This time around was a bit better, at least for a while. I was late getting over to the Arboretum, and thankfully Nolan and Stephen waited for me -- I was absolutely flying to get there from NMR, and burned a few matches making my way up and over Bent Creek Gap. I'd never made the crossing before, so I ended up taking the long way around to the back entrance of the Arb, where Stephen was waiting -- the trip is is not entirely downhill but thankfully is most of the way. Still, churning and burning on a 5.5 in. travel bike with no suspension lockout isn't the most efficient way to make up time!
We collected Nolan and headed back up. These gravel roads were new to me, and were really fun! Singletrack is great, but I guess I'm still new enough to the area that getting out and climbing some two-track is A-OK in my book. The long loop around was nice and cool, our first cloudy and cold day in a long time, and I cruised with Nolan chatting about his new little boy and our impending house purchase. And then we made the turn onto 479 and were staring straight up the hill ...
We grunted it out, and made it back to the Gap. Nolan decided to cruise home, and Stephen and I had a brief debate about whether to ride up Trace Ridge or down. Now, he was on a hardtail Siren and I was on the souped-up Mojo, and add in this weird conversation vortex that seems to happen every time the DRC gets together, and you can kind of grasp how difficult it was to make this decision. Nolan's lucky he missed it.
Anyway, we decided to go up, which meant cruising 5000 to the trailhead. And it was cold -- like, mid-60s cold, after having climbed and sweated for the previous hour. It's been a long time since I was that cold on a ride, and I kind of checked out a bit mentally on the downhill. Add in several days of killer workouts, and truth be told, I wasn't all that ready to tackle Trace. And it showed.
Stephen's account is too kind -- really, he was racing darkness and I was racing demons. He cleared stuff he'd never cleared before, while I was reduced to crawling up the rocks and frequently spinning the rear tire on damp roots. And being such a good friend, his form of encouragement was fantastic ... when I told him I was having a bad day, he replied, deadpan, "Yup, you are." I mean, geez!
I still haven't gotten the hang of the Mojo in pedal mode quite yet -- for instance, I big-ringed 5000 to the Gap on my first ascent on the gravel, but then couldn't get it together in the granny to make it up parts of Trace. Add in a gut-bomb from eating breaded-and-fried goodies from Okie Dokie's the night before, and tired legs from three previous days of mountain climbing on my bike, and let's just say it wasn't pretty.
And then it got weird -- we were heading down Spencer, being smart on the wet rocks, and all of a sudden I was flying sideways, doing a kick-out in mid-air. I landed on my left side, re-twisting my ankle, my bike half-buried in the sandy soil. WTF?! Stephen said it was cool to watch; all I know is that it hurt to land. Best we could figure is I caught an edge on my tire tread in the sand, causing me to unweight the rear just as it hit a rock, flipping me out and sending me sprawling. No skidmark, no chance to react, just down. And out.
Everything was mostly OK, though, and we finished out the trail and popped back onto the road. I had promised to ride Stephen back up to the Gap, but that was before I knew he'd drill it -- and I was cooked. Done. Finis. It was all I could do to stay with him, and two turns before the top I cried uncle. I was seeing stars, gasping for breath and was all over the bike, ragged and barely hanging on. I didn't want to make him any later, but I just couldn't finish the climb at that pace, and he was nice enough to ease off and roll it up with me. It was a painful way to finish this training block, which probably means it was exactly what I needed ...
I turned around and took it easy on the roll back to the car, which is thankfully very downhill. Even so, I was happy to step off the bike when I got back to the river, and crawling into bed last evening was absolutely heavenly -- my body was done. This morning the coffee tastes good, and is probably the only thing keeping me upright ...
Thanks again to the DRC for a great ride, and can't wait to get back out there again soon!