Saturday, April 28, 2007

Cohutta 100

What better way to start the race season than with a 100mile race on a rigid singlespeed?

The quick and dirty version:
Lots of driving, police, Virginia Tech, last minute bike fixes, cold oatmeal, Tinker, good start, Doug's rear tire flat #1, Tim going from 1st place SS to very BAD day courtesy of Stan’s 355 29r rims, Doug's rear tire flat #2, trailside flat help from Elk, knee pain nonexistent, Doug's rear tire flat #3, Doug finishing in 7th place SS on a flat tire. Couple ho
urs later: more fast driving, more police, sleeping in random fields, more police, sleeping in rest stops, more driving, home again.

The unabridged version:
It all started with Thursday: 1/2 day of work, physical therapy, load up the car and head down
to NJ. Stopped by High Gear Cyclery to pick up my freshly rebuilt rear brake, drop my dog off with my parents’ and met up with Tim to pack the rental car and hit the road. On the road by 6pm en-route to our first stop: my brother’s place in Blacksburg VA.

Just after midnight and I’m at the wheel of the car navigating, what I’ll call the ‘new’ rt460 in Blacksburg VA (they finished it right after I graduated but I have never driven on it). One exit away from Virginia Tech’s campus and we’ve got blue and red lights. 75 in a 55. A short, polite conversation later we’re on the road again with just a warning. Arrive at Dave’s place. Got rockstar parking and asleep by 1.

Awoke Friday morning to my brother Dave cooking Tim and I our breakfast. Eggs, bacon and oatmeal. Thanks Dave! We owe you. Gave
Tim a little tour of campus. Shocked by all the new buildings since 2002. Onward south to Tennessee. Walmart stop in Wytheville, VA for some camping chairs and food. Lunch stop with some high school girls. Head through Knoxville and arrived at the Ocoee Whitewater Center (near Copperhill TN) mid-afternoon. Tim and I took some time to chat with the Forest Service Rangers, snapped a few photos of the area and then found the race start. Picked up our registration packets, spoke to Brandon & Garth a bit and then found our campsite.

Late afternoon the day before the race and I’m bleeding my brakes and trying to figure out why the front brake is dragging like a mofo. Fun stuff. Finally got my front brake to work (had to clean & lubricate the piston seals so the pistons would retract). Bike is all set. Time to eat a ton of pasta and salad. Off to sleep around 8pm.

6am Saturday. Time to get up for a 7am race start. It was a bit cold (upper 40s I presume) and hard to get motivated. Clear skies so it looked like the day was going to be beautiful. Downed a huge bowl of cold oatmeal and some Ensure. Tim and I hopped on our 29r SSs and casually rode to the start (about a mile away). The cruise to the start was much needed to get things moving.

Some inside advice suggested we stay up front on the first two road climbs. After those two climbs the course dipped into some tight singletrack for a while and passing would be difficult. Tim and I did exactly that. Stayed up front from the get-go. I was worried about my knee for it doesn’t do well at WOT from the gate. My muscles need some time to warm up and get moving prior to significant stress on the knee. Well, got up the first climb without much difficulty and hung on in the shallow valley and into the second climb. I was in the back of the bunch and Tim out front. Must have been 30 or 40 people. I turned around and realized we had a huge gap on the main field. Awesome! Coming up quick was a right hand turn off the road and into the singletrack. I was on the right and was able to cut the corner and get into the singletrack probably mid-pack of the lead group.

The leaders were way off the front and disappeared (Tim included, leading the SS category). I was in some middle group with about 10 or 15 guys (Elk and Tom Parsons were the only other SSrs in my group). Cruised some
awesome singletrack with nice banked turns and such. Not once did I need to brake. The singletrack was tight and passing was difficult we we just held our position and cruised in a nice long line. After all, it’s a long race and there will be plenty of time to fight for position.

The singletrack swept back towards the Ocoee Whitewater Center (start/finish), across the bridge and then headed south towards Georgia. Shortly after departing the start/finish I got my first flat. Rear tire was slowly losing air. After battling the need to stop in my head I finally pulled over to fix the flat. At this time Elk and Tom were ahead of me and I was left riding solo. Replaced the tube and pumped it back up really quick. Took a short nature break. By this time a few other SSrs and geared riders passed me. I hoped back on the bike and began retaking everyone who passed me. My body felt great and I was riding strong. Passing people on the climbs like they were standing still.

Next couple of hours were spent riding solo grinding it out on whichever climbs came my way. Spinning out and kamikazing it on the descents. Developed a nice case of chafing on my right leg but tried to ignore it. Shortly after aid station 2 I see this person walking down the fireroad towards me. Not good. It was Tim and he had a taco’d front wheel. Turns out his Stan’s 355 rims are a bit too light with Industry Nine hubs and spokes for a 29er. He stood up to climb and folded his front wheel from the lateral forces. Took him out of the game. He was pissed for he told me he had a nice gap and was holding 1st SS and felt stronger and stronger as the race went on. He cheered me on and I kept on going.

Shortly thereafter I encountered Elk and rode with him for a bit. Just like in the Shenandoah 100 I knew something was up since I caught up to him. Turns out he wasn’t feeling 100% and was just trying to get to the finish. We rode together for a bit. My rear tire went flat again. He provided me with some C02 to get me
to the next aid station (mile 45). The climbs got a bit steeper and Elk pulled away as I slowed down in an effort to not cramp my quads. Finally rolled into aid station 3. Changed my tube again, ate some food, ditched my vest and arm warmers, and refilled my bottles. As I was changing the tube Elk took off. I thanked him for his help.

