient and let them tell me when and on which side to pass.  I did not want to disrupt their race at all, so most of the time was passing slightly off trail.  And yes, those little bursts of power to get around them began to take their toll.  Oof!

I caught up to Misty around the same spot as the first lap.  This time I was really tired from using all those matches so I sat behind her for a few minutes, catching my breath and awaiting the next hill, where I would make a move.  She was very smooth on the descents and didn't seem to struggle at all on the climbs.  I was worried that I might not be able to pass her.

But then that awful hill on the back half of the lap showed up, and I had to go, no matter if my legs barked or not.  So I did and sure enough, slowly pulled away from her.  But I was dying on the inside!  And my breathing sounded like a freight train!  I slowly ticked off the final miles, one by one, telling myself that this was all I had to do, all that was left, so get your ass moving!

I came through with a 1:01.  I was hoping I could hit an even hour for that lap; perhaps if I had been able to start ahead of the 3 hour racers.  But I know that John had laid it all out there on both his laps, and so I was perfectly ok with that outcome.  I had bought John another 90 second lead, but I knew, unless something unfortunate happened to Misty's partner (and I did not want that), we would take second.  But I also did not want anything bad to happen to John, so as I tagged his hand, I told him to just enjoy this last lap.

At the end, Misty and her partner, Dave, took the win, with John and I in second (we ended up being 2 minutes behind, so not bad!).  Another mini goal of mine was to have the fastest woman's lap ... and I did.  So, once again, stoked for that.

The Grill Master

All in all it was a beautiful day playing bikes with friends.  To top it off, John prepared a wonderful meal for Dave and I.  Grilled ribeyes, potatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower.  It tasted so so good and I didn't have to play any part in the cooking process.  

Friday, May 14, 2021

Kranza Gravel Adventure Race Report

Situated in the middle of Michigan's mitt is Roy Kranz' training grounds for the "previously called" Dirty Kanza.  Now if you don't know Roy, you should.  This soft spoken man has buckled the Marji Gesick 100 on a fat bike and is a 4-time Dirty Kanza fat bike winner. And when he isn't out riding or racing, he is putting some pretty shitty humans behind bars as a U.S. District Attorney.

Roy, fast approaching Todd Poquette's evil status

Since 2016, he has put on an informal race to help him prepare for the Dirty Kanza.  Initially it was two 85 mile laps.  Last year he created a 170 mile loop.  It was dubbed the Sandza, as it had miles and miles of deep sand.  This year he swore that he created a better loop with less deep sand.  But he had me at "PayDay Bar."  I am a sucker for that candy bar and when he made the announcement of having PayDay's at the start, I was in.  Surely a lawyer wouldn't lie when he said he the new course was better.

Seeing as how misery loves company, I invited two of my Rescue Racing team mates to join me in this central Michigan adventure, Dave Jolin and John Switow.  We got an AirBNB that was right on the course and 2 1/2 miles from the start. 

A 1915 school house; the owner was a student in 1954.

The forecast kept getting worse as race day approached.  It seemed to drop a degree or two every time I looked at it in the week leading up to it.  The only saving grace was that it rained on Thursday and Friday, which aided in compacting the sand.  

The start line

The start was at 7 am.  We drove over because it was 32 degrees with a "real feel" of 26.  I wanted to stay toasty warm in my truck until the very last minute.  I had a heavy wool base layer, arm/leg/chemical warmers, and cold weather HandUp gloves with latex gloves over those, and toe covers.  With about 13 minutes to go, John discovered that he left his 2700 calorie bottle of Perpetuem back at the house.  Doh!  Dave and I had enough calories we could have given him, but there was no pulling this pacifier out of John's mouth.  So he started off his day with a 5 mile TT!  I suppose in hindsight I should have let him take my truck (sorry, John) but we were kind of sandwiched in roadside and I was a wee bit upset.  And that was my heating blanket!

DJ and I at the start

7 am approached and no John in sight, we began the race by soft-pedaling up the road.  Damn!  It was cold! I was disappointed we could not get some wind chill respite by hanging in the pack. John finally caught up to us as we made our first turn onto a section of pavement.  Although my toes were still toasty, those latex gloves were doing me no good, as I slowly felt the life go out of my fingers.  Let me tell you, it is a little tricky shifting and braking with blocks of ice. 

