Monday, September 18, 2006

Firewater 50

Climbing up Bear Creek has never hurt so much. Every pedal stroke is a mental struggle not to quit. I am doing my best to pedal in complete circles focusing on applying force for all 360 degrees. My mind keeps drifting thinking about what I did to make something that is normally effortless for me become so difficult.

I guess it started in December. After several months of absence from my bike, I bought some Spinervals DVDs and started riding my trainer in my living room. For the next several months I rode that trainer into the ground literally. Starting with an hour at a time, I worked my way up to over 6 hours on Sundays. Hard workouts too. Not just sitting there and spinning in the same gear. One week I think I logged like 16 hours.

When the weather got better and the trails started drying out, I got out on my mountain bike. I remember the first time I rode Ft Yargo. After two laps I was toast. Barely had enough energy to drive home. A couple months later I did 5 laps and was bouncing around like a school kid afterwards. Could have rode more if they didn't close the park at 10 pm.

My first race came and rode around Yargo for 12 hours. The last lap was tough but for the most part I felt really strong. How I went from being dead after 2 laps to riding strong for 9 laps, I don't know.

After this race, I decided to work with a coach. I can remember those first couple weeks working with him. Those intervals were brutal. I got saddle sores so bad I cried.

I remember one week I had during training where I felt invincible. I climbed faster than I ever had in my life. Climbing was no longer a struggle but just pure joy. Every pedal stoke made me feel stronger instead of weaker.

I remember crashing after this week. I kept trying to do the workouts my coach gave me, but every day I just felt like I was getting more tired instead of more fit. Eventually my coach stopped giving me the intervals and basically just told me to do whatever I felt like I could do.

ORAMM came around and I was still tired. I did my best, but didn't put in a very good time. I did still feel strong afterwards and was proud I finished. The course was very technically challenging for me.

After ORAMM, I did some group rides both on the road and on the mountain bike. I commuted some which always makes me feel good. I stayed away from the intervals. It was a hard decision but I decided to stop working with my coach. He taught me so much, but the pressure I put on myself to validate the need for a coach was too much.

That brings me back to today and why I am so tired climbing Bear Creek. Maybe my being tired has nothing to do with anything that happened before today. The last four hours of riding have definitely been enough to zap me of my strength.

The day started out with the combination climb of Windy Gap and Tibbs.

(not my heartrate)

In pictures the bottom of Windy Gap looks so smooth and harmless. In reality it is pretty difficult. I am not sure if it is the steepness that makes it a hard climb or the fact that the climb starts directly from the parking lot

and you have no time to warm up. I remember singing happy birthday to Barry and the next thing I know I am suffering on the wall of death.

While I am climbing, I kept looking up hoping to see the sign that marks the turn off to Milma and brief respite from the climbing. I must have looked up a hundred times before finally I saw the sign and turned off on Milma. I grabbed my energy drink and drank as much as I could without getting sick. This climb was tough but I think I still should be able to climb Bear creek without suffering completely.

After Milma next comes Tibbs. It is hard to describe Tibbs. Think about that tricky rocky uphill section on your favorite trail. You know the one where you are in your granny gear barely moving. Trying to pick your way at super slow speed through a mass of boulders, loose gravel, and dirt. Hoping not to run into a rock and fall over or move your weight too far forward and spin out your rear wheel. Now instead of that section lasting 5 or 10 minutes imagine that section lasting 30 minutes to an hour. That is Tibbs.

Riding up Tibbs, I remember passing a rider on their first look at Tibbs. This rider gave me a look like this is not real. Are we really supposed to ride up this thing? It looks like an avalanche of rocks fell where a stupidly steep road used to be.

The truth is many people can ride this trail. In fact people try to ride all the way up to the top without putting their foot down for fun. I met one guy a couple weeks ago that can actually do this. I think I dabbed (put my foot down) at least 5 times today. Compared with the number times I dabbed a couple weeks ago on my first attempt of Tibbs I was quite happy with 5.

I checked my watch at the top of Tibbs and I had been riding for 1 hour and 25 minutes. I was happy with this time. I almost died a couple weeks ago trying to follow the inhuman mama up that climb. Counting her breaks to wait on me and the rest of the humans we were only 5 minutes faster that day. I felt much better at the top, then I did that day. I didn't push my pace so fast that my heart rate went out of control. I felt like I controlled the damage as best I could. I imagine the deadness in my legs on Bear Creek has something to do with this climb. Still I should have more than one match to burn after all of my training.

