Bootlegger 100 Gravel Race, April 2018
Promoter Eric Wever said gravel conditions were harder than last year and that finish times were about 40 minutes slower (JOM disagrees with this statement, considering the first edition was held in rain… link to video!) Having never done this race before all I knew for sure was that it was one hell of a challenge. The climbs were either long and steep or short and steeper. The descents were either long and steep or short and … terrifying.
I admit it. I am chicken $hit when it comes to flying down hills with dump trucks of marbles strewn everywhere; both regular and jumbos. All race long hoards passed me on the downhills; men, women and newbies. I waved them all through. “Stay away from me” I warned anybody trying to pass. “I suck at this.” My hands cramped from desperately clutching the brakes. They should mount an orange triangle on my back. I am a road hazard.
JOM, a maniacally fast descender, all ways yells at me. “Oi! ya twongle! Stay off the brakes on the corners! Never turn the front wheel! Ignore the washboard! Let the bike go where it wants to go!”
In other words just go ahead and launch off the cliff. Instead, I just stiffly flail down the mountain as best I can, generating the smell of brake rotor magma and fear. My only hope is to catch back on by climbing hard. Luckily that sometimes works. Actually, its the ONLY thing that works for me.
The race started mellow enough with a huge crowd of cheerful and polite adventurers gradually and gratefully warming up on a blessed few miles of pavement. Once we hit the yellowish first gravel climb, things began to unravel.
The mountain monkeys scooted up and away while most of us began looking desperately for one more tooth on our cassette. No use. We had to run what we brung now.
Whenever possible I had several toccata conversations with riders from many scattered states. Names were exchanged and stories were
embellished. For the most part, I rode alone… digging the sun-dappled trees and longingly looking at the flowers and mountain streams
So peaceful… but don’t get lulled to sleep! There’s a race to be raced damn it! Eyes on the ground! Scan for hidden hazards!
No enjoying now! “and miles to go before I sleep and miles to go before I sleep” wrote Robert Frost. Of course, he rode a cushiony horse cart not a titanium trebuchet trying to launch me into the side of a mountain.
Ramble on. Ramble on.
With about half of the race over and the highest mountains and longest continuous climbs behind, the road meandered down to a peaceful, groomed and much-appreciated gravel road. Under a delightful blue sky, a gentle breeze effortlessly pushed us along next to a deep ravine carved by a cascading river whose banks were spotted with several people fly fishing knee deep in cool, cool water.
How wonderful it would have been to just stop and soak my cranky quads in that mountain ice water… but NO! On with the race… next stop Maple Sally Road.
Maple Sally as a road makes no sense. It’s like fiendish up and down17 mile-long electrocardiogram display but on a monstrous scale. For 17 miles it stabs steeply upward for a kilometer (with gradients as high as 21%) then plunges you right back down where you are immediately forced back up.
Climb, sweat, climb… climb, swear, climb. Up… your rear wheel wants to spin loose. Down… the front wants to slide you off a cliff. Up and down, up and down you go for almost two hours. You can’t really get into a rhythm nor makeup time going downhill. You grind up at 30 revs then plummet back down.
I think only saw one or two jeeps the whole time creeping along… usually on my damn side of the road! “Move bitch!” I said… on the INSIDE… “This is my goat trail… so move!… And turn off that AC while you’re at it! You’re pissing me off!” I did develop a helpful climbing song for Maple Sally called “Mustang Sally” sung by Wilson Pickett. Perhaps you’ve heard it. “Mustang Sally, guess you better slow your Mustang down! Mustang Sally, I guess I better put your flat feet on the ground!” Couldn’t have said it better.
But I absolutely loved every minute of this terrain. Nothing like it in Florida except maybe a hill near Orlando called Sugarloaf Mountain. It’s gradient is about 8% for .5 kilometers. Roadies and triathletes love it to death. I’d much rather be up here.
Eventually, the fun ended and as I came around the last steep corner of Maple Sally. I shot past my teammate Rusty (aka “Florida Cracker”) who was off his bike using it as a walker. “Uh-O.” I hit the brakes. “Uh, Rusty… you OK man?” “Maybe.” he grimaced. “I’m just trying to see if I can put weight on my leg… it might be broken…but you go ahead K-Dogg, I don’t want to ruin your race.” he said waving me off. “Don’t even start” I said. I’m not going anywhere…it’s just a bike ride.” “Sorry man, I slid out and landed hard on my hip” he said.
Turns out Rusty’s leg was broken. Left femur up high. And so, with the huge help of Jarret Peek driving his Honda Element up Maple Sally, we managed to transport Rusty to the really great Caldwell Memorial Hospital in Lenoir. The scan confirmed a break and two hours later Rusty was in surgery. The next morning he was already cheerfully doing PT on a walker up and down the hall. His devoted wife and nurse Pam drove all night to bring him back to Florida. These two really are as tough as the original Florida Crackers. (Mrs. Cracker?)
I’m sure he’s got a calendar and is eagerly plotting his next race.
We all wish him and everybody involved in the Bootlegger races the very best.
K-Dogg, Bird Man, Florida Cracker and the rest of GravelCyclist.com!
Even though I was unable to finish the 100-mile race our newest and very talented teammate Ted Hollander, aka “Bird Man”, won the 60+ Men’s 60-mile race. Congrats Bird Man!
JOM says there is a Bootlegger video coming. He’s just inundated with writing about goodies from Sea Otter, producing at least seven or either other videos and his regular job.