Cherohala crossing

I partially got talked into doing the Cherohala crossing #3. I knew Hammering Hill Billy and FarmerG have done this ride before, and although I heard it was on/off road with 3 climbs, it would have some of the beautiful views of North Carolina and the Cherohala parkway.

I finally made it to Paradox, although a little later than anticipated. After some bites of steak & some veggies fresh from FarmerG’s garden we huddled around the campfire & told tall tales of our mis-adventures of bike racing over the years.

A bit a late evening of jocularity and sipping adult beverages around a campfire before we finally turned in for the night. I was camping for a 2nd night, 1st being at Mulberry Gap for the Drama Queen ride – and was fortunate enough that FarmerG had some extra blankets because the sudden N.C. night time low of 48 was most unexpected after our months HOTlanta heat.

as more people pulled up before sunrise, I rubbed my groggy eyes, they were anxious for the day of riding to get started. We on the other hand we dragging slightly. Andy was there and soon Mr Paine himself pulled up – an unexpected surprise – now I know this ride was going to be a brute.

We had an great breakfast of coffee & pancakes, jittery with anticipation of what might be in store for the day. Troy was our designated team driver of the vehicle – many Thanks to Troy, who was saving his legs for the infamous US100K on Monday.

Climbing was the game today – 3 long climbs and descents, all on dirt. I was on a 2Niner Mt bike with a knobby up front and a Maxxis CrossMark in the rear, probably the best rear tire for this ride. I was at a disadvantage going uphill, but on the downhills the Mt bike was a huge advantage over the cycle-cross bikes.

We readied ourselves and left from the park of Murphy, NC, and headed to Andrews, NC – but not until I had the ONLY flat of the day. Onward we marched rolling along the small rollers, each 1 taking it’s toll already on my legs. The Drama Queen was starting to show her evil backside to my quads. I would be mid-pack of a moderate moving group, then slightly off the back, then have to re-gain ground once the road flattened out.

We made a left turn on what was a paved road, which soon turned to a dirt road. The group was now starting to split up. The grade of the road would change every so often, however the usual ability to get out of the saddle and pedal to maintain speed in a steeper section was lost due to traction on the dirt road. It was a ‘sit & spin’ kind of a day.

I tried not to think too much about the gearing I was using because it wasn’t long until I realized that my legs didn’t have much left in the tanks. I was running low on fuel and the reserves had not been replenished. The gravel this year was reported as much looser than the previous year. And clearly they had recently put down new gravel on 1 of the descents.

Once to the top would re-grouped with everyone, and I was inhaling all food that I could, and re-filling water, then adding Nuun tablets. I found out that HillBilly and Shane were duking it out for the KOM on a day that I was trying to survive. The descents were long, somewhat loose gravel and Fast as you wanted, most everyone had pains in the forearms and calves from standing while braking down the descents.

The flat sections we quite fast for being on a Mt bike, I was able to grab a wheel of Greg and put my head down to hold his wheel. Then we would regroup, ride awhile until someone got frisky again – back to the races, then slow enough for everyone to catch up.

On the 2nd climb, the body went on strike: said ‘no mo, until we get supplies’ I got some gel, got a bite of cliff-bar, but it just wasn’t enough. My body was on ‘E’ and I felt like I was holding everyone up – the day was going to be long enough as it was so, I hopped in the follow vehicle and snapped some photos of the other riders climbing up this mountain. Meanwhile, I was eating anything available: cheez-its and Pnut butter wafers, and drinking more Nuun. At the top, we regrouped again before another awesome descent – I was on a mt bike, descents were tough for those with the cyclo-cross tires. Somewhere either on this climb or on the descent we crossed into Tennessee. Hit some flatter roads and the 2nd store stop. Luckily for me, I found a pop-tart in my pack that I had forgotten about – I don’t think I had ever been more excited about a pop-tart ever before.

After the store-stop at the bottom of this gap was along the river, and we had to gradually climb out of this area. I was holding pace with the group along the flats, then once again, I was falling off slightly on the rollers and catching back on. We were heading out for the final climb of the day.

