Sunday, August 5, 2012

Bull/Jake Work Party and Blankets Creek Race to Sunset

I don't think I've been this tired.

It all started last week. I think it was Tony who mentioned that he'd have the Reality tent set up at the Blankets Race to Sunset if anyone else was interested. Blankets Creek is the first trail I ever rode in Georgia. It's the first trail most Atlantans ride. Racing there is like fulfilling a childhood dream so I'd been planning on doing it all year but I just kept forgetting when it was. Turns out it was yesterday, the same day as the monthly Jake and Bull work party.

Dangit. Well... A double header then.

I got good sleep Thursday night and pretty good sleep Friday. Saturday morning I was up with the chickens and made it to Jake in good time.

I got there early, but Charlie Schultz (of Blankets Creek fame, actually) and Ken Nix were already up there with their Dingos, putting in work on the 83 bypass. Every 3 or 4 years somebody has to regrade the switchbacks. Big thanks to those guys for the machine work. The work was much-needed and there was no other good way to get it done.

Aside from the heavy machine work though, we had a light day planned. Debbie was mowing the entire Jake Lot and Campground. Jess and Nancy were slingblading down by Jones Creek. Me and Kathleen had some regravelling to do and a few turnouts to clean.


I may have mentioned this before but Kathleen is one of the people who inspired me to start volunteering. Way back during the GAP cross-country days, she won an award for putting in some ungodly number of volunteer hours one year, and also raced the entire series, thus dispelling the notion that one can be too busy racing to volunteer. So, I love working with her 'cause she knows what she's doing and I get to do a bit of hero-worship at the same time.

We borrowed Jess's truck, packed up gravel in buckets...


...and hauled it over to the 83-Bypass trail.

The grassy pavers that hold the gravel in were starting to get exposed. This happens every 2 or 3 years and somebody has to patch them back up.


Some amount washes downhill, but it's like on the forest roads where they regravel them, then two weeks later you can't tell - a lot of it just gets crushed down into the ground.

We tilled up the old stuff, applied new gravel and tamped it down hard.

Aaaaah! (angelic choir)


Most of the buckets we poured the gravel into had handles but a few didn't, so we just had to pick them up by the little plastic rims, but the little plastic rims weren't designed to be lifted on and they would sometimes crack and splinter and one of them tore a scab off of my wrist and avulsed the crap out of my finger. It looked like a little cut but it bled so much when I'd squeeze that my hand kept slipping on the tools later.

Next we headed over to the Bull/Jake Connector and cleaned out some turnouts on the last descent down to the road.

 Turnout Cleanout

Of course, we checked them with the soccer ball.

 Tools of the Trade

That last descent is part of the original trail before it was reworked in the mid 2000's and there are apparently property boundaries or stream proximities or something that prevented it from being relocated. It's probably more than half the backslope and definitely more than 10 percent. But it has several turnouts and as long as they're kept clear, the trail stays clean.

We patched up the gravel at the very top of the entrance too. That whole slope is holding together way better than I thought it would. We patch it once every 6 months or so and we've had to patch less and less each time.

 More Gravelling

On the way in and then again on the way out, we noticed this craziness.


The sign with directions to the Bull Mountain lot and Camp Wahsega is gone. It looked like someone threw a chain around it and drove off. I knew guys who did that with street signs in high school. Some high schooler has the Bull Mountain sign on his wall now I'm sure.

When we got back to the lot, I could still hear Debbie's mower going somewhere off in the campground. The Dingo guys were still out on the trail. Jess and Nancy were too. I kind of felt bad to knock off early, but we had to get going - I was racing, and as it turned out, Kathleen was volunteering at the race, so I found Debbie, left Jess's keys with her and took off.

It stormed on me all the way to Woodstock. There was a 50% chance of rain and the way my luck goes, that generally translates to: "It will rain on whatever half of Georgia I am in." As I got within a few miles of the trail though, it let up entirely and appeared not to have rained there yet that day at all. I started to feel a little hopeful but I didn't want to hope too hard yet.

