Sunday, September 23, 2012

Three Peaks USA

After this weeks' botched (by me) Pisgah Stage Race, and basically riding myself into the ground doing some long, hard (but fun) training days I wouldn't say I was really "ready" for Three Peaks as far as form goes.  But I was READY to be racing again.

I had a pretty tricked-out cx bike ready for the race:  A Blue Norcross set-up 1x10 with AC Aero 420 wheels and 700 x 40c Kenda Happy Medium tires.  Add a saddlebag (2 tubes and inflators) and (gasp) water bottle cages (at least they were carbon) and the bike was ready.

I didn't have that fresh, "snappy" feeling, but with the cool sunny weather I was ready to go at the start.  The plan was to hammer the short climbs, pace the long climbs and bomb the descents and technical sections.  ...that is, until mile 5.3.

The first technical section is a long rocky section that we would two times today.  Some 0f the CX bikes struggle here.  Thanks to my wide (by CX standards) tires, I manage to gain a few spots here.  At the end of this section my front tire goes flat (mile 5.3).  It's not a pinch flat, perhaps just an unlucky encounter with a pointy rock.  A few minutes and a new tube later I'm back on the bike.  The plan now is to make up the minutes and positions I lost.

I manage to gain back most of the positions I lost.  Until I get to the Emerald Outback trail system and I am directed the wrong way (along with quite a few other riders) up a climb.  We get turned around reasonably quickly and back on course.  The short detour costs me most of the positions I managed to gain back.  But it's a great day to ride and a great course.  I'm determined to finish the best I possibly can, so I hammer on.

At aid #2, mile 23, I see Thom Parsons from Cyclingdirt's car.  I prepare for the worst because I figure he is set-up to take pictures of a gnarly section of trail.  I am not disappointed.  The trail is wide, but it is loose, rocky, and steep.  In fact, many of the descents, though short, were so steep that I can't slow down for them.  I have to balance between locking up the brakes and trying to stay slow enough not to bash into the rocks willy nilly.  It's actually kinda fun.  The more of these descents I do, the more confidence I get.  Until I bottom out the rear rim on a rock I didn't see.  Instant flat.  No worries.  I have a 2nd tube.  Except this time when I unhook the rear cantilever brake I don't notice the cable housing gets unseated and it takes me extra time to figure out how to get the brake lever reconnected.  More time lost.  Still determined to get all I can.

It turns out I was almost done with this rocky section and I was on to aid #3 where my wife is waiting.  I meet her, get refueled and hammer the climb then descent that would bring me back to her on a lollipop loop 10 miles later.  I stop to pump up the rear tire.  It was a bit low and now I'm concerned that I may have a leak, or if it's just the CO2 leaking out of the latex tube.  Either way, it's more incentive to finish fast before the tire flats.

It's only about 11 (or so) miles to the finish from here.  Mostly one long gravel road climb then back into the technical, rocky section where my first flat occurred.  With no more tubes left, I don't want to flat again, but taking it easy doesn't seem like a good plan either.  I ride thru the rocks somewhere in between.  No flats.  A bit more climbing follows, then some sweet road (complete with tight switchbacks) descending followed by one short but sweet climb to the finish.  The clock ticks 4:36.  A little slower than my goal time, but good enough for 7th in class.  A very satisfying finish.

See you on the trails!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

PMBSR Stage two: Enough's Enough

Stage two started 12 miles up the road from the Black Mountain trail head at the Cradle of Forestry.  The sun was out and warming the trails by the time we rolled out at 11:00am.  Against all stage race precedence we actually started out rolling downhill.  On open road.  For several miles.  Of course it was a lollipop loop, meaning this would all be climbing back to the finish.

A shorter stage was planned today.  But a tough day, including famed Farlow Gap.  After yesterdays disaster I was looking for better things today.  My legs didn't really like the start.  The climb went OK, but I was struggling from yesterdays bike toting stage.  After the first major fire road climb, the terrain trended toward punchy rollers.  My specialty.  The legs come around.  It's going to be a good day.

Cove Creek is the first single track we get too.  I note that it's labeled on the trail marking post with a green circle indicating it's an "easy" trail.  There are no "easy" trails in a race, however.  It just means that it's "easy"-er to go fast.  So we hammer through most of it.  It's kinda muddy in sections and there are some "bridges" to cross.  A bridge in Pisgah is 2 logs (really wide ones have 3 logs) cut with a flat-ish top and a rail on one side.  Ride at your peril.  I hike.