What this last climb lacked in length, it made up in short steep sections that whether from tired legs, lack of gearing or lack of traction, several people had to walk up. Once re-grouped at the top, we started again down the Mountain. Just after passing me, Shane moved his way up to the front, and out of sight through the next turn. I was slowing down because the edge was on our right and the turn went out of sight to the left. About mid-way through the turn, I saw a pick-up truck that luckily was now stopped on the far left side of the road, and luckily again, there was Shane just a little passed the truck looking back at us, as if to say ‘Holy Crap!’ We were all able to safely get around the vehicle.

Once again at the bottom, Greg was an instigator and was Hammering this section all the way to the stop sign. There we waited on everyone and headed back out for the final leg back to Murphy. Just as I thought the worst of this ride was over and seemed to have some energy again, the upcoming climbs were to take their toll before I was able to drag myself back into town. Greg and Wayne stopped and waited on everyone before getting back to the cars.

After 15 minutes of beverages and munching it was time for the all-mighty HillBilly recovery ice bath in the Hiawassee river. After soaking for a bit, we motored on back to FarmerG’s for some beef burgers and pasta with sauce straight from Farmer’s garden – Awesome sauce to top an Awesome weekend of riding with great friends!!

Cherohala crossing #3:

No US Pro Race Radio

I was at the 2010 USPro race in Greenville, SC. While I was there I found out that the officials did not allow race radios. So the team directors could only talk to a rider if the rider slowed down so their team car could pull up beside him, or the driver was able to pull up beside the racer along a section of road.

Normally the team directors have instantaneous communication with their team members and direct information from race officials about time gaps, and where team members are along the road – besides this, they will also get information about upcoming obstacles and odd situations that the racers may encounter.

During the 2010 USPro race a young up and coming cyclist Ben King racing for the Shack, was in a 3 man break almost immediately, and on the 3rd lap, almost as soon as the climb started up Paris Mt. King pulled away from his break a way companions. It would be the last time he would ride with another cyclist that day. He climbed up Paris Mt, then through downtown Greenville, SC. Up Paris Mt again, before starting the final 3 laps on the finishing circuit in a Time Trial position.

I was chatting with different people and everyone seemed to agree that the pack would start to heat up, and a team would come to the front and reel King back in. I saw BMC come to the front. BMC had what appeared to be 4 riders in the next break, including George Hincapie, and Levi Leipheimer. Several teams kept the pace high in attempts to reel in King, including BMC, Kelly Strategies, Garmin Transitions – yet they were unsuccessful in reeling in the solo break-a-way rider King. In fact King seemed to hold his 2 minute lead around most of the downtown circuit.

King held a 2 minute gap against riders from 3 different teams. Would race radios have changed this?
Most USCF racers are not allowed to use radios, citing ‘too distractive’. Is this a sign of future racing – No race radios? Will this make for more exciting races?

Drama Queen ride

Again this year on the first weekend of September, a group is summoned and converge on a super-secret location in Northern Georgia at the base of Fort Mountain, known as Mulberry Gap.
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I got there on Friday afternoon, meeting a friend from Greenville, SC (a 3 hour drive). We figured that getting there Friday evening would highly trump the early alarm that would be required to arrive by 8am for a 9am ride….. besides, Mulberry Gap will cook any meal with ingredients from local farmers that you would like. Once we get there we find our host gracious enough to find me for my tent for the night (since Derek can sleep in his Subaru) – Mulberry Gap was Full this weekend, due to the Drama Queen ride, the riders for the Trans-North Georgia race, and a women’s Mt bike klinik, but Diane was sweet enough to set me up w/ a place for my tent for the night.

Having camped there that night, I didn’t feel the need to wake up that early, right? So when I heard the breakfast bell at 7am, I rolled over and my body hit snooze for another 30 minutes. Finally, I get myself out of the tent and back to the car to make some necessary coffee, followed by breakfast…. what I negated to factor in, was the inconvenience of cooking at the camp site, searching for where I put things in the packed car is not good, this is taking too long.

I hear riders being called up to the barn, everyone is either prepped or making last minute preparations, I’m attempting to clean-up from breakfast & get dressed. The 7am breakfast isn’t looking too early anymore…..but, I’m used to my usual breakfast, and changing that up this morning didn’t seem like a wise choice either. I luckily came across my Vitamins and quickly downed what was my last 3 Thermolytes, topped off my Hammer Gel Flask, and watered up the 70oz. camel back bladder.