It's been a while since I raced a 6-hour and in the past, I'd drive up and recognize every rider there. It was weird this time though. Neal Nichols was volunteering and greeted me on the way in, but that was it. I made a lap of the pits but I didn't see another soul. Tony and the Reality tent was nowhere to be found.

 Pit Row

Then, from out of nowhere: "I saw you!"

It was Artur Sagat. He had seen me up at the end of Hwy 400 two weeks earlier on my failed attempt to ride to Helen and back. He and his brother David were set up at the end of the row and said it was cool if I put my chair under their tent.

 The Brothers Sagat

I see David every week at the shop but I haven't seen Artur in years. I didn't even realize he still rode mountain bikes at all. Awesome!

Everyone that sees David, the first question they ask is: "You going to win today?" and apparently it's a lot of pressure, so quit asking! I've probably been guilty of that, so I'll quit asking too.

Anyway, I finally started seeing folks I knew. Carebear was back from the Wilderness 101 and would either crush it or crack immediately. Tim and his GATR buddies had driven in through the same rain I had and were thinking hard about just leaving. Sunny was riding around, warming up. It turned out there was a second pit area near the skills area too and I found some more folks over there, including Tony.

Then my brother appeared, out of nowhere!

I'd assumed that he wasn't going to the race because he hasn't been racing in forever and he assumed that I wasn't because he figured I'd be working on my house this weekend. Baldwin was there with him too! Even crazier! Awesome.

 John and Mark

I got registered and warmed up on Sixes road for a while.

 Warm Up

We had a LeMans start so I jogged a couple of laps around the pits as well. This amused Tim substantially. "Are you warming up for the run?! Who does that?!" Ha ha ha.

Lisa gave us the pre-race rundown and the whole time her little daughter was climbing back and forth up and down the podium stairs. Sometimes she'd grab onto her mom's leg and yank her over to one side or the other but Lisa is apparently very used to this because she just kept on reading and speaking as if there wasn't an impressively active little girl attempting to drag her all over the place. Oh man, it made me smile.

Then there was a prayer and the national anthem, and then we lined up, aaaand... Go!

Lap 1: I jogged reasonably well and got into the woods in a semi-reasonable position. I normally try to get in with a group that I have to ride pretty hard to keep up with. I didn't quite get that far up right away though, thus the "semi" qualification but about halfway around Van Michaels, that's where I was and I settled in. I failed miserably on Hurl Hill. The exposed rock was slightly damp and extremely slippery and I had trouble getting over my now higher seat when I needed to jump off. I caught Carebear somewhere in there and we sparred for the rest of the lap. I felt great but my cornering was off. It was the first time I'd tried to corner hard since getting fit and my instincts needed to be re-tuned. I needed to unweight my bars more and I focused on that. Rolling into the pits, they were playing Holiday from Green Day and I couldn't help but sing. The guy ahead of me looked back like I was crazy.

Lap 2: Carebear faded somewhere in there. He was still feeling the Wilderness 101. I hit the shortcut with the jump on Van Michaels that I'd missed the first lap and made it up Hurl Hill. I still felt great. Somewhere in there I caught my brother. He'd gotten out ahead of me and planned on just riding easy but he jumped on my wheel and we burned the forest down. I'm apparently a little stronger climbing than he is now, but my downhill skills were still a little weak. We switched places 3 or 4 times and following him on the descents gave me chance to retrain my cornering instincts.

Lap 3: We caught Baldwin coming out of the pits and put a little distance on him. I caught several riders in my class. Somehow I screwed up on Hurl, though I did the same thing I did the previous lap. Weird. Me and John sparred the whole lap. I still felt good. It was all that I love about racing.

Lap 4: I barely remember the details. My nutrition and hydration were on track. I got a small lead on my bro but had to stop and pee and he caught me about halfway around. Either he had picked it up or I was beginning to fade. We spun that lap out together though and we were 2 hours, 50 minutes in at the end of the lap.