After Cove we enter grassy over-grown gravel double track.  At the top of a hill there is an option to the right.  No markings.  I go straight.  Still no markings.  Other riders are yelling to other riders about which direction to take.  The consensus is that I missed a turn.  So I go back up the hill and take the turn and begin climbing.  Still no markings.  I do eventually meet someone walking carrying some marking tape who indicates I'm headed the right direction and to turn left onto Daniels Ridge.

When I get to the Daniels Ridge sign post there are no markings, but I head down the trail as told.  Still no markings, but the trail is a blast.  I continue on to the bottom of the trail which dumps back out onto some more grassy gravel double track.  I did not see any markings, but I head in the direction the trail seems to have pointed me.  There is a rider alongside the trail fixing a flat - an indication I'm on course.  I meet a rider with no race number coming down where I am going up.  He says I'm good, which I take as another indication I'm headed the right way.  Then I meet a rider headed towards me who isn't really sure which way is right either.  From here things get kinda fuzzy.  Every direction I attempt to go I meet someone telling me I'm headed the wrong direction. 

Finally, I make the decision to head down a single track trail.  It eventually leads me onto Cove Creek where a course marshal is standing.  He asks where I came from, which was a question I was unable to answer but told him I had already ridden Daniel's Ridge.  Apparently I pretty much had to start over and climb back up to Daniel's Ridge.  Which I was not about to do, especially since all the riders had already gone thru this checkpoint.  I had worked too hard to start all over, at the back, with the very real possibility that I'd make more wrong turns.  I had enough.  This was no longer fun.  I rode back the way I came in on Cove Creek.

It was a beautiful day for a ride.  As I rode back to the finish, I wished it had been under better circumstances.

Later that evening I decided to pull the plug on the race.  I was no longer eligible for any kind of GC award, and it was going to be pretty hard to get motivated to hammer getting beat up day after day on Pisgah's rugged trails.  And if I was just going to ride around, I may as well do that at home.  The wife's vacation had been cancelled at the last minute and she was unable to come to the race.  Staying up here to ride around seemed a bit selfish, so I headed for home.  There will be more races.

Best wishes to all the racers, promoters, and sponsors!

See you on the trails!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2012 Pisgah MTB Stage Race - Stage One

Sam Koerber (MIA), Jeremy Bishop, and Wes who???
Rain.  Hiking.  Lots of rain lots of hiking.

There was lots of rain overnight, and it didn't change much during the day.  Stage one rolled off in the rain.  Except for getting water in my eyes, the clawhammer climb went well.  I stayed with the lead group.  I don't really mind racing in the rain when it's fire/gravel road or single track that still has some grip. 

So at at the mile 7 aid station things were looking pretty good.  But soon we headed into single track.  From here on, all of the single track and much of of the fire roads would be literally riding (or trying to avoid riding) in a flowing stream of water.  I was doing OK, powering through the stream, but when we got to squirrel gap's "1/2 track" things got pretty sketchy.  I really do not do narrow, side of the mountain slick trail well.  In one sharp corner I actually slowed too much and the rock I thought I was going to roll over stopped me abruptly and I just fell off the trail.  ...onto more rocks.  I heard the unmistakable crack of carbon fiber.  I thought my bike was killed,  Turns out it was only a water bottle cage.  This is where Morgan Olsson passed me.  Later, 2 more would get by me.

Eventually I managed to get through this section and to the mile 22 aid station.  I refueled, got a chain lube (Thanks volunteers!) and headed up the fire road climb.  I was pretty recovered because of how slowly I had been riding and managed to pass back 2 of the riders that had passed me on squirrel.  It was only 10 miles to the next aid station and I was hoping it was all fire road so I could make up more time.  But, about 7 miles later we turn onto more single track.  This section is much more rideable for me though.  It's actually kinda fun.  I can push the pace without fear of running off the side of the mountain.  I think it was this section where we had to cross a stream (river?) that was pretty deep and flowing kinda fast.  I actually had to lift my bike out of the water to keep it from washing away from me.  There were quite a few stream crossings today, but being soaked from the start it didn't really phase anyone.

By now things have begun to take a toll on my bike.  The brakes are constantly grinding, my water bottle is barely hanging on and my saddle bag straps are tearing off and it's swinging like a pendulum.

