Monday, July 28, 2014

2014 Wilderness 101 Race Report

This year’s Wilderness 101 was a tough one for me, but still loads of adventure.

For me, there seem to be 3 stages to any 100 miler.

“Stage 1”

Leaving early from work and racing from Richmond to Coburn. Getting registered, setting up camp, once over bike and drop bag prep, chow down, drink a couple of beers and tell questionable jokes. Whew, then try to settle down and sleep.

That evening, a few of our group chats about the forecast. Rain percentages for various times of the day are debated.One of my race buddies says I should run the 13 plate upside down, but I decide to mount it the way it's set up and not wory about superstition.

“Stage 2”

In the morning the next race starts. Get up just a bit before everyone else to eat, drink coffee, and bring systems online.

For me, I affectionately refer to it as the potty race. Yeah, that's right, the race to poop. 200+ people and maybe 12 porta potties... do the math. Now I'm not complaining, it's just a constrained resource, plain and simple. So if you can get it over with before demand exceeds supply, you are in good shape.

“Stage 3, the main event”

Ahemmm, with that out of the way, it's time to put on some kit, make sure the drop bags are complete, and well, dropped off. There has also been a light rain all morning and it’s chilly. I debate a base layer, but decide on arm warmers. I figured they gave me more thermal options.

Now onto the bike and check the tire pressure and last minute tweaks. As soon as Garth sees my number plate, he lends some sage advice in the soft way he often expresses himself... "Plassman, you got to run that shit upside down!" I don't have more zip ties, and don't want to mess with it so I defy cycling tradition and run it like I brung it.

The drizzling rain had pretty much stopped and we rolled out of the park onto the main road through town. Almost instantly, the real wetness for the day started as the peleton headed out of dodge on a soaked road with small standing puddles. It was like the road was rain up on us. Weird.

This year, I had decided to put in better effort on the 1st gravel climb and kept with the lead group for the 1st 2/3 of the climb and then just managed to keep them in sight for a while after. Following the initial climb, I put in a few hard efforts to settle in with the second main group. I worked toward the front and was trying to put some pulls in. 2 or 3 guys were pushing the pace fast, putting in hard pulls. I worked up to the front to contribute, and found it tough to pull hard enough to keep the hand full of riders setting the pace happy and got repassed. I'm not sure they realized the pace was intense enough to make it hard to get up there and take a turn. Oh well, I did manage to put in a few modest pulls, cranking near my limit.

We went under a tunnel to connect to more gravel and I was surprised to see us catching the A group. We had really been pushing a good pace. As our second group merged into the Peloton, we slowed to match the pace. I seized a rare opportunity to say hi to some folks I usually don't see after the first few miles.
Gordon asked me where my GoPro was and then I wished I had remembered to get it all set up before the race. Joe Fish said the pace was unusually chill and I agreed. I heard bits and pieces of a conversation about a bad crash that had occurred on the gravel a little while earlier.

When we hit Aid 1 I got a water hand up and was super stoked to hear that we were about 2 minutes back from the race leaders. Personally, I've never heard that in an NUE race before. It felt nice.

We hit the double track grass climb and I faded off the back of the main group. I was climbing the grass more aggressively than I normally do, but it was just not enough to keep them in sight. Still, I took out that climb faster than I think I have before and then bombed the downhill sections of double track, spun out in my 38/11 combo.

Eventually, the day's 1st single track was reached. I really liked this section because it's a nice mixture of flowing trail with some rocks and skinny bridges thrown in for fun. The morning's rain had for the most part left it nice and tacky. As always, Bob Popovich was on hand to grab some awesome photos of the racers on the last bridge before a pretty large rock garden.

Next up was what I consider the 'middle hump' part of this race. There are two combos of longish gravel climb + fall line descent. Sort of like the humps in a camel’s back. I could tell I had burned 1 too many matches on the first big climb and then discovered, my tire pressure was a bit high on the 1st descent. I made my way pass a few riders, but was having trouble really pinning it. I felt like I was getting knocked around a bit. Later I noticed my fork was only using about 60 of its 100mm. I stopped at the base of the next gravel climb and let some air out of both tires.

