I arrived in Black Mountain, checked in, and immediately went out to pre-ride some of the 8 hour drive out of my legs. Since I wasn’t very familiar with the area, I went to Curtis Creek- the forest road climb where we camped last year. I’ve always felt like I could nail forest road climbs, so I was feeling confident. I rode about 4 miles up then turned around & rode down while I was still feeling like I wanted more.
After that, I stopped by registration where I found Dicky, who was laying around sunbathing while he waited for some late-arriving friends Tim and Rob. I ended up letting him use my air conditioning once he realized that they wouldn’t be around anytime soon. Later, we all had some delicious Mexican food and Tim & Rob took me to a nearby grocery store with a huge beer selection so I could stock up on some of the local stuff (though they also had Breckenridge Brewery Vanilla Porter there- one of my all-time favorites). After getting the cooler re-arranged so that my beer wouldn’t boil all day Sunday, I headed back to the B&B and settled in to bed. I’d cranked the AC down in my room, so I prettymuch hibernated all night until my 5:30am alarm went off.
Since I was boringly well-prepped for this race, I’ll skip all the “race morning” filler about parking, port-o-potties, and drop bags and get to the important part.
I raced on my singlespeed in the open women’s category. I figured I had a good shot at placing high since I generally climb better on my SS than I do on my geared bike. Brenda Simril was there with her husband Lee, so I knew that if I were anywhere in sight of them on one of the non-singletrack sections of race course that he’d be on the big ring and pulling her away at high rates of speed. I didn’t know any of the other women on the start list, but Zeke Lilly pointed out plenty that he said I should “watch for.”
From the gun, the race goes fast. It’s generally rolling on asphalt for the first few miles, and I was left spinning in the back while the leaders hammered away. I tried to comfort myself by imagining what everyone would look like in their granny gears on the Curtis Creek climb halfway through the race. We finally hit the first climb of the day (an easy asphalt hiking/walking trail) and I settled in to a wonderful “don’t blow yourself up” rhythm.
Just about the time you’re getting tired of an easy paved climb, you reach a gate that puts you back out on the short section of road before Kitsuma- the somewhat infamous first singletrack climb of the day. It was there that I sustained my only injury of the race when a really obnoxious, thorny vine grabbed some skin off of the top of my right arm. I knew that I had a lot of ground to make up, but didn’t panic, settled down, and ate some gel.
Within minutes, I was rolling up the rooty trail that would eventually pitch upwards and start switchbacking steeply up the mountain. It’s a tough climb.
Brief Tangent- Last year, the switchbacks were pocked with rocks and roots. You not only had to navigate repeaded steep, nearly-180 deg switchbacks, you’d usually have to navigate a rock step or two as well. At some point over the winter, some trail work was done, and the ledges smoothed out. A lot of people were mad about it. I can see why. It’s not nearly as technical as it was before. If I were a local with time to figure out the lines and ride it without being in a race-induced conga-line, I’d probably enjoy the challenge it presented. On the other hand, before, you had an excuse to walk. Now, you don’t have an excuse other than a lack of general fitness rather than “I suck at switchbacks that combine a high degree of fitness and technical skill into one repetitive package.”
The descent was once equally as difficult. It had drops, steeps, random logs on the steeps, and off-camber “surprise” turns that would repeatedly pucker your butthole up into your brain. Now, it’s still steep, but the “danger factor” is somewhat removed. The turns are more banked, some of the rocks are gone, and it’s generally been smoothed into what rides like a downhill pump track. I’m not gonna even pretend as if I enjoyed the “old version” better- it’s about the most fun descent I’ve been on since the Downhill course in Winter Park last year.
Trail politics aside- like I said, Kitsuma is difficult. Pacing thrown out the window, my heart rate was pegged somewhere in the 180s as I rode/pushed for nearly 20 minutes. Eventually, I made it up and over and was back on the road trying to settle down, eat, drink, and prepare for the next similar but shorter climb up Star Gap. It was there that I started to feel the effects of being previously redlined for a moderate amount of time. Going up even the more “rideable” parts of Star Gap, I couldn’t get on top of my gear. At the top, a woman who I’d been back & forth with caught up to me and exclaimed that she was having derailleur problems. I replied back- “Yeah, me too.”
After that, the trail turns into a less steep/switchbacked overgrown closed off forest road. Being more of a “comfort zone” for me, I started getting into a rhythm on the climbs and trying to float down the descents without wrecking/dislocating a thumb like I did in the same spot last year. I made it to aid 2 at the bottom of Curtis Creek feeling a little rough, but hopeful that I’d pull some ladies back on the way up the forest road.
Unfortunately, my blow-up had taken away the nice “flying” feeling I’d had the day before. I still managed to get a nice pace going, though I was forced to walk a couple of steep spots around the halfway point. Then, it started to downpour. It felt really nice, and being cooled off a bit made my calves feel less twitchy. I was about 8 miles up and almost looking forward to the 2nd half of the race when I stood up to grind out another switchback and SNAP… I was sitting on my top tube and rolling backwards.
I broke my chain. It was an almost new chain, and as far as I could tell the night before when I was checking everything over, had nothing wrong with it. I had a chain tool, but (even though I carry it with me on 1 hr rides from my house) no chain parts to use for repair. I couldn’t shorten the chain to remove the damage, either. I was SOL. After stewing for a few minutes, I zipped my jersey up and made the “chainless coast of shame” back down to aid 2.
In retospect, I was in bad shape at that point. Not that I wasn’t going to finish… I was just going to suffer a lot in doing so. My coach asked if I felt like I should have run a lower gear, and I told him that I don’t want a lower gear, I want stronger legs.
I hate ORAMM so much now that I’ve resolved myself to winning it if it kills me.