Monday, February 8, 2010

Snake Creek Gap TT #2


I cannot believe how tough this first race of the season has been for me. After hearing the horror stories of just how extremely cold it was back at Snake Creek Gap TT #1, I was really worried about becoming a stranded frozen popsicle out in the Chattahoochee National Forest....I really thought I was prepared for what was to come, but I do not think I was even close...mentally nor physically.

Backpedaling in the story, you, the reader, must understand that I have been road training(basically being pummeled by macho roadies who love to drop neophytes such as myself in 15-20mph headwinds at paces above 23-25mph avg), working furiously on a new software feature, indoor spinning, and buying a new home all at the same time. Not to mention that Mother Nature and the unknown forces at work have been pummeling the Earth with massive amounts of rainfall, therefore rendering useless what minimal amounts of local trails we do have! It had not been an easy January...Then closing on our new house(yay!) and realizing we must evacuate our current house(doh!) made the start of race season that much more complicated. So, my "rest" week before the Snake was spent lifting lots and lots of heavy boxes, then working until 4 or 5 in the am, waking at 10am and then doing it again...and still doing it now. I do believe the best night's sleep I received was at the hotel before the race through the Pinhoti Trail System...

So, where was I? Oh yeah, Matt McMaster and myself headed up to Dalton Georgia late on Friday arriving just in time to get some late chow and meeting up with Mike Pierce and Mark Sackett to discuss Saturday's race strategies. Mark mentioned the rainfall would more than likely have a serious affect on the initial creek crossing which had been a frosty nuisance in January. I hoped he was wrong on that one. He also mentioned some serious rock gardens which were close to impossible to climb entirely while in the saddle. I shuddered to think about rock gardens along a ridegeline with temps forecast into the upper 30s...We did all agree that the overall temperature was better than January, but we knew of no other elements which were within our control...off to sleep I went with too many unknowns in my mind.

Saturday came fast and furious as expected...a minor setback, was the discovery that breakfast at the Courtyard Dalton was not complimentary and we had no time left to enjoy a waited breakfast. I simply gobbled up assorted cookies and breakfast bar items and we all set out hurriedly to meet the Snake Creek Gap challenge...41 degrees at the start...Arriving a bit late for initial registrants, we found ourselves rushed from one line to another to get our bib numbers and free tshirts (nice shirts Northwest Georgia SORBA!) and nice cloth maps of the Pinhoti Trail system, which will be mounted on a wall under glass in the future. We then found ourselves being shuttled up towards the start point in a super nice heated luxury RV which I was reluctant to get out of when approaching our destination. After waiting a few moments for our bikes to show up, it was time to say our good lucks and start on our solo adventures.

The Time Trial is setup to have 15 second gaps between riders in order to not have as many riders all scrambling for the same trail space at any given moment. It was an interesting and pleasant way to start the race. Mark took off first, then some other riders, then Matt, then more riders, then it was my turn and last, but not least, Mike. My thoughts kept going forward to the creek crossing: should I ride thru? or walk it barefoot? After some initial warm up climbing for the first mile or so, I arrived at the first creek crossing and my choice was made for me. The water was on the brink of unpassable. It was really coming through thick! My first thought was: there is no way I am gonna get across. Matt was already across. Then, I see some people strip off their shoes, hike on their bike and start sloshing across, getting pushed sideways by the heavy currents, then going deeper, deeper and then coming up and out of it. No WAY! Before my mind could convince me to turn around, I quickly took off my neoprene booties, shoes and socks, stuffed them in my jacket and started across. The creek pushed me sideways and I really had to push my way across...up came the water past my knees, up it came further...oh yeah, past my waist...still inching higher...oh there it goes...mid chest...COLD! I started to slosh faster and just as quickly as I dipped into it, I re-emerged soaking wet from lower mid chest down...so much for staying as dry as possible. My extra socks were soaked, but they were wool(Wigwams rock!), so I immediately wrung them out and slid them on. Mike comes across soaked through. The wind was quickly letting me know just how wet I was, so it was vital to cover up as quickly as possible. 2 pairs of semi-soggy socks, shoes and soggy neoprene booties back in place, I jumped on the bike and take off again to make up for lost time and build my body heat back up. Did I mention there were 2 more back and forths on that creek? I rode through one which went midway up my frame...soaked already, so it no longer mattered. I quickly forgot about the creek crossings as I then entered the no-man's land of mucky climbing, John's Mountain...

