This weekend started out well.  I woke up and got ready on time to make it to the group ride I wanted to do.  About 26 miles into a 52 ride the first of three incidents happened.  I was moving to the right to get on a riders wheel.  It was a 100% normal situation, but another guy was coming up to that wheel from behind.  He had a choice – hit me – or move right.  He moved right, dropped off a small ridge of asphalt onto concrete… as he tried to figure that out and come back to the left… oops.  He got stuck and crashed.  I think 3 riders crashed.  I felt like it was my fault … it wasn’t … but I felt dumb/bad. That’s Event #1.  Low budget “entertainment”….

So – feeling “fresh” after my longest ride in months, I decided to go play with Vader – and her new tires. Nothing a quick 200 miles wont help?  Awesome … until riding along at 45 mph in the pouring down rain I feel a thump on my quad and my phone is gone.  It was probably okay until multiple cars ran over it.  It still works… and after my $107 payment to AppleCare, I should have a new phone today.  Event #2 … we had to “budget a little more for this incident.

Now it’s triple jeopardy, where dollars can really change!  Sunday I took Vader out to play again.  It was actually a fabulous ride until about 35 miles to go when I realized I had … 35 psi in my rear tire.  My rear tire I bought on Friday.   I will keep this drama short – I ended up with a 5mm allen key imbedded in my tire.  I did try to patch/plug it – but the bend of the wrench did enough damage, I didn’t feel that was safe (and it didn’t hold air).  $250+ later – my bike will be back together tomorrow. 

So … yeah, kinda three bad rides in a row, but when you piece it all together… I got in a good bicycle ride, the motorcycling was fabulous, my gear kept me dry, my weekend was a little expensive, but good!  At least I have the means to recover from this and ride again (as soon as maybe … this weekend?)

Valley of the Giants

Valley of the Giants…

So sometime around mid April of 2021, I decided I REALLY wanted to try out this gravel thing.  Everybody I know seems to be fascinated with gravel and it’s catching on like wildfire.  I picked up a bike and oddly, did not really RIDE it for about 6 weeks!  You see, I was training for some other epic shit (Cheaha Challenge) and couldn’t be bothered with new bikes and/or dirt.  I was pure-road at that point, but really tired of pure-road.  

Once I got ON the gravel bike, I had a lot of fun.  I broke some stuff, but I got invited to ride the Valley of the Giants loop with my coach, Rob.  This would be my second or third actual gravel ride, I had no idea what to expect, and it was like a baptism by fire.  This was hard – and this was only the beginning.  You see, Rob had us riding this in prep for the RACE he was promoting.  This would be my first ride on “chunky gravel” and learning why people use tubeless tires, as both riders using tubes got flats on this ride.  Okay – lets add that race to TrainingPeaks, it’s time to do a gravel race.  I did one other, which was SUPER HARD but man, I had fun.  

With a solid ride at Six Gap in my rear view mirror, I felt pretty good going into this 75 mile adventure.  I had 2 goals.  PR Duncan Gap (it was early in this loop) and have fun riding with people.  

The ride started well.  I knew the “most of the course” … (more on that later).  I knew when we got to Duncan, how to pace, and was doing it to perfection. I was bringing back people along the climb, which doesn’t often happen.  The rugged  terrain and long climb really were hurting people who didn’t pace well.  I didn’t have a segment on the Garmin, but I knew I was doing well.  

After getting a flat within 1 mile of Duncan, in May – I got new tires, converted to tubeless and was feeling pretty good about my equipment.  This was my only flat on my gravel bike.  About half way up the 8 mile climb *POW* … I blew my rear tire.  I tried to fix it, but that wasn’t working, I installed a tube and tried to inflate it and my CO2 tool broke.  I was almost about to panic when a rider from Chrome Yellow asked me if I needed help.  I asked for a CO2 and he said “Take my pump, mail it to me!”  I didn’t know the guy, I didn’t know where he lived, he was just being nice.  

I finally got my bike fixed – and got back on the road.  Based on my skin condition at the time I scribble this down, this tire change was done in Poison Ivy.  #FML.  I got over the climb, passed about 6 people on the descent and got the the “Aid Station”.  (Interesting note:  We used to ride Centuries and stop at “Rest Stops”.  Now we ride “Fondos” or “Gravel Races” and stop at “Aid Stations” … when did this change?)

