I went into this race not knowing what to expect. I have wanted to enter this race for about 3 years now, and so as soon as registration opened on December 1 of last year, I was one of the first to sign up. Seemed like a great idea at the time, but honestly I sure am thankful I didn’t choose the 100 miler which I had briefly considered. I loaded up the hydration pack fully, because I wasn’t sure how reliable the whole drop bag thing was, and didn’t want to take any chances. I was warned, “eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty” and eat often. I wanted to be prepared for anything in this race so there were enough ride snacks and water packed that I could have done the hundred....from a snack perspective only of course.
I was really concerned about fuel and came up with what I thought was a great accessible ride snack idea. I thought, hey they make candy necklaces, right. So why not make a Clif Blok necklace or go fancy and make a Chomp Gel necklace by stringing the gels on some fishing line and making a rider bracelet or necklace so I could eat easily on the go. Chris made it clear to me that it wasn’t a practical idea ( he said it was dumb), so I just decided to stuff the pockets of my pack and jersey with as much as I could cram.
(Feel free to market the Gel necklace idea though...I am still convinced it might work, although it might be best suited for winter months).
Anyway, having limited experience riding in the mountains, nor riding in Dahlonega ever, I figured, how hard could this course actually be? That is, until we drove into town, checked into our motel and looked out the window. They have actual mountains in Northern Georgia. Who knew? Gulp. By the way, the city of Dahlonega is awesome and a great place to visit. Lots of cool touristy things to see in downtown including some excellent restaurants and live music, gold mine tours, as well as the Fudge Factory Inc. which sells the kind of awesome confectionary that will turn healthy people to diabetics instantly. All of that with the great background of the beautiful mountains including the stunning Monteluce winery property. (Well assuming you just want to look at these mountains because riding them is another story).
I tried to ignore the fact that I’d be riding those mountains when we arrived, but Chris kept bringing it up. Again, and again. I tried to take solace in the fact that there were a lot of registrants in this race from Florida. I thought, well Florida is way flatter than NC, so hey if they can do it, I certainly shouldn’t have any problems. Bad assumption. Apparently these people who live in Florida now, must have moved there from Colorado or Utah or something, because they all knew how to climb for some reason.
For the most part, this race was primarily on forest service roads with lots and lots and lots of climbing. And since I used to live on an island and now mostly ride Greensboro, well, lets just say I suffered..... a little, and used my granny gear....a lot.
We were told at the racer’s meeting that once we finally got to the top of the first forest road climb and aid station one, we would next come to a road called Winding Stair. Once I finally found aid station one, which was not at mile 12 as I thought, but was at mile 18, I was in and out quickly and still unrealistically hoping for a 6.5 hour finish. The volunteers were amazing at every station though, always asking if they can fill your bottle or bladder or get you anything to eat. Just fantastic. I have never experienced such eagerness to help and was really impressed with what the volunteers on PTP races will do for you.
The race director warned that Winding Stair is a really long, steep, rutted out, water boarded, rock strewn, and treacherous descent, which very well may have vehicles coming up the road. We had to watch our speed and be on the lookout for them, because they can’t close any of these FS roads. I certainly didn’t want to become an involuntary hood ornament so I went into it with caution. Holy cow. Apparently my descending skills are as poor as my climbing skills because I was flying down this dirt road way faster than I was comfortable with and was white knuckling the brakes so hard that by the time I got to the bottom, my hands were sore from holding on so tight. I tried to do one finger braking, but that wasn’t working, so then I tried two fingers, and before I knew it, my entire hands were wrapped solidly around the brakes like I was hanging on to an amusement park ride. As out of control as I felt though, there were guys coming up on my left passing me even faster and taking the turns wide despite the fact that there were cars using these roads. I feared someone was going to lose it. Luckily, no one did that I saw, but I still worried about the reckless racers who seemed to not care about the oncoming cars and those cars that didn’t seem to care that this was a race either.
At one point, I came across a service road intersection and there was a guy just standing there wearing full camo and carrying a bow and arrow. It was kinda creepy so I made sure to give him a big smile whilst getting a good look at his face. I was hoping it was bow season, but it inspired me to pick up my pace a tad bit more....you know just in case, he was looking for the slowest animal in the biking herd to hunt.
When I got to aid station 2, there was a rumor that a rider had gone down and broken his hip. The ambulance was sending out the gator for the rescue. Over an hour later, a few riders and myself were stopped on some single track whilst that same gator was trying to get through the non quad friendly single track. They came upon a tight tree so with some quick thinking, they pulled out a chainsaw to cut this offending tree down. However, they didn’t think it through and the tree just barely moved a few inches and now became a “hanger”. We waited a little while longer and then one of the guys who was waiting with us got frustrated and told them to just let us through while they were figuring this out, because it was a race after all. They agreed. While we were passing them, I heard one of the guys getting yelled at over the walkie telling them they needed to go back the way they came, because there was no way they would get a gator through the area they were attempting, and had to use the service roads. I am sure that the fact that a healthy tree just got cut down for no reason and there was still a broken rider out there was not making these guys the forest
service favorites for the day.
We kept riding, and when we got to Bull Mountain trail we were flagged to ride cautiously because there was a rider down. Sure enough it was the broken hip guy writhing in pain on the ground, still there with a few guys around him trying to give directional guidance to the medics and keeping the downed rider stabilized.
