After four rounds, Blood, Sweat and Gears remains one of, if not the toughest, baddest bike “rides” on the east coast (It’s really a race. Anytime a chip and number go on your bike, it’s a race).
After a solid ‘cross season, I was focusing on my two “A” races, St. Anthony’s Tri (Olympic) as a qualifier for the USAT Nationals and Ironman Raleigh 70.3 (my first half iron tri). With BSG 3 weeks after Raleigh, it was going to be my “B” race (Note to file: Never, ever consider BSG a B race or it will turn into your Bitch Race). So training consisted of one session of hill repeats on Pilot Mtn plus a heavy dose of wishful thinking that some of my aerobic tri training would translate over (partially correct). But having not ridden over 60 miles in the last 12 months, there was a still a question mark on how this was going to unfold (another helping of wishful thinking)
Having ridden this beast three other times, I knew the plan. Start out with the front, solid up Shulls Mill, ride the trains on BRP and as far after as possible, get to Snake in good shape, and survive George’s Gap and the final three gotcha’s. Well executed with good weather, this could be my year to break the illusive 6h barrier (Hope really does spring eternal). My previous times were
OK, so trimning 45 minutes off my PR seemed a tad aggressive but if the stars aligned and I had the right attitude, sub 6 could be doable. Plus the weather was going to be ideal. Dry, sunny hi in the low 70s.
Cool temperature and clear skies greeted us. Anticipation was running high at the start. Chip, my comrade in pain, was lined up with the sub six boys with me a little further back. Coming out of the shoot and up the short drive out of the school, I had my gearing wrong. A rapid downshift resulted in a dropped chain. An ominous start. Nothing like watching all those fast train guys whizz past as the “recreational” riders (mirrors, camel baks, etc) poured forth. Got the chain back on and hauled ass to catch some the remaining faster riders. Shulls Mill, still one the most beautiful climbs, was steady and manageable. The trains on BRP formed but were small and quickly fragmented by hills. Had some solid trains from there to the bottom of Snake. Stopped there just long enough for water (first stop of the ride) and headed on. It was interesting to listen to the nervous laughter of riders at the bottom, knowing their eventual fate lie just ahead.
Snake Mountain alone is a challenge but after 57 miles, it takes on epic proportions. Snake is that slow boil. It starts out as a gradual climb and about every couple of hundred yards, another click of the shifter. Click. Medium low. Click. Medium. Click. Slow simmer. Click. Guess, what, no more clicks and water is at full boil. I spent most of my energy keeping the negative talk out (“Why are you doing this? You’re a smart guy, this seems really stupid”). Even the positive talk (“How many times will you have the opportunity to climb something as epic as Snake”) turned sour (“Enjoy it while you can because this is the last f****ing time!”). I considered stopping a number of times (“I wonder if this guy who is having the dry heaves needs some assistance?”) but a combination of self-dilusion and peer pressure kept me soldiering on. And the foruth time up, you know not to be duped into thinking things are over when you hit the false flat just before the final push. Made it up and the cramping held off till the summit. Looking at my watch, my 17+ average I had built to the bottom of Snake was destroyed and my chances of breaking 6 were shot. Snake had done its job. I was spiritually, morally, mentally, and physically broken. I tried to patch together a decent ride for the rest of the time but the cramps which alternated between legs kept me from jumping on the many trains that whizzed by me (Plus there was lots of “what’s the point” talking in my head). So I put my head down, road my best and took care of business. Got to base of George’s and handed the lady my bottle for some water.
Her: What can I get you?
Me: A new attitude.
She failed to see my humor.The good news is the weather was nice so those last three hills were bearable.
Finished in 6:33 and felt reasonable at the end (compared to the collapse on the lawn in previous years). 305 out of 600 riders. Results here. (fastest finisher: 4:37 averaging 22.5—FREAK!). Respectable but not crushing (BTW, if any ever tells you are going to crush BSG, its the other way around). Met Chip at the finish line (I’ll let him tell his epic story). We commiserated about how hard the ride was and asked each other why we continue to do this ride.
Me: I’m not sure I’m ever doing this again. Probably my last BSG. Never again.
Chip: Maybe next year we can ride it for fun.
Me: You mean with no time goal?
Chip: Yeah, you know, just take it easy.
Me: You mean, like ride Snake for fun? Nice and easy up George’s Gap.
Me: ARE YOU CRAZY!!!! The words “fun” and “nice” and “easy” cannot be used in the same paragraph as BSG!
Having consumed about 8000 calories and gotten a good night’s rest, I’m a bit more sanguine about the whole thing.