Riding the Dragon's Back

Last weekend, I participated in my first big mountain bike race: Dragon’s Tale, put on by Shenandoah Mountain Touring. I was definitely nervous. I went into this race knowing I have endurance and fitness, but I also went into this knowing that my technical skills still need a lot of work. Dragon’s Tale was going to be an indicator of what I need to work on with the time left before the Cohutta 100. I couldn’t have picked a better race to help me feel prepped for the coming hundred-miler.

It was awesome pulling into the parking lot and seeing a much larger number of competing ladies than I thought would be there. Women’s cycling is taking off, and it is definitely noticeable!

We started with a somewhat faster than party-pace group ride to the official start line. It was a great way to warm up the legs, and help get the game face on. The weather couldn’t have been any better; sunny, light wind, and just ever so slightly on the edge of chilly. At the start line, everyone was in good spirits and ready to go. I felt some nervous energy, which stayed with me through the first small loop up the mountain. But, once I began the second climb up Grouse Trail, I felt more in the zone and ready to conquer the 10 miles of rocky, rolling, with amazingly steep sections of ridge that gives this race its name; the Dragon’s Tale.

Chris Scott warns riders before the race that if after the very first climb, tiredness has already set in,   taking the scenic route may be a better option. He didn’t mince words. The ridge is hard. No one is kidding or over-exaggerating when they describe how steep some of those rollers are. Then, add in a bit of technical rock-work, and steep descents. Sometimes I imagined the rocks along the ridge as actual dragon’s scales, and the mountain beneath me the actual dragon, ready to eat me alive if I slowed too much. It was hard.  But it was also SO MUCH FUN. I love a challenge. This race did not disappoint. My goal was to finish in less than 6 hours. That was met, as well as coming in 6th place, which I wasn’t expecting and made me super happy. I also wanted to learn how big my weaknesses truly are. I need work on fast descents and drops. Those were my biggest challenges of the day. I’ve been working on those things since the race; feeling more and more confident and excited about Cohutta each day it draws closer.

This race, the Dragon’s Tale, is one every mountain biker should do. Though not without its challenges, it is full of beauty, exhilaration, and some of the most fun you will ever have on a mountain bike.

And just one more thing, my two friends, Erik and Lindsey, finished 5th and 4th; both placing on the podium. They did a heck of an awesome job! I can’t wait to ride along the Dragon’s Tale with them next year!