Monday, August 15, 2011

Blanket's Creek 6 Hour

As of Saturday morning, since my excursion to Dallas last week, I had literally done no riding. No road, no mountain, heck, not even any hiking. Not even any fishing! And, lying in bed Saturday morning, that was the loudest thought in my head as I tried to force myself to stand and get ready for the race.

It was the first ever race at Blanket's Creek, a 6-hour "Race to Sunset". The start was at 3 and we'd ride until 9. On odd format, but it had its advantages. In theory the weather should cool off as the race went on. Everybody is pretty much guaranteed to have to do at least one lap in the dark. Yeah, yeah... For me, the main advantage was that I could sleep in. If there had been a 10 o'clock start, there's no way that I'd have made it.

I finally forced myself to stand, and within the hour, I was feeling the race-day jitters. I hoped it would be enough to counter the go-back-to-bed lazies which, despite my best efforts, kept reminding me of how deeply entrenched they were.

On the way out of town, I ran by Reality for some supplies: new cleats, Clif Blocks, a tube, Chamois Butt'r. ...Another advantage of the late start. Ordinarily, the race would start just as the shop was opening. I grabbed my stuff, laid down some jibber-jabber with Michael and Michele and headed west.

The SORBA Woodstock folks had the race day machine dialed in pretty well. There were bike-patrollers everywhere coordinating activities and directing traffic. One of them had this bad-ass mountain unicycle.

 Mountain Unicycle

I'd never seen one in real life. It was pretty amazing watching the guy ride it too. I've tried to ride a regular unicycle before but it ended in miserable failure, and that was back when I was doing freestyle and had good balance. I can't even imagine how hard I'd crash these days.

There was no room in the lot so I parked at the church and ferried my goods over to pit row.

 Pit Row

When I lived in Marietta, I rode at Blankets twice a week, at least. It's conceivable that I've put in more miles at Bull/Jake, but it's more likely a close tie. If I had to pick one trail that's had the most significantly positive impact on mountain biking in Atlanta, it would have to be Blankets. When I first moved here it was a 5 mile intermediate loop. Since then, it's undergone numerous reroutes, gained a beginner loop, two expert loops, a skills area and most recently, a downhill run. With each improvement the average occupancy of the lot increased by 20 cars, each new car representing at least one more Georgian on the path to fitness.

It was weird seeing all that race-day stuff set up in the lot. I've mentioned the uncanny divide before. It was that all over again. Strangely familiar, strangely foreign.

I set up my chair and materials in an open space next to a red tent. A girl who I would later find out was named Jessica graciously offered to share their space with me and I accepted. She didn't ride, but her husband Zach did and this would be his first 6-hour. They ended up being great company. Thanks for sharing your space with me guys!

My gear was set but I still needed to get registered. That would have been no problem except that I kept running into everyone in the world and talking to them for like 5 minutes each: Walt from Sorba, John Hightower from the TNGA, Mike Reardon who I met through the most unusual circumstances years ago and keep running into randomly, Trish Albert, Rob Toledano, Mark Johnson, Matt and Becky Kicklighter and so on into infinity. I'm sure I'm forgetting half the people I talked to.

I even ran into Katie here (I believe that's her name, I'm bad with names) who's on the Reality club team with me. There are so many of us in the club... I see my teammates all over and have no idea who they are. It was nice to actually meet one of them.


Eventually I realized that I might actually miss registration if I didn't get moving. My brain was failing though. I'd left my wallet in my car. When I got to my car, I'd left my keys back at camp. Oh boy.

At length I got all that sorted out and spun a little warm up out on the road. There was no warming up though. I only succeeded in gauging how much the race was going to hurt. The previous week's laziness felt like this pissed off little man strangling me from inside my chest. It was going to be a long day.

Lisa Randall was director of ceremonies and gave us the pre-ride rundown.


About 2/3rds of the way through I realized that I didn't have anything in my pockets. I've had dreams like that. When I was younger, I'd dream that I was rushing to class, unprepared for a test. These days, I dream about rushing around collecting gear, only to miss the start of a race. I needed to hit the bathroom, but there was no time for that. People were already lined up. Aaaah!


We'd all lined our bikes up along the side of the trail earlier and at the start, we had to run a little loop around the parking lot, grab our bikes and go. That all went pretty well.

I managed to make my way up in the group a bit and felt comfortable with the pace. Then came The Van Michael Trail. It's strenuous on a good day. The climbing is steep and steep and steep and twisty. At race pace, when you're fresh and keyed up from the start, it's easy to pay more attention to catching the rider ahead than to how you feel and before I knew it, that angry little man was strangling me from the inside again. I had to sit up. The train I was in got away but when I looked back there was nobody there. And so it was all the way up. I guess I wasn't the only one having a hard time.

I even managed to catch a few riders on the long descent and rolling through the Mosquito Flats. By Dwelling I was feeling like myself again and for the rest of the lap I felt strong.

At the end of the lap I topped off my rear tire. It felt low, and it turned out I only had 20 PSI in it. No good!

On lap two I'm usually still working my way through traffic, having fun and enjoying the ride, but not this time. We were already spread way out and I had to settle in. I found the right pace on Van Michael's and was able to really put it down on Dwelling. The South Loop still eluded me though.

