Monday, November 24, 2014

Cranksgiving 2014 ~and then there were only 2~

So a tradition that started a few years back was to have everyone go up to Paris mountain and camp out and race/ride/party at the Cranksgiving endure/superD race which goes on all weekend.  It is a nonstop plethora of activities in the Greenville area starting with an alley cat race in the heart of downtown Greenville.  Our first year, we tried to do it all and missed the start of the alley cat by about 20 minutes, but hung out for the free beer.  We also swept all categories that year with full representation from Charleston thanks to Palmetto Brewing's Christopher Winn setting us up and making us look good.  The weather was fantastic and the camping was incredible since everyone had a set plan to cook something and or help out.  Lots of participation makes for a great event.  We all raged throughout the night, drank lots of tasty beers and raced on incredibly perfect track conditions.  The second year started and end up roughly.  We all had a commitment as well as the privilege to attend Chris Winn's wedding and hang out at the reception for a bit, so we skipped the alley cat race that year and hung out in Charleston until late that evening instead.  After an incredibly beautiful event, we then raced out to Greenville to our awaiting tents which were previously setup by Spencer and Adam who were coming out from NC.  We were late getting there and tired, but it didn't matter, the weekend was about to start and we were ready to have some fun.  Sleep came and went and we started out into the super D.  My practice laps went by smoothly and I was set to take podium again until some slow person in front of me during my one qualifier would not move over in time.  I lost several seconds "being nice" and resulted in a 5th place scoring.  I was clearly upset, but it didn't matter, I would just work harder the next day for the enduro.  Well...that didn't happen either since the weather dropped madly during the night while we were at the bonfire sending everyone scurrying to their tents for warmth.  Needless to say, everyone was absolutely exhausted the next morning from fighting the 20 degree temps all night to wake up to 35 degree chills.  I was ready to get moving and racing, but found a group of mutineers on my hands and everyone was aching to depart, so we did leave with everyone also catching a flu shortly afterwards..and thus ended our second year at Cranksgiving.

 Now into our third year and I actually have an enduro bike setup to ride up there and everyone bails except for Spencer Thomasson.  So we make plans to head up and race it regardless.  I am excited since I had just received this Yeti from a guy selling it on PinkBike and it is an amazing bike.  I hastily built it up with a set of temporary cranks ready to descend ever faster down the mountain this year thanks to longer travel suspension.  Since it is only 2 of us, I reserve a cheap hotel room and we meet up there with me arriving earlier that day and working from my hotel room until later when Spencer arrives.  My bike is as tuned as I can make it and I know there will be tweaks to it throughout the day since I have yet to really tune the suspension to my body weight and varying conditions.  It's actually kind of nice to just focus on the bike for once and simply get ready for a day of racing, but I truly did miss the camping and camaraderie of friends from the years past at this event.  Our first day of racing finds Mike Pierce hanging out handling sweep and miscellaneous support for the event.
 It is a new venue to us and we have never pedaled down it before.  We also get to hang out with the founder and current owner of Endless Bikes, Shanna Powell, who is racing as well.  Seems the same groups of fun people are catching the endure bug.  It doesn't surprise me, I love the format!  I have been visualizing this since I saw the movie Klunkerz.  Climbing has never been and will never be my strongest suit since I am just not acclimated to going up every day.  To me, I just really want to push my bike up the mountain and race it down.  Thus the enduro and super D format.  Super D(on a real trail) is a bit more extreme in terms of the downhill aspect with Enduro allowing one to gain time across flats, minor climbs, excel at the rock gardens as well as go down the mountain faster than your rivals.  It's testing your skill behind the handlebars and thats one thing I usually do very well.  So after getting our morning group meeting out of the way, we head out and up for our first non-timed climb to the start point.  I notice I am working way harder than normal and chalk it up to riding with big travel suspension.  We get to the top, race our first lap down on new terrain and there is way more uphill flat expansions than I anticipated. The downhill is short and choppy and not very challenging.  I struggle to pedal across the flat sections feeling like I am working triple time.  I finish my run exhausted and surprised that something is wrong with me, never once placing blame on the bike.  I mainly think it is because of the 300 miles I did on the 60 lb Krampus last week in Florida, but that was a soft pedaled stretch. As we pedal up again for our Super D(which is a joke for cranksgiving) run on the same crap course, my chain comes off.  Big Red Flag!  I slide it back on and think while pedaling what could have happened.  I blame it on the flimsy 9mm QR on the back thru axle knowing I have the 12mm conversion kit coming in the mail to solve the issue.  Then I blame it on the suspension being too slack.  I am stumped.  I take my Super D run and slog through it losing major time whenever I have to cross a flat section.  The bike SCREAMS on the downhill absorbing each and every mistake I make and letting me flow, but when I start pedaling it across something tricky, it is like the cranks are sticking...sticking...thats it.  the temporary cranks.  Hmm, upon finishing up my SuperD run, I make a mental note to check my cranks and then quickly forget it the moment a free beer is handed to me.  Go figure.  We then proceed out to dinner and the bonfire and get to witness some madman jump the 20 foot high bonfire on a 20" bmx bike by bunnyhopping off a slightly inverted rickety wooden picnic table.  I could not believe he made it after his first botched attempt nearly had him laid out in the fire itself.  Some people are just born a little crazier than others I suppose.
 After a great night hanging out, we proceed back to get some rest and the morning comes insanely fast.  Breakfast down the road and off we go to day 2 of Cranksgiving 2014 at Paris mountain venue this time.  I am pumped since I know this area and have mostly memorized the run.  As we start pedaling up, my chain drops again.  I cuss and roll it back on again getting puzzled looks by Spencer since he notices I have a full MRP chain guide on and I am dropping my chain soft pedaling upwards.  I mention to him that I have no clue why it is dropping when it happens again.  This time I force it on and start getting pissed and concerned.  If this happens during my run, I could get hurt.  As I sit there pedaling, I feel a weird pressure on my feet and notice that my chainring is moving in a weird motion.  At first I think it is a bent chainring, but immediately thereafter, I realize that my cranks are loose to the point of falling off!  I stop and yell to Spencer to take a look and he stares wide-eyed at how loose they are.  Fortunately, my Crank Bros multitool saves the day and I torque them back on, and then notice the amount of friction my cranks have on them.  Seems I did not give them the spin test after installing them on at home.  I have solved the reason why I am having such a hard time pedaling this beast!  Surprisingly, I can now pedal much more efficiently regardless of the crank friction, and know I need to resolve this after todays race.  I make it up the hill much quicker and take my first run.  The downhill run is fast, cold and furious and I charge it feeling very comfortable on the bike finally.  I am feeling good and thought I put in a good time, but it seems there are much faster riders here today all racing on XC bikes which seem to handle the up and across much better.  So, I take my mid pack finish for the day and enjoy the great weather and friends for the weekend.  Spencer, on the other hand, crushed it both days as he brought out his TallBoy XC bike and dominated both the Endure and XC events for his division!  Awesome day, awesome weekend, and once again lesson learned to totally test out your equipment before heading out the door.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

