Saturday, October 15, 2011

24 Hours of Georgia

I was looking for something new and challenging to do, and I wanted it to involve the mountain bike.  The challenge presented itself in the Oak Mountain parking lot one day when someone mentioned that they were doing a long endurance mountain bike race.  The idea of seeing how many laps one can endure on a tough off road course seemed like a good idea, so I started mentioning the idea to other riders I know.  Not too many takers it seemed.  I wonder why?

As fall approached, there were a couple of other guys that decided to take on this challenge with me.  Nathan, my partner in riding through Utah for the past couple of years, and Travis a friend through our team Steel City Cycling.

None of us had done anything quite like this, and we signed up and formulated a plan for the race.

1. Show up with bikes
2. Try to ride the bikes fast and keep them upright (preferably with us still on them...)
3. Try to make as many laps as physically possible without killing ourselves in 24 hours

Seemed as good a plan as any.

Travis had the ultra-camp-chair.  Yep, I had the privilege of falling asleep in it several hours later.

I asked how many laps he was planning on doing on the P-Far (Penny Farthing) for those of you not well versed in bicycle history.

His comment was "What?  Absolutely zero!  I would go over the bars on the first root."

One of my regrets of the weekend was not asking for the chance to ride it...  Next time.

As we headed over to the starting line and checking out the "vibe" of the place.  People were nervous and some people were already having fun.  I'm guessing the folks "having fun" were in support rather than riding the next 24 hours.

Nathan, got the nod for the first lap and donned the "ever so sought after" Steel City Team Jersey.

There was to be a line-up and start followed by a parade lap to let the field thin out a bit.  If you have ever seen a mountain bike race or a motorcross race where everyone tries to get the Holeshot and be first into the woods or the first turn, you will understand why.  It's a wreck fest, and why would the organizers let that happen when it was unnecessary?  They didn't.  It's a 24 hour race people.  There will be time to pass other riders...

Needless to say, people still went out like their first lap was the end-all of their racing careers.  (mine as well...dang that racing fever)

I have to say WOW that outfit a black and white photo that is...

Nathan running into the transition area after his first lap.

We all planned on rotating each lap to get a chance to memorize the course before nightfall and in case someone crashed out and couldn't continue.  That way when the world was condensed down to a tunnel of battery powered light, we would have an even chance of not crashing ourselves.

 We all turned in pretty fast first laps and then second laps...

This is me after the second lap...I'm trying not to look like I spent too much energy on the course already.  It was only 4pm or so.  Grrr...I still have power...I'm going to need it...  *whew*

Nightfall came and the lamps came out, and we all went from goofy looking guys in Lycra to goofy looking guys in Lycra with big goony lamps on our heads.  Fortunately, as is the norm for nighttime, it got really dark and we resumed believing we were cool (sort of) because nobody could see us except for the blindingly bright lamps on our helmets darting in and out of the trees.  The trail was really getting dusty and in the lamp light this became really apparent.  Clouds of dust would linger for minutes as riders went through and the lamps seemed to intensify the haze by reflecting off of each little microscopic bit in the air.

3 words:  Lamps are good.  

Travis found this out after pulling a double shift on the trail and having his battery run out mid way.  He is a super-hero for finishing the lap using a lamp that would barely illuminate the trail for someone traveling at the speed of a milk-drunk toddler.  Which he was not.  He was effectively running blind.  Impressive my friend.

Travis finished up his double loop at 2am.  I then started off into the wee morning hours.  It stunk.  Period.

I rode two laps from 2 to 5am and thought I was going to die.  Not from speed or crashing, but from old age before my aching muscles would get me back to the pit area.  It was an odd time to be on a bike.

I noted a couple of things though.  Mid-way through my laps, my mental state went kind of dark...

The cool/fun atmosphere of people milling around and having a good time while enjoying a bike race became something I was getting more and more annoyed by.  I was tired and suffering through the early morning hours on the bike while they were still smiling and sitting by campfires with friends.  I envied them, and I really disliked them at that point.  Grrr...

