For those of you'nzers that follow this waste of bandwidth, or WNC endurance mountain cycling, you already know that mountain cycles were raced long distances in the forest this past weekend. It was the twelfth happening of the Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race affectionately anogramed as
And for the second year in a row I chose to spend a perfectly fine Saturday hating life and forcing chemicals into my body, while riding a bikecycle hither and fro through the South Ranger District of Pisgah Nat'l Forest. For your procrastinating pleasure here's how it went down...
Off work at noon and tying up loose ends. My race partner, and Buick le Sabre owner, Burton had arrived to the mountains and we had plans to do a pre-check in at Liberty Bikes here in AVL. We got our required gear checked out and from there it was off to Billy Goat Bikes to buy some stuff. E-Dub works there and since he was doing the PMBAR as well, I had to get in a little shit talking before race day.
From there it was back to Greenview Manor to do a final check, shakedown the bikes and, rest and hydrate. Resting and hydrating pre-race somehow never happens and I found myself several Greybeard IPA's deep watching Burton fighting a stubborn tire that didn't want to set up at 10:30pm. We had to be up at 5:00am to head to the forest so this was really the best way to prep for PMBAR... Emergency bike repairs late at night and drinking too much beer. W ended up scrapping his Weirwolf for an Ardent and went to bed.
Up early. Food, yoga, coffee and on the road. We arrived at the PMBAR and started the pre-race preperation. Hydrating, talking strategy and trying to shake the pre-race nerves. Burton went off to psyche himself up and I meandered the crowd talking to folks and trying to get a sense of what the day had in store. We kitted up, bikes ready, and the race announcements under way. The 2015 PMBAR was to be 5 checkpoints. Four to finish with no mandatory checkpoints. We would be going up Thrift Cove instead of Lower Black Mtn. to start. Otherwise same rules as last year, same off limit roads except Hwy. 276 would be open from FR 475 to FR 477. This bit of knowledge would end up being huge later.
Race gun set to go at 8:15am, passports handed out at 8:10am and we were lined up with 75+ other teams ready to give it our best and hoping The Pisgah wouldn't crush our hopes of making awesome endurance bike racing this day....
We set off and hit the forest 12th or 15th. Usually folks start bottle necking around Black Mtn. but going up Thrift gave plenty of room to pass and folks were spinning up with little issue. Thrift Cove is by no means an "easy" climb but its much nicer than trying to crank up Black Mtn. ass to nose like years past. My nerves are on edge at this point. I start sucking wind pretty bad on what is normally and easy-ish climb. I should be just spinning but I couldn't catch my breath and I somehow forgot how to ride a bike, and I was struggling bad. Fifteen minutes into the race and I'm maxed out, starting to cramp, and having horrid flashbacks to last year's PMBAR aka worst day on a bike in my life. At this point I thought "F*** it, I have all day to race. Why am I trying to crush it like I'm in a short track race?" I backed off and was starting to catch my wind as we started the hike-a-bike up Black to Pressley Gap. I had decided to race with clipless pedals because A) my 5.10's had to be sent back for warranty, and B) I had no other option with flat pedals besides Chacos... This makes the big hike-a-bikes really tough. Stiff plastic is not good hiking shoe material.
Once we hit Pressley Gap we started to formulate a plan. Checkpoints:
-South Mills/Bradely Creek
-Horse Cove/Squirrel Gap
-Laurel Mountain at Sassafrass Gap
-Daniels Ridge/Farlow Gap
-Bracken Mountain (wherever the hell that is???)
Lot's of folks were coming in behind us now and we saw plenty heading up Black Mtn. to Turkey Pen. They were going to knock out S. Mills/Bradley first. Knowing what the bottleneck would be like and not wanting to hit a nasty hike-a-bike early, we headed down Maxwell Cove to Clawhammer and off towards Buckhorn Gap. We really had no plan other than we knew where the Horse/Squirrel and S. Mills/Bradley checkpoints were and we needed them so off we went. Claw went by harder than it should have and it was obvious at this point that I was going to have a hard day. I still could not catch my wind and my legs were shooting cramps every few minutes. I solo'd up Claw and let Burton go ahead and talk strategy with some Charlotte folks. We hit the top of Clawhammer and I just said "lets go" and kept on without stopping to talk to the other teams. Burton was soon on my wheel as we headed toward Squirrel Gap. We pushed through Buckhorn and S. Mills and once on Squirrel I was feeling ok, not good, but ok. We spun up Squirrel Gap passing two teams and hit our first CP at Horse Cove/Squirrel about an hour and a half into the day. Now we had to make a decision.
