Leading up this years Fool's Gold event my main concern was weather, heat in particular. The 100 degree heat has drained the life out of me on most rides the past three months here in Alabama and I was not looking forward to one of the harder 100 milers around in triple digit heat. I would never have guessed that rain would be my biggest problem this weekend. Well, that and the abrasive soil content of North Georgia.
When we rode a couple weeks ago in Dahlonega it rained all night the night before and the trails were moist and dried out around noon so it was not a concern at all. Heath and I drove up on Friday, got checked in at Wheel Works and headed out to Camp Washega to find our cabin to stay in for the night. I didn't realize until we arrived that the cabin in the woods would not have AC...dumb, dumb, dumb. At least it was right by the start of the race so we would not have to drive at 6 AM.
I finally drifted off into a damp, sweaty slumber and was soon awoken by claps of thunder. Shit. I immediately had visions of Dirt, Sweat, and Gears in 2009 where I walked my bike through mud for about 25 miles.
Three hours later the downpour had not eased at all. Double shit. I ignored it and slept until about 5 AM and exited the cabin to be greeted by a noticeably more full stream than I had seen six hours before. We grabbed some of the hot breakfast provided by the organizers and set about getting ready. I am usually meticulous getting ready for a race and was a bit stunned when Eddie O Dea said the 100 milers were about to start...bike still locked to the car, no air in the tires, no number plate. We rushed over to the start line with the other 100 miler racers and the 50 mile guys waiting in the wings to begin their race 15 minutes later than us.
There were 15 singlespeeders including me and Heath and probably 50 guys in the open class including all the big guns who were leading the National Ultra-Endurance series Fool's Gold is part of. I noticed about 5 brave women there ready to tackle the long race also. I was a bit intimidated lining up with guys that travel around the country doing these things. Heath and I planned to stick together for the first lap then figure out the second when it came around. The race begins with a 10 mile gravel climb up to Cooper's Gap which was unknowingly going to be one of the more pleasant sections of the course. About a mile up the road the skies opened up with another deluge which would not let up for another two hours. I remember grinding up the climb in my 32/21 and thinking I was having a damn good time for riding up a huge hill in the rain. The trouble began on the backside of this, the Winding Stair descent.
The descent was very steep gravel road and was even sketchier than usual with the rain killing my vision. We took it easy on the turns and safely made it to the first section of singletrack. This is usually a fun, twisty section but the rain had turned it into a complete mess. This was the story for the rest of the race. It was on this section, about 20 miles in, where Heath asked how my brakes were doing. Mine were good ( I thought) and his were rapidly fading. I stopped at the end of a long descent to wait on him and was not paying attention when I noticed a rider hauling it into a sharp left hander I was standing near. I realized it was Heath just when he getting vaulted over a small log into a tree on the outside of the turn. I knew his brakes were done at this point but did not want to kill any hope he had. We made it to Sag 2 which was a total mess with missing drop bags, no water in the coolers, and plenty of riders with broken bikes already. This was the story of the day. The mud ruined brake pads and shifty bits with equal aplomb. We began the Bull Mountain loop which is where things got tough. The climb up Bear Hare took forever....it was too slick to ride and took close to 45 minutes to hike. This was the last time I saw Heath til after the race.
The descent down Bull Mountain was really hard on those with no brakes. I passed lots of riders walking down it and cruised into Sag 3 where the number of riders with dead bikes had doubled. I waited on Heath for about ten minutes then decided to go on alone. I kept broken up food in my jersey pockets unwrapped so it would be easier to eat. I reached in and pulled out a mass of Clif Bar, mud, and bits of trail debris. Oh well, can't starve out here...ate the mess and kept rolling. Between Sag 3 and 4 I realized why my brakes felt ok. They are Shimano XTs which are self adjusting as the pads wear so you cannot tell how much pad you have left from lever feel. I washed the bike off in one of the many deep creek crossings and saw a lot of piston and not much pad. Ugh, not good. I was still able to slow down but was not sure how long the pads would hold. After Sag 4 I began the No Tell/Black Branch loop which was tough in the dry and mostly unrideable in the now worsening mud. The downhills were the steepest on this part of the course and covered in peanut butter type mud. No crashed but I had little control of the bike here and just sorta pointed where I hoped it would go. I found myself beginning to doubt the possibility of a second lap, I would have to track down new pads, change them and fix the front brake that had been dragging for the last 40 miles.
I was struggling to walk up a greasy, doubletrack climb and saw a rider on the side of the trail who asked to use my multitool. This no longer even felt like a race and time was of no importance to me so I stopped and put on a new derailler hanger for him. Impressed...not many people carry a spare one. I spent about ten minutes on the side of the trail then pressed on to finish up the remaining seven or so miles. This consisted of a series of relentless gravel rollers that were a bit of relief since I was actually able to ride them and did not have to worry about my deteriorating brakes. I was in cruise control mode thinking I would need to head out for another fifty miles. I rolled across the finish line and someone stopped me and told me they cancelled the 100 miler due to the horrible conditions! I was in disbelief at first then a wave of relief hit me that I was done. I didn't feel like I had even raced, but I was finished. It was the oddest sensation but I didn't complain.
I finished the lap in around six hours which was my goal time for a lap in the dry which was cool. We watched all the stragglers coming in and washed our bikes. Heath and many others had to bail halfway through due to not having brakes or shifters. We saw everyone gathering for the awards and headed over to watch. They did the 100 miler awards separate from the 50 and based on times for the one lap completed. I had no aspirations of better than a midpack finish at a national level race and was stunned when Eddie called me up as 4th place Singlespeed. Total shocker but it great to get up on the podium at a big race like this one. Glad I happened to be wearing and Endless Bikes shirt so I could represent properly. Really mixed emotions about this race...stoked on a good finish, unstoked (not a real word...dont care) that I only got to ride half of what I signed up for and the sad state of my bike. Big races for this year are done so now it is time to eat, drink, and relax before cyclocross starts up in a couple months. I will try and post some pics from this race when I find them.