Monday, August 22, 2011

The Fool's Gold

This past Saturday morning was race day. The previous Saturday was also race day and as it turns out, next Saturday will be too. Where'd all these races come from all of a sudden? I was looking at my calendar actually and I've got some kind of event or other for like the next 7 weeks. I had no idea. They all kind of sneaked up on me.

At any rate, this past Saturday I got up early.

 Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Inhumanly early.

In previous years the Fool's Gold was based out of Camp Wahsega but this year they ran it out of the Montaluce Winery. There are several advantages of the new venue, but one of the disadvantages is that there are no cabins on-site and living in Cumming, there's no way I'm going to pay for a hotel a half hour from my house. So, it was an early morning.

Fortunately I'd thought about that earlier in the week and intentionally slept well Wednesday and Thursday nights. They say the sleep you get 2 nights before an endurance event is more important than the sleep you get the night before. I have observed that before, and figuring I'd be up early for this one, I took no chances.

The Racetrac down the street provided breakfast.


That's two Gatorades and a pack of Zingers.


Speaking of fancy dining though... The check-in for the race was at Le Vigne, the restaurant on the Montaluce property. To get to the check-in table, you had to walk directly through the wine tasting room. The entire restaurant smelled of perfectly cooked steak. It was all I could do to keep my mind on the task at hand. With the volunteer work I ended up doing, I had to walk through 3 different times and it gave me gnawing hunger pangs each time.

The start was nowhere near the restaurant though. There were a couple of cul-de-sacs down one of the roads that led away from it and we all parked around the edge of two of them.

I managed to get a spot directly next to my buddy Tim.


It was still dark when I arrived. It wasn't even "hey look, the sun's coming up soon", it was just night. Dark or not though, I had no time to waste. There were 50 and 100 mile options. The 100 mile riders start at 7:15 and the 50 mile riders start at 7:45. Tim was riding 100 miles. I was riding 50. I tried the 100 three years ago and it was pitiful. I keep saying "next year" but then I keep not doing it. Maybe next year I will, for real this time.

I had to patch my rear tire. When I threw my bike on the rack that morning it was flat. It turned out there was a half-inch long thorn in it like I'd run over a sprig of locust or something. Crazy.

I debated swapping my pedals too. The spring on the right has a lot of play in it and I'd been having trouble with my foot popping out. I even bought a new pair, but I didn't have much trouble marking the course this past Wednesday, so I chanced it and didn't swap them.

I finished breakfast, got dressed and applied the Chamios Butt'r more liberally than usual. In my pockets I had two bottles of Gatorade, three packs of Clif Blocks and a myriad of tools and spare parts. I could refuel at the 3rd rest stop or more often if I needed. The bike felt right. If I was forgetting anything, it wasn't obvious.

The sun had suddenly come up a few minutes earlier and I rode around a bit, half warming up, half hoping to run into some friends.


And there were many...

Charley Rome of Baton Rouge:


He rode in the TNGA last year until an unexpectedly cold night knocked him out. I also got to ride with him up at Clear Springs when I was in Baton Rouge over the Thanksgiving holiday. It's cool, I only know him from those two times but he feels like an old friend. I love that about this community.

And there was a Naked Indian on the grounds...


Karlos Bernart, the Singletrack Samurai of Central Florida, of HuRaCaN 300, CFiTT and Trans Florida fame. He's a TNGA finisher and picked me up when I had to abandon the Huracan after getting my GPS stolen. Like Charley, an old friend that I've really only met like 3 times.

And of course, the ladies..

Becky Kicklighter on the right. She and her husband Matt were both racing. The last time I rode with her socially was on these trails and she broke me off with such authority on No-Tell that it was upsetting. Dr. Michele Zebrowitz on the left.

 Michele and Becky

As long as I've known Michele, she's been injured one way or another. She'd hurt her back a year or two ago, worked really hard to come back from that one, only to get hurt again getting pulled behind a boat in a tube a few months ago, and then after coming back from that, getting cracked up at Sope Creek just a few days ago. I saw her at Reality yesterday and it made me want to cry listening to her talk about it. Stay strong girl. I've been there. This too shall pass.