Interestingly enough this nasty, "I'm not really having that much fun" mind-set went to one of kid like grins within the next 2 hours.  I had kind of silly thoughts like, "This is like when Mom and Dad let me outside after bedtime with a flash-light and I get to explore stuff!"  I must have been really tired...

The happier mindset was much better than grumbling and wishing the happy people along the trail had fleas in their sleeping bags...

I finished up my 24 mile slog just before dawn and crashed in the sleeping bag not really caring if we got any more laps in.  Well, I did care, but I didn't have the energy to be the person to go and ride anymore for at lease a couple of hours.

At about 8 we all were up and about and found the energy to go and get two more laps in just before the finish.  It's amazing what oatmeal, coffee and a couple of hours of sleep will do.  Travis rolled out for a fast lap and we hoped that our math would work out to allow me to get one more lap in just before the 11am finish.  If I was still on the course when 11am rolled around, the lap wouldn't count.  We both cut large amounts of time off of the laps we had just done in the dark a few hours earlier and finished up with about 15 minutes to spare.

I ran into a policeman who oddly enough had a bike on his squad car.  I asked if he had been working or racing, and he said "both".  It turns out that we had passed him several times in the evening hours as he was stopping traffic for the racers the cross the road to the granite side of the course.  Then he made a few loops with a team once his shift was over.  That's a pretty good way to spend an evening when he had to work.

Side note: Riding wheelies past a police officer on a public road and not getting yelled at is fun.  I know...really daring...ooooh...

The team goal of finishing the race without dying was a success -- I know we had some seriously lofty goals.

We weren't all that slow and ended up finishing up mid pack.  There were some amazingly strong riders out there.

The race stats:
  • 24 hours of race time
  • 23rd place out of 35 teams.  
  • 16 laps total
  • 192 miles covered
  • No serious crashes
  • Fun

Now that you have read my account of the events, which may have absolutely no reflection on my teammates' versions of the experience, but since they haven't sent me a write up, you get my awesome prose instead!  Lucky lucky!

To add to the awesome content on this blog, you also get the chance to see the product of me running around with a GoPro camera and annoying my teammates with it!


Since YouTube and the UMG Music guys have decided to forego the free advertising for some classic rock music by The Who, I have loaded this up on Vimeo. YouTube also has the version that will probably be available on your mobile phone...I know there are so many of you so desperate to see my posts that you can hardly wait to see the HD video on the computer...

24 Hours from Brad on Vimeo.

The YouTube link HD if the embedded above doesn't work.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Fuzzy New Family Member Arrives

Mema's cat has come to live with us.  It's a great cat and has integrated fairly well with the family.  Well, it's integrated about as well as anyone that came from a sedate assisted living home to a household with 3 kids and wild activity all the time possibly could.  It's amazing to me that it has ever come out from under the bed considering the shock of the change in environment.

I thought about something kind of funny when, I believe it was Joyce, mentioned a small detail about Kitty Poo (Mema picked the name not us).

This is actually Kitty Poo 2.

The cat has the same black and white markings as the original, and it never dawned on me that enough time had passed since the original Kitty Poo arrived as a kitten in Mema's living room that it had achieved old age and passed on thus requiring a "clone" Kitty Poo replacement.

What must have gone through Mema's mind when Kitty Poo 2 came home for the first time?  To set the scene, I don't believe that Joyce told Mema that this was a new cat.  Mema probably looked at it and noticed that it seemed much younger and active than it did before it went to the vet.  "Hey, what's that vet treating those old cats with?

Anyway, the cat is a loved member of the household now, and hopefully it doesn't go insane from the constant jet engine equivalent noise levels and kids trying to find it and "pet" it at all hours.

