2016 24 Hours in the Canyon Race Report

My Overly Wordy 24 Hours in the Canyon Race Report. Is it more of a marathon than the race itself? I’ve never done a race report but I always enjoy reading other people experiences, especially for events I’ve participated in or would like to participate it, so here it goes.
This was the tenth anniversary of the 24 Hours in The Canyon at Palo Duro Canyon. The race benefits the 24 Hours in the Canyon Cancer Survivorship Center in Amarillo, TX. It’s billed as the only simultaneous 24 hour road and mountain bike race in the country. The race is brainchild or Ryan Parnell and is the favorite of many roadies and mountain bikers across the country.

My beautiful wife Laurinda, grandson Braylen, and I arrived at Palo Duro Canyon at about 5PM after a six hour drive on Friday before the race. We were lucky enough to have a bed in the one of the rim side cabins with friends and Big Pig teammates Jerry McNutt and Sharon McNutt and Monica Otte Even if you have no interest in bicycles I’d highly recommend a visit to Palo Duro Canyon State about twenty minutes south of Amarillo. One of the hidden treasure of Texas and the entire country for that matter.

Noon on race day, one thing was clear. The weatherman’s predictions of temps in the mid-80s were wrong. It felt like it was in the high 80s already and not a cloud in the sky. I’m usually pretty tolerant of the heat so I wasn’t too concerned and even welcomed it, frankly if it had been cold and/or wet then that would have been a big psychological hurdle for me.

All of the road riders and mountain bikers were rallied together in the parking lot for a parade start behind an ambulance. So when we started out the non-competitive road riders turned right after leaving the parking lot and the mountain bikes and non-competitive road riders turned left and followed the ambulance. This made a huge mess as a competitive mountain biker is still faster than a non-competitive roadie, so we all got mixed together. When we got to the point where mountain bikes need to turn right to enter the single track and roadies need to go straight it got little hectic and dangerous. I’m sure it sounded good in theory but in practice it was kind of a mess.

We entered single track about two miles from the start and it was the mess of accordion riding that comes with the several hundred riders riding together, I just settled in and resolved to hold my pace and not worry about passing anyone. The first lap or two of any endurance race are usually the adrenaline laps and I’ve learned you sometimes have to force yourself to ease of the gas in order to have some in the tank for later, especially for an event you’ve been preparing several months for. After the first lap I rode straight on through to try and get ahead of as many people as I could, by then the racers were spread out enough that you weren’t riding right on someone’s tail and eating their dust for the entire 8.5 (8.2 by my Garmin, but who’s counting) miles.

I pitted for 5-10 minutes after nearly every lap after lap two and paid a bit of a time penalty for but I also think it made me stronger in the long run as it gave me a chance to eat and drink. Perhaps avoiding sitting down would get me in and out quicker. I have to admit having my grandson there was a fun and him cheering me on was great, but may have facilitated my staying in the pit are a bit longer than planned.
Darkness came somewhere in my eighth or ninth lap, but my TrailLED XXX light kept the trail bright and clear for me. I had a bar light on, but only used it in the early dawn hours when I didn’t need the bright light but still needed something. I changed my battery after every lap and put the used battery on to charge, when I got back to the pit the charger was green indicating the battery was fully charged, so I can attest to the 1:1 charge time as advertised. Thanks Grady Pace!

Around 12:30AM I was into my three-quarters of the way into the 12th lap and was walking my bike by a rocky staircase when I heard a familiar voice come running up behind me Jason, Jason, hurry up, go, go, go they’re coming, they’re right behind us€ thinking oh, shit, the zombie apocalypse has started (which makes perfect sense 12 hours into a 24 hour race) I scurried up the hill and looked back to see Sharon McNutt coming up the hill behind me. Wait, who is coming€ I asked. Fresh legs, the twelve hour racers are coming they’re going to catch us. Oh, well hell they’re going to catch me anyways, but at that point we were nearly to the spot where it was literally all downhill to the finish so I just laid off the brakes and rolled into the pit, not twelve hour racers in sight, but I’m sure there were more than a few zombies wandering around the pits.

After that lap I managed one more to get to lucky number 13 before my arms, shoulders, elbows, neck and legs started spasming and locking up and I knew it was time to shut it down for a bit. That was hands down my longest lap of the race at around 1½ hours and ironically the exact amount of my total laps from last year’s race.

I rolled into the pits at about 2:30AM, took four Aleve, four Sport Legs, and a Salt Stick. Drank a Carnation Breakfast drink and ate a Honey Stinger wafer and laid down to try and get some sleep. Next time I think I’ll make it a point to also have a tooth brush and toothpaste in the pit, brushing your teeth can be a great pick-me-up and make you feel a little bit cleaner than you are.

My sleep was fitful at best, I alternated between too hot and too cold even though temps got down into the upper forties or so I was told. But as the sun came up at around 6:30AM I felt good enough that I was going to try and better my personal best from last year. I felt even better when I went to check the standing and saw Marcus Gillespie was only a lap up on me andTim Nipper was only a lap better than him. (I didn’t even look for Brian as I knew he had a couple of laps on Tim.) Thinking they must have laid down to take a nap too I thought I might be able to close up the gap on one or both of them if I hit the trail. Feeling surge of adrenalin I jumped on my bike and took off, it wasn’t until about half way through the lap I realized I hadn’t checked to see when those results had been posted. Sure enough, when I got back to the pit and saw updated standings, Marcus and Tim were up on me by 3 and 4 laps respectively. Still I figured there was an outside chance I could make it up if they blew up from a lack of rest. So I took off for another lap if for nothing more than for pride. When I came back to the pit after lap 15 it was apparent that they weren’t going to take a break so at that point I decided to concede and vow to go after them next year. I’m quite happy with my 15 laps and 127 miles of single track.

A few observations, as a solo rider, sharing the course with 12 and 6 hour racers and relay teams is a pain. I did piss a couple of guys off on my last lap when I refused to pull of the trail for them to fly by. I moved over to the right to give them room to pass on the left but the guy behind me didn’t call out when he was going by and hit my ass with his bar, didn’t really hurt or bother me, but he nearly went down and nearly took the guy behind them down too. Probably why one of them yelled out €œFucking Big Pig€ when he went by. Oh well it’s not a XC race and I’m not a €œlapped€ rider and have no obligation to stop my race for you, just because you’ve got fresh legs. For the most part though most of the riders who came up behind me and the ones I passed were courteous, so I’ll just chalk that experience up to surliness due to sleep deprivation on us all. Second, I’ve been riding SS for about 1½ years and I notice my riding style has evolved quite a bit compared to the geared riders out there. From attacking hills with speed, to learning how to corner and descend with minimal braking. Momentum is definitely your friend on a single speed.The water station with ice cold between mile markers 6 and 7 were a god send and a goal on each lap.

My nutrition consisted mostly of SkratchLabs orange and one bottle of water on each lap. A HoneyStinger wafer at least every two laps,a hugepaydaybar, a couple of #Aleve when I needed them. Along with Peanut Butter and honey sandwiches, pickles, watermelon, and a hamburger from the park trading post.

Huge congratulations to Brian BrennfoerderTim Nipperr, and Marcus Gillespie for finishing 1, 2, & 3 in the 35-49 single speed class. I think this was the most competitive class among the solo 24 riders either geared or SS. Those guys laid down nearly 70 laps and 600 miles between them.

Thanks to Phillip Climer for playing pit bitch and keeping my bike rolling throughout the night. Great to have you on the team. Thanks to Grady Pace for not only making a great product in TrailLED but also for theKeurig and coffee in the morning it hit the spot. Thanks and congratulations to all my Big Pig teammates who made the trip and competed or supported. It was great to see all of you. Thanks to Rich Szecsy for this wisdom he imparted at his endurance “seminar” last year. I definitely saw all three wizards and my stated goal was never more than one more lap. And if you’re still with me, last but definitely not least, a huge, huge, huge thank you to my beautiful wife Laurinda for not only supporting me in my training and at the race, but for also taking some terrific pictures. Couldn’t have made it without you. 24HoursInTheCanyon fotogalloriBigPigRacing SSOD OnePlusOneEqualsOne PaloDuroCanyon#Trailled FuckCancer #Keurig #Aleve #SkratchLabsCarnationInstantBreakfast HoneyStingers PaydayBars

St. Joseph GranGravel 500

St. Joseph GranGravel 500

4/1-2/2016
Muenster,Tx

Headed north to Argyle, Tx to catch up with a few ole friends and do the Red River Riot. This will be the first year for it to have a 200 mile option and yes I’m in for it. Although, as a cyclist Ill start up front with my excuses, because we all have them. Just recently bought some new shoes and only did a few rides with them before having an irritation on the top side of my ankle. But I had my mind set to go play bike on some gravel roads with some friends. So I arrive at Brad’s house around 5 that evening and he and Mike have the smoker fired up and all of the meat for the event is on . Man hugs are had, and they get that sorted so we go for a short gravel ride that we all used to do on Mondays. Adam and Cope came over and join us and have a beer when we are done and tell lies for a bit. Brad and I set up our hammocks for the night, which turned out to be a bad idea. It got down in the mid 30’s and I was not prepared so not much sleep for me. I awake early morning and head to Muenster. In short, I was toast at mile 90ish, and already cramping. My feet were killing me and the top of my foot was no bueno. I ended up with only 140 miles and calling it a night.

RRR was to be a good training ride leading up to theGranGravel500. Now, not only do I have feet problems but I bonked hard and cramped early in the event. Needless to say I did not feel good about how GG500 was going to turn out. I ended up returning the new shoes and getting something different. Also, I had not used liquid calories in years and was thinking it would be a good idea to include that since RRR went south for me. Adam told me to try Tailwind. I did a little research and figured it couldn’t hurt so bought some. I rode only a few short casual rides and honed in on my nutrition for the upcoming GG500.

4/21/2016
Bryan, Tx
Now it was here. I was headed to Bryan, Tx this evening to meet and hotel up with Dana and Tim which were two of a few that completed the 200 at the RRR. We had been a part of a multi-message with a few other guys that were doing the GG500 and we had shared with each other the loads we were bringing and not bringing. That night I watched Dana and Tim ditch their air mats and sleeping bags to get the weight down some more. I was determined that my load was as light as it could get without ditching those two items. I thought these guys are crazy and aren’t gonna sleep too well when they need to. I was also thinking, what have I gotten myself into?!, I had not trained up for something like this and I’ll be real lucky to finish it. I laid awake most of the night going over it in my head and trying to sleep on a fold out couch. Ugh!

4/22/2016
Bryan, Tx- Richards,Tx
NOPE! ITS NOT A DREAM! Its really the alarm going off at 3 a.m. And I’m fixing to get my arse handed to me. We gather our things and drive to the starting location and get sorted amongst the other racers. There were to be 15 racers toe the line. We had a brief pre-race meeting and at 5a.m. sharp we fall in behind a police escort for 14 miles thru town and across three dangerous bridges to get out of harms way. All the way out I’m at the front of the group riding and thinking what a barney I feel like. I imagine the escort car pulling over and race is on, and everyone blows past me and thinking and laughing saying well I was in first for a little while.
So then it happens, police escort pulls onto the shoulder and we all shuffle past him up a hill and the next right we take is GRAVEL. Now it’s on! But no one is blowing past me. The pace picks up a bit and two guys come around me but I dont get dropped. I turn around and Dana is the only one there and there are lights a few hundred yards behind us. I rode amongst those guys for a bit on some really nice gravel with the sun starting to come up and there was no wind. A beautiful morning for a long ride. It would not last long. We came down a hill into some rough gravel and my bottom water bottle goes flying out. As I stop to pick it up the other three carry on away and around a curve. As I make the curve I see Dana had to stop for a potty break. Still no one one is coming up from behind us. Dana and I pick up the pace again and settle into a respectful speed. We see one of the two guys that ran off had stopped with some wheel issues (flat?). We carry on to Richards and there is a gas station and Dana pulls in for a few things. I don’t need for anything but pull in as well. A few folks were there cheering for us and said that we were the first two there. We knew the other guy had already been thru there.

Richards, Tx- New Waverly
65-100
We were not there but a few minutes and no one had caught us, so we are feeling pretty good about it. As we continue East into the Sam Houston National Forest we begin to be covered by pine trees and eventually are riding gravel roads that I am familiar with, and are not so much gravel as they are sand and loose sand in places that make the legs work a little harder. As the we get further into the day it gets warmer. I stop to make a minor seat adjustment and mix Tailwind into my last bottle that was only water and as I throw a leg over the seat I see an orange helmet and its Jose, the one guy that had went off the front. As he rolls up and rides with us he begins to tell us that he took a wrong turn and it cost him a couple of miles. We chat a bit longer but our pace is not his. This guy is strong and we had heard that he had finished the RAM several times and was pro. All along i’m dealing with the foot pain and as it got warmer the hot spots added more pain. Just before we reach FM1375 we see Erik clicking pictures of us and say hello and only talk a few seconds. Five miles later we hit New Waverly and all my liquid is gone, so its time for a full on pit stop and get my tires armor all’ed. Jose stopped as well and rolled out a few minutes before we did. I mix all my liquid fuel up and choose to not buy anything solid. All along thus far I was munching on some magic calories that my beautiful and awesome wife had made for me along with some homemade calorie mix that I throw together for rides like this. Dana did his sorting and ate a sandwich. We now had figured that the pace we were keeping was comparable and the company was nice. So many times in the past Dana and I were always riding together on similar rides. Plus it was safer.

New Waverly100-Point Blank125-Onalaska135-Groveton150

As we rolled out of New Waverly I had wondered if someone had passed us while we were in the store. We would later find out that Billy Rice did in fact. As the course started heading North and a lot of this section was paved, it was actually a nice change and a little stiffer pace to cover some ground. We knew we did not need to stop in Point Blank or Onalaska and some of the gravel prior to that are roads that I frequently ride. As we went thru the two small towns that had plenty to offer we ended up stopping in a drive way under a tree so I could let my feet rest a minute before crossing the long bridge over Lake Livinston and eat a bit of food. We had planned earlier that Groveton would be where to stop for lunch. Just East of the bridge we headed north awhile on paving into a slight head wind and the road turned to gravel/ sand and it went on forever. Between the wind and the loose sand it was taking a toll on my legs. I thought we would never get to Groveton and our lunch became a late lunch at The Groveton County Seat Cafe (in which I highly recommend). We had a hamburger and fries, and coke. I added coconut pie to my lunch and we sat there for awhile studying where we were amongst the other racers all along thinking Tim would be catching us soon. There was another racer, Russell, riding close to Tim that we wanted to keep an eye on. By this time I was starting to get some minor rubbing in the undercarriage. I cleaned up a bit in the restroom while at the cafe. We left the cafe and went across the street to the gas station to load up with water and food supplies before heading out because the next stretch would be 100 miles before fuel of any kind.

Groveton150-Palestine250

As we head out of town and hit a FM road we encounter a couple of dogs that wanna chase, so we play their game. This section of the route is 100 miles before having any supplies, so I know it will become mind numbing thru the night. Its just a few miles and we are in Davy Crockett National Forest and the gravel turns to a red base with more gravel than sand, so less taxing on the legs. As we come to an intersection that we cross I notice an old run down house on the corner. Wow! We are on the same road that 25 years ago I used to hunt this area. As we carry on, it seems very little had changed. A few miles later we take a left and head west. The sun is starting to set and there are a couple of guys on a ATV that obviously knew Cooter Brown. They are looking for their hat that blew off there head. This particular road was the worst we had been on, and it was because of these two relatives of Cooter Brown playing on it all day. As we carry on the sun starts to disappear below the trees. We come to a cemetery at mile 192 and its nearly dark. There is a covered pavilion with pews. Dana and I decide this is a good place to rest the legs a few minutes, eat a bit, and get lights on. There is no phone service so there is no way to see where our competition is at. At this time I realize that my bibs and jersey is wet from sweat and the sun is going down. I also realize that I didn’t think I’d last much longer than where we are at and I had not planned or prepared to ride thru the night. I had not packed anything to stay warm except some pajama bottoms to sleep in and a light shirt. But here we are about to do more miles in one ride than either of us had intended. Dana’s goal was to hit a personal record of 300 miles in one ride. I was happy with somewhere around 250 miles. Dana’s farthest ride prior was around 210 and mine was 205. Off we go again and now its like riding in a tunnel, there is nothing to see other than a small section of gravel directly in front of us. By this time my feet quit hurting, I guess because of the colder weather and and feet were not swelling from the heat like thru the day. Or, maybe I just finally manned up. As we carry on thru the night we have a bit over 50 miles to Palestine and there is not much talking going on. By this time I start realizing how late it will be when we stop in Palestine and what tomorrows riding will be like with no sleep yet. I start thinking about Natasha and that I miss her and i’m usually hanging out with her in the evening. Since we had moved to Crosby almost two years ago we spend more time together. I start hearing my new grandson cooing in my head and now im getting depressed while riding wondering why I am out here. But here I am and the only way to get home is to keep riding. Thru the night we both passed our longest ride goal and bump fists and carry on. If memory serves me right we stopped at a little white church and I changed batteries in my light and we rested around 15 minutes or so. I believe its at this time that we learn that Billy Rice had pulled out of the race due to peeing blood. We find out later that he is ok but it was a scare and made me think what causes that?! Don’t want that happening to me.As we get closer to Palestine and now we are seeing blue signs that say Anderson County and all we seem to be doing is climbing hills and there is no gravel but old black top tar roads. By this time we had been chased by numerous mean and hungry dogs. It gets to the point where we dreaded going down a hill because we knew we had to climb a hill directly after. As this went on for eternity we finally roll into Palestine and plant ourselves at the Whataburger for quite awhile. I eat a taquito with potato egg and cheese, fries, a coke, and an apple pie. Not sure I had anything else. We shed our shoes and charge batteries and phones. We check the status of the other racers and Jose looks to be 40 miles in front of us and Russel looks to be almost 40 miles behind us along with Tim in his same vicinity. As we regroup and replenish our supplies Dana had found a church along the route that might serve as a good place to actually close our eyes.

Palestine250-Trinity360
We walk out of the Whataburger and I was freezing. I throw a leg over the saddle and sit down and the rear end was mad. I managed to wiggle into a position that I could bare with. At mile 257 or so there is an old Baptist Church on the right. A house back beyond the church must be the where the preacher lives. We find a flat spot under a bunch of trees that is elevated above the roadside bar ditch. I believe its around 5:30 in the morning and the faster I can get in my sleeping bag the more sleep I can get. Ya, not gonna air up the air mat, because that just means more time I don’t get to sleep. Its at this time that I wished I had not brought that extra pound. I do shed my my bib and put my pajama bottoms on along with my light shirt. We managed to get about 30 minutes of sleep before Dana’s alarm went off. With out hesitation we both jump out of the sleeping bags and bivy and pack up. As I pack I am shivering. I brought an extra jersey so it was nice that I had something dry to start off the day. Pedaling on in the wonderful County of Anderson we climb more of the hills like the ones we encountered before Palestine. Up and down for another 50 miles and plenty of dogs to chase us and most of them did not think it was a game. They wanted our worn out tender legs for breakfast. We found nothing in Elkhart for supplies and pushed forward. The gravel from this point to Trinity proved to be the most brutal. From all of the rain and flooding the week before had created little run off ruts what seemed to be every 20 feet or so and my raw hamburger meat butt hated the sudden impacts. I did stop and let a bit of air out of the tires to give some cushion. As we moved slowly thru the day except when racing away from hungry dogs we every so often checked the dots on trackleaders to see Russell was not letting up. Tim had stopped at Mission Tejas Park around mile 204 for the night. We new Jose was out of reach. But we realized we were running 2nd and 3rd and did not wanna give that up. Heck I had only set out for this adventure with hopes of being able to do the whole thing. We came to a section in the road that was under water and there were railroad ties beneath it. We shed our shoes and waded across the cold water, which was really refreshing and I wished there was more of it. We even walked barefooted for awhile just to give the feet a break from the shoes. The heat during the day really zapped us. Totally exhausted and needing a break we came to another little white church (The ole Shiloh Methodist Church) with a pavilion that had a concrete slab. We stopped for a short break and laid on the cold slab for about 15 minutes. Checked to see if there was a water spigot which there was not. We finally got to Trinity that evening and hit the Dairy Queen for a hamburger, fries and a blizzard. I wanted to stay there longer than we did but we did not put any more distance between us and Russell.

Trinity360-Riverside368-Huntsville418-Bedias459

We decided to ride down the road to Riverside to refill bottles and get some food for the next section of the route. As we headed out from Riverside it was beginning to cool off and the sun was starting to set. We hit a pretty long section of road and believe it or not our pace picked up, even on the gravel. We started to get a bit excited about what we had put behind us, but still had aways to go. We took a short stop to get the lights out and pushed forward. More dogs and really sketchy not what I call a neighborhood kinda freaked us out and hope to not see this in the years to come. Directly after that we pop out on 190 and head west for 8 miles into Oakhurst. I realize now that we were on 190 from the last minute reroute due to the deep mud of the original route. At this time I was a bit scared riding at night on this highway with long sections that did not have a shoulder. I also started having a negative feeling about doing this event again. It just kinda ht me at one time with the amount of dogs chasing us and the no shoulder highway. A short time later we were on familiar gravel back in the SAM and I was calming down. A bit later we rolled into Huntsville and stopped at a gas station off of I45 that was already closed for the night. We rested there a little bit and checked the racer dots to see that Russel was a little closer than before. That meant that were going to have another sleepless night. We crossed over I45 and headed up the service road which had some huge rollers to go down but then also go up. My backsside was in such pain by this time that I began to stand a lot and climb standing everytime. The cooler weather made it possible to do. We came to another convenient store and they were locking the doors when we pulled in. Now we were thinking we had never even heard of Bedias so chances are there nothing to get there. We broke it down to 40 & 40 and we are done. There was quite a bit of paved riding headed to Bedias then we hit the gravel with more dogs up for racing in which we were not. The night drug on and we began to doze off while riding. We came across another church (Ebenezer Church) at mile437 and stopped and slept for about 15 minutes. We checked the dots and we had kept the same distance. The next 20 miles or so into Bedias was uneventful that I can remember because I was pretty much asleep on the bike. As we rolled into Bedias only to find the one gas station closed, we noticed a Post Office and new sleep was needed. We rolled our bikes in and laid down on the floor and went to sleep on the floor. We were too tired to even unpack a sleeping liner or anything else. We woke 45 minutes later and it was cold. I put my pajama pants on and tucked them in my socks and crawled out of town. We had checked the race dots and I guess Russel was as tired as we were because he had stopped somewhere as well. With no chance of him catching us, we barely moved as the gravel road on the route actually started in town. Forty more miles to go. As the sun came up we seen a couple of groups of deer. It could not end soon enough. The gravel between Bedias and Bryan never ended. Finally we came out on the road where the escort police had pulled over on the shoulder early Friday morning to let the fresh clean riders let the hammer down. Now there was no hammer left. Overwhelmed inside that we had accomplished this 500 miles of gravel, endless climbs, mean dogs, rumors of BigFoot, lack of sleep, but we had one thing on our mind it was not the finish line, it was breakfast. We pulled into the first gas station and ate and drank. Billy Rice pulled in and grabbed a chair and we sat there for about 30 minutes. The police showed up to escort us across town for 8 miles or so. As we crossed the finish line with a fist bump that morning there was a small crowd there to welcome us.

A week later I do this write up which I had no intentions of doing. I literally just wanted to finish this event and did not feel I would be able to. We shared 2nd place with a time of 2 days and 5 hours, with under two hours of sleep. Today I wish I were out there again.
WHAT AN ADVENTURE!!!

