As is becoming standard on my trips south, we finalized our destination on the way down, and landed at the National White Water Center to register. I’m to the point where I’ve started to recognize the cars/bikes/faces of the cast of characters who race, and pulling into the parking lot was no disappointment. We ran into Cannondale racers Garth Prosser and Tim Doughetry and the Sho-Air/Niner duo of Dejay Birch and John Mylne. Got through the registration process, got our numbers and instructions, and headed to The Lodge at Sourmash, our spacious accommodations for the next two nights. We showed up and were greeted by a keg of Dos Perros, Jut and Sharp from Yazoo, and Ben Thornton from Soulcraft, Pillsbury and Jason showed up a little later, and with Nashville, Dallas, Chattanooga, Asheville and Cleveland in attendance, we had a few beers, drank a lot of water, and cooked dinner in preparation for the next day's race.
Saturday started wet. It had rained most of the night, and was in the upper 40s now, and still raining. We had tried to maximize sleep, so we grabbed a quick bagel, Chip tried to make pancakes without proper pan lube, gave up, and we hopped in the car, getting to the race with 15 minutes to spare, and a lot of work to do. I think Chip would have been ready on time, but I was in line for the bathroom, trying to achieve race weight. We made a hurried roll to the start area, and started searching for the separation between the 65 and 100 mile group. After asking the question “are you doing the 65?” a few times, I wised up and asked in louder fashion, “where’s the back of the 100 milers?”
[kind racer] “They left all ready”
[Chip and Robb] “Oh, shit”
[enthusiastic other racer] “Make a hole, racers back!”
[unknown voice (later determined to be Pisgah Bruce)] “Ha! Have a good race Robb!”
Here we go. Not the start we wanted. We took off, faster than I’m sure we would have in the typical roll off start of a hundie. We chased one rider down early, and it happened to be Thornton, who had also missed the start. Good ‘ole Sourmash. He decided to “let the skinny young kids go” and we worked on chasing down the flashing lights of the pace car up ahead. We caught a few early stragglers on the 3 miles of road climbing, and hit the single track behind roughly 245 people. Fun. Chip hit the track first, and worked as our negotiator, with an almost call of "two riders back.” We made it through about 50 people before the parking lot at the top of the initial single track. I must say that everyone was very accommodating, and while it was no hole shot, it did provide some fun and took our minds off the task at hand and our poor planning.
We road along the river for a bit, hit some roots and rocks, and my Garmin ejected itself from my bike. Already feeling the pressure of starting late, I tried to leave it, but Chip had better sense and made me go back and get it. I wise minute spent vs. the $250 loss. If Garmin could only produce a reliable mount for their expensive data miner....
We passed back all those lost to the Garmin recovery mission, hit the bridge, and passed a ton of people up the climb. Near the summit, race announcer Bruce Dickman egged us on about our late start, got a little laugh out of it and made it known that we had come along away already to pass so many people. The second single track section found us in limbo; there really wasn’t anyone to chase down, so we went at a steady but eager pace, trying to catch the next pack of riders. We made a few more spots and started the gravel road 65 mile “mental crux” of the race, pushing a 32 x 18 up and down through a monotony of endless climbs and gravel descents plagued by breaking bumps, sandy mud and intermittent showers. We continued to pass a lot of riders, and I began to worry about our pace, although I still felt pretty good. Chip agreed and we stayed on the motor. I found myself sneaking peaks at rider's drive train situations in similar fashion as I do a girl's left ring finger, trying to see who mattered and who didn't. Such things (both really) take the mind off the job at hand and served as motivation.
I hung with Chip through the first 60 miles, almost through the final pitch of the 25 mile climb that ratcheted its way up to about 4000 feet. This climb is a monster, blessed with a few short descents along its stegosaurus profile. The middle section was encased in fog as we passed aid station 3, where I yelled a hello to the Mulberry Gap Bunkhouse crew, volunteering their time to help the racers who had now made their way deep into Georgia. After forgetting how long we had actually been working our way up, I made the long descent, now solo, and landed at aid station 4, where I picked up my SAG’d Heed/Perpetuam blend, checked my tire pressure, had my chain and brakes lubed, wiped off the sunglasses (which later became property of the Cohutta Management Area), shed my vest and armwarmers and took off.