There was a nice rolling gravel section with some periods of pavement through a very scenic park. A large group of Amish were enjoying a nice Saturday morning. I caught a glimpse of all their horses and carriages in a grove of trees. That was a pretty cool alternate scene of transportation in this age of packed parking lots in the city.

As I made it to the top of the second climb, it was nice to enter the trail after dowsing my head with a water splash hand up. Whoever you were up there... Thanks!

This descent was a good bit steeper, but I felt the trail had a more agreeable soil to rock ratio. Plus, my tires were now tracking much better. Too bad my motor was still playing catch-up.

Aid 3 was a welcome sight and I got some much needed hand ups from my drop bag. Onto the next big climb!

At the top of the climb, I was all alone as I rolled into the rocky mountain top single track that for me marks the point where this race gets really fun. At first I was struggling a bit to keep my momentum, so I dropped my seat post an inch to force myself into a more attack focused position and started charging out of the saddle. Things were picking up and I was pleased to be riding all the rock features with a bit of grace and a lot of mojo. My core was starting to get tired just as the warp speed downhill section started.

Then after zooming down the fire road that followed, I turned left onto the rolling double track section. I was motoring along when all of a sudden my drive train just seized. Damn! I surveyed the damage and cursed loudly when I saw the two foot branch section with one end jammed into my cassette by the upper part of the derailleur, the other end of the stick was stuck between my big chain ring and chain. WTF? It took all the strength I had to pull it out of the cassette. Luckily it shifted halfway decent. Amazing, but quite annoying to have wasted 5 minutes.

I hammered my way to my favorite single track in the race. The fern floored forest trail is second to none and a welcome contrast to the rock fest from the top of the mountain. I rolled through this section well and had just passed a rider when I found myself Tarzanning off my bike and grabbing a tree with my left arm just in time to stop my fall from grace. It still hurts pretty go to launch off your bike and hug a tree. I guess I'm an aggressive tree hugger.

Following that awesome trail section is a pretty moderate gravel climb to the last long rocky trail. The flattish rock strewn single track that leads to the descent was beating me up more than usual and I finally realized I had all my bike’s squish locked out. Duh! Freshman move Plassman. I caught a rider on the descent, but was glad to slow down a touch because it's some damn rocky. Nearing the end, I eagerly anticipated the gravel/pavement section that leads to Aid 4, the last stop I usually make.

Once again the awesome force of aid station volunteers hooked me up and helped me on my way to the last major climb of the day.

At the base of this climb, there is a house just off the road that always seems to be burning trash when we ride by it. The climb is very long, has a rough road surface, and just when you think it's over... keeps on going. But at the top awaits a short section of sandy trail on the aptly named Sand Mountain. In the parking lot I spied a local rider laying on his back beside his car. I assumed he was taking in a nice relaxing break after his ride. I was so jealous!

Now, I knew there was my least favorite part of the race coming up. Panther mother fucking road. It starts out fine enough, but just gets progressively steeper and rockier as it wears on. Unlike an actual Panther, this predator slowly beats you into submission. I always find myself cussing this descent quite loudly. Panther run and I have a hate/hate relationship. You might as well hate the Panther road, because trust me...Panther Run Road already hates you.

The gravel road up to and past aid 5 is a blessing after the Panther. Even the goat path hiking is not as bad because it's over with pretty soon and turns into a really cool section of single track that leads to the infamous Fisherman's path.

The key to the fisherman's path is to know it. Here is where a pre-ride of this section comes in handy. It shows you where you can get back on your bike so you don't get lured into re-mounting to soon. The other key is to get your bike off the ground and just power hike through it. Not so easy with 95 miles or so on the body!

Once on the rails to trail, I spun out in the 38/11 combo and got passed by a rider just before the final narrow trestle bridge and tunnel. If you know the line to take in the old abandoned tunnel, it's cake. Again, this is a key pre-ride spot. I exited the tunnel with no dramatics and decided not to chase the other rider too much, though I did look over my shoulder more than once as I raced to the finish line.

