We camped in a tiny city park right along the peaceful stream running through the town and rode our bikes from their to the start of the race a couple of blocks away. I was extremely anxious before the start, this being my first true endurance mountain biking event and my first experience riding in the back country as well; my legs were literally shaking with anticipation.
The race started out with a few miles along the essentially flat Virginia Creeper Trail before pitching steeply up a tough loose and rutted climb. Jonathon W and I, both on single speeds dropped back to within the last 5 places during the creeper trail portion but quickly began to make up spots when the trail turned up. J rode much more aggressively then I did and passed a large number of people quickly up the first bit of steep climbing while I hung back and passed when I could easily do so.
The trails were tough but beautiful and I was able to make up a lot of places by the end (when we finally reached it) of the first climb. For a while I was steadily pacing myself with a handful of other single speeders, riding most of the trail and walking occasionally when things got either too steep or loose/rutted to keep the forward momentum going. The final descent down to the first aid station was incredible, enveloped in rhododendrons and fast and flowy around sweeping turns. I led a couple of guys down this decent and managed to pick off at least 2 or 3 other guys as well. I even managed to snag a compliment on my descending "skills" from one the guys following me down! (Glad he didn't see me later on in the race...)
At AS 1 I caught Jonathon who had to stop to refill bottles since he'd left his bladder at home and we set off on a long road section before the next set of singletrack. My memory of the next few portions is already a bit hazy a day later, but we continued riding more or less close together with J and I and a couple of other guys. Eventually Jonathon and I broke away on some steeper climbs and I even managed to get ahead and away of Jonathon for a bit. Then came my complete low point for the race.
I was ahead of Jonathon, maybe by as much as 30 seconds when I hit a fast, off camber and rocky descent that straight from the beginning scared the crap out of me. The rocks threw me everywhere and I was going too fast to feel like I was under control on the steeply off camber trail and eventually I just braked hard until I felt moderately under control. Of course this meant Jonathon was quickly catching me; so quickly in fact that he got to witness first hand my roll down the side of the mountain. A washed out heavily cambered section of trail spooked me big time and I basically came to a stop and tried to put a foot down... on the down side of the trail, realized too late how far down that was and rolled wheels over helmet 10 to 20 feet down the hill before coming to a stop in a pretzeled position and with my right calf cramping hard and stuck between my handle bars and my frame. Ouch!
I told J to go on and worked my way back up to the trail while 2 more guys passed, checking that I was alright, and then slowly and tenderly making my way down the remainder of the treacherous trail. I was worried about my calf, which felt like it might cramp hard at any second but I popped an S-Cap and drank a bunch of water and just paid close attention to its condition for the next few miles.
After the descent we hit a long steady gravel road climb where I just put my head down, stayed seated and tried to pedal as efficiently as possible. I managed to reel in the two geared riders that'd passed me on the down hill and then caught sight of Jonathon as I pulled into the next aid station before he set off on the next section of trail. I grabbed some water and a cup of coke and headed on along with another SS'er I'd been riding near all day. He was riding 32x18 vs my 32x21 and was walking when necessary so I quickly rode along and set back to my goal of trying to catch Jonathon.
Again, the order of the sections is a blur at this point but I basically rode a bunch on single track climbs, some sweet ridge-line trails, some more decents and then some more gravel road. This time the gravel was deeper and harder to ride without slipping and eventually I saw Jonathon up ahead. After a long chase with him in my sights I finally managed to catch and pass him. He was having an rough day, over heating and lacking in power after a week of severe back problems. Either way I'll take it as a good day anytime I can even hang with The Sweetone!
Next there was some more climbing and some more descending and some super sweet and semi-difficult ridge riding. The down hills were a TON of fun for the most part after the one super sketchy one earlier in the race. One reminded me of the fast and flowy Rosaryville trails on steroids and I was loving every second of it!
At the final Aid Station the volunteers informed me I was in 26th place overall and they believed possibly in 2nd SS! This gave me a bit of motivation for what they said was the final 9 miles of the course (and maybe a bit of distraction while day dreaming about getting a "podium" spot in my first endurance race... give me a break, it helped get through some of the tougher sections and kept the drive alive to try and hold off the close behind wheels of J and other SS'ers!)
I rode the majority of the race after passing Jonathon without seeing a single other rider until around 5 miles to go when a geared rider (who'd stopped and back tracked a 1/4 mile on foot early in the race to retrieve a pair of sun glasses he'd dropped) caught and passed me on the climbing and flat sections. I'd catch him back on the downhills but at this point in the race I knew I was slowing on the climbs, even walking some I knew I should be riding since it felt like I was probably wasting more energy trying to muscle my way up then if I walked them.
Even still I managed to hold anyone else off, and actually passed another geared rider who appeared to be having some mechanical difficulties with his bike. Down the final descent things got loose, rocky, rough and a bit sketchy with huge water bars crossing the trail but I just held on and tried not to lose control of the bike. I actually fully believed I had one more climb and descent and between every course marker was fretting I'd gotten off course and was going to have to turn around and climb everything I'd just screamed my way down.
Then, suddenly there was a big yellow finish sign with two volunteers standing by to write my number and record my time. Sweet. From there you rode back to the pavilion via the Virginia Creeper trail though in my super anxious pre-race state I missed the official directions and continued on the trail out of Damascus before turning around and heading back to the pavilion to find Jonathon.
We went and broke down our tents and packed up the car before returning to the pavilion for some burgers and pasta, checked the results and saw I *might* have taken 3rd SS though we'll see when the results are posted, and that Jonathon was barely 2 minutes behind me likely making up a good deal of time on those sketchy downhills, collected our drop bags, which neither of us actually used and hit the road (and Dairy Queen for some Blizzards!)
All in all a VERY successful day and an amazing time riding an incredible course. When all was said and done it looks like we hit about 8500 feet of climbing and descending and my official finishing time was around 6 hours 14 minutes. Not sure of the total actual mileage but Jonathon reports it should be in the 54 to 55 mile range based on last year. I forgot to start my garmin until a few miles in and it shut off sometime before I got back to the pavilion so I'm not sure exactly what it would would have reported either though I trust the elevation profile it reported through the elevation correction on Garmin Connect.
The 6 hour drive each way was quite rough, but maybe next year Aimee and I could work it into a trip down to spend some time with her folks, a mere 2 hours further down the road. I think the race was worth it, though its a bit of stretch as a quick 2 day trip.
Garmin Connect Report: Garmin Connect
Race Results (to come): Shenandoah Mountain Touring