Once John latched on, we found a rhythm and began to gain ground on some racers.  My hands were so cold they hurt, but at least that let me know they were going to survive.  The roads were in great shape.  I wouldn't call them gravel by any means; they were hard packed sand.  Some sections were so smooth that you could roll them as fast as pavement. Inevitably the stutter bumps would beat us back into submission.  They were hard to spot on these sand colored roads; therefore I was always careful to have a good grip on the hoods.

Around mile 15, I noticed the road we turned onto was incredibly wet.  I was confused for a few minutes but then saw the source of the water.  A tractor trailer was spraying the roads with what I would soon learn was calcium chloride in order to keep the dust down.  Seriously?  Hadn't enough rain dumped over the last 48 hours?  Damn you Roy!  Probably bribed them with PayDays. I did my best to avoid the slop.  And this slop could definitely do a number on my bike, if I rode through it.  I stayed on the shoulder of the road and avoided most of it.  We had to travel about 3 miles of this, but then we turned off that muddy mess.

We stopped for a nature break at mile 30.  My hands finally began to thaw out; they were burning like they were on fire.  Oh, man did it hurt.  A small price to pay, however, for being able to use them once again.  The sun was shining and the temps were rising.  I was pretty miserable for those first two hours.  When once body part is cold, it seems to affect my ability to push any power.  

Things I noticed while turning the pedals over and over again:  there was little coasting, not many churches, and the homes were pretty bland.  The barns seemed to have more character than the homes, what with the beautiful stonework and quilts. The winds were picking up some as the day wore on.  I was so glad that Dave took the lead for the greater part of the day.  He was a Road Warrior!  I tucked in behind either him or John and was able to cruise along without much effort.  For some reason, I was just not feeling it today; perhaps it was just the flatness and lack of a TT mentality.  I do know I seem to excel better in the mountains with long sustained climbs followed by a chance to recover on the descents.  Here there was no recovery.

We hit a rail-trail for 10 miles of bliss!  It felt good to have some pavement under the tires as the first 55 miles may have had 2 at the most.  

Ahhhh ... smooth as a baby's bottom!

When I surged ahead to get some photos of the guys, my legs immediately felt like lead.  Dang!  Not good.  I snapped a few pics and then went back to my caboose position.

Dave, the mighty engine that could and did!

I knew there was still a 100+ miles at this point.  All I could do was stay positive and hope the legs would change their tune. At mile 61, we strayed off course to hit the Ashton General Store.  Here we grabbed some water and snacks.  This pit stop took 16 minutes; a little longer than my liking, but I did get to enjoy some salty chips that Dave offered.


After our stop, we headed back to the rail trail and stayed on it for another 7 miles.  From there it back to sand, sand, sand.  But the good kind, that is, until the Mud Mile, at mile 72.  It started off innocent enough, just a lot of loose sand and dodging some mud holes.  But with the end in sight, the whole road bed turned into peanut butter mud.  This brought back several memories:  Dirt, Sweat, and Gears, and the Caryville gravel fiasco.  I managed to avoid most of it, but didn't stop and walk soon enough.  My wheels ended up with a layer thick enough to stop me in my tracks.  So I carried a 35 pound bike 50 yards through mud and then spent a good 5 minutes scraping the mud off so I could get rolling again.

Michigan mud.

At least the dismount offered me a chance to get to know Andrea Cherwinski.  She was prepping for Unbound, Coast to Coast, and Gravel Worlds.  When she asked what I was training for, I replied, "Life."  You see, at this time in my life, it is not so much about being on the pointy end of the racing (which I do still enjoy when I can make it happen), but creating memories with friends while still pushing my limits.  We leap frogged each other most of the day;  what I will remember about her is her smile and cheerful dispostion, despite what horrors this course was throwing at us. 

Finally, some climbing, as we approached the biggest climb of the day that would take us to the second highest point (1675 feet) in lower penisula.  The climb began at mile 75.  It was a doozy: 7.5 miles with 475 feet of gain 😱.  At this point, I would take anything that resembled going up for longer than 100 yards.  This is my jam! I could settle into a rhythm and the legs lit up, in a good way.  

