As I neared the first false summit of the Winding Stair Gap climb
in the opening miles of the 2013 Fool's Gold 100
, there was a solitary guy sitting in a ProGold
van cheering racers on. I was in my normally happy mountain-bike-racing mood and we exchanged a friendly greeting as I slowly pedaled by. He told me to think about how lucky I am to be able to spend the whole day riding bikes. As I rode away, that line stuck in my head. Three weeks ago, I trying to assess the damage from a running fall to my knee
. I could barely walk across my apartment, let alone bend the knee enough to make a full pedal stroke. I spent 10 days off the bike and another 5 days before I could put in a decent training day. And here I was, in the opening miles of what would be my longest mountain bike ride to date, with my legs feeling surprisingly decent and a beautiful Georgia sunrise spreading slowly through the forest. Lucky. Yes. Indeed.
|Sort of like what we got glimpses of during the Winding Stair Gap climb.|
I'm known for writing
race reports,and this one is no exception. But also, you get a bonus! Eddie and Namrita at 55nine Performance concocted an enchanting blend of gravel, doubletrack, and singletrack that wound its way through the Chattahoochee National Forest. But I thought it was really hard to understand the course on paper without having ridden it previously. I struggled wrapping my mind around the maps and descriptions that were available, so here's your bonus - my own course Cliff Notes at the end of this post! Just scroll down to the NERD ALERT
|Maria, Laura, and me getting coffeeeee! |
Actually this is after the race but the drive home was just as much fun as the drive there.
The trip to Georgia started out on Friday morning at my apartment in St. Louis. My dear friends Laura (Momentum Racing) and Maria (Team Noah Foundation
) met me and we loaded up Laura's vehicle with everything 3 girls need to ride 250 miles (me and Maria in the hundo and Laura in the 50). We hit the road with coffees in hand right on schedule. A few hours down the interstate and we pass the other half of our St. Louis contingent - Dwayne and Peat of Team Noah
and Jim of Dogfish! We didn't expect to see them on the road but turns out they got a speeding ticket so they were behind schedule. They were determined to pre-ride, through, so they boogied on south as us girls took a more leisurely trip to Dahlonega. That car ride was one of the most hilarious of my entire life - it seemed like we were laughing hysterically for the entire 550 miles. Right there, even if I got a huge mechanical in the first 10 miles of the race, I knew this trip would be a success. We rolled into the painfully cute town of Dahlonega about 5.45pm, picked up our packets, checked into the hotel (livin' large!), and rode our bikes down to the racer meeting. It was short and sweet and honestly not as mandatory as advertised. Then Laura got hangry so we hustled back to the hotel to eat dinner and prep our drop bags. Oh, and Maria and I went to Wal-Mart to spend $90 on beer...Yuengling!
|Me, Maria, Laura before the start!|
Race morning, and I donned my Pfoodman
kit for one last time since my Team Noah kit is still in production
. We drove over to Montaluce Winery
and woke the boys up who were van-camping. Maria and I dropped our drop bags and got ready for the 100-mile start at 0700. Tires inflated, chain lubed, successful porta-potty visit, gloves on, quick photo, and boom! Before I know it I'm lining up in my first-ever NUE series race.
The start is a car-controlled neutral roll-out from Montaluce on paved roads. I'm sure the top contenders thought the pace was relaxed but I'm already a little gassed off the back. I'm not sure if this is lack of warm-up, or lack of fitness (either overall or from the knee injury), but I just do my best to manage my effort and not ruin my day in the opening miles. I also know that the field at Fool's Gold is small but extremely talented, with most of these riders having completed multiple NUE races already this year, so it doesn't even make sense for me to try and stick with them. I just do my thing, keep the pedals turning and focus on the big picture. A few miles up the start of the climb, a pick-up truck flies past me and a racer behind me yells at it "HEY!". The pick-up abruptly stops and a total Georgia hillbilly gets out and starts screaming mean things at the racer behind me. I'm caught totally unawares and unprepared - we have some nasty drivers in Missouri but I've never heard a confrontation like this. They exchange some words as I keep pedaling and soon enough the hillbilly gets back in his truck and continues flying up the hill. I really, really hope he doesn't hurt anyone!
