Friday, June 1, 2012

Trans-Sylvania Stage 6. Rothrock Tussey Mtn

Today was billed as the Queen Stage of the Trans-Sylvania Epic.

I started the day feeling a little sniffly and achy.  You know - the way you feel before you come down with some kind of illness.  For whatever reason, I usually ride at my best feeling this way.  So I'm in good spirits 6 minutes prior to roll off time when my mechanic/son tells me I have a tire leaking air.  I figure that's one less thing to worry about.  Got the flat out of the way before the race even started.  We changed the wheel and I rolled off to the start.

The skies were overcast, the weather was cool and rain was in the forecast.  It's always a bit of inspiration for me when rain is imminent.  It keeps me pushing the pace knowing that the further I ride before the rain, the less I have to ride in the rain.

The start was a little over 3 miles from the Scout camp.  We had a neutral roll off to the actual start line.  As soon as everyone arrived (and went pee) we get the official start.  Oh, and we are informed that the 3.5 miles we just covered do not make-up any of the 38 miles of the days' stage.  Of course not.  There weren't enough rocks.

This first section is primarily gravel and fire road climbing.  Judging by the people I'm riding with, the day seems to be going well.  I bridge from group to group trying to make up positions and get to a clear spot for the fast double track descent that I know is approaching.  When we get there I hammer and tuck, hammer and tuck.  I'm on the 29'er hardtail today, with some fast rolling tires. Other riders are having a tough time hanging with me.

As every mountain biker knows, every descent is followed by an equal and opposite ascent.  This one is quite steep, but I'm feeling OK.  I choose a gear I can spin and ride a pace I know I can sustain.  It's going to be a long day and the rocks are coming.

When I get to the first rocky single track section I am able to get into a decent rhythm.  It's challenging, but rideable and I feel like I'm making pretty good time until I hear "local coming through".  He goes by me and I can't keep up with him - showing me just how much time I could gain if I could ride the rocks better.  But, just like all the other sections, this one ends and we begin the long climb to the first aid station.

The aid station stop goes well and I'm off again.  It's not long before we make a sharp corner into the woods for more rocks.  These sections of rocks are a bit different than the others.  It's a little more open with more choices of lines.  It still takes a lot of power to ride through them, but I am able to choose rocks to ride on that keep me pointed on the trail.  I have noticed that my rim occasionally bottoms out.  I am running tubeless, so I'm not going to pinch flat.  But I have an easy feeling that I may be leaking air.  And then I have a new concern.  Powering through a rock section my left shoe buckle rips.  I've already passed the only supported aid station of the day, so the only choice is to hammer on.  Pretty soon the rocks ease up and it's on to a narrow, buttery smooth section of singletrack with sweeping corners and gentle ups and downs.  There are laurel bushes (I think - I'm not a botanist...) bordering both sides of the trail.  It's really sweet trail.  But of course this part ends as well.  It's book-ended with more rocks before dumping us out onto the road for more climbing.

This a long climb, but the grade is not too steep and it's all smooth.  I find a nice rhythm and pick a target heart rate to stay above.  The miles seem to click by easily.  Maybe it's just because it's smooth, but it feels like I'm just floating up this climb.  I'm careful not to ride myself into the ground just jet.  There are still more rocks and a climb at the end.

Next up is Tussey Ridge.  The going is slow at first.  Steep and rocky.  Then just rocky.  When I get to the ridge, it's just amazing.  It's hard to describe.  There is not a lot of climbing.  There are long technical rocky sections, but the rocks are big and easier to deal with.  The scenery is just incredible.  The burned out trees contrast with the lush greenery all around.  It's eerie, but also beautiful.  We are high on the ridge and there are trees and mountains for miles and miles in all directions.  I feel like I'm a million miles from anywhere.  Well, I do until I see Dracula doing beer hand-ups.  He didn't have a tie wrap to fix my shoes....

And then this section ends as well.  After bouncing over, around and down some more rocky sections, crossing 3 narrow bridges (with potential consequences if you happened to not make it across) we drop out onto some gravel road.

This looked like a hammer to the finish section.  It was not.  It was hammer the remaining descent, then make a turn and climb, make a turn and climb then head down a fire road that, again, looks like a hammer to the finish section.  It was not.  We turn onto some double track for a steep climb.  As the grade descends a bit it looks the finish is approaching.  It was not.  Back onto the fire road for more hammering to the finish.  Right.  It wasn't.  We turn sharp right up a steep, rocky section.  The grade lessens, the rocks do not.  Finally, this section leads onto a grassy overgrown double track section that does, in fact lead to the finish.  I am so blown up from doing all the efforts that I thought were finishing efforts that I couldn't mount any type of sprint finish so I just pedal through as best as I can.

The wife and son are there to greet me.  By there best estimation I came in 3rd today, which would be awesome because I really, really wanted to get on the podium for one of these stages.  I had been 9th in GC before today, but within 10 minutes of picking up 2 spots.  We'll see where this effort puts me when they post the results tonight.

For a day that began with a flat tire, imminent rain, followed by a broken shoe and a leaking tire, it comes to a happy end.  The rain begins as we head back to the Hotel.  God is good.

Final stage tomorrow.  26 miles.  Those of us fighting for position will be hammer down again.  Those who aren't - not so much.  Weather forecast: severe clear.  Hard to believe the week is almost over.

See you on the trails!

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