CFITT 2014 ~Pedaling Florida Coast to Coast~ Day 2

Waking up refreshed and ready to tackle the day during a long bike trip while camping in cold weather is truly a pleasant experience.  6am and I was up, breaking down my tent and sleeping gear.  If I had my cooking kit, I would have had some piping hot coffee rolling, but I neglected to bring that gear along as I had expected to pedal through the night.  By first light, I was fully packed and ready to roll.  After searching for a water pump, I gave up and we all headed out to Old 88.  At this point, I was truly happy I made the decision to stop and camp as there are not words to describe just how beautiful those woods were.  The sun was sliced up into a million points of light and delicately laced the single track with enough light to make it seem like there was a velvet carpet laid out for us to follow.  Maybe it was the caffeinated gum or the fantastic nights sleep, regardless, I was living and loving the moment I was in.  It was cool to share this experience with others as Tony and SkiJi were pedaling along this amazing stretch with me as well.  I don't exactly recall how it happened, but I kept pedaling on with a surge of renewed energy and soon dropped Tony & SkiJi.  I believe SkiJi was experiencing more problems with a bum knee and he did not want to hold up the pack, but I really don't know whether Tony was ahead or behind us...either way, I ended up at Old 88 (CP4) store alone.
   I arrived there as soon as the girl working there was opening up the door.  I purchased some fresh GPS batteries, as well as a honeybun and strawberry milk, the breakfast of champions.  The place itself looked like a general store/bar.  It also looked like there had been a party last night.  As I sat there taking my checkpoint picture, I wondered where the others were.  I finished my breakfast, enjoy the sun peeking out through the trees, and am surprised by SkiJi soft pedaling upon approach!  He takes this checkpoint photo, and we both discuss the absence of Tony who we assume to be ahead of both of us.  SkiJi shows me his makeshift knee gasket and he tells me how it feels way better now that there is a bit more support on it.  Happy to know he is riding strong, I mount my beast of a ride and roll off to the next checkpoint.   Miles of beautiful single track went by and some of it was very rough around the edges with some bushwhacking involved to find my way through.  I kept thinking about what a pain in the ass this would have been in the middle of the night with no prior knowledge of the area.  At some point along this route, I popped a spoke in my rear wheel which caused a slowdown to repair and re-tension all of my spokes.  After about 10 minutes, all was well and I was cruising along again at top speed.  Somewhere shortly after getting my stride again, I was crossing a paved road and entered yet another pristine sliver of single track and had my first encounter with a permanent resident of the area, a bear!  There up ahead of me no more than 50 feet, a huge black bear was strolling along the same single track and taking up the entire width!  This black bear was massive!  His shoulders appeared as tall as mine, not even wanting to imagine it standing on its rear legs! It seemed like he was oblivious to me and I was very happy about this fact, but one thing was for certain, I had to continue on this path, else, I would have to back pedal to the road and think of a new way around.  Then I remember Alice Thomasson mentioning something on Facebook about bells and bears and noise.  So thats when I started ringing my bike bell.  I rang the hell outta that bell!  Sure enough, that bear jumped like it had just heard a shotgun go off.  It tore off through the woods so hard and so fast, I knew if it wanted to chased me down, I would not have stood a chance in the short run.  Amazed and terrified at the amount of power and speed displayed by this animal, I backtracked to the edge of the road for about 5 minutes to allow the bear to have ample time to get good and lost.  Afterwards, I proceeded forward into the single track very wary, and tense, all the while ringing my bell.  I made it about a few more miles into the woods and started relaxing again, but also ringing my bell any time a blind corner or heavily shrouded area approached.  Fear and determination to finish the route drove me forward for the next few hours.
 20 miles later, I was basking on the Ocklawaha bridge (CP5) taking selfies, bike leans, reading up on the bridge project and just enjoying the moment I was given appreciatively.   I then entered another fantastic well groomed section of single track, Marshall Swamp.  I really enjoyed the flow of this section and will most likely return to explore this area in the future.  For some reason, I got lost in all the moments that had happened recently and took a detour looking for a restock station on the way to Santos.  This detour took me 2 miles out of my route.  I sat there oblivious to time and space eating a reheated gas station chicken sandwich perusing my Facebook posts all cheering me on and tracking my whereabouts.  Kevin Heniford of Myrtle Beach was posting live update links quite regularly on his Facebook page for everyone to follow and it was really cool to see the support my friends displayed!  At this point, my bubble was popped when I received a text from Patrick saying something like "what the hell are you doing man?  Get back on course!  Finish this thing!"  It was a total reality check and  I needed it.  I grabbed my stuff and took off spinning away 2 more miles to make up for lost time.  As I approached the bike shop entering Santos, I came across Tony Buchman who had just pulled up.  He was eating and looked strong and ready to continue, but he urged me to wait with him for SkiJi to ensure that his knee had not stalled him entirely.  I told him I was rallying to move ahead and that I would see them again shortly, but then I stopped and listened to the voice urging me to maintain my strength and composure as well as support my new found friends.  I ended up waiting, hoping it would not be a drawn out sit, but within a few minutes, here comes SkiJi smiling all the way!
So awesome to see!  His wife was there to show support as well as ride through Santos with him too.  I was pumped that everyone was doing well and we set off into the Santos trail system at full speed.  It is an understatement to say I know this trail well.  I had this trail so memorized, I knew when to get up out of the saddle for roots, when to fold in my elbows through narrow trees as well as what lay ahead around curves.  Years of 12 hour races through some of these trails had my senses honed perfectly.  It is amazing how muscle memory is retained for certain areas.   Needless to say, I went out too hard from speeding through and suffered a major bonk as we neared land bridge.  Tony caught up and we pedaled together back and forth for the next 20 miles through all kinds of crazy single track.  Cana Diggins, Nayls, Ern & Burn, much fun, so much work to keep up the pace and really enjoy these trails left me exhausted and spent.  The next few miles were relentless gravel roads alternating between loose pack gravel to knee deep sugar sand.  I hoped the Krampus would shine here, but only by maintaining a steady and strong cadence could one swim through this quagmire.  I had neither strength nor steadiness.  I walked lots, moaned and groaned knowing I was on the other side of bonksville and only a real meal would save me, not bike food sugars.  We then exited promptly to a paved road.  Not knowing if there were more gnarly trails like this close to the end, I kept my pace neutral and Tony did the same.  We pedaled through tons of small neighborhood connectors, stopped one last time at a small gas station minutes before it was to close hoping SkiJi would catch up.  Coconut juice, gatorade, chips and a red bull...not a great combination as I would find out later.  We started getting chilled, so we set off adding another lone rider to our pack and we all rolled along silently.  My energy levels were at peak, so I set the pace and we were moving along rapidly to the near end where I bonked once again and for good as the road to the Gulf was another 6 miles of paved drudgery.  I was a mere shell at this point and simply crept along unconsciously keeping pace with everyone else. Patrick joined us for the final ride down to the front wheel dip.  He knew by my face that I was crushed.  I took my final checkpoint picture, elated with the fact that I had completed yet another incredible journey in a year full of amazing rides.  As we were returning towards the car, the adrenaline surge which propelled me to the end, left my body and my head went spinning and my fluids were unloaded to the side of the trail.  I gave the thumbs up that all was ok all while losing the vile red bull and a host of other fluids I had forced into my system.  I felt momentarily better, caught back up to the others and shortly afterwards loaded up my stuff in Patrick's truck and we were off to our hotel for a well deserved shower and nights sleep.  Before leaving, we waited a few more minutes for SkiJi to roll through as Tony had confirmation that he was enroute.  He rolled past us to the 6 mile final grind as we cheered him on!  What a crazy, fun, insane, incredible experience!   Can't wait till next year!

