Tuesday, June 9, 2015

2015 HOO-HA! Enduro

The 2015 Massanutten HOO-HA! Enduro was great. I had a lot of fun rolling the Enduro lifestyle and racing with my friends. My day was not without some challenges, but that’s bike racing. I’m stoked and would race it the next weekend if I could!

Here’s how my day unfolded:

I woke up at 5:45am and grabbed my stuff from my in-laws house in Staunton. I contemplated eating breakfast and making some coffee, but I had planned to arrive early at the venue and do a dry run on the 2000 hours trail. I’ve only ever climbed the 2000 hours trail during previous Hoo-Ha XC

When I got to the Burg, I wasted some time trying to find a coffee place, and a restroom. I had my phone with me, but I was not in too serious of a mindset. A spot of research the night before would have saved me some time. But hey, I was rolling Enduro style and it all worked out with a nice cup of java once I stumbled upon Panera.

Soo… I arrived at the event sight closer to 8 and decided just to chill and get ready. Soon I was looking at familiar faces and caught up with some fast guys, Justin Mace and Adam Williams. Also, I talked a bit with another Adam in the neighboring car who was getting ready. If I remember correctly, this was his first Enduro race. He was understandably concerned about the having right equipment and strategy for the race. My advice was to just relax and ride your own race, and most important of all, have fun.

I realized I had spent too much time fooling around and used up my opportunity for making some dry runs on the seeding course section. Again, lesson learned here was that if I had planned better and acted a plan out, I would have been better prepared. But I do that all the time for 100 mile races and stage racing, so for this Enduro I was just living the life… but probably a little too easy.

Stage 1 - Seeding run

The seeding run was an abbreviated and quick section of the third stage. We started in number plate order and jumped into a short pedally section, before diving into the woods. It felt really weird to hit stuff on the Trance trail bike as I’ve been riding my Turner Czar, and Anthem 27.5 a lot lately. So coming from an XC biased muscle memory, the front end sure felt a little lazy and sketchy. Also, there were some slick spots on the trail that didn’t look as squirrely as they were.

I seeded about 12th and this turned out to be a good position right behind a local fast guy, David Taylor. During my other stage runs, I never had to ask for a pass or get called for a pass from someone behind, which to me tells me the seeding process worked great.

Stage 2 – Kaylors Knob Stage

We climbed up the trail we would be descending all the way to the top to Kaylors Knob. The ride up gave us a preview of the trail we would be descending. However, I knew that  it would look and feel so much different when you climb it and at 1/3  to 1/4  of the speed you descend it. At the top it got significantly rockier, and this showed us what the tricky start would look like. We waited a while for everyone to get up to the top, walked the start section a bit and chewed the fat bout the best lines to take. I got chilled as a breeze blew in and my damp kit cooled me down.

“Ten Seconds…Three, Two, One, …” I fumbled slightly getting clipped in and the rocks at the top snuck up on me. No major falls, just a few silly bobbles and plenty of seconds wasted. Starting the top at a slow and smooth pace would have been wiser. I had some learning to do.

Lesson number one: Relax and ride well as your primary objective.

Lesson number two: It’s really hard to jump into the zone when you’ve been waiting around for any length of time.

Once through the rocks, I started to pick up the pace and was riding pretty well. However, I miss interpreted a course marker and again wasted valuable seconds stopping and turning back to the correct my direction. Now the trail started heading down and I had some fun on techy bits requiring committed moves. In one spot, I threaded the needle between two trees with both sides of the bar scraping. Pucker.

As I got rolling faster, I reminded myself that I’m vacationing very soon, so I better not wreck bad and screw that up.

Again, I felt a little out of my comfort zone on the trail bike, it was not responding as quickly or solidly as my XC rigs. Not necessarily slower, but it felt slower. Towards the bottom, I thumbed to shift into a harder gear, and got nothing but air. This was on the gravel section and I glanced down. The shift paddle was gone! Shit. Not bent, just not there. I still had the downshift paddle, but could not shift to a harder gear. So I just started spinning my brains out, and I rolled the final bit single speed in too low of a gear.

