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Mountain Range


Monica Desjardins (1)


After completing TNGA I was looking for a few routes to get my suffer fix. Dirty 130 and Death March Revival got penciled onto the calendar. Then the realities of homeschool hit and motivation went out the window. Thank heavens I have friends who keep me motivated. As the date I had selected for D130 approached I realized I was not going to be in a good place to make that happen but sticking to DMR in November would be doable. My legs felt great coming off of TNGA, and hated to just waste it away, but settling in a new school routine is a priority, and I do not have the mental fortitude to wake up at 5am to ride. Thus I am ok with my lax training. It’s hard to not get a bit down after such an epic adventure like TNGA, so a week or so of rest led to some loss of motivation. I just needed to get in a few long rides and lots of climbs and I could be more confident about completing it. I got enough in where I could. So last Sat I had a front tire blow out on a dirt road that slammed me down pretty good. I was spitting rocks out of my teeth, pretty sure I had broke my hand. Thankfully Ali was there to pull my broke ass off the road and helped me get my bike rolling. After the shock of it all, I was determined to decide not to be hurt. So I pretty much worked and laid around all week to rest up for the big day. Not my usual game plan, but necessary. Everyday my hand felt a bit better, and as long as I could wrap my fingers around the bar, I was golden.

Looking at dates in November the decision was not hard when settling on Ali’s bday weekend. What better way to celebrate another year around the sun, than to explore the depths of the soul through pain-and suffering. All I had to do was say yes and I know Ali will have the itinerary for the weekend literally emailed to me.

To celebrate in our epic fashion, Ali booked a cabin and shared her plan with several of the badass ladies who also completed TNGA to take on the Death March Revival ITT with us. Audrey, Whitney, then Jen and Jen.

An ITT is an “individual time trial”. A self supported ride where you can submit your recorded time to be added to a leader board. Self supported means you must plan a bail out, food, water, and navigation on your own. And not adhering to the rules means you scratched. The idea was that we ladies would head out before dawn to set our time on this 88 mile course with 12,000+ feet of climbing. A little different than a race or group ride. Some people choose to ride together, but you have to remember not to assist each other in anyway, no drafting and no asking bystanders for help.

5am on Nov 14th and the alarm went off. Choked down breakfast and screwed around with all my gear I should have had ready the night before. Mounted lights, loaded the ride and rode the gravel road about a mile down to the entrance of Mulberry Gap. 1000 lumen headlamps appeared on the horizon of the steep drive and smoothly floated down to the road as mysterious riders collected amongst the vapor clouds of breath. As the headlights dimmed, familiar faces and voices became apparent. A little TNGA reunion at 6am in the middle of a backcountry gravel road, some chit chat as a few more headlamps floated off the hill, and I snapped a pic of my garmin screen and rolled off.

Audrey, Ali, Mel and I pulled away from the dudes pretty quick, a little too quick maybe and made our way to Conasauga road. First big climb of the day was potato patch and I was excited to catch the sun rise on the climb. At this point I was excited for the warmth of the sun and the climb because it was pretty chilly and I didn’t want to carry a jacket just to take it off in 30 min.

As the grade ramped up on Wilderness Road my Garmin alerted me this would be climb 1/13. Garmin has this great feature where when you upload a route, it categorizes all the climbs and rates the sections based on grade. You can follow your progress through the climb and anticipate what will happen next. Mild grade is green salsa and continues down the rainbow to black ghost pepper of death. The climb to the top of Potato Patch is about an hour, and you gain ~2,000 ft over 5 miles. This is the warmup. In a way, I would much rather settle into a long climb where I can steady my HR and power. After topping out up to Conasauga Rd, there is one more smaller ascent, and then relatively downhill all the way to Tennessee. A rolling down hill. my bike was making a noise. I had a squirrel running next to me and thought it was Ali, started chatting with it, but realized she was no where to be seen.

A quick stop at the ranger check in station where West Cow Pen leads into Old Hwy 2/the road with too many names, I grabbed some water from the spigot just in case the spring on Big Frog wasn't running. Ali rolled up. No matter how long I ran the water it smelled like 1000 boiled eggs. Thankfully the spring on Big Frog was trickling enough to fill a bottle. Ali and I, still yoyo-ing back and forth, stopped for a refill and dumped the fart water out. While she slowly refilled I had time to recenter my brake pads. I realized that this high frequency sound I was hearing was my rotor not spinning freely through the pads and after loosening and retightening the 2 bolts, it was spinning freer but with a tik tik tik instead. I refilled my bottle with the trickle of spring water while Ali rode off. It took forever, during that time Rasch Hole, The Kid, Audrey and another gentleman rolled in. I didn't want to wait to put Skratch in and decided to do it later.

At some point climb 2/3 happened. I could see Ali pulling away. Big Frog Rd has some steep pitches, lots of hidden bedrock, small ledges and some mud holes and ruts that can come up quick. I wished I had another gear. I hadn't ridden it in about a year and quickly remembered every time I fell to pieces during Big Frog 65. Normally I sort of like it, but not when I have limited juice in the legs.

I stopped for some reason again, and then passed 2 lady bikepackers from Knoxville. They said they were camping at the Jacks River Fields. I said awesome and suggested they stay away from West Fork and P1, as there was no reason for anybody to ride that ever. My left knee, hip and ankle started hurting. I had trouble finding a comfortable way to pedal and tried to stretch a bit. I shouted about fucking time on the last little DH leading to 221 and made the right hand turn. 221 circumnavigates Big Frog and Peavine Mtn. It has lots of ups and downs. I scan the campground at the bottom of one looking for my friend Chelsea as I roll through.