CFITT Track Day 2

Monday, November 17, 2014

CFITT 2014 ~Pedaling Florida Coast to Coast~ Day 1

Months raced by like minutes and October turned into November in the blink of an eye.  Still digesting loads of Halloween candy with my body still recovering from the previous few months worth of riding adventures, I had very little motivation to pull myself back together and once again ride my bike long distance anywhere.  I had just recently finished a mini bike-packing trip through the Palmetto Trail and knew that my bike and gear were sound, just not my body and mind.  I was catching up on tons of work and felt each day running shorter and shorter.  "The Cross Florida Individual Time Trial is Florida’s Premier Off road Ultra Endurance Event. It is a one of a kind coast to coast bikepacking challenge, the only one of its kind in the United States.
The route is 250 miles of mixed terrain: Singletrack, forest road, paved roads, bike trails, double track and grassy abandoned easements. This is an at your own risk personal challenge that each rider voluntarily wants to engage in."  CFITT goes from the Atlantic Coast in New Smyrna to the Gulf Coast in Inglis Florida. As the day to leave for Florida grew near, I went into packing mode and had all my gear loaded and ready a full day before travel time.  I was not surprised I had this down to a science, since packing up and rolling out to ride was becoming quite the routine lately.  I contacted my friend and fellow MTP Velo team member, Patrick Lackey to go over the logistics of our trip.  Since we were leaving midday Friday after work, we were unable to take advantage of the van ride being offered by SingleTrack Samurai who was hosting the event, so we formulated our own method.  We would drive to Gainsville, rent out a one way rental, follow Patrick to the finish line, leave his car there, and then use the rental to drive back over to New Smyrna, check into our hotel, get into temp riding gear, drive the rental to the drop off point and use our bikes to return back to our hotel.  It was a great plan.
Our trip down south included a stop at an old BBQ place which used to be pretty good, but we both agreed our meal that day was lackluster, but at least we stopped to enjoy it.  Pretty soon, we rolled into Gainesville and started going through our plan of attack.  In the finish line parking lot, we run into Bill Bailey waiting for the shuttle as well as a few other people who I will eventually ride with for most of the next few days.  Then, we drive across Florida to the Atlantic side in good time.  Next thing you know Patrick and I are pedaling bikes, after dropping off the rental, across the back side of New Smyrna in some cooler than expected temperatures.  Dinner that night was at an Irish restaurant a few blocks from our hotel as we discovered walking 2.5 miles to the meet and greet several hours after it had started might not be a good idea, especially with the race meeting planned for 4:45am the next day.  Nightfall came quickly and we finalized getting our few belongings laid out and ready for the next morning as 4am was going to come up fast.   Patrick briefly mentioned getting my mail-out box ready before I went to bed, but I had not grasped the importance of this statement until it was too late.  We discussed race tactics and anticipation for the following day and I also manage to grab a vitally important snapshot of the cue sheet he had made earlier that week.
 I hit the bed and my mind shut down instantly knowing I needed to get as much rest as possible since tomorrow I was planning on a nonstop pedal attack across central Florida.  4am and I jump out of bed, into my race kit and have everything setup except, I now realize what I had forgotten to do prior to going to bed....get my mail-out box ready!  Since we had no way of returning to New Smyrna, all the clothes on our backs had to be mailed back to our homes!  Ok, I thought, I can do this...I will just stuff my things inside Patrick's still open box and use one box to mail out...wrong.  His box was packed tightly already since he had his night clothes and misc day trip stuff.  Patrick gave me the " I told you this" look and I knew this was all on me and that I had made a major blunder.  I wished him good luck today and mentioned that I hope to see you at the start as I knew I had to get out of the room immediately and work on mailing out my box.  I was slowly starting to panic and setoff down the hall fully geared up to find a computer kiosk from which to print out my mailing label at 4:15am!  I sat down in front of a nice computer terminal and went to the website.  Here is where all my trouble actually started.  The website account creation for is one of the worst facilities on the free earth.  I have never had so much difficulty attempting to create an account based on their incredibly ridiculous password generation requirements.

Your Password must be at least 10 characters long.
Your Password must contain at least one upper-case character.
Your Password must contain at least one number.
Your Password must contain at least one of the following special characters: - () . & @ ? ' # , / " +

Allowable characters are letters, numbers and the following special characters: - () . & @ ? ' # , / " +

