I have wanted to do this race for well, the entire time it has been a thing. Problem is, it is a thing that usually starts New Years weekend. Busy weekend for many, including me, so I usually just whine and moan about doing it "next year"...
Last year I realized it was a more attainable schedule with 2 races done in January and February with the first one the weekend AFTER New Years. Also included was the addition of a 50 mile option with an initial 17 miles of the Dry Creek trails added in. I will admit, none of this means a damn thing until you have been there!
I committed to The Snake a few months ago...along with PMBAR...and the Cheaha Ultra. I have been accused of overdoing things before and it is just my way. Pick what you love and get to work. With Snake Creek on the horizon I got in a few good weeks of training. Lots of work on West Ridge and chatting with anyone who had raced Snake Creek before which is, well, pretty much all my riding friends. I have learned that nothing is for certain, and as they say...Shit Happens. The Shit in my case was a case of Strep 10 days prior the the January edition of Snake Creek. I will mention here this is not the reason I didn't win. I wouldn't have won if Brian Toone loaned me his legs for the weekend. Backstory is fine in the context of a backstory but once it becomes a Shoulda Woulda Coulda, everyone has their own. Sickness, bad weather...it is a rare thing to go race and everything go by The Plan.
10 days of no riding hurt me some but my main concern was the weather on Friday morning. I left work at 11 AM with my car and bike covered in ice. Once home, I was quickly joined by the Angel and Devil on each shoulder. Melissa was full of reason and good judgement, which I am always thankful for. Pete Foret sat on my left, brimming with confidence with his Subaru's AWD system. With too much pressure building in the house, it took a trip to Mr. Chen's to lock down a decision. Go to The Snake.
The drive up was pretty uneventful and I enjoy any chance to chat with Pete. Once in Dalton we quickly found out the 50 and 34 mile options would be doing only the last 17 miles of the course...which is nice in the fact it is the highest regarded portion of Snake Creek Gap but sucked because we came to ride 50. I was happy to see a beagle in the Snake Pit as well as plenty of friends from Birmingham, along with some new ones from other places.
|Explaining Rule 5|
Tony's Italian was the spot for dinner and I cannot help but mention I don't really know what carb loading is. People ask me about it all the damn time and I just don't know. I sign up. I go to the mountain town and go wherever everyone wants to eat and I eat. End of story. As I have said before, I am not a nutritional role model. Trying to sleep was a real treat. Pete is a champion snorer and the folks behind the wall were definitely not arranging gear for Snake Creek...
As predicted, it snowed overnight and we woke up to an ice covered Dalton with a "clear and bitterly cold" 5 degree windchill.
Snake Pit parking lot. 8 AM
For those in the dark, Snake Creek is a point to point race, so you either depend on the race shuttles or make your own. We went the DIY route with Pete, Jeff, and Matt Ward driving us to Snake Creek Gap for the start. The drive was pretty icy and generally awful road conditions. The countryside was awesome to take in and I was pretty stoked to ride still. Our Plan was to warm up in the parking lot before the start but after 3 meandering laps I realized the stupidity of this "warmup" and checked in to start. We started out with a pretty decent climb where my hands immediately went numb with cold.
Well fuck. If they are this cold at 170 heart rate how could it improve?!
Turns out just fine and I was totally warm the rest of the race which ranged from actual air temp of 15 to 19 degrees F. Clothing list at the bottom of this post.
I passed a good many people up the first hill then saw Jeff McCord stopped. After a chat about his mechanical issues I grabbed some of my Nuun slushie and headed on. The entire bottle lid was already ice and I made a mental note to watch them closely so I could actually drink later. I set out at this point to simply go for a nice, snowy ride in the woods and not worry about Racing. My priority was to not do anything dumb and get done when I got done. This was thoroughly evident in the 13 minute addition in stopped time to my 2:25 moving time for the race....Oops.
The views were awesome and I was enjoying the trails, up and down. I hiked a ton but I expected to. The climbs are pretty steep and on a singlespeed you WILL hike a bunch. The first 7 miles I thought were quite easy but got tougher after the Sag station. I used a heart rate monitor and was rewarded with lots of blinky lights confirming the aerobic impact of my recent sickness. I had no idea what to expect from the course and the snow cover on the trails made the rocks tougher to see. Jackson and Frank both passed me around mile 10 and were looking very good. The descents were steep and covered in either leaves or snow. I figured walking would be dangerous too so went ahead and rode. Heavy feet, light hands, hope for traction. Braking with heavy gloves on was pretty weird and I spent an hour or so trying to decide if my brakes were failing. Turn out, no, the only failure was my perception of them.
Once into the harder climbs of the course Stewart Miller caught me and we rode/ hiked together a bit. I rode, in retrospect, very conservatively, most of the race to pace for the unexpected. On top of the ridge I came to appreciate the full fury of The Snake. Very technical, very slick, and I had never seen any of it! I rode where I could but hiked a bunch. I had some real issues with cleats icing over which took lots of stick poking to remedy. I finally started to figure out the rocks some and ride more once I was alone. I messed up and rode behind a nervous and somewhat frustrated guy for too long but eventually scooted around. The scenery was amazing and I took plenty of time to look around at the snow covered valleys. While anticipating more rocks and elevation gain, I popped out onto a very long road descent. For some reason, I looked over my bike before heading down and saw the rear through axle flipped open from one of many rock hits. I snugged it up and headed down the icy road to the finish. I felt a bit dumb as I realized I could have ridden a good bit harder until this point. Safety first, I guess.
I finished mid packish and had an awesome time. I am more excited for the full 50 with a better idea of the trails. Once finished I felt the cold for real in the Snake Pit trying to change into warm clothes.
|After 15 minutes of thawing time|
Matt Ward popped up around this time with a wet belly, and some frosty looking track pants. We heckled him most of the way back to the start area to swap cars around. Good company makes a good race even better!
As I mentioned, I rode 2.5 hours in 5 to 10 degree windchill and didn't get cold much at all. From the bottom up, what I wore:
Feet: Shimano MW81 winter boots with Hot Hands things in the tongue. Ice Breaker mid weight socks.
Legs: Twin Six bibs with 12 year old Polartec ski tights.
Torso and arms: Defeet SS wool base. 626 aero jersey. Thick Defeeet wool arm wamers. Gore Phantom Windstopper jacket.
Gloves: Giro Merino base liner with Gore Thermo thick gloves over that.
Way up top: Rapha (I know...save it) neck gaiter. Castelli Windstopper X hat.
The race was for sure a learning experience and aside from getting sick, I prepped for it pretty well. See everyone again Feb. 11!