One Woman's Vista 300
This is my first time to really do a write-up of any race. I'm not sure why, except I tend to lose so many pieces to the puzzle from my memory banks that I just go “oh well.” But, I've got my glass of wine and my notes, so here goes, just a regular single mom of 2 girls doin her thang......
Well, my race plan, I said “plan” lol … Night 1: Mile 135 N. River Rec Center... Night 2: Thunder Rock campground… Night 3: Kim’s outpost. Well, of course none of that worked out exactly how I planned. When we rolled from the start, I was a little anxious for a few reasons. A) the possible rain that had been in the forecast (80 percent chance for days), … and B) the fact that even though I was prepared physically and had been training, I was a little less mentally prepared as workload and personal piles of shit had gotten larger as the race got closer.
I was pushing through, not wanting to let my weakness peek through. The night before, it rained, I mean POURED ALL NIGHT LONG, but when we woke the sun was shining and it never rained one drop on me the whole ride. It was a “Vista Miracle.” I've experienced this before at Skyway, too (it was a skyway miracle then). When Kim said go all my anxieties melted away and I started to move my feet and pedal. The first few miles were muddy as hell and me and my bike were covered in mud, and with the first creek crossing about 5 miles or so into the ride I was also soaking wet from the waist down. I struggled at this creek crossing because the water was pretty high, for me waist deep, and pretty dang swift. In fact I’m not sure how I got across without losing my balance and my bike to the water...It almost happened but didn't, thank goodness, as I held my bike over my head.
Then climb, climb, climb that muddy as hell trail! I felt great all day long. Really great. I finally felt like the work I had put in from having a coach was paying off! Some advice from Scott Sidener last year before TNGA was to ride my own ride and that's what I intended to do. If ride my own ride meant being last then that was that. If it meant being first, then awesome but “ride your own ride” ... and thats what I did. I reached the overlook off of that first muddy trail and there were folks there stopped. Jen Colestock and a few others. Jen rolled on as I rolled up and I stopped for a second and grabbed a bite to eat out of my feed bag and then moved on, catching up with Jen, and then caught up with Justin Shealey.
Just as I was coming up on Justin, I got a HUGE stick stuck in my derailleur. After getting it out, the shifting wasn't quite the same (that would come into play later). As Justin and I rode along together, I began to have some SERIOUS leg cramps. The leg cramps were soon so intense that I was off my bike writhing in pain in some grass. I could barely pedal and was worried that it was going to take me out. This was not too far from Tellico Plains. I took two salt pills, guzzled some water with Infinit, and literally sucked on 2 NUUN tablets to get concentrated electrolytes into my system fast. It worked. Jen came along then, too, and rode the rest of the way with us to TP (meanwhile I’m warding off cramps and shifting is continuing to be an issue). When we arrived there I had two Gatorades, a pickle (which was disgusting) and some fries with a LOT of salt, salt and vinegar chips, too, (it was all about the salt, lol). We all sat and chatted about the ride so far and swapped stories and then got ready to move on, but not before I ordered a cheeseburger to-go and shoved it into my pocket for the road. It was going to be my reward when I decided to lay my head down....at mile 135, my goal remember, lol.
So we got on our bikes and rolled onward toward Indian Boundary. There are so many things that I cannot remember, but what I do remember is there was a ton of climbing and that it was great to have others to ride along with to share in your misery. I knew Justin already but didn't know Jen before this race, and it was great to meet her and get to ride with another super-strong woman with grit! I feel grateful that we got to meet and know one another. New friends are a great addition to your life and just having them there helped with the suffering! As we got about 30 miles from Indian Boundary, there’s a shortcut that you can take to get you to IB in about a mile, camp (and then could pop back on course the next morning). Jen and Justin decided to go ahead and camp for the night and I decided to press on with the 30 miles to IB, so I wouldn't have to tackle it in the morning. We parted ways sadly and I pressed onward....riding my own ride, guesstimating my arrival back at IB at around 1:30 am-ish. So for 30 miles I went. I was tired and wanted to rest and the dark on a bike spooks me, but I put my big-girl pants on and continued. I didn't see any wildlife. Thank goodness, as again the bears, stories of mountain lions, and my own experience with wild hogs, freaks me out. So when I finally reached Indian Boundary at about 12:30 am, I was relieved. I got there earlier than we had predicted. I looked for Jen and Justin, and the Cycling Sasquatch crew, but couldn't find them, which was a bit of a downer … but I didn't let it get to me. I laid my head down and tried to prepare myself mentally for what was ahead of me the next day. I "slept" on a concrete bench until my contact points couldn't take it anymore and then I decided the soft ground with bugs was better so I moved and was there for the duration.
