Friday, June 10, 2011

tough as iron and skull fragments

Every once in a while a group gets together and does a backcountry ride in the mountains of VA. Iron Mountain they call it and the name is fitting. It's a tough place to ride up and down. This year I've managed to make it twice which is really unusual for me. A majority of the time the ride dates are set on days I work and with the limited amount of vacation I usually have to pass.

I'm supposed to be racing the H8R in Knoxville this weekend but after a date change by the promoter AGAIN, B-Rad my teammate had to bail due to work. I hope this trend does not continue, I would like to step on the podium again and maybe for the overall. I tried rounding up a fill in for B-Rad but that didn't work so I decided to pull out myself and do the Iron Mtn ride with all of the crew.

Watching the thread on my local forum the rider number kept growing and growing. After it was all said and done I added one more and we maxed out the shuttle at 13.

Shuttle? Yep, I had a co-worker looking over my shoulder as I was uploading pics and he asked if I was shuttled to the top of the Creeper. What? This definitely was no Creeper ride!

We had a good crew rolling with us with a wide variety of skill levels making for a fun day on the mountain and no big push to hammer the whole way. We took plenty of stops, took pics, ate PB&J's, talked to horseback riders and had a good laugh at Chris's mismatched kit.

Our first attempt at this ride earlier this year was cut short due to 6 inches of ice covering the fire road ascent to Skull's Gap. There is nothing like a long steep fire road climb straight off the shuttle with no warm-up to get you moving. As we reached the top and waited for all of the crew to regroup we noticed Fat Tony and Sean were missing. Rick announced they were just a 100 yards down the road working on Sean's brakes. Andy and I decided to ride back down and see if we could be of assistance. 1000 yards later we still didn't see any sign of them and almost turned around until they rounded the corner brakes squealing. Andy layed hands on Sean's brakes and commanded them to be quiet and they did. Once he was rolling smoothly and quiet again we climbed back to the top and began the singletrack descent. As we descended I realized why it was named Skull's Gap, it was because of all the skull fragments littering the trail from previous riders who's skill wasn't up to par. The trail was rough, rocky and demanded your full attention or you might find yourself going head first over the bars adding to the collection of skull fragments.

The first, fast smooth fire road descent I noticed just how bad my rear wheel has gotten. My plan was to ride it until it bit the dust before rebuilding it. As the rear end of my bike developed a slight shimmy I decided that time had come.

On Iron Mountain the climbing while not really that long can be rough and steep forcing you to dismount and hike-a-bike often. The descents are worth it but I found myself working almost as hard going down as I did going up. Just staying on my bike and keeping my line became tough. Some descents my arms and hands ached from the beating they took and the constant braking. I'm sure my brake pads are toast now.

At the beginning of the ride I packed as much water as I could hold in my Camel Bak and in water bottles not knowing halfway through the ride we would have a water stop. Next time I'll drop about 5 lbs and only bring what I need.

About 3/4 of the way through the ride I was thinking about how lucky we had been with such a large group and no mechanicals and then it happened. A stick grabbed ahold of Andy's derailleur and decided to go for a ride into his rear wheel. Fortunately the only thing that was destroyed was his derailleur hanger. After some serious trail side work that included trying to straighten his hanger with a rock, Andy finally converted his bike to a 2x1 and rode what he could and walked the rest.

With just a little over 4 miles to go we reached an intersection that split us up. Once choice was to turn left, descend Beech Grove to the Creeper trail and ride the remaining 4 miles into town or go right, climb for about a mile and then descend singletrack into town. Chris and a couple others decided to go left while the rest of us stayed right. As we stood at the intersection trying to figure out who was going where Chris and I started trash talking about which way was the better route. It was finally decided that we would each take our respective trails and race to the cars back in town, the loser had to buy the winner a beer at dinner.

The green flag was dropped and so was the hammer, me climbing him descending. Anthony told me before we started that he thought our route was faster but I wasn't too sure. My legs were toast from all the climbing, hiking and descending but I dug deep and cleaned it. The trail followed the ridge for a while on some of the smoothest singletrack we had ridden all day. I pushed as hard as my legs would allow enjoying every inch of the trail knowing I had chosen the best route no matter if I won or lost. As the trail began to drop off the mountain it the smooth trail turned ugly. The faster I went the more I bounced around, by the time I reached the bottom my arms and legs were screaming. There were several creek crossings near the bottom which I crashed through splashing water all over me. It felt nice and helped wash some of the mud off that I had accumulated over the ride. I popped out of the woods onto the asphalt, locked out the squish, ran through the gears and put the hammer down pointing the JET in the direction of town. The JET is not really known for it's speed especially on asphalt but the only cars that passed me were the ones going the opposite way.

As I rounded the corner I stood up trying to scan the parking lot for any signs of Chris. At first I didn't see anyone but the closer I got there he stood with a big smile on his face. He pulled in 30 seconds before me and as promised I bought his first beer.

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