Sunday, November 23, 2008

Snake bites.......hurt

For four years now, Raja and I have been riding The Snake. Snake Creek Gap, or The Snake, as we all fondly refer to this delightful trail, is aptly named. Having never been bitten by a snake, I can only imagine how it hurts. If it is anything like the pain of riding The Snake, I can only hope and pray a snake never bites me.

Going on five years now, our local NWGa Sorba chapter has hosted a time trial series on the Snake trail. For some strange reason, it draws a huge crowd of pain loving torture suffering racers. No longer able to be lured into the glory and glamour of racing, Raja and I are content to do the preride of the course which the chapter sponsors each year. Each time we do it, I question my sanity. A year has elapsed since my last encounter, and my memory is fuzzy on the details and I forget that I swore I would never do this again. It all comes back to me once I am back out on the course in my own world of suffering, "Oh yea, I said I wasn't going to do this again."

The forecast for Saturday morning was 20 degrees, and I was none too thrilled about it. But Raja wasn't the least bit affected and was not wavering in his resolve for us to attend. He wanted a long workout, and by golly, he was going to get it. I suggested that we just consume less calories during our day, and therefore not feel the need to exercise so much. He didn't buy into it.

Thank goodness I had my new Sidi winter riding shoes. This was the only ray of sunshine keeping my hope alive for the ride. They had passed the test last Saturday during our cold rainy ride at freezing Springer mountain, so surely they could handle a paltry 20 degrees in sunshine! MarkD and I were both proud to be sporting our purdy warm footwear. You can keep your Jimmy Choos and Monolo Blahniks, all I want are some nice riding shoes!

I had a fancy party to attend last year, and needed shoes to go with my sexy dress. Since my Specialized or Sidis didn't match, I had to resort to my mom's closet which is full of the lastest designs from Rome and Milan. "Here, these Jimmy Choo's will be perfect," she said, and I put them on. That evening a friend swooned and commented, "Oh I love your shoes!" I replied, "They're some weird name like Jimmy Choo or something."
She almost fainted. "You don't know what Jimmy Choo's are," she gasped! "Uh, no, should I? Is he a mountain biker?" Well, I bet she doesn't know about my high fulutin' Sidis, so there. You know you are addicted to cycling when your closet is 80% full of riding shoes priced $100 and up, and 20% full of everyday shoes priced $40 and down. I've got my priorities in order.

So, back to the ride. We had gotten up at 0:darkhundred and 18 degrees, packed the car, and headed to Dalton. Pulling in the parking lot at 7:50, only a few other cars were there. cRASh was sitting in his car with the heater running, and Tweety and Psychobilly pulled in right after. Trying to mask my unhappiness, we all greeted each other with half a snarl and a half smile. Somehow, having friends with which to share your pain makes the suffering bearable. MOMentum and MarkD melted my frozen heart with their warm smiles.

and Namrita consoled me with encouraging words and a hug,

In fact, we all fainted when Eddie and Namrita drove up on time, and ready to go. Surely this was a good sign that extraordinary things would happen today. Or was it just something too good to be true?

Slowly cars trickled in and more hearty riders appeared. Everyone stood in the sun trying to warm themselves while fueling up with lots of hot coffee.

Snake virgin, RexM showed up and loaded his bike on the shuttle with slight trepidation. He said he felt as though a big "doubt" sign was hanging over his head, but I convinced him he would have no problem conquering the Snake. Inwardly I prayed he would have a good ride, because I didn't want him cursing me in the end. I gave him some free advice, and tried to act as casual about it as possible. As long as he paced himself and didn't let his ego run amuck, he would do fine.

With all the bikes loaded on various trailers and in a few trucks, we headed off for the trailhead 45 minutes away. My toe warmers were doing their job in my toasty shoes, and my feet were about to combust during the drive over in the heated truck. In addition to all the insulation, I'm using these nifty little insoles, Bama Alu therm Airtech which amp up the heat factor a good bit. Happy feet means a happy rider, or at least a rider that has one less thing about which to be unhappy given the circumstances.

Unloading the bikes, Namrita made an unsettling discovery. Yep, Matt confirmed emphatically, "that's an 18T cog, Nam."

If ever there was a sign to abort, abort, that was it. We should have all just loaded up the bikes and gone to Waffle House. But instead, we left Namrita in a state of shock and rode off into the frozen woods.

The trail felt knee deep in leaves, and it was imperative to always have someone in front in order to find your way. Rex had asked if he could hang out with us, and I was hoping the pace would be tolerable to allow me to warm up. But as usual, the guys took off and immediately I found myself off the back. It was going to take me hours, literally, to get warmed up and my body was simply not getting in gear. Knowing what lie ahead for the next 4-5 hours, I settled in and tried to find a rhythm.

The long stretch of moderate undulating doubletrack ended and the trail took a right into the singletrack climb. Some of the guys had waited and we took off into the sea of leaves.