Somebody took a picture of me. I think it was Charley.


Man, I look kind of goofy in that photo. I hope I don't always look like that.

My buddy Russell was there too, riding with his wife Sunny. He wasn't really racing, just following her to help out if she got into any trouble.

I saw Josh Fix too and barely recognized him with his triumphant stache. He was assured of victory with that stache.

Hirsch, Bruce, Mark D... I saw a million other people too, I can't even remember everyone.

Me and Eddie were talking about it Friday. You meet so many people at these events and you know them from racing and riding together, and you're excited to see them again, and some of them really become good friends, but then when you think about it you really haven't spent all that much time with them and virtually all of it has been on the bike. I guess it's the quality of the time that makes it so endearing. It's unusual though, and I wonder.

The 100 mile warriors lined up.

 100 Milers

Eddie gave them the pre-race run-down and at 7:15 sharp they took off. There was a neutral roll out for the first 3 miles, then at the first turn he let them go.

I lined up with the other 50 mile riders. I hesitate to call us warriors. The 50 is hard, but it's no 100. When the pace car got back, we got the same run-down and took off at 7:45.

We had an allegedly neutral roll out too, and I'm sure it was neutral for the riders at the front, but for me it was just an endless series of bridge moves between big groups of riders.

One thing I love about this route is that you have to be proficient in all disciplines. There is every kind of climbing from gradual pavement to steep, technical singletrack. There is smooth, flowing trail and tight narrow trail and trail where you have to pick your way through rocks and roots. There are long forest road descents and long twisty singletrack descents. There are rollers and punchers. You ride in groups and you ride alone. Everything!

Off the start, there were several miles of road, and knowing what to do on the road made the difference between hitting the first climb comfortably near the front or worn out off the back.

We hit dirt at about mile 4. It's a net climb from there to Cooper Gap Road but every hill is followed by a little descent and it doesn't feel like you're gaining much altitude. You pass Camp Wahsega, a 4-H camp, then further up the road you pass Camp Merrill where the Army builds Rangers, and then the climbing starts for real.

I've put in more vertical miles on Cooper Gap Road than any other road or trail and I can usually tell in the first quarter mile if it's going to be a long day or not. I felt great. I was warming up. I was catching and passing riders. Yes! Unless I did something stupid, I would enjoy this race. About 2/3rds of the way up it flattens out a bit before getting substantially steeper. I let about 6 riders go on the flat just to catch them a quarter mile later. Neil Nichols was volunteering at Cooper Gap and he remarked that I was smiling. Ha! I didn't realize, I WAS smiling. That's how good a day it was.

It's a net climb from there to Winding Stair, but again, it's not too steep and there are several descents to break it up. I sparred with a couple of guys all the way across the top but they all stopped at SAG 1. I had 2 bottles with me and was only halfway through one of them. No need to stop.

The descent down Winding Stair was a little extra hairy. Eddie and I'd driven it the day before. There were lots of very high frequency washboards. Not the big, deep kind that yank the bars out of your hands, but the shallow, close-together kind that you can't really tell are there until you try to slow down or turn and realize you're just skipping over the tops of them, barely touching the ground. Eddie had warned everyone at the start about it and I took it a little easy. Even taking it easy though, I managed to pass a dozen or more riders on the way down.

Turner Creek was clean and fast. The trail conditions were perfect. I was able to climb the tough hills on the Moss Branch Connector and up off the dam on Jones Creek and work my way past a dozen more riders before the SAG at the foot of Bull Mountain. I still had one full bottle and plenty of Clif Blocks left. No need to stop at SAG 2.

I got caught and passed for the first time heading around the back of Bull. A rider passed me with authority. He either really knew what he was doing or really didn't. Yes, the climb to Winding Stair is tough, but it's no Bear Hare. "Bows and arrows against the lightning." I didn't even try to chase him down.

