Up the singletrack climb for a second time, actually felt better than the first which is probably due to the fact of having seen it already and knowing what to expect. Left on the top of the ridge this time and I'm thinkin okay, ridge top goodness that may be tech but maybe some "free" miles of twisty, flowy trail. Not exactly. The trail was super fun but pretty rocky and definitely up and down. It was amazing how high off of the valley floor the trail was and that it follow the top of a ridge and still had that much climbing. Every now and then the trail would drop a little then go right back up without many switchbacks. On and off the bike but the sun was out and just kept moving at a quick pace. It was refreshing in a way to not know a trail, not have a watch on, and not have a bike computer-no real sense of mileage, time-just ride hard until this thing was over. Finally passed the EMT-type guy who we had been told at the start was the only person on the ridge section we would see because there was only one way off the ridge (about halfway) and that he would have a phone. Smiled, waved kept truckin and for the first time started to think about the water situation. I was traveling light with one bottle and for the distance of the race and two rest stops, one seemed to be the way to go-plus I don't drink alot. However this trail was proving to be relatively slow going and I wondered if I was going to screw myself. Also, it was becoming clear that the little ups were not the "soul crushers" for sure and that there was still some riding to do. Rolled along, finally crossed a power line cut that was in the photos we saw pre-race and then started to descend a decent amount. Looked ahead across a saddle in the ridge and saw the first of the "soul crushers". I had actually tagged on with a guy that I had seen with flats earlier and he had caught me and we were doing the leapfrog thing. Walking steady up, calves were beginning to protest, water almost gone this is truly an epic course so far and there was still probably 10 miles left. Along the ridge, another big walk and just when I was about to really start cursing the arrows pointed left and that meant DOWN!! Finally some real downhill and just like earlier the downhill was super fast not technical and crazy narrow! Down, down and finally rest stop #2.
Drank water, ate fig newtons, ate pringles and was glad to just stop for a minute. As one of the fine folks at the rest stop was checking numbers I heard "we have only had 16 through" and with two others standing there with me I thought I must be on a good pace still. Someone also mentioned it was 2:30 and I quickly realized that I had just done the hardest 32 miles ever, and still had 8 to go. Back on the bike and immediately the singletrack went up and if fresh would have been a great climb-smooth, not crazy steep but at this point walking was the option for alot of it. Got on top of another ridge and the trail was like the other ridgetop-rocky, up and down just not as long. Downhill came pretty quick and was an awesome dirt ribbon with tighter switchbacks than the King and dropped down into this little valley and followed a creek for awhile. Up one more time, then down and the trail started to open up, get really smooth and fast then finally dumped out onto gravel and I knew the end was coming soon. Gravel turned to pavement and rolled around to the backside of New Castle. I pedaled my ass off because I still could and I was close to the finish. Rolled in with a total time of 5 hours and 16 minutes for 13th place so I was very happy. I stood in my riding clothes for many minutes and opened a beer and realized that was the hardest race I've ever done. The course was brutal with no free miles and you had better know how to ride or you could get seriously injured. I called Sweet Mama next to let her know that I was alive and then I really started thinking about Larry. He had definitely crossed my mind several time during the day and I was just hoping that he was enjoying the trail. I knew he would be fine because he can ride the hell out of a mountain bike and has seen and ridden every type of trail, I was just hoping he wasn't cussing me because of how long this thing really was taking. I also thought of Ed and that I was really glad he didn't come because this was not his favorite type of trail for sure. He could have done it but he probably wouldn't have enjoyed himself. About the time I was sort of feeling normal again a car pulled up and Larry and some others got out. I was glad to see him and see that he wasn't hurt and began telling me about just having hydration issues and generally a bad feeling, luckily enough where the EMT guy was which gave him an opportunity to get off the ridge. It sounded like this alternate trail-the Turkey trail-has been used in previous versions of this race and that it ended up being a super fun downhill, like the others, that took him down to the road that we had started on. There he hooked up with some fine folks that we from nearby and they gave him a lift back to the start/finish area. I knew he really was feeling bad when he didn't want a beer at first-he came around pretty quick though-and we enjoyed some food and good conversation with some other folks from Asheville and eventually got on the road. Its always fun talking about the trails and emotions after the fact and I'm truly grateful to have someone like Larry as a friend and his ride, after not doing alot of riding for a few week, is the most impressive of the day. Believe that this is the hardest course of its kind out there-harder than the Swank by a long shot. It took pro-boy winner 4 hours!!!!
BTW we killed the hell out of some Cracker Barrel breakfast food for dinner near the VA/TN border and it was so good.
Also, while we were on uber adventure silliness, others from Team Ed were at Tsali XC racing some singlespeeds. Keith "more beautiful than Derek" D. brought home best honors with a 5th place finish! The Hammer had some chain issues or he would have been in the mix as well. Maybe I need to do an XC cause if me, the Hammer, and K.D. were racing each other no one else would have a chance- and that's everyone, especially anyone else from K-town.
Late note-ED texted me Saturday evening from the finish at the 6 hour race he did near Charlotte that simply said: "I won!" Way to go ED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!