Just as I’m finishing prep, I hear this slightly strange sound coming from the barn up above the hill, it sounds like knobbies on asphalt & I immediately realize that the riders have started the ride! Last quick check of things and I do a running cyclo-cross mount on the bike, I can put on the gloves as things start to settle into a steady pace. As, I’m racing away from the car, I see someone headed towards me – wrong direction – then I notice it is Derek, looking for me – ‘I’m good, let’s Go!’

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I know there is a strenuous uphill to start the ride, then section of flat, to downhill gravel road before hitting the steep uphill of Pinhoti 2 (P2). There is a big group on the gravel already, and the gravel is dry = DUSTY! So, take the uphill slightly reserved so I can gas it just after, we motor up the climb, and since Derek is on a Single Speed (SS), I start to motor around people to get better position before hitting the single-track (this is just a ride, correct?).
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We hit the single track and have just succeeded to put in a strong turn at the front to get over the first steep sections. This put us on the heels of Wesley (my old road racing buddy!), Robert, Matt & Becky Kicklighter – shit, I was chicked by Becky and I hadn’t even realized it! Now that we are on the single track Wesley is putting a steady effort, which was lucky for me – coming off the fire-road I was rolling too fast & Wesley’s pace was more on track for this long day in the saddle. The most hours I’ve gotten in the saddle lately are the 1.5-2 hour evening group rides – this will most likely be a 4 hour day!

I know Derek is still right behind me, on a single speed as I spin, so each chance I get I move up slightly, hoping that we can get through some folks and Derek can climb at his pace – which is faster than me. I move up a couple people until I get to Wesley, who is setting the pace of this group. We crest one of the sections and get a brief downhill, the pace has picked up and since I’ve ridden with Wesley I know he is a solid rider & I’m comfortable on his wheel. Suddenly he pulls to the right & I wasn’t prepared for the turn, but as I get the 2Niner leaning over the front Eskar 2.3 slides out from under me. I do a quick 3-point stance of 1 knee & 2 hands, everyone in the group passes, check traffic, and hop back on ASAP. Now I’m off the downhill pace, and rushing to catch back on, I drop a cliff bar. I hate littering and have been known to pick up ‘others’ trash I find on the trails, so group or not, I stop the bike again and run back 20 yards to find the clif-bar. Now another rider is coming through, then another and another in a group – about 7 in all passed me this time before I could safely get back onto the trail.

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I hop back on the bike, and attempt to ride at a harder pace to reel in lost ground, I would like to catch back up to the guys I was with. As I’m getting closer to the top I hear someone call my name along with insults from behind me – my friends know me too well – if your not getting picked on, no one likes you – I ease a glance back and see Matt aka ‘PsychoBilly’ from Addictive cycles. He’s a strong rider and puts in a gap fairly quickly – not sure how/why he was that far back at the start, but he was making up ground quickly. I can’t hold his wheel on this climb, so I continue at my pace, only to find that we are closer to the top than I realized – Descent is my advantage & I start to reel-in PsychoBilly, he stretches it back out on a mid-climb, then I catch him just as we are coming off P2. Along the fire-road I hoped to help him by setting a solid pace and get passed some traffic to give him a clear trail for P1.

As he passes me starting P1 and with some extra space he passes and drops me (literally) back off with Derek, Wesley, Matt and Robert. P1 was to be a personal suffer-fest for me. First I passed these guys on the downhill (I was railing the corners well from last week’s Jack Rabbit trails). As I got onto the climbing I settled back in, and kept checking over my shoulder for them to pass me before the steep sections kicked in, my pace was over-zealous and they caught back up. Too bad I didn’t have a Twix, because I had to take a moment, stretch, catch my breath, settle into a proper pace based on the climb grade and distance rather than the false sense of urgency. I had to let the fella’s go on ahead with out me.

I soldiered on solo and decided that I needed to hike up a couple of the steepest sections of P1 to keep my HR and back in check and not expend too much energy. The descent down P1 was great, however slightly tricky due to being in and out of the shadows. I should have had my Orange lenses on my Rudy Projects today.