THANK YOU,
Dear God for the strength and ability to endure
Natasha Wyatt for supporting my love for this sport and being my backbone
Dana Burch for insisting to reach your goal and carry it to another level
Billy Rice for creating an awesome epic event right here in Texas

My heart goes out to all of those effected by Cancer. Those that have it or have had it. Those that stand by their loved ones and fight it.
Thank You CHI Saint Joseph Health for creating the event to raise funds to fight cancer.

God Bless

2016 Ouachita Challenge

2016 Ouachita ChallengeThe 2015 Ouachita Challenge was a blast!  I had a wonderful time and the weather was superb but I temporarily lost my Garmin on the top of Mauldin Mountain which caused me to lose about an hour and a half of time trying to find it.  After that, I vowed to not let stupid things like that happen again so I got a Garmin tether from Matt Malone and haven’t ridden without that tether ever since.

Fast forward to the 2016 Ouachita Challenge.  2016 marks my 2nd year as a participant in the Ouachita Challenge; both years on a single speed.  While the OC is amazing and I love coming up to Arkansas, visiting my relatives, eating great food, and enjoying the company and camaraderie of some amazing mountain bikers, I hadn’t really prepared for it.  When I say prepared, I don’t mean physically.  I mean, the week of the race I hadn’t packed anything, written anything down, planned my nutrition… nothing!  I’m really not sure what I was thinking but I totally dropped the ball.  The easy thing to do is to blame work so let’s go with that.

Friday morning rolls around and absolutely nothing is packed and my bike wasn’t ready as it was still setup with the 32/16 I had run at RCP on Tuesday.  I’m scrambling to throw stuff together between conference calls and get somewhat packed which consisted of about three t-shirts, four pair of cycling socks, a pair of jeans, a hoodie, a single pair of tennis shoes, and my toothbrush.  My cycling bag had several pairs of gloves, one set of bibs, and one (non-red-stripe) Big Pig jersey.  What else could you need for three days?!

After my last Friday work meeting, I washed the bike, changed the rear code to a 20, replaced the chain, removed the skinnier tires, and put on my “fatty” Arkansas/Missouri tires and fresh Stans.  I was really worried about the tires as the 2.35″ Maxxis IKON (rear) and 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent are ridiculously difficult to mount on these new Light Bicycle carbon rims.  Luckily, the new Pedros tire levers made it somewhat easier.  However, I realized there would be zero chance of actually being able to put a tube in either one of these tires on the side of the trail so I decided to ride without any tools, air, tubes, etc. and just walk out should I have a mechanical.  Oh, and I decided to run 20 pounds in both the front and rear.  These puppies would be hookin’ up strong!

12:30 rolls around so I kiss Julie goodbye and head out for the almost five hour drive to Mena, Arkansas where I arrive at my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Bobby’s place on the river around 6:00.  My cousins have been there since lunchtime and all of their friends are there as well. The food, beer, wine, and lies have been flowing liberally for quite some time prior to my arrival. The photos below, which are actually from Saturday night, do a disservice to how epic the food was the entire weekend. Homemade lasagna, pizza, apple pie, venison burgers with bacon and Swiss, chicken and sausage gumbo, the list goes on!

Eventually, we have to ride and 6am Saturday morning arrives all too soon. As expected, breakfast is amazing. I skip the coffee as I am trying to eliminate all caffeine from race days prior to about halfway through the event to aid in hydration. It’s cold. It’s really cold. 36 degrees and there is a layer of ice on the windshield of the vehicles. I have a single base layer and a pair of winter gloves. No water-proof socks, no jacket, nothing for cold weather. So… screw it… it is what it is. I cannot find my Garmin tether. Apparently, I left that at home somewhere. My right thumb won’t bend and I’m just a big hot mess and running out of time.

I made it to the school about 45 minutes prior to start of the race (um, I mean “tour”!) and had just enough time to stretch in the cafeteria but no real time to warm-up on the bike. I’m thinking, “I’ll just warm up on all the road we have to deal with at the beginning. Yeah, that’ll do.” (idiot!). It is difficult (for me) to focus at the beginning of races as there are a lot of people running around, chatting, having a great time and I know I need to tune that stuff out and get my head into the game so I got away from everyone and stretched for about 15 minutes.

Then it was off to the line-up. Seeing as we have so much road to deal with again and again throughout this race, I figured I would start near the back as I was single speed so I wouldn’t be in the way of all the geared bikes. While this might be true, what it doesn’t take into account is all of the space between you and any single speeders who decided to line up in the front. This is important and can easily be the difference between 1st and 2nd place!

We pause for the national anthem and a quick prayer and then we’re off. The sun is shining. It is a magnificent day albeit a bit cold. After 46 minutes of blacktop and gravel road, I finally get to ride some trail and it is sweet! The trail is immaculate. No leaves covering the trail like last year. It is simply pristine. For the next hour and change, I fight to get around a ton of geared guys who were literally afraid of rocks, sticks, roots, and elevation changes. Just before mile 16, we hit the road again and stayed on the road until we reach the Sims checkpoint at mile 30.

During that 14 mile stretch of road, another single speeder caught me and we rode together all the way to Sims. He, Jonathan Putnam on the Arkansas “Bell and Company Mountain Biking” team, was cramping a lot so I gave him my bottle of pickle juice and that seemed to solve his problems. He pushing a 32/19 so I had to work to keep up with him on the road. We had a great chat about single speeding, life, and how he came to live in Arkansas after growing up in Louisiana.

At Sims, my teammates Brian Brennfoerder and Mike Frazier along with my Aunt Kathy, cousin Kim and 2nd cousin Logan were waiting for me. Mike and Kathy refilled my bottles with water and my e-Fuel mix. Brian gave me some of their buttermilk pie. Scrumptious!Pie at the Sims Check Point

I spent almost three minutes at this checkpoint which was way too long. Jonathan was gone and my other teammate, Aaron “Big Red” Daughtery came in and blew right through the checkpoint without stopping. Brian yelled, “Go get him Wil!” so I bolted out of there and tried to catch up to Red. He was booking and it took forever but I ended up catching him (he was running a 21T) and we rode together until the next checkpoint which really wasn’t too far; about 3.5 miles. Red decided to stop. I grabbed a few vanilla Oreos and took off as I figured Red would catch me in a few minutes anyway… as soon as we got off the gravel road. I consumed my last e-Gel and all the Oreos before getting back into the woods where we enter the Womble trail.

I didn’t see any single speeders again until I started the long Mauldin Mountain climb (roughly mile 41). At that time, Frank Etier (strong Cadence rider) and Red were right behind me and I’m thinking, “Great! Frank is about to cruise on by me. He looks fresh!”. He had a flat earlier that cost him about 10 minutes. After we got to the top of the Mauldin climb, I saw Jonathan, the kid running the 19T. This gave me a little bit of hope as I was thinking he was in first place. So, I just have to hold off Frank and keep from falling apart myself.

Basically, I started focusing on catching Jonathan and ignoring Frank as he was having a harder time passing geared guys for some reason so that was good for me. Jonathan just kept running off from me when there wasn’t much of an elevation change. When we went up or down, I would catch him.

The final checkpoint is at mile 46.5. I didn’t notice but apparently, Jonathan stopped at the checkpoint. I asked a bunch of guys crowding the table like fat kids on cake to move, they did, I grabbed some more cookies, and took off. Maybe 10 seconds wasted. As I was leaving the checkpoint, I see Frank coming in and that would be the last time I see him. Jonathan saw me take off and followed right behind me saying, “Oh, that’s a good idea!”.

I’m in front. But I’m fumbling around with my water bottles as the front one is empty. I’m climbing, shoving cookies in my face, and blah blah… I was a mess. I decided to take a 5-second penalty and just stop, fix the bottles, and start again. During that time, Jonathan comes by and says thanks for the pass. But I’m on him. I know he’s hurting and I’ve got the Oreo goodness kicking in. I can feel my second wind coming in and it feels great. I’m right on him. We are blowing past geared guys and I’m cutting him no slack. I’m talking crap right behind him for a good 15 to 20 minutes. Not so much talking “crap” as just talking to him. Kinda psyching him out a bit. We are bombing down some stuff again and again and at one point he just gives up and yields the trail and pulls completely over and says I can have it. And have it I did!

I started hauling as much ass as I could. There was no telling when he, or Frank, or Red, would catch me. I knew full well that if I didn’t put some serious distance on them before we got back to the road sections they would eat me up.

There were two more sections of road. The first is at mile 50 and takes you around to the lake where you jump back into the woods at mile 51.8. I didn’t see anyone behind me again until I was slowing down at the lake to get the wrist band at which point I saw Jonathan right behind me. I bolted back into the woods and flew through that section as fast as possible until I got to the final section of the trail… the 8 miles of road to the finish.

I came out onto the road and had my cadence between 110 and 130 until the big hill climb. I kept looking behind me again and again and never saw Jonathan but I knew he had to show up and some point and that point would probably be very soon. The only option was to keep the cadence as high as possible without blowing up. Use the hills. Only pedal when the speed dropped below 17.5 miles per hour. This was the only strategy I could come up with and it’s all I had.

Geared guys continued to pass me and I knew the finish was about 350 yards ahead. Volunteers directed me left, off of Ouachita Avenue, past the Oden Methodist church, and I turned to look over my left shoulder. There he was. Jonathan was about 30 yards behind me.

I exploded with everything I had left in me as I thought the only thing that can save me now is the final climb to the finish. Surely, that 19T would haunt him and my 20T would allow me a slight advantage.

The plan worked but just barely. As I crossed the line, Jonathan was about 15 feet behind so I was successful in holding him off to the finish.

The Finish

Jerry Profeta finished about six minutes before either of us solidifying the first place SS win. I earned 2nd, Jonathan got 3rd, Frank finished 4th, and I think Big Red took 5th.

We all did our best, had a blast, helped others when needed, and smiled the entire time. What else can you ask for?

The next day, Sunday, was equally epic with course records being shattered, bacon, beer, whiskey, and donuts on trail and all other sorts of shenanigans occurring. That story I will leave for Pork Chop to provide.

2016 Fossil 50 Challenge – Single Speed

Fossil 50 Challenge

Saturday, March 26th, 2016

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Glen Rose, Texas

The FOSSIL 50 Challenge is 34 miles of single track with roughly 16 miles of paved country roads mixed in.  The course covers two trails; Dinosaur Valley State Park and Solavaca Ranch.

Below is a snapshot of my Stava of this event.  The green dot is the start and the checkered dot is the finish.  We had the racers’ meeting at the finish and then rode across the river to the start.  From there we went past check point one and up the hill, clockwise through the Dino Valley course which eventually brought us back to check point one again.

I was feeling great this first lap.  The hills seemed easy but a lot of guys were crashing, falling over, or slipping out.  Luckily, I had none of those problems this first lap so I got ahead of the field and even passed a few geared riders. I’m going to give this credit to the new wide (31mm internal) wheels and 21 pounds of pressure in both tires.

There were several long muddy sections that were a bit sketchy to navigate but each was soon followed up by a refreshing river crossing which left me cool and clean once again.  Also, the trail was not closed to the public so there was a spattering of hikers on trail. They were all very pleasant, respectful, and some even cheered the riders on.  Except that huge rattlesnake… he was not happy and wanted nothing to do with us!

My gear of choice was 32/18 (suggested by Mr. Matt Malone).  This was a smart choice due to all the road which began around 12.2 miles from the start where lap one of the Dino Valley single-track ended.

There was roughly 5.5 miles of paved country road from Dino Valley until the start of Solavaca.  For some reason, I remember thinking it was about two miles so this bit of road seemed to go on forever. Check point #2 was at the entrance to Solavaca and according to Bryan Fawley yelling at me, I was wasting a lot of time messing around with water and my drop bag.  I distinctly remember Bryan telling us to “make sure you fuel up” for the second lap but I wasn’t aware we were going to pass each check point twice.  There was a bit of confusion by many riders about this at the start so next year we will plan better.

Solavaca is a great trail with a good mixture of beginner and intermediate sections, a good mixture of in the trees and out in the fields, and one monster climb called, “Cula de Gato” which I believe means “The cat’s butt”.  For this race, my plan was to play it smart and not attempt to be “macho”.  Therefore, I walked pretty much all of the “leg killing” climbs as I knew I would need my legs later.

I came back out of Solavaca 26.3 miles into the race and stopped briefly while Ford (Mike Frazier’s son) filled up my bottle and made sure I was good to go. Della Bird also reminded me to grab some food from the aid station so I grabbed a fat boy honey bun and headed back out onto the road. Most of the road miles I was feeling nauseated. I’m not sure why but it could’ve been that random honey bun jacking with my system. 

Eleven more brutal miles of road until I finally tied back into Dino Valley at check point #1 again. I stopped for about 15 seconds just to top off my water and then hung a left and started back up the hill again for lap 2.

The nausea subsided partly once I got back onto some dirt so that was great.  However, around mile 41 I started to cramp badly in my hips and legs.  This caused me to panic as I was told that I was in first place for Single Speed but I knew there were around 8.5 more miles of tough trail ahead.

I had not seen anyone for quite a while and figured I had a few minutes to spare so I decided to stop and pee and let my body just chill for 30 seconds.  Right after that, I could hear another ride coming so I took off again but the cramps would not go away.  I stopped at the top of a short technical climb and the rider behind me passed me on my right, passed me, and cheered me on.  It was right about then that I saw her bike was missing a derailleur.  That’s right, she was a single speeder!  She was upbeat and riding very well.  I needed that motivation.  I wanted to be first overall not just the first guy. Getting beat by a woman is totally fine as I know there are probably thousands of women out there who are faster than I but this fueled me up for some reason.

So I followed her as best I could and we chatted the entire way.  Her name was Samantha “Sam” Welter, and she drove down from Missouri with her boyfriend who owns Route 66 Bicycles just for this race.  I’m not sure exactly what chemicals my body decided to produce when Sam passed around me, probably Adrenalin, but whatever it was, it kept me going all the way to the end.  Right after we passed check point #2 again, Sam was a good 100 yards in front of me and I knew I had to leave everything I had on the trail right there and just push through the pain and cramps. Bryan Fawley yelling at me to finish strong also helped.

Just before we crossed the river I caught up to her and could hear all the cheering from the masses at the river. That audible excitement fueled me just enough to get me across the river and up the sandy hill to the road.  I had the feeling Sam would come flying past me any second but I think she decided just to let me go as I wasn’t in her category anyway.

Sam kept me from bonking and walking out the trail for the last 8 miles.  I’m truly grateful for that and that is exactly the spirit of the entire mountain biking community.

And no, come to find out, I was not in first place.  Apparently, there was some badass named James Sanchez who finished way before I did (by 45 minutes) so kudos to him!  I still had a blast, did my best, stayed positive, and finished strong.  Win win!

Mike Frazier came in shortly after I and so there were two Big Pigs on the SS podium. It’s always a great day to be a Big Pig!

TNGA Part 3 – Day 2; Throwing Logic Aside

Day 2 was upon us, and so was chocolate milk, bagels and other delicious breakfast items. We were all feeling refreshed, and were sure to say our thank-yous as we pulled away from Woody’s and on to the next section of the TNGA, which were the Hog Pen and Wolf Pen Gaps. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, let me try to explain what these two sections were. They were the easiest, yet hardest climbs of the entire race. There, that should clear some things up.

But in all honesty, I enjoyed these climbs although I was cursing them at the same time. They were smooth, paved roads that were part of the scenic route system in north Georgia. And they were scenic indeed, especially once we reached the peaks. But reaching each peak took at least 40-50 minutes in the saddle, constantly pedaling in the granny-gear and hoping there was any resemblance of a plateau up ahead. I have to admit that I enjoyed these climbs much better than the last climb of the night before. Could it be due to the fact that I was fresh and had an entire day ahead of me? Probably. But regardless, we were having a grand ole time pushing ourselves up these mountains.

This is where I started singing different songs to myself. The first new song – another song that was being played on the radio often – was ‘Gotta Get it Right’ by Sixx AM, a band created by legendary bassist from Motley Crue, Nikki Sixx. I enjoyed this song, but had a slight problem with it at the same time. In previous albums, this band has leaned much more toward the heavy rock sound, at least in my opinion. However, this song sounded like it came straight from a Disney film in a sense. You can’t really blame them though, given the popularity boost of songs placed in recent movies such as Frozen or any other children’s movie. I mean, look at how some originally heavy bands such as Linkin Park and 30 Seconds to Mars have – in my opinion – gone soft over the years. Bands will lean toward whatever will make them the most money. It’s sad, but it’s business. I heard a quote the other day: ‘What’s happened to sex, drugs, and rock n roll? Now it’s just hippies in skinny jeans playing wind chimes and singing about their cell phones and producing music that is only fit for mascara commercials.’

This stuff is popular for whatever reason. Sometimes I don’t understand my generation.

As we make our way up Hog Pen Gap, I try to find my rhythm. The incline isn’t all that bad, and I’m feeling pretty good. But, I’m all alone. Jeremy pulled well ahead of me, and Josh is somewhere behind me. Knowing that there’s only one way up this road, I’m not too worried about getting lost or losing anyone. I figure that at the top, Jeremy would wait for me and we’d both wait for Josh. That is indeed what happened at the top, and the break was needed. According to both of them, we all reached the peak by about 10-15 minutes sooner than they both did last year. That’s great news, time for a mini celebration! And a quick picture.

We celebrated by going downhill, a downhill that Jeremy said he reached 50+ MPH on last year. Oh great, my specialty. We all sped down the hill at speeds that would get cars pulled over on this stretch of road, and eventually made it to the bottom after a few minutes. 50 minutes going up, less than 5 minutes going down; almost like waiting in line for a rollercoaster.

But this rollercoaster had a treat at the bottom of it. Before we descended at insane speeds, Jeremy told us to be on the lookout for a State Park entrance toward the bottom. I reached the bottom far behind the boys, but saw where they were. They actually slowed down once they reached a flat area so that I wouldn’t get lost I presume. We coasted on the flats, and continued to descent a little more, but at my preferred speed; somewhere between 10 and 20 MPH. I noticed Jeremy holding his left arm out as we came around a corner and wondered why for a split second. Then it hit me; here’s the State Park.

Neither Josh nor Jeremy was sure if the park had any food for sale outside of a few vending machines. But that wasn’t our first concern; that was whether or not the park guard would let us roll in for free or question us as to what we were doing. Jeremy led the charge and we slowly coasted up to the guard shack, where the nice older lady inside waved us through without even blinking an eye. We all said thank you, but I don’t think she heard us. We pushed through to what we thought was the heart of the park and were happy to come across a convenience store. Time to park our bikes, clean up, and fill up.

My first action was to head on into the convenience store to see what they had for sale. And wouldn’t you know, they had everything I wanted; ice cream sandwich, Coke, Gatorade, water, Cheetos, and our little ace-in-the-hole, Spaghettios. I walked around and picked up everything that I wanted, and then I noticed that the three of us were all standing in front of the Spaghettios, wondering if the other was going to grab a can of it. We didn’t have a microwave, or even a can opener, but the Spaghettios looked oh so good. Scratch that, we did have a can opener. Jeremy found a disposable can opener in the store for a dollar or two, so we grabbed two cans of the Spaghettios, the rest of our food, and claimed a park bench outside.

We also purchased a cheap set of plastic utensils so we could eat out of the cans (I lucked out and got the knife to eat with). As we enjoyed our early lunch, we took turns in the public restroom cleaning off our arms and faces. The two cans of small macaroni rings, cold tomato sauce and meatballs didn’t last long, as we were all pretty hungry. Neither did our other food items. Because I lost one of my two Gatorade bottles the night before, I kept this one about ¾ the way full and placed it into the storage in my CamelBak rather than my Viscacha.

As I spent a few minutes loading up, lathering on the sun screen and putting my gear back on, a little kid and his mother walked past us. He seemed really interested in what we were doing; not the whole biking across the state part, but the biking with that much gear part. I should’ve said we were doing the Tour-De-France just to see if they would even know what I’m talking about. They leave us, and we leave the park, past the same gate guard that we wave to again.

More paved road lie ahead of us, and of course, Wolf Pen Gap. This climb is yet another steady incline, but more on the dangerous side for our kind of biking. Let me explain how.

As we made our way up Wolf Pen Gap, we started hitting long, winding, uphill switchbacks. You know, the kind of crap that we have to deal with at Big Cedar (Dallas folk know what I mean), but this was on a much larger scale, and it was all paved. So these switchbacks were not as unnecessary as the ones found in our training grounds in Dallas, but they were annoying nonetheless. This climb, Josh was the lead man, as he pulled out in front of both Jeremy and I early on. I kept a steady pace as second in line, and this was a climb where Jeremy fell back a little ways. Something that we all joked about later on was that no matter what the climb was, I was always situated in the middle, while one of the other two were killing it ahead of me and the other was slightly taking their foot off of the gas pedal.

Coming around one of the first switchbacks, we saw an old couple unloading their car on the side of the road. It looked as if they were right next to a small park entrance and were getting ready for a fun-filled day. As we approached them, the wife asked Josh and I where we were headed. I remember seeing the look on their faces after I shouted back to them “Alabama”. Priceless.

As we continued our climb and after hitting a few sections of the switchback, we noticed quite the drop off on every other right turn switchback (as we were always looking to stay on the right shoulder). This gave way to some great views, but also some dangerous moments. Here you have 3 young guys putting their best effort to stay on the bike, trying to continue in a straight line, and not fall off the edge all while enduring the pain that comes with a continuous uphill climb. And then you have Georgia ghetto motorcycle riders who – although noticing the situation we are in – refuse to give us any space as their caravan of clunkers scoot on by. I let them know who was ‘number 1’ as they passed us.

I reached the top of this climb to find Josh already enjoying his afternoon snack. I didn’t want him to feel bad, so I grabbed some food out of my bag as well (I was starving). We sat down on the pavement off to the side of the road and tried to relax our bodies as best we could. We just conquered the back-to-back largest climbs of the TNGA. I’m feeling pretty good about that fact. We watch as Jeremy rolls up, and we collectively take a break because there’s still more to be climbed; this just happens to be where we get routed off of the pavement finally.

We begin to pedal into the forest again, but not for as long as we normally would. I noticed that there were walking signs as we entered, so I expected to see some signs of life; we weren’t disappointed. As we pushed our way through the area and over the gravel trail, we noticed a beautiful river off to our right side. As we pushed through the forest, we noticed a number of vehicles sporadically off of the beaten path. Not to anyone’s surprise, we also noticed people enjoying themselves in the river. I’m sure those who noticed us were wondering what was going on. If only they knew that we really wanted to be in their shoes (at least I would’ve liked to be able to relax in the water for a bit).

Climbing through this area isn’t all that horrible, and we eventually make it to what looks like a park entrance; rough gravel parking lot, trail signage, and a path that leads out to the paved road. We check our GPS (aka Jeremy) to make sure we’re still on the right path and then move forward. This section contained more downhill pavement, which I don’t necessarily mind, and yet another surprise at the bottom. This surprise, as Jeremy put it was another long climbing section going through a camp ground.

As we made our way down the side streets to the camp ground, I was again distraught at the thought of more climbing. But if there was anything to take away from all of my training and preparation, it was when Josh told me to never be content with going downhill or pedaling on the flats, because there’s always a climb right around the corner. I was beginning to accept this fact, maybe? Either way, we finally make our way into the camp ground and once again are blown away with the North Georgia mountain ranges.

The boys weren’t kidding, the camp ground service road was nothing but uphill given the direction we were going. Not only that, it was a loose, rocky uphill; a little more difficult than the paved uphills from earlier in the day. This one twists and turns and has a few flat plateaus, and is also full of truck traffic given the fact that it’s Sunday early afternoon. I would say there’s barely enough room for two trucks to pass each other at any given point throughout the service road (and that’s being generous), so having a few mountain bikers off to one side trying to pick out the best available line without stopping, made it a little difficult on everyone involved. We made it all the way to the top without incident, and continued on through more back roads and forested areas.