If you had more than one number, you failed, if you had more than one upper case character you failed, if you had more than one special character, you failed....get my problem?  Realize also that the entered password was not viewable, so anything you typed had to be clearly visualized.   This was not the kind of problem I was expecting to have at 4:25am.  I thought to myself, relax, you are a computer professional, you can do this...I was wrong, I couldn't do this.  After 5 more minutes frantically trying to create an account, Patrick pops in and asks me why I am still here .  I mention to him that I am stuck trying to create an account and just cannot do it!  4:35am.  He tries to login with his account and fails repeatedly at logging in.  I tell him to go and focus on his race.  I then deduce that maybe the terminal is not sending special characters correctly to the form or maybe the machine has a key logging virus to which I then immediately stop touching it and run out into the lobby to see what else can be done.  There is a front desk person walking around handling various tasks and I finally explain that I cannot print out a mailing label and that he please hold onto my mailing box until I contact them this upcoming week and email them the label.  He politely agrees to hold the box for me and my problems are temporarily solved.  I set about taping the box only to stop and think for just a moment. What if I never see these items again?  Is there anything of true importance in the box?  Yes there is!  My special Snake Creek Gap Time Trial belt buckle!  I literally rip the buckle off the belt and stuff it in my upper bike bag next to my camera.  I then seal the box and hand it off to the front desk.  He wishes me good luck on my journey and I race off out the door of the hotel, not looking back since I am already late.  4:47am and I am racing down the beach boulevard searching for the start of the race.  I finally find the spot on the beach where everyone is meeting up and as I hear Karlos' voice yell GO! I yell NO while riders depart all around me as I flounder onto the beach crossing Celso at one moment for a quick hello.
I haven't even taken my checkpoint #1 (CP1) wheel dip picture yet, so that will take some time. I reach down, grab my camera quickly and place my back wheel in the Atlantic ocean also managing to soak both of my shoes in the process.  I turn on my Canon quick shot and try to snap a picture, but something is wrong and the damn camera keeps fighting focus and not allowing me to take a proper shot.  I finally realize that my rear blinkie light is messing with the camera lighting adjust, so I tear the blinkie off my bike and "temporarily" toss it up onto the beach.  I turn around, take my photo properly, turn off my camera, stuff it back into the top bag, grab my handlebars and push my bike up and away from the water.  I then look down to pick up my blinkie only to find it is gone.  I look around some more thinking some sand got kicked up on it.  Nowhere.  I yell out loud SERIOUSLY?  Did someone just snag my blinkie within 1-2 minutes time?  I cannot believe I am wasting precious time looking for a red safety light.  I cannot believe it is gone!  I ask a few of the other stragglers if they had seen my blinkie and they give me a puzzled look and I explain it, but they have just not seen it.  I chalk it up to a loss and push on through the beach sand, very much concerned I was losing my mind.  I make my way to the lead-out road and come across Karlos, the mastermind of the CFITT, and he hands me a mini cue sheet and phone number to MTB Cast, which lets riders call in and do mini race reports.  I use this service every time I do a bike packing race and it is so cool to hear the stories of other riders after the event has transpired.  I explain to him that I am running late and so much has happened and now I lose my blinkie on the beach, which stops a certain person in motion.  As Karlos is "talking me down" and letting me know how he also started late and not to worry so much, the person that stopped walking forward looks conflicted and I straight out ask her, did you see a flashing red blinkie on the beach?  Her face turns red and she says yes...I ask her where and she pulls it out of her pocket!  I excitedly explain that I was looking all over the beach for that thing and she apologizes that she thought a racer had dropped it, but from the frustrated tone in my voice she interpreted me as being upset with her and I immediately change my tone and also think if I had seen a blinkie on the beach, I would have picked it up too....anyways, who cares, no harm, no foul, only thing lost here is time...about 25 minutes worth.  I finally approach the bridge leading out of New Smyrna by about 5:25am....all alone except for a few straggler racers also having their own issues.  I then remember one other thing I had forgotten to do...turn on my SPOT!  Now I would not have an official total race leader breadcrumb trail.  I was very frustrated by the fact that my tracker was off, so I stopped and went through the steps to turn it on.  Madness building up in my mind, I sped off and passed a group of racers up to the point of entering the college campus wall.  I could not find the spot to enter!  I knew it was a sliver of an entrance and I was already lost, GPS clearly pointing me to the right spot, but I could not find my way across the wall.  Several of the racers I had passed had also caught up and were facing the same difficulty.  This is one aspect of bike pack racing that I have yet to master as all of my previous endurance races had every obstacle flagged and clearly marked.  These races were across areas where marking was just not realistic.  I finally find the hole and speed off again almost reaching the entry to the initial single track behind the college, only to have yet another setback.  My GPS starts flashing "batteries low"  I stare down in disbelief, cuss at the unit and toggle to check if this is for real.  I find that the thing is about to die with no power bars left. so I stop, open the GPS, pull out both batteries, place them aside and them realize I have to dig through my rear bag all the way to the very back of it to find replacement batteries as I thought I would not be replacing batteries at all during this race.  I replace the batteries, close up my GPS and stuff all my camping gear, dry clothing, and food back into my rear bag, synch it tightly again and proceed to enter the boggy initial terrain.  Total time lost: 10 minutes.  At this point in the race, I was just in shock at having such a rocky start.  I didn't know what to think and just tried to roll with the punches.  The knee deep bog was handled with ease thanks to the fat tired beast that my Krampus is all about.  I was still wet from the beach, so slogging through more water did not faze me as I am used to nasty conditions.  I shrugged off the crud and entered into the type of riding that I know how to do best.  Then another setback hit me, literally.  Riding along in the pitch dark with only a little light, I am knocked off my bike by a tree branch sticking out around a tight corner at the right angle and take the impact 100% on my right hand.  I feel a searing hot pain and know thats a game changer.  I sit there in the early morning darkness on my ass in the damp woods somewhere close to the start of this race and consider just going back to the hotel.  I remove my glove and there is a healthy laceration on my right pinky.  I grab a strip of duct tape from my seat tube and tear off a little bit of my cue sheet and wrap it around my pinky as a temp bandaid stop gap.  It hurts so bad and don't realize until a week later that it had a small fracture thanks to adrenaline keeping it under control.  I slide the glove back on, jump back on the beast and get back to putting in some miles.  My right hand was throbbing but after some focus on the trail ahead of me, the pain subsided.  I also realize the reason I couldn't see the branch is because my bike handlebar light was disconnected due to some low branch snag.  After re-connecting,  it was like night and day!  After a few more miles, I come across a creek crossing and hear Karlos somewhere around the area cheering us on.  It was good to know someone was enjoying watching us suffer.  The next miles were uneventful and I hardly remember putting them in except for coming up on some forgotten monorail tracks parallel to some crazy fields.  Up ahead of me is another rider riding at his pace clearly having fun and enjoying the ride.  I come up on him and he has the biggest smile on his face and greets me with a loud "how's it goin" greeting!  I am clearly still very much in a dark place and lightly reply back to him "doing better now, just need a little more energy, thats all"  He explains the history of the abandoned monorail project and was very knowledgeable about the area.  We ride side by side for a bit getting to know each other and I find out his name is SkiJi (aka Jimmy)!  He turns out to be the coolest cat I have met on a bike packing trip yet, next to Karlos, of course  ;).  As I tell him who I am, he just about loses it as he tells me that he reads my blog!  I am in shock that anyone would read the long winded stories of my backpacking misadventures...but there he was an actual fan of my writings, LOL!  At the moment, I just didn't know how to read him and felt very much lost in my head from my crappy start so I decided to continue alone.  I powered up ahead of him and made short work of the monorail bed, only to miss a turn, backtrack and ride with SkiJi a little more.  I then raced ahead and hoped that CP2 would be approaching soon.  At this point, I am
20-30 miles in and everything is going fine as the terrain was matching the bike setup perfectly...then came the roads...  I met up with Ray Egan and Larry Garcia at this point and we chatted for a while.  Upon finally getting to CP2, Osteen Marker, I realized the terrain was switching more and more to paved roads or paved bike/walking trail.  Being how the terrain in Florida is basically all flat, there is no rest after long climbs.  You are always on the pedals.  I kept rolling along catching back up to Ray & Larry who are setting a strong pace on standard MTB tires.  I try and match their pace and slowly fade back as my legs are pissed and my tires are fatter.  I know that I had been hammering along too harsh to catch up to the group, but I was going to work myself through until I reached the ferry and that was that!  The only problem was that my legs kept fading and I kept worrying about time.   Of course, now that my legs are noodles was when one of the harder sections of the ride started...super long craggy rock rail bed which felt like it went on forever, but it was really only about 5-6 miles.  Somewhere along the way in-between railbeds and jumping fences, we were yelled at by some fool in a pickup truck about trespassing. Jason responding to him that we were in the right only set him off further threatening to call the cops!  LOL!  Cops don't want none of tha Krampus! They can't go where I go.  LOL!  We finally arrive at CP3, the Fish Camp,  and take the obligatory picture including the bike, leaning tree and lake.  I think at this point was when I met Tony Buchman.
I tell the group we had formed that I was going to roll ahead and fine the next convenience store as I was experiencing a massive case of the bonks.  I find the next convenience store, and sit there in a daze munching through a Subway footlong and a coconut water.  I know the heavy initial push to catch up was weighing down on me.  Everyone else catches up, grabs something quick to eat while basking momentarily in the sun.  Not too long afterwards, SkiJi comes rolling by yelling that he was not stopping as Tony speeds off after him! His steady pace was paying off! A lady riding on a tandem rolls up and comments on how pale I look and if I was feeling alright.  I told her I just went out too hard, that's all.  The rest of the group finishes up and speeds off leaving me alone wondering why I am not back on my bike!  I finally get back on and slowly pedal away only to start picking up my pace after about 5 minutes of warm up time.  The liquids I had chosen were "clean" and not filled with high fructose corn syrup so my system was processing quickly and smoothly.  I feel much, much better and the bike starts picking up speed.  I enter the Chuck Lennon area and there is a bas ass MTB park nestled in here that is part of the CFITT course.  As I start on Red Panther and connect to Screaming Hawk, I come across Ray and Larry who are having a time navigating their loaded bikes through these tight trails.  Then add in a ton of hard trail options which were very much my elements, and my body was happy and rolling along.  Upon exiting on the Raccoon Run blue trail, I come across another rider, who has just experienced a major race ending mechanical regarding his backpacking gear.  It seemed his rear bag support had snapped and he was not able to keep it steady.  Upon a quick assessment of the issue, it seemed he had already tried zip ties and extra straps and they had snapped, so I was no use to him at all.  Fortunately, for him, he was in a very populated area to quit the race, so I quickly said my goodbyes and kept on trucking.  As I popped out of those trails, I felt fantastic.  My energy levels were restored and as long as I kept a steady pace, all would go fine.  I started pedaling along and started worrying about time again.  I skipped the next convenience store, caught up to SkiJi again and passed him soon afterwards as he was feeling the burn of the long haul.  I start opening up the throttle a little more as I knew the miles between myself and the ferry were now few.  I floated that fat tire beast across some sandy loose pack along beautiful, seemingly endless gravel roads and once again caught up to the rest of the stronger group from earlier. I virtually fly past them like they were standing still.
 I yell out that I have a ferry to catch as I fly by and proceed to hammer out the remaining miles.  5 miles left to the ferry and the gravel dumps me onto a long, paved road shoulder and I once again feel the drag of my tires holding me back bit, but my legs were able to keep things moving along.  However, the wind within the last 3 miles was solid and against me making me work super hard for that final stretch.  As I roll up to the ferry, I realize I had worked way too hard once again and felt very much drained.  I also realized I had about 30 minutes of time to kill and nothing to drink.  A soda machine sat there looking at me beckoning me to drink up. I felt so drained from that last push that a bit of sweet caffeine would have been magical.  After a bit of hustling to get some spare change, I feed the machine and guzzle down a can of Mountain Dew in a few minutes time.  It brought me back from the edge.  Feeling satisfied to have caught up with many other riders, such as Bill Bailey, Jerry Metz and a few others whose names escape me, I laid back and just relaxed contemplating what to do when on the other side.  A voice inside me said find a solid pace, and finish the ride by morning time.  There was also a deeper rooted voice telling me to ride a bit further and decide where to setup camp since I was racing noone except myself and I was really crushed.  As Tony and SkiJi caught up, I recalled discussing Tony's race plans earlier in the day in which he had mentioned a place to camp.  I mentioned to Tony that I was probably going to camp as well.  I was 95% onboard with this idea as nightfall would be upon us within the next few hours and the temperature was dropping quickly.  The other side of the river started with a taste of the nasty stuff that sugar sand can be.  Everyone was off their bikes and pushing along except for Jerry and I.  Then it was just Jerry pushing along and away.  I was so drained, the actual work of steady balancing on the floaty sand was more of a struggle than simply pushing alone.  The group rode along consistently for the next 10 miles until I found the campsite sign for Delancy East.  As I stopped in front of it alone and ahead of most, I was faced with the sole decision to camp or to simply push onwards.  As my feet unclipped and my weary legs stretched out, the decision to stay and camp hit home quickly and I awaited Tony & Skiji to pick out a spot.  Jason Greene showed up before they did and I mentioned my intent to camp to which he agreed as well.  A few more guys rolled up with one of them wanting to camp, but his friends urged him to continue onwards.   We rolled into our awesome campsite for the night, picked out a spot a bit further back from the other campers so that we could get some sleep, had a brief safety meeting to discuss the issues of the day and ate whatever foods we had packed.  Everyone held great conversation about the days events.  I knew I had made the right decision as I laid there snug inside my super cozy sleeping bag and tent shelter.  The heat made recovery much more pleasant as my legs were really throbbing.  Jason slept outside in a bivy hardcore style while Tony and SkiJi both snoozed away in really nice ultralite setups.  Those guys were pro.  I fell into a deep sleep at around 9:30pm and planned on only sleeping until around 4am.  As the night wore on, I awoke at around 1:30am and wondered if I should be getting up to go or not, but the cold chill kept me firmly zipped up in my bag.  I did hear Jason grumble something about the cold being too much for him as he loaded up quickly and set off back on the trail.  As I lay there in my bag nearly back asleep, I hear the rustling sound of drunk rednecks in a campsite nearby.  I do believe one of them was idiot enough to babble some kind of nonsense close to my tent...any closer and he would have been met with my blade which I had placed in a tent pocket for quick retrieval.  Fortunately for him, I thought SkiJi was pulling a prank close by and simply told him to bugger off to which he did!  I went back to sleep, woke back up around 4:30am to clear the kidneys, rolled back into my tent,  stretched my legs and rolled over in my sleeping longer actually racing, I treated myself to a few more hours of sleep and before I knew it the early bird was singing its song.....