I finally crest the first false summit and the ProGold guy gives me a huge dose of encouragement. I continue pedaling in my happy place until a speedy downhill section Ts into an intersection. Course markings indicate a right turn and I make it without hesitation. But only a few hundred meters later, I see Maria and a group of 4-5 people riding back at me. Whaaaa....? Somehow they figured out that the course markings were wrong (vandalized) so I turn around after only about a minute or so. Other riders were not so lucky. So I vow to pay more attention to the pink marking tape and continue on my way.
|Turner Creek Singletrack. Photo from 2012.|
I roll into SAG #1 in 1h51m and I'm super stoked to have completed the worst climbing of the whole day in under 2 hours! Maria is already there topping off her water bottle, but I don't need anything, so we roll out together. Eddie warned us about the ensuing descent being steep and loose so we take it really cautiously. The 50-milers have caught up to us and are zipping around everywhere. Evidently no one in Georgia has been to a Larry Pirtle-officiated race because no one is telling me where and when they are passing. This makes me angry, actually, because I have absolutely no problem letting faster riders by, regardless of terrain. But I can't let people by when they don't tell me if they're on the right or left or what. So I probably cut a lot of people off, and I apologize, but it's really their own fault for not communicating. The descent itself is less sketchy than advertised but the behavior of other racers make it more dangerous than it needs to be. We finally reach the bottom and dive into the singletrack of Turner Creek. Now, it's the 50-mile women that are streaming past me, but it seems they are way better at talking. I am more than happy to let them pass and I feel a huge whoosh
each time one goes by...these women are total singletrack-shredding studs!!! I am in complete awe and wish them good luck on their race. On the otherhand, I am riding like a total pansy. I am being overly cautious about not crashing and re-injuring my knee, plus I can't tell if this Georgia dirt gets sticky (good) or slimy (bad) when it's slightly damp with morning dew. I just decide to take things super careful and slow.
Much to my delight, I make it through the first piece of singletrack in one piece and with a little more course knowledge - nothing seems especially slimy/slippery and in fact my tires are getting good traction. Also, these Georgia trails have significantly less
sharp nasty rocks than ours in Missouri so I tell myself to suck it up and get brave. We have a short 2-mile gravel connector and then jump onto more singletrack. This is in a burned-out section of forest and it seems recently cut - the trail is still pretty rough (later I learned that this is the Jones Creek Trail). But the climb is gradual and rideable and I love riding through burned forest because it makes me feel like I'm in The Hunger Games
. I meet up with another woman rider, Elsa, and we tackle the switchbacks together. Then we catch up with Maria, and Julie from Michigan, while riding across the Lake 32 dam which is weird because there is no lake in sight, just a big earthen berm. Julie tells me it's only about 1 mile to SAG #2 and I'm stoked!
As I roll into SAG #2, Maria is just starting to deal with her drop bag and bottles. A super-awesome volunteer helps me fill 1 of my bottles and then I'm ready to go. I really dislike hanging around at aid stations so I tell Maria that I'm leaving and hit the Bull Mountain Loop for the first of two times today. I know from my limited course recon that this loop contains the only other significant climb on the course so I make sure that I'm keeping up with food and drink in the first few miles. The climb is significant, about 1,000 feet in 5 miles, but there is a good amount of double-track so it's not terrible. I'm a few miles into the loop when St. Louis pro Drew Edsall
flies past me. I am really, really confused by this. Sure, I'm slow, but there's no way he's on his second lap already. But that must mean he was behind me all this time? Maybe he had a huge mechanical? I silently ponder all of these scenarios and continue pedaling. Then several minutes later, I hear a familiar voice behind me...it's Peat
! Now I'm super
confused but Peat sheds some light on the whole sitch- there was a big group that went 10+ miles off course (where I only went a few hundred meters). He's really bummed but he's also feeling great so he flies past me too and gets on with his race (MOAR DROP BARS!). I get on with my race too, making it to the top of the climb and then charging down the descents. Fun stuff!! Back into the SAG stop, I stuff my face with peanut M&Ms, fill up my other bottle, and roll out.