Josh recalls this section in a slightly different light: If I remember right, this “road” was more of a RockCrawler paradise. Much of it was a technical as singletrack with boulders, 2 foot deep crevices, and even some hike-a-bike. At one point we got passed by an opposite direction wagon train of 7-8 jeeps. Must’ve been a club out having a grand of’ time, and they enjoyed looking at us as much as we enjoyed watching them I think. But a mile or so later our minds we fully blown by a family in a Subaru wagon picking their way through. I have no idea how they got that far or how they made it out, but my helmet is off to them!

We make our way to a flat park road and begin to pick up speed. Sure we just ate, but we’re getting hungry again. As we spot the paved road again and realize it’ll be our home for a few miles, we notice a bike, an empty sleeping bag and a person off to the left side using nature. Wouldn’t you know, it was Asa! To me it looked like he was just waking up from his sleep; he probably went to bed around 4-5am and slept until a few minutes ago. It was great to see him, but we did not stop pedaling. As we passed, we had a conversation that only we would understand at that very moment. Of course we spent a good 5 seconds going back and forth with cheering each other on, but our next hour was determined with one sentence.

Asa: I’ll meet you for lunch up ahead

Neither of us fully understood what that meant at that point, but we did at the same time. We knew we had miles of road ahead of us and figured to cross a small town at some point. Wouldn’t you know about 10-15-20-25 miles down the road (I can’t remember at this point; 1 mile sometimes seemed like 50 and 50 miles sometimes seemed like.. well, 51 miles) we were staring a small convenience store right in the face. It looks like this is the place that Asa was talking about, so we all decided it would be best to stop and take a true lunch break.

This small convenience store was the best thing we’ve seen in a long time. It was promoting pulled pork BBQ sandwiches and had many other food items that we took advantage of; namely ice cream sandwiches, fritos, coke and Gatorade. On a normal day, this wouldn’t be a place where I’d go for a pulled pork BBQ sandwich by choice, but choice was one thing we didn’t have. It was either eat lunch here or forget lunch altogether. We all once again stocked up on the foods that made us happy and ‘ride better’ and all ordered a sandwich. As soon as our orders were ready and all paid for, I saw Asa roll in all by his lonesome. Alright, now our wolfpack has grown from 3 to 4 for the time being.

We’re all sitting at a picnic table outside the store under a makeshift roof that was doing a horrible job at shading us from the sun. Either way, it was lunch, this was food, and we were all friends. We start talking about what we did on Saturday (Day 1), and what we plan to do for the rest of the day. As we’re comparing notes, a red pickup truck pulls up to the convenience store. Out popped a satisfied Georgia native and his content (wife/girlfriend/sister/cousin/mother?). What were they so happy about? Asa was the first to find out when the man told us to go over and check out what was in the bed of his truck. (The perfect premise of any good Jeff Foxworthy “You might be a redneck” joke). It was a copperhead, and a big one at that. Someone apparently rolled over the snake’s body and left it for dead on the side of the road. This copperhead was still moving around, although not as graciously as it probably once had. We all took our time to check out the sight, and went back to our lunches. Hearing about bear the night before and seeing a snake today, awesome.

I wish I had a memory comparable to that of Josh, he remember the snake and its exact measure! I wish I still had a picture of the snake, but I don’t. The snake was actually a Timber Rattler, around 5 feet long. Beautiful snake with stripes sort of like a tiger, but green and brown if memory serves. We usually see Diamondback’s in TX, and I’d only become aware of it’s striped cousin recently when one turned up on one of our local trails.

I finish my lunch and lay down on the gravel right next to the store entrance. It’s the only place that’s shaded at the moment, and Josh had already laid claim to the bench that was also currently shaded. As we were trying to cool off, Asa came out of the convenience store with an entire bag of ice. Alright, I like where his head’s at, but there’s no way was can carry 5 pounds of ice with us for long. Or is there?

Everyone who enjoyed cold water put enough ice in their respective containers as they saw fit. I filled up my two bottles and bladder in my CamelBak. But we were still left with over 3 pounds of ice. What to do, what to do.. Asa came up with the idea that we use baggies to pour ice into and stuff them down our jerseys. Alright, now we’re onto something! Rather than buying a whole box of baggies, we ask the store manager if we can just take 4. I don’t know where they came from, but Asa walked out of the store with 4 and the manager seemed to not care. Works for me. I piled as much ice as I could into a baggie, zipped it up and proceeded to situate it between my jersey and the lower part of my neck. It seemed to fit pretty snug once we got going. All 4 of us were using this tactic as we left the store, and it was much needed at this point in the day.

We left on road and continued to make our way toward the Alabama border. It’s still early in the afternoon so the sun is shining down on us, but there are some clouds moving in. For the next hour or two, we didn’t encounter any large climbs, although the riding wasn’t necessarily easy. As we approached another small town, it started raining on us. To be honest, it felt great for me and I would be under the impression that it felt the same for everyone else. We continued on and finally reached a bridge that was known as ‘Iron Bridge’. The name is self-explanatory. It’s a unique bridge because of the way it’s built and because it was only one-lane. We approached the bridge in the rain and were immediately held back by a few locals who noticed a truck looking to cross on the other side. We stopped to let the truck cross, and then proceeded across into the small town.

This is a town that I’ve heard stories about from Josh and his adventure last year. Apparently there is a convenience store in this town that closes at 4pm on Sundays. Last year he reached the store at 4:05pm on Sunday and noticed what seemed to be a store operator trying to leave without being noticed and purposefully not paying any attention to a mountain biker in need. Today was Sunday, so our hearts sank when we looked at our phones only to realize it was 4:04pm. And once again, the shop was closed and locked up. As we stood there dejected, it started down pouring on us. Luckily, we had about a foot overhang to hide under outside of the closed shop, which is better than nothing. I remember slamming the remainder of my Gatorade from earlier just out of pure boredom (and thirst).

Asa used this down time to call into MTB Cast, which was the dedicated call-in number for the TNGA. He left a message about us being in a storm, riding with the Texas contingent, and then I think something about flowers or trees. Anyway, here’s the clip.

Jeremy and I sat on opposite sides of a small end table outside of the shop as it continued to rain. We talked about what we were going to do next, and Jeremy used this time to begin contemplating pulling out of the race.

I was still fiddling around with my Spot Tracker because it still wasn’t showing up on the map. This time I knew because I pulled out my phone and loaded up the site only to find Josh and Jeremy, and not me. For sake of finishing the race, this was not a problem because most people knew I was with Josh and Jeremy. But it stunk for friends and family looking to follow online who were unaware of the situation.

 

The rain continued, and we contemplated food. There was a restaurant just down the road maybe a half mile. If we went it would be dinner, and an early dinner at that. We all decided to at least stop and see what they had to offer. We biked down to the restaurant, parked our bikes and went inside. Immediately, I felt cold thanks to the air conditioning meeting my wet kit. Luckily they had a covered outdoor patio which was perfect for us wet bikers, especially since this was a decent restaurant and we weren’t the best dressed individuals. We sat down, and decided to order dinner; sandwiches and pasta plates. Asa was going to be a few minutes behind us, he said he was going to make another call or two and pack up his stuff before he came over. No one truly wanted to spend an hour eating dinner, but this was going to be the last place to purchase anything until Mulberry Gap.

Mulberry Gap was a huge conversational piece at the dinner table between the three of us. Josh wanted to go straight through the night until we reached Mulberry Gap, Jeremy said it wasn’t possible, and I was up for anything that got us to the finish line quicker.

To better understand exactly what was going on at this point, here’s what Josh has to say:

I remember this conversation between me and Jeremy pretty well. It brings a smile to my face because we have had many of these before. I generally set some unrealistic goal (they should all be at least a little unrealistic), he says it can’t be done, and I say that we should agree to try, and he gives me a nod to shut me up but he’s still shaking his head inside. I’m also smiling because this time it worked out, even if it’s only because I’m stubborn and Ryan is a tough dude who’s game for just about anything you can throw at him. At this point Jeremy has decided he’s done and arranging for a ride to MG, and I’m making my usual plans….

Josh: I think we should push through to MG. 

Jeremy: you can’t make it that far, you’ll have to camp somewhere.

Josh: we can make it. We’ll have to pull a 24 or more, but we can do it. 

Jeremy: you don’t understand how far it really is. It’s further than you remember. Not possible. 

Josh: it’s gonna suck, but we can do it. 

Jeremy: really man, it’s just so far. You’re going to have to camp. 

Josh: if we have to we have to, but I don’t think so. I’ll take a power nap if I need to, but we got this. We will see you in the morning, watch. (So cocky, but I think it helps to be a little cocky if you’re going to something as ridiculous as race across North Georgia)

See, a thing that had been on my mind the entire trip was the fact that I had told personnel in Florida that I would return by Wednesday so I could perform my TA/GA duties. This means that I would need to finish the TNGA by late afternoon on Tuesday at the VERY latest so that I could get a ride back to Mulberry Gap (which was close to the middle of the state) and drive back to Tallahassee by Wednesday morning in time to teach. This was Sunday early evening, which meant we had a little less than 2 days to finish this feat (officially, all riders have a week to finish the TNGA, but I needed to do it in less than half of that in order to get back on time). Another thing that was eating away at me was the fact that we ended early the night before and unfortunately got stuck at Woody’s. In my mind we were behind schedule, and something needed to happen in order to get back on track.

I told Josh that I was on board and willing to push through the night. After more conversation, Jeremy told us that he planned to pull out. We didn’t like to hear what was happening, but that was the decision that he had to make. His dynamo light was not functioning properly, and in order to make it through the night he was going to need a lot of light.

We finished our meals and got ready for the next push. Asa packaged up all of his pasta (I don’t think he ate a single bite) in a ziplock bag and put it in his storage pouch. Nothing like a hearty midnight snack. Jeremy called Leslee, and she was on her way to come pick him up at the restaurant. Josh, myself and Asa pulled ourselves together and prepared our bikes for our trip to Mulberry Gap. We all said our goodbyes to Jeremy and biked away, immediately hitting an annoying hill. I biked with a heavy heart for a while. The last thing I wanted to happen was for someone to take themselves out of the TNGA, especially a friend. At least this wasn’t due to injury, and it probably prevented one from occurring.

We peaked the annoying hill and were heading toward the next big climb at a steady pace; Stanley Gap. I remember the name of this gap specifically because of how much I disliked it. Leading up to it, I remember Josh and Asa talking about it, sizing it up in their own words and reliving their experiences from last year. One thing I took away from the conversation was that we had a rough series of climbs ahead of us in a single forested area, with some inclines hard for hikers to ascend. I also stupidly asked how long the overall climb was, and got an answer of “5 miles”. To the untrained eye, 5 miles seems like nothing. We’ve covered the same distance in previous steady climbs, so this shouldn’t be too difficult.

I was completely wrong with my own assessment. We weren’t even a mile in, and words were flying. Josh was in the lead, I was again a steady second, and Asa was manning the rear making sure to keep conversation going by making up new names for this gap. At this point I can’t remember exactly what was said, but it was non-stop, and entertaining to boot. I do remember that some created names were R-rated, and appreciated those the most.

Knowing the distance of a certain section is something I slowly learned wasn’t a good idea. Why? Because I would keep looking down at my GPS to see how far we’ve gone. Oh, we’ve been pedaling for 10-15 minutes, we must’ve covered at least a mile. Nope, 0.3 miles. My grandma can walk faster than that. The joys of walking/carrying/painfully pushing your bike uphill. There were points throughout the climb where we lost Asa, but he always reappeared after a few minutes (I could tell because it would suddenly go silent). My legs could handle everything we were presented with, aside from the ludicrous short sections of a crazy grade (Think of a 60-70% angled uphill trail with slick roots all around). Those crazy sections broke my momentum and continually made me get off my bike and walk, which led to me snapping and going into what I would like to consider ‘beast-mode’. Sections where I would earlier get off and walk my bike, I made an extra effort to push up them on my bike and glide into the next section where I tried my luck in the same manner. This lasted for a few minutes, and it launched me ahead of Josh by a good margin.

As I stood atop of a climb that I pedaled up, I took a short break, shook out my legs and treated myself to a drink. Josh rolled by as I enjoyed my extended break, and I let him retake the lead. We were about 2 miles into the climb at this point, so I was mentally prepared for 3 or so more miles before we got to enjoy some downhill out of this gap. No more than a half mile later (which could’ve been anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes), we reached a peak that looked to be the peak of all peaks for this gap. I promptly asked where the next climb was, because I couldn’t see anything around that went up.

We were presented with 3 options of going downhill and strangely one looking like it went slightly uphill, and our GPS’s were not helping us with the right choice. Given that we were relying too much on technology, we waited at the peak for Asa who had the TNGA ‘note-pad’ of turn-by-turn directions in his back pocket. He made it up to us, got out the pad, and told us to take the left path, which was all downhill. I like this already; it seems as if this trail may be 5 miles IN TOTAL, not 5 miles uphill. Miniature victory. Maybe.

I’ve mentioned before that downhill is not my specialty, so I of course let Josh take point, and I fall in behind him. Asa is behind both of us, but he is taking it more cautiously. As we start to descend, I notice that we’re on bench cut with the mountain on our immediate right side and a steep constant drop off to our left side. I personally didn’t want to go too fast because one wrong move could send me off the edge of the mountain. This section wasn’t all downhill as there were a few sections that required pedaling; these sections were where Josh and I met back up with each other and prepared for the next descent. Or more realistically, where Josh waited for me before he got further ahead and lost me.

As we got further away from the peak, it started getting darker which was natural given the time of day. I’d say it was somewhere between 7 and 8:30pm at this point. Given my poor eyesight, I recommended to Josh at one of the plateaus that we stop to put our lights on. For me it was as simple as connecting the light on my helmet to the battery in my backpack. But for Josh to get his light going, he had to stop, get his light gear out, situate it on his helmet and then connect the battery. Much more involved. Josh insisted that we were close to the exit of the trail, and we’d put our lights on once we got to the parking lot. I said ok, and began the next downhill section.

We must have been going for at least another 20 minutes, and there was still no exit in sight. It continued to get darker, my eyesight got even worse, and I became extremely nervous. The only objects I could see were the white rocks on the trail (there were rock of many colors that I couldn’t see), the outlines of the trees, and vaguely where the edge of the trail was on the left side. I braced my body as many mountain bikers would when anticipating a crash after every few seconds just because I didn’t have a clue what to expect. I’d seriously rather be bombing down the hill from the night before; at least I had light then! I lost track of Josh early on, and was simply concentrating on missing large white rocks and staying on the trail.

Being a veteran on this voyage, Josh didn’t view this section as dangerous as I had:

Regarding this whole section of trail, it was just brutal. After last year all I could remember was how hard Snake Gap was, and I guess it made everything else seem like no big deal. Well I didn’t remember Stanley Gap with enough respect. This was some slow, steep, technical hike-a-bike. It was hot and we were chasing daylight which adds some stress. When it came to the decision to put on lights, it was definitely too dark to be riding down the backside of this mountain without them, but sometimes I just get this determination thing going and can’t be convinced to stop for even a minute. And as we descended it just got darker and darker in the shadow of the mountain. We could barely see at all for the last 15-20 minutes, and we were really moving. It was a dangerous combination and not real smart but we got through it, and I still feel a little bad about Ryan hitting that tree.

It was getting even darker, and the white rocks were even beginning to fade away. I could take less than a minute to stop, connect my light to the battery and be on my safe way. But I was too stubborn, and wasn’t going to pop my light on if Josh hadn’t. I made another (what seemed like routine) move at this point to avoid another large white rock. However this time, what I didn’t see was the large darker rock that I so elegantly turned right into. This rock directed my tire to the left side (which was a huge no-no if I wanted to finish this race; the left side was the edge of the mountain), so instead of looking to take a risk at attempting to correct my direction and possibly sliding out from overcompensating and going down off the cliff anyway, I made the split-second decision to stay clipped in and accept my fate.

Off the cliff I went, clipped into my bike. Except, that didn’t happen. There was a large tree directly (now) in front of me that was just standing there, still as ever. No more than a few milliseconds later, I was doing the same thing after I pulled a Fred Flinstone as I ran into it. Fred Flinstone’ing is when face meets object, and arms and legs both reach beyond the object through impact force alone as if you were about to bear hug it. Luckily, through some mix of reaction, luck or act of the biking gods, my face missed the tree by mere inches as I ran into it. Somehow, the front tire of my bike missed the tree (it missed on the left side, left side is bad), but my whole body got to know it quite well. The bike remained clipped to my left shoe, which I’m thankful for or else I may have been sliding down the cliff after everything. I can’t remember for certain what I sounded like when I collided with the tree, but Josh mentioned later that it sounded like all of the air was forced out of my lungs at once as if a sledgehammer hit me in the stomach.

I peeled myself off of the tree and collected myself. Nothing seemed to be missing or broken, so I was relieved for the time being. I noticed that the tree I ran into wasn’t all that solid to the touch on the very outside, which wasn’t exactly great news. Good chances that the soft, furry vines covering the tree were in fact poison ivy, something that I am very allergic to. And to top it all off, I forgot to pack my Zanfel (urishol remover; urishol is the oil that poison ivy and poison oak plants carry). There’s nothing I can do about it now other than wash myself off with my water bottles and hope I don’t see a rash in the next few days. But given the fact that we’re still 40-50 miles from Mulberry Gap, I wasn’t about to waste precious water just to wash away some potential poison ivy. Time to man up and push on.

I finally made it to a section where it seemed to get slightly brighter. And by brighter, I mean that I could barely make out what I thought was a street lamp. Although when I finally made it out of the forest and to the parking lot, I noticed that the light was coming from a van. A woman who owned the van was talking to Josh, and through conversation we found out that she was out here taking pictures of nature. Interesting to say the least. She left us, and we took time to rest, get our lights going, and grab a quick bite to eat. It was dark out, and it was going to be dark until morning; about 10 hours until we saw the sun again. If we wanted to get to Mulberry Gap without stopping, we had to grind out the rest of our miles at night, in the dark. Josh remembers this location from last year, and recalls that Mulberry Gap is probably 5-6 hours from where we are. Not too bad, that would put us there somewhere between 2 and 4am Monday morning.

We left the parking lot and hit some pavement, a nice reprieve from the hell I just went through. We started to go through a little town which was nice and quiet this time of night. As we progressed on the pavement, we noticed a very tiny convenience store off to the left side, with a single, gas pump that looked to be from the 50’s still intact. It also had a Coke machine lit up out in front, which was good enough reason for us to stop for a minute. But that wasn’t the only reason we stopped. Josh had mentioned that he remembered this store from last year and thought that there was a hose in the back of the store that we could use to fill our water bottles and CamelBaks up with. Sure enough, there was a functioning hose in the back. We enjoyed our Cokes and filled up with enough water to hopefully get us all the way to Mulberry Gap.

Leaving the store, we had a minor debate on which way our GPS was telling us to go. Right as we decided and began to pedal again, Asa caught up to us and passed us in the direction we were heading. For the next hour or so, we got into a roadie groove, where each of us led the pack for a while and then dropped back. I can’t really say one was truly drafting off of another, but we were able to get into a comfortable road cadence and were probably averaging 20+ mph on the flats for long periods of time. To me this was a great feeling; finally able to let loose and knock off some easy miles. The only downside was the fact that it was dark, so we had to be extra cautious of passing traffic.

This is the point when things got interesting, as if they already hadn’t. We had been up for 17 hours, pedaling for 16 of them, had a pack of 3 turn into 4 and then again revert back to 3, and as we moved off of the pavement into what Josh called the Pinhoti trail, 3 had now turned into 2. Asa didn’t drop out – at least we didn’t believe for that to have happened – he simply fell a tad behind. Josh and I were alone and trudging through some of the most interesting forestry and wildlife North Georgia has to offer, at midnight.

It was now that I thought we had 3, 4, MAYBE 5 hours left until we reached Mulberry Gap. I say this because we stopped for a good bit and fiddled with Josh’s GPS. One of the pages he was able to flip to showed the upcoming elevation. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but it was something like this: If our current position was sea level (0), we saw a steep line up about 1,500 feet, then straight back down to 0, another straight, steep line up about 2,000 feet, then back down to 500, up to 1,000, back to 500, up to 1,000, back down to 500, up to 1,000, back down to 500, flat for a while and back down to 0 (with many more elevation changes after that of course). We stopped at that point because 1) that’s all we could see on his GPS, and 2) because Josh mentioned that one of the dips at 500 feet between the 1,000 foot peaks would be where we find Mulberry Gap. Finally, visible evidence that Mulberry Gap was within reach! At least I though so anyway.

Josh certainly remembers how much I loved hearing about the upcoming elevation: It wasn’t long after this that Ryan told me to stop telling him what the elevation profile said. He just didn’t want to know anymore. And I’ll admit, it can be torture sometimes, I usually don’t look at it myself.

So it’s about midnight as we entered the forest, and we quickly found out that the GPS wasn’t kidding; we were certainly going up on this Pinhoti trail. The very first sections of the trail were muddy as ever, we both had problems keeping our bike pointed and going forward as we pedaled through mud puddle after mud pit. But we couldn’t stop, unless we desired to have our shoes covered in mud and our feet cold and uncomfortable the rest of the night. I became the first victim of using my feet to catch myself, as my bike came to a complete stop in the middle of a mud pit unexpectedly; I was pedaling my heart out, but I was going nowhere, and fast. Josh was ahead of me, but heard me cursing my unfortunate luck from behind and turned to see me carrying my bike over the remainder of the pit. One thing I’ve learned through my few years of biking is that a clean bike is a happy bike, and a happy bike is a functioning bike. My bike was happy at the moment, and I intended to keep it that way.

We kept on climbing the Pinhoti trail, but never got away from the mud. This must have been a horrible storm that went through North Georgia just days before the start of the TNGA. We were notified at the racers meeting and beforehand that there is a good chance of deadfall (large trees and debris) covering random parts of the trail. The race director and others were going to do what they could to clear out certain sections, but there’s no way they would be able to clear out every section in less than a couple days.

Josh finally became a victim of the mud pits, and I got to witness it firsthand as I was right on his tail when it occurred. Both of our bikes seemed happy at the moment, so we really didn’t mind. The mud was just another obstacle; we’ve seen much worse, and little did we know, we’d experience much worse in the hours to come.

I wish I could say something nice about the Pinhoti trail at night, in the situation we were in, but nothing comes to mind. I’m sure it’s a great trail when the conditions are more favorable and you’re running on fresh legs and a fresh mind. But for what we were being put through, it was my little own personal hell. I got myself in the same situation as before while riding Stanley Gap; I knew the distance we were shooting for, so that was always in my mind rather than just pedaling. Rather than singing tunes to myself, I was thinking about the distance we had left. Had we even made it to the first peak yet? Nope, not even close. And to top it all off, we were looking at a hard left onto another section of the Pinhoti trail that looked to go straight up.

“Just a few more hundred feet”. Oh, is that all? Now I feel so much better. Because it’s taken us about an hour to get up 1,000 feet, just 500 more. Sarcasm. We finally reached the peak, and we could tell. The trail led us to some jeep road, and we both let out a collective sigh. But for me, being at ease was short-lived. As we started heading downhill on this jeep road, we ran into a pretty dense fog. I’m doing what I can to keep up with Josh, but every time he got more than 20-30 feet in front of me, I lost him; scary. 20-30 feet is nothing when you’re traveling at 20-25 mph down a backwoods jeep road. Just as I was earlier in the night, I was doing everything in my power to dodge large, noticeable rocks and of course try not to fall off of the edge, which was now on the right side.