CFITT Track Day 1

Friday, November 14, 2014

TNGA: Post Report from Mulberry Gap

So after the exhilaration of making it to the border simmer down, I found myself rolling along in the seat of Andrew Gate's suv.  My bike was somewhere on the back and my mind was floating between reality and the single track I had just come down off of.  I still could not believe I had finished such a massive stretch of distance with an equally massive amount of vertical feet of climbing.  It was still so surreal.  The ride back to Mulberry Gap was a blur only filled in with the comical antics of Colin eating every bit of candy and junk food in the car that he could find.  I still could not really eat, but I was focused on rehydrating and I found a true common ground with coconut water and juice.  It quenched and felt good on my raspy throat.  As we entered Mulberry Gap, I parked my rig inside the Barn and proceeded to the showers to clean myself off after that last push which consisted of around 18 hours in the saddle.  The chafing was still very painful, but I cleaned and treated everything to the best of my knowledge and slid into nice dry clothing.  It was an immediate mental boost.  I brushed my crusty teeth, put away all my dirty clothes and setup my spot in my cabin bunk.  I then limped back over to the barn for drinks, dinner and conversation.  I went through about 3 beers in an hour and never felt a buzz as my body was so jacked on caffeine and adrenaline that I could not come down from yet.  I met another finisher Michael Kurelja who had finished strong and was still not wanting to leave Mulberry, of which I could not blame him.  This place is incredible!  Warm, inviting, sincere people working and living here with immediate access to Pinohti 2 & 3 trail systems!  Colin was a wreck and could not drink a beer, but held in there and shared his gift of conversation with the group.  We all babbled about the common obstacles we had faced and how everyone had done.  It was a conversation which wrapped into many hours in and around an incredible dinner rich with proteins and real vegetables and more!  It was most definitely the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  As we sat there relaxing and still talking about all things TNGA, another rider, Asa Marshall, came to join us.  His vivid knowledge of all the issues and troubles we had encountered helped filled in the vague blanks in trail names and locations.  He kept the conversation going strong by sharing fruit, chips, and ice cream with us.  Such a great night.  I limped back to my cabin bunk and passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow.  I woke at first light to see Colin surfing the web on his phone.  He blurts out, good morning!  I respond to which he then was you after all!  I reply confused, what do you mean?  The mystery snorer!  Embarrassed and laughing at the same time, I realize at the beginning of our adventure, we had shared a yurt and since there were so many of us in there, we were not able to figure out who had snored so loudly that night.  I did not realize I snored that loudly until that day in Mulberry and thanks to Colin, the mystery was solved...LOL!  I slowly gather my stuff, loaded up my truck, said my goodbyes to everyone and headed back home with some fantastic trail riding memories.  Long Live Long Rides!!!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

TNGA: Taming the Snake, End Game....

