Customer, triathlete, landscaper, bike stud and all around great guy Jake Grevenstuk traveled to Georgia to try his hand at a “hilly” 50-mile dirt road ride last weekend. He lived to tell the tale, and gave us permission to reprint here.
The 10am race start time is always a good thing. Triathlons start at sun up and I always have get up early, which leads to haste. Getting up at 7 is much better than the gun going off at 7! We stayed at a little cabin on the outskirts of Dahlonega, GA. Which happened to be on the opposite side of town from the race so we had about a 25 minute commute to Monteluce Winery. The winery was really cool. Just as hilly as everything is in northern Georgia, grapes love hillsides so this makes good sense. The soil is red clay and rocky which also lends itself to a great terroir. They constructed the buildings and homes to be reminiscent of beautiful Italian winerys and villas. They definitely had a theme going and it seemed to be working. The first part of our 51 mile ride would start in this setting with a legit cyclocross course. Temps hovered around freezing all morning and during warm-ups so I wore an extra thin layer over my PEDAL garb that I had anticipated wearing. At 9:50 I made my way with the other 250-300 masochists to the starting line. I never get to the line on time for a good spot and this was no exception. I had hoped to be close enough in the beginning to see the leaders and judge my position accordingly as the race progressed. This didn’t happen either. At 10:01 the race began and I filed my way along sluggishly for ½ mile to the first run-up. This ain’t no Michigan run-up either! Muddy red clay and grass for a 100’ vertical gain. I later heard ONE of the pros rode it (of course he would). Serpentine roads wound up some more then down and back out of the winery to 4 miles of paved roads. I started working with several other dudes to keep the peloton in sight ¼ mile up. We turned onto a gravel road over some rollers and made our way onto the forest service road and up we went. Up, up and up some more. About 7 miles total with steady grades that became steadily became steeper toward the top. I huffed and I puffed and I… took my jacket off. At this point I was damn hot and needed to catch my breath. With no end in sight, I had to concede to the mountain that it was more than I could muster. I hike-a-biked up the steep 16%+ pitches to get my heartrate down and rode the meager 10-12%’s. Finally the top and the first aid station which I blew off knowing I gave up spots while walking and talking off gear. Descending, ahhh yes, descending. I flew down passing when I could and riding pretty aggressively considering the loose gravel road and break-neck speeds. I was having fun once again and not cursing as often when we hit the pavement for a bit and managed to make up some more time before ascending once again. I knew I needed to eat something or bonk city would be the next place I came to. It is very difficult to take in nutrition on this course. No group to hide in, no casual flat section, just up or down. So I sucked down a hammer gel and ate a hammer bar while gasping for breath at the beginning of the next climb. This side of the mountain was a quaffable 7-8% pitch and much more scenic with a creek flowing just off the road and rhododendrons litter throughout the hillsides. In a few weeks this would be gorgeous when those rhodys all bloom! After chatting with a 62 year old single speeder on the way up (seriously?!) I hit the aid station to take some Enduralytes before the final 1/3 of the race. How this course kept going up continued to astound this flatlander. I was getting along though and the climbs were reciprocated by descents of less than equal measure giving my legs a chance to spin if only momentarily. As we started the, what I thought was, the final descent; I gassed it. I rode hard and fast again taking advantage my quick rolling hoops. These roads though, are cut from rocky soil and some the rocks are pretty good sized but partially buried. I took a chance riding clinchers knowing I might flat in these conditions. I had brought multiple tubes and co2s just in case I needed them. I needed them, but luckily just one. My front bottomed out on one of said jutty rocks in the roads and that was all she wrote. Literally deflated on the side of the road, 15-20 folks rode by. Most understood my plight and wished me well offering help if needed. Declining their service I made the change and took off again. A little dejected, I made peace with my position and didn’t push too hard after that. This made the rest a bit more enjoyable as I took my foot off the accelerator. Not wanting to flat again I eased my through the next long descent keeping my eyes peeled for tire grabbing rocks. We flew off the gravel and onto pavement and I hammered as best I could with what was left. There were a few other riders around but for the most part there hadn’t been anyone working together around me for 20 miles. After a hard left back onto the ‘main road’ we had started on, we wound the 4 miles back to the winery steadily eating the grade to the top of the hill where the entrance lay. While the cats were away the mice in charge of the race had re-worked the ‘cross course to let us enjoy it once again. Folks cheering and offering beer-ups greeted the now second and steeper run-up section. I graciously grabbed the delicious beverage, downed it and trudged upward. Mounted again we rode down, then back up, then up some more only on pavement this time, then around, then down through woods, then across the road, through the creek, up through the pasture and with only ¼ mile left I had to dismount again. Too…much…fatigue… Descending again and back aboard my steed I veered through the remaining taped ‘cross course and onto the pavement. I pedaled hard, right on through the inflated Maxxis tire finish line. Boom, DONE! 4:12, 51 miles, 6000’ vertical and one flat tire later my Southern Cross race was in the books. Overall, a pretty ‘fun’ race. I’m sure I’ll do it again sometime because, of course, there’s always room for improvement. I can rest assured knowing this was awesome training for my favorite race, Barry-Roubaix coming up in a few weeks.