At about 5 am I woke to my alarm. I couldn’t believe it was really time to get up. Just as I was about to give in to the alarm, I heard someone rolling through the campground. I didn't want to yell at them in the campground and wake everyone up so I didn't. Later found out it was Brent Nelson. I went out of the camp area and discovered the whole other camping area where I should have been which had pavilions, and bathrooms etc. All the major luxuries in life and was disappointed that I hadn't ridden far enough before finding this area the night before (which is where I’m Jen and Justin had to have camped with Cycling Sasquatch). The trails were fun and smooth around the lake leaving IB, allowing me to enjoy a false sense of what was ahead before coming upon the big, bad Cherohala Skyway. I would rather climb Hog Pen twice! It was long and steep and never-ending, … a slow grind all the way to the top. But hey, here's the good news: Beautiful overlooks all along the way! It had absolutely amazing views. I caught up with Brent Nelson along the way on that climb, as well as Derrick Bowerman, … they were taking a minute to smell the roses and take in the beautiful overlook. That's when I found out that it was Brent who had rolled through the camping area where I was camped earlier. I stopped as well and chatted for a few about the route so far, how we were feeling and what the upcoming plans/goals were. Derrick was going to try to get to Green Cove and then was out due to some "areas" that were too far gone. Brent’s plan was to get to the cut off that goes back to flip flop at the 154-ish mile and cut off from there. I was planning of course to finish the route in it's entirety. We all finally decided it was time to cut the lolllygagging and get to work. There was still lots of climbing to be had so we were on our way again.
I rode my own pace and winding around, switchback after switchback, until I finally made it to the top. Good thing, too, because I was short on water. I drank all my water on that climb and was beginning to worry whether I would have enough. The climb took that long. I finally made it onto North River Road and it was a sweet little dirt rode downhill. Shaded and cool after being in the hot sun on that road for so long was a wonderful feeling. The first water source I came to, I pulled over to filter. It was a perfect filter spot. It was easy to get to, a small flowing waterfall so it filled my sawyer bag easily, and a perfectly placed ledge to sit my bottles on while they were waiting patiently to be refilled. I wasn't there long before Brent came tearing down the road. He needed water also and stopped to filter as well. We chatted again saying if we didn't see each other again than good luck. I finished up and went on my way. The downhill was a welcome sight! Finally reached the North River Check Station. This was where I was going to originally try and make it to the first night but, well, that obviously didn't happen. I stopped at the check station since they had a water pump and cleaned the mud off my legs and splashed the cool clean water over my face (Wow, how small things like that can change your attitude quick). It made me appreciate the small things in life. I walked around it and just took a minute to breathe and take in all that I had done so far and then moved on.
Little did I know Brent had passed me again while I was stopped at the Check Station so when I arrived in Green Cove he was there already and he was trying to figure out how I had gotten behind him. The Green Cove Store folks are awesome, super nice and helpful. They have tons of re-supplies and drinks, etc., so I was able to stock up. I even had a biscuit that was hard as a rock ... but ate it anyway, I didn't care … it tasted like a steak to me. I loaded up on some other items plus an ice cream sandwich before rolling again. The best Ice Cream Sammie ever! As Brent and I left Green Cove, I distinctly remember him saying that there was a beast of a climb coming up as if there hadn’t been one just yet lol. We traveled along and started winding our way up Bald River Road. It’s a dirt/gravel road and yet another climb that goes on and on and on … and on. Some parts steeper than others. I started to fall back some on this climb and Brent got ahead of me and my mental demons began to chisel their way into my consciousness. He yelled back and I said I was trying to keep from going to my dark place and so I kept climbing knowing at some point there would be a top to this climb, too. It wasn’t too long before I heard Brent up ahead, talking to someone. I figured another Vista rider. As I rounded a corner I couldn’t see Brent any longer but could see this person on a gravel bike coming down the hill towards me. It was Carey Lowery. WOW. We were FB friends but hadn’t met in person. She was riding part of the course to help support the riders! What a great feeling to have someone out there just to say what a great job we were all doing and what an inspiration we all are to her. Ha! She’s the inspiration! We chatted for a few and she took a pic and then I was on my way. I cannot tell you how much that small token of support meant to me. As we parted ways, I could tell my psyche had come back from that dark slippery slope of a place and was back on track. Never underestimate how much something like that can mean to someone. I didn’t see Brent again until I came up to the Coker Creek Welcome Center. It was soon to be open so we both hung around, made some calls to family since it’s the first time I had of service in a day and a half. A few snacks and what not in the welcome center, super friendly and nice.
