After last month's snowy and shortened Snake Creek Gap Time Trial, I don't think I was alone in my hope for better weather for this weekend's Finale event. As I tend to do, I checked the weather all week leading up to race day. We lucked out big time and ended up with an overcast sky and 55 degree temperatures at a race famous for bad conditions. This also meant I would be able to do the full 50 mile distance I signed up for a few months ago.
Prayers were answered Friday afternoon when I finally got my favorite sweatpants back from Pete Foret. I had severely missed them the past 5 weeks as they migrated from Matt Ward's truck into Pete's possession, where they served a long purgatory in the back seat of his car. We opted to stay at the same Days Inn in Dalton, the only difference being I was succesful in my attempt to sweet talk my way into a ground floor room. I immediately felt at home when I saw the license plate on the Porsche sedan parked next to us..."ROLL T." They might have been selling low T supplements but I am still telling myself it was a Bama thing.
We found a better spot for dinner this time. By "We" I mean Jacob found it and told me where to go. Cherokee brewing and pizza was really good and I was delighted to watch a 220 pound man call Pete "Pet" a few times thanks to a careless computer input. Jamie and Lennie joined us also and we had a great dinner. I usually count on a shitty night of sleep before a race and continued my trend.
By some combination of super cheap blanket and my collection of bike clothes on the bed, said blanket managed to develop a static charge of a magnitude I didn't think possible. I was sleeping poorly in the hot room but attempts to separate the Days Inn bedding delivered quite obvious sparks in the air. Nope. Nope. I'd rather be hot. 4 hours of sleep and we did about the same routine as last time. Self shuttle to the start is the way to go here if you have the bike rack situation to make it work easily.
There were lots of riders at the Dry Creek parking lot, which is the start for the 34 and 50 mile race. The line to the facilities was about 30 deep with the folks who had failed to make race weight back at the hotel. Oops. The forecast called for rain so I strapped a shell to my bike and wore a vest also, which I ended up not needing at all. Since the race is a TT, it starts with one rider every 30 seconds or so, but due to the volume of riders once in the singletrack it is pretty much a mass start scenario. The first 18 miles of the 50 sent us through the Dry Creek loops before starting the traditional Snake Creek Gap course.
The singletrack was very fast and quite loose in the corners with loose rock over hardpack. I am overdue for a new rear tire but have a supersition of changing nothing before race day. My mental comfort of keeping tradition was countered by the dramatic lack of rear traction in the corners. Oh well, at least my fork was operable. With Tyree's help, I was able to fix a Reba that really wanted to wallow mid travel and refused to fully extend. Turns out Rock Shox uses a Solo Air system that is really a hidden Dual Air. Inside the fork leg is an extra air valve that can return normal pressure if it goes wonky and leaked air between positive and negative chambers. This fix happened much later in the day Thursday than I was comfortable with but hey, fixed is fixed.
I used a heart rate strap but turned off any indicator I could see during the race. I strictly paced off perceived exertion but still rode too hard during the Dry Creek Loop. Pete started right behind me, so we rode together almost all of the first 33 miles. I was spun out during much of the first 2 hours of the race which turned out to be pretty exhausting. We caught Carey Lowery around maybe mile 12, who I figured was having a bad day or was much better at pacing than us. It turned out to be the latter, as I would discover soon enough.
Thomas Turner came by us on Dry Creek and I very suddenly understood what it takes to ride a 4:09 on the 50 mile. He chatted for a minute and was quickly completely out of sight. We got through the first 18 miles in 1:44...WAY faster than I expected or planned. I started getting tired around this point due to making passes on the trail. It takes extra energy but in the end I think is smarter than riding behind slower riders. The trail turned slower and more technical through here, which I was happy with. I rode a 34/22 gear on my Superfly, which was better suited to this type of riding. Pete got away from me here and I really thought he was gone for good. I got a bit down during this time, also soon I realized I was hot. Like, really hot. I shed my arm warmers and vest on one of my increasingly common hike a bike walks. This brought some renewed energy and I picked up the pace. 10 minutes or so and I was back with Pete. Around this time Carey came back around, looking smooth as can be. Suspicion confirmed...I started too fast.
I got around Pete on the Horn Mountain descent and started feeling more comfortable on the descents. I was riding better with each hour and feeling good. I was diligent about nutrition and water as the penalties are big in a race this long. I think of the Snake 50 as 3 17 mile races that get harder and harder as you go along. I was happy to see the Snake Creek Gap parking lot as this meant I knew the rest of the course! The prospect of riding the rockier parts of the course without snow and ice was very motivating. I saw Jeff McCord in the parking lot, who quite simply looked like hell. I could tell he didn't feel right so wished him luck and headed up the steep Mill Creek climb. My legs started to come around here and I was able to ride almost the whole way up. I yo yoed with Rachel Millsop for much of the race and a couple other guys. I got away on descents and they caught me during the hike a bike sections. I felt good on the Swamp Creek descent and climb back up Hurricane Mountain.
I got a bit confused around this point and thought I only had 7 miles to go, which I was wrong about. Not by much but I was concerned at one point I was off course. Wishful thinking maybe? I really enjoyed the rock gardens through Snake Creek Gap this time. I rode all the first two rock gardens and almost all of the third one. This was a pleasant change from January, where I basically had a long ass hike with cleats so packed with ice I coudn't clip in. I was very tired but my legs had hurt so much already by this point I was used to it and decided I wasn't going to cramp so kept pushing hard. Most of my body hurt at this point actually, but I expected that. It is a super rough course and if you ride the descents hard it beats you up. I kept thinking I had one mile to go and was wrong. This happened a few times and I couldnt figure out when I left Snake Creek Gap trailhead, which I had tried really hard to remember. I was fried and started to get irritated, but calmed down some after talking with a guy I was riding with. I put the mileage calculations out of my head and tried to focus on the trail.
The towers at the end of Dug Gap meant I only had to descend the road and I was done. The descent was really fun and fast, and much more pleasant in 55 degree temps compared to last month. I came over the line in 5:47 which was well under my 6 hour goal. I rode really well the last 17 miles and was pretty well trashed at the end. So much so that I totally forgot the belt buckle for completing both races! It took a couple good meals for my brain to get back on track and I am still pretty tired today. I understand the appeal of this race now and it is one of my favorites. Incredibly hard but rewarding. Thanks to everyone that helped make this race happen, it is one of a kind and draws a great crowd of folks. I think I can do better now that I am familiar with the course and will be back for sure.