Archive for the ‘Mountain biking Tanasi Trails/Ocoee Whitewater Center’ Category

Fumbling Towards Ecstacy: The First Podium

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Sean Hessby Sean Hess, Team Rider and Manager for Strackacobra. Visit me on Google+ .

I grabbed my first ever podium at the US Cup East / SERC race earlier this year at the Tanasi Trails (Ocoee Whitewater Center) in Ducktown, Tennessee. Hooray!

Ducktown is arguably the hardest course on the circuit, with six miles of climbing per lap. You go straight up the mountain, take a bit of a break for some flowy singletrack, finish the climb to the top of the mountain, and then go straight back down really fast on some fireroad before hitting the fabled and supertechnical Thunder Rock Express.

On the podium, far right, at Ducktown.

On the podium, far right, at Ducktown.

I wanted to get some really consistent power on the climb. To achieve this I really studied the gear ratios in my 32 and 22 chainrings, so I could run the highest cadence in a particular ratio, and thus the highest speed.

I pretty much nailed it. I noticed right away that I could run a higher cadence in the 22 ring at a ratio of 1:1 and above. This higher cadence put all of the effort on my aerobic system and helped save my strength. It made climbing easy in the first lap, so much so that as I hit the “hard” grades (from year’s past) I would kind of look back and think, “Was that the really hard part, because I hardly noticed it.”

My power faded in the second and final lap. Even though I was keeping a consistent cadence all the way through the race I noticed I was running a lighter gear. I was six minutes slower in the second lap…other riders were dropping about three minutes, so I gave these other riders an extra three minutes to gain on or catch me. But I was able to hang on to the ragged edge and fifth place.

In the end it was the downhilling that saved me. On the gravel fireroad descent I was passing other riders (out of different classes). Normally I get passed or hold even on the fireroad descent. And it felt really easy. On Thunder Rock I ran really well, especially on the second lap where I got some of the time back I lost climbing.

I didn’t really know if they were going to stand five or three for the podium in my class, and I was too afraid to ask. So I dutifully stood there clapping for the other riders until they called my class and called my name. I had the pleasure to witness Dave Berger of Goneriding butcher my sponsor name “Strackacobra” for the first time.

I made sure I looked out and remembered it…it’s been a long time coming.

See Strackacobra’s mountain themed T’s at

Winder Up and Let ‘er Rip: SERC Races #4 & #5 at Winder and Ducktown

Friday, May 20th, 2011

by Sean Hess (

Winder Up and Let ‘er Rip: SERC #4 at Winder

Winder is a tough course. Not because you climb into the sky or have to launch road gaps. It’s a tough course because you can’t drink.

It may be toughest course on the circuit to grab a bottle on.

Rider 125 at SERC Winder, 2011

Rider 125 at SERC Winder, 2011

The trouble is that it’s just such a fast course. You slow down at all to hydrate and a lurking rider might pass you. Failing that, the course has so many short, cockeyed climbs (with equally short cockeyed descents) you simply can’t take your hands of the bike.

So, you’re always pedaling and you always have to stay in control. Just not much time to drink.

But since it’s a fast course, you’re still grinning from ear to ear even though your lungs are about to burst and your legs are about to cramp in eight places.

See photos of the White Wave leaders at Winder on the Strackacobra flickr page.

Ducktown is Dry! SERC #5 at the Tanasi Trails, Ocoee Whitewater Center

As it started to mist and drizzle just a bit before the start of this year’s SERC race at Ducktown I thought, “It wouldn’t be Ducktown without rain.” As a rider who has downhilled the famous Thunder Rock Express at least 3 times in a downpour (complete with lightning strikes), it just wouldn’t be right without the rain.

However, the rain was just a tease and conditions were really and truly perfect. The light misting gave the trail just enough bite for tires to stick on hot corners. There was plenty of cloud cover which made temps ideal for racing, and diffused the light so the trail was easy to see under all conditions.

Ducktown has a reputation as the toughest course on the circuit because of the climb. Basically you climb up to the top of the mountain, and then go right back down.

Some of the beginners have a lot of trouble. The worst thing in the world when climbing a tough new course is thinking “I have to be at the top by now,” then you round a bend only to discover that there’s another steep pitch you have to conquer. Ducktown is like that. My first race there I remember cracking on one of those unexpected steep pitches…it’s was soul crushing.

And then after all that disorienting climbing, a super fast, super technical downhill where you need all your wits at hand.

I love this course…it keeps you honest and engaged.

Props to for another great series of races.

Below you can check out some video of the white wave exiting Thunder Rock. The end is great as a dude crashes coming off the final bridge. He came up to me after I stopped filming and asked, “Did you see that, did you see that?”

I said, “No, but I sure as hell heard it.” Sounded like a dam tree falling in the forest there.

Mountain Bike Racing: SERC 6, Ducktown, Tennessee (Ocoee Whitewater Center, Tanasi Trails) 2010

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Two riders press hard before the final turn at SERC 6, Ducktown 2010

Two riders press hard before the final turn at SERC 6, Ducktown 2010

Review of SERC #6 race in Ducktown, TN, Ocoee Whitewater Center, Tanasi Trails, 2010

Besides being one of the prettiest venues anywhere, Ducktown is the SERC race that closest resembles the old NORBA/NMBS national races, and it’s setup a lot like the current U.S. national championships. Why? Because you go straight up, then you go straight down.