Josh felt the same way: The fog was crazy and really frustrating. We should be going over 30 miles an hour on these gravel descents, and instead we are riding the brakes. I couldn’t see more than about 15 feet and just like in your car, lights don’t help, they almost make it more blinding.

We twisted and turned, and made our way to the bottom where we coasted for a mile or two. I dodged another bullet on that downhill and started feeling more confident in my ability to navigate with poor eyesight. Don’t get me wrong, I was still nervous every second I felt I was going too fast for comfort (about 15 mph, which was the entire way down, about 20-25 straight minutes). I know Josh was having difficulty seeing as well, because he’d normally be minutes ahead of me on that long of a downhill. He ended up only beating me down by a good number of seconds.

We hopped back onto trail after our little break on pavement onto what we thought was the Pinhoti trail again, just another section. Indeed it was, and this one proved to be just as annoying as the other section. It started by going down a grassy hill which was followed by a section of trail that seemed to be pretty flowy. The flow came to a quick end when we ran into a downed tree right in the middle of the trail. This was the first tree that was completely down and took a team effort to get our bikes to the other side. Unfortunately, the downed tree was right next to a turn which our GPS said we biked right by as we saddled up and pedaled on the other side of the tree. There’s no way the trail intersection is right where the tree is, right? Neither of us knew for sure, so we kept our bikes in the middle of the tree maze, and I took my GPS off my bike and slowly walked with it through the trail we though we had to be on.

Screaming at Josh from a distance, looking to the left where there was a wide, presumably deep river, which produced the only noise we could hear for the moment: “My GPS says we’re supposed to turn left here, but that doesn’t make sense, what does yours say?” There’s no way I’m going to swim across this river with my bike, given my current state of mind. This can’t be right; I didn’t want it to be right.

Josh: “Hold on, let me load up the map…….. Mine says a right up here, and we should be starting a climb here soon.”

My GPS wasn’t able to load the TNGA map file, so I was not familiar with the one I had to use. Turns out, the GPS I was using was in fact telling us to go right, I just didn’t know it at the time.

“Ok, but I still can’t find where we’re supposed to go right either. You think the tree covered it up?”

We biked very slowly in the straight direction as directed by the GPS and finally saw something off to the right side that resembled a bike path leading upwards. Finally! Excited to be able to finally move forward, but not excited for the upcoming climbing. This climbing was tough for me, as it was loose, slick and uneven. Tree roots were all over and made the climbing even that more difficult. Some sections had to be walked by either Josh or myself, and sometimes both. It was torture, but it was what needed to be done in order to make it out of the woods and on to Mulberry Gap.

Climbing is all we did for the next couple of hours, or so it seemed. I kept on asking Josh where we were on the hill, as if that would make everything better. It only made things worse. I should’ve known that by now. Josh then changed the game and mentioned something that would later play a huge factor in this story; chocolate milk at Mulberry Gap. I’ll state before and I’ll state it again, when people put themselves through long periods of physical stress their tastes can change at any point; from wanting cheese pizza to craving apple sauce; from wanting fried chicken to craving anything chocolate in a matter of minutes. Ever since chugging the chocolate milk earlier in the day at Woody’s, I had wanted more, but suppressed those feelings. Until now. It was now a race to get to Mulberry Gap; at least that’s what my stomach was telling me.

Being physically and mentally strong are huge components of ultra endurance racing. Here’s what Josh has to say on that topic:

After about day 1, ultra endurance racing is 90% mental (I’ve probably said this before), and you have to come up with ways to keep yourself going. Setting goals, breaking them down into manageable chunks, distractions like music or conversation… But one of my tricks is tethering my mind to some wonderful reward that I think is awaiting me, like chocolate milk or cheeseburgers. It works most of the time, but the mental darkness is still always waiting to pounce, and if it gets ahold of you then that chocolate milk becomes a torture as now you are focused on what you DON’T have. 

Our earlier estimates of reaching Mulberry Gap by 4-5 in the morning were way off. We hadn’t made the peak of the second hill yet, and it was already 2-3 in the morning. That upset me a little bit. Add in chocolate milk, and I was getting quite irritated. Not at Josh, but at the trail. Josh can probably recall better than I can, but I completely lost my cool as we dismounted our bikes and walked them up another difficult, non-ridable section. I think it went something like this: Expletive expletive [another expletive] this trail expletiving expletive are you serious [another necessary expletive] minor curse word followed by another expletive [something to do with an animal] how great of a state Georgia is [expletive] 2 in the morning, curse word chocolate expletive [x2] milk.

I probably woke up every bit of wildlife within a mile radius.

Immediately after, I apologized to Josh for going off the edge like that. He knew what was going on, so he shook it off (I think), and I did my best to shake it off as well. We kept on conversing and moving forward. Talking to each other at this point was going to be the key to making it through the night. After many more dismounts, walking and climbing, we finally made it to the top of the second hill. It’s still pitch black out, so our lights were our only eyes. We both had Grady’s XXX from TrailLED, so we were in good hands.

We moved at a good pace along the ridge line at the top, waiting for the drop in elevation to come. It came, and so did more fog. I cautiously made my way down to the bottom where Josh was waiting. However, it seemed as if we were not fully to the bottom, and I asked why we stopped early. This was apparently the location that Josh and Jeremy stopped last year and slept in the comfort of the outhouses until sunup. Neither of us wanted to sleep for long right now; as a matter of fact, I was still in ‘get to Mulberry Gap so I can get me some chocolate milk’ mode. But Josh had wanted to take a quick nap on the trail, so we did just that. There was a series of what I believe motocross racers would call ‘woops’ on the trail, so we laid our bikes down on top of one hump and used the backside as a pillow. It wasn’t the most comfortable situation, but it did the job.

It is quite interesting how certain moments get lost in translation. That’s what happens when you fall asleep and are out cold, as Josh can tell us: This was definitely not a comfortable place to lie down, but that was the point. If you want to take a short power nap, don’t get comfortable. Same as when I was sleeping on that picnic table bench back at Woody’s with the temps dropping. So here again I just put on my windbreaker and close my eyes as the temps drop below 60 at sometime around 1am (?). I don’t think I knew until now that Ryan didn’t sleep, but I do remember getting up grumbling that I guess I wasn’t going to be able to nap after all, just couldn’t sleep. That’s when he told me how hard I had been snoring. Hilarious because this same conversation happens with my wife when I insist that I can’t sleep in the car, and she reminds me that I sleep very soundly almost anywhere. Also, staying underdressed worked like a charm because I was freezing, my teeth were chattering and I was shaking all over. This left me no choice but to saddle up quickly and get pedaling.

I wasn’t able to fall asleep at all; I was too anxious to make it to Mulberry Gap and I had a sneaking suspicion that we weren’t alone. Josh on the other hand was out in less than 5 minutes; his snoring tipped me off. We agreed to set our alarms for 30 minutes later, which I believe ended up being 3:15am, and he took full advantage of it. I laid back, closed my eyes, but couldn’t clear my mind enough to fall asleep. Josh left his helmet light on, so rather than wasting my time trying to sleep, I got up and paced around a little bit. I grabbed a quick drink of water, checked my own helmet light to make sure it was still held in tight, and then sat down on top of the hump with my own thoughts. I couldn’t recollect what exactly was going through my mind for those few minutes (heck, I couldn’t even tell you what’s going through my mind right now), but I can say that it was one of those moments where everything started to connect. Josh was going to wake up in a few minutes and he was going to be fresh, which means we were headed straight for Mulberry Gap. There’s only a few 500 foot climbs ahead of us, which is nothing compared to what we just went through.

Moments before our alarms went off, a large beetle started buzzing near Josh’s face. Really insignificant in relation to the rest of the story, but I thought it was interesting. Josh woke up, we repacked our belongings, put our gear back on, and started up the ‘short’ climb. In the middle of the descent of this climb, we were directed back out onto pavement. We must be so close to Mulberry Gap, the surroundings look very familiar! But there’s one small problem. We come to a three-way intersection with both of our GPS’s telling us to go in different directions. I walk unclipped and with my bike between my legs over to Josh, who is standing over his own bike in the same manner, and we compare GPS directions. Mine is telling us to go right down the pavement, and this time I’m confident that it’s saying right. Josh’s is saying right too, but it’s not a straight line like mine shows. We spend about 10-15 minutes biking up and down the pavement a tenth of a mile each way to see what our GPS’s do (they’ll usually beep and tell us we’re off course once we get 50 feet or so off course). Both of ours beep. Now this is interesting. So it’s not the pavement that we should be on, at least that’s what we’re gathering from our technology. Just then, Josh remembers that there should be another entrance to the Pinhoti trail around this area. Wouldn’t you know, it’s hidden, and off to the right side. Bingo.

The next couple climbs and descents are pretty uneventful as far as I can remember. We pedaled when we went up, and prayed for no fog every time we bombed a downhill. But one thing that I do remember is the exact moment when I was able to turn my light off. We were twisting and turning through single track on our way down the final hill before Mulberry Gap, Josh in the lead and me on his tail. I had my light on, and I could barely make out the light it was emitting thanks to the sun light, so I knew the next step was to turn it off. And I did that with a smile on my face. Sunlight to me has always been a refresher. I’ve done multiple 24 hour races and one thing I can say is that when the sun comes up, I feel like a new man for at least an hour. It’s a great feeling. And it felt great today because I knew I’d be at Mulberry Gap within an hour.

Surprisingly, Josh and I have complete opposite takes on sunlight and morning riding. But one thing was shared between us; the desire to reach Mulberry Gap: One crushing moment during the morning that I remember clearly. We were both delirious and heart broken by a sign in the road. We came off of single track and onto some gravel, and we were badly wanting for this to be the road to MG. But we still had to ride P2. I knew because I remember stopping here last year and finally calling MG and they told me where I was and to keep on the trail. It was first daylight, and contrary to how it makes Ryan feel, dawn makes me feel terrible. Dawn is like a signal to my brain that something just isn’t right and I get really low for 30-60 minutes. I’ve even fallen asleep before while pedaling during this first hour of daylight. Combine that with a cruel tease that we could take gravel to the “barn” and I was totally beat down (and there may even have been a sign for MG there too). We had one more section of trail still and it took way longer than I remembered from last year, again. Maybe an hour later, lots of blowdown crossing, and one big crash for each of us (Ryan went over his bars), and we made it to the road that did take us to MG. I’ll never forget seeing the impossibly steep driveway to MG, with my wife cheering us in, and biting down to ride up it in triumph while my whole body screamed for me to get off and walk. Ryan and I both pedaled to the very top! Victory! 

We finished the single track and pedaled onto pavement again. We both had a feeling that Mulberry Gap was right up ahead of us. A mile later on gravel, and still nothing. Another mile, and still nothing, but at least we’re going downhill a little now. Another mile or so, and now we’re climbing. I’m starting to feel a little uncertain about Mulberry Gap being close. Maybe it’s in the next dip. That would devastate me. Off to the left side of the road, we saw a trail with a sign right in front of it. It faced straight out to the road, so we couldn’t read it until we were right up next to it.

It said…. Pinhoti 3 to the left… Mulberry Gap straight ahead.

If someone could have photographed my face at that exact point, I’m not sure what it would’ve looked like. How do you show surprise, excitement, exaltation, relief, and wanting to cry out of pure happiness all at the same time, on one face? Either way, this was it; the final push to Mulberry Gap, chocolate milk, all the food I could eat, a shower, a comfortable couch, a change of clothes and all of the Dallas crew. This was much needed.

We made it to Mulberry Gap, and climbed the steep driveway en route to the barn. Half way up, I could hear and see Leslee out in the driveway waiting for us. Apparently she was following our every movement and knew we were just minutes away. Seeing her, and Annette just a little behind her, made me extremely happy. We did it! At this point we had been up for 25 hours, biking for 24 of them, and had gone through so much hell. The feeling was amazing. I collected a hug from everyone who was near and leaned my bike up against the barn. All of my gear got dropped on the ground or strewn across my bike as I simply didn’t care at this point. I went inside and saw Jeremy, another smiling friendly face. I also saw Tristan and Scott, they were just about to pack up and head out. We talked for a minute or two on our journey the past couple days and how we got here, then they left. Go get ‘em boys!

I sat down in one of the only open chairs I saw, and it so happened to be at the DFW table. Leslee grabbed me a plate of food as I sat there in a daze. I wasn’t sure if I could eat anything; my stomach was in full-on liquid mode right now. I went straight for the chocolate milk. But they had none! Uh oh, minor panic attack. She said she had chocolate syrup in the back, so she brought that out instead and I helped myself to 4 glasses of Ryan’s special Hershey’s chocolate milk. So delicious. I sat back down at the table and checked out Leslees laptop. She indeed was following our every movement, and I was interested to see how everyone else was doing. Barnabas Forsythe was in the lead, and there were a good number of others ahead of us as well. But the most interesting fact was that many racers have pulled out already due to the dreadful trail conditions this year. It made me feel better about making it this far.

Just as that thought crossed my mind, JP came into the barn. We heard that he reached the barn last night, but he should’ve been out of here by now. Another sign of bad news, he was in street clothes. JP told us that he decided to pull out of the race, which is unfortunate. Another DFW rider was down this year, leaving only two left. We all chatted for a few minutes and then I decided it was time for me to take a shower before I napped. Only problem was, I had no clothes to change into while my kit was being washed. I had clothes in my car, which was in the Mulberry Gap parking lot no more than 20 yards away, but we were not able to access our vehicles while we were here. It was against the rules.

Long story short, that meant I was trotting around Mulberry Gap with nothing but a towel. I walked barefoot all the way down to the showers (trust me, the path is very rocky) and back. My feet had been inside my wet socks and shoes for nearly 2 days straight at this point, so they were not in great shape to start with. This made things worse. When I got back up to Mulberry Gap, I was a little hungry, so I ate some of the food they had made for us. Then I talked with Josh about our plans. It was about 8 in the morning, so we decided a 5 hour nap would be perfect; wake up at 1 in the afternoon, get our heads on straight, eat some more and get out of Mulberry Gap by 2. We agreed, and passed out. Only problem again is that I still had no clothes. A towel wrapped around my waist was my only cover. Who knew if it would come undone while I was sleeping. Who even cared? I certainly didn’t at this point, I wanted my sleep.

I woke up at 1 to notice Josh already up and eating more. I was starving, so I asked for a bowl of special soup that the ladies were passing around. I didn’t leave a bite. I also asked for a Sprite from the fridge; I felt dehydrated for some reason. And apparently a carbonated beverage was the best choice in my mind. After more food and drink, I went off into the corner to put my fresh kit back on. I felt like a new man, again! Although I felt like a new man, I still sat in the same chair with the same thousand-mile stare that I had earlier. Leaving Mulberry Gap meant it was on to the finish. It also meant the roughest part of the entire race; Snake Pen Gap. Essentially, Stanley Gap on steroids in terms of terrain and ability to ride. Leslee was giving Josh a pep talk in a char next to mine as she was massaging his legs. Annette came over to me and asked if I needed anything massaged. Of course I’m not going to turn down a free massage. Out of everything, I mentioned that my feet and my shoulders could use the most attention. I sat there in the same daze for the next 10 minutes, but my feet and shoulders felt a lot better.

The MG love was appreciated by Josh just as much upon arrival at the barn: I proceeded to inhale copious amounts of the famously large breakfast that Ginni, Diane, and Kate make for the riders who come through. It was amazing and did I already say that there was a lot of it? After a shower I found a couch in the corner of the dining hall (aka ‘the barn’) and slept soundly despite the constant crowd. I woke about 2 hours later and the Dallas girls had just brought back lunches from a restaurant in town. My wife Leslee asked if I wanted to eat and I said I’d have a nibble… I ate a full lunch and maybe half of hers. I have no idea how I found room for all of that food after the huge breakfast. I went back to sleep for another 90 minutes and when Kota woke later to find me eating again, I think it was for the third time. Yay Calories! 

I guess I felt so good at this point that Josh and I had what some would consider a photo-shoot with Jeremy. It’s good to see that we were still able to smile after all that we had been through.

Here are our poor dirty bikes up alongside the barn, before they were tended to.

And the photo-shoot…

I quickly washed off my bike outside so it was a little happier than before. I slowly put my arm-warmers (sun sleeves) back on, strapped on my cleats, and put my helmet back on. It was go time, no turning back now. We both make sure our water containers are full, we have all of our essential gear, and get ready to leave the comfort of Mulberry Gap. Jeremy and JP are great to have around, they’ve been through all of this before; the feelings, the emotions, everything. My entire time at Mulberry Gap, I had listened to what they were saying. As Josh and I were getting ready to depart, they gave us some final tips and their best wishes. I didn’t want to leave them, but we had to. We wanted to get out of the last Pinhoti section before dark, and that meant we’d have to leave now.

Us getting ready to tackle the final section, still in pain.

And the last picture that was taken at the Mulberry Gap barn before we departed…

We still had a lot on our minds. But we couldn’t start letting the demons get at us just yet. We had a race to finish!

TNGA Part 2 – Day 1; Learning the Hard Way

This is part 2 of what I’m now considering a 3 part series on this years TNGA. Check out Part 1 here –> http://www.bigpigracing.org/2014/09/tngapart1

So what am I once again doing up at this insane hour? Well, things needed to be done. And the TNGA wasn’t going to complete itself. All of my gear was packed; bike, cold weather gear, food, multiple kits, (what seemed like) thousands of dollars worth of parts and tools, water, TrailLED lights, batteries, and a stomach full of nerves. Sure, I’ve spent hundreds of hours preparing for this race, but I still doubted myself while driving north out of Tallahassee. Of the stories I’ve heard about this race, none were pleasant. Most were actually about how riders cracked both mentally and physically. I heard stories about racers calling home and crying to loved ones, quitting after one day, and simply going insane in the wilderness.

I wasn’t even to the Georgia state line, and I was already playing over scenarios in my head. What happens if I get separated from Jeremy and Josh right from the start? What would happen if they drop me? Do I have a chance at dropping them at all? How strong was I, both mentally and physically? What was the weather like there? Was I going to get lost in the middle of nowhere with no signal? I’m not exactly Bear Grylls after all.

That last question had me thinking a lot actually, because I had problems uploading the GPS route to my Garmin before leaving for Georgia. However, thanks to an awesome mixture of Josh, Jeremy and Annette, I was supposed to have a pre-loaded Garmin at my disposal once I met up with them. Even with that in mind, I was still freaking out a little bit. Can’t blame me for wanting everything to be perfect. Yeah, perfect, a word that describes TNGA almost too well… Except for the whole part where it doesn’t.

I’m slowly making my way closer and closer to Mulberry Gap (MG), which was a good 6 and a half hours from Tallahassee. Wanted to get there bynoonor so in order to meet up with the Oak Cliff Bicycle Company (OCBC) group and calm my nerves before hopping on the shuttle over to the yurts. As I reach about the hour mark, being about an hour away from MG, I get a phone call from Leslee. I have no idea what she could want, other than to see how close I am to reaching the destination. That’s how the conversation started out anyway, and then it went in a completely different direction.

Apparently, JP (our Dallas comrade who rode the Tour Divide alongside Ray) was having difficulty with the organizers regarding his Spot Tracker. Not something as simple as it wasn’t working, he didn’t have one. And if he didn’t come up with one out of nowhere before noon, they weren’t going to allow him to race. That’s pretty crappy if I do say so myself. So back to the reason Leslee called me. At this point, I was actually holding onto a Spot Tracker that belonged to Ray, and I happened to have it with me, in my car. I passed this info on to Leslee, and she mentioned that she would let me know if they needed it. Apparently there was much going on to figure out the Spot Tracker deal, so I waited patiently and continued driving to Mulberry Gap.

As I reach the 5 mile mark, I get another call from Leslee, asking me to make sure that I have the Spot Tracker (because during the previous phone call I had mentioned that I was 99% sure it was with me). 100% is much MUCH better than 99%. I pulled off to the side of the road into some farmer’s driveway and searched through my boxes. There it was, Rays Spot Tracker. I called Leslee back to notify her that we have an extra Spot Tracker for JP and everything was going to be fine.

Now I am at the 3 mile mark (3 minutes later) and get another phone call from Leslee. I think this time she just wants to say hi, how much she likes me and wants to talk about how much she enjoyed Judgement Day. To my surprise, none of those topics came up in conversation. But one thing that Leslee did need from me at this point was the serial number from the Tracker. I quickly unscrewed the back and read off the number to her. This happened at about 11:30, a half hour until the deadline. Another note, the closer you get to Mulberry Gap, the less cell signal you have. In other words, luck was on our side this time. That would be the last time that word is used in the next 4 days.

I finally made it to Mulberry Gap, and was immediately intimidated. Everyone I was looking at as I pulled in looked serious. Of course they were joking around and shooting the shit with each other, I mean serious in a GSD kind of way. (If you don’t know what GSD means, I’m sorry). Everyone I saw seemed to be in their 30’s or 40’s, and some even 50’s and 60’s (maybe?). Those are the ‘endurance ages’. What the heck was I doing there at 27? Just as immediately as I felt intimidated, I felt like I didn’t belong. All of these negative feelings, and I hadn’t even parked my car. I think too much.

I get parked on the side of the looped parking lot at the top of the driveway right next to the Mulberry Gap barn (which will play a HUGE role later on in this adventure), and get out. I’m competitive by nature, so as I walk by the other racers I’m sizing them up, checking their bike setup and what gear they’re bringing with them. TNGA is not a race per se, but it is. I don’t even know these guys, but all of this is happening in my head. Like I said, I think too much. As I made my way toward the MG house, I see a familiar face. It’s JP!

As I mentioned before, JP Evans rode with Ray during the Tour Divide and we both had the opportunity to speak at the memorial held for Ray earlier in the year. Well, I speak for myself; I spoke, JP sang and played the guitar. Back to the present, I gave JP a bear hug and told him I had a present for him in my car, also known as the Spot Tracker. He was thrilled to hear that it had been figured out, and I was thrilled that I was finally alongside someone who I knew and trusted. (There was no sizing up going on with JP, he’s next level bad ass. If you don’t believe me, Google ‘tour divide’).

We chat for a little bit, and my nerves get calmed. I then begin to walk around to the shuttle where all of the bikes and gear are being loaded up to listen in on the conversations taking place. From what I’m hearing, sounds like there are a good number of first timers and a few returning warriors looking to better their times. One person with a beard approached me and asked about someone on my team, Mike Frazier. “Looks like you’re a Big Pig, do you know Mike Frazier?” Pssh.. Do I know Mike Frazier? Is that even a valid question? Of course I know Mike Frazier!

Frazier and I used to watch The Walking Dead every Sunday night that it’s on at his place. This would seriously help me prepare for the crap-tastic work week that was ahead of me. We always began and ended the night with our secret bear hug. That nobody knows about. But anyway, the person asking was Sean Williamson, a great biker himself. We chatted for a few minutes, and I came to understand that he wasn’t there to race, but to take some pictures and watch all of us suffer. Before I could get any real useful information about the race, I see yet another familiar sight. The Oak Cliff Bicycle Company caravan was driving up the hill! That meant my boys Josh and Jeremy were finally there!

To this day, I can’t express how much seeing those two dudes got me pumped for this race. Now knowing the gang was together, it was time to get serious! I greeted them as they made their way back up the driveway after parking. Both seemed to be in good spirits, which was good to see. We continued talking about the race as we made our way over to the house to complete registration. It was at this point where I found out what would be in store for us the following morning.

