Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Little Less Drama Please

Getting ready for the start of the 2013 Drama Queen at Mulberry Gap.
 Time flies when you're having fun.  How can it be that we've just had the 6th annual Drama Queen ride?!  It seems as though it were only a couple of years ago that Mike hosted the first one.  It was so full of drama then that we could have featured our own soap opera.  To read about that first one, click here.

The 2013 Drama Queen began in usual drama fashion.  The day before, well, heck, the months before, we had non stop rain.  In fact, it started raining in March and has not stopped since.  Raja spent every spare moment monitoring the radar and listening to forecasts.  All that does is confuse the issue, because the weathermen have not a clue as to what phenomenon is occurring and their forecasts rarely line up with reality.

Despite the prediction for rain the Friday before, it was merely seriously overcast and Ellijay was spared the anticipated downpours.   Organizers, Mike and Terri Palmeri, were in the awkward position of having to make last minute decisions on route changes based on the off-base forecast.   At the last minute, many riders were scared off thinking it had rained or the course had been changed.

I've long since gotten over fretting the possible threat of rain.  Nine times out of 10, the forecasters get it wrong and time was wasted changing venues and ride plans.   Roger could not decide what to do, and as always the final decision came to Friday night at 9pm.   He didn't know, but I had made up my mind that we were going to Mulberry Gap for the Drama Queen - route change or rain.   I didn't care.  My mind was prepared and pumped up for a long drama filled ride, and darn it, that's what I was going to get!
Ladd approaching the top of Pinhoti 3.
 A few years ago, I began my own new challenges to face in regards to health.   The worse part of it all is that it affected my cycling life majorly.   Now remember, cycling is my life, no, cycling is OUR life.  It's something Raja and I have done together for more than 25 years.  We rode together before we were married.  It defines us.  It's where all our friends are, it's our lifeline!   Having all that change for me was not a pleasant time in my life.

This year has been the first time in a long while that I have been able to even begin to get back on track.  Finally being able to do some hard rides has made me feel alive again.  I live for the weekends and our fun rides, so the thought of not getting to do this was a big let down.  This ride was going to happen even if I had to will it into being.
Team MRI at the top of Pinhoti 3.
 Saturday morning we awoke to overcast skies, but no rain.  It looked like we could escape the rain up north for a good bit of the day.  Bright and early we headed to Mulberry Gap in hopes of talking to Terri about getting to ride the original planned route instead of the alternate gravel road course.

Not many cars were there, and as we figured, the threat of rain had scared off many folks.  Mike and Terri were busy setting things up and I offered to help.  Mike, in his usual kind fashion, wouldn't let me help but simply wanted to visit and catch up on old times.  We go back a ways with Mike.......a long way!

Terri was a busy bee and whipped out a course map for us to discuss the route.  They had not marked the route on Friday as planned because the silly forecast said it would rain.  Terri didn't want riders to get lost and be out there till midnight.  Not many people know their way around the P4, P5 Tatum Lead area, so it was a given that people would miss the turns.  We, along with Larry, Gary and a couple others knew the area well and agreed to look after folks as long as they promised to keep a decent pace.  We didn't want to babysit anybody, but then again, we didn't want to leave anyone for dead.

