DEATH MARCH REVIVAL
I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate my birthday than Death March Revival (yes, I understand how weird that sounds to some people). And since the grand depart had to be postponed until next year, an ITT would do the trick. Luckily, a few others were interested in joining "the fun" and there's something to knowing others are out there...somewhere in the wilderness...also suffering, even when you're on your own and possibly miles apart.
Officially rolled out at 6:27 a.m. after hanging out in the darkness in front of Mulberry Gap for a bit. It was great to see familiar faces from TNGA days, even for a minute, as we'd all be on our own shortly after rolling. The temps were in the 40s but the course is straight up so getting warm would be no problem. Tried to rev the engine early on and get the blood flowing. The Wilderness climb didn't seem too bad and by the time Bear Creek Overlook rolled around, the sun was coming up and it was so pretty! At this point, Audrey settled into her own pace, Melanie was off the front climbing strong and Monica and I were strung out between them. Finally arrived to W. Cow Pen descent. Melanie was at the intersection eating a snack and taking pics and Monica rolled up not too long after me. I was delighted yet also dreading the 10 mile "downhill"...W. Cow Pen is so relentless...whether you're climbing or descending.
Monica, Melanie and I each reached the Murray Lake sign overlook within a few minutes of each other. Monica, of course, got there first...she flies downhill, but Melanie wasn't too far behind, even while on her gravel bike that had a 35 on the rear and 38 on the front. BUT, there was 5 more miles of downhill when Melanie noticed she had a rear flat. That'd be the last we saw of her for the day, unfortunately. Monica arrived at the Cisco Ranger Station first (of course) and the water was even more smelly than ever before. Hopefully the Big Frog pipe spring would be better. We rolled our way toward Big Frog and got to wave/say hello to two lady bikepackers rolling along toward the Big Frog Loop. The pipe spring at Big Frog was definitely more pleasant smelling. Shortly after our arrival, we could see Audrey and a couple other guys rolling up. We said a quick hello and how are you and I began rolling again. Monica was having issues with her front brake so rolled out a little after me. I could see her not too far behind though as she started rolling again but as I started climbing, I eventually couldn't see her but figured it was only a matter of time before she caught me.
The Big Frog climb in this direction is by far my favorite. I felt really good here and spun up the climb as quickly as I could. I ran into a rider on a gravel bike on the descent. He said he was kinda lost so I stopped to try to help him, but I guess he didn't know where he needed to go so he told me to go ahead. I told him it was 3 more miles to the next road if he kept going in this direction before moving on. I finally made the right turn on 22 to head toward the Ocoee and started dying a slow painful death here. I eventually noticed I lost a bottle (somewhere on Big Frog, I think) which made me a little nervous. I don't do well stopping too long and wanted to avoid having to filter water but oh well.
As I inched closer toward the Tanasi trails, I started feeling some GI distress. I hadn't pushed a pace like this in awhile and digestion at this effort is way more challenging than TNGA pace. But I kept up with Skratch chews and maple syrup since those were easy on my belly. I made sure to keep drinking and told myself I'd filter near the Tumbling Creek section because limiting fluid intake would only lead to disaster.
I was relieved to pass the Big Frog hiking trail, but that relief was soon replaced with slight concern as I noticed a deer standing in the middle of the road that wouldn't move. There was a car behind me trying to pass so I wanted to make sure the deer was safely off the road. Eventually it ran into the woods, and the Subaru very, very slowly passed me...and as he passed he said something that I couldn't hear. But I looked back and noticed the deer popped out of the woods and started running toward me...very quickly! I took off in a sprint and looked back 4 times to see the deer still there chasing me haha. It was the wildest thing, especially with a tired brain. I kept wondering what would happen if it caught me, but fortunately, a fast downhill allowed me to get away. After that my stomach was really jacked up so I had to stop to go to the bathroom not too far past the Quartz trail entrance.
Not long after, I found a good place to filter and as I was finishing up, Monica rolled by and said a quick hello as she rolled on again. We could barely say much more to each other at this point haha. Monica eventually had to stop to filter so I caught up to her for a little bit. But soon she had to stop to put Skratch in her bottles so I didn't see her again until she got back to the cabin later. The Tumbling Creek area was the part I was dreading the most. I'd only ridden it once before with my friend Susie and it's a very challenging section BUT it's also very beautiful and has some nice campsites along the creek. I started absolutely falling apart here. I just wanted to be done but had like 20 more miles or something. I felt like I couldn't function very well but somehow my legs kept pedaling.
I was so happy to make it to Watson Gap but unfortunately, there was still so much more climbing to do. I had to make another bathroom stop before the next pipe spring because my stomach was not having it. Once I got to the Jacks River pipe spring, I was basically empty on fluids but didn't have much longer to go. I filled up one bottle and saw Stephen rolling up. He was also doing an official ITT but started later that morning. He was riding strong but let me know he saw Audrey and Monica awhile back so I knew they were still okay before he kept rolling on.
All I could think about was the Three Forks climb and found a second wind. I wanted to get the last bit of climbing done as soon as possible. I felt so wrecked at this point but was focused. Before I knew it, I was making the left turn down Potato Patch. Home stretch to the finish in front of Mulberry Gap. 10hours and 48 minutes elapsed time and felt more wrecked after this effort than pretty much anything else I'd done a bike before. What. A. Day. But I loved every minute of it!