DEATH MARCH REVIVAL
Chris Joice (6)
left it all out there (and then some)… but bettered my time this go-around for a PR and FKT!!
the Death March Revival is such a rugged, remote, "gravel" route, and although i just rolled it a little over a month ago, i couldn't help myself but to give it another go. as part of the Tennessee Gravel Triple-Crown, i wanted to increase my lead by seeing if i could knock of some time... i had an open day, the weather looked decent (for summer-time), and this time i wouldn't booger the track and mess around with down-time!
instead of my drop-bar mtb, i decided to take my dreamchaser adventure bike with 50c tires... i have spent many many hours on this bike and it's definitely a favorite for balancing comfort and fun. i also changed my gearing to be a little lighter than last time in hopes that i would cruise the climbs a little easier/quicker and have a better ending (when the effort stacks up and it's all you can do to turn over the pedals)!
my day went pretty well, and certainly started at a quick clip... the easier gear was great and i was clicking off the miles. heavy cloud cover kept the temps down, but the humidity was thick, so i was soaked in no time... i tried my best to keep up with hydration and fueling, but [in hindsight] i probably could have eaten more and needed more electrolytes earlier!
i got to mulberry gap in under 4hr and my spirits were high! got a chance to chat with Kate while i drank a coke and ate a dozen donut-holes (so tasty, but next time "real" food, ftw). i wanted to have a seat and hang for longer, but i knew minutes were going to matter today! so i filled up bottles and shoved off... and into the sunshine, oh boy....
the clouds had disappated and now the heat was creeping up, and just in time for the giant (2500ft vert) climb up to Potato Patch... oh, good times! and really, the climb is a beast but it's not too bad with reasonable grade... just settle in and grind away. as i trudged up the climb there was a fair amount of vehicular traffic, and while they were generally polite, the dust was thick. and to couple with that "fun", my legs were talking back and starting to twinge of cramps a little... ruh roh! at this point, there's still 45mi left and over 4000ft of climbing... better reel back the effort and do some damage control.
so i did get my legs to calm down, even if it meant dropping effort well below were my mind wanted to be.... but i needed to try and recover while still making progress. which brings up a funny thing about cramps and fatigue [or at least my experience]...
the mental game in these hard rides is just as crucial as the physical, and in some ways, moreso. there's so much time to get lost in ones headspace, and that's the fun and the danger.... internal dialogue plays a huge part in how you feel. do your legs hurt? are you suffering? is that all you got?.... if you allow yourself to sink into the negative-thoughts it's gonna be a long long way to the finish. so i try to focus on the fun of the descents, put on some good music, tell myself some good stories, and couple that with a 5hr energy and some sugar!
so after my "pep-talk" i finally get down to the last valley where i can cruise and recompose myself. i'm feeling fatigued, but i'm pretty sure i can diesel my way to the end without loosing too much time or allowing the cramps to stop me. somewhere along the dusty dirt road i come across a cyclist who's looking for a friend who's doing the DMR as well. the "friend" was Monica, who i'd seen earlier in the day. she was ahead of me, and i was hoping to catch her before the end. Thom and i chat while we ride down the road, and during those few minutes, my legs quit hurting and i forget about my potential-cramps all together.... mind-power!
we bid farewell and i start up into the Big Frog section... just 30ish miles to go... wait, what?! geez, i thought it was less! this is gonna be pretty rough... and i start projecting times, realizing i may not beat my previous time, damnit!! but as always, nothing much i can do but ride on... keep trucking and save any efforts for when they're absolutely necessary. oh, and QUIT WATCHING THE TIME!!
after a little while i see Monica and she's heading towards me... huh?! she's been feeling rough and gotten sick a few times, and says she needs to bail before she goes too deep and has to self-rescue. as much as i wanted to talk her into staying the course to the finish, i acknowledged that she needed to make her own call... she's a tough rider and wouldn't turn around if it wasn't totally necessary. so i wish her luck and get back to the work at hand.
somewhere in our talking, Monica said, "i don't have it in me to climb any more".... to which i thought, there's not "that" much climbing left, right?! welp, in my optomistic memory, i had blocked out quite a few nasty rough climbs.. they tested my legs and all of my will-power not to walk. but eventually, i made it through the nasty track and to the smoother gravel.
to this point i had not turned on the "route" on my wahoo as i needed to conserve battery (started my ride with only 55% charge, oops!)... but i was at an intersection i didn't recognize, and this was NOT the time to take a wrong turn. boy was i glad i bothered to check... i saved myself a BIG mistake of ripping downhill off-course [note to self: when i doubt, climb].
with the route turned on i made the mistake of looking at the remaining climbing left... damn, another 1000ft vert!! how? really? and still over 10mi to go?? i was getting pretty far into vision-quest mode and it was a struggle to keep my mental-game in check. time to change the tunes and try to eat more (even though nothing sounded good of the few snacks i had left).
so as usual, i trudged on and tried to keep my eye on the prize... if i kept a reasonable pace i could at least match my PR, right? luckily the gravel was forgiving and smoother than earlier, so i was able to moderate my effort a little better. i did my best to keep momentum on all the little rollers even though the fatigue was hampering my descending skills [please, no cramps on downhills!].
finally i see on my map where the last intersection is, and once i'm there it's all downhill. go time! except i have very little "go" left in me.... so i just cruised along and took satisfaction in the fact that i didn't cramp, i didn't mechanical, and i WAS going to make it... and likely with a PR.
exhausted but stoked, i ripped down to the finish... just over 9hr after starting. that'll do pig, that'll do.