Wednesday, April 9, 2008

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

I knew that taking on the Dragon’s Back would be a huge challenge. I knew it would be extremely difficult and painful. It turns out that it was the hardest thing that I have ever done, physically and mentally.
The Best of Times
The terrain was absolutely beautiful. When we were driving to the race, the mountain ridge we would be riding was shrouded in clouds and fog. The turn out for this race was incredible. 50 racers, just in the XXC. I don’t know how many showed up for the regular races. The race started like a huge group ride. Of course a lot of the pros were gone from the start. I got into an early groove and moved along the 4 mile dirt and mud road fairly quick. Once on top of the ridge, everything became very surreal. We were literally up in the clouds. Some places you could only see about 100 feet ahead. All of the descriptions about the rocky terrain, did not do it justice. This trail was originally part of the Appalachian Trail, so many areas were not very bike friendly. Even with the clouds and mist, there were some great views. On some of the narrow ridges, there was the foot wide trail, one or two feet of rock on either side, then a steep, steep drop on both sides. Kind of scary, but epic to experience. there are no trails near Lynchburg that can even compare. The downhills lasted forever and were incredibly fun.
The Worst of Times
As epic as the ridgeline was, the climb to it was rediculous. It was basically a two mile hike-a-bike. Even on the ridge, there were a lot of areas where I had to push the bike. Sometimes because of steep climbs, but mostly because of rock gardens. This trail would be great for hiking. But on on bike, the sharp, jagged rocks, that pointed toward the sky, were unridable in some areas. The trail was mostly clear, but leaves were packed in places up to a foot and a half deep. Clogging my derailler cogs and sometimes hiding huge rocks. At one point, I was coming down a short rock garden, when my front wheel caught a tall rock and turned sharply. I went over the handle bars. As I was nearing the ground, I saw that I was going to land on more rocks. I tried to turn my head so that my helmet would take the impact. It took most of it, but I was left with a half inch scrape on my right cheek. It felt like an eternity on that ridge. I kept thinking that the next downhill would be the one that went to the road that lead back to the start area. Finally I found the road. Now is was a long haul back to the start. The road was not too bad at first, except for the sections that had the large gravel that shook the crap out of me and the bike. There were about 10 or so creek crossings on this road. It was already cold out and at least 6 or 7 of these crossings were at least a foot deep. Swollen from the night’s rain. Everytime my feet would start to dry and warm back up, I had to get soaked again. There was a long climb back to the start area. I was glad to see that Jess and Tyler were there when I came through. I stopped for moment to talk to them. Then headed off to finish the last 8 or 9 miles. The second climb to the ridge was another hike-a-bike. It was worst this time due to fatigue. The huge camelbak, that I barrowed from Chris was packed heavy with tools and supplies. My shoulders were killing me. But I needed everything that I had, incase of a breakdown.
The last singletrack downhill was great. It gave me a boost, more mentally than physically. When I was on the ridge before, I was so ready to be done with this race. This race will drain every bit of drive out of you. After the ring of fire, which was not bad at all, I had about 3 miles of road to the finish. Luckily, the last mile was mostly downhill. As I rounded the small loop at the finish, I felt so good. I had finally made it!
It had been a long gruelling trip. Filled with highs and lows in elevation and spirits. Even with 50 people on the course, there was about 2 and a half hours that I was completely alone. No one in sight in front of me or behind me. It was kinda of calming and lonely at the same time. I think that I finished somewhere around 40th. after 6 and a half hours, but more importantly, I gave everything that I had. I am so glad that I went to this race. The physical and spiritual strain will make me stronger. Everyone there has my upmost respect.
In the end, after 6 and a half hours of riding, I had consumed 2 Snickers Protein bars, 3 hammer gels, 2 and a half liters of water, and a large water bottle of gatorade.
I don’t think that I conquered that dragon, but I did survive it, and I will be back for more. After starting in Novice class last year, and riding Dragon’s back this year, I think that I have come a long way. But there is always further to go. Luckily, I have a great wife, who supports me and urges me on. Thank you Jess.
Now that the dragon is gone, it’s time to look ahead. I have the Angel’s Race on Sunday, the Derailer races, and the Shenandoah 100 this year.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


The time draws near. The time for action, the time for pain. I feel the beast's hot breath on my neck. It's waiting for me, waiting for me to challenge it...
Dragon's Back is almost here. The first race of the year, and one of the most dificult and intense. 35 miles of steep mountain sides, nearly immposible switchbacks, and sharp, jagged rocks everywhere. This is a challenge that I do not take lightly. The possibility of injury and bike carnage is high. I am trying to prepare for anything. I will be carrying all the food, tools, and spare parts neccessary, within reasonable weight limits, of course. I do not care that much about placing at the top in this race. This type of endurance race usually attacts high end racers. I do not want to be at the bottom though. Last year, only 13 people entered, 11 finished. So even a middle of the pack finish could place me in the top 5 or so. But this more about finishing and proving to myself that I can do it. Which is the same reason that I am doing the triathlon one week later. More about that to come.
Hold on Bilbo! help is on the way!!!!