9 a.m. and all the eager beavers gathered 'round Terri as she explained the options.  In all there were 65 riders that showed, although a number of them were late and missed the riders meeting.  Those are the poor souls that got turned around and ended up climbing to Ft. Mtn.  There was a mega route originally planned that included a loop on the Tatum Lead side and then a Windy Gap/Milma/Tibbs loop.  Once it was all said and done, I think Greg was the only rider that did the entire route!   The rest of us did a "build your own route" ride.   There were groups going every which way.   So much drama.
Terri giving us our marching orders.
We rolled out not much after the 9:15 start time and headed for Pinhoti 3.  A racing mate from my deep dark past, Ellen Carroll, came by us.  I haven't seen her in ages and it was nice to say hello and briefly catch up on our lives.   Mike French, a former teammate, tugged on my jersey beside me.   I never get to ride with Frenchy anymore, but something told me I might see him today.  I was right!   Shane (my fellow Drama King from 2008) and his posse headed past P3 for Bear Creek, but we had a good size group that stuck to the original P3,P4, Tatum, P5, P4, P3 route.   Fortunate for me, these riders were to be my minions at least until we reached P5, because none of them knew how to get there.   If they wanted to get off the trails before dark, they had to stick with us, hahaha!   My plan was working!
Making sure our crew is present before heading off on Hwy 52 towards P4.
 As we started up Pinhoti 3, I felt decent although I did have a good bit of nervous energy that I was not able to channel very well.   I've said it before and it bears repeating, if you want to be a good racer, you have to.....race.   I made a conscious decision to give up racing a long time ago, but I cannot seem to give up the desire to ride with the racers!  That makes for a curious dilemma which often leaves me between a rock and a hard place.   They are all training like mad, while I'm content to do my one little training ride a week.   However, what I lack in fitness I can make up for in skills.  Not that I think I'm some bad ass with mad skills, but you can fudge a lot when you have 25 yrs worth of riding single track.   Today would require a lot of fudge, and drama.

Roger led the train up Pinhoti 3.  The pace was manageable, but I also knew how much we had ahead of us.  I was proud of myself for demonstrating self control.  Thankfully we did not have "number plates" on our bikes so I was not subject to the racing induced stupidity that befalls me when I think I'm in a race.   After about a mile, I pulled over to let some of the riders behind me come around.   I wanted to be in the back of this train so I could dial in my own comfort level of suffering!  

Jenn and Tiffany came rolling by me.  Oh, hi ya'll!  Didn't know they were with us.  I was glad to see we had some female representation just to let the guys know there is Girl Power.   How very different this all was from the first Drama Queen.  Back then I would have been threatened by their presence, but instead this time I found assurance in it.   

Gary started the drama in the group with his "I can't get out of my new pedals" syndrome.  Having just made the switch to Shimano cleats, he was having trouble.  As we rode by them on the side of the trail, Larry asked if I had a shoe strap.  Gary had also broken his shoe strap.  Oh geez, we're going to have to play McGyver and we're barely a half hour into the ride.  I made a mental note to remember to pack a roll of duct tape in my camelbak.   It could solve so many problems!   Since I could offer no assistance, I continued to ride on knowing I'd see them again soon enough.

Roger's pace was about one click faster than I wanted.  No worries though, I kept them all in sight as my carrots and hollered out to Tiffany of upcoming trail features.  This was her first time on P3 and I wanted to warn her of certain switchbacks, etc.  I'm sure this was terribly annoying to her and I don't know why I feel compelled to be a tour guide.   We all have our flaws.

Reaching the top of P3, we all waited for the whole crew to gather before heading off.   Joe had pulled off the pack as I had done because he was having trouble breathing due to asthma.   I was relieved to see him come up the trail.   Soon more of our group popped out of the woods.   I could hear Larry gabbing away as he and Gary came riding up the trail.   Larry talks non stop on a ride regardless of how fast we go, while I do everything I can just to breathe.  How he can carry on a conversation is beyond me.  I think I shall start calling him Jabberwocky.   

 Riding up Hwy 52, it was not far before we took the left hand turn into the woods for the 4th section of the Pinhoti.   I don't know if these are official names, but it's what we all call it - P4.    P4 sees very little traffic and is therefore terribly overgrown.  Years past we used to do this loop more often and it was not as flesh ripping.   A couple wkds ago when we rode it, Roger cleared a really bad over grown section in anticipation of this day.   As we rode through that area, I could not help but have a heart of gratitude for his foresight. 