The challenge lies not only in climbing and orienteering thru the hidden trail, but in navigating the rocks lying stealthy beneath the innocent layer of leaves. It takes a certain technique to ride blind through the rocks, being always on the ready to react in a split second when your bike gets tossed and thrown. You have to be relaxed and yet alert, so it doesn't help when you're frozen and your body parts move like molasses. This is where the MotoLite shines, and it helped me to traverse through some tricky sections, not all, but a good bit of them.

By now my shifting was buggered and I was growing increasingly irritated with it. Finally I had had enough and decided to ask sherpaman to address the issue. In the meantime, he was having enough troubles of his own. Thinking he had a flat, he slowed down. "No, it's not flat," I said as I did my best to study his tire through the leaves and my watery eyes.

Note to all MotoLite owners, if it feels like a flat, and it's not a flat, then it's something much worse than a flat. Check your swingarm bolt to make sure it has not gone missing. Can you believe it? The second time this has happened to Raja, and this bolt had Loctite!

Fortunate for Raja, he had the foresight to carry along an extra bolt, and was able to remedy the situation. While we littered the trail with bike maintenance, the rest of the riders made their way around us and continued on with the ride.

Raja did his best to fix my shifting, but it needed more help than could be had trailside. "Oh whatever, I'll deal with it. Let's get going," I said. Thinking the group was waiting just up where the trail pops out onto the gravel road, Raja raced ahead. We got to the intersection with no riders to be found. I think Raja was a little irritated that we had gotten unhitched from the train, so he took off that much faster in pursuit. I got irritated that he had bolted off leaving me alone to waller in my self pity.

Passing 3 of the guys changing a flat made me change my tune. I would hate to be changing a flat in this cold weather, and crossed my frozen fingers that it wouldn't happen to me. Time to change my attitude. There was plenty of time to be had for talking to myself. With nothing else to do but make the pedals go round, I had a chat, in my head, of course.

Doing my best to follow what I thought could be the trail, I came to a section that did not look familiar. Oh please don't let me have gotten lost! Oooooo, Raja's going to feel really bad for leaving me now. Think happy thoughts. My legs aren't working. I'm not going very fast. I can't go very fast. This sucks. No, be happy. Be grateful you're able to ride your bike. Think of Hodge, he'd give anything to be out here riding.

The trail crossed the road, and there stood Raja, Eddie, and Namrita waiting. Shew, that's a load off my mind! We continued on climbing.

In all the past attempts of the full 34 miler, I don't recall the first 17 being very hard. In fact, it always seemed easy and we'd breeze right through it in less than 2 hours. Today was not unfolding as I expected. Time was dragging, along with my legs, and the trail seemed over challenging to me. That is never a good sign when something you normally consider easy is no longer easy.

Getting off to walk a section, I became increasingly mad. I NEVER had to walk any of this. What is wrong with you?! That's it. I lost patience with myself and resolved that I would take the road back at the halfway point. I obviously was getting no where fast, so it was no use in prolonging the torture.

The end of the first half has a nice long downhill section, and that's the part you push for. We finally reached it, and I began to calm down. In fact, Raja was riding too conservatively for me, and I wished he'd let it go so we could fly down the trail. Knowing he was taking extra precaution due to the deep leaves and hidden rocks, I still wanted to take my chances and let 'er rip. It was my only consolation for an otherwise wretched performance.

Arriving at the Snake Creek parking lot halfway point, I re-evaluated. Oh, alright, I guess I'll go for it. Hoping I was not making a decision I would later regret, we continued up for the 2nd half.

It was hard to believe there were still leaves on the trees since there were so many littering the trail. But the light streamed through what remained of the last of Autumn even though it felt the dead of winter.

I know this half of the trail much more intimately than the first half, so I could bite it off piece by piece. We played yo-yo with Eddie as he'd catch up with us, ride a little while, then pass by, then wait for Namrita. This is the only time I ever get to "ride with" Eddie. Last year on the Chili Dawg ride he briefly entertained us by riding our pace. Guess he wanted to see how the other half lives;-)

My gel flask had fallen out long time ago, which meant my usual means of fueling was gone. At the last minute I had packed extra bars and gels, so at least I didn't have to mooch off the others. But it also meant I couldn't eat on the fly. Everytime I got hungry, I'd have to stop, take off my gloves, grope underneath 10 layers of jackets and vests and contort my arm to jerk something out of my jersey pocket hoping it would be what I wanted. The upside is, no one seemed to mind stopping for a snack break.

Rex was doing fine so far, but I kept saying things like, "we haven't gotten to the hard part yet, save yourself for the last 5 miles, it will get difficult eventually." He was already on his knees and begging for mercy, so I didn't think his ego would be a problem.

Nah, he was really just stretching his back. The Snake does that to you. Apparently snake bites cause great back pain. The remedy? Stop every once in a while and stretch.

Rex, Robert, Raja, Eddie and I continued on climbing in silence. Finally we got to the doubletrack downhill and enjoyed a brief moment of fun. There are some great rollercoaster rollers once you make the 3 creek crossings, and for a second we hollered with glee. "Why can't it all be like this?" I hollered to Eddie. But the roller coaster ends and the road gradually and gently leads you upward. There was not any chatting to be had and each person settled into their own pace.

At the top of the climb we were greeted with a most welcoming sight.