What is that you might ask? Breakfast of course! When we worked out our registration, we found out we would have a wonderful spread the following morning of pretty much anything we wanted, just as long as they had it in stock. Pretty much, a peanut butter buffet; pick something out and I’m sure peanut butter would go great on it, especially right before a race. I continue to sign my life away, and then head back outside where the rest of the gang is.

One thing that I had forgotten on the way (and I noticed once I made it to Mulberry Gap) was that I had relatively no salty snacks. I had a whole mix of sweet, but no salty. One thing I learned the hard way was to never just buy what you are craving the day you’re shopping. For an endurance race, your body is going to go through phases; many ugly phases. One hour you could crave potato chips, the next hour you want apple sauce, the next hour your stomach feels like it can only handle liquids, but the next few hours you crave a fast food cheeseburger and chocolate milkshake. Long story short; plan for every ugly phase that your stomach could go through. Does this mean bringing way more than you may potentially need? For someone with my stomach, yes. I bring this point up because I had contacted Annette about something salty. She along with the OCBC group did not disappoint, as I received multiple Baby Ruths, cashews, and wait for it… a turtle hat.

 

Leslee even sang me a nice little turtle song. Did I mention she loves signing on the trails? Because I think it’s appropriate to mention at this point in the story. One perfect instance of this was at the Johnson Branch 4 hour race this past summer. I, along with Josh and roughly 10 others mistakenly followed a group of racers in front of us onto the red section of the trail (more technical than one would like for an endurance race). After getting beat up for what seemed like 10 miles, we were back on the race course, and many minutes behind the competition. We were all dead tired and we were only about an hour and a half in. Just a little bit after that, I hear someone singing near me. It was (I think) a Modest Mouse song with lyrics changed to be ‘racing’ and ‘bike’ related rather than what they were supposed to be (I have no idea what they are supposed to be in the first place, so I was enjoying the tune and slightly smiling on the inside because it was awesome to hear). Turns out it was Leslee, and the bad ass herself passed me and left me the dust!

So I have the salty gifts, turtle hat, and my bike is now being loaded onto the shuttle. It’s pretty bare, and everyone else has their gear already attached. Looks like I’m going to have a lot of work to do once we get to the yurts tonight.

                                                      

This is more or less how I viewed my bike compared to everyone else’s.

More things are said at this point that I seriously do not remember, mainly due to the fact that I was once again nervous. But I do remember trying to be a part of a conversation revolving around the upcoming race; gathering firsthand information and horror stories. Before we knew it, the leaders were calling for the racers to hop in the shuttle, as they were about to leave fairly soon for the starting line.

Our options were a large van, small van or truck. As Jeremy and JP jumped into the large van, I followed suit, and we collectively looked to save a seat for Josh (traveling in a group would be beneficial and also calm my nerves yet again). Josh gets in the van (after Leslee yells for him to get in before it’s too late), and we all sit there for a few minutes while we wait for departure. Leslee jumps in from the side to take a few ‘action shots’ of the group inside of the van. What I would come to find out over the next few hours in that van, this wasn’t a group that was going to go down easy. These fellas came to tame the beast that is the TNGA.

Two guys that I happened to be sitting next to were Scott Sidener and Tristan Moss from South Carolina. Both of these riders were TNGA rookies, but they had practiced the week before on the first 70 miles of the course, smart move. This fact made me feel a tad bit better about myself and my chances. Come to find out, Scott was looking to attempt the TNGA on a single speed fat tire bike. Let me repeat that. The TNGA, 350 miles and 56,000 feet of elevation change, on one gear and a fat tire bike. Complete insanity. These two were great individuals, and we passed tactical notes back and forth as we made our way to the starting line. Of course, the real information was coming from those who had actually raced the TNGA before, Josh and Jeremy.

As I was talking with Scott, Tristan and others, we’d occasionally look to Josh or Jeremy to verify or debunk something that we heard or said. What the start is like, limited water along the final 75 miles of trail, what gear everyone is bringing, among many other topics. It was almost an all-you-can-ask buffet once those inside the van realized they were sitting with two completely knowledgeable veterans. I had to grin at this point, because I had already picked the brains of these two dudes about most everything they were asking. It was amazing to be able to train with these two for the previous months, sometimes opportunities like that are more beneficial than you first realize.

So we are moving along at a good pace in the van looking to make it to our final destination in about an hour, when a passenger states that a restroom would be handy. Hmm.. We’re in the middle of nowhere, no public buildings for miles all around us. Someone in our van finally had the light bulb blink, as they recommended we just pull over to the side of the road. I mean, we’re all guys after all, and even worse, we’re all mountain bikers. So alongside a major roadway at this point in time, any passing vehicle would have been witness to 10+ guys spread out alongside the tree line like it was halftime at a football game. As funny as it sounds, I believe this moment was photographed (it’s PG rated).

We continue to make our way to the east side of Georgia on this winding road, and the conversation is continuing to flow (no pun intended). We finally make it to Clayton, GA where we decide to make a snack stop before driving the rest of the 20-25 minutes to our bunks for the night. So we approach a grocery store and the majority of the riders head inside to grab some quick grub. Nothing too much though, as we planned on coming back for some dinner after settling in to our yurts. I grabbed a makeshift salad from the salad bar, and I believe Jeremy did as well. Regarding the other guys, I saw everything from whole subs, cookies and even muffins. Everyone is different. Me, I’m fairly nervous at this point, so I don’t know what will stay down easily. We take a minute to eat outside of the store as the others finish shopping, and then hop back into the van to drive the final miles to our yurts.

I know I had been told multiple times in the recent days and even hours that the yurts are nothing more than a shelter with a ceiling fan and bunk beds. But I didn’t get the full picture until we reached our final destination. There they were. Yurts. Shelters with beds. Awesome.

I picked out a key for the yurt that happened to be right in front of us, closest to the driveway; convenient. We went to unlock the door and claim our space. We being Josh, Jeremy, JP and I, the Dallas crew. We sat down momentarily and began thinking about our bikes and our gear, the two things that were still on the road with the shuttle. So basically we had nothing to do until later that night when the shuttle finally arrived. Great. Now I can just sit here and think about how I want to set up my bike, multiple times. Remember, I like to think a lot. Give me more down time at a time like this, and it’s a recipe for insanity. We find ourselves sitting/laying outside of our yurt just talking straight mountain biking. Those within earshot begin to congregate around our circle, as we again have a couple of the best veterans around and talking about their experiences. At this point, I’m just laying down on the wooden walkway using a full Gatorade bottle as a pillow. Talk about being comfortable. Let’s just say I was preparing myself for what was to come.

Finally, the van drivers decide to start gathering the guys together as they wanted to head out for dinner. Back to Clayton. We come across this nice Italian place (I believe called Mama G’s Italian Restaurant). Check it out if you have the chance, good stuff. About 15 of us roll in to this place like we owned it, and get the awkward stare from most of the people already seated. I mean, let’s be honest, I’d be confused too if I saw a band of brothers walking in where no one looked alike and everyone was wearing some kind of weird shirt and socks. (We were all wearing shorts too, but you can’t get all that weird with shorts).

We sit down at the special fireplace in the back corner (told you we’re special), and again we all start to talk about mountain biking. This place it Italian (my favorite kind of food), so I get something that has never disappointed me; spaghetti and meatballs. Most everyone else gets a personal pizza. Which upon second thought was a very smart idea. Leftovers could be packaged into thin slices and easily packed for the TNGA. You think that’s disgusting? You have no idea. A slice of pizza could mean the difference between happiness and sadness on mile 50, so you just never know.

As we are eating, veteran Scott Thigpen is performing his recording duties; capturing our conversations and I believe filming us at times as well. (There was quite the joke that was said between the Dallas crew, and I believe that’s all that heard it. Hopefully anyway. If it was caught on camera/microphone, oh boy. All I remember is that it was a great joke, and we all laughed). Great story, I know. Then I found $20.

It’s getting later into the evening, and we’re all about ready to head back to the van. Unfortunately, the walk into the restaurant was purely downhill, which means the walk back to the van was 100% uphill. Minor details, but these are things that I remember. And I remember this walk uphill not being one of my most fond memories of this entire trip. We pack into the van again and head back to our yurts for the final time.

Once we return, we notice that the shuttle had finally made its way to the yurts and they were already unloading the bikes along with the gear. Since my bike was bare, it was loaded on a rack on top of the truck. Since this was a rack I had never operated before, I spent a good 5 minutes trying to unlock my bike before I gave up and asked for assistance. Great start to the night!

I got my bike off of the rack and brought it along with my gear into our yurt. Now it was time to make final preparations. I casually looked over at what Josh and Jeremy were doing with their bikes as I started gearing mine up. We all swapped back and forth ideas, theories, strategies and again, stories. As we were loading up, we were greeted at the door by someone looking to find a space in a yurt. This fellow went by the name Monty Marshall. His name was Monty, but I would later find out that people called him Asa. Monty was a TNGA veteran, and was actually a partner to Josh during parts of last year’s TNGA. As soon as they both recognized each other, it was like reuniting two childhood friends. I was glad to see this; another friendly face and another valuable source of quality information.

I mention that much information was swapped during these late evening hours. To back up that claim, here’s an account from Josh:

Someone asked the group in the yurt if they planned on taking a sleeping bag

Josh: Absolutely!

Somebody else: JP says he’s not taking one

Jeremy: Well, I guess I won’t then either

Josh: Shit, you guys aren’t taking them? Damn it. I want mine. Maybe I won’t bring it. JP, someone said you’re not taking a sleeping bag?

JP: Oh yeah, I’m taking mine!

Jeremy: Guess I’ll bring mine too then

Josh: Thank gawd cuz I really want my sleeping bag. So we’re taking sleeping bags then, right?

Kota: I don’t have a sleeping bag 🙁   (That’s a real sad face)

This is how it goes throughout the evening, piece by piece, in a room of 6 guys trying to shed weight off of their already loaded 40+lb bike.

What some of you may not know is that the same conversation took place the year before with Josh, Jeremy and Ray. Except this time, Ray said ‘no bag’, and none of the three guys took sleeping bags. Unfortunately, this lead to both Josh and Jeremy freezing their asses off in a campground bathroom on a 40-something degree night.

Moral of story: every piece of equipment serves a purpose.

After all of the conversations died down, the bikes were nearly fully pieced together, and I was as confident in my choices as I’d ever be, I took a picture of it and sent it to Kevin Dunnahoo. He was asking what my setup was going to look like, so I tried to find signal somewhere on the church grounds.

I decided to go with no weight at all on my handlebars, something that gave me a bit of difficulty on my first trip. Instead, I loaded up my Viscacha (seat bag) with all of my tools, along with two emergency Gatorades that I collected throughout the day. In my frame bag, I carried even more tools, backup parts and the necessary tech pieces that would allow for me to charge my phone and GPS when I needed to. Finally my CamelBak was just that, my source of water, and the storage part carried all of the food I was taking on the race. Beef jerky, nuts, candy bars, snickers, Stinger waffles, Shot Blocks and Pro Bars. Basically, I didn’t want to go hungry. I also was planning to carry two water bottles. Because I wasn’t interested in drinking straight water for 3+ days, I brought some Scratch drink mix and added some of Jeremy’s Raspberry flavored to my Lemon-Lime flavored powder. If you want to be picky, you signed up for the wrong race. I took what I could and made the most of it.

I put the finishing touches on my bike and moved onto my clothing options for the next 350 miles. I ultimately decided on my Big Pig camo bib and white jersey with the black Pig. I chose the bib because it has the best chamois. And if I’m going to be sitting on my saddle for hours on end, I want to be comfortable. To compliment my kit, I decided to go with my newly owned state of Texas socks, which I received from Della as a parting gift. They were perfect for the occasion! However, I realized just then that I had forgotten an important piece of equipment at home, my light windbreaker that doubles as a rain coat. Crap. I dug through my bag to double and triple check that I hadn’t just misplaced it while packing. Still nothing.

So remember the veteran Monty? Well he’s a talker, and he talked about strategy and past attempts most of the night. Coincidentally, we started talking about a windbreaker that he pulled out of his bag. It was exactly like the one I had at home! He followed that comment by saying I could have it for the race. I first declined saying that he needs it more than I do, but he insisted that he had multiple jackets for this race all ready to go. This was a huge boost to my morale.

But as soon as I got that boost, I was brought right back into panic-mode. I realized that the batteries I had for the Spot Tracker were the wrong kind. That’s not something you want to be dealing with the night before a race. I went from yurt to yurt, asking people I didn’t know if they had any appropriate batteries. At the second yurt I came to, a racer was getting ready and seemed to have a huge bag of batteries on him. I told him I’d pay him good money for 4 AAA’s, and it was a done deal. I got back to my yurt, popped in the batteries, and was relieved again for just a moment. I say just a moment, because of course I’m a thinker, and now I had too much open space, silence and time to think about whatever else I was missing.

From what I could think of at this point, I wasn’t missing anything else of importance. I will repeat, at this point.

The guys could probably tell I was nervous as I couldn’t sit still. I walked over to the church house where a few people were still talking, just because. I got back to the yurts to notice that the boys were about to head off to bed for the night. It was then I realized that the start of the TNGA was less than 10 hours away. If I thought I was nervous before, I was kidding myself.

I sat back in the yurt, using my towel as a pillow and having no real blanket (I’m as smart as they come). I again began running through multiple scenarios, but stopped and told myself that I needed to sleep. The last planned time to sleep in a comfortable position in a controlled environment for a few days. I wanted to enjoy it.

That night, we all planned on getting up at 5 so we could eat at the peanut butter buffet and have time to relax while getting ready for the final countdown. I went with the boys over to the breakfast lounge and filled up on bagels, peanut butter, oatmeal and orange juice. It was so satisfying. But due to my nerves, I was careful with what I ate as I had no intentions of bringing it back up before we even started.

My bike got loaded onto the shuttle, along with my excess gear, and I was left with only my kit, my helmet, gloves, glasses and bandana. I hopped into the van with the Dallas crew, and we were about to depart for the starting line which was on the border of South Carolina and Georgia. If it wasn’t go-time before, it was now. During the short ride I tried my best to zone out and look as serious as possible. Not to intimidate people, but to fake myself into thinking that I can do this.

We made it to the starting point, and there was already a large group of riders and supporters there getting ready and watching as we rolled in. I took a moment to unload my bike when able, and started the final preparations. That included making sure my tire pressure was correct (another item on the list of things talked about by the 6 dudes in a room). This was also the time to make sure my GPS and Spot Tracker were working correctly. It seemed as if both were, so I was happy for that fact. However, I was so nervous that I had to walk into (use) the forest twice in the half hour we were there. It’s a weird feeling. I’ve been nervous before for other races and baseball games, but never this nervous.

The organizer of this race, Derek Kozlowski (Koz) counted down the moments until registration closed, and then began with the racers meeting. Pretty basic information, but important nonetheless. Especially for us rookies. In the middle of the meeting, Koz passed the mic over to Jeremy, who took a few moments to pass along the word about Ray. Ray was the reason that the Dallas crew showed up this year to the TNGA. To carry the legacy that Ray built. Jeremy spoke well of Ray, and even those who never knew Ray felt the sincere heartfelt words that Jeremy put forth.

After the meeting concluded, we were given a 10 minute warning. 10 minutes until it all starts. 9 minutes until the hardest race I’ve ever been a part of. At this point, we gather the Dallas crew together to take a picture of ‘before the destruction’. This would be the only picture with all 4 of us smiling and in good spirits for quite some time.

Left to right: Myself, Jeremy, JP, Josh

5 minutes until it’s me vs. the wilderness. 4 minutes until it’s me vs. 350 miles of unrelenting terrain and elevation change. 3 minutes until I literally make a mess in my kit. 2 minutes until most all communication is cut off for 3+ days. Now we’re beginning to line up on the Chattooga River Bridge that divides South Carolina and Georgia. 1 minute until all of my training goes through the window and the real test begins. 30 seconds… 5…4…3…2…1… Screw it, here goes nothing. I clip in, smile at civilization as I pass the last observers on the bridge, and forget about everything that I was once nervous about. I’m not nervous anymore, I’m just doing what I’ve been doing all along; riding my bicycle.

So I begin to pedal just like everyone else, and realize I’m getting dropped fast by those with ‘big rings’ on the flatter sections of pavement we started on. But why? Well, that would all be thanks to a series of conversations that started at a DORBA meeting earlier in the year. At the DORBA board meeting that was held at the Community Brewery (good place for you Dallas folk, check it out), I ran into Josh and Jeremy. At this point in time, I was just beginning to feel out their minds for information regarding TNGA. One topic that came up had to do with gear ratios.

For those who don’t speak ‘bike’, gears come in sets, with the first number representing the number of teeth on the chain ring up front and the second number representing the number of teeth on the cog in the rear. In the simplest of terms, up front, more teeth = harder to pedal. In the rear, more teeth = easier to pedal. So basically 32×18 is harder to pedal than a 32×21. With as much climbing as we’d be doing, any sane person would choose to have a smaller chain ring and larger cogs to work with.

Back to the conversation. Both Josh and Jeremy talked about how they had their gears set up in previous years. Jeremy had first used a 2x (two size options) up front and is now thinking of going 3x. Josh is definitely thinking about going 3x. Me on the other hand, knowing that we have to perform our own maintenance, am a little stuck on the idea of going 1x up front. Easy maintenance and it can be done. The only problem with this would be the size range of my rear cogs. I had the original 36 tooth cog in the rear as my largest, and according to calculations done by Josh and Jeremy, I would need something much larger. That is where Matt Malone came in. He overheard us talking about the gear ratios and threw in his idea about the WolfTooth 42 tooth Big Cog. With a 30 tooth chain ring up front, this could be doable. We continue the conversation, each giving our recommendations and preferences, and months later I end up purchasing both a 42T cog along with a 30T chain ring, both from WolfTooth. A purchase made solely for this race, but it was much needed.

So the race has started, and I’m feeling pretty good other than the fact that I’m being dropped. No worries though, I have the right gear ratio to get myself up all of the nasty hills (mountains). We continue along the pavement for a few miles, going slightly up and downhill for moments at a time, but nothing noteworthy. I fall behind Josh and Jeremy, but I can still see them both up ahead. Pavement turns into gravel, and I’m sensing the first real climb is up ahead. Sure enough, here we go, time to test out the gear for the very first time.

As this is the first climb in the race, and it being relatively early on, there is a line of individuals attempting to pedal up this hill. Some have already experienced a mechanical issue and are dealing with it on the side of the road, some are choosing to walk their bikes already, and some are breathing heavily as I pedal by in my semi-granny gear. I lose track of Jeremy, he’s either too far ahead or around the bend in the road, but I can see what looks like Josh and his bike. I don’t want to say I was nervous, but I was. It was time to race, and I wasn’t sure how the other two guys were feeling or what their plans were. (Of course we talked about strategy the days leading up to this, but that can always fall apart once the starting gun goes off). I did what I could to keep Josh in sight without blowing myself up. Before I knew it, I could again see Jeremy, and Josh was just a few feet ahead of me. Nervous no more.

We reach a small plateau in the middle of the climb, and we notice Scott and Tristan sitting down enjoying a snack. We make sure they’re alright, and continue on. A little further up the climb, we decide to stop for a few minutes to grab a bite to eat. During the short break, we watch as Scott and Tristan pedal on past us. This would happen one more time each during this initial set of climbs. During our next stop – before what Josh called a huge climb – we all dipped our hands into mommy’s medicine cabinet and took some pain pills. My right calf was starting to feel a little abnormal, and the other boys were having minor issues of their own. Better to face the pain up front than have it lingering and getting worse.

Josh, a veteran of the TNGA was indeed preparing himself for what was to come in his own way. Here is his view on the necessities of pain pills:

This is the point in the race where I start taking ibuprofen. In any race like this I start about half way through day 1, and continue about every 4 hours till the finish. Because after half way through day 1 everything is starting to hurt and it’s not going to stop. May as well stay on top of any inflammation. It’s still fun though. 

Half a day down. Much more to go.

We were all happy to notice that there was no huge climb ahead of us, at least as close as Josh had mentioned. Relieved momentarily. We continue down the gravel path and slowly get closer to a place that the boys have no fond memories of; the Darnell Creek Horse Trail. From what I was told, this trail had to be walked in previous years. Only thanks to Koz and a group of mountain bikers were we able to bike it this year. That is, if you consider what we did on the trail, ‘biking’.

The Darnell Creek Horse Trail was nothing short of a crap fest. Literally and figuratively. At this point in the day I was still wearing my sunglasses, which was not a smart idea if I do say so myself. This trail was nothing but extremely loose gravel, dirt, mud, creek crossings, dirt piles dense brush, and yes, you guessed it; horse surprises. The ONLY, and I mean ONLY good thing about this trail is that it was mostly downhill. Downhill, something that I cannot do as gracefully as Josh or Jeremy, so naturally I was falling behind. That wouldn’t normally be an issue, but I had extreme difficulty trying to see anything ahead of me, let alone what was about to smack me in the face. Again, thanks to my sunglasses. I gathered some courage, increased my downhill speed, and went for it. I figure I’d rather crash than lose sight of the boys. And crash I did, right into a dirt pile thankfully. After this, I decided to fold my glasses up and hold onto them with my teeth until we got out of this mess.

The trail was still crappy in my mind until the very end, but I finally made it to the end where I could see both of the guys waiting for me. Ok, that was awesome, can’t wait to do more! We made our way off of the trail and onto pavement. I remember this was about mile 30 or so (yeah, we’re only 30 miles in at this point); because I constantly looked down at my GPS as we were coming up to the peak of a hill on this road. Why? Photographer Scott, Sean and a few others were standing there at the top taking action shots of those pedaling by. I also remember the mileage because we spent a good 5 minutes trying to figure out how to take this picture without stopping.

This is the point where we start noticing how majestic nature really is. We didn’t have the time to stop and take pictures (technically we did, but that’s not what this TNGA was all about), but all I can say is that the scenery was amazing. I’ve never seen green-covered mountains like these. A quote sums it all up.

Jeremy: This is what it’s all about boys…

And it really was. I spent half of the time being mesmerized by the mountains, and the other half just daydreaming. There’s nothing like this over in Dallas, so I tried to take in as much as I could.

We reached a part of the route that crossed a widely used roadway. Sitting right next to the roadway was a post office that Jeremy had mentioned should have water. We all could use a good splash of water on our faces at the very least after what we just went through, so we’re all planning to stop. We’re pacing with another racer as we near the post office, so we let him know what our intentions are. He however declines, stating that he’s all set with his water. Fair enough, we were just looking to help out a fellow rider. We stop at the post office and notice a pile of hoses out back. We park our bikes, grab our water bottles, and fill up. I decide to follow the lead and pour some water on my head to cool down a little. It was the first real refreshing part of the TNGA, so it raised my spirits slightly. Bring on the next part!

For the next few hours, we were spending our time slowly climbing up horrendous hills (or at least horrendous from my perspective of only seeing what I have so far). Constantly thinking about the climbing wasn’t something I enjoyed; it got old after the initial climb soon after the start. Since that point, I began singing to myself, in my own head. For me at least, this was how I was going to take my mind off of the constant pedal strokes, coming around a corner and seeing another steep incline, and to help fight off the desire to just fall off my bike and rest. For the entire first day, I spent a large majority of my time during the climbs singing three words in my head over and over and over and over again. Those three words were ‘this means war’.