Gary and Roger were behind me as we made our way up the trail.  Still riding like a drunken sailor, I was slightly frustrated at my inability to channel this nervous energy.    Even though there was nothing to be nervous about, my body has a way of sensing these "big events" and goes into a race anxiety state.   It was maddening during my race days, but it usually went away once I got on the bike.  Not so today.  I tried to get Gary to go around me, but he insisted he was fine with the pace and urged me to carry on.   

We petered out of P4 onto an overgrown doubletrack road that took us to Tatum Lead where we turned left to begin a moderate climb before leveling out.   I made the mistake of waiting at the turn to check for stragglers, which immediately  put me at a disadvantage to the climbing stallions ahead of me. 

That was okay though.  I knew my way and I wasn't racing for a crown today!  I was enjoying my freedom from the clutches of racedom induced stupidity!   The road goes down a ways and it is fun to bomb down with abandon.   Coming up on a split in the road, the group had stopped to regroup and be sure of which direction to go.   I was glad to be reunited again with the crew and was then able to enjoy ripping downhill with them.   I may not be able to climb with the racers, but I can descend with them.

We got to another intersection.  They both went to the same place, and Larry wanted us to take the left.  We knew that was the harder way, but since it was the planned route he wanted to stick to it.  Besides, it did have a better downhill, so that's the obvious choice.

Roger told me he'd hang back and wait for Joe, so the group proceeded on ahead.   The road climbed gradually for a while, but then we came to some more downhill.   In reality this was hardly turning out to be a "drama" queen ride.  Everyone was behaving well and getting along.  There were no complaints, no crashes, and no mechanicals.   I was enjoying the drama-less-ness!

We stopped at another intersection and regrouped since the downhilling had split the group up some.   After a few minutes Larry asked if I wanted to wait for Roger before going on.   "No, he's a big boy, he knows where to go," I said.   Larry knew exactly what I was thinking and said it before I could.   "He'll catch us anyway, won't he?!"    Yup, precisely.   When you ride with someone for 25 years, you know a thing or two about them.   When it comes to Raja, there aren't many folks around that can beat him on a downhill.   That boy can tear up a downhill like nobody's business.   

We started up again, ripping down a fabulous loooooong downhill.    Long, fast downhill.   My brakes started fading on me and I could smell them.  Another guy said he could smell his brakes as well.   We were definitely letting it rip.   A heinous sketchy part found Larry taking the left line (the wrong line), while we all went right and prayed he'd pull it out.   If anybody could pull it off, it's Larry.   With his feet flying out of the pedals I laughed inside.   It's never a dull moment riding with Larry!

The road became a bit tamer and we heard somebody came roaring up behind us.  Sure enough, like a fighter jet coming in for a touch n go, Raja came flying up bringing Joe in his wake.   Those two spell trouble when it comes to a Strava segment!   I never doubted for one second that Roger would pull that off.   After what seemed to be an endless downhill, we regrouped at the RockCreek ORV parking lot with big grins on our faces!   That was fun!

Gary played the part again of our little drama queen and fiddle faddled with his shoe.   Then we had to wait while he went to the little girls room.   Please, Gary, a little less drama;-)   Let's get this show on the road.

Not too much farther and we made the right turn to P5.   This is the turn that all the real drama queens missed.   You miss that turn and you get to take the long nasty climb up to Ft Mtn.   That's the climb that Raja lays title to as being the only one to clean it and thus earned the name, SpiderRaj, but that's another story.
Making our way to the turnoff for Pinhoti 5.
P5 goes down along the valley for a ways.  It's really lovely down there and rarely do we ever see anyone.   Of course, it takes a lot of effort to get there, which is why we never see anyone.   One of the guys got a flat, but no one heard me as I hollered, "flat!"   Again, for some unknown reason I felt compelled to stop and help him.   I belted out commands to him as he started to turn his bike upside down.  "No, none of that.  Just take your wheel off.  Give me your camelbak and let me get your crap out.   Take the tire off.   Hurry."   Had he known I was married to the Master of the Tire Change in Under 3 Minutes, he may have understood my hysteria.   I have little patience for lollygagging when it comes to a tire change, and certainly wanted none of it today.   We had loads of miles to cover and this would cost us precious time. 

