Sometimes you tame the Lion and sometimes the Lion tames you.
Cranking along Squirrel Gap trail, I knew I had some issues. Every time I tried to kick my power back up a notch, my lower back gave me a clear signal it was pissed with me. A couple of riders worked the rolling rock strew sections just behind me and I asked them if they wanted a pass. Nope, we were rolling along good and all three of us could ride the techy stuff well. I just did not want to slow them down because my back was aching pretty bad.
Squirrel Gap does not let you back off the power much. There are just too many techy sections and short pitchy climbs that demand momentum. They demand leg power. The legs and hips connect to the lower back. Every pulse of power to the pedals was pulling on my aching back. At least Squirrel Gap would start descending soon.
As an odd bit of coincidence, a small gray squirrel got spooked off a tree and started running down the trail in front of me. The little guy did this for a couple of bends and then hopped onto a tree. Squirrel Gap indeed!
Earlier this morning the race started from the Cradle of Forestry center located here in the Pisgah Forest. It’s the site of the birthplace of forestry in the US. We rolled out with a police escort and initially there were no antics. Then, the front of the pack missed the left turn and had to do an about face as the rest of us turned left onto the gravel road leading to the climb up single track.
After a couple of minutes on gravel, I believe everyone was back to their normal riding line up and we made a sharp uphill climb on Club Gap, same as yesterday. Just like yesterday it was very steep and tricky to ride up with many riders dismounting from time to time.
We continued to climb up Black Mountain and soon were rolling single track on top that became more technical as it descended to Buckhorn Gap. A steep set of water bar steps/drops put us right in front of a ripping descent down Buckhorn Gap. We had climbed much of this trail on day 1, but it was much faster descending it!
Then we turned right onto Mills River trail and I powered away in the big ring of my triple at an alarmingly fast pace. A rider from New Brunswick, Canada was riding with me and I told him to let me know if he wanted a pass. He was cool and said we were rolling along good. We powered through all of Squirrel Gap together.
Squirrel Gap sure rides a lot different depending on which direction you ride it in. Today we were riding in more of the descending direction. Technical features we saw creeping towards us during the climb up the trail on Day 1 came flying up to us on the way down. Plus, a lot of these features are right where a tree is. You can see the technical line when climbing, but when descending, sometimes the entrance was nearly blind because the trunk of the tree blocked line of sight. We finished with a steep, choppy, technical descent.
Next a fast and dirty trail with a moderate downward grade took us toward the next double track climb. This section of trail had lots of root drops and small rocks littering the surface. One of the fast guys in my class got KO when he had a hard crash on this section. He would go on to finish well though, that’s pretty tough!
When the double track climb started I knew things were going south for me. My back really hurt and I kept clicking into lower and lower gears. I should have been pushing a decent pace p this climb, but I just could not make it happen. Soon, I started to get passed. I got passed a lot. Towards the top I stopped for a minute to stretch. I got back on the bike and used almost the easiest gears I had. Not good. Still a lot of problems with the back.
I decided to bag it at Aid 1, just before a very long and technical climb up Laurel Mountain. Better to save the back so I can hopefully ride the last 2 stages well.
I took the fire road back to the finish. It was still a pretty good haul, maybe 10 or 12 miles of rolling gravel. Oh well, still a lot easier than climbing Laurel, and hey, I’m on my bike in the woods and not at a desk.
It felt strange to crawl through the finish covering my number and explaining I was a DNF. There is always tomorrow.
I got cleaned up and headed back to the finish and waited for other riders. My friend Tyler came in and looked rough. He had a bad crash coming off the very last bit of Pilot Rock and took a beating. Damn son, tough break!
We took some time to recover with a good lunch at the café. Later we attended the evening’s video presentations and awards party. It was a lot of fun with plenty of fresh war stories and good eats.
Tomorrow is another Stage.