There is also the fun little bit of retribution for all cat-dom.  Kitty Poo is allergic to something in my house and reacts much the same way I have around cats for all my years of cat ownership.  (No, I'm not all that bright I guess.)  The cat's sneezing and watery eyes make me think...HA TAKE THAT FUZZBALL!  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Six for Six

HA!  You guys thought I would be writing up the 24 Hours of Georgia Mountain Bike Race!  Nope!  I'm so far behind that you get a re-cap of what I wrote back in September and just now got around to publishing!

The Six Gap Century!

For the sixth year in a row, I headed up to Dahlonega Georgia to ride some of my favorite roads.  The thing about having a nasty long ride with loads of steep mountain roads at the end of the season is that it gives me an excuse to ride more.

"I have to go out and ride or Six Gap is going to be more of a suffer-fest than normal!", I'll say.

"Aawww...he just HAS to go out and ride.  Poooor baby." Brenna must be thinking.

It's true though, Six Gap is always painful.  It's always hard.

And it's fun.  

I've ridden this course in pouring rain more than once, searing 90+ degree heat that brought me to my knees in a 7+ hour dehydrated disaster, and then there are years like this year.  Perfect in almost every way.

It was a fun weekend.  I went up to the ride Saturday morning after spending Friday night camping with 200 noisy marshmallow and soda powered Cub Scouts.  We didn't get away until 11am since I was attending a flag football game where Bryce made a couple of good plays and the team won for the first time this season.

I love the drama of football even if it's little kids.  The joy on their faces when they won after a late game "pick-six" interception was contagious.

Brian Toone and I were going to carpool up to the ride and he was going to race the Saturday Pro-Am Criterium around downtown Dahlonega.  This was the first year they have organized the Criterium races, and it was a big success from what I could tell.  Normally, I will get up to town to register, get all the race numbers for the Sunday morning Six Gap ride, and then go watch College Football at the lake house, but this time there was racing to watch too, so we hung out.  I did get to watch the Clemson v FSU game thanks to a massive screen TV in the commons for the North Georgia College just off the downtown race course.  We hung out there and drank coffee until it was time for Brian to start his warmup and I went up to catch the Women's race before the Men's Pro-Am.

I feel like I'm a pretty strong rider until I watch these people race.  It's amazing how fast and strong they are.  They are just a different breed.  It's fantastic to see...

Brian's race started at 8:30pm and went well for him.  He won a couple of Primes, which are cash or prize awards given out during a race for being the first to cross the line on a designated lap, but there was a real powerhouse rider that ended up lapping the field for the overall win.  That kid is going to be a decent pro rider someday if he keeps that up.

We got back to the lake house at around 11:30pm, and were back in the car at 5:30am.  We didn't even get to catch up with Blake or Jess since we were there such a short time.  Thanks for the beds guys!

The ride started in mid 50 degree dry weather with the promise of a sunny mid 70's day.  The thousands of riders lined up excited for the effort and challenge...and some not so excited but resigned to completing the difficult task for whatever motivation they had.

Events like this are interesting because it brings out everyone from all walks of life.  People trying to get in shape, Ultra-fit bike racers, People with a dream to be able to complete a distance like this just one time in their lives, People who know they can ride it but want to do better than last time.  There is the social rider that will take 10 hours to finish, and the suffer enthusiasts that want to go as fast as they can the whole time.  It's a great mix.

I had a goal of getting the 104 miles and 11,000 feet of climbing done in 6.5 hours of saddle time or better, so I probably fall into the suffer-enthusiast category mentioned above.  I'm not really fast but I can keep it going for a fair distance.

Brian ready to roll out...

Brian and I shook hands, wished each other luck, and went our separate ways.  In other words he went and lined up with the horses up front that expected to complete the course in less than 6 hours total...including any stops at the aid stations.  An impressive goal no matter who you are.

The mass of riders began the slow roll-out after the gun went off and threaded its way past the local shops and off into the back roads of northern Georgia.  I love sights and sounds of the ride, of any ride for that matter, with the bright jerseys flying by and the click and buzz of the bicycles.

At least I love that stuff at the beginning of the ride.  Later on, when the world is filled with sore muscles and aching joints, I'm less inclined to say I love much of anything except getting off the bike.

