Sunday, May 17, 2009

Busting The Bald

This past Saturday will go down as one of the toughest (if not THE toughest) days on a bike I have ever experienced. The Brasstown Bald Buster Century is one of the hardest century bike rides in the US encompassing 14,000 feet of climbing over 100 miles.

The day began at 4:30am with a nice drive up to Helen, GA where the ride was to begin. I had expected it to take me 2 hours to get there but it only took 1 1/2 so I was early. Checked in, got my number on my bike and was ready to go. Greg met me over by the parking lot and we made our final preparations and double checked to make sure we weren't forgetting anything. It was a bit chilly at the start and overcast, so I elected to begin the ride in arm warmers which were very handy the first 2o miles or so.

There were about 200-250 riders total for both rides, last year there were only 47 official finishers so you can see the attrition rate over the course of the day. At 7:30am we were off and on our way to the highest point in Georgia, Brasstown Bald. Greg and I managed to get into a really good group at the beginning and we were ticking off the miles at 21-22 mph which seemed a bit fast, but the HR was staying down and honestly I was sitting in the pack freewheeling most of the time. During the first segment there were a few rollers and one short steep hill, but nothing that I wasn't able to spin up in my 27 gear. We hit the first SAG stop (21 miles) right at an hour and debated stopping at all. I scarfed down a quarter of a PBJ and topped off the water bottle while Greg fixed a brake rub on his rear wheel. We soon were able to pace back into our group and were again rolling at 20 mph+. There were a few more rollers and a couple of really steep hills (15%) but again nothing that was too hard, although it did split the group up and we had to wait to reconstitute at SAG #2. Everyone stopped here and we refilled with Gatorade and water, scarfed down a couple of PBJ's and cookies and were off again. Section 3 was IMO the flattest so far and we were able to make some really good time. Again we rolled along at 20 mph+ sitting in and conserving energy for the climbs ahead. SAG #3 came and went with more refills and more PBJ sandwiches. The volunteers at this event were outstanding, the SAG stops had plenty of food and Gatorade available and the volunteers were cheerful and encouraging. While we were stopped at SAG #3 we discussed the fact that this was the last stop before the base of Hogpen Gap for the full century riders and the last stop for the mean the 80 mile option riders. We took off and had some of the most gorgeous scenery of the entire ride between this stop and Helen. We rode through Unicoi State Park and there were several times I wished I had had my camera. I thought about taking my Iphone out to snap some pictures but rolling along in a paceline as fast as we were going it didn't seem like the brightest idea. There was one bridge that was over a lake and off in the distance you could see Brasstown and the surrounding mountains shrouded in mist. It was one of the most gorgeous sights that I have ever seen. The world looks alot different from the seat of a bicycle, as opposed to a car whizzing by at 60 mph. There are subtleties that you just miss in a vehicle. We made the turn out of Unicoi and then it was time for the mean the fine men and women of the 80 mile ride to break off and go back to Helen. After some good natured ribbing they said good bye and set off back to town while we sped on toward Hogpen. I had been sitting in all day so I took my turn up front and pulled to SAG #4. By this time we had covered 75 miles in just over 4 hours (including stops) and were well ahead of our projected time. At the beginning of the day we agreed that it would most likely be a 6:30-7 hour day out there. Being the naive soul that I am (and having never ridden Hogpen) I thought we would beat that time "goal" easily...boy was I wrong.

Part 2

I really feel like this was 2 seperate rides and therefore should be accounted for as such. Part 1 was the first 75 miles which were really like any other century you ride in North Georgia. There were hills but nothing too bad, and in some ways the first part I thought was rather easy. Part 2 is the last 25 miles and begins at the foot of Hogpen Gap and goes to the top of Brasstown Bald. Part 2 seperates the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the strong from the get the idea. Like I said before I have never ridden Hogpen Gap before but I have heard it described as "the most awful thing you can do on a bike" which really didn't give me much encouragement. Now I have ridden the bottom three Gaps (Neels, Wolfpen, and Woody) many many times (on a 23 tooth cassette) with no problems so how hard could Hogpen really be right? I was about to find out the hard way.