I realized at this point that I had selected a gear which was too high
for the circumstances that followed. I kept getting really bogged down in the mud and muck from the water pouring down the mountains. It was the most frustrating climbing situation I believe I have ever encountered. I would jump off and walk, but slip and sink deeper into the mud. I finally found a balancing point which made me maintain a certain speed, either walking or pedaling whenever I could. This went on for the next 10-15 miles. Pedal, get some speed going, approach climb with intensity, bog down, standup pedal lightly, bog down further and spin out from my tall gear choice...walk. Lots of hike-a-biking...After some mindless muck madness, I finally catch up to Matt who seems to be having the same issues except he is geared...but I notice he is spending more time in the saddle than I am which is good for him. We ride together for a while and then I fade/walk, then I catch up again, then take off on some nice singletrack. It goes on like this for about 5 miles...I ride his wheel for a while, then notice we are on a super nice ridge and decide to stop and eat something at the view. The stop was nice, the mountains were beautiful, light snow was falling and the food was sweet and energy filled. I slog on. More creek crossings! I suppose this is why it's called Snake Creek as it winds along like a coiled up rattle snake in various corners of the trail and then it stings you when you are not expecting. Yes, at this point, I got "stung"...Upon nearing the final creek crossing in a series of switchbacks, there were several rocks jutting about in the water, which I did see and hit anyways. It was the "your body goes where you look" type scenario. I saw the rocks and headed right into them. I hit them, rolled over a few, lost momentum, stopped short and fell sideways clipped in into the shallow creek. Soaked and a little bruised, I quickly getup, check myself, and continue onwards. Yelling at myself for getting sloppy, I take off again finding some nice gravel road climbs to make up some lost time on. I catch up to Matt again at a last chance rest stop before the entry into the rock gardens...I skip the rest stop as I am fully fueled and starting to get a chill as the temps are falling. Mile 22, and I ride onwards through some really nice singletrack. It then starts to weave up and down, work, reward, repeat. I enter the rock gardens and entertain my mind manuevering through the jagged terrain. I descend through it all and clean so much of it, that I actually start to begin having some fun! Overconfident, I realize that was just a warmup. As I hit mile 26-27, I see more rocks, more jagged edges, rocks in the turns, both inside and outside...I start to make small mistakes. I fall again, but it is a simple clean tumble. I realize I was lucky. I stop to assess my situation. I am getting colder, my body is not responding nearly as well as I had hoped, and my gloves are soaked thru and starting to freeze. I am sleepy tired, and feel sick to my stomach(mild hypothermia?). My emergency Snickers bar is frozen solid, which I force eat anyways. Not good. I start walking through sections which seem dangerous and simply look for clean lines only, no more challenges. I then start to have a few mechanicals with my chain. I guess the extreme torqueing I was doing on earlier climbs made my EBB slip and my chain was loose. I stopped once to slip it back on and tried to fix it, but my fingers were so numb that I could not feel my tools or work my fingers for that matter. So I simply slip the chain on and ride with less side-to-side vigor. It works for about 3 more miles and then chain off again. As I was putting it back on again, Matt comes rolling up and agrees this rock garden is for superhuman MTBers only...I tell him to keep going and don't stop. He disappears onward...I keep a cautious pace to keep my chain on and finally reach the radio tower. Back to gravel, back to roads and onwards to the finish...half frozen, ridiculously tired, I roll in 5 hours and 11 minutes later...

Mark was there already changed and looking much warmer than I feel. I start to shake uncontrollably and rush straight to my car to change. It hurts more to strip down than it did to remain in my wet cold clothing, but it was necessary. After a bowl of free chili and some talk about the trail and conditions around the fire pit, I start to realize I am not feeling any better or warmer. We wait for Mike to roll in, I say my goodbyes and Matt and I jump in the truck, jam on the heat and roll out. The ride back was another adventure in staying awake, but Matt shared the workload and just like that, we were back home and off to our own worlds again....

Snake Creek Gap Time Trial was very well organized, good support and overall great attitudes for the weather being what it was...Thanks to all the volunteers and organizers who help keep the Snake alive!

Up next....Santos.....

Snake Creek Gap final round next month? Only if those temps inch upwards: playing in the cold is for penguins and polar bears...



1 comment:

  1. Good stuff! That sucker is tough. Especially in February.

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