September 17th, 2017
The fall season is here. Those hot, sticky, unbearable summer days are finally behind us. Welcome the fallen leaf covered trails, shorter days, and Oktoberfest beers. The off-season is an important time of the year. Time to wind-down, have fun riding, and get recovered for the following year. The previous race for me was Nationals; nearly over a month ago. I get antsy and need a sporadic race thrown into daily life regularly. This month was Fool’s Gold. A 60mi race in the mountains of Ellijay, GA. The course covers almost 50/50 gravel and road then singletrack. It hits the infamous Bull and Jake trails.
One year ago, I raced this event for the first time. Leaving from the Anderson Creek Resort, the course formed a lollipop loop. I fared well in 2016 coming across the line in 8th place with a time around 4:50.
This year, along with the race quickly approaching, so did hurricane Irma just less than a week before the event. Irma wrecked the cleanliness of the gravel roads and knocked a number of trees over the singletrack. With the help of volunteers and the local trail groups, the team was able to clear a majority of the race course including some of the best singletrack in the area. This year’s course was cut to 46 miles and only knocked out one trail, Jake.
Free camping the night before the race allowed me to show up and live out of the van for the night. Saturday morning came quick while a 6:00 a.m. car alarm served as a global alarm clock. Time to ride! Cooking breakfast, coffee, and doing any last minute preparations to the bike took me until 7:30. It was race time. Friends and training partners Josh and Dustin were also in attendance. We all lined up together and anticipated a clean 200+ rider start.
The ‘Neutral-ish’ rollout from the campground was a few miles long. Feeling like a road bike peloton, knobbies rolled down the paved road en route to the first gravel climb, Nimblewill Gap Road. This ~30 minute climb was a technical jeep road that would separate the majority of the group. Nearing the top, I was glad to see the upcoming descent down the other side. Faring so far in the top 20, I knew I needed to continue pushing. As we rode the stick of the lollipop, we made our way closer to the singletrack section. I jumped on and road with a few others as this transition section was fairly wide-open. I was glad to finally see some trail. With Irma taking down trees all over the southeast, not many trails are rideable in the area. Bull Mountain was super cleared from the damage and the trail was just as fun as I remembered from 2016. Me and another guy rode Bull together before finally separating on a steeper climb near the end. Coming off the mountain and into aid station 3, I ride with Chris briefly before heading towards the final climb back up Nimblewill Gap Road. This climb wasn’t any easier than the first. The ascent would round out the 5000+ feet climbed for the day. I climbed mostly alone, briefly riding with a few others before we separated mid way up. As I crested the top, I was hopeful to see at least someone else as I made the descent.. Nope. The route to the finish took us on gravel, then pavement back to the campground. To deplete any reserved energy, I look back and see a group of two approaching me as we near a half mile to go. I kick it in, and charge up the final climb. This climb was a long, daunting, grass field. Moving at a near 1 mph (or so it felt), I pushed to widen the gap between the chasing group. I finish within 15 seconds ahead of the next rider. I was relieved to be finished with the modified 46 mile version of the Fools Gold 60. 10 place overall in Open Men. Time of 3:32.
The post race celebration was full of Mexican food and Terrapin beer. The Fools Gold race is definitely a fun weekend in the Georgia mountains. I need to visit this area more often!