Cresting the top.

We stopped at the Dighton Store at mile 85.  I took time to use their restroom and apply more Chamois Butt'r.  While the bits were happy, the sit bones were beginning to hurt a little.  As I was exiting the store, I happened to notice the meat case and the butcher preparing the thickest steaks ever!  This would easily rival any of the meat sections back home in a much larger grocery store.  Those steaks looked amazing! All this in what appeared to be a rinky dink C-store.

Don't judge a book by its cover

One of the racers' father had also set up a little roadside aid station here.  I happily refilled a bottle with blue Gatorade.  At this point, I was just wanting quick calories, a little Blue #1 wouldn't kill me. Hell, Dave had already started the downward nutrition spiral with Ruffles cheddar and sour cream chips earlier! Halfway through with an elapsed time of 6:44. That pit stop was 13 minutes long ... oof.  It appears that John and I need to watch a few NASCAR races together 😏.

We finally got rolling again.  The miles slowly ticked on by a little quicker as we had a nice tailwind for the next 20 miles.  And most of the roads were hard packed.  The sun was out, but the air still had a chill in it.  The high for the day was 60 degrees.  So the vest and leg/arm warmers stayed on all day.

At some point, I turned on autopilot because I don't remember much.  Well, other than the nuisance pains in my left knee and sit bones.  And the yearning for pavement.  This course had very little pavement, I am guessing 20 miles total, with half of that being the rail trail.  Even thought the sandy roads were in "good" condition, they could still be soul-sucking at times.  I would guess that 90% of the sandy roads were hard-packed with the remainder being soft and loose.

Between the Dighton Store stop (mile 85) and the Leota gas station stop (mile 133), my mind was on a rollercoaster of highs and lows.  I was adequately hydrated and fueled by my calculations, but at times the fatigue was like a weighted blanket.  Dave was a true workhorse; he knew that John and I were deep in the pain cave, and so stayed at a steady pace to where we could just focus on holding his wheel.  I knew he could have gone harder and faster, but he stayed the course and helped us through those dark moments.  And for that, thank you, Dave.

Rollin' rollin' rollin'

Once we stopped at the Leota gas station (14 minute pit stop), where I Butt'r-ed up the goods for the last time, got a final bottle of water, and enjoyed finishing off Dave's bag of industrial seed oil laden chips (gotta say this to keep me away from those during non BDR events cuz they taste so damn good!), I was ready to conquer the last 37 miles.  

My mantra was "its all downhill from here."  My spirits lifted and even though the knees and quads were achy, I was able to shake some life back into the legs.  Dave has given me a new nickname, "The Closer," as I always seem to come up with some energy for the last pull to the finish.  And so I did.  I caught back up to Andrea and we chatted for a little bit.  But John's earlier TT back to the house had finally caught up to him.  He was pedaling on fumes. So I bid good day to her and backed off the pace.

One of many "to the horizon" roads

John was a hurtin' buckaroo!  But, to his credit, this was the longest event he has ever done.  So big fist bump to Spaz!  If he hadn't forgotten your Perpetuem, Dave and he would probably have had to drag my arse to the finish.

Our AirBNB was right on the course.  With about 6 miles to go, we passed by it.  We also made sure that John did not stop!  Now, smelling the barn, all the aches and pains seemed to vanish.  I was so ready to finish this beast.  We crossed the finish line in 12:42.  

Love love love these guys!

Now that was a tough haul.  These flat races are harder for me than the climby ones; I just don't have the power to push the pedals ALL the time. And the lack of "eye candy", meaning beautiful scenery to look at and take your mind off just how dang hard the race is. No offense to your arse, Dave 😆  Despite a less than stellar day on the bike (for me), I have no regrets.  I am so grateful to have ridden in the company of my team mates and made some pretty killer and eventually laughable memories.

My poor knees felt like the Tin Man's; I needed a grease fitting for each of them!  And my left IT band was sore but just over my knee and only when I would touch it ... weird.  It's funny, but every race seems to bring out a new "pain."  A week later and it is still a little painful to get into a deep squat due to my knee joints being stiff.  The left IT pain is almost gone and it wasn't until 5 days after the event that I felt like getting back on the bike for an easy spin.