If he wanted to hit me, he showed no signs of it.   His friend had also stopped and began to assist.  With little fanfare, he got the new tube in and was loading up a cartridge.  Thank gawd he had one and wasn't going to use a hand pump.  Once he got to that point, I got on my bike to head out.  "I'm climbing slower than you guys, so I'm going to get going."  He thanked me as I pedaled off alone.

I was actually rather relieved to be alone and out of the crowd.   We had a long steep climb ahead and I wasn't looking forward to doing it with all those other riders.  I had cleaned the climb a few weeks ago and really wanted to clean it today.  However, I knew my focus would be different in a group and more than likely would dab.  Not a big deal, but then again, it's simply disappointing personally when you have certain little goals like that.   I wanted to clean the climb today.

I heard a rider behind me.  It was a guy that had ridden with me on the Dirty Thirty at Bull Mtn about a month ago - well, he recognized me and told me that.  We rode along in silence, but when we came to the "marshland" area I told him we'd have to get off and walk around the bog.  "Watch out for snakes.  We saw a big one here just a few weeks ago," I told him.   Secretly I was terrified of coming upon a snake again.  In fact, I had voiced that to Roger earlier, but he assured me it didn't matter because I'd be with the group anyway.   Ha, here I was only with one other person, and I was the one leading.   You can't even see the trail and you just do your best to point the bike in the right direction hoping you don't run over something.
Yes, there is a trail there somewhere. 
Fortunately, I didn't see a snake and it's just a short bit to ride.   We survived.   That really was the least of my worries.  For a while now, I had been feeling the onset of leg cramps.   You know when they are coming and that it is inevitable.   The guy rode off ahead of me, of which I was most grateful.   Honestly at this point I wanted to be alone.   I dismounted the bike and started to stretch my legs thinking I could stay off the cramps.   Bad idea.

At this point the guy with the flat and his buddy came up.   It was as if a cruel joke was being played on me, because right at that moment, my right quad seized up.   I screamed out in pain.  Then my hamstring.  Oh, the drama!   "Are you okay," Eddie asked.   Breathing through a cramp and talking at the same time are a challenge.   I did my best to get the words out, "I'll be fine.  Ya'll go ahead.  It's just a cramp.  I have some salt."   But they stopped and stood there with no intentions of carrying on.   Oh, lawd, please go on and leave me to suffer in silence, I thought.   They didn't show any inkling of moving on and I wasn't sure I could move.   The misery seemed to go on to infinity.   Geez, is this how it was going to end?   Me, in the pit, the bottom of a zillion foot climb, with no way out.   They'd have to medivac me out.  Darn it, I wanted to at least clean this climb, and now I literally could not move my legs.   Please, dear Lord, I prayed, a little less drama! 

Slowly, my muscles let loose.  I gobbled down sea salt and guzzled my water.  Please, Lord, let me get out of this!   Gingerly I started walking.   Okay, let's see if I can get on the bike.  Slow, no sudden movements, just get moving as easily as possible.   I could pedal without too much resistance.  I would just pedal as slow and gently as I could until the climbing started.   I figured I would be forced to get off and walk.   Neither of the two guys had done this climb.   I tried to prepare them and let them know what they'd be up against.  

The pitch started and I could still make the wheels go round.  Well, isn't this special!   I wonder how long this will last?   Pedaling as gingerly as I possibly could, I could feel the determination welling up within me.  The drama queen/racer girl in me was coming out.  I was going to clean this climb today.   Cramps be damned.  This climb is mine!

