Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Fall Updates

2020 Powerman Zofingen

The Powerman Zofingen ITU Long Distance Duathlon World Championship has been postponed until May 2021. At this point, I'm not certain that I will make travel grants available again in 2021. Check back in January for an update.

Trans-North Georgia Adventure

Since most races were cancelled this year - and I didn't have to dedicate myself to duathlon, running, road cycling, or anything specific - I decided to have fun, try something totally different and sign up for the Trans-North Georgia Adventure (TNGA) race. I grew up riding mountain bikes in the North Georgia mountains and I was excited to attempt a traverse of the state on two wheels.

If you've never heard of TNGA, it's a 350-something mile route across North Georgia. Depending on who you ask, it has between 35,000 and 50,000 feet of elevation gain. It's roughly 20% single track trail and 72% unpaved. Every year in August, there is a "Grand Depart," where a bunch of crazy people meet on the GA/SC state line and take off heading toward Alabama. James Dunaway holds the course record in something like 43 hours. It doesn't feel quite right to call it a "race." For some, it is a race; but for most it's an adventure or a challenge and they'll take their time with it. There are no awards, a winner is not recognized, but times are posted for comparison. 

I'd never attempted anything like it; my longest ride before TNGA was something like 8 hours. Despite my inexperience at long distances, I was sure I had the fitness to do it - and I felt like my years of riding (shorter distances) had prepared me for whatever the route might throw at me. I think I'm a pretty good bike handler, a decent mechanic, I can suffer with the best of them and I can keep a cool head.

So, I bought a hardtail mountain bike in June and put in some long rides around Moscow and the Palouse (a great place to explore by bike).


Courtney and I moved out of our place in Moscow in late July and road tripped our way back East to Georgia. On the way we stayed with friends in Helena, MT and Fort Collins, CO. While we were in Fort Collins, I crashed my new hardtail on some rocks and cracked the driveside seat stay. After a day of panic, I ordered a carbon repair kit from Predator Cycling. And a few days later I was letting the epoxy cure on the repaired section of seat stay. I'm really pleased with the repair, but there were a few nervous days there where I wasn't sure if I'd have a bike to ride for the "race."

Road Trippin' across the country

Nice riding outside of Helena, MT

Cracked seat stay

Repaired seat stay, before paint

Race Rig

Courtney and I rented a place in Sky Valley for a couple of nights before the start of the race and I saw some of Friday starters take off on Friday morning. I felt bad for them - the weather looked like they were going to be in for a very tough afternoon and night of heavy rain and thunderstorms.

We woke up Saturday morning to heavy rain; packed up the car in the dark and rain and got on the road. The weather cleared on the drive to the start, and we started in a light misty rain. I was optimistic that we'd have  a dry day...

I missed the start by a minute or less and spent the first few miles chasing James Dunaway. We'd emailed back and forth before the start of the race and had agreed to ride together as long as we could. I was glad to have James - he's an experienced bike packer and knows the TNGA as well as anyone. Before the first big descent down the Darnell Creek Horse Trail, we were riding comfortably together with Peter Kraft.

Heading out from the start

A lot of people don't realize there's a bit of rainforest in North Georgia

Peter got ahead of us after we stopped for water and a bathroom break. About 30 miles in, James hit a stick that popped up and snagged his derailleur, snapping the hanger. I stopped to make sure he had everything he needed to repair it and left him to it... I spent the next several hours riding solo, getting glimpses of Peter in the distance. The rain before the start had saturated everything and there was a lot of water and mud early on the course.

It started pouring rain as I was climbing up Highway 76 toward Dick's Creek Gap. And as I was  bombing down the southside, squinting and wiping the mud and sweat out of my eyes, I missed the turnoff for the FS 164. After a couple minutes of consulting my que cards in the rain, I found the turnoff and was back on course. It was still pouring as I descended down Dick's Creek toward Lake Burton. The unmaintained road bed became a creek bed and then the creek bed "road" crossed actual creek several times. It was all just water and mud... I felt like I may as well have been swimming. The conditions were laughable. I felt like a kid again, riding my bike in the pouring rain; and I couldn't help but grin as I picked my way down the creek. I stopped at Moccasin Creek to get water and was pleasantly surprised to see my wife waiting there. She said Peter had left about 3 minutes before I arrived.

