As I made the drive out to Brevard one last time for the last stage, I could see cloudy skies through the darkness of morning. Not cloudy like yesterday, but nice puffy clouds that would allow the sun to actually reach us.
As we lined up to start, a wave of relief swept over the racers as Todd made the announcement that Farlow Gap Trail would be eliminated from today's stage. It had been a tough decision to make. Todd was up at the gap at 2:30am checking out conditions: snowy, icy, and cold. After a lot of deliberation and consideration, Todd removed the loop for the safety of the masses. As much as I wanted to ride Farlow and the recent trail work that I put into it, I was relieved and support his decision.
We road down the pavement for the neutral start to the dirt road. I was riding the yellow line about 15 back. I felt like I was stopping people from moving up, so I slowly moved forward to make room for those who might want to position themselves to go when we hit the dirt road. It was a neutral start but it felt odd for me when I found myself pulling the group over the little incline before the turn.
As we hit the right turn onto the gravel, I moved far left and assumed my pace. The first group was gone, but there were several smaller groups forming. As we hit the first long climb of the day, I decided to try to get on with one of those groups. I pushed harder than I wanted to, caught the group I wanted, but then could not hang on. I dropped back a little bit and ended up behind Cheryl S and Carey L. I rode with them for a while and ended up yo -yoing with them a little bit. Then Cheryl dropped us and it was Carey and I. Carey got on my wheel and I attempted to go my pace yet pull for her. At the top of the climb we continued to ride together until we hit the next turn. I slowed way down to get some food.
I slow to the pace that I wanted and continued to ride steady. The skies were clear, the temps around 35 degrees, and the wind was blowing 10-20 mph with gusts that were stronger. It was cold.
My ride was having a little bit of trouble shifting so when I got to the 1st rest stop which was manned by Sycamore Cycles, I asked for help. Wes got me rolling in no time and it was good to have solid shifting again.
On to Cove Creek, it felt like the Swank 65 ( one of Todd's Races, held in November ), but when I passed the campground, there was no crowd cheering, and no finish line. On up to Daniel Ridge and back onto the FS rd. Suddenly the woozier feeling of the past hit. Not bad, just enough to let me know that I needed to do something differently. So, I started eating and drinking more. I looked down at the time and realized that 2 hrs had already past. It felt like it had only been 1 hr. I had some catching up to do.
I hit the second rest stop (same as the 1st) and stopped to re-fill. One of the guys commented on my front wheel. I told them I thought it looked crooked but I wasn't sure. They checked it out and sure enough it was. It turned out that the skewer was a little loose. They tightened it and I was off.
Back up hwy 276, right on another gravel road that eventually led to Bennett Gap Trail. This is another trail that I have never ridden. It was great, but I was ready to be done. The views and terrain reminded me a lot of Kitsuma.
Dropping down to the horse stables, I reminisced about my year of racing. So many highs and lows. So many DNF's. So much learned and so many new friendships formed, and old friendships made stronger. Rain, cold, heat, ice, snow, mud, wind, sun, mud, rivers, darkness, nausea, sweat, toil, frustration, elation, support..... and the list goes on. It's difficult to sum up the season in words.
The final climb up to intersect the Black Mtn Trail was long, but not as painful as yesterday. I held a steady pace. I might have been able to push a little harder, but I didn't want to take any chances. Getting to the final hike-a-bike was great. I pushed the bike to the top, climb on and got rolling. It was chilly but warming as I dropped back down into the valley. I was tired and cautious but determined not to get passed on this long decent. I pushed as hard as I dared, took couple of risks, reigned myself in, and let loose again. The last 1/4 mile I looked back and didn't see anyone. I let up and enjoyed the ride to the finish. The crowd cheered, I pumped my fist.
40 miles, 4 hrs 30 minutes.
Have a great day!!