So onwards I rolled towards Dalton...awake, very, very awake.  My inner legs were chafed beyond understanding and there was nothing I could do except ignore the pain and pedal forward.  Moving alongside a busy highway road, life went on as usual oblivious to the enormous effort and distance I had traveled.  It was a very humbling and personal moment to know that what I was doing was really just for me.  No one had forced me to put forth this effort, but there I was pedaling along very much sore and wanting to just stop and lay in the grass alongside the highway and give up, but I was not giving up the fight.  I knew what was left and it scared me.  The Snake is a very tough stretch of the Pinohti that truly challenged me year after year in the early months of each year during a 3 series event called the Snake Creek Time Trials.  After taking the challenge in the freezing cold for my third year, I swore I would never return as this section of trail had finally broken me.  I cherished my symbolic belt buckle earned during this final event and was content with the fact that I had tackled a most extreme challenge and had inner completion.  Yet here I was not only tackling this same challenge once again, but also doing it on a loaded bike, with nearly 300 miles behind me, and rolling it in reverse!  It was more than enough to occupy my mind all the way into Dalton alongside a very narrow highway with a fair amount of traffic moving by nearly swiping me at times.  As I neared Dalton, traffic increased as well as my survival awareness.  I was looking for some kind of strategy upon entering the Snake and felt a quick reload on carbs was in order.  A local Pizza Inn was the final looming oasis before the long climb up towards the radio towers, so in I went.  I was a few minutes early for lunch buffet, so I had a soda and relaxed while my phone charged.  As the buffet opened up, I loaded up my plate with mounds of fresh cheesy goodness and ate until I was good and ugly stuffed.  The attendant looked at me with wide eyes like I was a hungry homeless person.  That is exactly how I felt too. I felt like I still needed a little more time to recharge since the Snake was doing its best to intimidate me.  I look out the window across the road and spot a Days Inn motel.  I quickly formulate a plan which consisted of checking in, showering,  treating my chafed body and sleeping until sundown, and then tackling the Snake.  Room booked and belly full, I check my Facebook messages, and checked in at the Pizza Inn on my status page.  Within a few minutes, I received a response from Kate from Mulberry Gap asking me if I had caught up with Colin Campbell yet.  I was stumped by the question.  I had assumed Colin had already gone over and was finished.  I was confused.  I surf to the track leaders website and notice Colin's dot was somewhere behind, but very close by!  I had no idea how that had happened as I totally assumed that he was way ahead of me.  Kate let me know that he may need a buddy to navigate the Snake and encouraged me to wait for him and roll over together.  At first, I was apprehensive towards the idea as I usually don't ride consistently with others mostly because my pace varies.  I also was not excited by the idea of possibly having to worry about another rider whose skills on the single track were unknown to me, but it would be good to have someone there to back me up as well.  After last night's mess, a little company on the final stretch would be a good thing, so I messaged Colin and let him know where I would be staying and to find me there.  I headed over to the motel, showered up and no sooner did I get a little bit of sleep, that Colin was knocking on the door.  He was very excited to see me as I was him since we both were kind of on the same mental level regarding this TNGA thing.  We caught up on his nightmare of a night in the land of a million felled trees.   I could not believe his night and hope he fills us all in someday on his blog.  As we were waiting on his new lights to recharge, I went over to Kroger and bought some deli chicken and some topical medication for my chafed sores.  I loaded my bike up with more food and liquid than I thought I would need and our plan on rolling out by 6pm materialized.  Rolling away from a super nice motel room and lots of clean available liquid was a luxury I had quickly come to appreciate.  We climbed in silence knowing that once we neared the radio tower, all bets were off and the final push would truly begin.  The climb to the radio tower really felt like it took forever and my legs burned with lactic acid buildup from the midday reprieve.   We took turns pulling but it was more just to occupy our minds than to cheat the wind.  As we neared the radio towers, reality set in and a sudden surge of energy bubbled up.  Into the first stretch of single track we pedaled, excited with rested energy and focused on the trials that lay ahead we started to really pick up our pace.  I started cruising through familiar rock gardens and find myself pedaling through them with ease.  I start to wonder if the fat tires are helping out with the stability and the ease through the lines, but then maybe it's because I am really tuned into riding my bike after 3 solid days out here.  Colin is keeping up fine, so my worries about his level of skill quickly fade away.  The night was clear and the weather was perfect.  Looking up at massive expanses of the milky way made us want to slow down and appreciate the area we were in a little more.  Going backwards on the Snake was actually much smoother than I expected and that was a good thing.  After more than a few hours pedaling along and taking my little trip down memory lane, I come back to reality and start to focus on my water supplies and output levels.  I was amazed and worried at the amount of liquids I had already consumed.  According to Karlos, there were only a few key locations to reload on water and it was critical that we did not miss these on our way through.  To make things a bit trickier, Colin's lights were acting up and his pace slowed considerably.  We yoyo'd along as best we could and found a common speed.  It was at this point that some hike a bike was needed to avoid wasting energy on the more technical areas.  This was a good plan as we would later find out.  As we pedaled along, I could hear lots of animals close by and then they started howling and we immediately recognized the familiar sound of coyotes.  They seemed to be shadowing us along the edge of the ridge and it was a little spooky.  After about 30 more minutes of hearing them, I realized it was because they could smell our deli foods!  I told Colin we were going to have to stop once we were out of the first 17 mile stretch and eat and get rid of any edible deli foods we had to make sure we were not followed any further.  He agreed and we ate every bit of it down at the mid point trailhead.  We were very much tired and exhausted at this point and our spirits were a bit low, but we sucked it up, reloaded our bikes and carried on.  We pedaled along a bit more quiet as we had not found much in the form of water and we were starting to worry.  After more than an hour later, we found a tiny little trickle of water coming through the rocks, but it was not flowing enough to justify caching water here.  We pedaled on, hoping that we would find more.   After close to a half an hour later, we find a deeper creek, but the water really wasn't flowing, but after some speculation, we decided to cache up water anyways, but not filter it until we really needed it.  We pedal on with our insurance water onboard.  A short while later, we find the "third" noted creek by Karlos and the water was flowing strong!  We celebrate by finishing up our current water as we had started sipping to conserve what we had.  It was an uplifting moment which took more than 45 minutes to filter all of our bottles.  As we left that spot, we knew that the next stop would be the Alabama border, but we had no idea how much more effort it would take.  Onwards we pushed, hiking often as the road was long and arduous.  I have no idea how many sections of the Snake we traversed before we popped out and finished it with desperate efforts to just get this over with.  More single track was encountered after a road connector and lots of vague downhill stretches kept our minds and reflexes busy.  We were drunk with fatigue and found ourselves lost in front of one entrance to a section for over 20 minutes as we could not figure out how to enter the section.  So much great trail was being explored and experienced and it kept getting better and better, but our minds were growing ever more foggy by the moment.  As the sun came up, we found ourselves drunk with fatigue and found a road to stop and have "breakfast"  I pulled out the last piece of "real" gas station food I had on my bike, a bacon, egg and cheese breakfast green burrito. It was so tasty and I was lost in the enjoyment of it until I turned to notice Colin had nodded off while eating his sardines.  It was a definite turning point. I immediately finished my food and rallied Colin to get up and get moving again as I felt there was a strong possibility that we could both pass out and sleep till noon losing precious time before the peak heat of the day.  His core temp dropped and he was hitting a wall, so I shared a few caffeinated Gu gels with him and they slowly pulled him back to life.  At this point, we experienced some insane climbs with vertical walls almost to the point of being too steep to climb.  I could not believe how strong and steady I felt.  I was standup climbing better than I had on the first day and was amazed by my output.  Colin was still getting his motor going and we bobbed back and forth for miles and miles.   Then nearing the final ridge, I felt the power start to drain from my legs and Colin inversely started to speed up.  He looked like I felt earlier and I wanted some of that back, but I just could not get back to that moment.  I hiked easy sections at this point just to shake my legs out, but I was feeling like crap. I forced down some more food and hoped for the best.  My body was feeling the increasing heat of the day and Colin was flying onwards up ahead.  I did find a moment where I was feeling good again and bombed some of the rolling single track hitting some sweet jumps on the monster rig.  Colin and I were stoked to be having fun again!  We wrapped up the final section of that ridge in style with Colin picking up an indian feather and some other trail trinkets.  Upon leaving the Pinohti, we hoot and cheer as we wrap up the final downhill roller to the trail head.  We then proceed to the rail trail leading us to the end.  It is a simple double track path which seems to not be traveled on regularly.   We pickup speed and surge forward.  We stop at a general store and load up on fruit juice to satisfy our cravings for fresh fruit stand fruit which we never found.  After that final reload, it was nonstop to the end of the line.  Alabama!  The final road stretch to the border seemed like it was taking forever and we were nervously double checking our GPS to verify we were not taking any wrong turns at this point.  Once we knew the end was near, we raced on doing everything we could to finish this massive accomplishment.  As we approach the green border sign, we agree on crossing the line together equally since we both felt our efforts were shared.  I felt an incredible surge of elation and an uplifting of emotions after reaching the border.  It was unlike anything I had ever felt during any mountain bike race.  It was most definitely a good feeling and made the entire ordeal an adventure unlike anything I had ever experienced before.  A great new friend was made and lots of other friends were made along the way.  The final push was done and the Snake was tamed once again.  TNGA 2014 was accomplished and I was so happy to know I was a finisher!

