Blood Sweat and Gears 2013

This summer I rode in the mountain century called Blood, Sweat and Gears, which begins in Valle Crucis and wanders around the northwest part of North Carolina and even a little into Tennessee before it climbs back to the start.  This is the fourth or fifth time I've ridden that race.  My family was along for this one, and my son, Teddy, made this video.

Here's what I wrote about the day in an email to some friends:

The most important thing about BSG is what we all, who have tested ourselves against that ride, share in common: the daunting challenge, the fear of Snake, the cramps, the stomach that can't take one more gel pack, the sheer exhaustion, and the thrill of finishing.  It was so good to see Don and David Carson at the finish.  It's a brotherhood born of pain, grit, and an inexplicable willingness to go through that yet again.  

BSG is not just a race, it is an adventure.  Everyone who has ridden it has stories to tell.  There was the year Burke had like two or three flat tires and finished anyway.  There is the epic story of John Simonds outsmarting the course and coming in sub-6.  I remember the first year I did it, Julian and I went around the course and hid coolers of water bottles along the way--he was so afraid of dehydrating.  

So, for whoever is interested, here is my story from this year.  I really wanted to finish sub-6.  I've been chasing that for years.  I had a plan, and for the most part it worked.  I started much further up in the pack than I was comfortable doing.  That meant that I probably caught a faster train than in the past.  But what was a tactical advantage was a psychological disadvantage--I'm used to passing people on Shull's Mill, but yesterday I got passed by lots of guys with more gas, who started behind me.  I was pretty shot at the top of Shull's Mill, but I just kept pedaling by faith and not by sight (I was spread out and was afraid I'd hit the Parkway all by myself).  But somewhere on Green Hill Road I caught up with a sizable peloton, and so I got on the BRP with a nice draft.  That was God's first great gift to me.  

Seemed like that group merged with a couple of others, and at one time I thought I counted 50-60 riders.  They definitely helped me keep my average speed up, and for the most part we stayed together all the way to the bottom of Snake.  I stopped for water there and then headed up Snake all by my lonesome.  (There is, as the eloquent John Simonds says, really no other way to climb that bad boy.)  I was a bit behind my goal, but still in reach.  Snake was bad, but it's been worse. Until the top.  My family (Desiree, son Teddy, sister-in-law, and parents--we were making a weekend of it) were waiting at "the top," as I had asked, to hand me water.  Problem was, they thought that the last bend in the hairpin was close enough to count for the top, and when I passed them they were yelling nonsense like "Way to go!  You made it!" and trying to hand me water bottles.  It was all could do to say, in a not very courteous tone, "Not now.  At the top."  That was my first mistake.  Anyone who has climbed Snake knows how it takes every ounce of energy and focus just to turn the pedals one more time.  But I missed my chance to get water from them.  I stopped at the top, filled my bottles from the coolers at the station, and looked back to see if they were coming.  For some crazy reason I don't understand, I even headed back down the road a piece just to see if they were coming.  Pretty soon I realized that no familial rendezvous was going to happen, and I decided to ride on.  But when I got on my bike, my chain had come off and was jammed between the front crank and the frame so tight that I had to pull with both hands until my fingers were cut to get it back on.  So when I headed down Snake, I was pretty much defeated: I had missed seeing my family, missed their cold water bottles, wasted 4-5 minutes, and bloodied myself.  I was over the edge of the time I had given myself to get to the top of Snake, and I figured I was riding now for an Almost-Six finish.  On the way down Snake, I saw a guy standing on the second hairpin, with his bike wrapped around a fence post, reminding me of the dangers of that descent.  I was so tired and discouraged that at the bottom, around a gentle turn on a fairly flat incline, I lost my focus and wandered too far toward the road's edge.  When I looked up, I was soon running out of pavement, with no shoulder.  I headed straight for the ditch, slammed on the brakes, and tumbled head over heals, with the bike on top of me.  The ditch was shallow and wet.  That was God's second gift to me.  

After a quick inspection of the bike (I had to pull a lot of weeds and a bit of poison ivy out of my cassette and derailleur), I managed to remount and peddle on.  My right quad began to cramp, as it almost always has on the back side of Snake, and I was pretty much like Sisyphus at that point, pedaling on without hope but only determination to do what I could do.  Somewhere on Hwy 88 or Old Hwy 421 (it all kind of mushes together in my mind at that point of the race) I caught on to a couple of guys who were faster than I on the flats, and I managed to sustain something like 26 mph for a blessed stretch.  That was God's third gift to me.  

Georges Gap was Georges Gap.  I had planned to meet my family there too, but they never passed me and I didn't think there was another way there from Snake, so I assumed (rightly, it turned out) that they had wisely headed for the finish.  Still, hope springs eternal, and when I rounded the last big hairpin to the left, I thought that, wonder of wonders, they might just be there.  Or, maybe somehow, miraculously, Greg and Tony would have appeared with a cold Gatorade, in just the spot where they have been before.  Thirsty reality set in, however, and there was nothing to do but press on.  When we hit the big straight climb up to 321, the guy next to me said, "Damn, I thought we were done with the climbing!"  A rookie, obviously.  (Reminds me of the guy who, back on some 8% hill on 194 had the audacity to ask, "Is this Snake?")  I tried to find a train to hop on to maximize my speed.  The only group I could find slowed a bit up one of the hills and I made the decision to go on without them.  Wasn't sure that was wise, but I wasn't really motivated by wisdom at that point.  You guys will remember that the nothing-climbs on those last two roads are so debilitating.  There's one bump on Mast Gap Road that is a psychological killer.  

Of course, all the time, from Snake on, I'm watching my clock, doing calculations in my head ad nauseum (actually, the nausea was probably brought on by four gels, two Cilff bars, a banana, a peanut butter sandwich, a pack of Shot Blocks, a dozen Tums, and countless bottles of water mixed with Nunn tablets, combined with climbs that turn your stomach under any condition).  Anyway, I was about 95% sure I was not going to make my goal.  My odometer read 101 with only about six minutes left before 06:00. Even in my delirium, I knew two things: that the course was 104.5 and that at 20 mph it takes 3 minutes to ride a mile. But I pressed on and then I started seeing familiar sights. I had ridden down Broadstone Road (194) that morning for a warm-up, only about a mile.  Soon I saw the bridge I had crossed and spotted what looked like the old Mast Farm Store.  A mirage, I was sure.  But then I saw the guy in the yellow vest and the orange cones and I realized that my odometer was three miles off over a 100 miles.  That was God's fourth gift to me.  

I crossed the finish and beat six.  My family was there to congratulate me.  That was God's fifth gift to me.  A good day.  


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