Carey Lowrey 6/29/17
After working for 3 days, getting up at 4 am on Thursday, and having an unfavorable HRV score, I was going to be in for a long full day of suffering. But to us crazy bike addicts, we need this fix, and I am no different. I love pushing my body and my mind. I love discovering that I can exceed my perceived limits...
After working for 3 days, getting up at 4 am on Thursday, and having an unfavorable HRV score, I was going to be in for a long full day of suffering. But to us crazy bike addicts, we need this fix, and I am no different. I love pushing my body and my mind. I love discovering that I can exceed my perceived limits.
This route takes place in my "backyard." I have ridden about 70% of this course, but in bits and pieces. To do this all in one day, self-supported, required a bit of planning. I used the same set up as for the Dirty Kanza 200, to which I added water purification tabs and some $$.
Bike: Niner RDO RLT
Wheels: Industry 9 Ultralite CX (23.5 mm internalwidth)
Tires: Maxxis Rambler 60tpi 40 mm front, 38 mm rear
Drivetrain: SRAM Force CX1 with RaceFace Next SL crank, 10-42 cassette, and 34T chain ring
Bar: Easton EC70 AX gravel bar (love the 16 degree flare, more control)
Seatpost: Niner RDO
Seat: Specialized S-Works Phenom
Pedals: Xpedo M Force 8 Ti
Not knowing which stores might be open and what they offered (since I am celiac, my choices are limited) and knowing what my body fuels the best on, I carried all my calories. I also started my ride with 56 ounces of Skratch. I love my Hand Up Gloves water bottles as they carry 28 ounces each.
- 7 gels, 1 of which was caffeinated
- Fizz electrolyte tabs
- 3 Honey Stinger gluten free waffles
- 1 Ally's Bar
- 1 RX bar
- 2 home made rice cakes
- 1 Honey Stinger chews
Dawn was breaking as I left Kim's propery off of Greasy Creek Road. I immediately began climbing on pavement. Turning onto Kimsey Mountain Highway, which starts out as a rough paved unlined road. Around the 3-4 mile mark, I had my first dog encounter, a large Great Pyrenees, who was sleeping in the road (just tells you how traveled this road is). I screamed at him in my most manly voice. He gave a half hearted chase for about 10 yards. Nonetheless, it got my adrenaline going. The road turned to gravel in another mile or so. After climbing for 10 miles and 3000 feet, I hit the ridgline just in time to watch the sun peak out from behind the mountains. Spectacular.
Turning left onto Smith Mountain Road (FS 80), the gravel got chunkier and the road bed contained slabs of rock. It was mostly downhill with a few rollers. One of the most technical descents of the day; glad I was fresh!
A right on McFarland Road (FS23) gave way to smooth gravel. A couple miles on this and then I made a left on Lost Creek Road (FS103). Another fairly smooth road with minimal gravel. One of my favorite gravel roads in this area as the climbs have a nice grade (4-6%) and have some rolling sections to keep the legs fresh.
28 miles in and I popped out onto Hwy 30 with a nice paved descent into Reliance. I stopped at Webb Store, Although they didn't open until 9 am, the bathroom door was open and I was able to refill my bottles, and re-Butt'r down under. It was here that I filled up a 3rd bottle, for I knew I had a ways to go to get to Coker Creek.
I crossed the Hiwassee River bridge and took a left on Hambright Road (paved). After a few miles, it then turns into an old abandoned 4 wheel drive trail with HUGE mud holes. There is a railroad that parallels this section, and when I have ridden this in the past, I have used the railroad tracks to avoid this mudfest and the creek crossing which can be very deep. But, for this ITT, one must take the trail, as it technically is illegal to travel on the tracks. AND, which could ruin Kim's chances of getting the proper permits for a race in the future.
Fortunately the creek was only mid-calf deep and the mud holes were mostly passable. I did have to bushwack around 2 large ones that took up the whole trail. And am now waiting to break with poison ivy!
Be wary of trying to ride the edge of these mud holes. This mud is like peanut butter! And they are deep enough to house a Loch Ness monster.
Turning right onto Spring Creek Road (FS 27), I enjoyed the 4 mile flat smooth gravel that parallels the creek. As I passed the gun range, which I have done a million times before, someone shot off what sounded like a cannon. Scared the bejesus outta me!
