Mountain Range

DEATH MARCH REVIVAL

Randy Kerr

12/11/20

I wasn’t exactly sure where I was. I remembered the climb and maybe the creek side from this morning’s start, but I was confused. My head was spinning. Everything was beginning to look the same. I don’t remember these houses. Nor do I remember these farms… nor the pastures. It was such a beautiful farm setting. I hadn’t seen it before. It was getting dark.

Shortly after reaching the pavement, I knew I was off the course. I had mistakenly turned left.

My only choice was go back the way I’d come. I had to climb back up to the top of the climb from where I turned.

After more than 6 hours of racing - and my lack of experience with the Garmin low power mode - I took a left turn, instead of veering right. It looked familiar and seemed like, the right way to go . . . until I saw the houses.

I’ve been itching to return for to DMR for redemption. Ever since I took the wrong turn in the 2017 DMR. I’ve wondered what my finishing time would have been?

The 2017 DMR race was shaping up nicely. The pace was strong. The climbs were long and felt good. Jockeying back and forth with the leaders reassured me that the single speed was a good choice for the mountain terrain. I really wasn’t sure who the other 2 racers were. The geared bike racer, Motor Mile Racing, would catch back up, setting a hard pace on the flatter sections. He would drag Redbeard (Jamis) and myself with him.

About halfway into the race, at the water station, I was left behind. I was still filling my bottles and looked up and they were gone! They were swift. They showed no mercy to wait for me, so I picked up the pace. An occasional glimpse of Redbeard kept the adrenaline flowing. Visions of catching back up with the 2 on one of the long climbs keep me motivated.

I wanted redemption. It’s haunted me ever since I made the wrong turn near the finish, the left turn onto Wilderness Road (FS 90) down the mountain to Triple Hill Road. And then back up the mountain again. It’s been tugging at me for several years.

I was wishing for a window of fair weather after Thanksgiving and before year end. I had been watching the weather forecast closely to find that the 11th forecasted perfectly. It was a December warm front followed by colder temperatures and rain on Saturday. Friday, the 11th looked like it was my last chance. So, I rearranged my schedule to pull the trigger and overnighted at Mulberry Gap. Daytime temperatures were forecasted in the high 60’s. The weather was ideal!

It would have been comfy, in case of a mishap, or perhaps if I didn’t show that evening, you know, to have someone on standby or even an emergency contact on alert. But, conflicting schedules didn’t allow it. I couldn’t get any takers. It was now . . . or never.

I have to admit I was a nervous, just a bit. In fact, I was really scared. Anything could happen to me. I am too old for this, I thought. Only “Kate”, who took my Mulberry Gap registration, knew my intentions. Of course, Jeanne, my wife knew. But, I had convinced her that if I had a mishap, a heavier traffic day on Saturday, would find me wrapped up in my SOL Emergency Bivvy. The forecasted nighttime temperatures were unseasonably 50ish for Friday night. So there’s a very good chance that I wouldn’t freeze to death. LOL!

Friday morning’s start was frigid. The first long climb heated me up quickly, so I was tossing gloves and cap near the top of FS68. I still hadn’t seen anyone out this morning, even as I passed a group of cabins at the top of the climb.

FS 17 descent was fast, rocky and rutted. It was definitely the roughest section. Hunting for a smooth line at high speeds and watery eyes was challenging. Since I was solo, I was more cautious and braking more than I would if racing with a group. I feared oncoming traffic cutting the inside turns. The rigid fork was bobbing my head. Braking too often was causing me to lose time. The fully rigid machine made this section feel like the roughest section of the DMR course.

After a allowing the rotors to cool for a few miles, I stopped to spin the rear wheel by hand. I wanted to check to see if the rear rotor was rubbing like it does sometimes in the past. It was rubbing! Bum! This has been a repeated problem for whenever I get on the brakes really hard. I was hoping for some more trail magic here. I pressed on.

