Monday, April 28, 2014

The Cohutta 100 - 2014

As I laid awake in bed trying to forget about the itching caused by the poison ivy rash spreading about my body and watched the hours counting down on the clock, I knew the second stop of the National Ultra Endurance Series at the Cohutta 100 in Ducktown, TN was going to be a tough challenge.  You'd think after 35 years of racing one type of bicycle or another the nervousness I feel before doing a big race would be almost nonexistent by now, but my mind never seems to rest before these events and my constant desire to itch wasn't helping matters.  My sleepless night ended at 4 AM when my alarm went off and the reality of doing another 100 mile off-road race, without any meaningful amount of sleep, stared directly into my eyes.  I've conquered these sleepless night demons before, however, so I put on my game face and lined-up with 250 other riders at 7 AM to do my best at winning a 5th Cohutta 100 singlespeed event.

Surprisingly, even with little to no sleep, my legs felt pretty good on the paved road climb leading to the first section of single track.  My travel companion to the race and teammate, Rob Spreng, set a fast tempo on the climb, which allowed me to get into the trails about 20 riders back from the lead.  I was able to keep my pace fast enough to eventually catch back up to the front of the race to join Rob and Jeremiah Bishop.  During this time, only one other singlespeed racer, Gordon Wadsworth, was able to ride with me, which is exactly what I expected from my SS friend.

By the time the single track ended and the long section of rough gravel roads began, the lead group was whittled down to five riders, including Gordon and I.  Strangely enough, the pace being set at the front was not super fast like it was in previous years when I've done this race, probably because Gordon and I were watching each other and the geared guys were watching Jeremiah.  But, eventually, two other geared riders joined our group and that was enough to make the pace speed-up on the endless climb leading to checkpoint #3.  This increase in speed dropped two riders from the pace and again left Gordon and I with three geared riders in the lead group and no chasers within view.

Our group was riding well together and we all basically cooperated at efficiently keeping up the speed. The group was riding so well together that we even all agreed to stop at the same time for a pee break.  But, I knew in the back of my mind that this cohesiveness to work as one unit would not last much longer.  It was just a matter of time before the attacks began.  Our last section of group fun was in the single track between miles 50-60.  Jeremiah led our group through this section of trail and it was an absolute blast to ride it faster than I had ever done before this attempt.

I was pretty certain the long climb out of checkpoint #5 would be the game changer of the day.  Sure enough, Jeremiah increased the pace and our group began to splinter.  I had no intentions of trying to match the pace being set.  The past experiences of riding this climb stored in my mind told me to be conservative and save my energy for later in the race.  Additionally, I felt the fatigue of not getting a proper nights rest starting to creep into my body.  It was hard watching the four other riders pedal off into the distance, but I knew going my own pace was my only chance at staying near the front of the race.

By the top of this brutal climb, I saw no riders in view behind me or in front of me.  I was all alone and riding
my own race, which was fine by me.  I felt like my pace was consistent and I did my best to keep moving along at a descent clip.  But, by the time I got to checkpoint #6, I learned that the rider directly in front of me was five minutes up the road.  I later learned that this rider ahead of me was a geared rider and not my SS competitor, Gordon.  I didn't give up hope of catching Gordon at this point, but I knew a gap of over five minutes would be tough to make up in less than 25 miles.

Before the last section of single track comes at the finish of the race, there are some pretty long climbs that switchback on their way going up the hills.  I would look up and down the road at these times in hope of seeing another rider, but saw nothing.  By the entrance of the last section of trail, there was a tent set up and staffed with race volunteers.  They informed me that 7 miles remained in the race and that I was in fifth place overall, still about five minutes behind the rider directly in front of me.  I was happy to hear this news and was going to give me best at bombing the remaining miles of single track to the finish.

Not very far from the this tent at the 93 mile marker there was a "T" intersection in the trail with no arrows, only a piece of course marking tape laying on the ground across the trail on my left side.  I hesitated for a minute at this intersection, but decided to go right because the tape seemed to be blocking the trail to the left.  My decision also seemed to be right because the course had earlier come from that direction at the beginning of the race.  I descended for a while and then climbed even further before coming to a gate blocking a gravel road with no course markings in sight.  I realized then a turn must have been missed and I figured it was a single track trail I had passed that was used at the beginning of the race, so I rode back to it and started riding this single track trail backwards.  When I saw mile 100 appear on my Garmin, I knew this choice was also incorrect and I began to feel overwhelmed with frustration.  A short while later, I eventually came across a group of riders standing in front of course marking tape.  They gave me directions of how to get back on course and to the finish.

