January 1, 2012: Another year rolls around and the cycle is repeated. Time to start planning my cycling year, or really just firming it up. I’ve been planning it for quite some time, thinking about how I’d like to reach a little further, try something a little harder, different. 2012 will be filled with some new challenges, as well as a return to some past ones I hope. I hope to add some new road bike challenges, pass on some for now, return to some track racing, maybe a crit (criterium) or two if time and training allow, and continue to learn on the mountain bike, this being my second full year.

I’m really digging the mountain bike lately. After about a year of fumbling around and suffering on the bucking bull, we’ve become a little more cordial to each other. As long as I relax, feel the trail, and lay down the power real smooth, “the Mangler” will cruise along, over and through just about anything in its way. We occasionally have our moments of course. Just recently I finally committed to creating a video of our great local single track trails right here in Peachtree City. I had been meaning to do it for quite some time but had been sidetracked by racing and life issues in the last half of 2011. I finally came across an awesome audio track. It was just the inspiration I needed to get ‘er done. I took three days of shooting and six camera positions to capture almost everything I needed (I never really get 100% of what I have in my mind, but you’ve gotta decide when good is good enough or nothing will ever get done). AS is customary during many (if not nearly all) mountain bike rides, I was ejected from the cockpit a couple times. I was trying to actually ride the trails like I think they should be, hard and fast, just having the cameras capture the point-of-view (POV) of an actual rider, not really pay so much attention to the cameras. At one point, I was using a mount I had made myself. I had modified a beam-style rack, one that clamps to the seat post and extends straight behind the bike. Attached to the beam rack, I carved a pice of wood to fit into its grooves and attached to that was an aluminum flagpole clamp. I put an extendable broom (or paint roller) handle to extend up and away from the bike. At the end of that was the actual camera. It allowed a POV of looking down upon the rider from the back. It was gonna be an unusual viewpoint, I thought it’d be pretty neat. Turns out, it was pretty tough to ride with. It would snag on stuff behind me, especially as I made sharp turns. I figured I’d at least get some good footage of the climbs and fast descents. One critical downside to my setup that I failed to recognize however is that it shifted my CG (center of gravity) significantly higher. I had to remove my underseat toolbag and put everything in my CamelBak (high up on my back). Also, the camera and hardware itself sat up quite high. As I entered a section of trail called “Switchback”, so named for the switchbacks present along its steep climbs and descents, I found the bike trying to endo, or go over the front wheel. I carefully maneuvered, as best I could, until I finally lost it while going down a particularly tough section. I didn’t come unclipped from the pedals, it happened so quickly. As I prepared for impact, trying to protect the shoulders and collarbone, I realized that the machine was gonna come in behind me. I hear the telltale pop of something breaking. I wasn’t sure for a second if the pop came from me or the Mangler. I lay there for a second, trying to figure out how to get untwisted from the wreckage, how to get my feet back out of the pedals. It can be surprisingly hard when you can’t use your weight to snap them out. I had to use my hands to help twist my feet out. As I climbed back to my feet, I quickly realized that the camera mount was destroyed. The metal flagpole holder had snapped in half. Luckily, the CamelBak I was wearing had taken the blow, and so the camera-spear hadn’t punctured my back. It’s good to be lucky. “Well crap”, I obviously wasn’t gonna be able to finish getting those shots. I moved the camera to the fork to finish the ride, something I hadn’t done before, figuring I had nothing to lose to try to get any footage. I gathered up the rest of the litter, well, except for the actual broom handle. I planted it in a rotting old tree stump, it’s not something you could easily ride with, kinda like a dog trying to get an oversized stick through a doggy-door, banging into everything in sight. I’ll retrieve it eventually one day. I thought the video came out pretty nicely, at least for something done single handedly without the benefit of pro-grade gear and really much time available to edit. I posted it out on my channel at:

That’s one thing I hope to do a little better this year, documenting the journey. I have enjoyed going back and reading about, and watching, how 2011 played out, and it’s just recent history right now. Anyway, I hope part of that is to try to keep the blog rolling along at a regular pace. The videos? I’m gonna continue to shoot and make them, and I’ll do the best I can to make them “cinema-worthy”. I’ve got a pretty efficient process to shoot, cut and edit. I have quite a playlist of audio tracks already assimilated of yet-to-be-born shorts. The real struggle is in coming up with new and interesting ways to tell the story. They’ll come in time, I trust, but if you have some and want to share, I’d love to hear them.

