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!’
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?).
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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!