Now – this is where you need to give me some cheese to go with my whine.  The flat stole goal #1 and put me far enough back that there were just what we call onsie-twosie riders.  A couple could climb with me, or pass me on the longer climbs, but my lack of giving a …. had me descending a lot faster, so I rode about 50 mile solo.  My “mojo” was gone.  I was mentally blown, felt like I sucked and really really really wanted to take a short cut home.  (There were MANY options – both “official” and I knew how to get “home’.  Maybe this is dumb, but the reason I didn’t?  Max was there and I didn’t want to have to explain to him why I quit.  (I don’t remember ever quitting a race in my life.  I’ve been pulled, I’ve crashed, but I haven’t quit – so I guess that is good.)

Now – bad rides do happen…. and after 2 days of decompression or gentle pondering – I don’t think this was a bad ride happening.  I think this was a couple bad things happening on a bike ride.  After careful inspection of the tire, it appears I had a pinch flat … on a tubeless setup.  I thought that wasn’t supposed to happen?  Maybe I needed a couple more PSI?

It wasn’t really that bad, outside of my internal struggles and being pissed off at my bike.  How will I get past this?  Well, a bike tire isn’t that expensive.  I learned that MAYBE just carrying a CO2 tool isn’t the best idea in rugged conditions… I’ll get the bike sorted out, come up with a plan for the Bird Dog and go ride my bike!

I’ve come to the “conclusion” that I need a wing man.  The pandemic got me riding a LOT.  It got me riding solo, forever, alone.  That had some GREAT advantages – like I would ride whenever I could/would want to.  Never got stood up by myself.  Now I am riding REALLY long events alone.  It would be great to have somebody who wants to do epic shit that rides at my pace and has similar rest stop thoughts (gas-n-go).  

In mid 2007 – I was sitting in a coffee shop in Marietta, Georgia. My friend Kirk Albers and I were chatting about any number of things… and for reasons I don’t know, he said “You should do something different, you should try and ride Six Gap.” I said – yeah, I should! I will do that next year!

I’ll save you the blow by blow from 2007-2017 … but in conjunction with my quest to not be fat on my 50th birthday, 2017 became my year to ride Six Gap. I “trained” and did it. It was hard, I suffered, my time was 7:48. I was in the bottom 30% of all riders, but a guy who used to weigh 296 pounds lost a lot of weight and did it. I never wanted to do it again. I don’t want to say this was a bad ride. They do happen, but this was NOT a bad ride, I was just done with this insanity – or so I thought!

I guess they say “Time heals all wounds?” As time progressed, pandemics started, I got bored, I needed something to work towards – in a moment of weakness, in early 2019 I said “I am gonna do Six Gap”. I registered … wtf, that was dumb.

I started asking around and trying to gather training advice when my friend Rob said “I have an idea.” He suggested he would loan me some power pedals and coach me (for real, you know – a plan, a program, real workouts). Rob and I struck a deal and I put more data in my life. Everybody needs spreadsheets to keep track of their spreadsheets of ride trivia, right?

This also put some structure in my training, and some accountability. Somebody who could say “195 watts for an hour is NOT a recovery ride.” About half way to Six Gap, we discussed the goal. I said “Better”. Rob said we needed a number and we agreed on a goal – 7 hour Six Gap. I trained as hard as I could with a short runway. PRs were dropping, things were looking good. I thought I could do it.

Six Gap came and the first 60 miles went really well. Then came Hog Pen. I truly hate that mountain. It kicked my ass and I never got my legs back. I suffered really bad, I tried so damn hard… I almost ended up in an stupid ambulance (Thanks Gary), and I finished in 7:16. A PR, but … 16 minutes off the goal. It took me 48 hours to say “Let’s do it next year.”

Next year came 1 year later. I trained a lot, did a whole lot of miles along the way (about 8000). I showed up solo, I didn’t have a wing man, I didn’t have anyone “in my corner for the day.” I had LMNT, Clif Bloks, Skratch and Stroopwaffles in my pocket. A solid plan, my bike was ready. It was colder than it’s been, but nothing that I couldn’t accept. It was GO TIME!

As I rolled to the line, I ran into into Debbie and Cate Milne. Two super awesome bike racers and even nicer people. This was super cool, because I wasn’t in a sea of humanity feeling lost. We started and at the first corner – I said “I DON’T HAVE POWER!” Now, some could/would argue that just ride was the best solution. This was – for Scott Brain – a FUCKING CRISIS! I couldn’t even imagine! I had charged everything, I had even zerod the power meter in the morning, but – it was not reading! WTF! I CANNOT PACE MYSELF …. shit …. okay, don’t be stupid. Stop and fix it. It took about 1 minute to get Garmin to talk to my pedals again and we were off. You may laugh at me, but I actually did “congratulate myself on staying semi calm!

