P111k and P55k. Race Weekend. Bleh.
I found myself, yet again, staring down the barrel of another weekend of suffering on two wheels in the Pisgah. I had a pretty big damn weekend in store. The Pisgah 111k on Saturday and, if I had still had legs attached to my body after that, The Pisgah 55k on Sunday.
166k of bike racing in two days. I don't know what that is in American distance but I know enough about the metric system to know its a long ways to ride a bike. Friday afternoon was all about supplies and getting out to the woods in time to set up camp, rest, hydrate, and chill. Traffic was a nightmare and It took the better part of 3 hours to hit a few different bike shops for chemical energy "foods" and get over to Billy Goat Bikes to pick up Thelma Lou. At some point during PMBAR my rear wheel developed a nasty wobble and with zero time to true it myself, I had put the job in the more than competent hands of E Dub.
Stopped by the shop, the shit was shot with E. and Fletcher and it was home to pack up. My apathy to packing earlier was a mistake and it took a few more hours to pack and get on the road. Eventually I made it to the woods, got to my campsite and commenced to chilling.
Up at 6:00am. Jumped in the creek to wake up, food, coffee, kit up and head to the Start/Finish. I was really worried that today would be a repeat of the crampocolypse that was PMBAR. I told myself "today is about finishing" and did my best to keep nerves down. I ran into K. Brown and a few other fast folks. Good lucks were exchanged and I saw Burton, Em, and Becky hanging out. Becky and Em were both in for the P111k and the 55k so we were talking strategy when Burton mentioned that it should be a nice warm up going up Clawhammer. "I thought we started up Black Mtn." I said and he said "nope, its the same course as in 2012". It was at this point that I realized that the course I had been studying for the last few weeks was in fact, not the course we would be racing. Shit.
"Just follow the flagging tape man" was all the advice I needed from Burton and we lined up to go. The silver lining there is the long stretch of paved Hwy. 276 and flat gravel on FR 477 would be a great warm up.
I started at the back chatting up Em and in 3...2...1... GO!
Off we went at a silly slow pace onto the pavement. I worked my way up to mid pack and found a comfortable gear and spun out the rest of the way to Clawhammer. We hit claw with derailleurs popping and shifters clicking. "Settle in man, its going to be a long day" I thought. My plan was to start slow, see how my legs were feeling and go from there. Passed a few more folks on Claw and hit Buckhorn feeling fine. The previous night's rain showers made for sloppy going and my 2.3 Minions were hooking up. I passed a few more at the Buckhorn/S. Mills intersection and headed down to Squirrel. Once on the machined out climb on Squirrel Gap I had awful flashbacks to PMBARs past where I was in the throes of cramps on this very climb. This time around it was great. I felt strong and picked off a few more on the technical climbs as we hit Cantrell Creek. Cantrell is nothing more than a gully filled with rocks and mud. Its a trail in the sense that it has blazes marked on trees and its on a map. Otherwise its a goat path. The rain and all the tires going down it made it crazy sloppy and plenty of folks were struggling to maintain. Riders were doing there best to navigate the loose cantaloupe sized rock and creek crossings but it was slow going. I passed a few trying to ride the creeks and we soon hit South Mills River. It was a relief to be on the flat smooth double track of S. Mills. I dropped several gears and did my best to make up time with legs that felt great. We crossed the bridge at Bradley Creek and I swung left but was stopped by a "Wrong Way!" sign. "Damn" I thought, "He's got us going up to the Parking lot. I did my best to ride what I could on the steep, water bar strewn trail up to the Turkey Pen parking area and Rest stop #1.
I made the aid station, grabbed my drop bag and filled bottles. I heard "yo Banjo!" and turned to see Todd Hudson hanging out fueling up. He had DNF'd at PMBAR and was at the 111k for Pisgah redemption. He asked if I wanted to roll with him but I declined, not sure how fast they would be going and still not sure about my legs and how they would handle the cold, waist deep creek crossings on Bradley Creek. He went on and I ate some PB&J and drank some more water and headed out after them. Bradley Creek is the worse trail in Pisgah. Sandy, sloppy, steep in sections, and no fewer than 13 creek crossings. Luckily we only had four wet crossings before we would be going up Bradley Creek Rd. I worked my way past a couple more on Bradley and started up Bradley Creek rd. feeling fine. At aid station #2 I lubed my chain, refueled, and headed down the long gravel road to N. Mills Campground. I took advantage of the smooth descent to shake my hands out and cool down. N. Mills is my weekly ride spot and I felt confident that I could knock it out quick.