Rolling through Booger Holler I had a chance to survey the creek crossing that Eddie and I had worked on the past Thursday. At that point, despite passes from over 100 riders, it didn't look any different from when we'd finished working on it. So far, so good.

At the top of the next hill, there were two gentlemen hanging out in camping chairs, watching the race. At the pace I was going, I had just enough time for a short conversation. It turned out one of them was the landowner who had alerted us that the creek crossing needed work. He was smiling and indicated approval of the work we'd done and I even had enough time to shake his hand as I passed. As I rode away, he mentioned something else, I think about a bear, but I couldn't hear him exactly, my I was sure I heard the word "bear", so I was on the lookout for a bear until I crossed Lance Creek.

Speaking of Bears, Bear Hare was it's typical difficult self. I caught a train of riders just after crossing the creek but they got away from me on the climb up the old roadbed. I passed a bunch of riders on that climb, but it wasn't clear whether they were the splintered remains of that train or just random riders. I was pretty sure that I was riding up into the tail of the 100 milers at that point too, so it could have even been some of them.

The singletrack climb was more difficult than I remembered it being, even after having ridden it a few days earlier. I managed to avoid walking and passed several riders in doing so, but I'd forgotten how steep and sustained it is near the top. I'd been reeling a guy in all way up, only to get within a foot of him, hit that steep stuff and lose all the progress I'd made over the next quarter mile.

The descent down Bull was every bit of what I'd hoped it would be. I call it a descent, but in truth, at first, there are a few short descents, then several long, shallow climbs. I always call those climbs the "fake downhills" because if you ride it in the other direction you don't notice them at all, it just always feel like you're climbing. Eventually, I caught the guy I'd been reeling in and passed several more riders too. Then I hit the actual descent and it was so much fun that I kept forgetting that I was racing.

It's generally wise to recover on the long descents. With the energy it would take to put a minute on another rider going downhill, you could put two on the next climb. I was taking hits and railing into the turns like it was a casual ride though and I kept having to tell myself to relax and take it easy, only to forget again five seconds later.

Somewhere near the bottom, I ran into Rob Toledano and sons. They were making their way up, cheering everyone on and shaking the cowbell. When I first heard them, I thought it was the SAG and that somehow I'd gotten way further down the mountain than I was. When I saw them it all made sense, but for a moment I wondered if I'd blacked out or something and "lost time" and it was really freaky.

I did stop at SAG 3 and ran into some friends, including Michele Z and her busted up shoulder. While tanking up I realized that I needed salt. It's hard to explain how I knew that, but I'll try... When I do 6-hour races, I take salt capsules at the end of every lap. I didn't though until last year. Pre-salt, I used to start feeling a specific kind of tired around lap 3 or 4. Post-salt, I still feel tired, but I don't ever feel that specific kind of tired any more, ever. At the bottom of Bull, I felt that specific kind of tired and I correlated it with salt. A guy gave me a bag of potato chips which I consumed greedily between there and FS83. Within ten minutes that specific feeling had gone and I felt solid again.

I had managed to get some good recovery coming down Bull so I pushed hard over to Jake. Turning onto the connector, a Faster Mustache rider came up behind me. He'd missed the turn. I let him by and later got caught by two more riders who'd done the same.

There was fresh horse sign on Jake. Eddie had notified the various saddle clubs of the event though, and hopefully they'd gotten the word out, but it looked like there were some equestrians on the trail, so I kept an eye out.

I walked across the ford at Jones Creek, and about 2/3rds of the way across, noticed two ladies on horseback just up the creek to the left. I talked to them for a minute or so. They'd ridden way out that morning and they were on their way back when they started seeing all the bikes. It was only two miles to the lot, but with all the traffic, it would take a long time to get there. We were all pretty spread out by then, but still, it wouldn't be more than a few minutes between riders. In the pre-ride meeting, Eddie told everyone that the trails were open to horses and hikers and that the roads were open to vehicles and to yield as you would any other day. He even specifically went over slowing down, announcing yourself as early as possible, talking so the horse knows that you're human, and all of that, so there was a good chance that all went well. Next year though, in addition to notifying the saddle clubs, we should probably put up a "real estate" sign at both lots indicating that there's a bike race going on.