I caught a bunch of riders in the last few miles of single track and hoped that I might still be the second SS racer across the finishing line, but the thirty minutes of time I lost while doing my bonus miles of racing was apparently enough to allow two other SS riders to get in front of me.  I would have been completely content with a second place SS finish at Cohutta because Gordon was absolutely the stronger rider of the day, but I must admit that dropping those finally spots at the end of the race definitely felt like a big slap in the face.  After having a day to think about things now, I guess finishing fourth in my class is not too bad considering the circumstances; it's just a bit disappointing and hard to swallow after riding so well for the first 93 miles of the race.

But, there will be good days and bad days.  And, overall, I've had a pretty good and long lasting string of luck to help me win many races over my many years of racing.  With the right preparation and little more luck, I'm sure my winning ways will return.  Until then, I'll continue applying Calamine lotion, hope for a few good nights of sleep and keep riding my bike.

Congratulations to Gordon for taking the SS win, to Jeremiah for taking the overall win, to my teammates Rob Spreng and Andrew Dunlap for their fine finishes in the open race, and to my teammate Roger Masse for taking second in the 50+ race.

Happy Trails...  Gerry

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Leesburg Baker's Dozen 2014

I did the Leesburg Bakers Dozen 13 hour mountain bike race in Virginia this past weekend.  This was my third trip to the race and my second attempt at doing it solo.  Deciding to do the race was a last minute decision for me this year because I have a hard time committing to an event months before the race date anymore.  And, with Bakers usually selling out wicked fast, I didn't even consider putting it on my race calendar until the Wednesday afternoon before the race when a friend, Mark Liti, mentioned on Facebook that he was selling his entry.  Why not, I thought...  After confirming my entry into the race, I quickly made plans and arrangements to drive down to Leesburg, VA to do this mostly single track race that started at 9AM Saturday morning and finished 13 hours later at 10PM.

The last time I raced here solo was in 2011.  I actually preregistered for that event and it turned out to be a wet and dreary race day, which is probably why I haven't registered for it again since then .  I used a geared bike for that race and battled with Rob Spreng for much of the day, before he got the best of me and took the solo win.  This year I changed things up by using my singlespeed Specialized Epic xx1X1 to race the solo SS class because I almost never ride geared bikes anymore and I wanted something comfortable for this race.  I've got to say the Epic xx1X1 was spot on and absolutely the perfect tool for the job.  The weather for the race was also much more pleasant than it was in 2011.  In fact, the weather this year was just about perfect as could be on race day.

This is Louis. He's usually a great little dog.
My wife joined me on my trip down to Leesburg and we brought our dog, Louis, along with us.  Louis has been to a few local races, but has never traveled to an out-of-town race during the 9 years he's lived with us.  He is a friendly, smart and overall pretty mellow dog and I didn't think having him along would be an issue.  As it turned out, he was pretty freaked out about being in a hotel for the first time.  Of course, having the ice machine and one of the main hotel entrances just outside our room door did not help matters much.  Every time Louis heard ice falling into the machine or heard people entering the hotel, he'd give a little bark.  It was just enough to keep me up all night.  But, I've raced many of the NUE 100 milers on little to no sleep in the past, so I didn't let my lack of sleep mess with my mind too much.  I was too stoked to be riding on some sweet single track trails to dwell on being tired anyway.

Doing Bakers is like going to a large mountain bike community meeting.  It was cool seeing a bunch of friends I don't get to see often and also having so many racers hanging out together all day.  While standing at the starting line, for instance, I was able to catch up quickly with some friends I don't get to see often enough.  It was also cool to ride and chat with different racers on the course and share how our individual races were going.  I know time passes much more quickly when there's good conversation happening.  Of course, it always great to hear words of encouragement being passed by other racers and those helping in the pits. Adding to this experience was the large contingency of riders from the Pittsburgh, PA area making their way to Baker's.  All the PGH folks kind of grouped together in a little tent city and helped each other out.  This is where my wife and Louis helped me get through my miles also.  Thanks to you guys (especially Chris Miceli and Dan Depenhart) for letting her hang with you there.

I didn't really have a game plan set in stone for my race, but I did want to start somewhat fast to avoid the early trail bottleneck and to keep my eye on the front of the race.  After doing a few semi fast laps, my goal was to remain consistent as possible with my speed without wasting too much energy and doing my best to keep my bike and body safe.  Overall, I've got to say that I felt pretty good overall, especially considering I was basically doing the race on no sleep.  But, around mile 100, I started to feel my fatigue coming and I found myself wishing this was only a 100 mile race instead of race based off of time and distance.