Up FR 5000, up Spencer and onto the steep-tech of Spencer downhill. Knowing this trail really helped and I passed 3 folks who were walking their bikes down the gnar. Right onto Never Ending Road and onto Fletcher Creek. Fletcher is the Yin to Spencer's Yang. As technical and steep as Spencer is, Fletcher is smooth, flat, and fast. I was hauling ass and actually having alot of fun at this point. I hit the second wildlife field and saw something on the forest's edge. "What are all of those dogs doing out here?" I thought. It was at this point that the four "dogs" stood up on their back legs and turned toward me. Bears! Four bears were standing not thirty yards from me blocking the trail. In order to not impede my mountain cycle racing they bolted and I carried on with a big smile on my face. Always cool to see bears in the woods...
Fletcher done and headed to Lower Trace. This was another great part of knowing the terrain and I passed a rider on Lower Trace who was hung up in a blind rock garden. Onto N. Mills River trail and up Yellow Gap, down FR 5051 to FR 1206. I made 1206 and saw Tom and Jim Tonyan hanging out cheering racers on. "How ya feeling man?" asked Tom. I felt OK but could definitely tell the legs were starting to fade on me. "Getting there man" I said and we high fived and off I went up 1206 to aid station #3. Aid station #3 I refueled and talked with Burton who was up there hanging out waiting on Becky to come through. He gave me a couple chamois butter packs which at this point in the day I was "sorely" needing. I spare you the details of why I needed lubrication but after 35-40 miles of hot, humid, bike seat grinding I was hurting bad.
Butter'd up and started the climb up Laurel Mtn. to Pilot Rock. I had taken a shot of Coke a Cola at aid station #3 and this set me off like a rocket ship and soon enough was at the hike-a-bike below the Pilot descent. Myself and another 3 racers were commiserating in the misery of the hike-a-bike and then it was back to racing down the awesomeness that is Pilot Rock. I passed at least 5 other racers who were walking most the Pilot descent and couldn't help but smile. The 140mm travel fork on Thelma Lou was soaking up the gnar and I was once again having fun despite my tired and sore legs. Through the gnar and back onto FR 1206. Ripping gravel trying to gain time I made aid station #4 feeling great. I ate some chips, PB&J and pineapple while talking up Mike from Industry Nine who was volunteering at the aid station. He offered encouraging words and I set out onto S. Mills toward Buckhorn and eventually the last big push before the Finish Line.
S. Mills and Buckhorn went by in a haze and soon enough I was in the shit, pushing my bike up Black Mountain. Race Promoter, and Pisgah Racing Mad Scientist, Eric Wever had a twisted mind laying out this course. After 60+ miles of racing we all had to go up arguably the worst hike-a-bike in all of The Pisgah. I had failed to pack any energy chemicals and so I was forcing Lil' Debbie snacks and Snickers into my face, frantically trying to fight of my mind and body's pleas to stop. At a certain point I stopped, staring at a rock and not able to will my feet and tires over it. I was literally shutting down. I kept pegging away and soon made the Looking Glass overlook. I don't know if it was the Pisgah gods, my energy starved hallucinations or something greater but looking out over Pisgah, with the 6,000 footers of the Shining Rock Wilderness looking down at me I suddenly became very aware of where I was, what I had accomplished to this point, and I felt amazing. I took a few deep breaths, drank what was left of my water and pushed on. Before long I was on the steep downhill of upper Black Mtn. Doing my best to keep it together I passed a female racer who was walking most of the trail. She looked trashed and just grunted when I asked her for the pass. I crossed Pressley Cove and up the last 100 yards of hike a bike before the last descent to the finish. About halfway up I saw a rider coming down. He had a number plate and looked terrible. He asked me "whats the fastest way out of here? I'm over this shit...". He had shed a derailleur on Pilot and was trying to finish the race on a full suspension single speed. Not easy. I guess the hike up and over Black mountain had done him in and he was quitting. "Your almost there man! No way you can quit now." I looked at him and said "come with me, your finishing this f***ing race!"
I talked him up the last bit of hiking and at the saddle told him to maintain, don't crash, and don't flat. I thought the same in my mind as I descended the short bit of steep gnar before the Thrift Cove intersection. Once on lower black it was all over, time to have fun. I was pumping and jumping every grade dip and jump the entire way down lower Black. It felt awesome to be going so fast on such a smooth trail after 70 miles of Pisgah.
I crossed the Finish line 70 miles, 10,000+ feet of climbing, and 10 hours and 12 minutes after I started. My goal was sub 10 hours but I didnt give a shit at that point. I got a beer and a burrito and sat on the grass waiting to see who would come in next. Hudson came in a bit later and soon enough Becky and Em crossed the finish and all was good. We talked for a bit and everyone dispersed for food and rest....
Because we'd all be doing it again in a few short hours....
55k to come.