I refilled my water bottled, and drank a beer

Stage 3 – Upper and Lower Ravine Stage

I weighed my options with my missing shift lever, I could not figure out how to actuate the shifter into a smaller cog. It was stuck in the 24 tooth cog. With my two front rings (22/36) that gave me either a 22/24 combo or a 36/24, with the former combo pretty much useless on the course. So it looked like I would be running a single speed 36/24 which was not really quite hard enough of a gear.

The rock gardens that seem to pave the top of the ridge leading to the descent were a little tricky, and I made a mistake and hit my wide bars on a tree, trying to punch it out with my left hand.  The tree always wins. At least I didn’t go over the front and recovered with just a dab.

Next up, exciting rock sections as I entered the downhill section. I bombed through the 3 or so rock drops that were all a bit of a blur, and I’m glad my Trance sucked this stuff up well. I was riding the top third of the downhill well and was able to carry descent speed even with my light gearing. Then I washed out the front end in a corner, scrambled to my feet, and started spinning away like mad. Soon I realized in the crash that the rear shifter has shifted into a easier gear in the crash. Well poop. Now I was rolling with what I later found out was a 36/32, spinning my little legs out whenever I could. The gearing gave me other problems in a slick rock garden with pedally sections. I struggled with spinning out from the easy gearing on the damp rocks.

And so the rest of the stage went for me, zooming down as long as gravity could work it’s magic, and spinning like a mad man when things leveled out. I focused a lot more on pumping stuff and laying off the brakes. This was a great learning experience, I just wish it had not been in the middle of my Enduro runs. I finished with the knowledge that I had probably lost a good bit of time with the wreck and my light gearing.

I refilled my water bottle, grabbed a slice of pizza, and drank a beer.

Stage 4 - 2000 hours trail

Having endured (or enduroed?) the fiasco of the rear shifter actuating to too easy of a gear in the crash on stage 3, I realized I needed to figure out how to shift it into a harder gear for stage 4. So I weighed my options. I had neatly trimmed my excess cable on the rear derailleur when I set the bike up. When I loosened the cable clamp I could only get it to shift one gear before I ran out of cable when the crimp came to a stop. So then I used the barrel adjuster to get one more extra gear. Ok, back to my 36/24 gearing. This time I used the low limit screw to prevent a shift into an easier gear. Ten cogs in the rear, and almost every one of them useless.

I’ve ridden the 2000 hours trail, but only as a climb in previous Hoo-Ha XC races. Man, did it look different going down it fast, with the gusto and speed afforded by 150mm of travel.

I rode most of the top well and was going a decent clip through all the switch back berms and rolling bits between. Then the trail crossed the road and started to level out. I spun like mad and I knew I was getting reeled in by another rider. I put my head down and really focused on trying to pump anything I could and stay off the brakes… and I spun my little legs like mad. So far, I had managed to keep the rider I had glimpsed at bay, and maybe even gain a modest amount of a gap back, but then the trail spit out onto the final  1/4 mile or so of flat gravel. I spun like mad, but at some point there was no more speed to gain from 200 RPM. Finally, a bit of short climb! It was odd, but for me this was a blessing, I could finally use my legs to accelerate!
After cresting the short climb, there was maybe another 300 yards to the finish, and I spun to no avail on the slight downward grade. I got caught by the rider chasing me right at the end. There was nothing I could do about it, except smile.

I got cleaned up, and drank a beer, and then another.

Then I had a great time hanging out with all the racers and comparing experiences from the day.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Karl’s Kaleidoscope Race 2015

Ever since my first time racing this event last year, I've been looking forward to returning to the adventure, diverse race course, and scenic event that is Karl’s Kaleidoscope race. The race is nestled in the valleys and hollers surrounding the south western Virginia town of Marion. Surprisingly well sponsored and supported, the race offers competitors a well-planned and stocked race course. Custom handmade kaleidoscopes offer a glimpse of the passion and love of for the event, and reverence for the race's namesake, Karl Kalber.