Lap 5: I usually go into debt for the first few laps to get into a decent position, then when everyone else is moving slow enough to pass easily, I roll it back, get some recovery, then start pushing again when I feel strong again. My brother wasn't having any of that though and took off. I never saw him again. It was nice riding together but it didn't really matter whether I beat him or not because he was racing Sport and I was in Expert. Not that I like getting beaten by a Sport rider, but hey, John is extremely strong and I don't feel bad getting beaten by him. I made Hurl Hill by taking the obscure far right line and really felt good on all the downhills. My back and neck were getting tired but near the end of the lap I was still feeling pretty good.

Lap 6 was hard. I had power for days but my body was pissed at me for using it - mainly my lower back, which always hurts if I've been crushing the pedals for too long. My neck was bothering me too. My neck generally sucks, and usually starts hurting earlier in the ride, so I wasn't upset about it. I was getting tired of riding the same 7 miles though. I did a bunch of feeble-brained math and realized that I wouldn't likely get in more than 7 laps. Only one lap to go.

Lap7: At the start of the lap, I downed about 15 oz of pure water and two black cherry Clif Blocks - the ones with with the caffeine. Mmmm. Caffeine. I love the taste of those but I can only use them at the end of a race or they make me have to pee a dozen times. I don't know if the water and the Clif Blocks helped or if I just had last-lap syndrome, but I rocked that lap like it was the first. I felt better than I had in hours. Tim caught me near the beginning, he might have lapped me actually, and announced his presence by placing a Dutch Monkey donut and coffee order. Ha, ha. Shane came blazing by a few miles later and though I only got 7 laps in, somehow he got in 9. My god. David Sagat caught me about a mile from the end and I managed to hold his wheel all the way in.


I had 44 minutes and 20 seconds left but the previous lap had taken 48 minutes. No more riding.


And that was that. They call it the Race to Sunset but the sun was still barely up when I got done. Some folks may have had to use their lights but I never did.

The most amazing thing: the weather held out. The sun even came out for an hour or so. It was intensely humid and the sweat poured off instead of evaporating, but it wasn't even all that hot.

Still, I was so tired. So tired! I would sleep well that night.

I was talking to Carebear in the pits later and some dude walked up and stood next to us. We kept talking for like 3 minutes before I realized that the random dude was my buddy Russell, fellow TNGA pioneer and generally good guy. He was wearing a golf shirt, kahki shorts and an unusual hat. I've never seen him in civillian clothes before and the hat made him look just different enough to be unrecognizable. Apparently the same thing had happened with 2 or 3 other folks earlier. Man, it was funny.

David Sagat got 2nd. Artur got 4th. John pulled in 3rd in Sport...

 John Got 3rd


...Baldwin got 5th. I think Tim won his class. I got 11th. Grrr. At least it was 11th out of 22 though. I often come in somewhere in that range, but it's usually 11th out of 13 or 14 rather than 22, so hey, not so bad after all.

Did I mention I was tired? I pack exceedingly light for these things but dragging my chair and bottles and small pile of gear back over to my car at the church next door took all of the remaining strength in my body.

Me, John and Mark got some Chili's a few exits down and recharged a bit. As tired as I was, Mark was substantially tireder. He could barely eat and ended up taking home more than half of his quesadilla.

When I got home, I assessed the carnage. My palms were bruised. My back was sore. Through some kind of cataclysmic misapplication of Chamois Butt'r, my sit-bones were chafed and I had a serious welt going. The welt didn't appear to correspond with a seam on my bib or even my seat, so I'm not sure how that happened. The weirdest thing was how sore my wrists were. I imagine that swinging the pulaski all morning contributed to that. I'm not sure what else would have. That was a new one.

Ahhh, Blankets Creek. Thanks to everyone involved for the good times. Can't wait for next year.

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