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.
Monday, June 30, 2014
Friday, May 23, 2014
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
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
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
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