Moccasin Creek water stop

Climbing up Wildcat Creek to Addis Gap was one of the most enjoyable parts of the ride. The sun came out again, the creek was up, people were out swimming and fishing... It was really beautiful.

I caught Peter as we were heading up Tray Mountain. And for the first time, I noticed my left knee was getting a little sore. The descent off Tray lived up to its reputation - it's a very rocky washed out road bed near the top, but then an awesome flowy singletrack toward the bottom into Unicoi State Park. I pulled into the Robertstown (Helen) gas station for a resupply and Peter was close behind. I fumbled around... faced with so many junk food options after nearly 10 hours of riding... and many more hours to go. I settled on a couple packs of peanut butter crackers, beef jerky, chocolate milk, a Snickers, a Red Rock Ginger Ale and water. The cashier didn't appreciate my waterlogged dollar bills.

I chugged the Ginger Ale as I lubed my chain and refilled my bottles. Peter was in and out, like he was on a mission. Much to my surprise, James arrived just as I was about to set off. I was glad to see he was able to fix his derailleur. In retrospect, I probably should've just waited a few minutes for James at the point, but I set off in pursuit of Peter. I'd caught up with Peter as we approached the climb over Hogpen Gap. I've ridden Hogpen a number of times - but I'd never ridden it on a loaded down mountain bike after a full day of riding. Needless to say, we weren't setting and KOM's that day. Peter and I rode together for the next few hours. 

Helton Creek Falls, about 120 miles in


It poured rain again as we were heading up Wolfpen Gap. Toward the top, as the sun was setting, we got some really nice views. I enjoyed rolling along the top of the ridge toward Coopers Creek. We passed a few TNGA riders who had set up camp for the night - and I was jealous of their comfortable accommodations and dry clothes. All I could do was try to mentally prepare myself for the inevitable dark night ahead.

I stopped at the Mulky Campground on Cooper Creek for water and Peter went on to the Cooper CreekStore. I passed Peter as he was stopped at the store. Somewhere near Dial I was treated to a surprise firework show. Shortly after that I saw my wife, my mom and our friend Gilbert on the course. My knee was trending worse at this point. I'd taken some ibuprofen and been stretching periodically, but it kept getting more and more sore...

Peter would pass me back when I stopped to stretch, grab some snacks out of my bags, set up my lights, and reapply chamois cream; all while chatting with some curious locals. They asked me if I was training for "that race across the state." I said, "No, I'm not training. I'm in it. Right now. This is it." Then they informed me that it would be all downhill once we got over the Cohuttas.

The climb over Stanley Gap in the dark was slow and tedious. I was forced to hike several steep and technical sections. I caught up with Peter once again on the descent down to Rock Creek Rd before heading into Cherry Log. Once I got to Cherry Log, I tried to find water spigots at the church and the post office, but they were all locked up.

Around this point, I started having trouble pedaling without a lot of pain from my left knee. I tried more ibuprofen, stretching, and massaging, but it was getting really bad. I had several miles to mull it over... If I pressed on, I was pretty sure it wasn't going to miraculously get better (it had only been getting worse over the last 8 hours). And if I continued on, I might not have cell service for a while... and I might have to spend a really bad night in the Cohuttas. The climb up Bushy Head Gap helped me make up my mind - I felt like I was pedaling with one leg, barely able to put any power through my left knee. I couldn't go on, it just wouldn't be right.

And so, around the halfway point of TNGA (180 miles) and after 18 hours after setting off, I called my dad. Fortunately, he answered at one in the morning. Even better - I was less than 10 miles away from his house. The conversation went something like:

Me: "Hey Dad. I'm out. My knee isn't holding up."
Dad: "Where are you? Do you want me to come get you?"
Me: "I'm at the top of Bushy Head Gap Rd. Yeah, I can't really pedal anymore. I can meet you down at the bottom at Boardtown Rd."
Dad: "Alright, I'll start heading that way."

