A weekend full of surprises, and a gravel ride with ... well... not a lot of gravel. From hotel changes to a top-10 finish! the Bird Dog 100 was full of challenges. With just under 2000 feet of elevation in 71 miles, it did not seem that challenging on paper.
The day began at 5:30 am with a waffle, a banana, and a bowl of Picky How 'bout dem apples oatmeal- followed by a 3-mile warm-up ride to the start line from the hotel. A hotel that I had moved to just 8 hours earlier. I hadn't gotten the sleep I wanted. My original hotel had water issues during construction and we had to move everyone to another property. It wasn't fun but at least they made it right by comping the first night's stay and giving us a room elsewhere.
Once we were all checked in, and had our timing chips, we were ready for the 9:00 am start time. AND GO! With a field of about 40 on the 71-mile course, I started out under a Police escort to the first turn and the first timed segment. The "race" has an interesting format, with 2 timed segments on the course. The combined time of those segments is how you are placed in the finishing order. Those segments happen to be at the start (miles 5- 18) and finish (miles 49.5-63.5) The miles outside of those windows were a free ride section, ride how you want. It's a cool format and one that I liked because I got to enjoy the scenery and take it easy between segments conserving energy.
The first timed segment started on a dirt road. Mile 5.3 where I started my usual gravel pace riding. A mist began to fill the air, and the dirt began sticking to my bike, chain, brake rotors, and my everything else. About 2 miles into the timed segment, there was a surprise sand pit... it was soft, slow, and squirrelly. Several of us were almost wiped out and ended up having to walk it. That didn't really help our times that much. We rode on after hitting soft patches of sand here and there by suppose, but we made it eventually to the first aid station where we used what was left in our water bottles to clean our drivetrains and then refuel. This ended the 1st timed segment as well.
The next 31 miles were wet, slippery red clay and sand roads... I still had not seen any "gravel". At least not the type I was used to, ya know roads that have more rocks than dirt. The best part of this section was the bottomless pit mud hole. A rut spanning the width of the road about 20 feet across. No line around or visibly through. I choose the right side and dug in. Hitting the grey clay water sent water wings for a moment. Before I knew it, I was half-frame deep in the hole and hoping I would make it without swimming, literally. I pushed and found some sense of traction, or maybe it was just my spokes acting as propellers, idk. But after a few scary moments, I was again on 'dry' land.
After a few miles of drip drying and rinsing off my water bottles the land opened to the beauty of farms. The farmland of different types, cotton, sugar cane, dairy, and others lined the course with the strength of American labor. The history of the area told by the multitude of structures built on the lands, it was easy to tell these farms had been here for a long, long time. Tractors, irrigation rigs, and bails of cotton dotted the landscape in a picturesque manner to take your mind away from the pain in your legs.
Then the second timing segment comes along and it looks great. Starting out on a good downhill with lots of speed going into it. Immediately followed by a hard left and a sand pit. This is where I got passed by about 8 guys that were cruising at a 17mph pace. I moved to the side where it was a lot harder to ride but to give them the good line through. Obviously, they were going for it, I was just going for the finish, not the win.
By now the sun was coming out and the rest of the course was looking like it would be a nice ride. The sand turned to red dirt and clay roads. We began the climbing section of the final third. Steep red hills over short distances.. the big one. It wasn't steep, only a about 2% grade... it was just long, so so long. The climb took everything I had left.. 4:15 of climbing, grinding, and pushing. I made it to the top without having to walk and I felt a sense of accomplishment. A gratitude to my legs, mind, and heart. Surely, that would be the last long climb.... or so I thought. But the payoff on the downhill into the finish section for the timed segment was worth it. But I had 8 more miles to go to the actual finish.
Eight more miles of climbing it would turn out. Slow rolling hills back to the start-finish. And of course, no climb is incomplete without a steady headwind. A storm front was moving in and while motivating me to finish it was equally discouraging me with its 10 +mph wind and cross gusts threatening to knock me off the road and my bike. But open that last Smooth Caffeinator bar I had saved for this very section of the race. I down that and the rest of my energy drink (double strength Skratch orange) and put my head down into the wind. Using every downhill to recover a little from the last uphill.
The final turn to finish was a welcome sight. only a 3/4 mile to push and the winds died down. Pick up the pace give it all, not that time mattered other than being finished and getting out of the saddle. Hit the stripes and call it done! A plate of grilled chicken, green beans, and roasted potatoes, a glass of GA Sweet Tea, and I was finished. Top 10 overall for my Course. Top ten Men's division, and 3rd place in my Age Group. 5:08:04 71.74 Miles, and one heck of a story!
Join me next year and let's ride till we are dog-tired!