Stopping for a bit put me WAY back in the group, but I think it actually was really good. For the next 20 miles, I had lots of people to approach from the rear, use their draft and gently leap from to the next group/person. I wasn’t trapped. I managed to get to the first major corner (Turners) at 18.1 mph average, feeling pretty good, slightly faster than last year.

Neel’s Gap was good – I rode well. Right at the top, Debbie (a former 6 Gap WINNER) passed me with her large group of supra people. This helped me go a little harder, to finish the first climb in sight of a woman who has won the KOM competition was just cool.

I ran into the whole Supra crew @ Sunshine (the unoffficial, safer, faster rest stop). They were all super supportive! This was SO much better than a shit show rest stop!

Hogpen Gap was hard. I knew I would struggle, I knew it would be hard, I was right. I did not PR that climb. I was okay with that. I got caught behind a car on the downhill which sucked. Being able to take corners at 40+ and stuck behind a car at 20… For fear of upsetting mom … I will just say I may have exceeded the speed limit here and there, and if I were wearing a blue vest – I would be DQ’d. All day, I was on a mission, I wanted sub 7.

Unicoi Gap is a strange climb. It’s 7 miles long and seems to get a tiny bit steeper every 1/4 mile. I’m good up to about 7%… There was a guy riding a bike that Joe built, and I wanted to catch him, but … yeah…. he was 2 bike lengths ahead and I just couldn’t. It really hurt.

At the top, I did a “gas and go” and hit the downhill. I was trying to eat/drink on the fly – not the easiest around corners, but who needs brakes, right?

Jack’s Gap was chill … I had some dudes I was riding with. I seem to be faster on the flats and downhills than many, I see lots of people go super hard at the beginning of climbs, and drop me, but then I roll back up on them. Pacing is good (glad I had my pedals).

Sunshine Part Deux … all was good. I was pretty blown at this point last year, I was feeling “okay” yesterday. Two more gaps, let’s go. Garmin says I am on pace to finish on time. Garmin is *ALWAYS* right? (I hate Garmin).

Wolf Pen Gap is a steep climb that I know well. I am on the struggle bus, but I knew that would be the case, I was mentally prepared to hurt and not back down. I start cramping and some guy I don’t even know pulls out a packet that says “Leg Cramps”. He hands it to me and I blindly take this random substance. I jokingly told people I was now doping and would be dropping them all. (I did drop a couple of them …)

Now, I know I can complete this climb. It’s less than 30 minutes. I do it, as expected … down the hill I go! I set a PR on the next “Six Gap Roller” segment just haulin ass! ONE MORE CLIMB and I am doing well.

Special note, I can climb all day, but give me a mile downhill followed by a 1/2 mile up hill, holy mother of purple goats – that hurts! That is a VERY special blend of suckdom!

Woody – I love Woody. You get credit for a mountain and it’s not that hard! Memories of last year start coming into my mind. I try not to think about this. My mind is doing mental math and I am now behind on pace. I cannot make my goal. I convince myself to stop thinking and figure it out at the top. In the last 1/2 mile, the cramps are back. I just ease up and keep going. I make it. It hurts.

At the top – Garmin tells me I need 1:10 to get to the finish. Last year, I did the final stretch in 1:15. I’ve never gone faster than 1;14. My dream is over. I start thinking “Shit, I have to tell everybody I failed.” I will be honest, I was hoholding back tears. I was in a bad mental state and nobody to smack me in the head and say “RIDE YOUR DAMN BIKE!”

To quote Samuel L. Jackson … in Pulp Fiction … “Then I had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity.” I LITERALLY said to myself “You have been training for over a year to do this. You have killed yourself. You have ridden through hell and back, if you do NOT try to do this, you will regret it forever.”

I finished my bottle, a guy said “I am going to follow you down! You look like a good wheel!” I said “Be careful, I know this – and plan to go for it!” Go for it I did!

I *PERFECTLY* executed my plan (or lack there of). I *NEVER* let up. I set a PR on every segment to the finish. My 6th hour power was actually higher than my 5th. I passed dozens of people. I tried to work with people, to save some energy, but I honestly rode them off my wheel. Phil would say “He is riding like a man, possessed!”

It hurt. Everything hurt. Up, Down, Flat, I used every bit of knowledge and skill I had. I nearly ran out of ‘talent’ in a coupld of corner, but I was riding the ‘race of my life! Everything I did was so worth it! I am so happy to have been able to get this Six Gap monkey off my back. I finished in 6:54 and change! I no longer care if I ride it again, and if I do – it will be for fun! Yes – that was fun – but I’d love to ride it with a group, and have people to chat with! That was the most focussed I have ever been on a bicycle. One ride, One Mission, One Goal…. #DONE

You can check out the details on Strava!