Sometimes we forget how deep we can go. Sometimes we never knew we could go as deep as we do. It’s superficial to limit this to cycling. You and I do big things for our families, friends, and even complete strangers. Chances are good if you are eras daring this you are in the club of people who smile back and pay it forward. But of course you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t at least a little interested in I limiting your reading to cycling related topics. So here goes.
The last two races of my NUE season were turning out to be pretty important. Aft a disappointing 2nd place to an incredibly well prepared, informed, and acclimated AJ Linnell at Pierre’s Hole I needed a win bad, and wanted it more. And I was blessed that the Shenandoah Mountain 100 would be my proving grounds. If the NUE series were a stage race Shenandoah would be the Queen stage. It is by far the best rounded of the hundred mile races I have done; Shenandoah pushes everybody who toes the line to their limit. This year would be no exception. I’ve made a season out of finding the limit and riding it on unknown courses and so heading into SM100 I was really pumped to be going into it with plenty of course knowledge and surrounded by teammates and friends.
Full disclosure in mind I will also say I was excited that Gerry Pflug would be back on a singlespeed. I was privileged to race Gerry early in the season at Cohutta 100 and to this day consider every mile I get to spend with Gerry an honor. I’m trying to be tactful here but frankly I was genuinely looking forward to laying down some hurt on Gerry and making my statement in dirt that Sunday. After Pierre’s Hole I needed to show myself and everybody else that I could stamp a race in big ways.
The first 30 was not my race. A couple of geared riders, all of whom were subsequently caught in the next 90 miles, struggled between pace and technicality as we turned into Festival trail. Kindly forcing me to lose contact with the front riders. Worst of all a certain roadie struggled and cursed the most raucous trail out there only to take my perfect pace group with him on the gradual downhill of Tillman rd. I fought to bridge up but the roads kept dragging his grupetto farther and farther up the road before Tillman trail. I walked…I rode…I walked…I ran and kept ahead of some of the geared riders who caught me as we caught others. To the uninitiated getting onto Tillman with minimal traffic may sound delightful but it is not. By virtue of not having a pace dictated to you by a long string of riders you are forced to push; knowing that the race is moving along without you up there. It’s no easier and probably even less enjoyable up there folks.
I was joined by the right people tough. Joe Fish( how cool is that guy?), David Reid, Shawn Hall (thunder from down under?), and my teammate Mark Smith who must have bee KILLING it. I was glad for these guys and made quick work of Wolf to get down to the road. Wolf is so good these days. Wolf always seems to frame my SM experience and I always note how that trail changes my attitude going forward into the remaining 75 miles of the day. You’re gonna like the way you feel…I guarantee it.
And so joined quickly by my compadres I motored on. A group of about 5 of us established and were motivated. Aid station came, we agreed to stop and depart more or less together, and we soldiered on. Hankey Mtn came and John Petrylak said alright “Quadsworth” do your thing! And it reminded me quickly of my purpose. And it wasn’t a casual jean shorts sort of purpose. Up Hankey I went. Joe held with me for a long time as we enjoyed each other’s company and I got the feeling joe was in for a good day. Eventually I left joe and came up on Rob Spreng moving smoothly up the upper portions of Hankey. I’ve enjoyed riding with Rob this year. I broke two ribs at wilderness 101 trying to stay on robs wheel and know first hand that he can rip and he can Rallye. Note the capitalization, like the way Danny-O says it; not just a word, but a raison d’être.
Shenandoah is a series of debilitating climbs followed by life giving descents. You come away from it having experienced the full range of human emotion in one 7,8,9,10,11,12,13…14……..15hr day. I passed Rob and shortly after I headed down I saw Charlie Snyder spraying c02 into the air. I paused and asked Charlie what was going on and if he needed anything. I pack an “oh shit kit” on all my long rides and I feel fairly confident Charlie was having one of those moments. His c02 chuck was malfunctioning and what should be inside his tire was now inside our ozone. I gave him the spare chuck I carry in said kit and powered on. He joined me shortly since I was being ginger on the descents. Rob joined us just before the aid station and we departed onto the road.
I was glad for that. These two worked together well and would make a fantastic rock band and or love-child. Moving into Braleys I quickly found out they were both spent, both would abandon on the day if I remember but I hadn’t yet found that dark place. I choose a gear for Shenandoah that will let me ace 60% of the course! the smooth 60. So Braleys Pond is always a bit of a fuss. This go around I had few problems. One or two dabs and a push or two to regain momentum brought me past a couple more geared riders. Matt Merkel, Lee Straub, and another I don’t remember. Chasing lee into the flats before aid 4 I felt a massive hit to my rear tire and felt and heard the air rushing from my tire bringing defeat in its place. I’m very specific to refresh sealant and use Bontrager sealant because it lasts longer and seals faster in my experience. I cut in the tread square on the bottom of the tire and a corresponding cut in the bead is usually a game ender. But I directed the sealant down and old Keith Bontrager’s chemists did their job. Power on to the pump at aid 4. It’s a good spot aid 4. You’re starting the long march.
I had thought I had made all the moves I would make but I have learned time and time again that the race isn’t just between you and everybody else. It’s going on all around you. This can work in your favor or it can kill you. As a singlespeeder I often get a nice front row seat to all the action. This time that held true. I was met by Joe Fish and Matt Merkel again as I tarried leaving the aid station. We caught lee Hauber and a few others who were intensely motived not long into our journey towards Shenandoah Mountain. We worked together impressively and I made sure to do my part. We only began to wane near the bottom of the death climb. Shortly after we turned right and headed up I made my move and did the singlespeed thing. If you find yourself near a singlespeed rider on a nice long dirt road climb just watch. An overweight and under trained middle aged man will turn into Fausto Coppi in order to push that gear! Unless he really is an overweight, under trained middle aged man… And then it’s possible he will walk.
From there as always it’s make circles, stay focused, get stoked. Up. Over. And the rally home. The Chestnutt descent is really something, one of these days I’ll get up there and do it when I’m not 80 miles in to a race. It just sort of stair steps you off the mountain on a ridgeline the whole way. It’s always a great moment because after that point things rarely change. Of course they can but the climb is such a factor that if you stay smooth and upright you probably won’t see much action the rest of the race. In aid station 6 I had a bittersweet moment. A cup full of Scud fries saved me as some cramping started to creep into my legs. It got me thinking about how Scott Scudamore’s legacy keeps saving people even now a year after he left us to “go bigger.” I felt like SCUD was there with me pushing me on, challenging me to keep on the gas. He would have.
Going back up Hankey I caught one final rider and saw on my GPS that I was way inside pace for a sub 8 hr race. The tingling excitement of a near finish and a great race doesn’t make the pedaling any easier! But the finish line does! And come it did. Despite a hard and frustrating start I finished 7th overall in something under 7:45. I’m still stoking on it…
So my apologies for the vaguely race reportish post. The point of it all is to provide a walk through for the depth we go through in these races. Xc riding and racing is thrilling, and exciting, and draining for sure! I’ve done three xc events this year and every one of them was HARD!! But the level of committment every single pedal stroke requires when your coming up Braleys pond at mile 55 is hard to replicate in shorter events. That’s not a judgement on anything or anybody, but it definitely is an endorsement to get out there try to go big and go deep!