Now on to the “plan” for 2012. It’s gonna be a little more fluid than last year. I have only 5 events for which I’m really focused on, the rest will be filler. That’s quite a few less than last year’s 8 centuries, 1 double century, 1 kick-a$$ 200K, the 50 mile ultra MTB and the off-road half-mary hell called Tough Mudder. But these five, they’ll be just as intense as all those combined I think.

To start off, on February 18-19, I plan on attempting the solo RAAM qualifier at Sebring in Florida. I’m pretty sure I’m gonna go and ride. Will I qualify? I’m not so sure, not by a loooong shot. To make it, you’ve gotta push 400 miles in the 24 hour time limit. That’s definitely no small feat. I have absolutely no intention of doing RAAM, the Race Across America, at least not right now. I’ve been asked that, nearly every time I mention Sebring. I’m not even close to being prepared for that one, heck, I’m really not gonna be prepared for Sebring if life keeps throwing me curve balls the way it has lately. Just to receive an official RAAM qualifier certificate is quite an accomplishment, few have the desire and drive to try, way fewer I’m sure succeed. Twenty four hours on the saddle, pushing hard the whole way. You can’t afford much time off the bike. At best, that’s four 6-hour centuries back to back. My best century ever was in 4:45, and that was drafting (it is illegal in this event), and I was spent at the end of it all. Luckily, Diesel and I did the 215 miler last year in 14:45 on a significantly harder course and in likely tougher conditions, so I think I know what its gonna take to get this done.

Next up will be the Heart of the South 500 (HOTS500). Diesel and I are planning on doing this one as a two man team. It’s March 30 – April 1 out of Birmingham, Alabama. I’m not ready to tackle this one solo just yet, need more experience in my opinion, and more time available for training, neither of which I have right now. Maybe in a couple years I will be ready to tackle this solo, but for now, assuming Sebring is not a total catastrophe, Diesel and I will make a pretty hard run to set a nice 2 man time. It’s an interesting course, starting in Birmingham, heading up to the Little River Canyon, over into Georgia, and then crossing Cheaha on the way back in, about 35,000 feet of climbing total. Definitely not for the faint of heart. It will be epic for sure. This is a crewed event, as in you have a chase vehicle to follow and support you along the way. It is non-stop, with a 48 hour time limit. I think we have a very experienced crew chief lined up. Actually I “know” he is very experienced and qualified, the “think” is in whether he will be available to do this for us. It’s a huge commitment and effort to crew. Accounts of RAAM describe it being nearly as tough on them as the course is on the rider. Similar to Sebring, HOTS500 is also a qualifier for RAAM. However, since Diesel and I are riding as a 2 man team, this precludes us from qualifying for solo RAAM. In addition to the crew chief, I’m sure we’ll be needing other help so if you are interested in pulling an all-nighter or two, putting up with some beaten down (and likely grumpy) riders, and all the funk and stench that goes along with being couped up in a minivan for 500 miles (at a 17mph or so average, hopefully) with said riders, just let me know. Sounds fun, I know 🙂 Seriously though, I am actually looking for someone to come shoot some (pictures that is, but bring the handgun just in case). I’ll try to capture as best I can from the point-of-view (POV) perspective, but I think this would be pretty cool to capture and document, especially since I know I don’t have many of these type events in me, they’re simply too tough and consuming. So if you’d like to “photo journal” this, I’d love to have you along, either as a crew member, or just coordinated with us at spots along the race course.

The third, fourth and fifth are repeats (offenders perhaps?).