Just like signature Kaliedescope trophies, this race includes the full range of the mountain bike spectrum. The course incorporates groomed cross country trails, gravel and country road touring, and classic back country Appalachian mountain single track. It's a big day adventuring through varied landscapes with surprises and even southern charm around the bend and in the hollers.

A lively morning sun greeted me at Hungry Mother State Park with mild temps, clear skies, and a wonderful view of the lake nestled in valley. Heading to registration, I saw many familiar faces and friends from last year’s race. As I signed in for the expert course, I noted that the race always has more than enough supplies, right there at the start. Need some gels? There's plenty available. There are also other nutritional options available to power you through the race.

Back at the car, while kitting up, I overheard a conversation with a local rider and another racer. His warm southwest Virginia accent and pleasant personality provided a preview of the southern hospitality all racers would experience. The laid back atmosphere of this event was a welcome way to start a 50+ mile XXC mountain race and I felt at ease while I got dressed, mixed my bottles, stashed my energy food, and rolled around the park's paved road for a warm up. I noticed lots of fast looking folks rolling about, some familiar faces, and others I did not quite recognize. But all of them looked fit and fast!

The race director, Mark Prater, gathered us for a very thorough explanation of the course with marking descriptions, route notes, aid stations, and other valuable details. As we waited for start gun, I got a chance to quickly catch up with one of my fellow racers, and last year’s women's expert course champion, Laura Hamm. Her full suspension race bike was a change from the full rigid she was racing on last year, and I marveled at the dual integrated lockout control. I'm a big fan of talking to a friend at the start line as it really helps get rid of any nerves or unnecessary anticipation.

Ready...Steady...Bang! The race is on, and I put in a short lived and moderate sprint to position myself behind the lead three or so riders. Cory leads us out in a very moderate and enjoyable single track pace line. The first mile or so of gravel single track snakes a long side of the lake and descends down to a wooden bridge next to the spillway for the lake’s Dam. I'm glad the pace was comfortable because it gave me a chance to take the awesome lake views in.

As we got into the park’s trails, the pace was still surprisingly mellow. I resisted the urge to jump ahead, because I knew on the 1st major climb everything would fall into order. And so the first piece of the race spectrum began. We started winding up Hungry Mother’s wide bench cut trails that are a smooth surface of crushed shale. Some of the initial climbs have a few surprisingly steep pitches as the trail carves up the contour of the mountain. The tree canopy was thick and provided some nice shade, but occasionally there was enough clearing to allow great views of the lake.

I stayed close behind the lead group of five riders for most of the initial climb, and could occasionally see the second group below me on the switch backs. The climb eased and topped out, so I got to work going fast. The trails around the park flow well, and can be very fast. However, you’ve got to be careful, because some of the turns can be sharper than they look and if the turn is bending around the contour, you could easily fly right off the side if you overcook it. However, turns where the trail banks into the curve of the mountain can be ridden flat out. The deep bench cut provides a natural berm that’s almost vertical. Heavy and fast on the insides, and more conservative on the outsides. The shale has some grip, but due to the loose over hard-pack nature, you can get sliding in a jiffy.

I lost touch with the lead group and stayed in front of the second group. A short section of paved park road took me back to more climbing and descending near the start/finish. I made a point to firm up my fork and hammer out as much of the up and down bench cut that remained. Some sections of trail were lined with large purple Rhododendron blooms. Very picturesque. Eventually, the final section of this bench cut descended down a less winding section with lots of little booters. Jump, pump, jump, pump. Braaap!

I headed back on Rt. 16 for just a stitch and then climbed back up the trail next to the Dam and the lake. When I got to the country road I rolled solo as I climbed past the Alpaca farm.

