DEATH MARCH REVIVAL
Jer Walker (2)
With the end of June in sight, I knew I needed to giddy up if I was going to qualify for the Triple Crown. Because the Tennessee Gravel ITT courses aren’t hard enough, I came into DMR having separated my right shoulder five weeks previously while out training (stupid tree!). Lucky for me, it was only a grade 2 and time had allowed the injury to heal “enough”. I was also lucky to not have a typical Tennessee weather day in June that would have me melting before I even got to the top of the first climb. It was around 64 with respectable humidity and non-existent wind at the start, going up to around 81 at the warmest point. Perfect day for self-destruction.
In true Tennessee Gravel fashion, they kick you in the teeth right out of the gate. That first climb while not the most difficult on the course, is tough from a cold start. Fortunately, I had raced Cohutta in April and still had some vague familiarity with the following sections to Potato Patch. What I had never ridden before was the lollipop to Mulberry Gap and back. While I welcomed the much needed rest on the descent to the general store, it occurred to me that I would also have to climb back out what I was bombing down…uh oh. I rolled into the store faster than I had expected without feeling too awful, so started thinking about the possibility of a respectable time overall. One bone I would like to pick was not getting a warning about the driveway to the General Store, that was a bit of insult to injury. Quickly filled my bottles, slammed a Snickers and Coke, pet the new dog and got rumbling on my way. I almost blew it when I passed the turn to Potato Patch, but caught it quickly enough to get turned around without costing me too much time or energy. Speaking of patches, this was where I would have my first bad patch of the day. That climb from there to the top is a bear and the grade would just not stop. There were a few spots I felt like my front wheel was on a swivel it was so steep. I’ve had enough run ins with the Reaper to know this would be “short” lived in the grand scheme and just sucked it up and limited my losses knowing there was going to be a fun flowing section of descending coming up to get my marbles back together (the 83 kilo class of rider thanks you), thus concluding the first half of the route.
As a proud member of the Old & Busted Club, I couldn’t have been happier to be riding my mountain bike and using every bit of travel my fork could offer. I would have gone lower than the 20 psi I had in my tires to further plush out the ride, but I am also a member of the Doughboy Club and didn’t want to roll the dice in such a remote environment. The descents were fast and fun giving me a chance to recover and fuel up for the next challenge. I was also getting my average speed back up and felt good for what was to come. Except I had never ridden Big Frog in this direction. I knew from The Big Frog 65 that this section would be tough, but this direction can go do things to itself I won’t type here. The Strava segment should be renamed to Full Goat Path because that climb is sinewy as all get out (where is the stinking line???). And as if the climb wasn’t enough, you get a rowdy enough of a descent to make me wish I had a full enduro bike. Never thought I’d think Smith Mountain isn’t “that bad”… With that in the rear view, I felt like the hardest parts of the day were done. Garmin still had one climb left on their map and then the descent back to the barn. I was getting “Skratched out” by this point and forced myself to gulp down a couple gels to get me to the line as I was no longer capable of solid food. I must have timed things just about right because I was still able to put a little juice into each pedal stroke to maintain pace. Since Garmin doesn’t always behave itself in these remote parts of the Southeast, I wasn’t sure if my mileage was accurate or how much was actually left. My brain was so fuzzy that math wasn’t happening either. I knew the top times were going to be a taller order because if you’re going to take down “The Hoff” (have you eaten yet this year???) or “The Single Speed King” Chris Joice (surely that beard has to cost you aerodynamics…), then you better come correct because they are a couple of Bad MoFo’s…Before I knew it, I was starting the final descent down Thunder Rock and knew it would close. I let it rip and kept my fingers crossed. When I got to the bottom, my Garmin stopped at 9:09:48. I thought it was too close to call and would wait for verification before I got too excited.
Now having completed all three ITT events, I must say they are all worthy of clobbering yourself if that’s what you’re into. Clearly we all are which is what I love about our niche group of riders that partake in this craziness. This one might take the cake as hardest, especially with it’s VAM compared to the others and consistently chunky and grouchy road surfaces. Hats off to anyone who does even one. Bigger hats off to the insane guy (Jason Vance?) for doing all three on consecutive days last year. I look forward to politely locking horns with you all in November.