At the bottom of P1, I made the left and started the 7 mile climb up Bear Creek. As I passed an older gentleman he asked me how far it is? I stopped and said it was about 7 miles to the top. No, I was looking for the old tree up here (there is a 100 year old beautiful Poplar tree on Bear Creek) – not very far I said, and he asked me yet another question about all the cyclists passing. After speaking with him and I started off again and actually caught up to Robert and Wesley on a switch back. Once I caught them, I was happy to ride along at their pace again.
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We climbed Bear Creek and I was a little disappointed not to stop by the overlook, but I swept wide and looked out as much as I could as we passed by, there was more uphill coming along – Much more! This is where we started to do the climb up to Potato Patch. This section was quite steep and thinking about the gearing I was using was humiliating – I was in a smaller chainring in the front than in the rear…. ‘spinning’.
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After some time of climbing, I was very excited to see a vehicle up the hill, at an intersection – done with this big climb up to Potato patch and more water! I have drank nearly 70 ounces already. Robert didn’t stop, and pedaled on, Wesley topped off and headed out as I dropped in 2 NUUN tablets for good measure & in hopes that the Cramps would be kept at bay – at least for a little while longer. Then I saw that Mike ‘The Big Dawg’ who set-up the ride, so I chatted with him for a few before pedaling on.
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This next section of fire-road was mostly down, but had some uphill sections also. Then we made the Left hand turn onto Tibbs…. Oh, Tibbs. U were my total undoing last year as I don’t think I was able to ride more than 100 feet of this trail. I was drained and totally unprepared last year, but Tibbs would not have it’s way with me this year, I knew what to expect & although I wasn’t as prepared as I would have liked, I was determined not to stop or even put a foot down! I have a Huge advantage this time – direction. We rode down Tibbs this year instead up Up, and although you may think this is crazy, people still complained that they didn’t like riding up or down it. It’s rocky, has drop off’s, & steep. Too much speed and you will most likely hurt yourself. The pain in my quads dropped to my calves, and I wasn’t sure if that smell was my brakes or my forearms burning.
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Now was Milma, Milma was Fun last year, I was following Wesley through the whoops and he was playing some with the bike – I even got some of it on video. I was surprised that Milma offered even more fun going in the other direction and it was me that was getting some air off the whoops. Then after several jumps, I started to try getting more momentum from them by having the rear wheel down the ramp first. Almost like a wheelie. Well, one said wheelie and I suddenly got the sensation that the front wheel was about to go over my head as my loaded pack was pulling me backwards, instinct took over and a tap of the Avid Elixir brake slammed the front wheel back where it needed to be. A slightly rough landing, but hey like pilots say, any landing you can walk away from is a good one!

After much climbing, I finally made it to the parking lot of Winding stair to find Robert, Wesley and Matt re-fueling. I had gone through another 70 ounces by this point and re-filled, this stop was quicker and I joined them for the long descent down to the road. Almost as soon as we got to the road we saw the directional sign for the ride & after a 2nd take I realized it was the sign the LONG option. Wesley & Robert manned-up and kept going. I waited a second on Matt whom gave me a 2nd gut check as he headed out for the Long option also. I figured I was already in the yellow, and that climbing up Fort Mountain on the road would push me over the edge, so I kept my initial pre-ride decision and went short, 38 miles.

I went along on my own for the short option of fire road. I rode steady and tried to keep ingesting food. I had moments of thinking that I was almost back, only to then think I must be farther out than I thought. Finally I saw the sign for Mulberry Gap ‘half a mile’ and then shortly after, the old Firetruck that rests on the last little kick before the parking lot….. I saw the firetruck, but the legs were not going to get me there just yet…. I was cramping. Off the bike and leaning on it for support as I attempted to stretch the inner thigh/hamstring. Finally after what seemed like 10-15 minutes it eased & I dared put a leg back over the saddle and pedal on with out any one seeing me in agony. I rode up the driveway and to the barn to check on my time & let everyone at least know that I had survived another rendition of the infamous Drama Queen.

They asked me for my complaint – I don’t like to complain, but I had to give them a complaint…. after 4.5 hours in the saddle, I came up with:
“I have PMS, I’m cramping, my ankles are swollen and my nipples are tender!”

Later at the awards it won me an award by round of applause :)

Shane rocked the short option.
My friends Matt, Becky, Robert & Wesley finished the Long option, but not until after PsychoBilly had won it!

Congratulations everyone who finished this ride! last rider in was almost 9 hours.
A HUGE Thank You to Cartecay Bikes for organizing, and Mulberry Gap for hosting and all the Volunteers for assisting!