I found a fast group and with their help flew through the first 20 miles, and the climb up Neels Gap came and went relatively easily.  The sun was out and the arm warmers came off quickly.  I stopped at the top for some food which wasn't really the plan, but as I had reached the top, an impatient 18-wheeler had passed me.  I knew I could descend the gap at 40+ and the truck would do it at less than half that speed, but I would never find a gap long enough to pass it without killing myself.  Waiting at the top for a few minutes was the prudent move to keep the downhill I had earned fun...and fast.

I was riding pretty well and made good time through the next two mountains.  The twisting descent down Unicoi was as wonderful as ever and passing cars on a bicycle is fun every time.

The 4th mountain was the toughest challenge.  Hogpen Gap.  7 miles of sheer nasty steep.  This is the place where you begin to see people walking the bikes and "delivering the mail".

(i.e. weaving back and forth across the road from "mailbox to mailbox".)

I know my ride is going to go well or completely fall apart on that climb.  Things went well.  I got up the climb in 43 minutes.  Note: Brian rode it in 32 minutes and yet didn't finish 1st on the climb...only 2nd.  Sheesh...

Holy cow some people can go uphill fast.  My combined Wolfpen gap and Hogpen gap times netted me 154th place out of 1000 riders, so I'll count my performance as a pretty good effort but nothing spectacular.
Looking down Unicoi Gap

I took off down Hogpen knowing that the ride was shaping up to be one of my faster times.  I began to have thoughts of finishing in 6 hours or 6:15.  I passed several people on my descent.  It is so much fun to go 50+ on a bicycle.  I was a little more reserved with the other riders and still managed 51 miles an hour on the long steep section.  I hit 57 mph a few weeks earlier and decided then an there to never ride that fast on that road again.  There is only so much the poor brakes on a bicycle can do if you miss a turn at speeds like that.  It's funny how I can be confident and in complete control to make any and all the turns on that descent at 51 but just 6 mph faster makes the safety factor evaporate.

I topped Wolfpen gap, the long winding set of switchback roads feeling tired, but I still had gas in the tank.  I had been making sure to stuff food in my mouth whenever I thought about it and to drink as much as possible on this ride.  Normally, I start to feel a little gross after 80 miles, but since I had been eating already, it seemed like I had unlocked something.  I was actually hungry and could process the food rather than having my body in complete revolt over it.  I need to remember that in the future...

I had one more climb and the rolling hills back to the highschool from that point, and I really started to turn on the effort since I knew the ride was in the bag.  Woody gap flew by and the final 15 mile stretch lay out in front.  I kept the pace as high as I could get the body to go after 85 miles.  I began to cramp up on the last 7 miles and couldn't get out of the saddle to power up hills.  I was working with a strong rider and whenever the road pitched uphill we would stand to power over the rise.  My quads would immediately lock into knots like someone hit me in the legs with a hammer.

I had the energy to push harder, but the body was beginning to fail me.  I had to sit and down shift to get over the small steep hills.  I watched as the potential goal for 6 hours ticked by and I couldn't go any faster.

6:15 passed by as well, but I did accomplish the fastest time I have done on the longer course version of Six gap.  I left everything I had on the course.  I couldn't have gone faster with what the day gave me, so I am happy.  I was laid out on the pavement by the car and queazy with the effort for a few minutes, but the feeling didn't last too long.  Brian rolled up (well rested looking) and we headed over to get some post ride food.

I asked how he did and he said he finished first.  In my semi-functioning brain I thought he meant first up Hogpen Gap, but realized he meant the whole thing.

He had finished the ride with another rider in first place.  5 hours 7 minutes.  I'm simply amazed at how fast that is.

In summary, the ride was great and we all had a good time.  I can't ask for much more than that.  I'm not sure if I'll ride it again.  Which is always the case after riding that course.  We will see come July or so if I feel like riding all out for a few months to get ready.

Have a great week everyone.