I had Friday off, so we got up, loaded up and headed down to Dalton. We decided to try the interstate route since we had the six cylinder mini-van as opposed to the 4 cyl accord we had last year. It took about the same amount of time and was overly stressful due to so much traffic. We will take the scenic route past the Nantahala and Ocoee from now on, the scenic route cost us a 1/4 tank less gas too.
We decided to try America's Best Inn. The rate was $45 for the night and about the best in town. My gut told me to check the room before we checked in. Thanks to my gut, we did not stay at America's Best and if this truly is America's Best, well, we are in big trouble. We drove down to Days Inn, where we stayed last year. For some reason, the rate was $45, breakfast included, and with Starbucks one block up, what more could we ask for.
We found some pasta at a local restaurant, went to the room to watch TV, then went to bed. The previous week, I had been fighting a cold, but was finally starting to feel better. The downside was that I had lost one week's worth of training, valuable training that would lead up to this race.
I decided not to stress and use this race as a test, to see how I was doing.
Saturday, we were up at 7am. I went to the finish line to check in while Rhonda and Jubal got breakfast. I was feeling good and not at all nervous. We got packed up, headed out, and proceeded to get lost. At one point we crossed paths with another racer who was also lost. We finally found the start and were greeted by Cara and Andy Applegate, and Dwight Wyatt. There was supposed to be quite a crew of Ashevillians here this time, so I was very excited.
I started the ritual of getting ready, took a spin around the parking lot with Jubal (he wanted to help me get warmed up). For some reason I looked closely at my rear tire. I felt that I should have replaced it before this race, and that was confirmed when I noticed a dime sized blister sticking out. Dwight, Cara and Andy all gave me welcomed tips on what to do if it flatted. Well, there was nothing to do except race, pray, and hope.
The start went really well, and I really scared the guys in my wave when I blasted out of the start. Once I got out of view of the start crowd I slowed down and settled in to my pace for the day. With all the recent rain, the course was muddy, slimy, wet. In no time I was covered in mud. The views were impossible to see because of the fog.
I felt good, and decided not to push it too hard, especially since I had been sick. It turned out to be the best thing for me to do.
This race is such a great mix of single track and dirt road. I decided to enjoy my ride. And that I did.
Last year I was on a single speed, this year I had gears. I was riding everything, I was cruising the downhills, I was attacking the techy stuff and cleaning most of it. Such a change from my single speed days. I was really enjoying this ride. I was passing people, being passed by a few people. In what seemed like no time I was at the half way point. My pit crew, switched out my bottles and handed me an energy bar. Jubal took a bite first to make sure it was ok.
I hit the long single track climb to the ridge. Up and down, in and out, just loving being out there. Then came the long gravel road climb to the last 10 or so miles, most of which is technical. I had to walk a lot of this last year, so I was looking forward to seeing how I would do. I was very pleased with how my skills have improved. I was actually enjoying the section, and I enjoyed it the whole time.