We headed out … Brent riding to the cut off to head back early, and I was on to Ducktown. I finally made it to Ducktown around 7-ish. My bike now shifting like complete shit. I had attempted to adjust earlier without too much success, but planned to continue to try to adjust it while here in Ducktown. First, though, I had to eat. I ran into Linda Sledge and Kevin at Hardees, and we chatted for a good bit about plans. Linda and Kevin finished and decided to get on down the road. At this point, with my worsening bike issue, I contemplated bailing. Texted my coach to say it was possible I could be out. I didn’t want to get stuck in the middle of singletrack in the middle of the night exhausted and tired, unable to rationally think through a mechanical. But, after thinking it through, I was able to get it working smoothly enough (which still sucked but was better) and rolled on with a plan to make to hopefully make it to the Ocoee Whitewater Center. The original goal was to the Thunder Creek Campground but now I was tired. I shortened my goal to WW center and would be overjoyed to make it there. Brushy Creek Trail was a sweet little welcomed, peaceful and fun night ride. Easy and enjoyable … even tired. As I came up on to the WW center I met up with Linda and Kevin again and we chatted a bit and they continued to move on. I planned to get some sleep. Before I laid down to rest, I decided a cold ice bath would be great for the old legs so I sat down in the COLD Ocoee water and iced my legs and Splashed cold water on my face, arms, neck and over my head. It felt amazing. I put on my sleeping shorts and shirt and slept to the sound of the Ocoee in the rocking chairs on the second floor deck of the center. It was a little piece of heaven.
When morning came, I was slow to move and didn’t leave out until about 8:30 am (another reason I didn’t make under 3 days and a lesson learned). My goal was to make to Kim’s Outpost and when there, assess how I was feeling and where I wanted to reach after her place (meanwhile bike still not cooperating). The Amish countryside leading up to Kim’s is so beautiful with lush rolling hills. It’s so peaceful and was a welcomed part of the ride. As I was finally rolling up to her place, I could see her in the road. She was there to greet me with her camera and all. It was a great site to see her there as support for the riders. She had water, Gatorade, snacks and all as a neutral stop. It felt so good to stop, take my shoes off, rest and to splash my face with cool running water. I wasn’t sure how long I planned to stay there, but for a while, as I needed to charge some of my lights so I wouldn’t be without them that night. I wasn’t there too long before Betsy Schauer came on down the road. Kim caught some pics of her and then she kept going. Betsy didn’t want to stop. She said she needed to just keep riding. At that point, I thought she would possibly beat me to the finish. I stayed at Kim’s for 2 hours when I couldn’t take it any longer and decided it was time to get a move on. It was then that I knew for sure that I was going to ride through the night until I reached Flip-Flop Burgers. I had no intention at that point to sleep any real length of time again until it was over.
So on I went. I rode and I rode … and I rode, bike shifting like shit. I had only three gears, the 11 and 12 speed, thank goodness, and maybe one other. It wouldn’t stay in any other gear. I needed to change my bent derailleur hanger but was too tired to do any work on a bike so I just pressed on. As rode on through the night, I passed where Betsy was camping. I was delirious and falling asleep on my bike. As morning came I was in bad shape with sleep deprivation. All the trees became whatever my mind thought about. I sat in the road and laid over my bike and slept for 10 minutes at a time, setting my alarm. I stood, propping on my handlebars, catching winks of sleep here and there until my legs buckled, and woke me. Then I would push on. It was 12 miles from the finish that I started to go back to that dark place. Tired and exhausted, when the route went off the dirt road and up to the right onto some HAB single track, I almost lost it. Pretty sure I was cussing to no one but myself. It was one climb after another until literally the finish. I was elated to see the end. Done and done after a 26 hour pull with no sleep when I rolled up at Flip-Flop Burgers, finishing in 73 hours and 30 mins. … first among the women, with Betsy not far behind me.
I earned the Gold Buckle and now it proudly sits on my fireplace mantle at home to remind me of what we all can accomplish, and are capable of, when we focus our minds to succeed.
Day 1 Strava - https://www.strava.com/activities/1585754879
Day 2 Strava - https://www.strava.com/activities/1585752892
Day 3 Strava - https://www.strava.com/activities/1590016274