What makes Ducktown better is that nearly the entire race is on singletrack…no extended climbs on fire roads, no descents down ski hills. There is a paved section that bridges the final descent to start/finish, and there is a fast and flowy Jeep road that drops riders onto the final singletrack descent, but that’s it.

It’s that final singletrack descent that Ducktown is famous for: the Thunder Rock Express. It’s steep, rocky in places, and the turns will catch you off guard. You don’t enjoy it much on the first laps, because you know as soon as you hit the bottom you have to climb that damn thing all over again.

For the second year in a row the Yellow Wave had the privledge to do the Thunder Rock descent in a downpour. After a gorgeous blue sky day for a lap and a half, the thunder came booming just as I topped the mountain on the second lap. The rain came down in buckets and I couldn’t see a thing.

The only thing I could make out was the trail (caramel colored), the sides of the trail (darker brown), and I think the green colors rushing past were trees. I got knocked around a lot, hitting the rocks and roots I couldn’t see. And I’m not sure how I got down as fast as I did, or got down at all, but it was good to hit that paved part before the finish.

At the end muscles I didn’t know existed hurt. But the mud and the pain made me smile anyway.

The Tanasi Mountain Bike Mudbath at U.S. Cup #1/SERC #5: riders do their spring washing at the Ocoee Whitewater Center.

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Like shooting a gun out of moving car, racing a mountain bike in the mud is a guilty pleasure.
Sure, it’s hard on drive trains, riders and trails. But if you only do it once in awhile it doesn’t hurt anything.
Even your local bike shop benefits, because they get to replace your brakes, cassette and chain. Think about it this way, by racing in the mud you’re providing jobs in this hard-pressed economy. Plus it’s crazy fun.
This weekend’s inaugural U.S. Cup East race at the Tanasi Trails/Ocoee Whitewater Center in Ducktown, Tennessee, was blessed with copious amounts of rain. Home to one of the East’s fastest XC downhills, the Thunder Rock Express, the slick mud made an already challenging course even more demanding.

Start of U.S. Cup 1 / SERC #5 at Tanasi Trails, Ocoee Whitewater Center near Ducktown, Tennessee

Start of U.S. Cup 1 / SERC #5 at Tanasi Trails, Ocoee Whitewater Center near Ducktown, Tennessee

The race started with a 3-mile climb to the top on a combination of singletrack and fire roads laced with steep pitches, roots, and rocky shale. The first section of downhill started with fire road then quickly turned to the fast and technical Thunder Rock Express.
Thunder Rock tests a rider’s ability to handle speed, turns and rocks even in fair weather. Riders are admonished before the race, “there’s a place where you’re going to want to catch air…don’t do it…you’ll fly off the side of the mountain.” And then they add, as an afterthought, “when you come up to it it’s marked with tape.”
With the rain it made the downhill even more crazy. The bikes railed the corners just as nimbly as they do in dry weather, but slick mud and roots created more drift. Riders who thought they nailed a corner went wide-eyed as the bike kept sliding out towards the edge of the trail, catching at the last second. Strackacobra’s El Jefe had his Stumpjumper sideways just to make a fast corner.
There may have been sponsored athletes at the race, but we aren’t sure from where because everybody was wearing the common brown uniform of mud from head to toe afterwards.
The Kenda riders became “KE(mud),” the cool “XXIX” Gary Fisher Logo simply became (mud), and the Strackacobra “Preserve Your Nuts” logo was left with only a few peanuts visible.
Afterwards it looked like a scene from “Little House on the Prairie” with everyone down at the river doing their washing. Bikes were doused, cycling jerseys were stripped, and I personally used a Park Tools gear cleaning brush to wipe the mud off my Pearl Izumis.
And still we’ll spend hours at the laundromat rubbing Tide into piles of wet mountain bike clothing.
Washing up at Tanasi after U.S. Cup 1

Washing up at Tanasi after U.S. Cup 1

As a nod to the weather and trail preservation the sinewy River Loop section was cut out of the race, dropping the trail length from 11 miles to 8 (leaving in only the trails that were pure ascending or pure descending). The event was part of the Southeast Regional Championship Series (SERC) as well as U.S. Cup, and Goneriding did their usual great job putting the race on.
A scorpion? In Tennessee?
Perhaps even more surprising than the wet weather at the race was the scorpion I found on my tent as I was packing up. I’ve never seen a scorpion in the wild before and to me it looked like a really pissed-off crawdad. I was convinced the Texans across the campground brought it all the way from Amarillo and put it on my tent. But after searching the internet, it turns out scorpions really do live in Tennessee. They’re pretty rare, too, which means I’ll come back next year.
Eats on the way up: the Vortex in Atlanta.
On the way I up from Strackacobra HQ in Florida I stopped at the Vortex Grill for what is considered Atlanta’s best burger. I got the classic burger and it was good eats as advertised. It’s a massive thing and about double the size of a regular burger anywhere else, smothered with cheese and enough to fill you up. Served with a choice of sides and a diet Coke the meal came to under $10.
There are two Vortex locations in Atlanta, I went to the midtown location on Peachtree Street NE between 7th and 8th Streets. Parking was tight but I found a meter around the corner on 7th. I stopped at the Little Five Points location first but some slack ass in a lawn chair wanted $4 for parking…in the restaurant’s own parking lot. Plus as soon as I stopped some locals rolled up in a Monte Carlo and offered a brand new plasma TV for $600. There was way too much action going on in Little Five Points for my liking, especially with an expensive racing bike I didn’t want to leave out of sight.