I’m going back to Fool’s Gold, September 8, in Dahlonega, Georgia. I’m still only going to race the 50 miler, I’m just not certain I’m quite ready for the 100 just yet. It seems crazy to think I’d tackle a 400 or 500 miler on the road but not the 100 on the mountain bike. That should tell you something. It’s really that intense and demanding, both on the rider as well as the bike. That’s part of it, I don’t have confidence that my bike will remotely hold up to that course. After each of our 50 mile runs last year, we came in with broken brakes, gearing and chains. It’s probably gonna take something a little better to survive this course and event for the full 100. Plus, another year in the saddle will absolutely help. The 50 miler is by no stretch of the imagination remotely easy. I did okay last year, finishing 103 of 158 with a time of 6:25, which I thought was respectable, especially given that this was my first MTB race ever and first year on the bike. I hope to do it even faster and more gracefully this year, with less puking and crying 🙂

I also have unfinished business at Ten Gap, the Fall 200K brevet also held in Dahlonega. It will be September 15, one week after Fool’s Gold. That’ll be tough, to get a quick recovery in, assuming I have so serious injuries after being off road. In 2011, Ten Gap nearly got me. I ended up DNF’ing after nearly 12 hours, only 13 miles from the finish. Yes, I know, I’ve asked myself that question countless times. “Couldn’t you have pushed just a little more to finish”? No. I was trembling and couldn’t even see by the time I made the call. I ran it as close as I could to total collapse as I thought I could get. I can do this. I just made some fatal mistakes in 2011. Sometimes you’ve gotta crash and burn to get better. I hope that’s the case here. I’m going back to finish this, get my redemption. Plus, it’s one helluva tough ride.

Finally, September 30 (should be this date) also in Dahlonega, is the annual Six Gap. I’ve now done this 3 years in a row. It’s a great event. I’ll be two weeks out from Ten Gap which is probably about what I’ll need to even want to get back on the bike. I hope we have the awesome weather we had this past year again, and great company. We had a large crew up from the south side of ATL and all had a great time.

Between these will be the usual training and rides. I hope to jump in on some brevets this year, maybe complete a series if time allows. I’ve also gotta think up something crazy to do for the Summer Solstice. Last year, Diesel and I tried to ride 250 miles, getting cut short at 215 when a thunder boomer cropped up in late afternoon. I also have a handful of events which I’ve elected not to do (just yet, they’re in the hopper though). One of those is the Triple Bypass out in Evergreen, CO. I thought hard about this one. Just need to do some other things this year. Soon though, I’m going out to do this one. Leadville 100, also out in Colorado, is in this bucket too. I’ve gotta knock down the Fool’s Gold 100 first though before I’ll have the confidence I can reasonably make this one, especially given the effort involved to even toe the line there. I also had to pull the plug on the Southern Cross cyclocross event this year unfortunately. It fell on February 25, only one week after Sebring. Just too close given that I’m probably gonna bury myself pretty deep down there in a couple weeks. These will be there next year, and the years after, so no worries. Plus, more time, more fitness, more training. They can only help.

Speaking of more training, I have to get in plenty for Sebring which is fast approaching, now only 6 weeks away. I’ve been riding the mountain bike a lot, really improving on my intervals and recovery. Unfortunately, what I need is pure endurance. I decided to ride the annual “Penance Ride” on January 1, a 105 mile self-supported event from Peachtree City down to, over and back from Pine Mountain, GA. The ride has a history of being grueling due to the weather, usually cold and windy, sometimes also wet. We’d get all three this day. I was gonna break in the new touring bike I got for Christmas, along with the new Brooks leather saddle. That’s a dangerous combo, long ride and new saddle. I lucked out though. Apparently my backside matches the model used by Brooks to make the saddles and I was fairly comfortable all day. Well, as comfy you can be, sitting on a tiny rock for over 100 miles while you pedal your brains out. We struck out shortly after 7am and it was c.c.c…cold, down in the 40s. I dressed appropriately with 2 shirts and a wind jacket on, thinking I’d peel the layers as the day warmed up. We rolled Southbound, headed for Callaway Gardens. The sunrise was beautiful as usual. I was riding with Diesel and Amy, both also in training for Sebring.

