Copper Hill, TN
April 21st 2007
The weather chased us (me and Christopher McQueen) out of Boston, we passed a line of yellow school buses carrying Boston Marathoners to Hopkinton on Monday morning, watching flags pinned in a westward direction the whole way. We didn’t envy them.
What we didn’t know was that the rain and 50 mile per hour winds would follow us allthe way through Virginia, the winds wouldn’t back down until they had ripped Chris’ Independent Crown Jewel halfway from the roof, leaving it’s left front fork dropout oprhaned in the Thule rack clamp.
We were crossing the Susquehanna north of Baltimore, there was a high wind warning sign for a normal day, what hit us was probably hurricane force. McQueen observed calmly “Dude my bike’s off”. I looked through the sunroof and saw no bike at all, a semi-truck was beeping at us, I thought it had either gone under the eighteen wheels of the truck or blown off the bridge entirely. We pulled off to the side once over the bridge and assessed the
situation…not good. McQueen immediately put in a call to International Bicycle Center back in Boston to get a fork Fedexed down to his mom’s house in Cornelia, GA. Long, sordid tale short, he was never able to ride his bike during the entire trip, this after buying a take-off fork at a shop in Athens, using the leg of an Ultimate Stand as a make-shift slide-hammer to force the crown race on, seriously long, frustrating story.
We stayed over Monday night in Jefferson, NC at McQueen’s Mah-ma’s (Gramma) house, the wind roared all night long, shaking the house, it sounded like Niagra Falls was right next door. After the quiet country road in front of Mahma's had turned into a four lane high speed jobby, she had taken to the habit of doing a loop through her yard to get pointed nose out to traffic...we felt this was a good idea as well.
In the morning we pushed on through to Another McQueen family member’s house, Chris’ Mom’s in Cornelia, GA, a nice little town north of Athens.
Wednesday I got out for a ride just down the way from where were staying, just a quick mountain ride around Lake Russell, some flowy non-technical singletrack. I was really trying to work out any bugs with my new ride before I raced it 100 miles on Saturday, it was a good thing too, I made quite a few adjustments.
That evening after some record shopping in Athens we went over to Chris’ sister and brother in law’s, had a few beers, had a little listening part for the new Nick Cave Grinderman album. Bro in law Colin also played D.J., treating our ears to some obscure Athens Indie Rock, now I need to go “Record” shopping yet again.
Got a late start Thursday then tried to traverse the state via back road against Colin’s advice to stay on the interstate and circumvent the Georgian Interior on our way to Chattanooga to check out the Lookout Mountain stage of the Tour De GA.
We didn’t make it, unless your idea of making is it is showing up just in time to get stuck helping the volunteers take down the “Finish” sign and seeing no racing whatsoever. Lookout Mt. Was beautiful though, hope to make it up there next year. Tried to work out the broken fork issue at a shop in Chattanooga , again to no avail. The only positive points of the day were getting a ride in up on Raccoon Mt. Outside Chattanooga
and going to Waffle House for the first time. Chris hooked up some official Waffle House music which allowed the wait staff to demonstrate that North East Coasters don’t have the market on sarcasm cornered. “Oh I ain’t heard this song in sooo long…I could listen to this all day!” They were relieved when he followed it up with Gladys Knight and The Pips.
Friday we were set to redeem ourselves, striking out toward Brasstown Bald early. On the way we stopped in a town which was entirely Swiss themed, pretty odd. Chris explained to me that the Civil War…excuse me “War of Northern Aggression” had NOTHING to do with slavery…0, it in fact had everything to do with the desire of all Southerners to covert the American south into a giant Sound of Music theme park, of course they lost and had to settle for Graceland and Dollywood, that’s my understanding anyway.
We arrived at the entrance to Brasstown in good time, hopped on our bikes, me on my on my single speed Mt. Bike and Chris on my Canondale road bike. I knew that it was and incredibly silly thing for me to be grinding up the 17-20% grades of Brasstown when I had a 100 mile Mt. Bike race the very next day with 14,000 feet of climbing.
I never said I was Rocket Surgeon. We weren’t allowed to walk either, the rabid fans were getting their game ready by cheering on all the poor bastards weaving to the top of this spire of a hill. On the way up I stopped a Port-A-Potty, it was on an incline so as I exited the door whipped shut, cutting my left leg open…oh the humanity!
Keep reading and you’ll learn why in retrospect it seems pretty funny that I even took time to document this “wound”. I suppose if we were going to make just one stage of the Tour this was the one to make, damn good stuff, really exciting to watch.
Our departure from Brasstown was delayed by a medical emergency, someone had a coronary while ascending. I don’t think it was a racer, although I never did confirm that. Anyway people didn’t deal with it well, I’d heard southerners were a nicer lot than their northern counterparts, not in this case, folks were pretty put out by this inconsiderate bastard who went and had a heart attack on their busy vacation day. One of the main offenders was from Jersey, but there were a whole bunch of guys drawling their complaints at the Jack-Booted EMTs.
After the stage we made the jump up to Copperhill, it was quick and easy to get there but not so quick and easy finding the motel…alright, it’s taken me the better part of a week to get this far with this report so I’m going to skip over the details of our logistical issues the night before the race and get down to business.
