March 3, 2013

Buckle down in trials

Perseverance pays off with fashion statement

Dave Whittle had one purpose for competing in this year’s Snake Creek Gap Mountain Bike Time Trials.

He just wanted a new belt buckle.

It might not be directly associated to success like metals and trophies, but the buckle is a sign of perseverance, endurance and commitment for competitors in the Northwest Georgia Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association time trials. It is awarded to those who finish all three of the 34-mile trials covering the Pinhoti Trails and finishing at the trade center — one takes place in January, one in February and the last on Saturday. It is called the “3x34 Challenge.”

The race started in 2005 with around 40 or 50 riders and includes divisions for the 34-mile course and a 17-mile course. There were 354 racers for February’s trials and race director Chris Hohol predicted more than 400 for Saturday. NGWA-SORBA president Conrad Fernandez said 207 riders were eligible for the buckle entering Saturday. The organization’s website states 194 racers won the buckle last year.

Whittle, a Dalton resident, missed last year’s trials completely and only did one 34-mile race two years ago, when the buckle was first introduced and sponsored by the Dalton Convention and Visitors Bureau.

This year, he had one goal in mind and completed it.

“I had one mission, and that was to get the belt buckle for all three 34-mile races,” he said.

It wasn’t easy, though. Whittle couldn’t remember a moment when he didn’t want to quit, but after completing the January trial, he didn’t see himself giving up.

“This is the first I got, and maybe the last,” he said. “Those 34 miles are harder than any ride I’ve ever done. I’ve done 50 miles before, too. After I did one, I knew I was committed. There were a lot of moments I wanted to stop. Just about every moment I wanted to turn back.”

The buckle’s design has an image of a snake around the Pinhoti Trails mountains. Above it and below it includes the year, race name and name of the challenge. Hohol said race officials wait until after the first race — and sometimes the second — to see how many riders finish all 34 miles and determine how many buckles need to be made. Any extra ones are thrown out, but people strive for them.

“You and your bike has to finish, so you’ll see people carrying their bikes across the finish line just to stay eligible,” Hohol said.

Jack Cash, a Chattanooga resident who works in Dalton for Shaw Industries, competed for the first time in the trials and also finished each of the 34-mile races to earn a buckle. He finished Saturday in just more than five hours.

“My crazy neighbor ... he has rode this for several years now and put enough pressure on me to where I bought a mountain bike, started riding with him,” Cash said. “And through all the verbal abuse he gave me, I got motivated enough to try it. I did the pre-ride in December and I can tell you I was not encouraged (due to the weather).”

Even Thomas Turner, who finished with the best overall time through all three races, didn’t earn a buckle.

There are different divisions for the 34-mile races and the 17-mile races. The format allows racers to compete in all three of the trials, or just one. Each rider’s fastest time goes toward the standings, with awards being given to the three fastest times in each division. There also are awards for the fastest trifecta times, which add up only the times of riders who competed in all three trials.

Tuner, who didn’t compete in the February trials, finished with the best 34-mile time of any racer — 2 hours, 40 minutes, 42 seconds. This was better than the mark he set back in January, which wasn’t bested in the February trials. The Canton resident has competed in the trials each of its nine years and said he has posted the best overall time multiple times. What brings him back each year is the difficulty of the trails, which he described as “technical.”

“This is more purposeful where you’re more focused on what you’re doing,” Turner added.

Hohol said most races have circular courses with the start and finish the same. The trials shuttle bikers to a start 34 miles away from the trade center.

“Also just the time of year,” Hohol said. “A lot of times races aren’t in this time of year. They’re just in the spring and summer. So people are itching to race, and we have our trials starting early in the year and they’ve become very popular.”

Jamie Dinkens-Bookwalter’s time of 3:24:58 was the fastest 34-mile finish for females. Scott Rusinko’s time of 1:46:55 was the fastest of all 17-mile racers. Jen Horn’s time of 2:05:11 was the fastest 17-mile finish for females.

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