We knew no matter what, we had to get out to the Fish Hatchery at some point. Should we snag S. Mills next? Push up Pilot Rock to get the Laurel Mtn. CP? Laurel Mtn. was stuck out like a thumb and was really tempting to go for. Its a moderate climb up buts its long, taking up alot of precious time just to get out there. Go up Pilot Rock? That's a nasty hike-a-bike but if your strong it can be done fast. We decided that since the S. Mills/Bradely CP was mostly down hill from where we were, it would be the next CP. Down Horse Cove to Cantrell Creek. This descent is basically a goat path with tons of loose cantaloupe sized rocks and off camber roots to put you in the dirt. Not to mention a few creek crossings to keep you honest. I had been having trouble all morning with my seat post slipping down, so at the Horse/Squirrel CP I tightened the hell out of my post clamp trying to keep it from sliding. Now I was doing the PMBAR with a seat in my ass all day. Not good for steep, technical descending. Burton was crushing it and I did my best to hold his wheel as we passed a couple teams who were hung up in the rocks and roots. Knowing the trails is huge in this race, not only for navigating the climbs but also for making up time on the descents.
We hit S. Mills and smoked it down to Bradley Creek. Check Point # 2. Passport checked and for once they actually had a gear check. Rain Coat this time, and I guess my 1 mil plastic poncho passed. Refill bottles and bladders and talk strategy. We saw a ton of people heading down Bradley Creek and into the 15 creek crossings and slow grinding climb out to FR 1206 and Laurel Mtn. We had a decision to make. This decisions would end up solidifying our PMBAR and was crucial. Do we go for the Laurel Mtn. CP or do we get Bracken?
The Bracken Mtn, CP was a wild card. Neither one of us had ever been there and had no clue where it was, how long it would take to get there, or how hard the route would be. All we knew was that it was at the very end of FR 475C. Neither one of us knew what that road was about. Easy, hard, steep, mellow? Nothing. We knew going Bradley Creek to Laurel would be a slog. Better than fifteen creek crossings and then six miles and 3,000 + feet of climbing up to the Laurel Mtn. CP. Chalk on the long stretch of FR 1206 out toward the Fish Hatchery and your talking some serious time loss. We had seen a few teams heading back up S. Mills toward Horse Cove and we made the decision to go back up what we had just come down and go for the two CP's out at the Fish Hatchery. We chose the wild card and Bracken Mtn was the plan.
PMBAR route done.
Burton knew that if we could hike strong we could push our bikes up the rock chute that is Horse/Cantrell Creek and save time as opposed to going Mullinax to Squirrel Gap. The later is an easier route. More pedaling, almost no hike-a-bike, but longer and more time consuming. However, Burton was on fire and feeling strong so despite my cramped legs I followed him up. We ripped back up S. Mills and hit the hike-a-bike on up Horse Cove/Cantrell Creek in no time. Going up I actually felt good pushing the bike. Maybe my legs just needed a different look and soon I was pushing Burton up the hill. As we neared the Horse/Squirrel Gap CP for the second time, I saw a couple of tall, lanky dudes heading up Upper Horse Cove. It was Short Travel Nate and his partner Zink...
I yelled out but they didn't hear. I looked at Burton and we both knew we had to hit it and try to pass them before they hit the gravel descent down Funnel Top Rd. to FR 476. We pushed hard, rode when we could, hiked/jogged when we couldn't and soon hit the top. We never saw them. "No way they came this way" I told Burton. "We would have passed them" He said. I saw another team resting at the clearing on top of Funnel Top and asked if they had seen two 6'3" dudes and they said yes. We were about 5 minutes back on them. "Lets go" and we took off down the gravel toward FR 476. Doing our best to gain time on them, we passed a team on the descent and hit FR 476 and headed toward FR 1206. We hit FR 1206 and ran into Kiwi Ryan and his partner Max. They had decided to quit. They're buddy Jim, and his partner, had accidentally taken their passport at the first CP and they couldn't catch them to get it back. No passport? No PMBAR... Shitty way to end the race but they seemed in good spirits. We said our "good lucks", refilled our bottles, and off we went down FR 1206 toward Hwy. 276 and the Fish Hatchery. We hit the pavement and soon took a right onto FR 475B. Stopping to check the passport and refill pockets with food for quick access, we heard some tires rolling up. Sure enough it was Nate and Zink who had taken a stretch break at Pink Beds and were actually behind us. We told them about trying to catch them on Funnel Top and cruised the bulk of 475B and FR 225 together, talking strategy and taking it a little mellow up the long gravel climb.
Halfway down FR 225 we ran into Em and Tom who were out for PMBAR redemption after getting a DNF last year (while attempting the most difficult route I have ever heard of). They had already knocked out the CP's at Daniels Ridge/Farlow Gap and Bracken Mtn. and looked in really good shape. We asked about Bracken and Tom just sorta laughed, shook his head and said "its way out there man".