The Final Push

Thursday, November 6, 2014

To Lake Moultrie and Back....

The heat was on and my legs were gone....that basically sums up how I felt with the upcoming CFITT  (Cross Florida Individual Time Trial) ride to which I had committed.   I was still spinning around in circles after TNGA, followed by Pisgah Monster CX, and volunteering at HellHole gravel grind race, and just felt like I needed about a month off the bike and on the couch.  Nonetheless, I needed to get up and outside to test out my rig since I changed the layout since I predicted much less climbing than I had experienced in Georgia.  I really wanted to check out the current status of the Palmetto trail, so I made up a simple ride leaving from my house and connecting into the Palmetto Trail Swamp Fox Passage at my earliest entry.  I planned on riding up to Lake Moultrie, and then returning.  Upon leaving my house, I realized just how heavy and sluggish my legs felt although I was riding further off the highway to better visualize the amount of resistance I would be experiencing in the boggy trail of Florida's wetlands.  After 10 miles or so, I entered the Palmetto trail and the bumpy lumpy trail let me know it was going to be a long day in the saddle.  There was so much erosion on the trail that it really allowed me to get much more intimate with my new Anatomica saddle than I was ready for.  My hands were also paying the price as I had way too much tire pressure based on the trail chatter.  I finally stopped and adjusted, but it took a along ways into the trail to stop and make the changes.  I was surprised at just how long this trail really is.  I hadn't even started at the very beginning of the Swamp Fox passage and I was already approaching my 5th hour pedaling along the twisty turny swervy trail before me.  I encountered 3-4 primitive campsites along the way and made waypoint markers for all of them on my GPS for future use.  One that really stood out to me was Cane Gully.  It had a nicely setup campfire ring, was near a babbling stream, and was setup high enough to be able to see for a ways.  I planned on returning to this spot to setup camp after reaching Lake Moultrie.  Crossing the narrow bridge at this point was also exciting as well as opened up a beautiful section of trail with brilliant colors and wide open single track.  I got lost mentally on this section as it let me experience the beauty of connecting with the forest.  Then I realized I was totally low on water and still had a few more hours to go before reaching Moultrie.  I was not concerned since the weather was moderate but I was imagining this happening in Florida and contemplated the amount of water I was carrying and whether or not to load up more reserves.  As I went deeper into the Palmetto and closer to Moultrie the trail grew more dense and harder to navigate without some careful hike a bike.  I knew this would get tricky with a fully loaded rig and looked forward to unforeseen issues to be able to handle them here rather than out in the middle of Florida.  Surprisingly, my Krampus backpacking rig held up quite nicely regardless of the saddle choice which was now doing its best to leave me transgendered.  I knew that if I wanted to put in more hasty miles, I would have to stand up pedal to avoid having that horrid saddle bash my taint and tenders once again.  So, after miles of doing the same in Georgia as well as up in Pisgah, I stood up, picked a neutral gear choice and rolled along at a moderate pace.  I love this trail regardless of the lumps and bumps since it seems to stand the test of time, thanks to the USFS men and women who maintain it of course, but it is nice to be able to experience it again after several years of only cutting through sections of it.  I was still on the trail when the sixth hour came and went.  I didn't really have a set arrival time, but I was surprised it was taking me this long, but I was fully loaded and only able to speed up to around 7 mph due to the rough trail conditions.  I would pull off 10-15 every now and then, but it was brief and nowhere near enough to gap a long distance.  As night enveloped my bike and soul, the lights came on and helped illuminate my way.  The dynamo pumped out more than enough juice to keep my Revo light shining bright.  I put my helmet light on mid power and rolled along confidently into each and every turn.  My pace turned up around the 7th hour as I tired of soft pedaling and grew a bit thirsty as I had now run totally out of water.  I neared the exit of the Palmetto and US 17 to the trailhead when I encountered a pair of fully grown PitBulls charging at me!  This situation had me on full alert and I immediately put my bike between them and I.  As they slowed and barked at me within a foot or two, I reached for my knife which was conveniently near my left hand.  I quickly opened it and kept it close for a last chance attack.  I yelled at them to get back, go to their couch, and several other things to try and confuse them.  It actually seemed to work for one of them as it went far back into a crate which they seemed to be living in.  There were blankets, a giant water bowl and 2 open bags of dogfood within sight.  The other Pitt was more protective and seemed more cautionary than vicious.  As I noticed their slight inclination to submissive domestics, I played my dominant card and walked forward and through them all while keeping a solid glance on them letting them know I was in charge with my bike in-between them and myself.  As I pushed through, I walked backwards and kept my eyes on them to the edge of the highway.  I was in shock that someone would abandon two beautiful animals in such a way.  As I approached the edge of the highway, I re-prioritized my objectives and focused on making it to a gas station about a mile or so down the road.  I loaded up on juice, an energy drink, some sugar loaded junk food and restocked my rig with gatorade and water.  I then scooted off from there since it was starting to get chilly.  After nearing the lake, I meandered over and realized I could not see since it was so dark, so I spun around and decided to make my way back to base camp, setup and try and dry off.
 It took me about an hour to make it back to the campsite as I was fully hydrated and able to put out more power.  As I selected my spot and started setting up camp, I realized I had less than 30 minutes before I would be shaking from the cold as it had dropped down into the low 40s and I was soaking wet from sweat and the humidity level around me.  I shuffled priorities and made a quick fire first to get some base coals going.
 Once the fire was crackling, I went back and setup my tent and laid out my thermarest and sleeping bag.  I then quickly tore off my wet clothes and into my dry camp clothes.
 It is amazing how much just switching into dry warm clothing can bring up your spirits.  After camp was setup, I setup a dry clothesline and hung my clothes near the fire.  I then setup another high line to hang my rear bag which was full of food.  I grabbed the foods I would be eating for dinner that night and scavenged enough firewood to last all night.  As the night grew long, I ate, relaxed and played on my phone since I had a great signal out here!  A few hours later, I was calling it a night and crept into my happy hut.  My super soft ultralite sleeping bag hugged my body well and I knew this was coming along with me in Florida.  I fell asleep in less than a few moments and thought I was gone until the morning, but I was wrong.  A few hours into my slumber, I am awoken by lots of rustling and heavy panting.  It does not sound like pranksters so I assume a bear or critters.  I hear a lot more rustling very close by and hear a yip or two and confirm coyotes!  I wasn't sure how close they were but it sounded like they were right outside. Then, before I can even roll out of my bag a bone chilling chorus of howls emit from right outside my tent!  It sounded like at least a dozen or so dogs scavenging about out there.  I had never really considered this situation and didn't have a clue as to what to do!  I quickly googled how campers handle coyotes and the consensus was that they mostly leave them alone, so I finally made an attempt to get out of my tent and slowly open a flap.  I could see lots of movement but not clearly, so I click on my flashlight and immediately see about a dozen sets of eyes looking at me!  I yell GET and they start shuffling and slinking into the shadows.  I take the opportunity to run towards the smoldering fire and stoke it quickly to get some sparks.  I throw a ton of kindling into it and quickly get a giant blaze going and stay close to it hoping it is enough to send them running.  I shine my flashlight through the woods again and fail to see any more eyes looking back at me.  I then setup heavy clubs around my tent to have something to reach for if they decide to come back.  It is crazy how quickly one goes into survival mode once there is a definite need.  I roll back off to sleep, but I am lightly aware of my surroundings and know I am going to be tired in the morning.  Morning comes quickly and before I know it I am breaking down camp and loading up my rig.  I am happy to have made it through that crazy night, but happier to know everything I brought along was used properly and I am not carrying more than I should.  A lesson learned from TNGA.  I set out at a nice pace and decide to navigate along gravel today since the grew tired of the bump factor along the Palmetto trail.  Before long, I am back home, showering and telling all about my crazy night with the coyotes!  Good times.