I was a little disappointed with my 8:46 finish, but I was glad I could ride my bike all day!

Monday, June 30, 2014

2014 Iron Mountain 100k

I’ll let you in on a secret. The Iron Mountain 100k, despite its tough as nails name, is a cast iron darling. It's Grand, that's the way I see it.

Yeah, there is a lot of elevation, +10k feet in 55 or so miles. Yeah there is a lot of single track, up and down, with rocks and roots. There is some Gnar, some flow, and… there is a ridiculous amount of single track. It’s like riding a ‘friendly’ Pisgah. Or maybe Squamish BC without all the free ride double black and log skinnies. It’s Grand.

I arrived in trail town of Damascus where the Appalachian trail, Virginia Creeper rails to trail, and Iron Mountain trail converge to form a trinity of recreation and adventure. My good friend Mike and I set up a sweet camping spot next to the river with a dam/waterfall providing some nice white noise, oh yeah there was a pretty decent shower facility too. A local gaggle of geese greeted us and tentatively spot checked us for food.

We met up with a solid group of the Stauntonian off road cyclist militia hailing from Black Dog Bikes and North Mountain Woodworks. Our pre ride revealed a nice technical single track climb with lots of fun slippery rocks and roots encrusted into a sandy soil, flanked by rhododendron occasionally flowering in white and pink blooms. At the top, we turned left to check out the final descent of the race, a wide track covered in what I’ll dub loose 'rock granola' made of golf ball and fist sized chunks. Fast, loose, and exciting!

For race night fuel and shenanigans, a trio of us headed over to the Blue Blaze restaurant. We sampled a smooth local IPA and veggie pizza. After the 1st round, we got a free 2/3 pitcher on the house because the keg kicked while they were filling it. Nice.

I tried to doze to sleep with the muffled sounds of a band playing at another riverside restaurant. The greatest hits of Skynyrd and Bad Company seemed an appropriate lullaby for a Southwest Virginia summer night.

I woke up multiple times in the wee hours of the morning to the sound of pouring rain that seemed to last a couple of hours. In the morning I had the Jet Boil cranking out the morning mud cup-o-coffee like my own little java still.

The racers gathered in the Damascus town park and paced out with the familiar smell of diesel I have grown accustomed to when following the SMT white whale replacement super duty. Soon enough we dropped into the Virginia Creeper rails to trail for a few miles and must have been an intimidating sight to the small group of runners we passed. There was a near incident further down the trail as someone in the lead peloton swerved a bit, but all dramatics abated as we crossed the road and started the day's 1st single track climb.

Moderately steep, sandy soil with wet rocks and roots made for a good challenge. Riders fumbled here and there and I gained some positions. At the top I was rolling with strong single speeders and geared riders alike for the undulating ridge of Iron Mountain. Several steep ups were just too slick to ride and hiking proved to be just as fast.

Once I got a sense the trail was about to head down, I lowered my dropper post an inch, and started hammer rolling like my single speed companions. The downhill was fast and entertaining with the wet conditions. Eventually we popped out and were soon dispatching a gravel road section. Then another single track section from an old road bed turned into a big ring, pedal hard, super-fast descent… watch the drift in the wet apexes! Man that was fun!

Next up was a brief road segment on 301. I was all alone until another geared ride caught me and I managed a draft off him for a bit. Then we each traded a pull, and were so focused on rolling we almost blew by the next turn onto single track.

Another single track climb greeted us. I love single track climbs. Especially if they have a bit of technical challenge, because you are so consumed with riding, the pain and effort get pushed out of your mind. You see for me, on a gravel climb, the discomfort of high output leg commotion from my short running sticks is front and center in my consciousness, like an annoying sound. But climbing technical single track is like cranking up the high fi over the noise of the engine clanking away.

