Sunday, January 25, 2015

Wild Azalea Trail Challenge: 50 miles (or slightly less in my case) of fun?!

As with most of my stupid adventures I decided at the last minute to enter the Wild Azalea Challenge by signing up for the 50 mile mountain bike race.  I found out about it on 20 December 2014 and the event was to take place on 3 January 2015.  At the point that I signed up I had only ridden my mountain bike on single track about 3 times since my shoulder surgery in April.  So I followed my usual training plan.  Sign up at the last minute and then:

1. Ride as much as possible:  As stated I had only ridden a mountain bike on single track about 3 times so I made an effort to check out part of the trail.  One day I rode 10 miles, a few days later I rode 20 miles, then the final ride of 10 miles.  I have done a reasonable amount of gravel and my legs felt strong.  It rained a ton during the two weeks leading up to the event so it was limited use of the trails.   

2. Get a good set of tires: Meh, who can afford a new set of fat bike tires so I ran with good old Larrys.

3. Drink a bunch of water: I actually made a conscious effort at drinking water in advance for a couple of days and it paid off.  I may need to make this a trend.

4. Shove my jersey pockets as full of calories: I bought a bunch of stuff though it was raining so hard that my plan of using a feed bag on the handle bars failed.  I just made sure I ate something every 45min-1 hour.  I am getting good at this and it makes a big difference.  They have good food drops every 5-10 miles.

I truly love the Wild Azalea Trail, it has a very traditional feel to it.  It is not heavily engineered for mountain bikes as some of the newer mountain bike parks.  I have been on some mountain bike specific trails that if ridden in the intended direction they are smooth and flow but if you go the wrong direction they are unpleasant to ride.  It is a 27 mile trail end to end with a large spur of trails and has some variety but can be ridden in either direction easily.....or not.

 The Wilde Azalea Trail and this stretch on the Kincaid Lake Trail are well maintained.  Clearly not taken on race day; this bridge was soaked and slick.

Salsa Mukluk
This is a good image showing some of the lowland trails and you can see that will a ton of rain these areas become challenging.  The higher areas drain well....into these areas.

The weather forecast was dismal.  It got worse by the day and much of the discussion on the Facebook was geared towards the conditions with concerns about safety and cost of replacing parts.  At no point was I turned off by the weather.  My job has taught me to embrace the suck so really once you are soaked it doesn't matter.

The prediction was spot on for 3 January.

At Woodworth, the start of the race was pretty uneventful, it was 1 1/2 miles to the trail head from the parking lot so the fast guys took off like lightning so there wasn't a bunch of crowding on the trail during the initial miles.  Again, this a long trail and it is reasonably well maintained with some areas easier to ride than others.  The first few miles were through pretty dense brush with nice wait-a-minute vines to grab hold of anything they can.  Did I mention it was raining reasonable hard?

One gentlemen in front of me had his rear derailleur sheered off by something and down he went. As I progress I found that my brakes were obnoxious loud.  No doubt there was muds and crud causing some of the noise but at times it was unbearable.  It was not the pinging sound of a rotor that was slightly bent.  It was just loud.  But I pushed through....that is how I roll.

I would say that if you didn't know how to embrace the suck, the first 16 miles of this ride would be....well "suck."  It was through some real low land with high water table which meant that it was swampy and muck.  It was to the point where I just got off and pushed because my rear end was coming around.  Did I mention that there was an ultra marathon taking place as well?  Yeah well the 27 mile runners started a half an hour after  us and I am proud to say that I was passed by one in this area.  A 100 pound guy can move through a swamp better than I can pushing a Salsa Mukluk.

At about the 13 mile mark I was pleased to leave that area and I had some open single track that flowed well, except for the amazing loud noise from my brakes.  As I came out at a camping area at the 16 mile point my wife was waiting.  I told her to meet me at the E. Kincaid boat launch where there was a big outhouse with some overhead cover where I could fight through my brakes.

Did I mention it was raining?

So Household 6 helped by holding my bike up when I discovered that my problem was that I was out of brake pad surface.  The little metal spring that opens the pads was the braking surface and one of them had caught the rotor and was bent out making a horrible noise.  At that point I was at the 20 mile mark.  HH6 suggested I go back to the 27 mile route and just finish that way.  If you know my family you know that isn't possible.

My grandfather liked to play cards.  He always knew what everyone held and wanted to play.  If he had a winning hand but that meant he had to discard something someone could use, he would keep it and give one of his winning cards up.  This meant that when he lost, he lost big.  But when he was an epic win.  Now you understand.

I had no choice but to continue.  I fiddled with the brakes and bent the little spring and put it back in.  It sounded horrible still and it didn't take but a few miles before I burned through what was left.  And there I was, in the pouring rain trying to eek out another 25 miles.  I had to walk down hills because it wasn't possible to stop.  Finally I decided that like my grandfather this may have to be chalked up to an big loss.  I called HH6 and coordinated a pick up at what turned out to be a 30 mile ride, longer than if I had just singed up for the 27 miles.  Alas, I was a DNF.

Salsa Mukluk

Many lessons were learned that day and I was sad to call it because my legs felt strong and there was no question that I would finish 50 miles.  That is what happens when you don't properly check your equipment.  I spoke with the owner of a local bike shop and he stated they replaced a lot of break pads following that event and that he had burned through a set.

This race only solidified my belief that Louisiana has great cycling opportunities and I look forward to trying again next year.  With a new strategy to check all parts of the bike.  The organizers did a great job marking the course where there were odd intersections and hard to see turns.  They had unmanned feed stations throughout with a nice variety of food and drinks.  Thanks to them for the hard work.  

1 comment:

  1. Great blog. Too bad about the DNF and the brakes... and the weather... Sheesh pretty rough day all round by the sound of it but at least you were on a bike.

    I look forward to coming back for more bicycle adventures.