I heard about the Dirty 130 last year but hadn't seriously considered giving it a shot until earlier this year. In the last 5 years, I went from primarily racing cyclocross in the fall, to 50 and 100 mile mountain bike races. The grand depart usually fell too close to other races, and up until this year, sounded like more than I wanted to tackle. But since I'd been training in that area quite a bit in the last year, and completed several 100 mile MTB races along with the 140 mile Steamboat gravel race, somehow, 130 miles didn't sound THAT crazy anymore.
It's a perfect place to ride gravel and I really enjoy it out there. So, about the time a lot of mass start races started to cancel this spring, Brad Cobb, John Wiygul and I started doing several 100+ mile training rides in the Reliance and Tellico areas, since we live only about an hour away. So we figured, why not go ahead with the Dirty 130 ITT? We did an initial attempt in June but I flatted too badly to keep going. I was super bummed, but excited for Brad and John who put down incredible times. I knew I'd have to have a perfect day to have a chance at beating John's new FKT.
It got hotter and hotter as the summer went on, so I kept putting off my next attempt since I absolutely despise the humidity. I knew I wanted to give it another shot by the end of the year though. Finally, “perfect weather” was forecasted last weekend (low 40s- high 60s), so I decided this was it and dedicated another weekend to the effort.
Just a little about my setup:
-Trek Checkpoint gravel bike.
-44T front ring and 10-50 rear.
-Ran Panaracer Gravel King 43mm tires.
-Rear tire was the slightly heavier option w/protection casing in hopes of avoiding another race-ending tire slash
-With the cooler temperatures, I carried 3 bottles on the bike starting out so I could bypass Webb Store (first store stop).
I started about 7:45 Saturday morning. Brad set out on his single speed attempt (insane!) around 6 a.m. and John was attempting the reverse course, starting about 10 minutes before me.
Rolling up the Kimsey climb didn't feel awesome right away like I had hoped. But the weather was perfect and it's always beautiful seeing the sun just coming up over the mountains on that climb…hard not to enjoy that! Along the climb, I saw numerous hunters (bear?) with their trucks and dogs out early. Most of them gave me funny looks but I just kept saying hey to each group even though I didn't get much response. I was pleasantly surprised that I arrived at the turn to Smith Mountain in a similar time as my first attempt. I took my time down Smith, trying not to take any risks that might make another flat more likely. That meant trying to pick good lines and float over the rocks as much as possible.
I was so excited to get off Smith Mtn road and get that section behind me after the bad luck from my first attempt. Into the Lost Creek rollers, I saw a lot more hunters, which was also a good reminder to stay on my side of the road and be extra careful around the blind corners. Lost Creek was recently graded but it was nice and tacky in some places where they'd scraped the gravel away, making for a fairly grippy surface that still rolled fast.
I was watching my time as I made my way down highway 30, past the Webb Store, and across the Hiwassee River. I probably pushed a tad too hard in that first 2+ hrs, but I was gunning for my friend and training partner John Wiygul’s record, so it was all or nothing, and I was right on pace!
The Spring Creek Road section was a much-appreciated break from climbing, and I enjoyed just cruising the road along the river, taking in the scenery, and tried to forget that I still had 90+ miles to go. Into the Starr Mountain climb, my plan was to take it a tad more conservative, and save some energy for the climbs late in the route. Well, I took the climb slower, but it still hurt, and I was not feeling too fresh! I knew John's time at Coker Creek, so that was my next goal. I started up the paved Ivy Trail climb and was immediately ready for it to be done with…the Ivy Trail section is definitely not my favorite.
I made it to Coker Creek 7-8 min. behind schedule, and it was at about that time that I knew I wasn't going to be getting close to John's crazy fast time! But I filled up my bottles as quickly as I could with the hose outside, and kept rolling. As I was heading into the next gravel climb I saw John bombing down the hill towards me, looking fast. Another favorite section for me was coming up – a nice flat lead into the start of the Buck Bald Climb, paralleling Shuler Creek, and later the Hiwassee River.
The Shuler Creek road is amazing and I really wanted to just stop and hang out by the creek for a few minutes and chill out, but not today. I was ready to get up to the top of the Buck Bald climb, which is usually a pretty enjoyable climb for me. I like the grade, plus there are a couple short downhill sections to break up the climb…not to mention, the amazing reward of a view at the top. I took the pic of my Garmin at the top, and briefly talked to a couple who asked me where I was riding. I told them I was into a 130-mile route and they acted surprised, and said they weren't even planning to ride their motorcycles that far. I got rolling again down the mountain, and knew I was about 11 or 12 min off record pace. The way I was feeling, I knew I couldn't make up that much time in the remaining 50ish miles, but I still wanted to set a solid time, and for sure finish this thing.
Fingerboard road was up next, and the first part wasn't so bad…some super-fast descents and a few short steep climbs. I weaved through a few more hunting trucks stopped in the middle of the road, and got some weird looks before tackling the never-ending final climb of fingerboard...I always forget just how tough that one is!
As I continued on closer to Childress Hollow Rd, I started debating whether or not to stop at the last store, which is slightly off route. I had a bit over a full bottle, but the remaining food I had consisted of a few gels, which didn't sound appealing. A coke and a Little Debbie was calling my name, so I made the decision to hang a right at the end of Childress and head to the store. I was willing to accept the 5 or 6 min it would take to visit the store in exchange for these items...and who's to say I wouldn't have totally bonked without that store stop?
My selection was a 24 oz coke and an oatmeal cream pie. Onward towards Appalachia powerhouse along the Hiwassee I went…one last mostly flat section before the last two climbs. The climb immediately following the powerhouse has never seemed so steep to me before. I was granny gearing it by this point on most of these climbs and was pumped to make it to the top of the seemingly never-ending rollers.
The last climb starts with a nice gradual grade, and was pretty enjoyable. I made it to the Ditney Mountain turn, and had not been on this section in a while. The slightly rocky double track was nice in that it gave me something to think about…weaving around trying to find the smoothest line, rather than thinking about the 30 minutes more of climbing until the last big downhill.
Getting to the Kimsey Mountain road intersection felt amazing! I knew the end was in sight and seemed to have a big boost of energy for the last kicker…up past the Smith Mtn. Road intersection to the start of the long 25 minute downhill. At this point, I felt like I was making great time, and wished that I could have had that feeling about an hour earlier! I tried to be smart on the downhill, remembering all the traffic on it earlier in the day. At this point I was hoping to break 9:30, so I was hammering any remaining flat or uphills. It felt awesome to finish on a good note rolling into Kim’s property. A dip in the creek with a beer, and I was feeling good as new.…well, not entirely, but it felt pretty incredible for a few minutes! I’m glad to have completed this one, and I would encourage anyone who is thinking about this route to give it a try. It’s truly an amazing course!