Tire back inflated and I’m off to tackle the undulating ridgeline anxiously awaiting the fast, long descent of mile 60ish. Caught up to, and passed, whomever left the aid station while I was fixing my flat (but never found Elk). Again, I’m riding solo. Enter the descent. A long, twisting fire road descent down towards aid station 4. I found it was best, with the rigid fork, to grab the handlebars very loosely (just enough to keep the bike going straight), tuck and point the bike. Flew down this descent with some braking going into the turns. Quickly found out the inside turns were chock full of washboards so I had to go wider than anticipated. Eyes tearing, arms pumping it was a great descent.

Got into aid station 4. Ate some more food and refilled my bottles. Didn’t really see anyone coming down the descent into the aid station. Wow. I put that much time on everyone I passed. I was stoked. Carry on. The next few miles were flat and hot. I’m spinning, probably 100rpm, just having a grand ‘ole time wishing there was the slightest of incline to mix things up. After a while (lost track of time) I was quickly realizing that I’m becoming fatigued and still have to climb out of whichever valley I was in. Ate some more food and drank more fluids. A geared rider flew past me like I was standing still. “Where did he come from?”. A few miles later we turned onto another Forest Service road and began climbing. Whoa hoo. I never thought I’d be so excited to see a climb. That meant change.. change of scenery and change of riding position. The flat road was too monotonous for me. Coming at mile 70 it also was like a kick in the pants.

Caught up that geared rider who passed me on the flats. Kept on riding. Don’t really remember much but more fire road. Rolled into aid station 5, somewhere around mile 85. Refilled my food and fluids. Ditched my watch in my drop bag for it had worn some nice cuts into my wrist from the vibration. Had one more major fire road climb and then a bunch of singletrack to the finish.

Here’s where I get all excited. Yes, I’m tired from racing 85miles thus far but I’m equally as excited for I’ve only got, yes, a simple 15miles to go. I’m still riding solo, passed two SS’rs on the fire road climb. They passed me back around aid station 3 and looked like they blew up. Guess I kind of shocked them coming out of now where and pedaling past them like it’s the beginning of the race. Passed even more geared riders. Guess everyone was falling apart and, for some reason, I was feeling great. Finally got into the singletrack. I wasn’t sure how far to go but knew the singletrack was the end. Bystanders kept giving me conflicting information so I stopped asking.

The singletrack had some climbs in it. Those were tough but I pedaled them out. Caught up to, and passed, a geared rider. He freaked out for a minute right before I told him I’ve only got one gear. Guess he thought I was someone else. The singletrack was fun. Nice and tight. Reminded me of the Brush & Gap mountain trails over in Blacksburg VA. Hurt like hell on my arms as I pointed the bike over roots and rocks. I’m now getting closer and closer. Figured I’m only 3miles from the finish and I notice the rear tire is getting low again. NO. Decided NOT to change the tube and pumped it up with another C02 to get me moving. I finally came out of the singletrack and cruised right near our campground. 1 mile go to and its all road. Spun like crazy as it both hurt and helped my legs to spin at such a high cadence. The bike also went fast J. A quick right onto a bridge, across the river and a quick left and I’m at the finish line. That quick left was interesting for I didn’t realize how low my back tire was. The whole back of the bike slid and the tire folded. Oops. Can’t go that fast.

I rolled across the finish line in 9hours 19minutes, 7th place SS division, 69th place overall. Elk was right there hanging out. He finished about 5minutes ahead of me in 6th place SS. Strangely enough, I felt great, didn’t have any knee pain the whole race, and was so excited for finishing under 10hours. I had a feeling I made it into the top 10 SS but wasn’t positive.

Hung out a bit at the start/finish. Spoke to Elk, Harlan and Garth for a while and then went back to the campsite to find Tim. He was sleeping when I arrived. I chose not to talk to him about his bike for he was very upset about the whole deal. Seeing as he slept all afternoon we packed up camp and I cleaned up. Then we hit the road enroute to get back to NJ early Sunday. It would have been nice to stay a bit longer but even I wanted to just get back home for I’d rather save my vacation days for later this year.

Dinner at some Mexican restaurant in Knoxville. Something thereafter we encounter another police officer. 70something in a 55 but got off with a warning. Not that much further, in southern Virginia we encounter another police officer. Couldn’t get out of this one. More driving. By now its around 1 in the morning and Tim is getting tired so we pull over (somewhere around Lexington VA). Found a field to park the car in and go to sleep. Ditched the car behind a tree, pulled out the sleeping bags and thermarests and went to sleep under the stars. Thirty minutes go by and I’m awoken by two flashlights in my face. The police weren’t too thrilled that we were sleeping in some farmer’s field. Had to leave. Drove another 50 or 60 miles north to the next rest stop and slept on the grass in the rest stop.

I was out cold and Tim woke me up sometime in the morning. The rest stop was empty and the sun was blazing. Turned out to only be 7:30am. More driving. Stop in WV for breakfast at a CrackerBarrel. Got back to NJ around noon. Hung out at my parents’ for a while and got back to CT sometime that evening.

Not sure what was wrong with my rear wheel b
ut I filed the valve stem hole a bit (each flat seemed to be a slow leak from the valve stem). I also made my own rim strip and threw in some Stan’s Tire Sealant. Yup, tubeless kevlar bead 29er! Took some finagling but finally got the beads to seal and the tire to hold air overnight. Been a few days and its still holding so we’re probably a go.

Next up is the Michaux Maximus on May 6th, an awesome 50mile loop through Michaux State Forest in PA. I’ve never done it but have heard nothing but good things from everyone.