Well at this point we sure as hell weren't going back for the Laurel Mtn. CP and we were pot committed to Bracken. Nate and Zink had kept going while we stopped and now it was on to try to catch them and see who would come out on top. The whole day I knew that Nate and Zink would make for our best competition and beating them would be sweet. Burton put on his ear buds and went into his own place on the remainder of gravel, grinding up, up, up toward Daniels Ridge. We hit the intersection with Daniels and found some Faster Mustache guys taking a break. They were of the mind that the Bracken CP was about 5 miles out on FR 475C. Ten mile round trip out and back. Burton and I ate a quick snack and headed down Daniels Ridge to the CP. Daniels Ridge is one of my favorite trails in all the forest. However, forty some miles in and a seat in your ass is no way to have fun shredding down Daniels. We hit the CP and pushed on toward the Fish Hatchery. We hit FR 475 and onto the Davidson River trail and soon were at the Fish Hatchery. Bottle refill and eat some more. My legs had pretty much not stopped cramping all day and I was forcing electrolytes and Pop Tarts into me as hard as I physically could. I felt like ass and was at a really low point in the day. "Lets get this over with" I said to Burton and we started out the "five" mile climb up to the Bracken CP. There were alot of folks going up to Bracken and plenty coming down. I kept looking for Nate and Zink and using that and our time to the CP as a gauge to where we were behind them. Burton had been pulling me and my cramped legs all day. We were grinding up Bracken and I could tell he was in a bad place. He was really struggling to keep the pedals going. What was stranger was that for whatever reason, my legs and lungs opened up and I felt f***ing amazing! I kept telling him to set "his" pace or just take a break. He just looked at me and said "keep going man, I'll catch you". I took off hoping to see Nate and Zink toward the top. Sooner than later they passed us coming down and I was bound and determined to put some time on them. I stopped short of the CP to wait for Burton. Quick stretch, hydrate and we were heading down from last CP of the day. Four down... Lets go home. Burton was in a dark place on Bracken but the realization of getting our last CP and looking at the home stretch put a little pep in his step. We smashed the descent down FR 475C back to the Fish Hatchery.
In PMBARs past, the stretch of pavement on Hwy. 276 from FR 1206 to FR 477 has been off limits. This pretty much forced people to go out FR 1206 or down and back up FR 475B for any Fish Hatchery CP's. Luckily Burton had been paying attention and knew that it was free to use this year. We hit the pavement roadie style, drafting and big ringing it all the way down the 5 miles of pavement to FR 477. Now it was up FR 477 to Clawhammer toward Maxwell. PMBAR rules state that everyone must finish by coming down Black Mtn. This forces all race teams to grind up the steep gravel of Clawhammer and Maxwell Cove in order to finish the race. Just one more way to make folks earn their PMBAR finish. What little energy I had in me had been left on FR 475C and Hwy. 276. I was hurting pretty bad but Burton had got his legs back and towed me up the gravel to Black Mtn. Once there we pushed through, not tempted by the hot dogs and beer race volunteers were giving out to teams as they approached the long descent down Black Mtn. to the finish line.
"One more hike-a-bike man" Burton said as we pushed up the few hundred yards of steep, root strewn trail to the final descent. There were two teams within eyesight and I really wanted to try to pass them. At this point PMBAR was a sprint race so we pushed hard on the hike-a-bike passing one team who were struggling hard up the hill. We hopped on the bikes, and pedaled into the final few miles of trail before the finish. We were taking the safe lines as opposed to the fun ones I usually take down Black Mtn. It was "don't crash, don't crash, don't crash" all the way down to the Thrift Cove intersection. We passed Thrift Cove and hit Lower Black Mtn. hauling ass and sucked up the last team (so we thought) between us and the finish. Burton put a move on the guy in back and I swooped around on the inside of a berm. The team mate in front was trying to keep us from passing but Burton knew that he would either pass him or we'd all get waded up a half mile from the finish. We used a straight away jump section to pass and were on the home stretch. Coming around a berm we saw two guys on the side of the trail changing a flat. I noticed their above average height and a green Salsa Spearfish...
Nate and Zink!
We flew passed them yelling and I saw the crushed look on Nate's face as he realized how close he was to finishing, only to have us sneak past in the last quarter mile. We tooled it down the gravel section and into the finish line at just over ten hours and plenty of Pisgah trail, road, and gravel behind us.
Nate and Zink came in a minute behind and we all couldn't help but laugh that Zink had flatted so close to the finish. If it weren't for that they would have beaten us by several minutes. I would have rather won out right but racing is racing and that's the way it goes. I later learned that Nate was really hurting on Maxwell too and had to stop for the hot dogs at Pressley Cove to keep from shutting down. Never eat the hot dog... classic PMBAR mistake. I didn't feel so bad about winning by default.
After that we hung around waiting for others to finish and drinking beers.
38th out of 100. I'll take that. Fighting cramps, under hydrated, and maybe poor route choice, we still finished top 30.
I just want to say great job to all who raced out there.
Especially Em and Tom who finished with an hour to spare and earned ultimate PMBAR redemption. Also great job to Burton's brother Burton the Elder and his partner Good Guy Greg for finishing their first PMBAR under the cut off time. And one more to E Dub who's partner Fletcher had to quit and E. finished solo any way.
Well done you guys.
Now its time to get ready for the Pisgah 111k/55k in two weeks. 166k of racing in 48 hours?