The next section is where the race starts to get lonely for me, but not in a bad way. I do a lot of riding by myself and don't mind it at all. Before the race, Maria and I discussed riding together but I was hesitant to commit to a plan since I know my all-day pace and didn't really want to alter it for my first mtb hundo. So I just cruise through the Jake Mtn Trail singletrack and think all-day thoughts. I revel in the fact that my knee isn't bothering me, that I'm in freaking GEORGIA riding my mountain bike, that I'm so thankful for the support of Team Noah, that I like eating turkey sandwiches. Things just cruise along until SAG#4, which I sort of forgot about but I don't need anything anyway. I don't even stop, just keep the SegSlayer
There are a few riders around me as I leave SAG#4 and I try to let them by in the short distance we have until the singletrack. The trail entrance is a slight left turn off of the gravel and it's hard to see - I don't catch it at first because there is someone passing me. But I see it at the last second and yell to the rider who missed it. He doesn't hear me. I try yelling again, same response, another rider shows up, he yells, nothing. Then I tell him to go ahead of me on the singletrack. He refuses, saying he's a rigid SS and my fork and gears will surely be faster. Umm....do you know me, the world's most tentative descender? I give him an out but he insists so I just dive in and start riding. He is able to keep up on a 32/21 which should tell you something about how I take unfamiliar downhills. But I drop him once the trail flattens out and I pop out on some gravel. Not a few seconds later, I see two other 100-milers riding towards
me...what? One of them is a girl (in hindsight, I think it's Vicki Barclay
since her kit was pink) and I give her the most confused "Am I going the right way?" ever. She assures me that I am, THANKS VICKI!!!, so I keep pedaling despite being unsure. Then there's a volunteer at an intersection who tells me to turn left to get to the cooler drop. So I have hope that I'm still on course. The cooler drop is farther down the road than I thought but I use the extra time to drain my bottles and camelbak. I re-stock out of my cooler and get ready to tackle a new part of the course! End of Lap 1!
OK, wow, that was a lot of words to describe 52 miles of mountain biking. Lap 2 wasn't nearly that exciting. I rode mostly by myself (again, not a bad thing). I was rejuvenated with a camelbak full of CR333
and some Peachie-Os (thanks, Erl
!). I didn't have any crashes. My hands, arms, and ass started hurting but my legs felt pretty good all day. I stayed on course. I didn't have any mechanicals. I stopped quite a few times to get off the bike and stretch out my lower back. Once I hit the pavement, I spotted a rider up ahead and I knew I had to chase him down. I passed him quickly, but I'm not even sure if he was a 100- or 50-mile rider. I was dreading the paved entrance back into Montaluce but it turns out there is a cool shortcut for the end of the race that made me really happy. Even that creek and the hike-a-bike made me happy!! I could hear the podiums being announced as I neared the finish line and that freaked me out a little bit. I didn't know what the finish line set-up looked like and I didn't want to cause a scene, finishing in the middle of the podium presentations. But as I neared the Kenda arch, I could see that the podium area was aways a bit and I could sneak by without screwing up anyone's moment of glory. So I crossed under the arch, heard my timing chip beep, and then heard Laura cheering for me down the hill so I just rode down there and got off my bike for one last time! I had to lay in the grass for several minutes in my sweaty kit just to get my back to relax a little bit. But no sooner than I had changed clothes and grabbed a cold Yuengling, than Maria finished with Elsa!! Laura and I were walking near the finish line anyway so I handed Maria my beer and got to hear about her day. She hung tough and finished her first mtb hundo really strong! Go Maria! Dwayne and Peat and Jim came over to chat too, and I hear that they absolutely crushed it
. These guys are so awesome and I'm so stoked to be a part of Team Noah. Whoop!
|Women's podium. I am not on it because dang these girls are fast!! |
1st Cheryl Sornson. 2nd Vicki Barclay. 3rd Brenda Simril.