Left onto Hwy 315 for a short ride on pavement over to Starr Mountain Road (FS 44). It starts out with a short climb, followed by a short descent, and then a 3 mile grind to the ridge. Well, it seems that everyone with a rear wheel drive vehicle decided to drive up this gravel in the week previous, as the road was chewed up; ALL the gravel was loose. It was like climbing on marbles! I was glad I had changed my ring from a 36 to a 34 as I was unable to stand without spinning out.
At the top, I pulled out my phone, since I knew I could get a signal. I let my husband know I was 46 miles in and doing well. I called Zeke as well. After a short ridgeline ride, it was on to a super fun fast descent. I shot out onto Bullet Creek Road down to Hwy 315. Left on 315, a short ride, and then right onto Ivy Trail Road.
Now, I was thinking that the "connectors" from 315 to 68 and then later on 68 to 315 were just going to be some rolling pavement. Oh, no! Ivy Trail went straight "the hell" up. And this is where I said, "Good God!" the first of many times to come. And when I thought I could go no higher, around the corner it continued UP. Yeah, one of those roads. There were a few more paved roads (Towee Falls, Epperson, and Hot Water) before I crossed Hwy 68 over to Coker Creek Welcome Center. I think I had another dog encounter somewhere along here.
At the welcome center, I was at mile 68. I went inside to use their restroom and see what food they had to offer. Don't put this on your list as a reliable source of nutrition. There was a basket, maybe 2 feet by 1 foot. In it was 10 tiny bags of chips, 10 packs of crackers, a few single serve packages of Oreos, and then about 20 mini size Milky Ways and Baby Ruths. I did buy a few Baby Ruths, just because I used their facilities to refill my bottles.
After doing a mental calculation of my nutrition (200 kcal/hour) and water (20 ounces/hour), I was on track. Having to pee was also a good sign. I set a 15 minute alert on my Garmin to remind me to drink and fuel. I turned on my phone to see if I could call my hubby with an update. No service.
Joe Brown Hwy soon turned from pavement to gravel (FS40). This was also another nice climb and shorter than I had remembered. It was a small victory to see the sign for the Unicoi Multiuse Trail so quickly. Heading down the backside of Unicoi Gap was another fun, fairly smooth descent. There was a lot of loose gravel in the corners, so I had to put my drifting skills to use. Much harder on skinnies!
At the bottom, I took a right onto Shuler Creek Road (FS 1322) and enjoyed the 5 mile flat fast gravel over to the Buck Bald climb. This also parallels a beautiful creek. I used the easy miles to stretch out my upper back, particularly my left shoulder, that was beginning to ache. I kicked it into a harder gear as I approached another potential dog(s). One gave a pretty aggressive chase, but I still had some energy to channel my inner Mark Cavendish.
Taking a right on Old Hwy 68 (FS 311), I began the 6 miles climb up to Buck Bald. I love this climb, but I usually don't have 76 miles in my legs. Today, it was a grunt. This is where I first felt some heavy fatigue in the legs. Mentally, though, I was in a great state. If you don't already know, the reward at the top is well worth it!
The descent off Buck Bald down to Hwy 68 was quite chunky. I felt a rear wheel rim hit and slowed it down a bit. A short ride on Hwy 68 before turning left onto Bailey Road. Trudy had warned me of the dogs here. No joke! Two large pit bulls who looked like they wanted to rip my throat out. And it was on a climb, so I could not out sprint them. I had prayed while descending down FS 311 about what I was about to encounter. The last thing I wanted was to be taken out by a serious crash caused by a dog or getting bitten. 50 yards away and they saw me and started coming after me. Off to my left in the middle of the road was a 4 foot rather stout tree limb. I picked it up. Stopped those two dogs dead ... in ... their ... tracks! Apparently they knew what this object could do. It got me safely by. Note: these dogs are on the left about a 1/2 mile after you turn left onto Bailey.
After this encounter, Bailey Road then shot straight up into the heavens. Good God! How can it be uphill both ways? Meaning, from 315 to 68 seemed all uphill and now that I am going from 68 back to 315, I would expect more downhill. I was now around mile 87 and found myself weaving back and forth on my 34 x 42! I turned left onto Duckett Ridge and was still climbing. This soon turned to gravel (FS 22). Guess what? Still climbing! Finally I hit the ridge and FS 22 suddenly became fun. Fast and rolling and then a great big descent! I envisioned this descent carrying me all the way down to Childers Creek. But soon I was greeted with 2, maybe 3 big ass kickers. Legs hurting, I struggled to maintain an RPM of 50 on these loose gravely climbs. Good God!
