September 14, 2014 started with butterflies in my stomach hoping that all the miles I had logged on my mountain bike would be enough to make it through the Black Bear Rampage’s 40 miles and around 4,000 feet of climbing in the Cherokee National Forest. The day was brisk with lots of excitement in the air and being that it was my first solo race, I was very nervous.
The race started, and I watched as ladies sprinted ahead up the highway’s two-mile climb. I am not a fan of any pavement especially since mountain bikes are so slow on pavement, and I didn’t want to wear myself out. My heart rate was already too high. Adrenaline. I watched Carly descend in perfect aero form. I was very nervous. Here I go!
Brush Creek proved to be a bottleneck of frustration. You just cannot pass on Brush Creek. Here I was in a train of men with nowhere to pass and just followed along. I will say that it gave me ample time to gather my thoughts and to calm down. I knew that Boyd Mill Gap was coming which is a descent and not my forte. I had also heard of a previous crash the year or two before, and it was on my mind. I took it easy on that one.
Old Copper Road was next, and I felt pretty good. I passed someone I wanted to pass and felt a surge of pride. I had really trained hard and passing a cyclist I had not expected to pass really gave me some umph! I skipped the first SAG stop. I was running on Infinit and water in a camelback and didn’t feel the need. Plus, I wanted to keep distance from some behind me.
I climbed Bear Paw and had a female trying to pass me, but I was stuck behind some guys who were not strong climbers. I learned my first lesson in passing. You just DO it. You don’t wait on someone to pass behind you, and so I did. I let it rip up the climb and never saw or heard the female behind me again. I saw later she did the 20 mile option.
Thunder Rock Express was my nemesis. I had a few friends shuttle me up a couple of weeks before a few times and tried to get the hang of downhill, but I still was not feeling it. I do not feel confident going super fast and have a great respect for hitting a tree at higher speeds. I turned left up 45 to West Fork the the 2nd SAG stop where I saw my friend, Kim Murrell. Seeing her face just made me light up. She refilled my water and encouraged me on. I truly wish I could ride with her more. She’s such a natural on a bike as if she was born on a bike. I rode Quartz Loop onto River View Loop, Chestnut Mountain (I think) and back down Bear Paw.
It is not normal that I would rather climb Bear Paw than go down it. I saw the bridge and a friend’s husband watching and cheering and told me to catch his wife. “Go get her! She’s right ahead!” Luckily we were in two different classes, but I raced ahead feeling great.
I retraced back across Old Copper Road – rooty and rocks and had a conversation with a guy that had the coolest bike and outfit that all matched. I was just lost in thought about how cool his color scheme was and before I knew it, it was time to arrive toward Boyd Gap. I saw my fellow racer, Noel and we chatted as some mist was falling from the sky. We went on ahead to Boyd Mill and by the time the climb was upon us, most were dismounting to walk.
I felt like climbing, and so I did.
When I arrived back to Brush Creek, I was alone. I decided to pretend there was a black bear chasing me and chased a gel back and hit it. I had lost the ability to shift into an easier gear and decided to stay in the gear I was. I was having to really mash it to go fast because of the gearing, but just went with it. Brush Creek is flowly and fun and besides the last climb at the end, I didn’t need the granny gear.
I finished on the steep little climb with fruit and drinks waiting for me!
4:19:10 was my time, and I took first in Beginner 35 and Over. Had I registered for Sport 35 and Over, I would have taken second. I was proud. Won some swag and felt like the first solo race I’d ever done was great!