From the top of Tibbs, I turned right on the long forest rode ride over to Mountaintown. There were a couple of good climbs on this ride but nothing really scary or remarkable. It was nice chatting with the other racers as they went flying by me. :) The view from the overlook was spectacular. Surely this almost leisurely death march over to Mountaintown could not have done my legs in. Cars can even ride on this road.

After a couple of moments of confusion on the proper turns I found the trailhead to Mountaintown. The trail starts off pretty steep but rideable. I remember thinking this isn't so bad. Then you hit the deep woods where sunlight does not shine. The steep and somewhat dry trail turns into a steep and super slick trail.

In the beginning I tried to ride some things I probably shouldn't. I came down this super steep section filled with round mossy hundred pound boulders. When I realized it was steeper than it looks, I tried to hit my brakes. Instead of slowing down my tires lost traction on the inch of moss on the boulder and I started to speed up. Luckily I saw a big patch of boulder free moss and dove off my bike into the big green blanket. Other than the embarrassment of the guy asking me if I was okay I was fine.

From that point on I decided to follow this guy. He seemed to know when it would be better to just get off your bike and run. I think I would have gone faster if I wasn't behind him, but I am sure I would have also fallen several times. We ended up running maybe 30 times. We crossed probably 15 creeks plus there were some rocky sections that just didn't seem worth the effort. I didn't really enjoy this trail. It would be a pretty hike, but I don't really enjoy riding/walking on wet muddy trails.

Mountaintown was mostly downhill, but there was a lot of running. I admit I started feeling weak on the last little climb before you get back to Gates Chapel. Maybe all the technical parts kept me from drinking and eating like I should. Who knows?

After Mountaintown, I climbed up the gravel road to the trailhead and hit the one and only rest stop. My girlfriend helped me make a super quick stop including new energy drink, camelback bladder, and chain lube.

Rolling out I immediately notice that I am out of gas. What follows for the next hour is pure torture. Tick, tick, tick my pedals are turning over but at the slowest rate possible. Any slower and I would fall over. I climb all the way up Bear Creek past the overlook and on to the forest service road that leads to Potato patch. This part is the worst. No technical features to take my mind off the pain. Just the sun, loose gravel,and dust from the cars that drive by. I pedal seated for as long as possible. When my legs feel like they will explode if I pedal one more time, I stand up. My heart rate shoots up while standing and after counting till thirty I sit back down.

People pass and ask how I am doing. I must look awful, but I nod and either say I'm okay or sometimes I just say "shitty" which makes them laugh. I reach Potato patch which is good moral victory but the climbing is not over. I turn left and heads toward Windy Gap. Those easy rolling hills of the morning have turned into gigantic almost unpassable mountains. I give everything imagining what it will be like to coast down Windy Gap back to the parking lot.

Finally I see the sign to Windy Gap, it has been about 2 hours since I left the rest stop but it feels like a lot longer. I turn left onto the Windy Gap trail and guess what greets me? Not a pleasant downhill but a tough rocky climb. Sweet. After the climb, the rocks increase. I ride some, walk some, and repeat for a really long time. The trails are amazing. I would love to have pads, a full face helmet, and downhill bike. I think a lot of the stuff I walk I could ride if I was willing to pay the price for falling.

Finally the rocks let up a little and I am riding. Flying down the mountain. There are huge banks on the turns taller than a man. Giant whoop-de-doo water bars at least waist high. Every muscle in my body is screaming as I try to find some balance between rocketing out of control and riding my brakes so much that I take all the fun out of it. Luckily I make it back to the parking lot with only a handful of close calls.

I look down at my stopwatch.

6 hours 25 minutes. Average heart rate 154.

As I pedal towards the cars, I hear people cheering and clapping for me. I see my new friends Roger and mama sitting in their chairs looking rested and relaxed. One of the organizers hands me the bottle of Firewater to take a swig and everyone cheers me on. The drink burns but it feels so good to be done.

I collapse on the ground and listen to everyone's stories of the day.

The nicest man ever makes me a grilled chicken sandwich off the camp fire. It tasted amazing. My girlfriend shows up from manning the rest stop and congratulates me. We hang out for a couple hours and cheer the people coming in. What a great day.

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