From there to SAG 4 was tremendous fun. I can't say any more than has already been said about the Jake Mountain trails. They're fantastic. I had one full bottle at SAG 4 and I didn't need to stop. The gatorade I'd gotten at SAG 3 was a little weak, but I felt good and it seemed strong enough.

Another rider had been tailing me since crossing the creek earlier. He'd missed the turn onto the Bull/Jake Connector earlier too. He was clearly stronger than me, but I think he'd pretty much abandoned and was just content to ride at that pace. At first, Black Branch seemed much harder than in previous years, but then I realized that I'd ridden more miles before hitting it this year. The rollers at the end were just brutal. I couldn't remember how many there were and it was punishing every time I realized I still had another one to go.

Coming off the last little bit of singletrack, I felt something weird going on with my butt. At first I thought the inner padding of my chamois had folded up under itself like the one in my other bib had done last week, but no, that wasn't it. What the heck? Oh. Great. I'd broken my left seat rail. The entire left side was dangling down flimsily. Hah!

It was opportune though, all I had left was gravel roads and pavement, and as it turned out, I could set it back in place and it would kind of stay as long as I didn't gerch around on the saddle too much. So I rode all the way back in like that. Every minute or two the broken rail would slip and I'd have to set it back in place and hope for the best.

The guy that had been following me took off as soon as we hit the gravel road and I never saw him again. I did catch sight of one rider on the road but I couldn't make any time on him.

Back on the Montaluce property, there was one last obstacle. The crushing final hill.

 Crushing Final Hill

It might not look too bad in the photo, which I took from my car later, but in real life it was annihilating. I shifted through every gear, and eventually just had to sit back and torque it in full granny. One last little jab.

And then it was over.

 Finish Line

It took me 4:54 or something like that. I'm not sure of the exact minute. It was good for 40th place out of 127 I think.

(Update: 4:56, 29th out of 158 in my class:

I was talking to some endurance horsemen at the Dry Creek grand opening a month or two back. They have 25, 50 and 100 mile races that they do, with SAG stops like ours, but they also have Vet Checks at each stop and even at the finish. At each Vet Check the horse must be "fit to continue." If you finish and your horse has a limp, you get disqualified. I guess the idea is that it's one thing to push yourself past your limits but it's quite another to push an animal, who might not otherwise consent, beyond its limits. At the time, we joked about how much that would change my strategy if I had to race like that. I'm almost never fit to continue at the end of a race. Last weekend at Blankets that was definitely the case, but not upon finishing the Fool's Gold. I'd run myself out of energy, but I hadn't worn any part of my body out. I couldn't have just ridden another 50, but if I'd metered out my effort, eaten differently, maybe only carried one full bottle at a time... it's not inconceivable. Maybe next year...

There was a hose, and I showered off. And there was also a pool.

 The Pool

Even knowing that there was a pool, it seemed unbelievable at the time. How could there be a pool? There was.

Marc Hirsch and Dave Greenwell were already swimming around. I didn't see anyone else that I recognized at first. Nice job crushing me guys, especially on my home course.

I drank 3 cokes, ate lasagna and a brownie and convinced Eddie to loan me 10 bucks for a massage. Then I went swimming.

There were a bunch of dogs running around including Porter, the most well behaved dog in all of North Georgia...


...and Porter's brother Jackson, the craziest dog in all of North Georgia.

The weather had been perfect all day, perhaps a little hot, but nothing out of the ordinary. Then suddenly a dark cloud materialized, devastated us with big fat rain for about 30 minutes and then disappeared as quickly as it had come. Within the hour it was dry again and they did the awards.

