Stayed near the back at the start so that I'd stay out of the way of the hammerheads on the first couple of miles on the road. Hit the fireroad feeling good and climbed up and over Narrow Back pretty quickly. The pace was steady and social... Cookie trail over the top of Narrow Back was great, cleaned more of it than during the pre-ride. I passed a fellow City Bikes rider - Rob Leary - on the trail while he was dealing with a bike problem. He came round me at the top of the downhill to CP1. 10 miles down
CP1 to CP 2 - Lynn Trail and Wolf Ridge - 21 Miles
Rolled through CP1 and cranked down Trimble Road and made the turn onto the road to Reddish Knob and kept a good pace on the easy part of the climb. Talked to Barry Quigley about the prospects for new Clydesdale class. Lynn trail was just as bad as it was in the pre-ride, but I made it up with a lot of walking. The Wolf Ridge downhill was a lot of fun, the ridge-top section was great and even the lower rockier sections were fast and fun. At the end of the downhill the course heads back up Trimble road. A little group formed up with a couple of riders I knew and Brian, from Richmond. After a short climb we get a nice fast fireroad downhill, and then turn onto the road to Todd Lake and CP2.
CP2 to CP 3 - Hankey Mountain and Dowell's Draft - 13 Miles
Checked my camelbak and it looked like it was hitting my goal for drinking. I'd been out for 4 hours, so it was almost empty. Refilled with 50/50 water/gatorade, ate a couple of PB&Js, and grabbed my extra hammer gel flask from my drop bag. Out onto the road for a couple of miles to the bottom of the fireroad climb up Hankey. I suffered up the climb up Hankey... It was long and my stomach was tied in knots from the food at CP2. Had to force myself to keep eating and drinking. Towards the top I talked to another rider who was having a rough day. There was more rough ridge trail at the top before the downhill really got started, but it was just as much fun as I remembered from riding it last year.
CP3 to CP4 - Braley's Pond - 13 Miles
Quick refill of water and hammer gel and a snack at CP3 and then out on the road. The stage starts out with 5 miles on the road to mountain house, from there you head up Bridge Hollow on a tough singletrack for a mile and half. After a river crossing and set of rock steps I managed to ride most of first 1/3 of the trail (really fun climb), then walked a while, then back on the bike for the last section. At the top of the climb you head straight onto a great singletrack downhill. A bit of trail and a bit of fireroad into CP4.
CP4 to CP5 - Shenandoah Mountain - 18 Miles
Coming into 4 I wasn't sure that I had any climbing left into my legs, but I'd told myself that I wasn't going to drop there - if I made it to 4 I was going to head out to 5. I refilled my camelbak, ate some more food and, once again, hit the road. This stage starts with a few miles on the road, with a small climb thrown in, then gradually starts heading up to Shenadoah Mountain before turning onto a steeper fireroad for the last couple of miles. On the road I passed and then was caught by Bill Trossen who I'd met earlier in the year at the East Coast North American Singlespeed Championships of the Universe. We'ed passed each back and forth a couple of times during the day and rode together for most of the road out to the final fireroad. By the time I got to the fireroad I was alone and climbing slowly. I thought I had five miles, all uphill, to go to the aid station when I started up the fireroad and I was looking for an excuse to drop out. I was already behind where I'd expected to be and didn't think I'd get to CP5 before 6, which would mean not finishing until after 10. I got to CP5 sooner than I expected - probably because my computer was off by a bit...
At CP5 I talked to Nancy (my coach) and started half heartedly putting my lights on my helmet. I was thinking very seriously about dropping, but Nancy suggested just riding to 6 - a rolling climb up to the high point of the course - Little Bald Knob. While I was there Brian, who I'd ridden with on the road to CP2 came in and asked if I was going on. With that last bit of encouragement and the prospect of riding alone for 4 hours removed I decided to go on. I finished getting ready, refilled everything, and then got back on the bike. Just before we left a report came in from down the mountain saying that there were no more riders on the way up to CP5, and since we were he last people to leave CP5, we were the last riders on the course.
CP5 to CP6 - Little Bald Knob and Chestnut Ridge - 13 Miles
The climb along the ridge to Little Bald Knob wasn't as bad as I expected. The course climbs along a winding jeep road and I got a second wind as I realized that I might be riding slowly, but my legs would keep turning the pedals. After getting to Little Bald Knob we started down the long undulating Chestnut Ridge downhill. It's one of the most technical downhills on the course in places and has some pretty steep pitches, which after a couple hundred riders in one day were getting pretty loose and dusty. I had my one crash of the day on Chestnut Ridge, endoing on a tricky rock drop that I rode with no problem earlier in the year. We had lights on about half way down the downhill and it was dark by the time we hit the road.
CP 6 to the FINISH - Hankey Mountain and Lookout Mountain - 12 Miles
Chestnut Ridge drops you out onto the road just below CP6 (it's also CP2). Quick stop at CP6... Chat with the guys at the checkpoint - Jeremiah Bishop won, but that was no surprise - and pick up spare batteries for our lights, in case something went wrong on the last section of the ride. I was dreading this 2nd climb up Hankey, we were only going part of the way up, but it was a brutal climb 30 miles into the ride and I wasn't sure what it would be like 90 miles in. The second wind was still going strong and we made it up, with a little bit of walking. The singletrack downhill on Lookout Mountain was a lot of fun, a bit sketchy in the dark, but not too hard. A few more climbs on the fireroad and suddenly we're next to a campground.
I got a little air on the jumps leading into the finish and then it was over... Through the finish line, bang the gong, pick up my finisher pint glass and sit down for a beer and a burger in the pavilion. Sitting around after the race talking felt so great, really glad that I decided to do this and really glad that I decided to go on at CP5.
This was the hardest thing that I've ever done, mentally and physically. My finish time was around 15:15, but the results aren't up yet. The volunteers and other riders out there were great and encouraging throughout the race. Jason Ashmore - another first time rider - finished in 13:50 and City Bikes rider Joel Gwadz won the clydesdale class. Too many other friends riding to list them all, but congratulations to all of them. Results will be up at the Shenandoah Mountain Touring website soon.
A few brief lessons from the race:
- Just as soon as you think the climb is done, you'll get some more
- Riding with someone to talk to helps, especially further on in the race
- Pre-riding is a really good idea, I'm really glad that I knew most of what was coming
- Don't eat a lot right before a climb
- As hard as you might think it's going to be, you can't understand how hard it is until you do it.
- It's fun
- It's worth it