All of Blankets is technical in one way or another. Rooty, rocky, chunky, twisty, steep, rutted... For every foot of the trail, pick any 3. Van Michael's flows but it's very steep. Dwelling flows but there are plenty of surprises. The South Loop fights you at every turn. It was all coming back to me though. I started to remember certain lines and strategies. I was getting more efficient.

On lap 3 I managed to grab a leaky bottle that would spew all over me unless I put the entire nozzle in my mouth. I only figured that out after wasting about half of it, and to make matters worse, it was still getting hotter. It wasn't Texas hot, but with the humidity, it felt like it.

At some point I stopped to lube my chain, got caught all up in the bike getting off and smashed my hand into a rock on the ground. It was so weird, I wish somebody had seen it so they could tell me exactly what happened. My palm was bruised but it was in an odd place and it didn't affect the ride.

At the end of that lap, I stopped by the SORBA tent, downed a bottle and a half's worth of pure water and saved another half a bottle for the end of the next lap.

On lap 4, the suffering set in. Not just for me, but for everyone. I'd seen plenty of riders standing on the side of the trail, trying to catch their breath or cool down already, but it seemed like that lap there were twice as many. My right foot kept coming out of the pedal too. I'd had that problem in Dallas and changed the cleat on that shoe earlier that morning, but it was still doing it. The spring must be worn out or something.

It took me most of the lap to do the math and figure out how much time I had left. I'd probably finish just after 7:30. Even if they set the cutoff at 8:30 I probably wouldn't be able to get in another lap.

Evening was setting in and it was starting to get noticeably darker in the woods. I saw two deer. One was a young buck. I remembered my little "be the deer, not the bear" motto but it was a little too late in the ride to matter.

Rolling through the pits I saw that the cutoff was 8:00. Lisa shouted "One more lap Dave!" and I was really glad that there was just one more lap.

Van Michael's wasn't any more difficult than the previous lap, and I managed to climb Hurl Hill again. I had energy but every cubic inch of my body hurt. My muscles and joints were sore, my head ached, my feet were hot, my palms hurt, I'd been sick at my stomach since lap 1. Does this count as fun?

About halfway around Dwelling I let a rider by and for the first time all day, I saw a 6 on his calf. The directors had put our category numbers on the backs of our calves. 6 was Solo Expert. My class. This guy was in my class! As he passed, he mentioned: "You'll probably come back by, I'm cramping..." But by the looks of things, he couldn't be cramping too badly. He put 40 yards or so on me and I forgot all about the suffering. It was a race again.

He held his lead up the long climb in the middle of the loop but I managed to reel him in on the descent. He let me by and I tried to just crack him by punching it when I'd get around a corner out of sight, but it was hopeless. He always came right back. I tried to ditch him with skills on the descents, but he wasn't short on skills. I was certain he'd try to come back by as we started the South Loop but fortunately he just sat on. It took the entire loop, but one inch at a time, I gained about a hundred yards. Either I got out of sight and he gave up the chase, or the cramps got him, but either way I managed to hold the lead to the end. Not that it mattered, we were almost certainly racing for second-to-last place.


I didn't want to touch my bike again for hours.

 Clean Bike

Oh yeah, it was dusty. Pounds of dust.

 Dirty Legs

I had the shakes and it was 20 minutes before I could walk straight. I must have looked drunk. Zach was hanging out in the tent. He'd come in 4th. Nice job, especially for his first race. Rob got 4th in Sport. Matt and Becky walked by. Matt had pulled the plug early. I think Becky toughed it out. They told me I'd come in 4th too. Impossible. "Out of what, 5?" "No, out of 10 or so." Impossible. I knew at least 4 other riders who should have crushed me.

No joke though, I checked the results. 3 of those riders had crushed me and the other had pulled out after 4 laps. Wow.

It had definitely been a race of attrition. Looking at the results, it looked like most of the riders had pulled out before the end. Like a guy had said to me earlier "It's a tough trail for a long ride." No doubt.

I laid around for an hour with Zach and Jessica, crawling back from the exhaustion, waiting for the podium ceremony and eating beef jerky. Nothing makes you feel more human than beef jerky. Nothing!

They went 4 deep for beginner, 5 for sport and 3 for expert, so I just missed it, but Trey Woodall and Carebear were up there in 2nd and 3rd and I'm happy to get beaten by them any day.

I wanted to get a photo of Zach and Jessica but they were gone by the time I got back to the tent area.

Oh well, nothing left to do but go home. Or at least, almost nothing. Beef jerky is good and all, but it's not a meal. The only thing open was 7 Tequilas, with their Camarones a la Diabla.

 Camarones a la Diabla

I had zero tequilas, but the shrimp and rice were fantastic. I avoided the fries though. What's up with Mexican restaurants serving fries anyway? Don Lolo's in LaFayette does the same thing.

I drank about 4 glasses of water and slept well that night. Best night's sleep I'd had in a week. I think I shed the lazies too. I actually feel like going for a ride right now. I am still a bit chafed though, so maybe a hike. Or maybe I'll just go fishing.

1 comment:

  1. Great effort with minimal training time. I think I may have passed by you at one point, not knowing who you were. Sorry for not saying, "Hey Dave." There were so many FB friends there I did not know who was who. I will definitely shake your hand and say "hey" at the start line on the SC border come Labor Day.