I blow through the mile 32 aid station knowing there is only 7 miles left, including the fabled descent down Black Mountain to the finish.  I forgot how much hiking there was to get to the descent.  Immediately after the aid station I'm off the bike hiking.  Then on a little, but mostly off.  Lots of hiking.  And then the descent starts.  The top is the most technical, and I play it a bit conservative because it's really quite slick.  I hear a thud as my saddle bag straps finally give up.  I decide to stop and pick it up.  So now it's a jersey pocket bag.  A begin downhill again - but only a few hundred yards before I hear a metallic clunk and I slide to a halt.  The rear wheel is locked up.  Well, it will spin backwards, but not forward - which is the direction I want to travel.  Surprisingly, shaking it, kicking it and calling it names does not solve the problem.  But carrying it does.

So I hike.  And hike,  And hike.  It's like 30 minutes before anyone passes me.  I think lots of other riders had issues too.  There is no comfortable way to carry a MTB that far.  Every now and then I drop it, or get stuck in some brush.  Finally I reach the bottom of the steepest part of the descent and lo and behold the rear wheel spins.  So I hop back on for the last 1/2 mile.  Absolutely no rear brakes, but I didn;t really need them much at this point.  I cross the finish line in the rain at about 5:15.  A full hour slower than last year.

I did end up 3rd in my 40+ class, but probably a lot of minutes out of GC. 

And my bike?  Turns out I had only 3 brake pads left.  One of the front ones is worn into the backing plate and the remaining rear "pad" is almost completely worn thru the backing plate.  The other one must've gotten wedged into the rotoe causing it to lock-up.  Eventually it fell out and that's why I was able to ride the last 1/2 mile or so.

Later I replaced all the pads, the rear rotor, the saddle bag, the bottle cage, readjusted my bent rear derailleur, and my front brake lever that was "adjusted" by a tree on a Squirrel.

Tomorrow we roll out of the "Cradle of Forestry" at 11:00am.  Most likely to drier weather.  Hopefully to less carnage.

Oh, and congrats to kinda-local-to-Charlotte racer Wes Richards for a fine performance.  The Pro class was combined with the open men class and Wes put down a smoking time to come in right behind the 2 pros!!!

See you on the trails!
My remaining brake pads after stage one

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fool's Gold 100

The final race of the NUE series rolled out of Montaluce Winery in Dahlonega, GA amid overcast skies.  I was really looking forward to this race after Wilderness 101's DNS and Shenandoah's DNF.  I was pretty determined to finish.

I wasn't really feeling the extra "snap" indicative of being fresh and ready to hammer.  In fact I was feeling a bit sluggish trying to keep up with the neutral roll out.  But I thought this course would suit me, and, like I said - I was determined to finish.

I had decided to run my own pace up the early big climb and see where I stacked up.  I dropped out of the lead group early, but pretty soon I was catching people that were getting dropped form the lead group.  It wasn't long before I was in front of all the pro women so I felt my pace was pretty good.

I carried enough stuff to blow through aid station #1 at mile 18 at the top of the climb.  Next came the super fast gravel road descent.  After seeing a few cars on the course I decided to play it a little conservative so that I wouldn't end up a hood ornament on one of the local's pick-up trucks.  About the time we turn off the descent I start to feel the rear tire going soft.  Actually making the super sharp right hander onto the single track prooved to be problematic - I slid the front tire and went down.

It didn't take long to realize there was a problem.  The rear went from a "squirmy" feeling to bouncing off the rim.  Not good, but no "hiss" of air leaking so I keep my weight forward and try to reach Aid #2 at mile 27.  Unsuccessful.  The tire is quite flat now and I seriously considered just banging off the rim to the aid station.  But, I was here to finish, so I stopped and gave it a shot of CO2.  This got me to aid station #2.  I picked up an extra CO2 cartridge hoping I wouldn't need it.

The 2nd biggest climb of the race followed a loop (Bull Mountain Loop) that would bring us back to the same aid station.  It was primarily a fire road climb, but some pretty fast and fun descending on single track.  I was looking forward to doing it again on Lap #2.  When I reached aid #3 I had Anthony check the air in the rear tire: 15psi.  So I had him fill it to 35psi in hopes it would be enough air to keep from faltting again. 