Hogpen is an interesting climb in that it has a little bit of everything (except flat!). The climb starts off innocently enough and for the first half mile or so it really isn't that bad (around 8% or so), then almost all at once it kicks up to 12-15% and stays there for a good long time. When I hit this first steep section I was able to gear down to the 27 and remain seated spinning my way up the mountain. Eventually though the fatigue of the previous 80 miles started to catch up with me and I was all over my bike just trying to move forward. I alternated between standing in the 25 and sitting in the 27. On the super steep parts I had to stand in my 27 and was really concerned about maintaining forward momentum. I think at one point I was going 2 mph and struggling to do that. Luckily there was a SAG stop about halfway up (which we later found out was incorrectly placed) and I pulled in to let my Heart Rate recover a bit (at one point it was 176 bpm which is 2 bpm above my RUN Lactate Threshold and 12 beats above my bike LT.) I gulped down some Gatorade and set off again suffering through my own personal hell going up the mountain. There were times that I honestly wasn't sure that I was going to make it to the top. Eventually though I saw the beautiful sight of the Hogpen summit just ahead. Ordinarily I would really be looking forward to the downhill however 1)it had started to rain so the road was slick and 2) twisty, turny downhills like this one scare the hell out of me to begin with. To say the descent was steep would be an understatement, I hit 40 mph going down before I started feathering the brakes and even then I was still doing 25 mph. I managed to catch up to one lady ahead of me so I wasn't completely alone for the next few miles until the base of Brasstown. There we some leg sapping rollers between the turn off of Hogpen and the beginning of Jacks Gap which I was really starting to feel. By the time I started climbing up Jacks my legs were officially toast. I have climbed Jacks before and so when I had to do the entire thing in my small ring and 27 I knew that Brasstown was going to hurt (not that it wouldn't have hurt anyway), again the Heart Rate was through the roof and we were approaching 97 miles for the day. I arrived at the base of Brasstown and literally unclipped and fell over my handlebars. My legs were toast, Heart Rate through the roof, and I STILL had 3 miles straight up hill to finish. I felt dizzy and flush and had to sit (and eventually lay down) in the bed of one of the voluteers truck. I knew I was going to plug it out to the finish but I had to let my body recover and compose myself a bit or I wasn't going to make it to the top. I decided to wait for Greg so we could suffer to the top together. He rolled in about 25 minutes later looking about like I felt, after taking a few minutes to compose himself we were off. We rode about a half mile up before it pitched over 10 % so we got off and walked, and that is how we made it to the top. Ride the flattish parts (under 10%) and walk the steep parts. It took what seemed like forever but we eventually saw the 200 meters to go sign and then the finish right around the corner.

After the ride we were able to change into dry clothes and take the shuttle van back to Helen for our dinner at the Mexican restaurant where we started. As hungry as we both were it was hard to eat the food, it was that bad!

The stats for the ride according to my Garmin:

Total Time (including stops) 7:15
Total Elevation-13,000 (although I think when I was going less than 2 mph it didn't register)
Total Calories Burned-8210 cal

All in all it was a great ride and a great day. We only got rained on a little bit, the ride itself was very well organized and supported, and most of all I got my "mojo" back.

Train Safe!


The Cranky Princess said...

Great description of an epic ride! I have said many, many times that the world is best viewed from atop a bicycle for it is the perfect pace at which to take it all in, so I hear ya on that.

Steph Bachman said...

Yay! I'm glad that you found your Mojo!! : ) Totally badass ride - you guys rock.

Heather said...

Holy crap - that sounds like a killer ride! Glad you found your mojo again, not that there was any doubt! ;)

Janet said...

I read your blog! But I know what you mean about feeling like you are talking to yourself. I sort of mouthed off about my boss on my blog and turns out...she read it. I later got a text message about "leaders". There is no way she would have written that if she had not read the blog.