My wife and I left a few days early and stopped in Asheville, NC for a couple of days before traveling to Dahlonega, GA for the Fool's Gold 100 National Ultra Endurance Series Final Race. It was just the break I needed to recovery from the hard block of training I did to prepare for this race. Up until the weekend before the race, I was pretty certain the Fool's Gold Race was going to be used to determine the overall NUE Series Singlespeed Champion between AJ Linnell and me. But, as it turned out, I locked-up the overall series win before the race even occurred because of AJ's finish at Park City. Nevertheless, I wanted to have a good race at Fool's and was looking forward to some good competition.
I've always enjoyed doing the Fool's gold race. I really like doing the climbs and fast flowing single track that this course has to offer. And, since I've done this race four other times, I'm pretty familiar with the course. With this previous course knowledge, I decided to start the race with a fast tempo like I've done in the past. It was enough of an effort to immediately cause a separation in the field and I found myself riding with only four other riders: Drew Edsall, Dereck Treadwell, Michael Danish and Jim Vandeven. Eventually, Dereck and Mike were able to put a 20-30 second gap on me and the others. But, since neither of the riders ahead were SS racers, I decided to stick to a more comfortable pace at this early point in the race.
After climbing for a couple more miles, AJ was able to bridge-up to our group and Jim fell off the pace, but there were no other racers in sight when I looked down the hill. Unfortunately, things soon went very wrong when we came to a point in the course where some FOOLS had changed the course marking arrows to the wrong direction and used pink course marking tape to confirm the wrong turn was correct. I knew from previous editions of this race that the course should go left instead of right, but thought it was a new course change. I hesitated for a moment before giving 100% commitment to my choice of direction, but was soon in full race mode again.
What made matters worse was that I was familiar with the road being descended because it was also used in the Southern Cross Race, which is another race promoted by the Fool's Gold race promoters. This made me even more certain the switched course arrows were correct. Additionally, and for whatever reason, AJ was no longer riding with Drew and I any longer and I thought this was my chance to put a time gap between us. After Drew and I stopped seeing pink ribbon, he kept asking if I still thought we were headed in the right direction. I said yes and we continued to descend at a fast pace until we ran into Dereck and Mike climbing back up the hill.
I can't tell you the sick feeling I had in my gut when I saw them coming towards us and saw nobody behind us. But, I was still convinced, or at least being very stubborn, about the misdirecting course markings being correct; and, after Drew and I stopped to have a conversation with Dereck and Mike about our direction, the four of us descended down the mountain even further. Eventually, after not seeing any type of course markings at any intersection, even I gave up on our direction of travel being correct and we began the long climb back up the mountain.
As we were climbing back up to the course and running into other off-course riders, I couldn't believe that someone would maliciously and intentionally change course markings and do it so convincingly. I cannot understand the thought process of the person that did this act and what they would find so funny or gratifying about ruining the race of so many others. Anyway, once I made it back to the actual course and realized I was now at the back of the 50 mile race group that started 30 minutes behind the 100 mile racers, I lost my desire to continue racing and began riding at a more moderate pace.
My wife was at checkpoint two and I was sure she was probably worried about where I was, since my estimated arrival time had long ago come and gone. With this in mind, I knew continuing my ride to at least checkpoint two was necessary, so I could update her on my status. I figured she would also be able to give me a good idea about how far behind I was from the race leaders. It was fun to ride the trails with Dereck and Drew en route to the checkpoint, but the slower lap traffic we encountered only convinced me more that making up any substantial amount of loss time would be difficult to do.
At the checkpoint, my wife confirmed that I was at least an hour off the pace of the leaders. Hearing this news was the final nail in the coffin for me and I decided to not continue the race. Instead, I pulled off my number plate and rode the remainder of the first loop, minus the Bull Mountain Trail, to the finish. Riding the deserted trails back to finishing area helped clear my mind of the frustration I was feeling, but it was so hard to do at the same time. It is never easy for me to quit anything, especially a race where I wanted and felt I could do very well.
It was even more difficult to be at the finishing line and watch all the other 100 mile riders finish. Most impressive of all these finishers was the overall winner of the race, Michael Danish. Seeing him win the race after being so far off course with me was very impressive. His finish also made me think that maybe I should have pushed-on. But, as they say, hindsight is always 20-20 and I'm happy with the choice I made. I definitely learned over the years that it is sometimes better to save the legs for another day and another race when things are not going as expected. And, with two big ultra cross races (Three Peaks and Iron Cross) only weeks away and the rest of cross season around the corner, I don't think an eight plus hour hard ride would have done much good.
I'd also like to say congratulations to all the finishers of the Fool's Gold 100 and in particular to the fine group of singlespeed racers that managed to be in the top five overall: including, AJ Linnell, Ernesto Marenchin and Dwaye Goscinski. Singlespeed racers have done very well overall this entire year in the NUE Series and I'm sure this trend will continue. I'm very lucky that this race was not meaningful for me to capture my fifth straight NUE Series SS Championship because I know that winning future championships will not be easy with the fast group of guys doing these races. See you at the races next year, my NUE Series friends!
Oh, and to the FOOLS that sabotaged the course markings, go find something productive to do with all the free time you seem to have!
Happy Trails... Gerry