Last year I raced the Heart of the South 200 and finished 2nd with a time of 10:46. I had finished 11 minutes behind Ed Walker, who had won the race the year earlier and held the course record at 10:24. I had led that race to the 150 mile point when I flatted. I flatted a second time, which made up most of the difference in the race. This year I was returning with two goals: to win and to set the course record.
As fate would have it, I ran into Ed at race registration and he asked, "Aren't you the guy that finished 2nd last year?" - My snarky reply was, "Yep, but I won't finish 2nd this year. I'll win". Guess that sort of set the tone for the race the next morning.
The Heart Of South 200 begins with a nice 2 mile downhill then a quick pop of a climb - I ran the climb and Ed and his friend Matt Murrell were the only ones to come with me so after 2 miles it turned into a 3 person race.
I set the pace for the first 70 miles of the race, doing most of the pulling - I would pull for 4 miles then rest for a mile with Ed pulling and occasionally Matt would take a pull, but we pretty much rode as a group. At mile 70 we had a little climb into Jacksonville. Ed turned the corner just before a truck and that put the truck between me and Matt. This was a problem because we got stuck behind the truck at a stop sign and Ed was able to put some distance between us.
I went into chase mode coming out of Jacksonville for the next 20 miles. I didn't see Ed for about 30 minutes, but finally caught sight of him as he was topping the climb out of the hollow. Then he was gone again until the flats leading to the Pac and Sak at CP 2. I passed Ed just as he stopped to refuel, but my stop was another 2 miles down the road at the bottom of the climbs, and Ed went by me as I got bottles and food.
I chased Ed up the first mountain climb and was gaining. As we got to the first top, I rode by him as he stopped to blow chunks. I thought, cool I can back off now because he's done. Wrong. Less than 2 miles down the road he came back around me and the battle was joined again. We suffered together for the next 8 miles riding up multiple long 20% grade climbs. Somewhere around mile 110 we hit a downhill with a quick climb out the other side that I was able to run up and put a gap on him. That was the last time we were together, but not the last time that he kept me pushing hard.
During the 3 mile climb to Cheaha, the highest point in Alabama, I thought I saw him behind me again, so I kicked it a little harder. I knew if he caught me he could ride my wheel, but if he didn't he couldn't catch me on the flats. So I pushed over the top of the mountain with a 2 minute or so lead.
After Cheaha, you have a long descent toward Talladega where the last official stop was. At the rest stop I was 3 minutes up. Trisha, my super excellent support crew, caught up to me about 10 miles past Talladega and said that Ed was 3 minutes back as of the Walmart in Talladega. I decided to kick it up a gear and had her wait and give me a status report. He had dropped to 4 minutes back. So I had her wait again and he had dropped to 9 minutes back.
I kept pushing hard through the last two ridge climbs and had Trish wait again at the top, about 20 miles from the end, to see how far back Ed had dropped. As I was riding in to the finish, the race support crew of Tanya and Josh came by me and told me that race record was 10:24 and that I should be able to beat it easily if I kept my pace. I stepped it up a little more.
Trish caught up to me about 5 miles from the finish and said Ed was 15 back as of the Top of the Ridge so I stopped pushing so hard. I knew I had the record and that Ed wasn't going to catch me. I cruised in with a 10:08 finish for the 197 miles and 12000' climb and set the new course record with a 19.4 average speed. I was off the bike for less than 4 minutes the entire race, which included stops and lights so obviously my crew did a great job!
Ed came in at 10:22 so he had ridden a personal best for the course, beating his record from 2 years ago and Matt finished in 10:29.
Kurt said I'm supposed to write about the crew exploits. In this case, me, myself, and I were the crew. First you must understand that I have absolutely NO sense of direction. Please bear this in mind while reading the post as it has a definite bearing on the performance of my duties.