I refueled on cliff blocks and tucked in as I tried to cut a small profile through the wind. This section of the race reminded me of Ireland. Rolling hills and mountains free of trees with grazing livestock and lots of rocks mixed in.

When the race course turned off pavement and onto a gravel road, I quickly came face to face with a small cow in the middle of the road. I said, “what’s up cow?” as I got close, and then it buggered off across the road. Next,  I found myself approaching the posterior of a farm tractor out for the day’s work. Timing was just right as the dirt road split and he went right, where I needed to go left.

Zooming along this dirt farm road was a little precarious because of a fair amount of small rocks. I passed a rider who had gotten a flat, then I realized I had just blown by a turn. I was surprised to hear another rider skidding behind me, from the same mistake. Turns out, Ben Coleman had made a wrong turn earlier, and was catching back up to the leaders.

I tried to ride through a really deep and muddy stream crossing and ended up with a dash of mud and pebbles in my left shoe. The course then seemed to go right through a farm construction site where I think new fence poles were going in. I felt a little odd through riding this spot, but everyone seemed cool about the situation.

Ben I and I were now rolling on a paved country road, and we talked about the beginning of the race. Then we came upon a guy with a stop sign. We asked, “what’s going on up there?” … We rode past, to the signal man’s dismay. There was a tree trimming operation, and 5 or 6 guys working, a couple playing soccer, and a few more looking at their phones…

After we were through the work zone, I suggested that Ben and I work together, and we took turns with 30 second pulls, all the way to the single track. We passed over a possum tail that was in the road. Just the tail.

The Crawfish Trail rolled through multiple Rhododendron tunneled stream crossings, with a few twisting and turning bits thrown in for good measure. I bobbled on a particularly rocky stream crossing where my poor line choice bounced me about and Ben slipped away. When Crawfish made a crossing with the Appalachian Trail, four through-hikers gave me some encouragement and told me the others were not too far ahead.

I motored through the rest of the single track and tucked in for the remaining gravel and pavement road leading to the day’s big climb up Walker Mountain. When I stopped and filled two water bottles, the volunteers told me I was in 5th.  I got back on and started cranking, hoping to hold off the single speed rider that was probably going to pass me. It didn’t take too long.

Bob Moss caught up to me fast, and motored by as we passed the forest road gate and headed into the long double track climb. I kept him in sight for a little while but he was motoring up that climb like a beast. A couple of hunters I came across said “careful, there’s a bear up there in the holler… keep your eyes peeled”. That added a little excitement for the next ¼ mile or so as I scanned the woods.

The only thing about the climb I found annoying was the constant satellite of a deer fly or two, orbiting me as I rolled along slowly. I had to periodically swat at them as they tried to make a meal out of me. When climbing, you are going too slowly to outrun them.

Finally the ridge section of Walker Mountain began and a cool breeze was a welcome relief. Several more moderate pitches awaited and then the ridge and descent started. The trail at the top was very, very, faint. Ribbons of sheriff’s crime scene tape marked the way, every couple of trees! So I rode it like I stole it. Next up, there was a fun and technical set of turns. These were followed by a short hike a bike section, and then the downhill opened up. Some very fast single track chutes seemed a bit rougher than last year, with fewer leaves and more water erosion with rocks. The purple Rhododendron bloom tunnels were just a pretty as last year. I was careful to go as fast as I could, but not be so reckless as to invite a pinch flat.

The descent eased, and I popped back onto the Crawfish Trail I had ridden earlier. This trail was definitely more fun this direction and I enjoyed riding it.

Soon, I was dispatching rolling double track that was nicely shaded. I drank the last of my water and refueled. Crossing through another service road gate got me back onto a gravel road that finished with a nice, fast, downward section. Deep water ruts added excitement.

I stopped at the aid station, refilled my bottle with Gatorade, and got back to work as the volunteers cheered me on… “go, go, go!”

I recognized the hillside quarry at the turn in the road. A backhoe stood still like a rusted dinosaur, waiting to be re-animated for the next stone wall. I knew there was not much road left before turning right onto another connector of double track, punctuated by a few sections of secret single track, and one oddly placed tanning bed on a junk pile.