Roy, thanks for the exercise in introspection.  It was a good day for soul searching!

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Wildcat 4 Hour Race Report


Dirty Bird Productions hosted this 4/8 hour race at Panther Creek State Park near Morristown, Tennessee.  Not having ridden single track in what felt like forever, I could not resist to race on this course which is mostly fast and flowy, with a few sections of rocks and roots, but nothing too technical.  

Each lap was 8 miles with 900 feet of gain.  My goal was to ride smooth and steady for 3 laps and then drop the hammer on the 4th and final lap. I don't know where spring went, but race morning it was bone-chilling cold ... 36 degrees!  My warm up consisted of riding up the grassy hill to use the state park restroom (which was heated), and then coast back down to the truck riding the brakes to minimize the wind chill.

I started out with all the warmers (leg, arm, head, and chemical).  I was nicely surprised by how calm the mass start was.  No elbow rubbing or handlebar swapping, my kind of start.  I knew this first lap was going to hurt due to lack of warm up.  So I started slow-ish and as the legs warmed up, I slowly accelerated.  

The one and only bottleneck was at the rock drop.  Meh!  I lost some time as several ahead of me opted to walk it.  Seriously, I thought it was more dangerous to try to walk down it then just send it.  Nothing like slick metal cleats on a flat rock at a 45 degree angle.

The aforementioned rock is in the background.

Upper Trout Lily Trail had a nice rooty climb, but then you were rewarded with a couple of tight but flowy descents.  Pioneer had some slightly rocky grunty climbs and loose over hardpack curvy descents.  The Outer Farm Loop was wide open, smooth and fasssst.  I could really fly through this section and carry my momentum.  Then onto the Piney Cove Trail for a few more roots and then finally I hit the punchy final climb up to the crest of the grassy field and finished the lap off with a screaming 1/2 mile descent. I knocked out the first lap in 48:01.

Final descent

I stopped at my pit to take off all my winter gear, as the sun was shining and the temps rising.  Lap 2 was pretty uneventful, I got to hit the rock slab at full gas, and the field had spread out so that I felt like I was just doing a hard training ride.

Upper Trout Lily

I finished the second lap in 47:56.  I stopped briefly to swap bottles and take a gel.  

The third lap was the hardest as the climbs seemed to grow a little.  The one memorable moment was when I was passed by a gentleman racer.  I call him a gentleman and not a dude or fellow because he was very polite and paid me a compliment. He was wearing a black kit with horizontal red and yellow stripes across the jersey.  If just half the men would say something positive to the women they pass, it would be so empowering to these ladies.  It would make them feel like they belong and I believe would get more women racing.

Pioneer Trail

I finished the third lap in 48:16.  Once again, I stopped at my pit to take a gel.  I had enough fluid to get me through  the final lap. Now it was time to turn it up to 11 and see what I had left in the tank.  I treated this lap like it was my one and only.  The legs felt way better than the previous lap.  I stood and hammered where I could and focused on conserving on the descents and just killing it on the climbs.  Tongue lolling, eyes bulging, I pushed through the lactic, and finished that lap in 46:26.  Hell yeah!

Outer Farm Trail Loop

I still had plenty of time to do a 5th.  But I knew better.  I had already secured 1st, accomplished my goals, another lap could only do me harm.  I have been nursing a hamstring pull and it was beginning to get tight on that fourth lap.  So I finished with plenty of time to recover, refuel, clean up, enjoy lying in the grass soaking up the sun's rays, and cheering on the 8 hour racers.

This was a cool low key grassroots event.  Thank you, Ryan, for giving us the opportunity to play bikes.  I know how much time you sacrificed in order to give us frenzied bike crack heads our fix.

Congrats Wes on your 4 hour win:  6 laps in 4 hours = flying!

It was good to see Mitch DeYoung in the flesh.  He took the 8 hour win, with Mr. War Daddy himself, John Maggard, a close second.  If I hadn't held him up for a few minutes talking about his gravel race, after his 5th lap, who knows what might have happened?