Eventually this gave way to some long gravel road followed by an extended squirming descent decorated lots of fun little features that finally then dropped out at aid 2. Mark Prater was manning the aid and hooked me up with bottle exchanges, and brother, the bottles were nice and cold too! I made my own a critical mistake and did not grab any of the food from that aid... I should have brought more food for the ride between aid 2 and 3. There was plenty there, but in my haste I left it right there on the table.

More long stretches of gravel climbing awaited, but it was not really all that bad because the grade was never very steep, it was just loooong. I noticed a ways into it how I was running out of energy. I had just eaten the last bit of cliff blocks I had, and had used all my Perpetuem up before aid 2. While I rolled the climb losing energy and watching a few riders promenade by, I fantasized of a bowl of cliff bars... or even better, a stack of waffles! Finally the gravel led to ridge line single track that undulated up and down. This helped take my mind off my dwindling energy and I got back on task with a less than cooperative motor but now I had the high fi cranking.

A long fun descent eventually dropped me off at aid 3 where I was so happy to see the volunteers! They helped me with my drop bag. Yes! Energy drink. Oh yeah, I scored some coke… the fizzy kind. One volunteer encouraged me and said "your awesome" to which I replied "y’all are AWESOME!" So great to have those wonderful volunteers helping and cheering.

Just as I was rolling onto the single track out of the aid, I heard the volunteers welcoming the first female rider to roll into aid 3. I knew I had to kick it up a notch, because she was wicked fast!

As I headed back onto the trail, I realized this was the same Iron Mountain trail I had descended earlier, but it looked quite different. Different like any trail does when you ride it in reverse. Sort of like a sweet Hendrix reverse solo. I was pleased to clean a particularly steep and slippery section, but there would soon be stretches requiring a hike.

The ridge line trail in the Iron Mountains is equally fun in either direction. I started to real another rider in and dropped in behind as we folded into the high speed turns at the top of the day’s most technical descent. He was riding well and we zoomed down the wet leaf covered bench cut. Near the bottom there was a switch back that turned sharp right, on top of a very slick looking rock into damp loam. I sensed a hesitation in the rider in front of me so I jumped on it, dropped the post, and bombed the last bit. I had a bit of speed coming into aid 4 and managed to save a small front end slide rally style. Braaap!

Finally there was only one long jeep trail / double track climb that eventually took us to the Iron Mountain trail again. I started feeling good when I recognized I was descending down the steep stuff on top that I had hiked up much earlier in the day. The final bit was soon to be under tread.

I reached trail that I recognized from the pre-ride and attacked with a new vigor as a taste of the final descent hovered just off the tip of my tongue. I swear I could smell it, that sweet ‘rock granola’ from the pre-ride.

When I race XC, spectators sometimes comment when they see me. They say things like “Look at that guy. He’s smiling!” I must admit that in those races, I’m not really smiling. It's my unconscious game face produced by gasping air through a wince that is sometimes mistaken for smiling.

However, in this case there were no spectators to make a mistaken observation. But  no one could have mistaken the huge smile I was gulping air through as I rallied down the last descent of what is now my favorite back country course in Virginia.

Friday, May 23, 2014

2014 Karl’s Kaleidoscope Mountain Bike Race

Karl’s Kaleidoscope race takes place way down in south western Virginia in Hungry Mother State Park. It’s just outside the town of Marion VA and is a short drive out of town on a crooked road.

I headed down after work on Friday afternoon not knowing if I would hit much traffic on the 4hr drive out 64 and down 81. Luckily there were no snags and I got to my Hotel just after 10pm. I settled in with a couple of beers, plenty of water, and studied maps of the race course while Avatar played on the TV to keep me company.

In the morning it was surprisingly cold and I really had to be careful not to spill my coffee as I fought off involuntary shivers while outside walking back to my room. I ate a quick waffle and got suited up, adding my spring cold gear to the mix.