I still hadn’t seen anyone today, only a parked ranger truck at the check station at the bottom of the mountain on FS17. Later, there were a few vehicles parked after crossing the bridge and turning right on 221. I hadn’t passed any oncoming vehicles.

After a short while onto Big Frog(FS62), I smelled something. Something new. It was unusual. But, it was a pleasant smell. Like that of a soap, a body wash, or maybe even a shampoo? It was the strangest thing, because I didn’t see anyone. Nor had I seen anyone all day. I’ve found that my sense of smell is very, very keen since the loss of my hearing. I’ve even been told that your other senses make up for the loss of one. I thought perhaps there was a hiker in the area. The fragrance was still lingering. As a rounded a curve, I know it had to have been at least 5, maybe even 7 minutes before the fragrance, I happened upon 2 cyclist spread across the road. Yeah! I shouted. It really was a wonderful surprise to finally see someone else!

In hindsight, I realized that I wasn’t very friendly with them and later was sorry for not slowing down to chat a moment. It’s not that I’m unfriendly; I just can’t hear what they would have been saying. So, I shouted out a “HI!” while passing and kept rolling. I was focusing on the effort and even considered the possibility of being DQ’d if I’d come too close to them.

I was anxious for FS62 to end. It was difficult to find a smooth line. It was rough and rocky.

The right turn onto FS221 brought big smiles to my face! It had been freshly machined. It was much smoother than I can ever remember. I felt like I was riding on radials. FS221 was pleasant.

The next section, FS 62 was my favorite! I love the endless stream that follows for miles. I love how it meanders and the cool air it creates. This section is absolutely a taste of heaven. It was unusual, though, that there wasn’t anyone camping along the creek side.

Honestly, I didn’t realize who he was. I didn’t know who I was racing with. I’d seen Redbeard on podiums, but with my hearing loss, I’d never heard a name. I’d seen him on FB and cheered for him in the World CX Championship. I was shocked, seriously, to find it was Thomas. What the heck was he doing on a single speed, anyway? LOL! I was honored when the podium was announced.

I was straddling the fence with whether to use water bottles or a hydration pack? Or both? After wrestling with it, I favored 3 water bottles instead of carrying having the weight on my back. I was taking small sips, mindfully resisting taking a gulp. I wanted to stretch the 3 bottles as far as I could. I figured I could always dip some from the stream, if needed. Since I needed to travel as light as possible, I left the water filtration behind.

It was probably just minutes after sucking the last drop from the bottle when I happened upon the spring pipe. This HAD to be trail magic. It was so cool! I knew the spring was somewhere in the area, but not exactly where. I had missed it several times before - during the summer when it was camouflaged with plants. The fountain of youth stood out today. The plants around it had died back. I felt like I had to be pretty close to the finish, so I filled just one bottle and continued to climb (I intentionally avoid watching the odometer, for I’ve found this can be too discouraging). The thought of the spring water being impure briefly passed through my mind.

Today’s plan was simple. With the shorter days, I need to beat nightfall. I had attached a light to the handlebar – just in case –and to ride ‘till exhausted. After gulping down the full water bottle, I felt good. Really good! There was still room in the basement.

Although my body wasn’t feeling any fatigue, my eyes felt fried. My vision was blurring, making it hard to see. This has never, ever, happened to me before. Perhaps it was just an age kind thing? Perhaps, my eyes were tired from straining to find the smoothest line? Perhaps they were tired from bobble heading from the rigid fork? The DMR course required hours of total concentration, searching for the smoothest line. Perhaps they were overworked? Whatever the reason, my eyes had had enough.

The Death March Revival course made for a perfect day. I wish there was a way to preserve day’s like today. I wish there was a way put it into a can, and open it up when needed. It was a good day to be alive; a great day to be healthy; a monumental day to be rolling the revival!

The Death March Revival course was hard but doable. It was a spiritual revival. It challenged and humbled the mind, the body, and even the spirit. It was Godly.

I’m hoping to save room in the basement for a DMR on a full-suspension!