I started the next section chasing a Gary Fisher SS racer who snuck by me after a nascar pit stop. I thought I had pretty assuredly dropped him on the long flat section, pushing a bigger gear than his 32 x 20, and a quick check in the rearview on a long straight section had him no where in site. At the foot of the next climb, a short minute or two later, he was right there, having ridden the coattails of a geared rider through the flats. Once he dropped me, I fell into survival mode. I really had no one to ride “with” at this point. If there was someone on the radar, I chased them down pretty quick, and made short work of them; they were either cracking 100 milers, or severely cracked (now on the course 7 hours) 65 milers. Other than that I had no one, and kind of fell into a cautious pace intimidated by the yet unknown feeling of miles 70-100 on a SS mountain bike.
….the last miles. Well….more gravel, death march pace as the legs were over the idea of pushing the chosen ratio up another hill. I made aid station 6 and was promised “12 miles of singletrack” by someone who clearly doesn’t know what single track is. I rode about a half mile of trail, which then turned into unkept forest road with a packed gravel trail, which then relented into the now familiar full-on-gravel-mind-F*#@, a particularly brutal kind where you can look to your left and see it snaking up and around a mile ahead. Finally, with about 7 miles to go, I hit some singletrack of the rocky variety, and tried to hang on the rigid ride, with seriously fatigued hands, broken down all day by the long bumpy gravel road descents. My idea of loose gripping the bars to aid in “suspension” resulted in very surreal ejection from the bike. I was actually in the air long enough to be aware that something was wrong, watching my bike crumble pilot-less beneath me, and then tuck and role (eject sunglasses) and come to a stop, relatively unharmed. I gathered myself and made it out of the woods, and pedaled the last few miles to the finish. My first hundie under my belt.
Pisgah Bruce and Jamie Pillsbury, having taken first and second in the SS 65 miler met me at the line. JutRut and Sharp were there as well, and all the other fast bearded SS 100 racers. I turned an 8:28:something…final results aren’t up and I barely paid attention crossing the line. For my efforts I earned 11th, just out of the somehow more satisfying top ten. I learned a lot during this effort; it was a journey into unknown physical and mental struggle, and I've got a little better idea of what this machine can handle before the rivets start popping out (my thanks to Ben Thornton for the analogy)
Things that didn’t help: starting late, weaving through people, not really “racing” through the last 40 miles, first ride over 15 miles on the White Brothers Rock Solid rigid fork, although it handles awesome and weighs nothing, I wasn’t prepared for the very rocky last 8 miles (which I hadn’t known about….oops) I'll be happy to have my cushy 100mm Magic29 back up there. also, my bottom bracket suddenly remembered all those dips in the South Mills River.
Things I’ll stick with: Ergon BD1 pack allowed me to stop at only one aid stop, my Heed/Perpetuam blend and Hammer Gels kept me fueled without having to actually chew anything and risk upsetting my stomach, Kenda Karma’s were a great choice, rolled well, cleared mud and their light weight made the 13,000 feel like 12,000 feet. The Dierenger rode like a dream, helping with the bumps as much as it could, and climbed well in the saddle as much as I could stay there.... and I still love the combo of the wool Swiftwicks and my new space age looking Specialized S works shoes, my feet were the only thing that still felt good at the end of the day.
The Cohutta crew put together a very well planned event, things ran smoothly, and everyone at the one aid station I stopped at took care of my every wish. All I did is stand there and embarrassingly ask for things, which all got done with a smile. Great job to everyone that I saw at the race, Bruce with his impressive "grapes-this-big" poach/win of the 65, and to Jamie with his casual second. Jut, I don't even know how you finished because we just started drinking, but congrats. And to "Fuzzy" John and Dejay, it was good to share the room with some really impressive riders who still wring the most out of life.