Overall, I definitely achieved my goal of having a "solid NUE series debut
". I played it super safe to protect my knee, and to not dig myself in too deep of a fatigue hole 4 weeks prior to adventure racing nationals. I was disappointed that my time was SO FAR BACK from the top women, but now I've got a baseline experience to draw on and build from. Despite being confusing on paper, I thought the course was incredible - a terrific mix of gravel and singletrack. The trails were super fast and fun (thank you SORBA
!) and way less technical than I was anticipating. I've seen climb numbers between 10,000' and 14,000' for the 100-mile (actually 95-mile) route so I'd guess it was about 12,000'. I didn't have any mechanicals, I avoided the vandalized course markings for the most part, and I didn't bonk. The road trip with Maria and Laura was one of the most fun I've ever been on....EVER! And most of all, I experienced terrific support from my Team Noah Foundation
teammates both in person and through texts/facebook
. We've got big plans for NUE 2014...watch out!!
Here's my Strava file
if you care. If you export the .gpx file to use, please note the wrong turn around mile 13.5 (you need to go L on Rock Creek Road instead of R). My detour was so short that I didn't even count it in my mileages below. But you've been warned. Also, the stuff in blue below means that it's a repeat of Loop 1. Mileages are estimates off of my .gpx file. They're probably not exact, but close enough for a 100-mile route. Also there are a number of creek crossings, all but 1 were rideable.
START to SAG #1 (17.4 miles)
4-17.4 gravel, Winding Stair Gap climb aka Cooper Gap climb
SAG #1 to SAG #2 (9.8 miles)
17.4-20.2 steep downhill but not terrible
20.2-22.1 singletrack, Turner Creek Trail
22.1-24.0 gravel with a short .25mi singletrack connector
24.0-27.2 burned out singletrack (Jones Creek), over the Etowah Lake 32 dam, then up to SAG
SAG #2 to SAG #3 (BULL MTN LOOP, 11.3 miles)
27.2-33.2 mostly climbing, starts as doubletrack then into singletrack
33.2-38.5 mostly descending, especially at end! wheeeeee
SAG #3 to SAG #4 (8.2 miles)
38.5-39.3 gravel out of SAG
40.5-40.6 short gravel connector
40.6-46.3 singletrack, Jake Mtn Trail
46.3-46.4 gravel into SAG
SAG #4 to SAG #5 (20.5 miles, includes SAG #4.5 cooler drop)
46.4-46.7 gravel out of SAG
46.7-49.7 singletrack, Black Branch Trail
49.4-50.2 gravel, L turn onto Hightower Church Road (50s make a R and return to Montaluce)
52.2 SAG #4.5
cooler drop just outside Army Ranger Base, then turn L into Base
52.2-57.9 gravel through Ranger Base, I can't remember any singletrack but there might have been some
57.9-58.1 gravel connector
58.1-59.7 singletrack, No Tell Trail
59.7-60.2 gravel connector
60.2-62.1 singletrack, Turner Creek Trail
62.1-64 gravel with a short .25mi singletrack connector
64.0-67.2 burned out singletrack (Jones Creek), over the Etowah Lake 32 dam, then up to SAG
SAG #5 to SAG #6 (BULL MTN LOOP, 11.3 miles)
67.2-73.2 mostly climbing, starts as doubletrack then into singletrack
73.2-78.5 mostly descending, especially at end! wheeeeee
SAG #6 to SAG #7 (8.2 miles)
78.5-79.5 gravel out of SAG
80.6-80.7 short gravel connector
80.7-86.5 singletrack, Jake Mtn Trail
86.5-86.6 gravel into SAG
SAG #7 to FINISH (8.3 miles)
86.6-86.7 gravel out of SAG
86.7-89.4 singletrack, Black Branch Trail
89.4-90.2 gravel, R turn onto Hightower Church Road for return to Montaluce
93.8-95.0 shortcut through Montaluce to finishline. includes grassy doubletrack, pavement, and a hike-a-bike creek crossing!
overall winner Mike Danish http://mikedanishracing.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/fools-gold-100/
Gerry Pflug http://pfunwithpflug.blogspot.com/2013/09/fools-without-apostrophe.html
Eric Coomer http://www.otcadventure.com/adventures/2013/09/10/searching-for-louis-friend/
Cycling News http://www.cyclingnews.com/races/national-ultra-endurance-nue-series-fools-gold-100-2013/results
SS winner AJ Linnell http://ajplayingwithgravity.blogspot.com/2013/09/fools-on-wheels.html
Maria Esswein http://teamnoahfoundation.com/4/post/2013/09/honey-badger-patronus.html