It wasn't until I hung up the phone that I realized it was 1 AM. And just then, I saw someone coming up the hill. It was James. I told him I was out, but he was only a few minutes behind Peter. I wished him good luck, rolled down to meet my dad and that was that.

James would go on to set a new course record in 43 hours.

Despite the outcome of my "race," I really enjoyed being out there. And the relaxed "all day pace" was a refreshing change from always pressing the effort like I would in shorter races. For sure, I underestimated the ruggedness of the course and I underestimated just how difficult it was going to be. But I also underestimated how much I would enjoy it. I think I prepared well and I was up for the challenge... all except for my knee. I want to say thank you to the ride organizers, especially Jeff "Honcho" Williams for pushing this event forward this year. 

Six Gap Century

Since TNGA, I haven't had much to train for. I took a week off and my knee was feeling a lot better. The only race I kind of cared about (Duathlon Nationals) was cancelled last week. Then a few weeks ago, I remembered that the Six Gap Century might still happen. I've known about Six Gap for at least 20 years, but I'd never done it. This year, I finally had the opportunity to ride.

I had some decent prep riding in the hills around Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee in the last month and much to my surprise, I had some good interval sessions. I thought, as long as I didn't ride like an idiot, I could do well at Six Gap.

It was a mellow start, mostly easy pedaling until the first test of the day up Neels Gap. A group of two or three got a small gap and I found myself on the front riding tempo up most of the lower half. We crested the top of Neels with a group of 20-25 riders and went on towards the next climb up Jacks Gap. Again, a couple of guys went off the front on Jacks and I bridged across - we rode at a good clip for a few minutes but the pack of 15 or more chased us down before cresting the top. 

We hit Unicoi and all rode tempo up. At some point, a car pulled up, said something in Spanish and handed a rider a bottle of water. I gave the universal gesture of "drink" and they handed me a bottle too. Thanks!

Heading to Hogpen, the pace relaxed and guys were resting up for the first timed KOM segment. Jimmy Schurman went off the front early on and I settled into a sustainable 25-30:00 effort (I didn't ride with a power meter). We caught Jimmy in the last 2K and I dropped back to follow any moves. I sprinted away to bag a few seconds as we were coming around the final curve up to the gap.

I got down the backside of Hogpen with a small gap and rode a comfortable tempo. It wasn't long before Jimmy, Ulisses, Giancarlo and Nelson caught up. We mostly worked together, rotating through on the way to Wolfpen.

We hit the start of Wolfpen together and I eased into a steady tempo. Ulisses attacked coming out of the switchback... and for a moment or two he put me on the ropes. But I caught up and did my best to sit on his wheel up to the top. We were rejoined by the three others on the descent and we more or less rode together from there to the finish on wet roads.

I really should have done some recon of the finish. I had no idea how or where it finished. When Ulisses and Giancarlo jumped with 400m to go, I was able to get on their wheels, but I'd already been beaten because as soon as we came out of the last corner, there was the finish line - and I wasn't going to take any unnecessary risks on the wet road in that corner.

So, we went sub-5 hours and I finished 3rd. That was fine. At least I had taken the KOM competiton… Or so I thought! Turns out, some guy who rode the course in over seven hours sandbagged the entire race just to hammer the timed KOM segments. So he took home the KOM jersey... Whatever, man... Congrats.

Worth noting, I took what seemed like a ridiculous amount of carbohydrate during the race - and I felt great. In five hours, I had two GU Stroopwafels, five gels, one and a half bottles of GU Roctane, and a pack of fruit snacks. That's ~280g of carbohydrate in 5 hours. And it made a huge difference. Also worth noting, I rode this race on a pair of wheels that I built myself!

So, now what?

Yeah, good question... I'm looking forward to more running this Fall and Winter. The long distance duathlon championship is in Miami in November. Maybe that'll happen... and maybe I'll be there? Or maybe I'll just take a break from training and get reset for Powerman Zofingen in May.

If you have any ideas, leave them in the comments below!

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