Monday, June 25, 2018


     Every year we come to Suches, Georgia and I ride the gaps.  This was a  bonus year, in that rather than drive home after racing in Augusta, we just booked an extra week at High Valley Resort.  Every year I start off my mountain riding by doing Woody Gap, Neel's Gap and Wolf Pen Gap on the first day and the same three in the opposite direction on the second day.  This year was different, in that I only had room for my racing bike and time trial bike.  I left the bike with the triple chain ring at home.  I was anxious to see if I could actually get up the mountains with only a double.  True, it had a compact crank, so I was only down two or three gears.
     As it turned out, I did have to use all of the gears and my cadence was slower, but overall time was exactly the same as the previous ten years.  I felt relief that I could get some good cycling in.  Another bonus, new asphalt for the five mile descent of Woody Gap.  Of course, the real test is doing Brasston Bald.  I test myself by climbing Hog Pen Gap.  If I can get up that, I try for Brasstown.
     With two days rest, Marilane drove me out to the top of Jack's Gap to begin my ride.  This consists of a descent of Jack's, up and down Unicoi Gap, transition over to Hog Pen, up Hog Pen, down, over to Wolf Pen and back to the cabins.
     I'm not a fan of Jack's Gap.  The descent going east is five miles long, but only the first mile and a half or so is fun, the rest is a meandering downhill.  As I started off, a line of motorcycles came by.  They were doing the speed limit or a little less and I fell in line behind the last one for a quarter mile or so.  I don't think he liked that and sped up a bit.  Shortly after the grade lessened and my speed slowed.  Soon enough the road ended and I turned to ascend Unicoi.
     Unicoi is the least steep of the six gaps and has the best descent of them all.  But today I struggled up Unicoi with the unpleasant realization of using all the gears.  Hog Pen was going to eat my lunch.  But first, the really great downhill.  It is nine miles in total, but the first four or so are steep, with sweeping curves you take at speed.  There was no traffic behind me for this part, maybe because I was doing the speed limit.  The rest of the way was also pleasant and I arrived at the turn exactly as planned.
     The transistion is lumpy, but once again I was dismayed in having to use all the gears.  Then came the turn onto the Russell Scenic Byway.  After climbing for a mile, 4 or 5% grade, you see written on the road "Start 10k KOM."  Dang!  The average gradient of Hog Pen is 7% with at least one ramp at 15% (my computer said 16).  I was in my last gear much more than usual, and working much harder.  I rounded a curve and saw the incline.  Nope.  Off the bike, let the heart rate subside, then start walking.  Once the HR dropped twenty beats I remounted and continued the slow slog up to the overlook and stopped for a Clif Bar and water.  But I still had three-plus miles to the top.  Two more steep ramps had me walking.  Eventually I got to the top and a short rest, during which time I texted Marilane to meet me at a grocery store before Wolf Pen Gap.  I was gassed.
     The climb up Hog Pen is devoid of scenic views.  But at the top, there is one spectacular one.  Also new this year is smooth asphalt on a really fast, non-technical descent.  With smooth asphalt and a new racing bike, I wondered how fast I would go.  I chickened out at 47.2 mph and braked slightly.  Again, no traffic.  The rest of the descent was rolling, but enjoyable.  Once at the bottom, it was turn left, do a short climb and a long downhill, another left for a mile or so, and the grocery store where I waited a short time for Marilane.
     After a day of recollection, I have replaced my despondency of failure to ascend with something a little more positive.  I'm thinking it wasn't, necessarily, the gradients, but that I was just having a bad day.  I base this on the Unicoi climb.  In the past I'd have two or three gears left on this climb, and have always been able to accelerate the last quarter mile up.  Plus, the other two days were not strenuous.  So, I'll do some more climbing on Woody and Wolf Pen, then take on Hog Pen again.  Stay tuned.

