Sunday, March 7, 2010

Episode VI: Return of the Jinx

I have now DNF'd at the Snake more times than I have F'd.

Okay, let me start by directing you to Episode V: The Emily Strikes Back to get up to speed on my history with Snake Creek Gap. I'm not going over it again, so those of you who were out sick that day need to catch up on what you missed.

As I was driving over on Friday, I was being pretty fatalistic about Snake Creek Gap. It's a beautiful piece of trail, no doubt about it. There are tons of people I know racing, which always makes it more fun. The race atmosphere is really laid back and grass-roots. And entry fees benefit SORBA trail efforts, which is a great reason to support the race. But I have trouble staying focused with the complicated format-- the shuttling and the waiting and the time trial aspect. Also, it was going to be my first really hard ride on Iggy the new bike, and I was still getting comfortable with the handling and components. And clearly I've just had pretty bad luck with this race.

This time the shuttling was pretty low drama, I hitched a ride in a pickup trailing one of the 30-bike trailers and had a mellow ride up chatting with Anthony S. My start went off smoothly too, there was not much of a wait for a start time.

All systems go, just after the start

The weather was great, cool and sunny. The mud from February's TT was all but gone, and the epic river crossing was now just bottom bracket high. Everything was going great, I was riding hard and surprised to feel how focused I was on the course. You can see where this is going, can't you?

Halfway up a short climby section, keeping pace between a couple other racers, I felt a clunking under the left foot. I assumed the cleat had come loose, and thought I'd pull over to check at the top of the grade. Ten pedal strokes later, my entire left crankarm came off. Investigating, I realized that the brand new crankset took a #10 allen wrench, which no one carries on the trail. It's the size even bigger than the Crank Bros pedal spindle, and really doesn't occur on bikes very often. This was absolutely a problem of the new-bike-shakedown variety, and it's just a shame the weather and schedule had kept me from any proper new-bike-shakedown kind of ride. It's my own damn fault for not checking the bike over thoroughly enough, although of course it is primarily the fault of my Snake Creek Gap Jinx.

I had no idea which part of my bike was about to fall off. photo here

Without a way to put the crankarm back on my race was over. I was about 5 miles from the aid station at the halfway point, but those miles included a lot of descending. I hiked the uphills and the flats, and bombed the downhills with my left leg held out sideways for balance. Unfortunately, this descending style is a bit uncontrolled, and I poked a sizeable hole in my rear tire while bouncing through some rocks. I had to keep stopping to air up the tire, just so I could keep up my downhill sketchfests. Eventually I made it to the aid station, and in an all-too-familiar series of events hitched a ride back to the finish line with a volunteer.

Lots and lots of people love this race. I love this trail, but I think I may be done racing on it. Six times, and not a single satisfying result. I gotta also say that except for that one problem, the bike was amazing, the wheels fast and light, the fork responsive, the frame handling great (even during the one-crank downhilling). Thanks NWGA-SORBA for putting on such a cheerful and good-natured event that it dulls the pain of my personal constant bad luck on this course. But next year I think I might just donate $85 to SORBA and spare myself another jinxed race.

Snake Creek Gap Coda:

I arrived at the venue after sunset the day before the race and took the dog for a hike to stretch my legs. By headlamp, we walked over the last rocky stretches of the racecourse's singletrack, where on the bike my focus is at its narrowest. On foot, I could take in the full beauty of these ridges and gaps, outlined faintly in the night. And I remembered something else I'd read about Snake Creek Gap. On May 14 1864, Union and Confederate forces waged brutal battle at Snake Creek and Dug Gaps, over control of rail lines from Chattanooga to Atlanta. A rail corridor still extant, though now in the shadow of Interstate 75. These forested gaps and ridges the perfect place for remorseless guerrilla warfare, the daily cat-and-mouse game of the Georgia Campaign.

Troops hidden in the layered wildness of the Gaps
image from here
"A fierce conflict raged [as Union forces]... charged the line of rebel rifle-pits... and intrepidly carried them. This was about seven P.M. An hour afterward the rebel leaders, massing a large force, attempted to regain possession of these works. Coming boldly up the long hill to the very foot of the works they seemed determined to retake them or perish; but they were met by a determination as stern as their own. After struggling desperately the rebel most was hurled down the hill, leaving its sides covered with wounded and dead." p 355 of Harpers Magazine, June 4 1864.
I looked around me, imagining that scene. Like now, it had been night. But it had been May, so hotter and densely leafed, no cold wind whipping across the valley. Before the kudzu invasion. Before large-scale logging took the longleaf. But despite the intervening years, the bones of the hillside were unchanged. Stony knives, the remnants of the continent's oldest mountains. The thin ridgeline the trail follows had been there then. No doubt patrolled by soldiers, looking down on either side into the darkness below. Just how would these slopes, strewn with the dead and dying, have looked to a soldier? No one mentions that we ride on such a landscape. In the South, these graveyards are everywhere.

1 comment:

  1. sorry about the race, but thanks for the history lesson. How many times do we ride through places that have stories behind them, long forgotten by most of today's users...