Official GPS:

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Theee Backyard Experience...

So it was Halloween, and I was hanging out doing my thing, handing out candy, drinking a few tasty beers...then the trick or treaters fade out and I find myself in front of a bonfire with lots of cool neighbors all hanging out relaxing and I thought...well, I guess I am not going to Charlotte tomorrow and ride in the BackYard Experience (BYE).  Then like some weird sign, it started to rain, the people all ran home and I was left there to ponder my upcoming actions...  It was 11pm, my truck was already packed, and I had just finished my last beer.   I knew I would be driving up alone as one of my friend, Bert, had previously cancelled on account of fear of cold weather and another friend, Ernie, who needed a ride in the morning, I predicted, would never make it due to still being out and about partying till the early hours of the morning.  12am and I decided then and there to let fate handle this one.  If I woke up early, I would simply slither out to my truck and make the haul to Charlotte.  Morning came earlier than usual and I found myself up before my alarm clock went off.  I let my dog out to do his early morning business and then decided to roll with it.  Hangover apparent, I poured some day old coffee, slurped it down, jumped into the truck and rolled onwards to Tanger Outlet to wait for my friend to surprise me with anticipation and a hangover as predicted he was a no show.  Trucked gassed up and breakfast handled, I rolled on to Charlotte sans Bert and Ernie...(note: names were changed to protect the less than innocent)

   Why was I driving to this event?...mostly out of curiosity, somewhat out of challenging the elements on a very minimal level.  The Backyard Trails in Charlotte offer some very unique challenges due to the fact that they take total advantage of the urban woodlands in their very compact surroundings.  They are in fact, pretty awesome.  Swoopy, loopy crazy fun wrapping through a very dense little area in the Charlotte metro area.  This brilliant use of minimal space had me wanting to ride more and more.  So, that, along with the fact that lots of riders that shredded would be there as well as lots of beer and food afterwards made for an inviting day no matter what the weather was like.

  As I was rolling to Charlotte, I ran into a freak snowstorm right outside of Columbia which caused traffic to slow.  It was at this point that I considered turning around, but I kept on rolling as I had all the cold weather gear necessary for a long day in the mountains, so Charlotte would definitely not be a problem.  Cold would not scare me away!
I made it to Charlotte in record time and loaded up on Starbuck's coffee.  I found the starting location, registered and went back out into my truck to change.  At this point I realized things were about to get real.  I was layered for the first time this season and not sure what my body was going to feel like in all of this gear.  As I pedaled out into the street, the extra layers made me feel sluggish and clumsy.  I was definitely worried about my choice of clothing as well as the weight of my backpack.  This was noted to be an all day event with 4 stages and it was encouraged to being your own food and supplies, so I did.  Too much in fact....
   The riders meeting was brief, informational, and to the point.  Before I knew it we were rolling down some neighborhood streets to a far point of the trails to a mass start shakeout point.  Go was yelled and we were off!  I sprinted forward only to find my gear choice was stupid low and I was spinning like a fool.  I recall changing it to help with the muck and predicted slower speeds on the trail.  It would help, but not here.  I brought my cadence down and waited to roll into the woods.  I entered the woods near mid pack and was rolling along fine until a few miles in when I felt the burning pain in my legs remind me that XC pace at this spin rate was not my thing.  I ignored the pain and kept on passing people and rolling smooth.  2/3rds into the first stage and I was rolling along strong and hoping the weight of my pack would not be a factor...but then something else went wrong.  My bike started getting sluggish and was rolling the wrong way in front tire was flatting out!  I could not believe it!  I had not had an issue like this in a while.  I couldn't figure out where I had picked up anything to cause me to flat out, but here I was losing ground and exerting extra power to stay alive.  I finally pulled over and tried to figure out what to do.  I could not see a leak, and the pressure was still there, so I grabbed my pump and started pumping.  And pumping and pumping and pumping....sigh...still pumping.  I pumped while a dozen riders passed and then one wouldn't as he chatted me up and then announced he was the sweep.  I panicked, pumped a little more and tore off to finish the stage.  I passed about 5 riders on the way, finished and then sat there pumping some more.  I was frustrated and blown out from all the pumping.  Stage 2 began and no more than 100 feet into the stage, my tire starts feeling mushy again.  I stop once again and start pumping....this time looking for a leak...nothing!  I tear off throughout the mushy wet muddy trail and try to make the most of my day realizing I would not be racing today, just surviving.  I focus on the beer at the end and hope that would be enough to get me to cheer did.  The weight of my pack was bearing down on me as well as it was fully loaded and really causing me pain.  I tried to ignore it, but as I finished stage 2, Rich Dillen noticed my facial expressions and stated I really looked like I could use a beer.  I gladly accepted and dulled the throbbing pain in my lower back.  After relaxing and sorting out my bodily issues, I focused again on my now flat front tire.  Should I stick a tube in there or figure things out?  I knew there was Stans fluid in there...real Stans, not that pseudo-environmentally safe crap that just turns to water...So once again, I broke out my mini pump and started working it...the tire that is.  I pumped it up hard and spun it listening for hissing air...then i caught it in-between people babbling all around me.  The air was leaking from the valve core!  It seems that the cold 35 degree temps had unseated my valve core and it needed tightening.  I gave it a few twists at the stem nut and the hissing stopped!  It felt good to know my tire would hold up and I would not have to slap a tube in there.  I was, however, upset to lose so much ground because of an issue like this.  But, another beer and all my issues were resolved.  The jump line bonus stage started and I rolled down on my only attempt to style out some extra points, but as I neared the twin cannons, I slid out and almost lost all control.  It was just way too muddy for me to be crazy today.  I carefully made my way down the jump line with people chanting to jump everything and anything all the way down.  I controlled the urge to do so and parked the bike to join the cheering section letting them know I was not ready to take on the ultra slick jump lines.  As I found me a spot on the rocks, I witnessed the truly crazy and skilled riders of Charlotte take on the jumps in the worst shape possible.  They all jumped, crossed up, table topped and one handed their way across the mounds of sloppy clay with style, and poise.  It was impressive to watch!  One rider stood out more than most and later I found out it was an old school pro BMX legend and idol to me...Mike King!  He was laying out nearly flat table tops landing smoothly into a berm on the backside.  He was crushing it!  Another rider was pulling turn down, crossed up one handers shirtless!  It was awesome stuff to watch...and the best reason I had to know I had not missed this event, besides the free beer...Stage 3 went off shortly afterwards and was the most technical by far.  I went through the stage on heavy legs and sore back.  Too much gear was dragging me down.  I also froze up on a skinny near the end and took out another rider who was following closely behind.  I was feeling rough and a little beat up.  Once again, the day turned bright thanks to a beer hand up by Chris Muddiman.
A very nice IPA saved the day!  I rode off again through stage 4 without a care in the world, finished, changed clothes and came back to a warm fire, good friends, delicious food, and great beer!  It was a crazy day and it was all a bit foggy due to my being half awake all day, but nonetheless worth all the effort.  Hanging out by the fire, I made some new friends, talked about other rides we had all done together and drank half full bottles of Old Mecklenburg's finest.  I even won a new pump as a prize for being one of the participants furthest away!  The prizes for the top 3 were handmade lamps and they looked awesome!  Lots of schwag was tossed and none left unhappy.  Afterwards, Jana and Paul offered me a place to stay the night and we explored the NODA district for a bit of dinner and then I went off to slumberland as I had to return early in the morning for family stuff....One busy day for The Backyard Experience!  Can't wait till next year!!