John Wiygul (1)
So I’m sort of new to off-road riding. When I was hit by a car while road biking in downtown Chattanooga at the end of 2015, I decided to reduce the odds of getting hit again by supplementing mountain biking into my training. That’s when I started biking with Brad Cobb and Spencer “Taco” Whittier. It‘s been trial by fire for me ever since, meaning every downhill and technical section I’m at my limit! Spencer is a National Cycle Cross Champion and Brad is, well, Brad! In hind sight, I’m not sure it was actually “safer” to be mountain biking with those guys, but somehow I’m still here and having more fun than ever.
Mountain biking last year evolved into additional gravel specific riding and the Chattanooga area has tons of it. From Chattahoochee National Forest all the way up to Tellico Plains, it’s just a giant playground. I’ve been riding sections of the Dirty 130 with friends for about a year. A few months ago, Spencer decided we should all ride the first roughly 100 miles, and the week before we went for the official ITT Brad and I rode the last 30 miles of the course. On Monday, before the official ITT Spencer invited me to race the course with him and Brad on Saturday. Yes, for me this was planned less than a week in-advance, but it was good timing.
My goal was to be close to 9 hours. I thought I could achieve this if I put in some good efforts in on the climbs and tried to stay consistent everywhere else. My weapon of choice, Trek Checkpoint. I conserved on the first climb up the front of Kimsey Mountain and made sure to stay very hydrated early on. I saw Spencer stopped at Webb Bros and instantly knew something was wrong, he yelled at me, “side wall flat!” and he thought it was too risky to continue on. I raced in and out of Webb Bro’s Store where they already knew about a race going on, as Brad started about 34 minutes ahead of me. I was off again, but realized I had broken my top tube bottle cage when I slammed by re-filled bottle back. A slight inconvenience, as I could barely rearrange my food to fit a bottle in my jersey. My jersey was really full still with about 20 something gels, ha!
I was stoked now to go for it up Star Mountain, maybe I could get a PR. I was right on par to do so when I saw three horses ahead. I yelled a few times before I got the rider’s attention, then slowed down as their horses were bothered. I lost a little time, but I thought to myself just stay calm and keep going. The first roller hell section was coming up, aka Ivy Trail. I felt good on it and was at Coker Creek Visitors Center before I knew it. I grabbed a quick shower at the hose, filled my bottles, and got back on the bike. I had three bottles filled at mile 64. Could I go all the way to the finish without stopping? I told myself to make the call at the top of Buck Bald.
I backed off the pace a bit and recovered on the wonderful, almost psychedelic River Road. The sharp right provides a daunting half hour climb, and I was feeling good to go hard. I never looked at my Garmin and just focused on effort level. I kept telling myself I could catch Brad if I went a little faster. I never saw Brad but made it to the top of Buck Bald at a personal record, took a quick selfie for compliance, switched out bottles and descended into roller hell #2, aka Fingerboard Road. I had one bottle left before the last official store around mile 99. Knowing I would compromise my performance by running out of water, I skipped it. I thought I could save enough time by not stopping to justify it.
All I wanted to do was just get to the top of the last climb, the back side of Kimsey Mountain, and be home free. But, I had to climb the 10 miles out of Mcfarland first! After more than 7.5 hours in the saddle, I saw Brad ahead and found some motivation to yell some yodel nonsense at him. I made a quick pass where he said something about flats and I kept on. Within a few miles into the ascent of Kimsey, I had no water left and knew I was going to have to dig deep. At least my bike was light at this point! I climbed Kimsey about 12 minutes slower than the week before but gritted my way to the top. I had a bit of knee inflation, a head ache, and was about to cramp from my neck to my feet, I was just ready to be back at the car. Every bump annoyed me, but I was on the home stretch and trying to enjoy the final long descent to the finish. Brad finished not far behind and the Dirty 130 was a wrap! I was happy with my first completion of the Dirty 130 and a new course record of 9 hours 5 minutes. I think it’s my new favorite course. I had good luck with no flats, but had a few minor issues along the way. The odds of a perfect day are slim on a long day like that. I always tell myself your attitude determines your day. Issues are going to happen, but just adapt and keep going.