I finally got to aid station 3 and as I was exiting the single track, I saw two guys running up the hill toward us carrying a back board. This was at least 2 hours later though. It made me think, I’d better be cautious because help is a long way away out here. As I was getting ready to leave this aid station where they split the 50s and the 100s, I saw this guy go flying at full speed toward the 100 mile course. And, this rider had a prosthetic leg. I grabbed another handful of cookies and stopped feeling sorry for myself as I pedaled away on the measly 50 mile course with my two good legs.
So basically, there were many miles of forest service roads. I started asking myself where all the fast flowy singletrack was that I’d heard so much about in this race. I finally found it in the last 12 or so miles. And that’s when it started to rain, and then it rained harder. The beautiful singletrack I waited all day for after slogging up these ridiculous dirt fire roads, was now pooling with puddles and becoming a wet mess. My glasses were useless, my legs and arms were covered with so much mud, which was splattering everywhere, and now my bike was starting to make these growly , grinding sounds with every pedal stroke. I started to wonder how much this damage was going to cost when I finally got the bike home, and cleaned out the water and mud that was likely in parts of this bike that it probably should not be. Then it was back to wading puddles and trying to ride as fast as possible to get the least wet. That plan didn’t work out too well as there was no staying dry. Then just like that, the sun came out and started drying up the trails. Finally, I found something redeeming about these mountain trails. Quick dry.
I didn’t pay enough attention to the course map so when I came upon aid station 4, I was kind of surprised to see it. I hadn’t expected another one. As soon as I got there, I grabbed some crackers, and a warm Coke, and was getting ready to leave. Another guy pulled up and they asked him if he was doing 50 or 100. He said 50 and they told him he must have taken a wrong turn somewhere and should turn back and make a right on the FS road. I panicked and said that I was also doing the 50. They said to follow him. I raced down the hill to catch him and got to the bottom, but all I saw was a sign that said Short Cut. There was no way in hell I was taking that road. I had already done 47 miles and was not going to come in without completing the course, and getting full credit and a official finishing time.
I rode back up the hill (with lots of groaning) and went back to that aid station. They determined from my computer mileage that they’d made a mistake, I was in fact going the right way and should stay straight instead for my finish. This did not inspire confidence in me and their directions. I continued to ride where they told me to go, and now was starting to worry “what if I did this part already and am now on the 100 mile course”. (The other guy never came back). There was no one around now and I felt like the last rider out there. Finally, a few more riders passed sporadically. Of course all of them were 100 milers which essentially meant that it was taking me more time to finish my 50 than they their 100. I tried not to let it get to me, but it did. A fast girl passed me and said, “you’re doing great”. I yelled back at her, “Thanks, but I am doing the 50”. She was gracious and said, “well, you’re still doing great.” I encountered a lot of that kind of encouragement from various racers which was really a boost to my spirits especially when I was considering selling my bike a few times on the course.
I finally got to what I thought should be the end of the course and it took me out to a paved road. Had I paid even an ounce of attention to my surroundings on the course out, I would have realized that it was the exact same road I took during the race start. But, in the excitement of the race, I just followed the bike in front of me like a lemming until the neutral pace car set us free. The only thing I noticed was a goat in some ladies yard. I really need to invest in a bike GPS. I was now up to 52 miles and was convinced I was off course. Even though I kept seeing the well marked arrows and pink ribbons to re-assure me I was on the right path, I kept doubting myself and pulled over quite a few times to get my bearings since I had exceeded the mileage I thought we’d have to ride already. I continued to ride and finally saw a big arrow leading to a turnoff back into the winery. Only this time, they routed us through the grass instead of the property roads. Because of all the rain, it was a slow, slippery slog, and the grass was just as muddy as could be. And then as if that wasn’t demoralizing enough, they had us finish through this crazy short but steep, rocky stream crossing that from what I heard, EVERYONE walked. A lot of racers were not happy about that finish, and Chris got some video of some pissed off riders. And finally, there was some more muddy grass to get through to pass the Kenda finish archway. I didn’t see the others, but I know instead of a super speedy final run like I have seen in most race finishes, mine must have probably looked more like a Six Million Dollar Man slow mo scene. I could barely turn over the pedals and was never so happy to see the end.
Unfortunately since I was supposed to call Chris when I got to the last rest stop to let him know I was near finishing so he could get it on camera, sadly my phone died mid ride. So I didn’t get any photo of my finish for posterity. Quite frankly, I was more than likely not smiling through that finish, so I am perfectly happy not to have the evidence of how dirty and exhausted I looked. Trust me, it was not pretty.
So in a nutshell, this was THE hardest race, I’ve ever done. I ended up with just under 55 miles, 7 hours 12 minutes of moving time and just over 8 hours of race time. That put me 28 place in the women’s 50 miler category and 195 overall. But, I didn’t cramp, bonk or wreck and I finished under my own power. So to me, that’s a good day in a race even if I finished 4th to last. (Yeah, sometimes you take what you can get. ) :-)
Aid stations and Volunteers A+
Shirt, After ride food/beverages A+
Signage and Directions A+++
Course- Tough for me because of all the climbing.
Competition- As always, extremely humbling.
Prizes- Maybe I’ll find out next year. ;-)