Saturday, October 1, 2011
We rolled off from the Black Mountain trailhead again. This time we had a police escort for the 6 mile ride on Hwy 280. Some racers actually opted for a road bike for this section, then swapped out bikes when we turned into the woods. My legs were hurting from the previous 4 days of racing and it was a struggle to keep up with the pace on the road. I managed to place myself around the people I was racing against and just hung on.
When we turned off the highway, we were greeted with a bit of a climb. The climbing suited my legs better and I managed to pull into the lead of my class. And then the creek crossings started. All of them were cold, some were quite deep and a few were technical in that we had to navigate slippery rocks. After the creek crossings the trail turned upwards once again. By now the sun has come out and whenever I'm not completely surrounded by rhododendrons the warmth feels good.
At aid station #1, Beth is there to help in the transition from cold wet clothes, to drier, speedier clothes. It feels good to be in some dry socks and shoes but the legs haven't really come around yet. I'm still leading but I feel depressingly slow. But the trail continues upwards, so I keep climbing. I've got no HR data again today so I'm trying to climb at a sustainable pace. The climb goes on and on with some hike-a-bike but mostly pretty sweet single track. More climbing. I remind myself that this is the biggest climb of the day. It's all easier after this. Soon I get to a trail sign that reads "Pilot Mtn ". I've never ridden Pilot Mtn, but I know that it's rocky and a favorite place for photographers to take pictures of the technical descent. Descending is good, so I'm happy about that. For a moment. When Pilot Mtn turns downward it really turns downward. It's a bit technical at first but it soon turns absolutely crazy. There is one section of rocks ("rock garden" does not do it justice) where photographers, spectators and the white squirrel mascot are yelling and cheering the riders on. The riding is so intense you have to stay completely focused. Even so it's tough to ride the right speed to maintain momentum, but not so fast as to endo. Constantly I am searching for the next rock to bash into that won't hurl me over the bars. When I get out of this section, the rocky descent continues. Only now it's big rocks and tight, tight, tight switch backs that you really don't want to overshoot. I actually managed to pass two riders on this part, even though I dropped my bike 3 times on switchbacks. The rocks ease up for a bit, but I'm still not at the bottom. So I stay off the brakes as long as I dare. Partly because it's a race and partly because I just want to get done with the descent.
When the bottom arrives I notice my legs feel a bit better, I feel a bit better. I think it's the adrenaline. I'm stoked to be alive to reach aid station #2. It was one of my goals. Their are only two climbs and two descents left, and I was pretty sure I could live through both of them - another one of my goals. The climbing goes well even though I did get passed by a rider, but it was one I had passed on the descent so I didn't feel too bad. The next descent is Avery creek. It's a bit softer dirt than most of the rest of the trail and a bit technical, but quite rideable. At this point I'm just happy to be going downhill again. At the bottom of Avery creek is a few short creek crossings and some mostly flat trail making it easy to keep the pace high.
The final aid station is a repeat of yesterday's at the horse stables . The wife hooks me up with the final gel and water bottle of the week. I know the final miles pretty well by now. The steepest part of the climb comes up first and my legs just don't wanna get going after the brief stop. I thought I was leading (I wasn't). I know it's about 45 minutes to the finish and I have a 51 minute lead in GC at the start of the day. My body says take it easy, but Todd (the awesome race promoter) said he wanted to see everyone use up every ounce of energy on this last section. The legs start to come around as the grade lessens a bit and I grind up the climb. There is a rider up ahead, so I convince myself to reel him in. I finally catch him near the top of the climb. At the turn onto Black Mountain trail several Dirt Divas (A local to Charlotte MTB club) cheer me on. Way cool. It makes the hike-a-bike seem a bit shorter. And then I reach the final descent. In and of itself the Black Mountain trail descent is totally awesome. Finishing a 5 day stage race with the opportunity to win all five stages makes it absolutely amazing. I remind myself to enjoy every foot of trail. I was a very little cautious on the couple of tricky parts near the top, but after that it was brakes off, full speed ahead. If I flat or crash, I can walk in from here. A bit scary, but amazingly gratifying to fly through the air, land and rail a bermed corner ...and do it again and again. At the bottom I sprint across the line at 4:44. I found out the rider I had just passed on the final climb had been leading the day in my class. So I end the week having won all 5 stages. It's way more than I could have hoped for and leaves me feeling very blessed.
Now for a little time off the bike.
See you on the trails! ...but not for a couple of days.