Thursday, August 14, 2014

Palmetto Francis Swamp ride, a 3 hour tour plus a few bonus miles....oh and a Bandit Cross Race!

So I had TNGA (Trans North Georgia) weighing heavily on my mind and I was knee deep in finalizing my race/bikepacking rig.  I was nervous, anxious and had no idea what was too much in regards to a 350+ mile bike packing race.  Basically I was packing everything except for the kitchen sink on my 29+ Surly Krampus.  I knew the bike could manage the load well and was surprisingly well balanced for the girth it carried before loaded.  I had made many gearing choices, saddle choices, stem length choices, handlebar choices, you get the picture...  So here comes August roaring in like a lion and I am going through a "dress rehearsal" by making a set date to go out midday and ride my bike in some of the nastier trail I could think of for a few miles.  I chose leaving from the house, connecting some gravel to the Palmetto Trail and riding it to Lake Moultrie upon which I would decide to knock out 60 more miles to truly verify the load weight choices.  I set out out Wednesday evening as it just would not stop raining and since you really cannot pick your weather when biking, I set out when I saw a break in the rain pattern.  As I sped along through the connecting gravel, I made note of a few things which would have to change in regards to how my lights were setup as well as the amount of weight on my handlebars.  Being near sea level, it is always difficult to visualize how a loaded bike will feel when climbing countless feet of elevation.  As I connected and entered the Palmetto Trail, the countless roots and murky conditions really forced me to get out of the saddle and focus on my technique on a fully loaded bike.  It was pretty damn tricky.  The weight would definitely take its toll on my arms and torso as falling out of balance required forced techniques to get back on track.  I rode on like this through the quagmire for several miles sweating like mad in the intense humidity.  It felt close to 102 degrees in the evening closing.  Dark came very soon and my first discovery was that my awesome Revo/Dynamo setup really suck for 2-3 mph crawling through dense forest.  I stopped, and remembered my awesome new flashlight(gear will be detailed and discussed in a future post)  which had been recommended to me by Mark Sackett and Jefe Branham Velcro'd to my helmet and set on midrange, the night lit up and onward I rolled. Another mental note was made to make sure I verified length of time each battery would last in my flashlight as it would definitely play an important part in my night riding.  The Palmetto seemed to roll on forward as it was thick, mucky and just plain poorly maintained.  All previous bridges nearing Lake Moultrie were in terrible shape and I had to double check my step upon rolling each and every one since my bike weighed around 65lbs.   As I pedaled and slogged my way through, I had a flashback to riding a top heavy dual sport motorcycle through muck like this and having the same issues.  Balance is very critical in situations like this as dumping your bike means you are going have to expend some major energy to right it again.  Anyways, after a small eternity, I popped out of the Francis Marion and crossed Hwy 52 and rolled into the Santee Canal Reserve park area which was now closed due to lack of federal funding.  Here is where I planned on pulling out my night sleeping gear and determine what worked and what did not.  I setup my Ultra Lite Hennessy Hammock.  It was so humid that the inside and out was soaked.  I tried to slide in my thermarest to simulate the lack of a quilt.  Nope, not gonna work.  I left my ultralite sleeping bag in my rear bag as it was just too nasty wet and hot out here to even test it.  I also had reservations about bringing it along, so that was that.  I hung out for a bit thinking through it all and determined the hammock might also be left behind as it was too much effort as well as a a pound and a quarter of weight to carry along.  So many decisions yet to make and I was still unsure about my fitness approaching this major event.  I finally checked the time and realized it was close to 11pm and suddenly I realized I had spent way more time in the woods getting to my first checkpoint than I intended.  This would not have been a problem any other night as I was prepared to ride all night if needed, but I had also confirmed with Stephen "Asheville" Janes that we were to ride early tomorrow morning on a few gravel roads and possibly parts of the Palmetto Trail.  I really wanted to meet up with him as I always miss hanging out with him when he comes into town, so I made a decision to skip pedaling around Lake Moultrie for the additional 60 miles and simply connect onto 402 and pedal home...but then I thought a little more about that decision and realized I was still 3-4 hours out.  This would have me getting home close to 3am at the earliest.  I quickly pulled out my phone and called Wifey for a possible extraction.  Unfortunately for her, she answered the phone and within the next hour, she was carting my soaking wet muddy butt back home.  I quickly jumped in the shower, set my gear out for tomorrow and made the decision to just ride the Krampus again tomorrow since it is the bike I am supposed to be focusing on.  I pulled off the front handlebar bag and loaded it up with water and grabbed a few hours of sleep.
Very glad I took a few photos of my rig in this state as a few people immediately messaged me on Facebook to point out some things which really needed to change or be focused on.  My good friend Rick Ashton, gave me a call to "talk me through" my thought process on what I was going to do going into TNGA.  He gave me some great tips and I really appreciated his time giving me reassurance that I would be fine based on my current preparation procedures.  Another great source of knowledge and inspiration was Karlos Rodriguez, The Naked Indian and master epic trail rider...many more blog entries will discuss the help he gave me...