I’ve enjoyed listening to music throughout my entire life. Something I’ve noticed about myself is if I listen to a certain song, I will think of the time period in which I listened to it most. So for instance, the Beastie Boys – License to Ill and Rage Against the Machine – Battle of Los Angeles albums would make me think back to high school. Funny side note:  Kid Rocks ‘Bawitaba’ always makes me think of 6th grade when my classmate Travis was the first to know the proper lyrics to the chorus and tried to teach it to all of the guys. Bon Jovi’s ‘She’s a Little Runaway’ brings me back to my early years when my dad would bring me to Buffalo Sabres hockey games at the old Buffalo Auditorium. Anything off of the early Avenged Sevenfold – City of Evil album would bring me back to my days at Jamestown Community College. Oh the glory years. Back to the present, there were newer songs that made me think of more recent happenings. One of these actually happened to be associated with Ray. When Ray was first diagnosed, a new song started playing on the local rock station in Dallas. It was Pearl Jam – Sirens. Now, I’m not usually a fan of Pearl Jam or Eddie Vedder for that matter, but this one song of theirs caught my attention for some reason. I still hear the song being played every now and then.

Back to current times, and here I am saying ‘this means war’ in my head repeatedly. Yes, I in fact wanted to go to war with each and every climb. But that’s not the reason for me singing it to myself. It was the 3 word chorus to one of my favorite bands newest songs that was being played on the radio quite often. The artist: Avenged Sevenfold, the song: This Means War. The entire song is over 4 minutes and I love every bit of it, but these were the only 3 words that needed repeating. It was quite fitting actually.

As we worked our way up and down the mountains, Jeremy had other things on his mind. From the very beginning, we noticed that his Dynamo light (powered by the friction in the hub) was acting a little funky. At first, we noticed it looked to be on when it wasn’t supposed to be. Then a little bit later we noticed that it wasn’t storing the energy like it should be. Hmm. Interesting. Well it’s still daylight, so we’re not too worried about this fact. Yet…

We again find ourselves working our way up a mountain on gravel. Further and further away from civilization; at least that’s what we thought. We see a stream up ahead in the distance, and decide that it wouldn’t be a bad time to stop, cool ourselves down in the water and grab a quick bite to eat. As we approached the stream, we heard multiple gun shots. Not gun shots in the distance, gun shots that sounded to come from a gun less than 50 yards from our location.

As soon as the three of us heard the shots, we all knowingly jumped off of our bikes and got as low as we could without laying on the actual ground. (I can’t speak for Josh in this instance, because I was concentrating purely in the direction the shots were coming from. Josh was behind me at this point, but I assume he got down low as well). Jeremy being in front turned to both of us and asked if we were both ok before turning back in the direction which the shots came from to yell out that we were bikers just looking to ride on the trail.

No response…

Jeremy again shouted in their general direction the same thing; we’re just bikers looking to ride through!

Again, no response… Verbally anyway.

We heard a couple more gun shots go off, and we again quickly duck our heads, as if to aid in our chances of not being hit. Great, how it this going to play out? We’re in the Georgia boonies up against either some redneck country folk or seasoned hunters, and we are unfortunate sitting ducks with the bright colors of our kits easily spotted from a distance. We decided after a few moments to slowly move forward towards the creek. Silence. The kind of silence that we weren’t comfortable hearing given the situation. Were we being slowly stalked? Had they/him/her lost us? Again, silence = too much thinking for me. Not good.

We make it to the water and decide to lay our bikes down on the other side of the creek after crossing it. It’s relatively shallow, so no significant carrying was necessary. After laying our bikes down, we decide to take our chances and just go for it. So we do, and walk straight into the creek, dipping whatever body part we think needs a little refreshing into the running water as we watch and listen to our surroundings. Nothing is happening. I guess that’s as good of a sign than any other at this point.

It had been at least 5 minutes at the time when we start to refresh ourselves in the stream, so we’re starting to collectively feel better about our situation and getting out of their with our lives. Just then, we notice a fellow TNGA rider approaching from the distance. We shout for him to be careful, as we heard gunshots near our location. However, he doesn’t seem phased by this information. Well ok, we tried to help. I’m not going to repeat myself.

This rider passes us, tells us good luck (yeah, good luck to you too buddy, don’t get shot out there), and pushes onward. But before he gets out of sight, he turns around and tells us that there’s a gun range right next to the trail up ahead.

Awesome.

We pick up our man cards, bikes, gear, and continue on. Once again, we reach the edge of the forest and get dropped onto a nice paved road (this is a reoccurring theme; dirt, mud, water, mud, dirt, gravel, boulders, yay pavement! Forest, dirt, gravel, up that gravel, dirt, mud, yay pavement!)

We continue along, and as we hit the peak of one of the following hills, Jeremy states that there is a shop/bar/restaurant on a dock right in front of us. Well, not literally in front of us, as it’s a couple miles away and off of the path. But it’s a shop that has hot food, beverages, chairs, and people. We all decide that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take a 20-30 minute break and grab a quick bite, relax and more than likely down a caffeinated beverage.

We make it to the dock and I immediately sense all of the eyes on us as we roll in and lay our gear down. We park alongside a fellow biker on the patio and ask him how he’s doing. Alex may have been his name? He’s all alone, decently muddy, but all smiles. He finishes his french fries and heads out as we walk into the store in search of something delicious. Jeremy decides to order some pretzel bites with a honey mustard dip, and Josh and I grab a Coke. We also use this time to charge our devices as their patio had multiple electrical outlets.

Up to this point, I was having difficulty with my Spot Tracker. Everyone that was trying to follow me online was unable because my unit wasn’t communicating properly with the satellites (or whatever happens that causes them not to work). Jeremy and I were in the same position, so we were powering our units off and on every time we stopped to see if the re-boot would do anything. Jeremy eventually had success, but I was still not showing up on the maps. I first found out about this when Leslee posted on Facebook saying that they were following Josh, but were not able to find my Spot Tracker on the map.

Because I knew Leslee was following our progress every minute that she could, I got out my phone while we were stopped and called her. We first talked about my GPS and how the power was draining from it fast, and then got onto the topic of my Spot Tracker. I also conveyed to her that we were all doing great, and were just stopped shortly for a snack break. The conversation was quick, but it was nice to hear her voice.

The pretzel bites were good, but they were gone fast. Just like the Cokes. We unplugged our devices, put our wet, sweaty gear back on, and moved forward. It was slightly uphill to get back to the intersection where we went off of the designated trail, but it didn’t matter to me; the small deviation was well worth it. We are back on the right path, and it’s a grassy, dirt path. As we make our way off of the grass, dirt and gravel and onto pavement, Jeremy remembers the road section that we’re on and recalls stopping at a house nearby last year to get some water from their hose.

One thing I learned about Jeremy throughout the months leading up to the TNGA and during the race itself is that he has a tremendous directional memory. This was not the only instance when it came in handy, but it amazed me nonetheless. We pulled up to the end of the driveway of a house that Jeremy said he collected water from last year. It’s about 5-6 in the evening at this point, so Josh takes this break to get his light out of his gear bag and situate it on his helmet. I didn’t have to do this, as I decided to keep it there the entire race. Personal preference I guess you could say.

Jeremy notes that from this point, there will be no chance for water until we reach Woody’s bike shop. This is quite a ways away, so I take time to check my water bottles and CamelBak. I’m feeling confident in the amount of water that I have plus my two emergency Gatorades that I packed, so I decide not to get water. I do however walk up to the house with Jeremy as he approaches the front door. He knocks once, twice, no answer. We look through the window; no one seems to be home. We want water, so we decide that using his hose won’t be an issue. Bottles are filled, we walk away, and everybody wins.

We return to Josh and our bikes at the edge of the driveway to notice that Josh doesn’t have his light on top of his helmet. I ask why, and he says he wants to do it later when it’s closer to dark. Alright. We pack up our gear again and head straight for the next big climb, which was right in front of us. This climb was all gravel and was beating me up. We’re about 10 hours into the race, and this hill is starting to get to me. Not only was it annoying because it was steep; I knew that going into it. I was annoyed because it had so many twists and turns as it went up. Every time I came around a corner, I hoped to see the trail flatten out. That didn’t happen the first time, the second time, the third time, and so on.

Let’s pick up the action at about the 10th instance of this false hope. It’s starting to get dark at this point, so I begin to put my XXX on low, a setting I’d be able to hold for over 20 hours thanks to TrailLED, Grady, and his skills. I picked the XXX from the TrailLED lineup because I needed something I could rely on, was very lightweight and would last long. At this point, Jeremy was fooling around with his Dynamo hub, which didn’t seem to be cooperating. We weren’t necessarily worried before dark, but now that it’s getting to the point of needing a light we’re beginning to worry. Josh also hadn’t put his light on yet, so we looked for a level plateau to stop, eat and gear up on.

Finally we’re to the top of this massively annoying mountain, now we get to start going down. But before we do, we were stopping to take care of our own individual needs. Jeremy had to deal with his Dynamo, Josh had to put his light on, and I had to eat something. We needed this break to refresh ourselves and prepare for what was ahead of us. As we all sit there doing our own little thing, Josh and Jeremy both mention that we haven’t even started the climbing yet. Wait, what?! I somewhat argued the point, saying that we had already climbed for the number of miles they had mentioned earlier. Someone replied by saying: ‘Oh yeah, that’s the mileage for the first part. Now we’ll go down slightly and then climb completely out of the mountain range.’ Fan-flippin-tastic. My positive attitude starts going out the window. On the inside only though (I think), I didn’t want to boys to know that the facts they just laid out just drained me emotionally. Physically I’m feeling fresh as ever, I could pedal the rest of the night just as long as I had my tunes that I could sing to myself. But mentally, I was being tested.

This emotional drain lasted for mere seconds, as I thought back to the only question that mattered: What would Ray do? Ray would sack it up, climb out of this range like a boss and bomb it downhill all the way to Woody’s without looking back or thinking twice.

Just as quickly as that question crossed my mind, I had some words with myself, slapped my own face, and put my game face on. No mountain is going to tell me how to feel. I own this mountain.

We packed up and decided to move onward. By this point, we were subtly pacing with a pretty cool chick. We had been going back and forth with the only female single speed rider in the race this year, Eleanor. Eleanor was very nice, and she paced with us for a while during the climbs. We all took time to chat with her and keep her spirits up as we pushed along, although it didn’t seem like she needed any cheering up, she was naturally good-spirited. She fit in well with us Dallas boys, and I think we were all happy to have someone else to talk to for just a little while.

We continued climbing, and it was becoming more and more difficult to see exactly where Jeremy was. His Dynamo hub was not working, and it was now the time of night where light was needed. Josh and I decided to fall in line behind him on climbs to shine the way. We finally saw what we thought was the peak of the mountain and were presented with a web of trails. Do we go straight, left, right, right-center? What do the GPS and field notes say? We think it’s to the right, so that’s where we start. Eleanor is with us at this point, so if we get lost, all 4 of us are in it together. We go right, up a slight incline and reach another peak where we notice a pickup truck. That’s odd. Jeremy rides up to and past the truck, and immediately comes back to say that this isn’t the right way. As he’s saying that, a couple comes out from behind the truck and tells us that other bikers have come up this way only to turn around and go back down. I don’t know what was going on behind that truck, but I do know that I wanted to turn around and leave.

As we get back to the web of trails, we take right-center, which we think is now the correct way. And it is, thank goodness. This was the portion of the trail that Josh had said to be careful on, and we stopped before descending to go over the safety once again. This upcoming portion was all downhill with surprise boulders, large ruts, and huge dips in the trail; all of which can end your race if you don’t see the obstacle or hit it in slightly at the wrong angle/speed. This put me a little on edge because as I mentioned before, I’m not the most graceful downhill rider. Jeremy was off and running with the limited light that he had, while I picked up my cajones, let off the brakes, and followed the line Josh blazed to the best of my ability.

With my eyesight as bad as it is, especially at night with the wind in my face, I was trying to follow Josh as perfectly as I could. As I mentioned before, one wrong move could mean the end of my TNGA adventure. I put all of my trust in Josh because of his prior experience with this section. He didn’t speak well of it, but he was indeed very knowledgeable; that’s what mattered to me. Here’s how Josh viewed the dangerous downhill section:

This is a narrow, steep, ledge-y, and un-maintained trail. It’s really not all that fun to ride with a load on your bike, and I’m not sure it would be fun even without. But the most interesting thing was that on this narrow technical trail there were bowling ball sized boulders everywhere. They were loose and just sitting on top of the trail which had me wondering why the people who use this trail just leave them sitting there. After the race it was explained to us that the bears in the area dig these rocks up to get at the bugs underneath and they roll down the mountain where some of them come to rest on the bench cut. 

Yes, you heard right. Bears. Now, my nickname in DFW may be Bear related, but I have no family or friends in the Georgia woods.

We sped down the dangerous hill at speeds that sometime had me questioning my sanity, passing boulder after boulder and staring at giant dips in the trail as we go by. I don’t have time to see most of what we are passing, so I continue to concentrate on the line in front of me and hope to reach the bottom soon. The bottom is near, and we come across a stopped Jeremy. He fell a few times on his way down the hill, and is now asking to ride between Josh and I so he has light in front and light from the rear. It will be a team effort getting out of the forest tonight.

As the four of us push along the edge of the mountain, things are finally starting to calm down. Our dangerous descent is over, now all we have to do is pedal our way through the rest of this forest. After the forest I was told that we’d be hitting the road, and following it to Woody’s bike shop for some delicious pizza, drinks, and a hose to clean our bikes!

Be very skeptical when I use the world calm, because it is always followed with something horrible. So what happened this time you might ask? I ran over a thorn and my rear tire started spitting sealant everywhere. Well that’s unfortunate, but I should have seen in coming. We find a nice clearing, pull over and begin the tire swap. What was once tubless is now going to be tubed. I pull out a tube from deep within my Viscacha, and we go to work. The tire is fixed before we know it, but a couple things happened in that short time period. 1) Eleanor took off and pushed on to Woody’s and 2) I noticed that one of my Gatorade bottles in my Viscacha wasn’t fully sealed for some reason, although I hadn’t made an attempt to open it to this point. Either way, there was nothing I could do about it now; the inside of my Viscacha was nice and sticky. It smelled good though, I like the orange flavor.

We pushed on as a team, and finally made it to the road. I was relieved as this meant we were mere miles away from civilization and friendly faces. But more importantly, hot food. We finally reached a bunch of flashing lights on the side of the road, and we all knew what that meant; Woody’s Bike Shop!

Woody’s Bike Shop was a safe haven for TNGA riders. Hot food, bike wash, comfortable chairs, and people to talk to. We got there in time to see the last few pieces of pizza leave the box. But not to worry, the chef was still on duty and offered to cook us all bacon and eggs. Did someone say bacon?? We all accepted, and devoured nearly everything that was handed to us – along with some cookies that were just sitting on the table. Water, sweet tea and Coke were our beverage choices, and I’d like to believe we all had a little bit of everything. Josh and I also took this opportunity to charge our portable batteries inside Woody’s shop as we had already drained them throughout the day.

As we all made ourselves at home for a short period of time, I began thinking about what Josh had told me many times in the recent past. Reaching Woody’s meant that we had climbed over 20,000 feet in the past 15 or so hours. Coming from Dallas, that’s an insanely huge number that I couldn’t fathom reaching in one day of biking alone. That’s like riding Rowlett Creek Preserve 1,000 times. Regardless of how I viewed that fact, one thing remained constant; I made it, I’m feeling good, and there’s still much to be accomplished over the next couple of days.

Recharging wasn’t the only thing happening at the shop however as we were talking strategy regarding when we wanted to leave. Jeremy without a light wanted to stay for the night, Josh wanted to go, and I wanted to take a quick nap. I convinced Josh that taking a quick nap would be beneficial, so we do what we can to cover ourselves from the constant temperature drop, and the mosquitoes. Nothing is working; bug spray seems to only attract the bugs and I seem to be cold no matter what I wrap myself in (the main downfall of not having a sleeping bag. I packed only 4 emergency blankets, which are essentially large aluminum foil wraps).

So as I try to situate myself in one of the chairs up near the shop, I find it extremely difficult to shut my eyes without constantly swatting away bugs and feeling wide awake. Why am I not tired? Was it that Coke and sweet tea that I downed maybe a half hour ago? Yeah, that’s probably it stupid. I get increasingly frustrated and thankfully overhear one of the volunteers mention a sleeping pad that’s set up underneath a popup. Alright, here’s the ticket to sleep-town. It was further away from the shop, so there was less noise and less light. I grabbed the jacket that Monty lent me and tried to grab some sleep alongside Eleanor – who already seemed to be passed out – and Josh, who was having the same difficulty as me trying to get a quick nap.

As I previously mentioned, this was the section where the TNGA became political. There was campaigning going on for seemingly every possible scenario, each with its own pros and cons. What would we decide to do? Or, even, what were we allowed to do? Interesting questions. Let’s allow Josh to answer these:

Woody’s is in the town of Helen, GA and this is where Jeremy and I stopped for the night last year. My goal this year was to make it over the next 2 passes which are daunting but paved and should have been possible by maybe 4am. Kota was on board but wanted a catnap, not a bad idea. I was laid out on a picnic bench (didn’t want to get too comfortable) when Woody told me that he was going to grab some sleep and asked if we needed anything. I was half asleep when I declined. 15 minutes later I get up to see that the shop was closed up which makes sense but I wasn’t thinking about it when Woody talked to me. All 3 of us had stuff charging inside and didn’t have the (lack of) heart to wake Woody up. So I set up my sleeping bag across the front door of the shop so that I would wake the instant he opened up. Disappointing for my goals, which were out the window with a 7 hour forced break, but oh well. The rest of the ride for me would be more about camaraderie, riding hard, and getting Kota across the finish line. 

I wake up to sunlight and a barn that is reopening. Immediately I start thinking about the time we wasted and apologize to Josh for recommending sleep. Side note: We ran into Barnabas at Woody’s, about 5-10 minutes before he left for the next section. He was the eventual winner of the entire race this year. So thinking about our first day, I’m very impressed that we all stuck together, pushed each other and made it to Woody’s as fast as we did.

Sure, we climbed over 20k feet in day one. But day 2 would prove to be much more difficult…

Palo Duro Marathon Race Write Up by Sharon McNutt

After race selfie!

Race write up for the Palo Duro Marathon race. This is my selfie after the race. This Tmbra marathon is 2015, technically my racing age is 50 next yr. This was one of the reasons I wanted to race a full marathon. Turning 50 is a big deal to me after aggressive cancer treatments. So here is my race report.

The morning started out cold, race start was 10:30am. Most of us was overdressed and I quickly realized I was too. At the last minute I took off some layers, and proceeded to the staging area. As usual the morning was glorious, the racers at the Palo duro marathon race are always my fav. Maybe because the canyon is just a beautiful place.

First lap and I wasn’t feeling it. I was struggling mentally. I had to much clutter in my head and I couldn’t get in the zone. I realized I wasn’t drinking enough and quickly adjusted that. By mile 12 I was in the zone, not letting anymore distractions in my head. I was aware of a 2:45 cut off. I had to be back on the course for my 3rd lap before 2:45 or I wouldn’t be allowed to finish the marathon. I have never quit a race, or have a dnf. I don’t really train for racing, I’m just a hippie racer, happy, determined, and my main goal is to set an example for all cancer survivors that there is life after treatments.

As I raced the first lap my mind went back to the 24 hour race we did in June, I missed that 8 mile course, this 16 mile course was a beast. They changed it up from the last 2 yrs, it was less flowy, and there was so many sharp turns that came out of no where. UGH!! Yes, cussing happened 

My second lap came, and I found myself totally in the zone, feeling good and I had my spots down on the course where to do my nutrition. I kept a really good energy level and didn’t bonk at all. I was very pleased with my management of my nutrition. I don’t have a computer or any watch so I have no idea what time it is, how many miles I’ve gone. All I know is I need to make it back to the pit by 2:45. As I’m riding my second lap fear starts to set in that I’m not going to make the cutoff, I know better than to mind f**k myself so I calm down and start to really enjoy the trail. I’m climbing up the climbs faster, the flowing is starting to happen and I’m happy  I stop to help a guy fighting cramps and give him some of my Salt caps, I have plenty and this guy was hurting.

I come into the pit, I make the cutoff by 15 min. One more lap to go, and it’s gonna be the hardest. The last lap is different, it’s a 17.5 mile loop with a new section called Comanche. I get all my stuff and head out.

As I hit the new stuff I can’t believe this shit, OMG, straight up. And when you think you can get on your bike, oh hell no here comes another f**king climb. All straight up climbs, swithchbacks, wtf???  I’m thinking to myself how far up am I going to go. Most of this climbing section was pushing the bike. I wasn’t miserable, and I would stop to take the views in. Spectacular!! I soon found myself along the canyon side and Wow!! Just WOW!! Then it happened, the best part of the race, as I was on my bike (finally) I came upon these 3 guys, they were amazing. Made my day, and prob I will have a smile on my face for the rest of this yr and some into next yr. They had there set up, hammocks, coolers, BEER, yes I said BEER, and they were in the most perfect spot. It was like heaven on earth in the middle of hell. I stopped, chatted, drank some beer, they had water so I topped off all my bottles ( I would of ran out of water if not for them) and told them how f**king awesome they were and how much I loved them!!!! Then came the downside of Comanche. Coming off that section was truly a mother. The switchbacks were tight, and straight down, with the Palo Duro terrain. I have never been on anything like this, 10 times harder than Sansom, 8 times harder than Big Cedar. I found myself and my front tire over a really far drop off one time, I rode those switchbacks down, all the way down. My triceps totally pumped, upper body workout, unbelievable. Wow. I made it down the Comanche section to find an ambulance sitting there waiting on injuries. As the volunteer saw me come off the canyon side he told me where to proceed to, down the road. So I started down the road, and realized I had a car behind me following me. I got to go through a very cold creek crossing, Wooohooo!!! and as I turned in the trail I realized the ambulance was behind me and I was the last racer on the course.

Now to finish this b**ch up. The rest of the lap I was familiar with, hell it was my 3rd time on it. I did really well. I stopped at the bench to the lighthouse view and paid my respects to all of the loved ones that have been taken to soon by cancer, I said prayers for those of us who are still fighting, and I gave thanks for being able to finish this race up, and being healthy enough to be able to race!

It was over all a perfect day, I am grateful for being able to race with such amazing athletes, I saw plenty of them. They are inspiring to me. What a person can do with themselves if they really want to do something is beyond amazing.

I don’t know if I’ll ever do another full marathon, I had fun, I pushed myself to limits that needed to be tested physically and mentally. God is good, really good.

 

After the race smile… 1ST PLACE!
Sharon’s husband Jerry was also killin’ it in the Canyon.

 

TNGA Part 1 – A Difficult 8 Months, and We’re Just Getting Started…

Well… As knowledge gets passed along pretty fast, I assume most reading this already know that no one from DFW was able to finish this year’s version of the Trans North Georgia Adventure (TNGA). I use the term ‘version’ very purposefully, and you will come to know why by the end of this story.

To start this endeavor, we shall look no further than my return trip home from Jamaica this past Christmas. For the past month or so, I had something constant in the back of my mind. One of my best friends and mentors, Ray Porter, was fighting liver cancer. I did not take the initial news well, and I took what I was about to receive even worse. The news was that Ray had passed while surrounded by his close friends and family. The Dallas mountain biking community and other regions were devastated by this news, a legend had passed away. Needless to say, the flight back home wasn’t an easy one.

I spent the next few weeks in a daze, as I’m sure many others fell victim to. Ray’s wife Gina and I connected the following week and ultimately concluded that if I was comfortable, it would mean a lot if I was able to say a few words at his memorial. I accepted wholeheartedly and started thinking about what I could possibly say about the legendary Ray Porter. I put my best foot forward and gave a good recollection of what Ray was to me, how I met him, and how he helped shape me into a better individual both on and off the bike. There were many tears shed before, during, and after the entire event by everyone I was sitting next to. All of the individual speeches touched on a different angle of Ray, and it was purely amazing. However, there was one item I forgot to touch on while I was up on stage.