My only hope was that the guys would stay behind me.  I like to have a clear open path before me and didn't want to have anyone dab suddenly in front of me.   As if knowing my wishes, they stayed right behind me.  I couldn't tell if they were dabbing or not, nor did I care.  I kept my focus straight ahead.  Using every bit of technique and finesse I had, I gained ground foot by foot.   Trying to keep my elation at bay, I stayed calm and on task.   I was tackling this baby.   I didn't care if no one was around to see it.  This was my own personal victory and I was enjoying every second.

Eventually up ahead I could see a figure.   It was Joe.  I slowly made my way by him and encouraged him on.  We were at the top for all practical purposes, and I was inwardly throwing a celebration party for the two of us.   Hooray for small victories!   Why is that I find such joy in these things?  

After all that drama, I knew there was no way that climbing Tibbs would be a possibility for this Drama Queen today.   Tibbs is ten times harder than P5.  Darn.  Slightly disappointed at what I knew was the day's outcome, I set that thought aside and focused on what was ahead.  We still had to get back to P3.

Raja and Gary were waiting for us where P5 joined back in with Tatum Lead.  Our small group started the gentle climb back towards P4.   Actually I felt okay.   My legs were a bit tight, but I could tell they were out of the danger zone -at this point in time.   The rest of the guys were all hemhawing at what to do next.   Should we head over to do P1 and P2?   We decided to get up/down P3 first before making anymore rash decisions.

Joe was having a hard time and I felt bad for him.  I wanted to encourage him, but at the same time be sensitive to his situation.   You never know just how much or how  little to say to a struggling rider.   I wanted him to have his own personal victory, just like I had.   I wanted him to okay with his ride at the end of the day.  That's really what matters.  Not to measure yourself up against everyone else, but simply to find whatever piece of joy and satisfaction you can out of what you did.

Gary was flying down and up P3 and I had not a chance of keeping him in sight.   I was pleased at how I felt and enjoyed the journey.   Not wanting to end the day short with a stupid unplanned dismount, I took the downhills with a bit of caution, but still let it go in the fast open sections.   P3 downhill is a really sweet downhill.
3 hrs later, we're back to where we began on Pinhoti 3.
Regrouping at the bottom of P3 it was unanimous that more riding had to be done, but we all needed more water before that could happen.   That meant only one thing.  We had to go left back to Mulberry Gap to refuel.   Back at the entrance were a good bit of our original crew.   Some were done while some were ready for more.   
Refueling and filling up camelbaks at Mulberry Gap.
Terri Palmeri was there with oranges, bananas, pbj sandwiches, water and gatorade!   What a great hostess!
Everyone chowed down while I filled up my camelbak.   Getting these guys going again was like herding cats.  They were all too interested in eating.
Mmmm, peanut butter sandwich in the middle of a 5 hr hammerfest.
Finally we got some semblance of a group and headed out again for part deux of our Drama Queen ride.  
Larry and Lad head out with the rest of us for more Drama.
We went right out of Mulberry back to Shakerag road to Bear Creek.   The plan was to go up to P1 and back on P2.   Shouldn't take more than 2 hours.  I still felt fine and was beginning to wish we had tried to do the Windy/Milma/Tibbs loop.  
Rolling out Shakerag Rd to Bear Creek.
As we got to the turnoff for Bear Creek, the rain started spitting ever so gently.  Joe jokingly said, "good thing we're back at the cars cause it's starting to rain!"  Ha, ha, yes, this is normally where we park our cars.  This is usually where our rides end on Gates Chapel Road, but not today.  Our cars were no where to be seen.  Blissfully unaware of the impending downpour, we carried on to Bear Creek.
It's sprinkling rain lightly as we take the left turn to Bear Creek.
There wasn't much drama to the ride as we steadily made our way up Bear Creek to Pinhoti 1.  No campers in the middle of the trail on P1, but there was evidence of their campfire.  Larry gabbed away while I just did my best to stay on Dave's wheel in front of me.  I still felt good and wanted to stay in contact to feed off their energy.
Beautiful Bear Creek singletrack will take us to Pinhoti 1.
Roger and Joe led the charge down P1 while the rest of us chased after.  The rain was still a non issue.  We clipped our way up to P2.  The guys seemed to be gaining momentum and I was having a harder time keeping pace.   I felt fine, but simply could not stay on their wheel.  As I watched them pull away, I felt no change in mood, surprisingly enough.   I wasn't mad at myself for falling back.  Could it be that after all these years, I'm finally maturing and coming to grips with who I am as a rider?  Nah, I was probably too tired to care.   I noticed Ladd had dropped off the back of the Larry,Gary, Dave train.   I kept him as my carrot.