Arriving at race check in, it was clear this was a small grass roots race, with a very modest amount of people showing up, maybe 30 or 40. However, there was no lack of talent and super fast racers. There was also no lack of swag as the race packet was full of goodies and plenty more could be grabbed from sample bins. I talked with Quadsworth about his recent Cohutta 100 victory and said ‘hi’ to other fast folks from the Shenandoah valley.

After a chilly warm up, we lined up at the start and soon took off on the groomed trails in Hungry Mother park. The morning scenery was awesome as our train of racers skirted the lake covered in a mist of clearing fog. Soon we made some turns and headed into rhododendron flanked trails that rolled up and down the hillsides surrounding the lake.

Shooting down and around the bench cut and off camber corners covered in a fine loose scree kept me on my toes, and moderate rolling climbs got the heart rate up. I kept ebbing and flowing to the pace of the riders in front of me as we played cat and mouse, zooming around the park.

Next up was a series of road and gravel sections that led to an intermediate piece of single track that connected us to the mountain lollipop section of the course. The trail in this section was wet from the week’s previous rain filtering down the mountain side and there were many creek crossing. I felt just like I was riding familiar sections of trails from Pisgah. Pretty wet and muddy, but familiar and fun. After popping out of that trail section, I hammered away on more gravel road and fueled up for the big climb.

Ascending the mountain proved much more pleasant than I had anticipated and It felt good to be rolling the long moderate climb in the big ring. Near the top the fire road started to yield to trail and the descent was soon to follow.

Initially the trail was hard to even see as the descent began, but luckily some sheriff’s tape marked the way. It must have been a crime scene because I was ready to murder the descent.

The top portion of the downhill had lots of gnarly rock sections and a few surprise chutes of trail that were a little exposed on the left. Soon, this gave way to fast and obviously water chewed sections of trail lined in purple flowering rhododendron. Fast and beautiful.

Nearing the bottom, I took a right fork and dispatched a series of fire road connectors to more single track that now had a Pennsylvania feel. Before I knew it, I was rolling on the paved road back into Hungry Mother park and was soon crossing the finish. Lots of great food, good beer, and fun swapping stories and talking riding with a bunch of cool mountain bikers. 


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Snow Ride

When I left for Pocohontas State Park the temps were a balmy 20 deg F. But that was a good thing because it meant the trails would have a nice solid coating of snow and would not be muddy. And so they were with more traction than you would expect.

I arrived solo and completed my winter riding dress in my car not daring to lose precious body heat before getting fully geared up. No one else from the team had confirmed they would make it out for the days scheduled BTS ride. I did hear from Joe Fish that he might join me at 9:00.

After a quick GoPro test I got ready to roll out and Joe showed up. I rode around the trails a bit as he got geared up.

We rolled out and knocked out a bunch of the Green and Blue trails before heading over to Lake View and riding all three of those trails. Conditions were awesome!

I brought my GoPro and made a short movie, check it out!

After our first “lap” that was about two hours we stopped back at the cars to get some food. We saw Dave H. had just arrived and was getting ready to ride. He hopped on our train and we rode the green, blue, and red trails for about an hour and a half.

Riding in the snow is a ton of fun and really sharpens your mountain bike skills. I had a great time riding with Joe and Dave H.

After about three and a half hours ride time, I was really glad to get back to the car.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Under the Looking Glass - Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race

My trusty GoPro HD Hero cameras help me capture the experience of my bike adventures. After a long race like the 5th annual Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race, I take some time away from all the blog posting activity and hours upon hours of video. Often weeks later, I finally return to review the video and spend time watching everything that happened and carefully picking stills out of the millions of frames… Sometimes there is not much, but often there are moments of pure gold.

Featured here are images I’ve extracted from my video. These snapshots of fleeting moments help me relive the experience. They let me uncover hidden scenes that were lost in the blur and frenzy that is bike racing.

Preparing the arsenal



[Br] [Bre]  - Breaking Bread

Ready, Set



Whoa Nelly!

Pisgah Trail

Taking Care of Business




Hey, you got to Respect The Mountain, Baby

Getting it done

That's the spirit!

Sent and Delivered

Good Times, Great Place