Some more gravel and more sweet single track followed to aid #4.  I stopped for my drop bag here.  I refueled and prepared for the 23 miles back to aid #5 which is the same as #2 and #3 from the previous lap.  The course was redesigned for 2012.  We skip the biggest climb from early in the race but we did 3 shorter, steeper climbs.  My rear tire has so much air in it now I'm getting pretty beat up on my hardtail, but it sure beats fixing a flat alongside the trail.

When I get to aid #5 I'm greeted by ambulances and paramedics.  Apparently someone has crashed in between #5 and #6.  I have no idea who it is, but I hope all turns out well.  The climb up Bull Mountain goes well - there is one short section I hiked both times.  And there is a Gator (John Deere type, not alligor) stuck beside the trail.  It starts to rain on the descent.  What was a slightly slick trail becomes a bit more challenging.  About 2 miles from aid #6 someone warns me to slow down.  I do, and pass by the injured rider and a cast of others who have stopped to lend a hand.  About a mile later I meet paramedics carrying a stretcher up the trail.  Again, I hope that all ends well for the injured rider.

By the time I get to aid #6 it is quite wet, but barely raining.  Anthony checks my air again: 30psi.  We deem it good to go to the finish.  This would be my last planned stop.

The trail to aid #7 is very slick.  I'm not used to riding the red mud they have here.  Sometimes it's soft enough to get some bite and sometimes the tires slide right over it.  Much of the single track is downhill and pretty flow-y.  I tried to keep the pace high, but I keep sliding and seeing where others have slid off the trail.  I play it a bit conservative, but no one is catching me and I keep catching racer's from the 50-mile class.

I bypass aid #7 as planned.  By now the sun is out and the trails are a bit drier and easier to navigate.  It's 10 miles to the finish from here and I've got a little more energy left than usual at the end of one these races because of all the soft pedaling on the slippery parts.

After a few more miles of single track we enter gravel road, then paved.  Almost home.  I thought.  However it's like 5 or 6 miles of smooth, undulating, paved road back to the Winery and the finish.  It's funny how I can pace myself up 10 miles of gravel road at the beginning of the race, but this smooth road is wearing me out.  I pass about 10 more 50-milers on the open road before making the right turn into the Winery.  The newly cut grass route is actually quite slick and a lot harder to roll on then the road I was just on.  But it's a short section and pretty soon the Kenda arch looms ahead.  I struggle up the final grassy climb and come in somewhere around 8:03.

I thank God for the successful race and hope that in some way my efforts can glorify Him.

My 2012 MTB season is quickly coming to an end.  Of course, Pisgah MTB stage race is coming up and perhaps the Dark Mountain Point to Point race.  After that - Cyclocross season.

See you on the trails!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Shenandoah 100

I knew going in that Shenandoah 100 was going to be a motivation test.  My ribs were still sore from last weekend, plus rain was forecasted for race day plus Shenandoah has a bit of hike-a-bike, a lot of pace-lining on the road and lots of off camber trail.  Still, it's one of the 4 NUE races that I can drive to, so I wanted to go.

The race starts at 6:30 - first light.  I got a good start and worked pretty hard early.  I wanted to get as many miles in before the rain started.  It's all road and fire road to the first aid station at 11 miles in.  I lined up with the 8-hour group for the start, but I'm passing an awful lot of people.

After aid station #1 we get to some single track.  It's not raining yet, but the rocks are still wet making the going a bit treacherous.  I'm doing Ok, though, having to hike some sections.  I passed eventual female winner Sue Haywood on the road.  She passes me back on the rocky climb/hike-a-bike section.  She's pretty smooth over the rocks.  I get the edge on her on the rocky descent and pass her back.  ...only to be passes back on the next rocky climb.  Oh well.  The last big single track descent is gnarly rocky.  I haven't had much luck fixing flats in the past, so I'm descending with a little bit of caution.  I thought I was doing pretty well because I passed several racers, but then I got passed.  ...and passed again.   ...and a third time.  I stick with my plan.  Which works out well.  Two of the racers that passed me ended up alongside fixing flats (including one Sue Haywood).  The third racer that passed in the super fun roller coaster section ended up crashing near the end and I passed him back too.

