The conditions were lovely on Friday when we got to the Whitewater Center to pick up our packets and do a little ride. Sun was out. Birds were chirping. Legs felt good. Fast course. Warm and dry. It was a "Zippity Do Dah" kinda day. If only the race could have been on Friday. Fast forward about 5 hours that night and things began to get ugly.
As I peeked out the hotel room window at 4:30 am on Saturday morning I saw rain. I saw puddles. Big, cold, ugly puddles. We got to the venue and sat in the truck because it was raining on and off at that point. I didn't get out of the truck or on my bike until I absolutely had to. Standing in line for the bathrooms there was chatter about the weather and what everyone was wearing. It wasn't the fun, "those socks are cute" conversation, either. It was more about being prepared for a really long and miserable day in the saddle. There was even talk of rain pants and Gore-Tex (shudder).
It was sprinkling at the start and continued to rain on and off throughout the day. Up the initial climb, I started to warm up but I was by no means warm. In the initial singletrack there was some chaos due to the greasy conditions. People were literally flying off the trail. I caught up with one of my teammates and we had the conversation that we were hot and we were going to shed some layers at the first aid station. That never happened. In the next 15 minutes it began to rain harder and it got colder. It was going to be a really long day.
I'm not one to look forward to climbing. I have to say that I looked forward to the climbs all day because it was so damn cold. I couldn't feel my hands and feet at about 3 hours in. The descents were freezing. I couldn't let go of the brakes because A) my hands were numb and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to brake if need be 2) some of the roads were pretty eroded, sketchy and wet and 3) Ick was spraying up and blinding me, even with a fender. Usually, I like to let it go on downhills or "free miles". That wasn't happening. When it was time to climb again the muscles were good and tight. I could hardly get them to turn over for the first few minutes and they hurt like hell and I felt like my quads and hammies were going to snap. The roads were soft and slow and by the time my legs were warmed up it was time to descend again. At four hours in, my bottom lip began to quiver and I couldn't get my teeth to stop chattering. I had to pee so badly for the past hour. I finally stopped and I had bibs on so I pulled over to get undressed. My hands were not working. It was raining. My zipper on my vest was so crusted with mud I couldn't get it to unzip with my frozen fingers. I was about to have a panic attack because it was becoming an emergency situation. What happened next is not something I'm proud of. I tried to pull the leg of my shorts over so I could go. It worked; at least a little and I'll leave it at that. It wasn't pretty, but I got the job done. Let's just say I'm glad it was rainy and muddy at that point.
The course is a lollipop so at a certain point you can see the leaders coming back through. The good news is I was farther along than I was last year when I saw the leaders. The bad news is they looked miserable and more caked with mud than those of us just heading towards the lollipop. The singletrack section was slick and messy and there were parts I just had to suck up and walk. I wasn't getting anywhere. The mud was over my shoes. I tried to stay on the bike but I was expending too much energy in the greasy mud. I hit a bad patch here. I don't know if it was mental or physical. I'll go with both. I usually do well in horrible conditions. I like the mud. I like the slop. I don't mind the rain. I was definitely starting to mind. All of a sudden I was not having fun and I wanted it over with. I thought about the season and cursed myself for ever wanting to do the NUE Series again. In my mind I had decided that I was NEVER doing this again. I was trying to convince myself that XC is the way to go because if conditions are bad at least it's only for a couple of hours. I came out of that singletrack and there is a gravel road climb. I was fine for a bit and pedaling and then my lower back started to cramp. The pain went from just below my rib cage and down my left ass cheek and into my left leg. I’ve been having trouble for about the last month and I thought I was going to be okay. I had to pull over and lie on the ground and hug my knees to my chest and do some hip openers. I'm sure I looked like a winner at this point. I got back on the bike and a guy singlespeeder came along and I started to ride with him. Walk with him. Talk with him. It was a nothing climb compared to what was behind me and what was in front of me, but my back said "HELL, NO" so I walked. I walked up to the bracelet station and got my bracelet (to prove I did the lollipop section). My lack of a smile and piss poor sense of humor could have told them that. I got my bracelet, continued to the next aid station by rotating walking and riding. I finally was doing more riding than walking again. There was a bus filled wet, cold and sad riders waiting to get driven back to the venue at this point. I grabbed a bottle at the aid station and then I knew what was ahead of me: The fucking Potato Patch Mountain climb.
If I could punch a climb in the face it would be this climb. It also comes at about ~60 miles in. I don't even want to eat potatoes again because of the name this climb. I love and eat sweet potatoes every day, but from here on out I will only refer to them as yams. I stayed on the bike at the beginning and then I had to get off. My legs and back were not having it. I walked. I cursed. I rode a little. I walked again. I stopped to pee (I actually was able to get undressed. Thanks for asking). I stood hunched over my bike at one point asking myself again why the hell I do this. Some poor souls were just now coming down to head into the lollipop or the bailout. Finally, at the top of fucking Potato Patch I got it together mentally. There are a few other demoralizing climbs after that but they are not that long. I started to feel better and came around. At the aid station at mile 86ish, I grabbed a fresh bottle from my bag and was on my way. I pedaled on for a bit and then went into the last piece of singletrack: Thunder Rock Express. It was more like "Thunder Butter Express" at this point. It's a fast, flowy benchcut trail on normal days. I was ready to be finished and I rode it like it was still fast and dry. There were two times that this strategy did not work out for me. The corners had taken on fluffernuttter-meets-Crisco quality. I wiped out the first time, giggled and got back on. Did this make me more cautious and slow down? No, it did not. It actually, pissed me off. The second time I hit a LOT faster and a LOT harder. I actually had to lay there for a second. I looked for my bike and it was down the side of the hill and my glasses were no were to be found. Well, I almost made it through a hundred with the same pair of glasses. Another pair lost to the hundred gods. I need to start wearing gas station glasses.
I could hear the cars on the road so I knew I was close. My legs were dead. My eyes were gritty. I don't even want to know how much mud I consumed throughout the day. I could feel the mud chafing me in some not so fun places. I caught a glimpse of concrete. Sweet Mary Mother of God. It was almost over. I crossed the bridge and turned down the road to the Whitewater Center. At this time I wished for gears because I would have used the biggest gear to get down the road as fast as humanly possible. It took what seemed like forever to spin into the finish. I smiled one of my few smiles of the day when I crossed the finish. The Toasted Head guys and Mike were there to see me in (in the dry and warmth of a truck, of course). When I got back to the car my brother was there to help me pack my shit up so I could get back to the hotel ASAP and get warm. I actually couldn't have gotten any colder so I went down to the creek take a "bath" before putting my sloppy self in the truck.
It was an exceptionally cruel day on the bike. I'm glad I toughed it out and I'm glad I did it. Although, I had sworn off NUE races during Cohutta, of course I had changed my mind an hour after I finished. On the way home I was looking at the Wildcat profile to get an idea of what kind of gearing I should run. I'm convinced you have to have some kind of mental illness to do these endurance races. On to the Wildcat 100 in two weeks....
Pictures to come later. I'm sure there are a few floating around.