The most important race in my life up through the speech at the memorial was the Sansom 66 race put on by Kevin Lee and Spinistry. And it just so happened to be the previous weekend.

The Sansom 66 race was originally scheduled for later on in 2013, but got rained out and rescheduled for early 2014. This was a perfect move in my mind because prior obligations kept me from racing on the original date. This was a race of pure heart, determination and the will to finish as it is simply 6 laps (66 total miles) of (in my opinion) the most technically difficult course in the DFW area. Let’s not forget the elevation change in that part of town either. Last year, Kevin Dunnahoo and I raced this as a team and were both whipped after the race, after just 33 miles apiece. This year – with the mechanical help of Matt Malone – I was geared up as a Single Speed in honor or Ray Porter, and soloing this beast.

Going into this race, I wasn’t expecting anything extraordinary. It was my first single speed race and I had been off the bike for at least a week or so while on vacation. After everyone got into their respective grooves, Matt and I began pacing off of each other. Lap 2… Lap 3… Those racing half are beginning to finish… Mike Frazier rolls up to me and hands me the number 1 number plate, the one designated for Ray Porter. I fold it up and put it in my back jersey pocket. Lap 4… Matt and I are still pulling each other, and full distance racers are starting to pull out… Lap 5… We’re getting close to 6-7 hours of race time, this is becoming a marathon of sorts. More racers are pulling out and heading home. As we start the final leg of the 5th lap, I tell Matt that I’m rolling ahead because I’m ‘feeling it’. I didn’t know what ‘it’ was, but it was there, and it was going to push me across the finish line. I came out of the woods, ready to casually start my 6th lap, and I hear from Scott and Susan that Chris Burt is a mere 4-6 minutes ahead of me.

My thoughts: “That’s great, I’ll go catch another teammate and we can push each other to the finish line. But that’s a hefty amount of time to catch up to someone with only one lap left.”

My words: “Awesome, but how far ahead is the leader?”

Their words (and I think this was mostly Kevin Dunnahoo, but I can’t remember): “Chris is the leader, go catch him!”

My thoughts: [My brain couldn’t compute anything after hearing this]

Rather than choose to analyze and come up with a logical thought and plan of action upon hearing the above information, something inside me snapped – something I cannot explain to this day.

Everyone was pushing me out of the pit and back on to the trail. After fueling up, I tap the number plate in my back pocket and head out for my final lap; one that I’ll never forget.

At this point in the race, I was making every climb (which is more than I can say about previous laps), pushing harder (which is strange seeing this was 55+ miles and 7 hours in), and being more verbal on the trail than ever before – with strangely no one to talk to… This was my lap with Ray, and I was going to leave everything on the trail. Just like Ray would.

The entire final lap I felt like a shark to blood, hunting down first place; a feeling I’ve never felt before, at least in this sense. Overcome with emotion, I just let everything out and left it physically and mentally on the trail. I was shouting at myself, random rocks, climbs, you name it, I said something to it. About half way through the lap, I spotted a friendly kit. It was Chris, and I had finally caught up to him. We chatted as we were close to each other, and he let me by as I caught up. Now if I could only finish without any mechanicals. So to make sure there would be no mechanicals on this final stretch, I believe I shouted a few times that I would not be pleased if something happened. Always works.

As I approached the beginning of the 3 final climbs, I came out of the woods to see Kevin Dunnahoo cheering me on. I still can’t believe both he and Nikki stayed to watch the finish. As I pushed through the final 3 climbs (DFW, you know what I’m referring to), I pulled the number plate out of my back pocket and held it in front of me. This was to show that Ray will always finish ahead of me. I did it, my first ever 1st place finish. And this was with the help of Ray.

This picture, taken by Kevin and Nikki will forever live with me, as it is one of the most meaningful races and wins of my short mountain biking career – not to mention one of the most memorable moments of my life. If you’re wondering what RFP stands for on the flask, I’ll give you a hint. R and P stand for Ray Porter. Yes, that’s mine and will always be with me.

Thank you Kevin Lee for such a great event and unforgettable moment.

After this race, and especially after the original unfortunate news, I spent a good amount of time thinking. Not thinking about girls, money, drinking, gambling, video games, work or sports – you know, the things guys my age think about – but about mountain biking and racing. Two things that Ray Porter did, and very well at that. While I was in the midst of this thinking, I spoke with a few individuals on possible endurance training and entering a race that my self from just a year ago would slap the taste out of my mouth for even talking about, the Trans North Georgia Adventure (I will explain shortly). Coming from a short cross country racing background (short sprint races; who can do 16-30 miles the fastest), endurance is at a level that required time and dedication (how far can you bike in 12, 24 hours; how fast can you do 50-100-150 miles). Two individuals stepped up with tips and guidance right off the bat that will remain anonymous. So with the help and training guidance of Matt and Rich, I was ready to take a step away from cross country – sorry Aaron – and enter the world of endurance (which I like to now refer to as the world of ‘fill in the blank’: pain, long weekends, waking the demon, less socializing, loving my trainer, hating my trainer, bring your bike to work day, constant sweat, Charity wondering if I have friends).

So what was this Trans North Georgia (or TNGA for short) that I was looking to give a shot? It is a brutal 350 mile self-supported trek across the North Georgia Mountains, with over 56,000 feet of climbing. Let’s do the math on that. And yes, I really did do the exact math the first time I heard of this race. It comes out to 160 feet of elevation per mile. Some trails in DFW don’t have 160 feet of elevation in one whole lap. As I look at the layout of the race and continue to think about how much of a beating it’s going to be, I throw all of the information out of my head and sign up anyway. Why? Because Ray had participated in this race since its inception, and this was going to be its historical 5th year. Ray should’ve been at this race.

What does one do after they sign up for such a race? To be honest, you don’t have to look any further than what is said above about the world of ‘fill in the blank’. From the time I registered for the TNGA (late January) to the start of the race itself (late August), I don’t believe there was a weekend where I wasn’t on my bike if I was physically able and didn’t have any prior obligations. That’s over a half year dedicated to the bike and constantly bettering myself. For one race. For one reason. Ray Porter.

The great part of it all was that I was training off of a sticky note. When he training schedule was put together, Matt laid out all of the hours on a sticky pad; 29 weeks of riding, of anywhere between 6 and 36 hours a week. Yeah, a day and a half of riding in one week, with a full time job. (Granted, the 36 was scheduled for the week of the 24 hour race, but I’m trying to make a point that it was insane! I was responsible for anything up to 26 during this period.)

Let me give a brief overview of a typical week for me during this time. At the onset, I was employed in a job that was your normal 8 to 5, so my main training time was after work during the weeks and pushing it long and hard…. heh…. on the weekends.  During the week, there was a combination of abusing the trainer early before work and for hours upon end after work. Ask Charity, some days she would come home from work and I’d be spinning on the trainer watching Caddyshack, SuperTroopers, Team America, or a similar movie; something funny and not complicated.

Weekends were when the heavy miles came. If there wasn’t a race, scheduled big ride or trip, (you’ll come to understand shortly) there were miles (hours) to be pushed at the local trails. So yeah, social life steadily declined. (Now that I look back on it, who would’ve ever guessed endurance mountain biking and a PhD program would have anything in common…)

During these months my Alma took a beating; she changed components multiple times, went from single speed to geared, back to single speed (depending on that weekends endeavors), ticked me off at times, surprised me occasionally, sometimes wanted to go fast, and at other times wanted to suck up the chain. Many things happened during those 7 months, but ultimately, she gave more quality miles than I could’ve ever asked for, and I’m forever thankful for Roger Nutt selling me the frame a few years back.

If you’re wondering why I’m referring to my bike as Alma or she, it’s because that is her name. My bike is molded around a 2012 Orbea Alma carbon fiber frame. With all of the adventures we’ve been on and all of the time I spend with her, I figure she should have a name. Hey, I mean she always came home at night, stayed at my place, never complained… verbally, helped me reach my goals and gave me company on long rides and long nights.

Enough about my girlfriend though, (I would joke with my teammates that by bike was girlfriend # 1) let’s get back to the actual act of biking. Sure, riding every weekend is great and all but what will it do for me in the end if I don’t push myself at some competitive endurance races? My longest race before this decision was a combination of the Sansom 66 and 24 Hours of Rocky Hill, as a 2 person team and 4 person co-ed team. So 66 miles over about 9 hours, 80 miles over 24 hours and 60 miles over 24 hours. Satisfactory sample sure, but nothing close to 350 miles and 56,000 feet of climbing. It was time to sign up for some races that would test me both mentally and physically.

I immediately asked for guidance from Matt Malone and Rich Szecsy (who will still remain anonymous) on where I should be looking. After everything had been said, it was decided that I was going to participate in 24 Hours in the Canyon in Palo Duro Canyon as a Solo Single Speed 12 Hour racer and two weeks later race at 24 Hour Mountain Bike Nationals in Gallup, New Mexico as a Solo Single Speeder. Sounds like fun to me, and since they were both in June I had some time to prepare.

To keep myself sane and to ensure there was both physical and mental progress being made as I trained, I made sure to schedule other races and rides with close friends and teammates over this time period.

February was when the Big Pig annual Spring Training Trip happened, and the Highway 27 Fishing Village was once again home to 25+ Pigs and their bikes for an extended weekend. A good number of Arkansas miles were biked here. However, the highlight of the trip was the cover of Willie Nelson’s ‘Mammas Don’t let your Cowboys grow up to be Babies’. And no, that’s not a typo.

                  

March was the month of my first 100 mile ride, and I can thank no one else other than Shannon and Adam for the invite. Although Matt and I were left in the dust at times on the flats, I now look at that ride as a great point in my training. About half way through we came across a dead pig on the side of the road. And about 20 feet further down we found roses… Coincidence? I think not.

Also in March, I was afforded the opportunity to ride out to Austin with my good friend (and Texas mom) Tara. Not only was the ride to and from Austin entertaining and well worth the trip, we got to explore the suburbs and a little bit of Walnut Creek on bike (which was a trip in itself). A great time all around. Well, except for the whole part where I went to pedal casually with no hands on the flat pavement and endo’d. Yeah, flat pavement. Body over the handlebars.

April came around and the Red River Riot was the race to be looking at for someone in my shoes. Another one of Kevin Lee’s ass kickers, this race had climbing, gravel, and open stretches that’ll make one wonder why they signed up for such a beating. And a beating it was, my legs took the worst of it. Not sure what it was exactly, but I didn’t have it in me to finish this day and only finished about 75 miles (if I remember correctly). Physically bested on this day, but not defeated. There were larger battles to fight.

May continued the trend of me not being able to finish. Matt conned me into signing up for Syllamos Revenge, and I thought it would be a good test of how far I’ve come to this point. It was only 50 miles of Arkansas country trail, but it was 95% single track and 100% hard as ever. Unluckily for us, this was an exceptionally wet season in this part of Arkansas, and my bike, well, she let me know how unhappy she was with all of the mud and my lack of regular maintenance as of late. Continual chain suck and a busted chain pulled me out of the race. Even though Matt stopped and threw me a master link so I was able to fix my chain on the trail, I was unable to get over the fact that I needed to stop every 2 minutes to rearrange my rear derailleur. I accepted the fact that I was mentally defeated and dropped out at the first checkpoint. I did not take this fact well, and I’m sure if you asked any of my teammates who were at this race, they would strongly agree.

In less than 2 months, I’ve been both mentally and physically defeated. Was I ready for the bigger races that were to come? Was my training working at all? These and hundreds of random questions ran through my head in the following days, and weeks. But the one question that trumped the others and the only one that meant anything to me at this point was… What would Ray do?

The latter question stuck with me for a while. What would he do? Certainly not dwell on the past, right? I will admit that the unfortunate series of events at Syllamos stuck with me for a while, but I tried to push it aside the closer I got to the back-to-back 24 hour races in June. There were some serious miles to be pushed in the next month, and I needed my head cleared.

The first race of the two happened to be 24 Hour in the Canyon in Palo Duro Canyon. For this race, Rich told me to take it easy for 12 hours and use it as a warm up for 24 Hour Nationals 2 weeks later. I took that advice as best as anyone with a competitive nature could, I think? The night before, I rigged up my single speed (one gear, cannot switch to easier/harder gears) and my helmet with the sterilizer – also known as the Halo from TrailLED – and took 1st overall in the hill climb out of Palo Duro Canyon. Yes, I beat all of the geared guys as well, just like my fellow teammate Matt did the year prior.

Getting to the race itself, I had no competition. As in, I was racing against myself. So I made a goal to reach 100 miles in 12 hours. I reached it, and got ready for Nationals.

On the way to Nationals, let’s just say I took a much needed vacation with two of my good friends Matt and Tara. We spent over a week traveling through New Mexico, Colorado and Utah exploring the best trails and sights around. Awesome trip, awesome people. Every minute was a new adventure, and I got to ride the best trails in the US – Slickrock, The Whole Enchilada in Moab, UT and Phil’s World in Cortez, CO.

               

When the vacation ended, it was time to go to work… On the trail that was. Thanks to all who were present at this event, it was by far the best race I have been a part of. Big Pig and Co. were a hit at the race, both on and off the race course. In short, everyone present was well aware of what was going on at the Big Pig / TrailLED tent. They knew whenever a Big Pig racer was headed out for another lap or coming in, we got pressured into eating bacon on the trail because of our team name, and I think everyone will forever remember the ‘Eye of The Tiger’ incident. See my previous write-up on the front page of the Big Pig site for a full story on that. You’ll want to at some point if you haven’t already.

I got 170+ miles in 24 hours, and ended up 9th overall for Solo Single Speed at the USAC 24 Hour Nationals. I’m still amazed to this day. This whole story, like the ‘Eye of The Tiger’ incident, can be read in my previous write-up.

               

With the big races completed, and completing them without any mental or physical breakdown, it’s full steam ahead to the Trans North Georgia. Yeah, not so fast. Let’s backtrack a few months. The setting: a DORBA monthly board meeting at the Community Brewery. The reason: the reincarnation of a local race.

To backtrack even further from this moment, we’d find Rich, Mike Frazier and I sitting at Rudy’s in Allen (BBQ joint). Topic of conversation: Judgement Day 2014. After the original news broke about the passing of Ray, I fully invested myself in the world of endurance. Before too long, I found myself reading a story from Rich on the Big Pig site on his battle with Judgement Day a few years back; I was interested in learning more about this event.

For those who don’t know what Judgement Day is (in DFW anyway, in a mountain biking sense), it is a day in a warmer month in the Dallas area where riders are challenged to ride close to 100+ miles across numerous DORBA trails. A basic Judgement Day would look like this: wake up at 5am, get to the first trail at 6-6:30am, start riding at sun up, finish that trail (somewhere between 8 and 15 miles), hop in your vehicle and drive to the next designated trail, ride the whole outlined loop, and drive to the next trail upon completion, and so on and so on until you reach the final trail. Given that there are now close to 30 trails in the DFW area, each Judgement Day is different and each ‘event coordinator’ can put their desired twist on that years JD.

Let’s fast forward to the DORBA meeting. The ball was rolling at this point on Judgement Day, and I had permission from the DORBA President to present the idea to the general public. It was a hit! Those who knew of it I could see smirking as the words hit their ears; they knew what was coming. But one moment of that meeting that will forever live with me, thanks to Shawn McAfee, is my casual statement that I am ‘all about endurance’. Although true, I have not been able to shake that title to this day. Shawn:”Ryan Kota is all about endurance, so he thinks you should do Judgement Day.” This was one of many versions that happened to be shouted in public.

Thanks to many of my Big Pig teammates and all 10 of the DORBA trail stewards I worked with for the following months, Judgement Day came and was a huge success with the mountain biking community. To top it all off, the JD Shirts were amazing (Thank you Leslee and Legacy Merch!), and will be worn for years to come.

Judgement Day for me started out at the front gate of Northshore, where I was happily greeting the entrants to this ‘day of riding’. I say this because I had to actually put on my executive adult hat when I was approached by ‘the gate keeper’ of Northshore. A number of entrants decided to tell the gate staff that this was a race. Question. Have you ever been in a conversation when your stance is objective and theirs is subjective? That’s what this one amounted to in case you were wondering. Lesson learned. Start JD anywhere but Northshore next year. Sorry Pete.

After greeting 100+ riders, I kitted up and started by day long journey with the Matt duo of Malone and Kocian. We blazed through Northshore, luckily connected with a local to make it through the maze known as Horseshoe and dipped down into Arlington and coasted through River Legacy. This was the time when Kocian unfortunately had family business to attend to. It was great to ride with both of them up to this point, but now it was down to just Malone and I. And we were chasing the leaders of the pack – Rich, Randy and Vern.

We arrived at Cedar Hill State Park just as they day was heating up. Not to worry though, this trail only had 12 miles to push through. About ¾ of the way through, I begin to hear a familiar voice (loud noises). It was Leslee, who was being escorted by her husband Josh (an important figure once we get to the TNGA). We come out of the exit in good time and are ready for the beating of a lifetime at Big Cedar.

Side Note: When I was working with the trail stewards, I specifically worked with Ray and Shadow (Paul) at Big Cedar and told them to come up with the most difficult 15 miles imaginable. What we got, and what only 10 were able to push through the entire day, was a living hell.

Matt and I roll up to Big Cedar ready to take on the beast. We’re about 3-4 miles in, and we’re both feeling it; a horrible combination of heat, direct sun, cramping, and trying to pedal our bikes up trails not even suitable for hikers. In fact, most of our time going in the ‘up’ direction is spent off of our bikes, and pushing them. When we hit an intersection that lead back to the parking lot, about 4-5 miles in, Matt and I stop to talk about what we’re going to do. Matt is leaning toward pulling out, as the heat is absolutely draining him. I want to push on. Of course I’m in pain, but I cannot be defeated by my own creation. We eventually part ways after a long talk, and I am now by myself for the remainder of the day.

It is somewhere between noon and 1 in the afternoon at this point, so it’s painfully hot out. My body feels every degree increase. I have a little over 10 miles to go, and the first 4 miles took us about an hour. This is going to be awesome. I push myself up every hill as far as I can before my legs give out, and this happened about every 2 minutes or so. As I continued on, I came across a group of bikers that had all decided to bail out because they had a teammate who was severely dehydrated. Smart move. However, there was one rider who wanted to continue, but didn’t have any water left. I offered him my full bottle without even thinking how much longer I have left to finish this trail. Luckily, he respectfully declined.

As I once again continued, I came across many riders on the trail. Frank Etier was one of the riders, and I remember meeting him at the entrance to the Emerald Creek loop. I tried to keep the spirits high of the other riders I came across, but it was a tough task seeing that I was close to hallucination myself.  The closer I got to the finish, the more my body responded to me wanting to push it a little bit harder.

Once I reached the glorious finish, I was greeted by Shadow and his wife Suzanne, who offered me ice pops and a cold towel. Big Cedar was complete, but I still had 5 more trails to go.

Matt (who is now my driver for the remainder of Judgement Day) and I pull up to Boulder just as Rich and the gang are pulling out. We stopped alongside each other for a brief second, so that Rich could tell me just how much he enjoyed Big Cedar. I will not repeat what was said as it will remain a glorious sound bite for those in the two vehicles. Spoiler alert: he loved it. With a profound passion!

Boulder was an easy 12 mile push and the final trail in ‘the hood’, Oak Cliff Nature Preserve was an easy 8 miles. At this point, I’m feeling good and now we’re on to the final 3 trails, which all happened to be relatively flat.

Rowlett Creek Preserve was first on the list. After we pulled up to the trail head, we spoke with the trail steward, Jack Sparkes, for a bit. He’s an all around great guy, and mighty helpful throughout the planning process. Due to the conversation, I started a little behind Mike Frazier. I don’t want to say I was pushing to catch him, but with the design and flow of RCP, I think both Mike and I turned it into our own race track. As we finished RCP in record time (I’d like to think we both KOM’d the RCP segment of Judgement Day anyway), we headed to Harry Moss. This trail we decided to ride together as it was another crazy maze, but not as confusing as Horseshoe from earlier in the morning. Finishing this trail was easy, but we both needed our lights for the entire loop, as we were pushing 9-10 at night. We were almost finished; 93 miles down, 11 to go. On to LB Houston!

Once we got to the trailhead at LBH, we were greeted with a Big Pig party. Tara Malone, Susan Dean and their entourage, along with Scott Holmes (who brought the wub) were present and enjoying the night. At this point, Tara and Susan had already completed Judgement Day on Single Speeds. Let me repeat that, single speed. My hat was off to them, and still is. Mighty impressive ladies. Time for Mike and I to finish what we started. But we weren’t going to do this alone. David Robison was in town and wanted to ride with us and see us to the finish line. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for riding with us for those 11 miles, because he was essentially our spider web catcher. If there was a spider web across the trail, he’d end up catching it with his face.

We ended up finishing something close to 11 miles (don’t ask how we got it, we rode the trail backwards for a while I believe). Once we crossed that finishing line, I knew my day was over. It was about 11:30 at night and I finally conquered the monster that I had created; 105 miles of DFW trail in one day. I was satisfied. About this time, Leslee rolled up with her OCBC entourage. She was doing the Expert route, and was about to finish it! More props! Nicely done to all.

Food was the only thing I could think about, so a group of us headed over to Waffle House for a good ole midnight snack.

All of this is good and productive, but the TNGA is about bikepacking. I have absolutely no experience with bikepacking. That seems to be a problem. And it was a problem, until I was afforded the opportunity to travel out to Ray and Gina’s cabin in Mena Arkansas with Josh Daughtery.

We had been planning this trip for some time, and we were both finally on the same schedule and able to escape from work simultaneously. What was this trip about, one might ask. It was a planned 3 day bikepacking trip throughout the Arkansas wilderness with nothing but our bikes and the contents in our bags.

As we were sitting in the cabin and loading our bags, I was asking question after question. “Do I bring this”, “What do you think about that?”, “Can I borrow that?”, “Oh cool, what does that do?” were just a few of the many questions I asked in the process of fully loading my bike up for the very first time.

Trying to sleep the night before was nearly impossible, as we were in the middle of one of the most severe thunderstorms I’ve ever witnessed. It was awesome, don’t get me wrong, but it would’ve been better if it was in the late afternoon on a Sunday where I could sit back and enjoy Mother Nature. This was 1-4am the night before I was about to bikepack for the very first time. Great way to warm up to the idea of loving Mother Nature.

Day 1 wasn’t all that bad… You know, except for endo’ing on a steep, narrow, rocky, overgrown downhill, and walking up in the same conditions right before then. And losing one of my flip flops in the first 10 miles. And getting dropped by Josh on every gravel downhill (it’s scary at first, trust me!). And getting slapped by tons of brush. However, Day 1 was saved by the convenience store that we hit about 15 minutes before it closed. ‘Convenience store’ is used loosely ; it was located in a very small town that was lucky to even be considered a town. Here is where I first became thankful for the joys of a whole can of Pringles, Gatorade, coke, water, and an ice cream sandwich. Yes, all in one sitting. It was about 5-6 in the evening. So I guess that was Day 1 dinner. We ended up setting our tents up in a place that did not allow for tents to be set up. And I just happened to have forgotten the name of the place. Shucks. We got rained on this time, but we both luckily had rain cover built in to our tents.

Day 2 came, and it was time to make it to the Highway 27 Fishing Village. Remember that name from earlier? You should, it’s the home of the annual Big Pig trip. We had some tough miles to put in with all of our gear on our bikes. So day 2 couldn’t possibly be worse than day 1, could it? Why yes, yes it could.

No more than 10 miles in, we are looking at our GPS trackers and scratching our heads. So we’re supposed to cross these rapid-like waters? Yes we are.