Next day, I meet up with Stephen Janes at the SeeWee Outpost and travel to Ion Swamp Trailhead to rollout from a nice neutral spot to get to dry land since most of the Palmetto is under water due to even more rain that night.  Stephen tells me of his adventures fighting off hordes of mosquitoes at the local campground and due to the amount of recent humidity, I would say hordes is an understatement.  Along the way, I assure Stephen that our route shouldn't take more than 3 hours.  He replies with something along the lines of bummer, I was hoping for something a bit more epic.  I take note and modify the route to make it a bit more "epic".  We roll out towards McClellanville and take a more scenic route which stops at a general store.  We load up on liquids, and eat an ice cream sandwich and some food and continue onwards through historic McClellanville.  We start out on the opposite side of the water inlet which is also new to me and we wander around a little and finally come upon an opening which is directly across from the public boat launch and offers a really nice view.  Finally, we move along and head towards South Santee which means connecting via a very long sandy stretch of road.  I worry that Stephen might not have enough tire to float through the sand, but he powers it out never missing a beat.  While I am floating on the sand, the bike's weight, and the heat from the sand are starting to wear me down a bit.  We stop near Hwy 17 before crossing over to the Santee and I down an entire bottle of liquid.  I am drinking way more than usual and this is not a good sign as we still need to roll back.  We cross the highway and start venturing to an area that I roll through often when doing training rides, but it is really hot and super humid now.  The bike feels sluggish and I start to slump in the saddle.  This is my tell tale sign of fatigue and Stephen picks up on it and offers to stop and recover in the upcoming shade.  I do not turn down the offer and after some food and more water, we roll onwards again.  I feel fantastic for about 10 minutes then my systems start complaining again.
Stephen looks worried and thinks I am nearing total heat exhaustion and offers to call his wife for an extraction.  I know it is merely external fatigue and that my head is still clear and I just have to adjust my riding style to compensate for the added weight of the loaded bike, so I ask him to simply be patient with me until I find my stride.  Up and down my systems go and Stephen is checking on me every so often as one is supposed and it is reassuring to know that I am with someone capable of handling unforeseen issues.  I start laying out the logistics required to get us back to our vehicle and we realize we are almost back so out nervousness levels go way down.  I had been focusing on the intended loop to keep things interesting that I had never really given much thought to the amount of mileage we had run...61 miles and about 6 hours out in some brutal heat and humidity!  We were only supposed to do 35-40, but we both got carried away exploring all over.  Good times were had and the trip receives "epic" status.

Next up was a Bandit Cross race that night which was put on by the Blue Collar Bandits.  Obviously I was physically skunked so racing was no longer an option but I still wanted to go and support the local scene.  Fortunately, a close friend of mine, James Cooper, was enroute to race this event.  A few hours later, I was hanging out drinking super tasty craft brews (thanks to Holy City Brewing for donating so many delicious yummys!) and James Cooper was getting ready to throw down.  Bandit Cross racing is a totally
underground race format which is only spread through word of mouth and there is no sanctioning and no trophies, mainly just bragging rights, beer and fun.  This is definitely a type of racing I love to do since mostly everyone who is in it lives, eats and breaths bikes.  Alas, I was so tired, all I could do was make noise, drink beer and do a few hand ups.  The course was made even more fun by the fact that it was set to snake through an old concrete skatepark.  Everyone worked their way through this section very carefully as there were lots of places to lose a bit of skin.  I saw so many radical lines I could have taken to shave some corners, but I wasn't able to pedal or even push my bike along that far...I don't recall who won, but I swear I had just as much fun spectating as I usually do when racing these types of events. James had an awesome time as well as this marked his first underground cross event ever!

One of the busiest days ever involving bikes came to a close and with that I stopped riding my bike for the rest of the week until TNGA as I was nearing meltdown mode...but that didn't mean the bike packing decisions did not be continued...oh an thanks for the Dales Pale Ale Asheville Janes!!

1 comment:

  1. Bandit CX was a blast! Thanks for the hand ups and the heckling!