Not long after, the 100 milers started coming in. I hung around, waiting for Tim and Charley. A lot of the 50 milers were still out on the course too, including Karlos. When I realized he hadn't come in yet, I started to worry. By rights, he should have beaten me. He said he was going to ride it at a fast touring pace, but still. I kept checking in, but he never showed up. He wasn't on the drop list either. Hmmm.

I had an hour and a half or so before Tim or Charley were set to arrive so I drove out to see how our little creek crossing project had fared.

This was the creek on the previous Wednesday, in dry conditions.

 Kendall Creek

Here it is again the evening before the race. (From the other direction)

 The Next Day

It had rained once since working on it. Somebody had driven across it and it looked like a couple of bikes had ridden across it too, displacing a bit of straw. It looked identical to that during the race, before the rain.

And here it is post-race. (From the same direction as that first shot)

 Creek Close East

It looks like somebody drove across it again and you can see where the bikes crossed in the middle. However, that's after 350 riders passed through it, 50 or so twice and over 200 passes either during or after heavy rain. Where we placed rock there was no discernible impact, though we would have had to gravel it more heavily and further up the bank to prevent all rutting. Our main objective was to mitigate sedimentation of the creek below the road. Without the rock, water flowing across the ruts would have contributed sediment for days. Post race, the water flowing across and out below the road was clear and the rock even appears to isolate it from the ruts. I wouldn't expect there to be a sedimentation problem, but time will tell.

I'd give it a B. It's infinitely better than it was, but it can still be improved.

It apparently made the riders happy too. Before the race, I heard a guy mentioning to his friend that it had been fixed. They'd apparently pre-ridden a while back and then one of them again the previous day. Two different riders thanked me after the race. Independent of the environmental impact, it's just a pain to ride through a bog like it was. There's no good line, it slows you down terribly, covers you in mud, gets all over your chain... No good.

On the way back from my little recon, I passed Tim on the road back into the winery.

 Tim Finishing

Charley wasn't super far behind him. Still no Karlos though. Tim thought he'd seen him at SAG 4 but wasn't sure. When one group of volunteers came back from SAG 4 they said that a few riders had stopped there to wait for a ride back but didn't know any by name.

Eventually I had to get going. Since Wednesday I'd been up there doing some thing or other and had missed dinner and putting the kids to bed at home. I literally hadn't seen my kids awake in days. Tim and Dave Greenwell and the rest of the GATR crew were about to leave anyway and they wanted to hit El Jinete in Dawsonville. I tried to get Charley to come with us, but a half hour later he was still in his kit and it didn't look like he planned on moving a muscle for at least another half hour. I know that feeling. I'll be in Baton Rouge later this year though, so I should get another chance to hang with him soon.

I finally managed to get Karlos on his phone too. He'd just suffered and cramped and with locked up legs at 8 miles from the end he just couldn't go on. He'd stopped at SAG 4 and was just waiting for them to pack up and bring him back. He had a crew with him too, they were waiting and they had to go back to Helen that night. If he can make it, I should see Karlos at the TNGA. If I can make it, I'll see him at the CFiTT, so again, I should get a chance to hang with him soon.

Friends accounted for, I bailed to El Jinete and had the most impossibly hot Chile Colorado of all time. I don't think it actually counts as "Colorado" because it was made with pork and the sauce was basically just crushed up Jalapeno - no hint of red. It was really good but I couldn't finish it.

When I got home, the kids were still up and we watched the Saints play the Texans. I have no memory of the game ending or putting the kids to bed or even lying down myself. I just woke up the next morning on the couch, fully dressed, with a mild headache when Sophie came downstairs to eat some breakfast.

Yeah, it must have been a good party.


  1. What if we had a mechanic at every SAG who would determine if your bike was fit to continue? You might never finish a race!

  2. Ha! Yeah, no doubt. I probably wouldn't be allowed to start.

  3. Yes, you look that way all the's part of your charm and why we love you, Dave.