This was a 2 person effort, as the rapids were rolling pretty fast and one wrong move could end badly. (And the water was not as shallow as it seems from the above picture.) This teamwork took place two more times as we crossed this river at multiple points. Then we finally hit the Womble trail. The lovely Womble trail that is one of the best single track trails in Arkansas. However, it was not home free, as much of the trail was overgrown at this point in the year. Face slappers, knee slappers (no, not funny jokes), leg scratchers, arm grabbers were everywhere. I’m quite allergic to poison ivy and had no Zanfel on me, so this was taking my mind off of the fun of it all.

We finally made it to the Fisherman Village and decided to spend the extra buck and get a cabin to sleep in. The forecast was ominous and let’s face it, I wasn’t in the best of moods. The owners cooked fresh spaghetti for us, and we bought a couple candy bars, a couple bags of chips and many drinks on top of that. The sleep was great, but we now had an 8- miles day ahead of us to get back to Mena.

Day 3 was a weird one. We hit an ATV trail about afternoon time, and were running low on water and food. This is because we relied on another small convenience store, which was now under renovation. This is a spot that Josh, Jeremy and Ray had been to before, and is also the location of the infamous ‘Obey the Pig’ graffiti came from.

Side story regarding the graffiti… 2 years ago as the Big Pigs were planning for their first annual ‘Screw Cancer’ Endurance Race at Tyler State Park, this image was given to us by Gina Porter. We decided to use it as our logo. Once we went public with our decision to use this image, I got a text message from a number that I didn’t have in my phone. It said something to the effect of ‘You need to pull down that image of the pig before you get sued. That is my image, and you do not have authority to use it.’ One, I’ve never received a message of the like, and two, I was nervous for myself and my team. I went back and forth with this anonymous texter for a little while until I had enough. I took a screen shot of the very first message and sent it to my legal counsel – also known as Rich Szecsy. No more than 5 minutes later, Rich replies with a simple line of 3 words (‘I love you’ doesn’t count). Those words were: That’s Ray’s number.

Well done sir, I tip my hat to you Ray.

Back to the afternoon of day 3. This was the hottest part of the day, and we were tackling one of the most brutal climbs of the trip, with little water and decreasing hope. We made a stop about half way up to rest and continued once we felt a little better.

We made it out of the seemingly never-ending ATV trail, and it was time to make a decision. The veteran of the group, Josh, made the call to go left and down the hill into a town where he remembered there was a church that we could refill our bottles at. We hit the bottom and begin to coast… No church… Oh boy, what now? Desperate times call for desperate measures. We swallowed our pride and knocked on the first door that we came across. And we lucked out, for the first time on the grueling day 3.

We were met at the front door by a wonderful elderly lady and her daughter. We simply asked for water out of their hose, but they insisted on handing over 8 water bottles to us. Ice cold water bottles; 2 of them we even strawberry flavored. We sat there, drank the water, refilled our CamelBaks, and had great conversation with these two ladies. I would guess that we were there for close to a half hour, and it was certainly a refreshing half hour to say the least. We said our good-byes, thank-yous and were ready to finish out the final 20 miles of our trip back to Mena.

This trip was certainly difficult, and it tested me in every way imaginable. Horrible weather, questionable trail conditions, rationing water and – let’s face it – 3 days in a row was something completely new for me. To this day, I’m not certain if I came out of that trip confident or scared. Maybe a little bit of both.

At this point, it was getting significantly closer to my departure date; leaving DFW for Tallahassee and pursuing my PhD in GSD (inside Big Pig joke). The Malone’s took it upon themselves to throw a going away party for me, which included biking. And it was awesome; having all of my teammates show up meant more to me than I can express in words. When Rich and Tara are present at the same social gathering, you know something is going down. The Big Pigs are my Texas family, support system and I couldn’t ask for a better group of solid individuals to associate myself with in and out of the biking community.

After the Big Pig Party, it was time for OCBC to throw their ‘going away’ party for me. The OCBC way of celebrating is by attending a spectacular race in Arkansas, while staying in a gorgeous cabin. The weekend was filled with fun, great friends and most importantly, racing!

The race was only 16 miles, so it was a sprint to the finish – something I wasn’t used to at this point in my training. I pulled a 5th place victory out of nowhere in the Arkansas State Championship Series, so I can’t necessarily complain.

Side note: In the picture below, the bearded fellow wearing the green helmet. He out-sprinted me at the finish just seconds after this picture was taken. He took the lead at the very end and won by mere inches. I found out later he was in my category. 4th place was THAT close.

            

It is at this point where I am beginning to find time to ride with Josh and Jeremy a lot; two veterans of the TNGA, and who have both raced with Ray in this event. During every ride, we’re constantly talking – except for when we’re going uphill of course – with knowledge getting passed around left and right. It was great to be around those two during my final months in DFW, they’re packed with bikepacking knowledge and experience. Jeremy is the mastermind behind the route planning, and I found that out very quickly. Josh is a great friend to have and will shoot everything to you straight. I learned so much in so little time from these two, and for that I am extremely thankful.

This is one moment in our training that I would like to shine light on. The scene is the three of us climbing a grueling hill that we’ve been repeating for some time on this given day in a series of hill repeats. We break the silence, and the topic we begin talking about is weight. Josh and I are two smaller guys, so of course climbing comes easier to both of us. Jeremy is in the midst of explaining how much harder it is for him to climb compared to the two of us. I felt like lightening the mood, so I said – as I fast-pedaled ahead of him with ease and a cruel smile, and turned around so he could see the expression on my face– “Being skinny means I can do this”. I never heard Jeremy laugh so hard, especially in the middle of a climb.

So finally, it comes time to depart for Florida, but I still have one day left in Dallas. So what does Matt have up his sleeve? He decided to take me on my first road ride ever on my last day in Dallas. I have 3 words for road riding, and again, it’s not ‘I love you’. It was a tough ride; a route that is considered the “South Ride” for those out there in DFW who speak roadie.

Florida comes and Tallahassee is quite welcoming. Warm, but humid as ever. Might as well use this to my advantage, North Georgia isn’t going to be all that different in just a few weeks.  While I settled in to Tallahassee and before school gets going, I was able to find time in my day to bike around my development in search of the most elevation possible. Yeah, RCP has more elevation than my development. However, I was lucky to have an inside man in Tallahassee that was ready to give me a tour of the north-side trails.

Mathew Bull and I became acquainted thanks to an amazing woman I met on my plane ride down to Tallahassee back in March, Aletheia. Mat showed me the trails north of I-10, which I believe were Red Bug, Columbia, Power Line and many others that I cannot remember the name of. We got in a good 20 miles that night, and I was glad to be able to hit some Florida dirt before my trip to Georgia.

The day before the day of driving to Georgia was finally here, and I still had many things to take care of. First were my class syllabi for the classes I was going to teach this semester, second was my bike which needed a new bottom bracket, rear derailleur alignment and complete adjustment, along with my back tire being trued, and thirdly was sleep. Regarding my bike, I was fortunate to pick the right bike shop in town, Sunshine Cycles, who I had visited many times before this emergency trip. They took care of my bike quickly, and I was finally ready for TNGA. I went to bed about 11, and had my alarm set for 4am.

I had 7 hours of driving ahead of me, and I had to be to the Mulberry Gap to meet the OCBC crew by noon so I could get shuttled to the starting line. It was about to get real.

 

Part 2 will be coming soon. I would like to spend as much time and effort on the actual race as I did everything leading up to the race. And for that to happen, it may be a while. So instead of holding onto this for months, I figured it would be neat to put this out in 2 parts. I hope you enjoyed reading through this and are looking forward to the second part as much as I am!

24 Hour National ChampionshipSS – Once in a Lifetime Experience

Earlier in the year, Rich made a comment about this 24 Hour Nationals being the last of its kind. At this point in time I was already looking for endurance races to throw my hat in, and this one seemed like a good idea. I’ve participated in two 24 hour races by then, but on 2 person and 4 person co-ed teams. It was time to cut the umbilical cord and see what I was made of. It was about this time when Matt Malone put a training schedule together for me in order to prepare myself for this years Trans North Georgia, and 24 Hour Nationals fit perfectly into the schedule. Commence training… And putting a ding in my social life during stretches…

Fast forward to more recent times, and my training was finally about to pay off. Or so I thought. Matt convinced me to give Syllamos Revenge a try. Aaand that’s about all that needs to be said about that race.

A couple weeks after that, it was time to get down to bidness (or business if you prefer). 24 Hours in the Canyon. According to Rich, with this race being two weeks before Nationals it should be taken easy and for only 12 hours. Done. But I just had to have some fun the night before the race in the hill climb out of Palo Duro Canyon. Luckily I was able to get Shawn McAfee to join in. And boy did Batman have some fun with it. Batman, as in Shawn dressed up in a Batman cape and chose to speak in the Christian Bale Batman voice at certain times. “Where is he” became the phrase of the night. We both went at it singlespeed, and had a blast before, during and after the event.

If you haven’t seen the pure awesomeness that is Grady’s Halo, here’s a pic that was taken of the beginning of the race.

The hill climb was great, and I had a fun time mowing down all of the geared guys. But I don’t think I would have done nearly as good as I did or pushed quite as hard if our entire DFW crew wasn’t camped out sporadically up the winding entrance road. Thanks guys! (Oh yeah, I smashed Matt’s previous SS record by nearly 30 seconds, But shhhhh!!)

During the actual race, I played it calm and gave it my best shot. I had no one to race against, so I made a goal to get at least 100 miles within the 12 hours. I was able to accomplish this, but not without a few memorable moments. Memorable moment #1 – Pacing with Dana, with him being at least 100+ miles ahead of me at any given point. Thanks for letting me draft, you helped me push at times when I was questioning my ability. Memorable moment #2 - Having Jerry come by me on my last lap cursing cancer at the top of his lungs. Something inside me snapped at this point (cancer does f*cking suck), and I felt like a fresh rider, reeling his wheel in for at least a couple miles. Memorable Moment #3 – Bringing in Kevin for the 2nd place finish. Kevin started to have stomach problems before I started racing at midnight. I wasn’t happy to see this, I never like it when a teammate is down. During the final miles of my last lap, I came across a bike that looked very familiar, and it happened to be Kevin’s. I stopped at the water station to talk with him, and tell him how I was really feeling (like crap). We pushed each other through the final 3 miles, which solidified his 2nd place finish and got me over 100 miles. A much needed trip across the finish line for both of us. Memoriable moment #4 - DFW in the HOUSE!

There were clearly WAY MORE DFW riders at this race, and y’all rocked!

Now came the week and a half long vacation (special thanks to my boss), followed by Nationals. So I get to relax for a week and then kill it fresh as ever at Nationals, right? Oh heck no! Time to hit up some of the countries top mountain bike trails in Colorado and Utah!

Phil’s World, Cortez, CO – Check

The Whole Enchilada, Moab, UT – Check

Slickrock, Moab, UT – Check

                               

The sights I saw during this week and the experiences I had on and off my bike I could never thank Matt and Tara enough for. Absolutely amazing, and I hope I am able to go back again.

Now on to the race that’s been on my mind for quite some time. 24 Hour Nationals in the Enchanted Forest. Although I was nervous and constantly thinking about this and that, i knew it would be a great time simply because of who was going to be there racing and supporting. Lets see, we had the Fraziers, the Daughertys, Rich, Grady, the Malones, and the Birds. Big Pig and OCBC. Love these guys!

On Friday, I spent most of my time talking with the guys, trying to keep my mind off of what was to come. We touched on Judgement Day, TNGA, Josh’s bad assness, the fact that we had a Dallas USAC official there that we all knew, how mediocre the spaghetti was, how Rich and the Fraziers had a shower back in their hotel rooms, the course layout (thank you Leslee, Matt and Tara for doing recon), how stupidly we were deciding to gear ourselves (at least Frazier, Rich and myself), and the forecast for the race.

This continued for the most part on Saturday morning, but a few new topics came on board, including Rich bringing back the ‘windmill’, our gangster bandanas, and still gearing ourselves pretty stupidly. We went through the normal racers meeting, got told by USAC what we could couldn’t do, and made our way down to the start line. No turning back now, it’s go time.

The first lap was all about finding my pace, or so Matt said. Thinking about that and monitoring my heart rate went out the door when I dropped my snickers and apple sauce packet within the first 4 miles. Keep in mind, these are 19.1 mile laps. I started freaking out a little bit. To compensate, or at least help as much as I thought it could, I switched my bottle of water and Skratch as fast as I could from my back pocket to bottle cage. At about mile 6, I came across a Big Pig jersey. It was Rich wrenching on his bike. He had everything under control, but that reminded me that I don’t have a multi tool on hand in case I need it. I make it into the pit after the first lap in a little over 1:30. Too fast of a pace if I want to survive all 24 hours, especially for not eating. I played it smart and took in some calories before I went back out.

Then came the second lap. One would think the second lap would be nearly the same as the first lap, right? Well not when you skip about a mile and a half of the course on the first lap. I’d like to call the second lap, the Justin Beiber lap. Yes. The Justin Beiber lap. Not even a quarter mile in, while climbing out of the starting area (I’ll go over my love for the climbing in this course shortly), I came across a setup that resembled the front lawn of a frat house. Stray lighting, weird looking couches, beer. And a framed poster of Justin Beiber. I wasn’t even 20 miles in at this point, so I couldn’t have been delusional just yet. A decent sized head shot poster of Justin Beiber was hung up, and he was staring at me. So I stared back. This lap hurt a little more, because my gearing wasn’t optimal for the amount of climbing I was doing. 34×20 at this point. I cranked out a slower lap and had Matt change my gearing when I got back in. I moved to 34×21, slightly easier. Rich put it into perspective after the race. You’re climbing for about 3 miles back to the start, and then you have 7 miles of 80% climbing out of the pit. It sucked. Big cajones.

Every time I came into the pit, I asked Leslee how Josh was doing. He’s going to be one of my TNGA brothers in a couple months, and I have much respect for his riding ability. I also inquired about how Rich was doing. Seeing him on the side of the trail is not where I wanted to come across him, at any point.

Lap three is where things got interesting. And by things, I mean my stomach. I was feeling great on the bike, but for some reason was not able to fully crave any of the solid food that I brought. Apple Sauce it was. Fine by me. I came in after this lap, and I believe this is when Alicia and Leslee gave me magnificent massages. Mike and Josh, you guys are some lucky dudes. I nearly fell asleep. I went out with a slightly upset stomach and without eating much. I wasn’t eating or drinking much during the laps at this point, and my pit crew knew it. During this lap, Rich and I rode (walked) together for a while, and we talked to each other about how shitty each of us felt. I’ve always watched Rich race from afar, and it was an absolute honor to race with him at the very last 24 hour Nationals race. We were both doing pretty bad, food-wise, and we were both looking after each other. (I called out a gear change to Matt for Rich a lap prior, and Rich called out my upset stomach after this lap for when I came in.) We’re Big Pigs, that’s what we do.

After I came in after my fourth lap, I sat down because I was starving. I remembered what Rich, David Robison and Kevin had said about this kind of moment, so I thought I was screwed. I did everything I could to get calories in my stomach. Rather, Tara, my personal nutritionist did everything she could to make sure I was eating the right food. I wish there was a picture of the buffet I had on my chair and lap, because it was glorious. Sweet potato tortilla chips, frosted donuts, chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, water, ginger ale, a pb and nutella sandwich, and wait for it… PIZZA! Yes, I ate a little bit of everything. I let it sit for a few minutes and went back out on lap 5, hoping my Hail Mary attempt worked. And boy did I ever luck out. Because of the long pit stop, I turned a 3 hour lap. But a lap is a lap. 5 down! I came into the pit seriously debating sleeping at this point. I can’t remember what Matt said, but for some reason I went back out on lap 6 at about 11 at night. But before I left, I told Tara I wanted soup ready for me when I came in and I told Matt to grab my sleeping bag. This was also the point when Matt convinced me to go 34×22. I was tired of standing as much as I was, so it couldn’t hurt.

I came in after a decently slow lap ready for bed. I told Matt I needed at least an hour of rest, and he told me I was 13 minutes behind 10th place. Whaaaat?! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. We’re at about 1 or so in the morning and I’m chasing top 10? The news gave me a slight adrenaline boost, but not nearly enough for another lap. I needed rest. But before that could happen, Matt made me eat a whole bowl of soup (the soup I was craving the lap before, but it sounded horrible now).

The hour went by too fast, and I woke up to Grady playing Star Wars on his projector. And wouldn’t you know, I woke up to my favorite part where they blow up the Death Star. I used this excuse to lay in the hammock for a few more minutes. A comfortable few more minutes. But enough of laying around, I have 10th place to go catch! Hold on.. Matt picked up my helmet to give to me, and it’s broken.. What the heck? Ok, no biggie, Grady has his helmet.. Doesn’t fit.. Leslee’s helmet? Too small.. The Trail LED demo helmet… Finally, we have a winner! Get that light on there and lets go!

I felt like a new man on lap 7, at least until I got out of the pit and started climbing. I pulled a decent lap time, and I may have to attribute a little of that to Matt and his gum chewing idea. He told me that chewing gum may keep my mind off of the (totally crappy, piece of SH*T, obnoxious, unnecessary, holy sh*t I want to blow up these mountains) climbing. It worked. Once I was done with the super flowy, super awesome downhill section, which was only mile marker 12 to mile marker 15, I popped in some gum. Yes, the chewing helped me take my mind off of the climbing, but I went a step further and counted how many times I could chew the gum before I made it back into the pit. 581 just in case anyone is wondering. This was my last lap in the dark. Next lap I would be chasing the sun as it came up!

I’m still chasing 10th place, and have time for 2/3 laps, depending how fast I can turn the next one.. Not all that fast, but I came in with about 4 hours and 15 minutes left. This is when all hell broke loose. Or should I say, this is when the Eye of The Tiger started playing. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE within earshot turned their head as to what was going on. I wish I knew.

                                                           

Matt, Tara and Grady bombarded me as soon as I got to the pit and didn’t let me get off my bike. He told me I was still chasing 10th place and could get 2 more laps. A broken record that I was getting sick of hearing. As the song blared in the background, I quickly went for some Fig Newtons, some ginger ale and a banana, while stuffing a Snickers in my back pocket. I can’t sit and eat, so I might as well stuff my face in front of everyone. I told Matt I hated him, and I pushed off for lap 9. Little did I know that Grady was going to follow me all the way down pit row with his speakers continuing to blare Eye of the Tiger. It was so awesome. THE BEST MOMENT OF THE RACE by far. Grady absolutely made my day during that quick one minute pit.

I got to about mile 3 and I pull over to get passed.. Again. But the guy tells me to keep going. That guy happened to be Frazier. My first 24 hour race, Mike pulled me through my final lap when I was completely dead. Now he’s back for some more! We conversed, rode some more, rested, got passed by Phillip, flew downhill, and then out of nowhere we hear “Go Big Pig”! It was Matt, and he rode Grady’s super phat bike down the park road to cheer Faazier and I on. At this point, I was out of it and just wanted to finish. I believe this is how the conversation went as I was hunched over my handlebars.

Ryan: “I don’t have another lap in me”

Matt: “I know”

Ryan: “I don’t give a shit about 10th place, I did my best and that’s all I care about, I just want to finish”

Matt: “You got this, Ray will bring you across the finish line”

That brought me to the finish line and 11th place, with about 172 miles and close to 15,000 feet of climbing (I think so anyway, Garmin died during my 7th lap). I pulled into the pit, gave my bike to whoever would take it, and was happy to be done. I was happy to see Rich in better spirits, as we were going through the same stomach problems earlier in the race. I was happy with 11th place. At a Nationals race, are you kidding? Really happy. About an hour later, after eating more food and packing up a little bit, Leslee ran over to me and gave me a bear hug. Well yes, it’s nice to see you too! She told me that my last lap bumped me up to 9th place! Holy crap! Freaking amazing! I went over to the tent to check for myself. As I got there, Rich was coming out just in time to give me the same news and similar bear hug. Wow. Unbelievable. Still shocked to this day.

There’s absolutely no way I could have even come close to this accomplishment without the help of tons of people. My parents, Gina and Stefanie were my little cheering section, always telling me to keep my head up. Alicia for asking me every time I came into the pit if I needed anything, and the awesome massages. Leslee for the same exact thing, plus comic relief, Tara for telling me what and what not to eat at certain points, Matt for a whole lot, including kicking my ass into gear (must have been nice payback for Rocky Hill, eh?) and taking care of my bike, Grady for the XXX, helmet, Eye of the Tiger and making me laugh my inner ass off after 20 hours of being on my bike. My fellow racers, Josh, way to kill it! I look forward to completing the TNGA with you soon. Frazier, way to kill it and grab a podium at nationals, and thanks for riding with me the last lap. Phillip, I didn’t see you much out on the trail, but when I did, we had some good laughs while on the side of the trail. Rich, it was an honor to be on the same trail and in the same race as you. Master Jedi, you will always be.

I know I can push myself further and harder than I did this past weekend, but I need to work at it. I’m satisfied at the outcome and what I was able to accomplish. 24 hour races may not be USAC sanctioned any longer, but that doesn’t mean they’re going away. I think this pig is here to stay.

Rudolph’s Revenge 30 Mile Single Speed Spin Fest

1/26/2014

Overall, this race had everything, and the set-up and support was top notch.  The first 5 miles were flat and fast crushed granite greenbelt; from there it took a turn onto pavement into a couple of lung burning climbs, and some nice downhill sections for about another 5 miles.  Then you get to the Isle du Bois (IDB) trail, which is some of the most technical single track in North Texas.  Rock gardens are the norm, with some sandpits thrown in to really test your skills, but overall the trail flows really well.  10 miles of this with a good bit of elevation gain and loss and then we headed back the way we came through the pavement hills, and finishing on the superfast greenbelt.

I was 1 of only 6 crazy enough to attempt the race on a single speed, and unfortunately did not pick the correct gearing at all (34×22).  I was way under geared for the greenbelt and hills, but felt great on the single track.  For the first 5 miles, I was trying to keep pace with my teammate and eventual first place finisher, Mr. Big Pig himself.  He was pushing a much stronger gear (34×17), and it took a lot just to keep him insight on the greenbelt.   I was spinning like mad to maintain about a 15 MPH pace.  Once we got onto the pavement though, I lost track of him as he could gain more speed on the flats and downhill.  Into the single track and I was in second for the SS 30 mile race.  Flowing through IDB, I was feeling really good and trying to make up as much time as possible.  I would get glances of him around a couple of corners and kept pushing forward.  Unfortunately, during this time, the IDB trail steward and 3rd place in my race, closed the gap on me and we were able to ride together for the majority of the IDB lap.  The last big climb he overtook me and pushed me back to 3rd.  I lost track of him in the single track given it is his own trail and he knew every line.  Back out on the road I tried to real him back in, but at the end of the day I just did not have enough gear.  I will not make that mistake again.  To be honest I’m still new to the single speed discipline, and am still getting the hang of deciding which gearing to run.  I can tell that the legs were strong and my diet was spot on for this race.  I felt I could have kept pace with the leaders with a better gear choice.  Regardless, this was the first solo effort race that I podiumed, but didn’t even realize it till after I got home.  I was so concerned with getting things packed and ready to head out of town again the following day, I didn’t even think about awards.

Oh well, as mentioned earlier the race and venue was absolutely 1st class.  Congrats to the other Big Pigs, Rich Szecsy 1st place SS 30 Mile, Ryan Kota 2nd place SS 40 Mile, and Phillip Bird on a very strong showing in the 40 mile geared class.  Thanks to Shawn McAfee at Texas Mountain Bike Trails well done on the event, and Jesse Bernal for all you do in maintaining the IDB trail!