By now the rain is more noticeable.  Hmmm, perhaps it's not going to be a gentle mist.   I get to the top of P2 and there are none of my fellow riders.   I know what this means.  We've reached the point of each to his own.   I was fine with that and tried to get Ladd in my sight for the  downhill.  

It's raining.  I don't know why I was surprised that it was raining, but I was.  How dare it rain on my parade. My glasses began to fog and I couldn't see.  Trying to make out the white of Ladd's jersey, I focused ahead to keep speed.   I'm not as fast a descender when I have no one to follow.   With the rain, the trail would become a different beast and I needed someone ahead of me for confidence.   

Now it's a downpour.  I'm riding completely blind.  I might as well close my eyes and point the bike downhill.    I can hear a rider behind me.   I holler out that I can't see a thing.   He tells me I'm doing fine and to keep going, so I do.    Every now and then I catch a glimpse of Ladd.  I start to gain on him, then I start to lose ground.   Trying not to tense up from the terror of riding blind, I say over and over to myself, "relax and just follow Ladd, relax, relax."  Every  now and then the bike would drop from beneath me as I'd go over a dip or root, scaring my senses.  I'd let out a hoot and a holler, thinking that being happy about it would somehow make it easier.  It worked for the most part.   Going mostly by memory, I made my way down that trail in one piece!   

Ladd and I popped out onto Conasauga Road and immediately hung a right towards Mulberry Gap.   We didn't stop to discuss it or wait for anybody.   It was pouring down rain and we were ready to get somewhere dry.   All Ladd could think about was the last climb on the gravel road, while all I could think about was the wicked steep climb up the paved road to my car at Mulberry.  If I could make that without my legs seizing up, I would be one happy camper.

The gravel road climb was mastered in no time and we were ripping down the hill to Mulberry Gap.   The only thing that stood between me and dry ground was that horrible steep wall, which was also wet and slick. Larry and Gary were at the top cheering me on.  You can do it, don't get off!   Gritting my teeth as if I were racing for the world championship, I muscled my way to the car.  Could I be any more dramatic?!   What an appropriate finish for a Drama Queen ride!
Gary, our Drama Queen for the day, is happy to be finished and out of the rain.
I opened the car, grabbed my bag of clothes and a towel and headed for the showers.  Ellen passed by me, all dry and clothed.  She laughed and said, "ha ha I'm dry" and then promptly got wet as she gave me a hug!

Getting in dry clothes never felt so good!   I lugged my dirty muddy clothes back to the car where Roger had appeared.  He changed and we ran to the barn to join the few hold outs lounging around waiting for us stragglers.   Then our Drama King came in for the day.  Here's Joe!  Poor Joe.  Poor Joe got wet.  We shared congratulatory hugs and then gobbled down our food.
Please, Joe, a little less drama!  
I love these kind of adventures.  A little drama, lots of fun, good hard effort, and lots of laughter shared with friends.  Many of these riders we've known for over 20 years and some we've only known a few, but I never really think of it that way.  It's as if we've all been friends forever.  It's a bond we share that brings that connection - our passion for riding and a little drama!   Another Drama Queen in the books.   Here's to many more!

1 comment:

larry crook said...

Awesome job CG! Ladd's gonna have u do up race reports on Sunday nights! Enjoyed riding with u guys, even in the rain...