Just before aid station #2 at mile 31 it starts to rain.  The forecast was 50%-60% chance of rain.  I think it ended raining on 50-60% of my race as predicted.  I was surprised to have caught Morgan Olsson at the aid station.  He has a pretty good history of top finishes in these endurance races.  So I ride with Morgan for a while through the double track or grassy single track.  In the rain.  Lots of rain.  Lots and lots of rain.  Sometimes I think I have the upper hand on Morgan, but I can't really get ahead of him.  So, we ride together some more.

When we get single track, though, I can't quite match Morgan's pace.  We do some FAST very narrow single track descending on the side of the mountain.  I'm flying ...until I get just a touch off line and wipe out in a big way.  I didn't hit anything, but it got my attention!  The first soggy rock section we get to I notice my seat is moving around a bit.  I knew if I didn't fix I'd end up seat-less, so I bit the bullet and pulled off the trail and tried to tighten the seat bolts.  I couldn't really get to the front bolt with my multi-tool, so I just tightened the rear bolt as best as I could go.  Now the seat is (mostly) tight, but pointed a bit skyward.

After having stopped (and getting passed) I guess I was all out of sync with the trail because I was really strggling to ride the soggy rocky climb.  I get frustrated and hike a bit.  Sue Haywood catches me and asks how I'm doing.  I said "kind of awful".  She asks if I need anything then says "There is a sweet descent ahead."  Believe me I was ready for some descending.  I thought.  Watching Sue roll smoothly along reminded me to just relax, pedal with my legs, work the bike and ride my pace.  I feel like I'm going slow, but I'm much smoother now.  Back in rhythm.

Until the descent.  Normally I could really bomb the descent and make up time, but I keep getting caught out.  The rain has slowed, but the trail is still soggy.  I slide off the trail another couple of times.  One time I had to drag my bike 15 feet back up the hill onto the trail.  Stupid side-of-the-mountain trails.  Plus now my seat has started to move around again.  When we finally get to some more open trail I feel like I need to make up time.  I decide to ride hammer down and fix the seat at the next aid station.  And then it falls off.  It was a wide open section of trail so I stop and take the time to level it up and snug it up.

When I get to aid station 4 at 57 miles I have the aid station volunteer put a wrench on the seat bolt that my multi-tool doesn't reach well.  I instruct him to tighten the heck out of it.  He does.  So now I'm ready to roll again - thinking all of my seat problems are behind me.

The 12 miles from aid #4 to #5 at 75 miles are all fire road.  Mostly very uphill.  It starts out as a gradual climb that gets steeper as you go.  Perfect for me.  And then the mile 66 "snap".  The carbon seat clamp bracket snaps in two.  So I ride sans saddle all the way to aid #5.  Occasionally I have to stop to readlust the saddle bag which now has no good attaching point.  The climbing is OK, but tiresome since I can't ever take a break.  The little bit of descending is nice, but I can't make up any time.  By now I've decided I'm going to DNF at the aid station.  You lose a lot of control without the saddle and with my record of crashes so far today I feel it would be the prudent thing to do rather than get impaled for what would now be a mediocre finish.

I figured there would be an easy way back to the campground from aid station #5.  I was wrong.  It turns out my choices were to continue on the 20 miles to the finish (Shenandoah comes in under 100 miles - more like 95 miles) or to ride 20 miles back to the campground.  Images of having to hike single track climbs (and possibly some descents) and of course, the whole impaling thing make my decision the all fire-road/road-road "mostly" downhill 20 mile route.  So I head back down the way I just spent so much effort climbing up.  Almost all the way back to aid #4, onto another fire road then a road-road.  I stop at aid station #6 (from the wrong direction) and pick up my drop bag for the remainder of the journey.  Four miles later I cross the iconic iron bridge and make the right turn up the final climb of the day - the entrance to Stokesville Campground.

Almost without notice I find my car.  No cheers.  No pictures.  No finishers mug.  But my cooler is waiting for me in the car.  I begin the rehydrating, change clothes and head to the finish to find my wife who is still expecting me to roll through at any time.  As I do, I see Morgan Olsson cross the inflatable Kenda finish arch and pause for an interview with the announcer.  Shortly afterward Sue Haywood also finishes and gives her victory interview.  The official time clock reads about 8:33.  I briefly wonder what might have been.

But I'm in one piece.  The ribs held up.  My form seemed good.   ...and next week is another NUE race.  The season-ending Fools Gold 100.

Congratulations to Jeremiah and Sue on their overall men's and women's and victories!

See you on the trails!