Chris Joice (2)
Tennesseegravel.com put up an ITT challenge for the Dirty130 route, and this would be my third time doing the course. the first two times were the official races in '17 and '18, and all who competed will tell you just how tough this route is! previously, i had cramped so bad i walked big sections of the end, or had to take long breaks to cool down and revive. so, this go around my goals were 1) finish 2) not cramp or be destroyed, and 3) try to improve my time.
as usual, i was a little late starting (8:52a), but took off in good spirits up the long Kimsey Mtn opener.. i took it easy and reflected on the many times up this beaut. i bombed down Smith Mtn and across Lost Creek to Reliance, feeling pretty good, but definitely feeling the high humidty and the temps creeping up. deja vu??
i watered up with a quick stop at Webb Bros store where i got some funny looks by the hoards of rafters/floaters getting ready to hit the waters of the Hiawassee River. glad to leave the "humanity", i headed out and got to the MANDATORY creek fording, where i took the time to take off shoes and socks... "pro-move", as i was so happy to not have soggy socks/shoes for the next 9hrs!
as luck would have it, clouds had started to build and temps mitigated for the rest of my ride... 70s instead of 80s. it also rained a fair bit in some places, but timing was such that i never got doused, just a light sprinkling once or twice. usually, i'm one for bluebird skys, but today i was elated to have the clouds!
Starr Mtn was a little better than usual, due to my easier gearing, but it still put the hurt on a bit... reminding me to dial back to "diesel effort" to keep my legs happy for the long haul. i abided and rolled at a reasonable and nice clip over to Coker Creek Visitors Center. i've been there a bunch when they weren't open or were out of [limited] snacks, but this time, i hit the jackpot... coke, chips, and an ice cream sammich!
somewhere around Unicoi Gap i realized my average speed was under 12mph, and no matter how i tried, it wasn't getting much better... daggum easy gearing! but i resolved myself to just let it roll, focus on diesel, proper fueling, and let the chips fall where they may.
i rolled up to Buck Bald for the mandatory selfie and felt WAY better than in years past! another quick snack and off across the notorious Fingerboard Rd section back towards Reliance. i'd planned to skip the off-route stop at Reliance Bait and Tackle, but i wasn't sure i had enough eats to make a good final push, so i stopped for a Mtn Dew, more chips (dill pickle, ftw), and my second sausage biscuit.... more stopped time, but happy Chris.
i put some Dead&Co in my ears and downed a 5hr as i worked my way to the Hiawassee powerhouse... what a beautiful stretch of river. but this was no time to relax and even think about "almost being done".
the last pieces of the route are two (really like ten) climbs, which are probably the hardest of the entire route.... Powerhouse Climb and McFarland/Dittney Mtn. i've cramped, walked, and nearly cried on these boogers before!
this time was still hard, but much much better. i was able to ride the entire time and even put in respectable effort when needed. a gel and a few sugary snacks helped too! so, in just under a couple hours, i was done with the rugged track back to Kimsey Mtn road... i turned it up a bit knowing this was the last piece of work before the long descent to the finish.
though i hadn't stressed about my overall time, it was at the top of Kimsey that i realized i might break 12hr... not particularly impressive, but a good goal. i had just 35min to go 11mi down (and a little up) on gravel/rocky road... so i pedaled as fast as i could (when i could), and railed as fast as my bike would let me (hint: true gravel bikes descend better).
i made sure to remember [and avoid] the giant dog at the bottom, and ripped into the finish with just a few seconds to spare... and to boot, i finished just before dark! though it was a little anti-climatic, i enjoyed a celebratory beer as i changed in the company of a few mosquitos before i set out to find some real food in Etowah.
as for my rig and such: i had intended to bring my favorite rig, the Dreamchaser (Salsa Stormchaser), but i couldn't fit the cog i wanted without adding chain. so, i broke out the trusty Ratmonk (Karate Monkey with dropbars)... geared it 32:18, and aired up the 2.3 tires for a little more roll. in the end, the big tires were fun for traction/comfort, but were probably a little slower. i'm pretty sure the dreamchaser would've descended a bit faster too.
i hauled plenty of food... 8 bars, 3 gels, 2 biscuits (can't quit this things on rides!), nuun tabs, and one 5hr. took three bottles, and was so glad i did. also took [but didn't use] full repair/tool kit, pump, CO2s, rain jacket, and water filter.
Thanks to Kim Murrell for creating this fantastic beast of a route and props to Tennessee Gravel for putting on this challenge.