A nice fire had been made just begging me to curl up and take a snooze. How it teased me, but I did not give in. We were now at what I consider the beginning of the ride. This left turn into the singletrack is where it all starts in my book.

I can't remember the exact time that had passed, but as I looked at my computer it must have been somewhere around 3ish hours. In the past I used to let this fool me into a false sense of security. Heck, at this point you have about 6 miles left and you've only been riding 3 hours. You're home free! Right?

Wrong!! So wrong. The challenge has only just begun. I continually warned Rex that it was only going to get harder from now on so be prepared. Maybe if I hyped this up beyond the truth, he wouldn't think it was all that bad. Only thing is, I was being truthful.

I could not help but recount my experience here last year riding back and forth with Carey. This is the section where we came upon another rider that had completely lost it and was ranting and raving. I understood how he felt, but wasn't so sure he should be venting his internal thoughts in such a manner. Hopefully, today I would not be the one going postal and embarrassing myself in front of the guys.

Raja picked the pace while Rex and I followed behind. All of sudden I decided it was time to go a little faster, and Raja could feel me breathing down his neck. He let me by and I entered a strange zone. I was not feeling empowered by any means, but rather on a mission to get done with this trail. My pedal strokes were still powered in the little chain ring, but pulled me away from the guys nonetheless.

Expecting Eddie to catch up at any moment, he never did. Turns out, Namrita broke her chain. Once fixed, it was so tight you could have played it like a fiddle. Lucky for them, there was a bailout point and they were able to hitch a ride.

We were all having our issues. Rex's front fork practically seized up and was useless. Dave and his group had 5 flats and broken spokes. MarkD's derailleur succumbed to the wrath of a stick. The Snake is notorious for having no mercy. It will keep you humble, that's for sure.

I like riding alone on this last section because it takes a certain amount of focus. It's hard enough to pick your line through the rocks without having to worry with the rider in front of you and if he's going to mess you up. I passed by Robert riding on a hardtail and less than ample front shock and did not envy his bike one bit. Duane was the next rider in the line, and we played tag a little bit before I pulled away. I was wishing the reason I was leading off the front was because I felt strong and my legs were putting out the power. But I did not feel strong at all, and fatigue was setting in on us all. I just happened to be the only one with the most comfortable bike to keep it going.

Psychobilly put it perfectly as we talked later that night about those last 5 miles of the trail. He says the closest we will ever come to being bi-polar is on that trail. As you ride along there is a great battle of dialogue going on inside one's head. "I'm doing this, this rocks, Oh, gawd, these rocks suck, I hate these stinkin' rocks, I can do this, I'm almost done, yea, I feel strong, Oh lord, where are the stupid towers, will I ever see the dumb towers, WHERE ARE THE F*%$# towers? You're doing it baby, this is it, yea, power through those rocks, AH, S#@%* these f&%$# rocks, I can't go any further, Come on, yes, you're riding strong, follow it through, good job, yea, ahhhhhh, is this trail ever going to end?!!!!!"

Of course, I am addressing the normal people here. Not the racers and I have a training regime folks. You can handle the Snake just fine and don't feel the kind of mental and physical pain us little people do. I'm talking to the regularjoes, the working mom, the dad's with wives who resent their biking husbands, those of us who can never aspire to physical eliteness. We want to feel that super human power pulsing through our legs powering us effortlessly over the rock garden. We want to finish the same day we started. We want to be able to stand up at the end and not feel like a branding iron is stuck in our backs. But we don't.

Instead we feel the pain and suffer the agony. And we are all the more stoked when we do finish the ride! We may not crank it out in 3 hrs, but darn it, we did it! And we did it Saturday. Rex did it, all in one piece, with a smile to spare!

34 miles and 4 1/2 hrs later, we all survived. We survived the haunting voices in our heads those last few miles. We looked in vain for those towers to appear on the horizon as the sign to let us know the end was around the bend. And we finally saw them! I hollered outloud to no one in particular, Thank God!

Well done, Duane, Rex, and Robert!

It hurt alot. My back hurt and I was delirious for a good half hour after I finished. Yes, the Snake bite hurts. But it's not fatal. I'm going to live afterall. Probably to do it yet another year. Recovery takes a while.

Post Note:
Speaking of recovery. Look who showed up for the party last night as if not a thing in the world was wrong!

Yep! Ole Hodge has been given the all clear from the doctor to resume normal activities. The only thing is, the doctor isn't clued in on normal activities for folks like us. Everyone knows "normal" means riding a bike, duh. So, technically, Scott can do all normal activities, except ride a bike.

We are SO excited for him and happy that things are moving along so well. Don't forget he still needs your support and encouragement. We all need our friends. Friends like these are hard to come by, and I'm holding on to mine tight!


Richard said...

Okay, so I might be weird, but that sounds like a fun trail. I'll have to make the trip over to Georgia sometime in the spring. :)

Mark D. said...

4.5 hours??Thats smokin fast !!!Great write up.Funny how ya never remember that trail being so hard no matter how many times ya ride it..Guess if we did remember we would never ride it again.Thank god for short memories :-)

Will said...


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