I got up at 3am. This is extraordinary in and of itself. I never knew for sure that the world actually existed at this time of morning. I had previously just taken it on faith. After I saw the racers off, I plugged in the computer and began charging Kurt's ipod so he could use it later in the race. Then I set off to gas up the van and catch up to Kurt. I took off in the wrong direction and turned around about 5 miles down the road. I backtracked and tried again. I finally caught up to the end of the racers and started the slow process of passing them. I found a station with diesel and started refueling while I went inside to get some coffee. I got stuck behind a person who was paying with nickels and dimes. Argh! Finally got back outside and realised that I had the slowest pump ever. The pump had only put in 4 gallons of gas. I gave up, got in the van, and set off again. Yep, I was at the end of the line again. Pass, pass, pass. I went by a group of 4 with one of them in black and white and thought, "Yay, I finally caught up with him". I went another 3 miles down the road, parked, and waited with a bottle. It wasn't him. Back in the van again and pass, pass, pass. I get to the first CP and 2 guys are there in black & white. They see me and start waving me on down the road. Still not Kurt. I finally catch up to him, go down the road a few miles and set up for a full restock. Everything goes well and I start patting myself on the back as I put the supplies away. This is when I slip in the gravel and do a belly flop in the parking lot of the church. It's no fair to hurt yourself at a church because you just can't say all the things you're thinking!
Okay, now all the bad stuff is out of the way and it will be smooth sailing. I mean, I finally found Kurt so it was all good, right? The oil light comes on. Oh, boy. I am about as good with vehicles as I am with directions. I am fairly certain, however, that this is not a good thing. I begin leapfrogging and turn the motor off while I wait. Eureka! The light didn't come back on. Life is good again.
We make it to the top of the mountain and I am quite brave and turn around and go to Talladega via real highways. Or maybe it wasn't bravery but cowardice. Last year I drove the road the racers were going down and it scared me witless. Uh, uh, no way was I going down those roads if there was an alternative.
Relief! I made it to the Walmart before Kurt. I also made it there before anyone from the race did either. This was a bit problematic because I had a drop bag from Peggy that I needed to leave there with the race people. Kurt left completely restocked and Ed came by about 3 minutes later. Tanya and Josh, part of the HOS crew, drove in just as I was looking up the number for the race HQ to find out what to do with the bag. Yay! Now I can go back to following my favorite biker. A plug here for Tanya and Josh. They were absolutely great. They were always willing to go the extra mile for any of the racers or crew members. Thanks!!
The rest of the race was fairly routine leapfrogging. Go ahead 2 miles on climbs or 3 to 4 miles in relatively flat areas, get out and stand by the road to be able to hear Kurt tell me what he needs, if anything. Or stand by the road with a bottle in hand and retrieve/refill the one he slings toward me. The entire time I'm driving I'm watching the road like a madwoman for the little white arrows telling me when I need to turn. Remember, it's the directionally challenged person driving here.
The last stop I make is at a little, abandoned, I thought, gas station. There is a hand-made sign stapled to the light pole saying they buy junk cars. Lovely. I make a hand-off and Kurt tells me to wait for Ed so he knows how close Ed is to him. A few minutes later a really old and rusted truck pulls up. A guy that would be an excellent advertisement for a hill-billy, complete with spit cup, climbs out and goes into the store. Eek! Guess it's not abandoned, it just looks like it. I exercise fortitude and wait for almost 15 minutes. I decided that was long enough and start to get into the van when Ed comes by. He says he is okay, just tired and I go into zoom, zoom mode trying to get past Kurt to the finish line.
I make it to finish in time to hear a lady asking directions from Tanya. She is supposed to meet her husband 25 miles from the finish to give him supplies. She then tells about missing him on one of their agreed upon stops because she saw a sign for fresh strawberries and went to buy some. Her husband went by and she can't find him again so she is going to drive the route backwards. I feel better about all the snafu's during the day after hearing that one.
Woo-hoo! Kurt makes it in 10:08. Ed comes in faster than his previous best and Matt, Ed's teammate, does really well too. It's a good day.