Friday, June 22, 2018


First, some background.  Last year at the Senior Games Nationals in Birmingham, I came in second to Durward Higgins in the 10k time trial.  In later conversations, I found he had competed in the USAC Nationals in Augusta the week before.  Once I returned home, I looked up the results of those races.  Well, he was far and away faster than the rest of the field, but second place times were in my ball park, so to speak.  I also discovered that USAC had five-year age groups, something I didn’t think they did.  I had already determined I needed a coach to get better, so the goal was to get fast enough to be competitive for second place at this year’s nationals.
            Second, the lead-up.  I signed up early, then kept an eye out for who else was in my age group.  My first clue that things might not go as planned was that none (NONE) of the guys who raced last year signed up for this year, except Durward.  One new name popped up, Phil Needham.  I knew the name, but had never met him.  Well, I knew the name because he is a five-year national Senior Games Champion.  Ok, now I’m racing for third. My friend Carolyn, who was National Champion last year, described the course as lumpy.  Gee, did those guys who aren’t repeating doing so because the course is too hilly?  Hmmm!
            The pre-race instructions indicated the course would be open for pre-riding after 5pm on Wednesday (race was Thursday).  We arrived Wednesday afternoon, checked in and picked up my number, then checked into the hotel.  Around 6pm I drove over to Fort Gordon and prepared to preview the course.   Apparently the para-racers ran late, because it was after 7pm before it was open.  I had given up by then.  My friend Clif told me it was quite hilly, with one really long, steep one.  Great. 
            The first race was the time trial, 20k in length.  I warmed up using the available road, which happened to be the finish of Friday’s road race, so at least I got to preview that. Generally speaking, I do better in the longer time trials.  Both Durward and Phil started behind me.  I started strong but controlled.  The hills were challenging but I felt confident as I shifted up and down the cogs.  I passed my one minute man and had a second one in my sights.  We made the right turn on to McDuffie Road and into a head wind plus a wash-board road.  Perhaps wash-board is too strong a description, but it certainly wasn’t smooth.  I passed number three and number four.  Soon enough, I got to the turn-around and with the wind behind me, was able to increase speed and not bounce quite so much.  I made the left turn and now had the wind from the left.  About this time Durward blew past me.  I knew it would happen, so wasn’t discouraged.  The downer came in the form of two really steep, long hills.  I was in the 44-26 and struggling, both in strength and heart-rate.  My max HR is 164 and for most of this race I was above 156.  These hills got me up to 162.  The Garmin showed 6.9 mph just before the crest.  I managed to ramp up some rpm’s at the end and was rewarded with hearing the announcer say I was in third place.  As it turned out, I came in fourth, which was still a spot on the five-person podium.  I wasn’t close to Durward, but then, no one else was either.

            Friday was the 28 mile road race, two laps.  Our race started at 8:05 and I was warmed up and ready, although the legs weren’t up to the task.  This race was 70+ ages, so although we would be scored according to our 5-year grouping, we’d all race together.  That meant all I had to do was hang on to the back of the young guys.  We started off flat, made a right turn and came to a downhill followed by a really long, steep uphill.  I’d worked my way up to the first third of the group and was happy with my positioning.  Then my bike began to shake.  Various thoughts flashed through my mind: did I not tighten the front axel?, Did I have a flat?  This was an unknown experience.  Dang!  I slowed and raised my hand and came to a stop.  Nope, no flat, tires were good.  Neutral support guy came up and gave a quick check and we both agreed nothing was wrong with the bike.  Up I got and started pedaling.  No way could I catch on to the peloton.  I didn’t expend myself up the hill, but ramped it up after.  As it was, I passed four riders, who had been dropped.  This was another really hilly course and since I had no chance of podium, I considered the next course of action.
            We will now call this a strategic DNF.  My legs still felt the effects of the time trial and I’d be doing the second lap again by myself.  So, I pulled the plug, ran my hand across my throat at the finish line, and called it a day.  I had some regrets but will address those later.
            We had most of Friday and all day Saturday to rest and do a bit of touring in Augusta.  Sunday noon would be the criterium.  About ten years ago I entered two crits and was unceremoniously pulled in less than ten minutes.  To be fair, I was with younger, faster guys, but it still bruised the ego.  I hadn’t considered crits since.  Until now.
            Once again, it would be 70+ so all I needed to do was latch onto a wheel and hang on.  With crits they do call-ups, so me being a nobody, I was in the last group at the start line.  I quickly found out that as inexperienced as I was in this genre, there were guys who were less so.  You don’t brake in the corners, you hold your line.  I did well the first lap (.8 of a mile), and actually moved into a good position about a third back on the second lap.  The peloton slowed on the left-right-left corners for some reason.  Anyhow, I hung with the guys until they got serious on the seventh lap and put the hammer down on one of the corners.  Five yards, ten yards, and then they didn’t slow down at the corner and I waved goodbye.
            My coach, Owen, was at the start/finish line calling out encouragement and letting me know how I was doing.  Once I lost the peloton I could carve through the corners keeping my cadence and actually put time into those behind me.  With seven laps to go Owen advised I was in third place and something like thirty-three seconds up on forth.  I continued on and for one lap lost ten seconds.  I got lapped by the peloton, but that was a good thing.  For one, I latched on to the back for about three hundred yards so that upped my speed.  For another, that meant I had one lap less to race since the race ended on the lap of the peloton.  However, number four apparently also latched on to them for a while, because Owen advised I only had a six second lead with two laps to go.  I wasn’t worried, much.  No,  really.  Whoever was behind had to expend a lot of energy catching up while I was holding a little something in reserve.  My lap times and speed were very consistent.  If you go to my Strava page, the analysis shows just when I got dropped and how much less power I had to use.  Of course, that was why I got dropped in the first place.
            Enter Fred.  Fred Schmidt is 86 and can still beat me in a road race.  He caught up to me and I pulled him for half a lap, then he pulled me.  As we approached the finish he accelerated.  I considered just following him in but then figured this was a learning opportunity to see how much I could do at the end of a race.  I upped the cadence to 132 and pipped him at the line.  Mixed emotions on that, feeling bad about beating him, but glad that I could.  It didn’t matter about placement, in that he was first in his age group, and I held on to third.