Jer Walker (1)
As an old and busted chubby flatlander, this was never going to be an easy day at the office. Much to my surprise, I apparently brought Michigan temps with me as it was only 41 when I started at 6:48 AM! Luckily, I was in for a super sunny day that would warm up quickly.
The first 30 miles always set the tone and seemed to go better than previous times I've ridden. I was smooth and flowing despite the rowdiness that is the Smith Mountain descent. A quick refuel at Webb Brothers and the first quarter was behind me.
The second started with a dip in Spring Creek since my eyes were unable to pick out the shallow line. I always knew my feet would be submerged even if I rode, so no biggie. Could've done without all the holes coming back to Reliance Road though. Next up was Starr Mountain and that too went better than I expected. Not my fastest time, but I felt good and still under control. The descent off of Starr is a blast and a good section to pick the average speed back up.
The section connecting over to Coker Creek is a bit cruel with its constant changing gradient, but such is life. I arrived to the Welcome Center ahead of my goal time, but my excitement quickly turned to panic when it turned out they were closed. As soon as I came to this realization, I saw an abandoned Vista rider who was waiting for a ride who said someone was there, but had left. Knowing I didn't have enough water to get me back to Reliance, I sat and tried processing my plight. I guess trail magic really is a thing and has a unique way of presenting itself, because in my delay, the shop keep returned and opened back up. I thanked her 10 times over and bought everything I needed to soldier on and pet her dog.
The second half of this ride starts with a nice flowing descent (mostly) that can be ridden at a nice pace without having to push. Buck Bald is actually a favorite of mine and had that to look forward to. Right when I made the turn to the table, I saw another Vista rider (Austin) who looked to be contemplating life, but after 174 miles, who wouldn't? His hand was getting numb and thought he might have to stop prematurely for the day. He said he all weekend to finish though and kept a good attitude. Good luck Austin!
Descending Buck Bald is a blast and Hwy 68 is a welcome section of smooth even if it is short lived. I'll never enjoy the punch in the face that is Bailey, but it is necessary to get to the much cooler Fingerboard section. That whole section of land between 68 and Reliance Rd is very unique and challenging without a flat spot in sight. I got to Childer's Creek in one piece and made the descent into Reliance. Stopped at Reliance Fly and Tackle for my last fuel of the day.
I was now at the 8:35 mark (ride time) and still feeling surprisingly good. I'm not renowned as an ultra endurance rider and wondered what corner the Reaper would be waiting behind. Never fear, because that entire section from the foot bridge to the top of Kimsey is quite hellish. Despite the fatigue setting in deep, I managed to keep pedaling the whole way without getting too uncomfortable. The upper section will never be my favorite since it looks like giants decided to play Yahtzee with piles of rocks, boulders, and stones. As I finally made it to the top, I realized I still had a shot at my goal ride time of 12 hours or less. If you're going to finish a ride, finish it on a descent. This one did not disappoint and is the type where I could push the pace.
I arrived back to the car in daylight (thank goodness) with a ride time of 11:45. Hooray! I missed my second goal of total time by 8 minutes though, coming in at 13:08 for the day. I think I would've had it had the Welcome Center been open when I arrived. All in all, a fantastic day on the bike with beautiful weather and gorgeous terrain and views. Many thanks to Kim and Shannon for allowing me to do this. This was second only to Leadville in terms of difficulty.
Last, but not least. I chose a mountain bike because I'm old skool and want to keep my dentist and chiropractor off of speed dial. 2.35" tires at 23 psi and 100mm of travel were just what the doctor ordered. Sure, I may have been faster in other sections without all the rolling weight, but being able to bomb the descents more than made up for it. After all, mountain bikes are for mountains, right?