As we made our way through Greenville, the skies started to gray, and the wind picked up a little. I had lost the windbreaker, but only briefly, I now re-donned (not sure that’s a word) all of my winter riding garb, I was cold again. I instinctively started eating, knowing that I’m a calorie monster, I needed to start feeding the machine, especially given the cold. I was eating a Clif Bar, chocolate chip I think. It was good, at least until I bit into the mystery chip. It was hard, hard and extra crunchy. I bore down, finally pulverizing it, ate it right up. Then, as I ran my tongue over my teeth, I realized something was different. Well, of course it was. I had my last tooth pulled about a week and a half ago. I had broken the tips off the roots into my jawbone sometime last year (I’m chalking this one up to Fool’s Gold too, myself, but who really knows) and my body finally decided to form an abscess around the trauma, resulting in me having to get it pulled. Well in the admittedly gruesome process of wrestling that tooth from my head, the tooth next to it had gotten “in the way” a little. I guess a piece of that tooth had cracked or weakened and now had fallen off into the Clif Bar, which I had now promptly eaten. It was sharp as hell. At the next stop, I used the mirror I had attached to my glasses to look at it. Yep, confirmed, I now had a jagged piece of tooth bone back there. My tongue would get a workout the rest of the day, constantly checking on that mouth razor as it slowly pulverized the inside of my cheek. Once I got home, I got the Dremel out a fixed that right up. I’ll see if the dentist is impressed by my handiwork this next week when I go in for my routine tooth cleaning. I doubt he’ll be amused. At least he’s a better sport than the drug test lady at work. She didn’t find it too funny when I once pretended to trip as I handed her my “sample”.

Anyway, after the realization that I had now sort of cannibalized myself, the next stretch of road was just insult to injury. We were headed into Pine Mountain, on Highway 18, as the wind picked up. It buffeted me, side-to-side, in every open field, until finally settling into a demoralizing headwind. I was struggling a little. The new bike was naturally heavy. It’s a steel touring frame, designed more for load carrying ability and comfort than for going fast. I was trying to make it go fast anyway. It was doing good, it was just costing me lots of energy and I could tell it was catching up to me. I needed more calories. As Amy rolled in, she had that pissed look on her face. I knew she was debating WTF she was doing here. I suggested we roll into the Huddle House in Pine Mountain, get a bite to eat. I’d get some coffee to warm up. I ended up ordering two entrees. They were good. It was a struggle though the get going again. We had cooled down quite a bit. So had the weather outside. It now threatened to rain. We climbed Pine Mountain and rode the ridge line. Visibility got down to about 50 feet as go rolled in. I rode behind Amy. I was decked out in my usual high-vis gear and had plenty of lights. I didn’t want us run over from behind as drivers struggled to navigate the curvy rode at the top. As we descended down into Warm Springs, the skies let go a little with a light sprinkle. I was thankful for the disc brakes on the new ride, giving me confidence to see just how it handled at speed. As we started down the longest of the descents, I hunkered down, anxious to see just how fast she could go. I hit 46.5 mph before the road flattened back out, steady as a rock. I think this will be much more fun up in the real mountains than the other rim braked bikes I have which threaten to blow the tire under heavy braking loads.

We slowly ground our way back towards Peachtree City, now cold and wet. I ate two more times on the way back in, desperately needing all the calories I could get. I don’t know if it was the cold, the weight of the bike, or perhaps just lack of endurance fitness, but I was burning through calories at an alarming rate. I’ve really got to spend some time getting conditioned and re-assessing my nutrition plan for Sebring. After hours-upon-hours of struggling back in, we finally made it. The weather back at home was much better than what we had endured all day. The sun was even out. Everyone I spoke to mentioned how nice it was this day. I don’t understand how that could be because a dark cloud literally followed up all freakin’ day. Anyway, great day on the bike as usual, despite being a bit grueling. I have my work cut out for me to get ready for Sebring. I ended up going to Fresh Market later that eve because I was absolutely ravenous. Mid-way through my shopping “experience” though, I had to pass the cart off to the misses. I ran out of blood sugar and got the cold sweats. I sat in the car while she finished up, air conditioner blowing on me as I fought the nausea back. I tore through some chocolate covered walnuts once she finished shopping. They were awesome 🙂