Eventually the whippings subsided and I had some rolling gravel and then pavement (Duckett Ridge, Fingerboard, Cox) over to Childer's Creek Road. Mostly downhill, I saw mile 98 on my Garmin. When I hit the Childer's Creek-Powerhouse Road intersection, I made the decision to purify water out of the Hiwassee as opposed to the 0.5 mile out and back to the convenience store. 0.5 miles just sounded too long at this point in my journey.
There is a grunty little climb on Powerhouse before you descend down to the river. This is then followed by 3-4 miles of pleasantly flat pavement. I had a chance to look up at the sky and saw dark clouds in the distance. There was a 30% chance of afternoon storms. Even though it was hot, I did not want to have to dodge lightning bolts once I was back up on one of the highest points of the day's ride. I stopped at the river put in, used their restroom, and filled 2 bottles out of the river. The clouds appeared to be getting closer. Well, nothing like a brewing storm to motivate me to push a bit harder.
After crossing the suspension bridge, Smith Creek Road (FS236) greets you with a loose, marbly 3 mile climb with just enough false flats to question your sanity. Good God! This was a slog. I was at mile 105 when I turned left onto McFarland Road (FS 23). A nice 3 mile reprieve for the legs, but I knew what lay ahead. I had made it a little bit easier in my mind by telling myself that this course is really only 120 miles, as the last 10 are all downhill. So it did help at the moment, knowing I only had 15 to go. But, it was mostly uphill, with one of the gnarliest gravel roads ahead.
As I began the final grueling climb on FS23, the rain started, light at first, but then it got to the point where I needed to put my shower cap on my helmet and my phone in my Ziploc. Yes, a shower cap. It keeps the head dry and a dry head equals a warm head, which helps to keep the core warm. And it keeps the rain from running into my eyes. The rain subsided at the top.
Turning right onto Ditney Mountain Road (FS 66) I figured I had 7 miles to go to the final descent. This road is more like rugged rocky double track; definitely one where I would prefer a mountain bike. The slabs of rock that stretched out across the road where wet and slick. It was about 1000 feet of hard climbing (on very tired legs) in 5 miles. Good God! Halfway up, I took my phone out. I had cell service so I called Zeke and Charlie. Just beyond where I called, I came across a series of 8 downed trees.
With about 2 miles left of FS 236, I heard thunder and then the heavens let loose. The road was soon transformed into a creek. That made for an interesting descent to FS 68. Once on FS 68, I still had 4 miles of climbing left. I was motivated to get finished before I got hypothermic. I rode those last 4 miles hard, not feeling the lactic in the legs, but feeling the adrenaline in my veins as it continued to thunder. Thankfully I never heard nor saw a lightning strike.
Well, the motivator of the last 10 miles being "free miles" came to an abrupt end 1 mile into the descent. The rain had let up, but the "smooth" road I had thought while riding up this section in the wee hours of the morning, had suddenly become very bumpy and rocky. The rocks were now wet and the dirt sections were muddy. The clouds had settled in, lowering the visibility. I had also forgotten to eat anything in the past 90 minutes, so I bonked ... on a descent. I got light headed and with all the jarring, thought my head was going to fall off. I had to stop and take some food in. After a couple minutes I felt like I wasn't going to pass out, so I got back on the bike.
A few minutes later, I thanked my sponsor, Industry 9, for their buzzing hubs. As I came around a corner, a rather large black bear was running down the road in front of me and then shot up the 30% grade hillside like a missile. I am pretty sure he heard me as he was running all out by the time I saw him.
The final descent took twice as long as I had thought. Happy to hit the pavement, I knew the only obstacle that lay ahead was the Great Pyrenees. Sure enough, he was there, but since I was going downhill, I blew by him before he could do anything.
I entered Kim's property at 6:40 pm. My time was 12:54:03. My Garmin said 128 miles and 15,700 feet of climbing. It felt like a lot more climbing than that. And, it was. Topofusion calculated it at 130 miles and 18,271 feet. I'm going with Topo. Moving time was 12:11.
Kim Murrell did an awesome job laying out this course. Beautifully brutal course with a mix of pavement, gravel, rugged gravel, and spectacular views. The GPX file was correct and at no time did I worry I was off course. I love the self supported nature of this event. It is, by far, the hardest 1 day gravel event I have done. In my book, it even trumps DK200. Put it on your list, you crazy gravel ginding crack heads!
Final thoughts: I had 5 dog encounters, just cannot remember all but the two I mentioned. I suppose that is because they were the most aggressive. Water is not a problem, food may be.
The start/finish on Kim's property is primitive, but beautiful. And complete with a nice cool creek to soak your legs.