Since I'm pretty accustomed to endurance racing and riding through pain, I just kept my thoughts positive and tried to enjoy the trail that I seemed to have ridden over a million times already that day.  I started doing lap count downs and did my best to continue eating, even though my stomach really did not feel like consuming much. At the end of lap 15, I took a little longer break and ate some rotisserie chicken my wife had bought from an onsite vendor.  It seemed to settle my stomach a bit and definitely gave me some more energy to jump back on my bike for the next three laps.

My last two laps were in the dark and I used a small bicycle commuter light for my racing light.  It wasn't the brightest on the trail, but I'm used to using it from when I commute to work in the dark on summer mornings and I've never had any issues with it. It only has about a 2 hour burn time at the brightest level, so my only goal for the last two laps was to finish them before my battery died. My light and body held-out for the final two laps and I finished 18 laps and 147 miles of riding about 15 minutes before the 10PM last lap cutoff.  My wife was there waiting and told me that the second place rider, Paul Tarter, was more than a lap behind and that I did not need to do a 19th lap, thank God.  But, I found out later from my buddy and the solo winner of the open class, Jake Wade, that I might have been the overall solo winner if I would have gone back out.  Oh well, I am happy with my result and was even happier that I was not required to do a 19th lap.  It felt much better for me to head back to the hotel and take a "quick" (20 minute) shower to come back to life somewhat before the bonfire lit award ceremony started than it would have doing another lap.

I've got to say that I was definitely pretty spent after finishing Bakers.  It made me remember why I haven't done one of these type of races since 2011.  It was fun experience and all, but the 100 mile endurance race is more my thing. And, after this experience, I'm not sure how the 24 hour solo guys do what they do.  I'd much rather do one big loop or a couple of big loops and see different sights rather than going around and around in circles over and over again.  I was definitely going a bit stir-crazy out there.  But, I will admit that my mind and body already seem stronger from riding all those miles and I'm feeling ready for my next race, the Cohutta 100.

On a final note, I must say congratulations to all my Pittsburgh friends who also did well at the LBD including: Lauren & Tim Mould - 1st Mixed Duo, Rob Spreng & Jim Mayoric - 1st Duo Men, and Don Powers & Joe Malone - 2nd Duo Men.  I also need to thank my wife for helping me suffer through all those miles a lot less.

Happy Trails...

Also, thanks to Gary Ryan for the racing photos!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Salsa Vaya Ti - Up for Sale!

Sorry, this bike is no longer available for sale.
Okay, first off, please excuse my spammy use of this blog to promote the sale of my Salsa Vaya Ti.  Using this medium just seemed like the easiest way to write and show everything about the bike.  Let me also say that this is one awesome bike and it's hard for me to let it go.  But, it needs to find a new home where it will receive adequate use and attention.  I almost always ride my SS mountain bike and, for this reason, my geared bikes are not used often.  In total, this frame may about two months of riding on it.  Some of the parts were also used on other bikes at one time or another and other parts are nearly near.  Overall, the bike is in race ready condition and is ready for your next gravel adventure.  Please email me directly at for any questions or comments about this bike.  Thanks for looking!

FRAME - Salsa Vaya Titanium 56cm
FORK - Trigon Full Carbon - (OR...the original Salsa Vaya steel fork, which was never used, or mounted )
HANDLEBARS - Salsa Cowbell 3 - 46 width
STEM - Thomson X2, 31.8, 100mm length
CRANKSET - Control Tech Shield Carbon 175 length
BB - FSA MegaExo
WHEELSET - Stan's NoTubes Alpha 340 rims laced with DT Swiss Spokes 28 Hole 3x
HUBS - XTR with upgrade ceramic bearings
TIRES - Clement X'plor MSO 700x40, which are currently mounted to the rims with presta tubes.
BRAKES / LEVERS - TRP Hylex - Hydraulic road brakes - ( Only 3-4 rides on them and are like new)
ROTORS -  XTR Centerlock
SHIFTERS - SRAM S500 Bar con style - (like new, added at the same time as the TRP's) 
CASSETTE - Shimano Ultegra 10 Speed 11x28 (last longer and shifts better than SRAM, IMO)
SADDLE - WTB Laser V Titanium Rails
POST - Salsa Alloy

PRICE - New retail pricing on this bike would be around $4000.  I am planning to list it on Ebay on Monday 04/07/2014 at around noon with a starting bid of $1900 and a buy it now price of $2500.  But, my special friends and family pricing, if purchased before it is listed, is $1800 + the actual shipping price if the buyer is not close enough to meet in person.  You will not be disappointed in this machine!