Last year I was one of the many racers who went off course multiple times. The first time was spent wandering around a campground with a big group of racers after some miscreant camper removed the sign pointing us up the gas line climb. The second time was when Trish Stevenson and I missed a turn off a road. Garth got us back on track. The third time I was near the finish, closing in on a top-10 finish, and I had ripped it from the last aid station through the Mohican State Park singletrack. I was on the road heading for the covered bridge, going downhill at 30+ MPH. I shot over the covered bridge, started climbing and turned into singletrack when I saw a marker. 20 miles later I was back at the last aid station. I missed the tiny marker indicating a right turn at the covered bridge and rode most of the opening singletrack again. I was cooked from the "end of the race" effort and dropped out. I was pretty disgusted with the entire race, but in the end I thought "shame on me" for not carrying the course map and paying close enough attention.
The bad memories eventually faded and the good ones stuck: The great singletrack, the crazy cuts across private property, and the Amish scenery (where else can you see a pet donkey trotting alongside its horse-riding owners?). The Mohican 100 was back on my 2007 calendar and I was intent on redeeming myself.
Despite gas being over $3 per gallon, it was still much cheaper for me to drive solo from Tampa than it was to fly, ship my bike and rent a car. Luckily Patrick and Peter jumped in with me in Atlanta and made it even cheaper. I left Thursday morning and we made it to Lexington KY that night.
We had an easy driving day Friday, so we stopped at England-Idlewild Park south of Cincinnati for a spin. It was fun rolling singletrack with some very interesting structures and teeter-totters thrown in.
The change of race venue to Camp Nuhop was a good one. The main lodge served as the start/finish and dinner hall. The dorm rooms we rented were attached to the lodge. There was a big field for campers. Step out of your room and onto your bike to race, and at the end, step off your bike and get whatever you want first: shower/food/beer/sleep. It was all right there.
I shared a dorm room with Jeff, Andy and Harlan. If we keep surrounding Andy with green it's bound to rub off. The rooms were small but adequate and a bit warm. Jeff and Andy scored an unused fan from a cabin that made a huge difference in the quality of our sleep.
We woke up at 5AM to begin the caloric ingestion process. Our hosts were kind enough to let us haul our camp stoves up onto the decks around the lodge for our breakfast. They were great. They essentially gave us the run of the place.
I missed the part about the neutral start pausing to re-group at the dam, so I wasn't surprised when we started hammering away without the pause. We had a bit more pavement and doubletrack before hitting the singletrack this year, which thinned the crowds some. The lead group was gone, but I was in good position entering the singletrack and began the process of working my way up.
I rode with a few guys through the singletrack and out onto the gravel, but they all eventually faded, leaving me to race alone. I'd be alone for the rest of the race, except for brief moments when I'd pass another rider.
After my miserable hydration pack experience at the Cohutta 100 where I ditched the heavy beast mid-race, I worked on a revised carrying strategy. I bought a 50-oz pack with virtually no storage. It would carry water and no more. Tubes and tools were in my seat bag or taped to my Deluxe. Food, gel, chain lube and other frequently needed items went into jersey pockets. It was hot, which meant I'd be stopping at each aid station to top off fluids. The strategy worked great. My stop times were minimal and I never felt like I was carrying too much. I did run out of water once, but that was because of my own miscalculation. I'd planned on re-filling bottles at each aid station, and re-filling the water pack at 2 and 4. When I filled up at 2 I hadn't used much water out of the pack. I rolled through 3 and just topped off my bottles, then sucked my water pack dry about 5 miles later. I had about 1-1/2 bottles of fluid, but it was hot and I wasn't sure I'd make it to 4 without running out. I started looking for water spigots on the sides of houses along the road. I saw a couple of well pumps but didn't want to take the risk. I saw a hose next to a house - score! - only to find it not attached to a spigot. I gave up, started conserving and kept the pace high. It worked out well because I was on that mind-numbing section of rail trail, and running low on water kept me motivated to ride fast. I took my last swig as I rolled into sight of the aid station.
After aid station 4 I encountered a lot more racer traffic because the 100K race had re-joined the 100-mile route. I could usually recognize the 100K racers before I got to them. The mid-packers were all sporting HUGE hydration packs and many were walking up the steeper pitches. I did pick off a few more 100-mile racers, but most of it was 100K traffic.
At aid station 5 I topped off all my fluids even though it was only 10 miles to the finish. Last year's memories were obviously still fresh. I had no issues as I picked my way through the technical, muddy trail that ran along the river up to the dam. At the base of the dam, there were a few riders walking up the trail to the stairs. Putting on my best game face, I charged up the steep trail, past the riders and dismounted right before the steps. One of them was a 100-mile racer. He kept pace with me up the stairs, but I got to the top and dropped the hammer, leaving whatever I had left on the climb back toward the finish.
I crossed the line in 8:22, about 1:15 off of Eatough's winning pace, and good for 12th place. Harlan crushed it, finishing less than 7 minutes behind Eatough! Jeff had a great day, finishing 8th about 12 minutes ahead of me, getting back all the time I put into him at the Cohutta. Andy came in about 10 minutes behind me, putting in a solid day after some early gastric issues.
Then came the post-race party, which after the ride is my favorite thing about these hundies. Eat lots of good food, drink lots of good beer, hang out with all the great friends I've made, and make a few new friends.
This year the course was impeccably marked. The signs were bigger. There were "wrong way" signs where you weren't supposed to go. The orange ribbons between turn signs were plentiful. I didn't go off course one time. Most other racers reported the same. The few who did get off course probably did so out of mis-judgement.
The organizers outdid themselves with the post-race party. The food was plentiful and even the hardcore drinkers couldn't kill the last of the 4 kegs. Add that to the new venue and the vastly improved course markings and you have the makings of a great race. Big props go out to Ryan and Garth for putting this race right up there with the best-run races around.