4 hours of sleep + 4AM wake up = asking myself why the hell I do this crap. Later in the day as I was rolling down a sun-soaked ridge line looking out over a green Tennessee valley I knew why, but as I stared at my swollen eyelids through swollen eyelids in the mirror well before first light I was a little stumped. At the start it was cold, way colder than I had imagined it would be, the weather report said it was going to hit 80º, it took it’s damn time doing so, my knees were purple for the first three hours of the race. It wasn’t a bad start for the single speeders, we took off up a decently graded road climb, I was able to make (the back of) the front group of fifty or so, we went into a downhill, kind of terrifying the sound of all those knobbies buzzing down the road.
Wasn’t too long before we entered the woods and hit some tight singletrack where whatever position you were in entering you were going to be in on the other side, no passing to speak of. The only way to get by another rider was to ask politely and hope he’d eventually let you come around him. It was a nice way to wake up, gently spinning down these flowy trails, I wasn’t looking to pass anyone, I was content to warm up and breath in the Tennessee morning air.
My bottle ejected on a decent, dumping most of it’s sticky red contents in the dust, causing me to stop at the first aid station, something I don’t normally do but I was taking a relaxed attitude toward this race anyway so I wasn’t sweating the lost seconds. After the first ten miles or so of singletrack we got spit out onto the dirt and gravel roads which would comprise the majority of this race. Definitely not the most interesting race course ever but a nice way to start the season, get some miles in one’s legs, enjoy some scenery, and meet some nice folks. This race was more social than usual for me as well, I chatted up a whole bunch of people, basically anyone I came across who wasn’t listening to an ipod (LUCKY!) or responding to my questions monosyllabically. You’d be amazed how ten minutes of small talk here or there with several different people makes the day fly by. It was also nice to some familiar faces like Dejay Birtch, always a nice guy to run into on the trail.
About 18 miles into the race me and four other guys were descending a gravel road going around 35 miles per hour, ahead there were some marshals telling us to turn right onto a paved road, I was in the lead and decided to take the corner fairly fast. I’m not completely sure what happened here but I think a scattering of gravel onto the pavement caused my front tire to wash out. Whatever it was I went down hard and fast in an awkward lowside crash, I skidded a good ways on my shoulder and helmet, a great feeling, you should try it at least once, I managed to shear the skin off my right hip, a lot of my leg and right arm, a bit of my face, and my left hand. I peeled myself off the ground dripping blood all over my white socks, this took me right back the summer of ’81 when I crashed my Columbia “Apache” on a gravel covered paved road, of course I was helmet-free and took the whole crash in the face, it required 72 stitches to close me back up and my white adidas shell toes (I wore them because David Letterman did and because they were hand-me-downs, this was well before the Beastie Boys and Run DMC) were never the same again. The first thing I asked the Marshals was “how’s my face”, a woman wiped it off with a wet towel and told me it was alright. The next thing I asked was if someone with a cotton shirt could wipe my glasses, gotta have your priorities. This might have seemed kind of crazy as I trailed blood from the crash site over to the group of horrified onlookers. I kept saying “don’t let this be it, man don’t let this be it”. After a few minutes I realized that was relatively OK to ride problem was my bike didn’t seem to be, my front brake caliper was locked like a pit bull’s jaws on my disc rotor. I checked to see if a ferrule had slipped out or something, it took a second to determine that my bars had actually gone around 360º and the housing was wrapped around my stem and steerer, a quick flip of the bars and I was “all set”. As I rode off I was pretty sure that I was going to have to drop out at the next aid station, the flesh wounds were gushing nicely on their way to clotting and becoming encrusted in dust but my right side was shutting down and every time I tried to stand and pull on the bars something went “POP!”.
As I caught up to people who had seen me go down I was told that they thought I was going home in an ambulance, the sliding on my head across the entire road was dramatic I guess. I came upon this dude who looked me over then offered me an 800 milligram Motrin horse pill, he told me to wait half an hour before bagging it and that if at that point the Motrin wasn’t cutting it he had some acid (that’s a joke for those of you from the mid-west and Scandinavia). The Motrin did kick in, wow, after that I was rockin’, hardly even gritting my teeth in agony.
Funny thing, aside from the massive loss of skin and all this was not a particularly hard race for me, I just pedaled my bike as efficiently as I could, ate a lot of bananas and PB & J, and what ever else they had to offer at the aid stations, and survived. I arrived at the fifteen mile to go mark with plenty of juice to attack the last stretch of singletrack with a fury, picking up a few spots. I did relinquish one spot on the final paved approach to the line but didn’t feel too bad about it. Man, that last bit of singletrack was fun, mostly downhill, bermy, and fast, just the way to bookend a long day of grinding hilly dirt roads.
I checked in with my posse afterward, Jeff and Andy put in a couple solid performances, Harvey Minton killed it, and Chris McQueen didn’t race but had a good road ride with some gun-toting locals. I don’t actually have an analogy for how much the post race shower sucked, but it was no worse than the application of the Hydrogen Peroxide or the 17 hour completely comfort-free car ride home. I love the feel of peeling my Dickies off the skin of my leg, feels like…again no analogy available.
In summary, Cohutta as a race gets two thumbs up (one of the thumbs is missing a knuckle but we’ll count it like a dangling chad), Tennesse is a great place to visit and we’re already talking about next year’s trip. Thanks to Chris McQueen and his family for hooking up fine accommodations , thanks to Chris as well for chauffering Jeff and most of the way back to Boston like a Bakersfield Trucker.
The next race report may be a while coming, after the flesh healed it became apparent that I’d suffered and acute tear in my rotator cuff, as soon as I can pick up a glass off a table I’ll be back on the bike, argh. Thanks for reading.