My favorite part is past Hogs Back Mtn where there is a series of extended rollers and turns. I can carry good speed through these. I hear a Subaru approaching from behind but don't want to let him by so I stay a bit left. I am almost to the top and I know I will have to pass him shortly and don't want to disrupt my flow. I do my thing and he rolls by on the next climb. Gives my wave and says killer descent back there. I realized I wasn't hurting anymore, and felt pretty good knowing 45 was just ahead and Chestnut Mtn too.

Topping out the last climb up to 45 was a bit bitter sweet. The descent was pretty short, and some seriously steep pitches were sprinkled in with the rolling stuff approaching Tumbling Creek Camp Ground. I was in TNGA pace at this point, where I just push whatever effort will keep me from ultimately not cramping. I think I also had a bit of mental fatigue setting in.

After passing the single track turn to Chestnut my Garmin told me I was off course. I had a split-second panic where I had to zoom in and out of my map to make sure I hadn't missed something. Like maybe I missed the fact that Quartz Loop was included in the route. In reality the GPS track was just way off the curvy road and the Garmin is too stupid to figure this out.

I realized mentally where I was at and stopped to down half a five-hour energy. I also ate a whole pack of Skratch chews to play catch-up from not eating enough on Big Frog and the other stuff. I really wanted my Skatch Bar but couldn't find it in my bag. The curse of ADHD. The descent would give me a little time to digest them, but I also didn't want to drink all of my water, had about 500mL left at this point. I left my water filter in Chattanooga. I figured I was a couple hours away from the Jacks River spring pipe, and needed to conserve.

Started off again determined to get into a rhythm and knock out the rest of Tumbling Creek Rd. Maybe I could make descent time to the spring pipe. Crossing the stream I passed Ali finishing up filtering. I mumbled something to her, and kept rolling. Tumbling Creek Rd is pretty rugged. I was glad I was on my Light Speed Kitsuma hard tail. I still had the Jones H Bar mounted I used TNGA which made for a comfy relaxed riding position. I really needed this because my body was beat up from the previous weekend.

The five-hour must have kicked in because I feel like I kinda zoned out a lot and was able to focus on the pedals and momentum of the road. The idea of approaching the turn from Tumbling Creek onto FR 222 felt dreadful. I believe this is where I saw Suzie and Jim Farmer wiz past. I wasn't feeling sociable. I kept thinking about water and how dumb it was to possibly sabotage a good ride by not having my filter. I was on the mental roller coaster by this point. Not much later Jim Farmer comes rolling up from behind. I was a bit discouraged by this because it meant that Ali was not that far behind. It enforced the reality that I didn't maintain my pace. Jim looked over and mumbled something about me not looking like I wanted conversation. Ugh, I hate it to think I had gotten to that point. I started to think about how grateful I was to see another familiar face out this day. I tried the chit chat, and came to terms with the fact that I was hitting the wall, and was in no place to fight it. I told Jim I was going to stop and take a break. There was water running off of the rock face, and I was pretty sure I was just below the Benton MKaye. I glanced at the map and confirmed the topography, and made the decision to fill my bottle with the water running out of the rock there, added Skratch and secured it in my cage. I drank the rest of my clean water in my other L bottle, ate a couple of Skratch Chews and adjusted my Pactimo Bibs. I was at mile 67 and had to push a bit more to Dally Gap. I was wrecked. I knew I could keep riding but felt like it was a snails pace.

At some point Ali passed me, she looked pretty good and I was bummed I couldn't join in. On long rides we will often yo-yo back and forth, and it is nice to be able to have a rabbit to chase.

After Dally is Watson Gap and the climb keeps going. I saw the Farmers BMW there and decided to take refuge next to it. I laid down and pulled a peanut butter and sourdough sandwich out and downed some spirochete infested water. Texted Thom about how miserable I was, and began to eat what would be a life-saving sandwich. I sent him some selfies and he tells me I am doing amazing. I felt good after rehydrating, eating real food, and the words of encouragement from Thom. I laid there and took some time to be grateful for what the day had given me.

Onward to Jacks River, which came up pretty quick. I turned into the campground and cruised through to check it out. I looked at the bathroom and realized It had been about 9hrs since I last peed, I probably could have gone, but it seemed like too much effort. I had water on my mind and headed to the pipe spring. Filled 2 one-liter bottles, which is 4.4 lbs. Prob not a smooth move, but I am a big thirsty girl.

Let's just say that those last 4 pitches slowly ground away at my soul. My arse was sore, and I had to stop several times and make and adjustments. There was a bit of traffic on this last stretch of road. Annoying as I was sucking gravel dust. My eyes were also pretty cloudy from being dried out and the dust didn't help. Head down, pedal until you see those rocks and then left down down down to Mulberry Gap. I was racing daylight at this point.

As I made the turn that would lead to Bear Creek Overlook and eventually to Mulberry Gap, I could see gold and fire orange exploding through the trees. My left hand ached trying to hold on through the descent. Racing into Bear Creek Overlook was the most beautiful sunset. I couldn't swallow, the day had come full circle, and I choked back tears of gratitude, fatigue, and overall happiness that my friends were only several minutes down this damn mountain. It was seriously hard to believe that, 11 hours earlier I had ridden passed the same point as the sun was rising over the opposite side.

Only a few more miles to get back to the cabin and hear about Ali and Audry's trip, see Star and Gina, sip fine wine and eat a big ol' slice of Ali's birthday cake Suzie made. Froze my ass off the rest of the way down, and then the glorious vision of Mulberry Gap Adventure Base Camp. Such an amazing day riding, and even though I was a bit slower at the end than I liked, the beauty of the setting sun was the gift that I truly needed. What an amazing birthday celebration for a special friend.

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