Finally, the trail joined up with a gravel road that runs in front of a house that looks like a castle. The scenery once again reminded me of Ireland, and I smiled because I knew I was closing in on the paved road through the park, and the finish.

Riding on the pavement, a couple of over the shoulder checks showed told me that no one was closing in. I was happy not to turn myself inside out as I rallied to the finish!

Mark Prater greeted me with a high five, and handed me a nice cold beer while I told him my stories from the day. I was six overall, and generally pleased with how I rode the race.

I was surprised to find out there would be a single speed category, and that bumped me up to 5th place, and into money and prizes!

Karl’s Kaleidoscope is always a great day of racing, and I’ve met some fine folks along the way while competing, and experienced the warm hospitality that’s always present at this great event.

Friday, May 1, 2015

2015 Pisgah Stage Race Stage 1 Rider's Eye

After the dust settled from the stage race... I had a chance to make this cool video. Check it out!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

King of Spring: Pisgah’s rising Lion awaits

Five glorious days of riding, racing, and just plain rocking out the best routes in Pisgah. All while enjoying the hospitality of the high country of western North Carolina. That’s what the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race is all about. For 2015 the PMBSR is poised to be the best experience yet and builds upon six years of refining one of the most challenging and rewarding stage races in North America.

This year the PMBSR is opening the Appalachian spring. The stage race will usher in the 2015 racing season for those wise and fortunate enough to take advantage of what this unique event has to offer.

Last November I had the opportunity to ride all day in Pisgah, and then sit down to talk with Todd Branham, the man behind the PMBSR, and one of Pisgah’s finest mountain bike ambassadors.

Jeff:    Can you describe what it's like to mountain bike in Pisgah?


“The easiest way I can put it is… well let's just say that where you’re from there is a beginner, an intermediate, and an expert trail... a green, a blue, and a black diamond.”

“You need to step that up when you come to Pisgah.”

“Because anything that you’re riding where you’re from that is black diamond, those trails here would be pretty intermediate. The reason why is, the riding is physical…it’s raw. These are super old mountains. Much of what you ride wasn't originally made as trail, they were forest extraction paths. Many of them are straight up and down. There is a lot of erosion. We are in a temperate rain forest, so at times you get massive amounts of rain fall. Pisgah is also very popular now, so the trails get a lot of use.”

“That’s the beautiful thing about putting on the stage race, it’s the routes we have designed. With our knowledge we put together routes that flow well. It's not that you won’t hit hard climbs and hard down hills. But it's when they come, how they come, and what's in between that lets you rest, and enjoy the ride that makes it so special.”

“If you just show up and pick up the $10 map of Pisgah, it's going to take you a while to figure out which way to ride, how to combine trails into a loop, and to figure out how to enjoy it.”

“To me that’s the magic of the stage race. You can certainly race it, but it's a tour at its finest, and it's doable. For five days of Pisgah riding to be doable... that takes a lot of talent and thinking behind the scenes to let the normal person finish and enjoy it.”

Jeff:    Tell me about choosing the Spring schedule for this year’s PMBSR.


“In the Pisgah National Forest we are limited to 200 people for the stage race, and we haven’t filled it up yet, and we have investigated why. I know we have a good product. Everybody's stoked about the stage race. Anybody that has raced other stage races and our stage race is scratching their head, thinking why there aren’t more people here?”

“I truly believe it's been the time of the year.”

“We have two shoulder seasons in Pisgah. We have been working with the town of Brevard and the Tourism Development Authority to realize when the best seasons for the stage race are, the two shoulder seasons. One shoulder season is in the spring, and the other one is in the fall. Originally I chose the fall for the stage race.  However, people are pretty burnt out by the time the fall season arrives, and some people are just finishing up the NUE series. Also, there are a lot of stage races in the world before ours. There are only three stage races in the United States, but two of them are before ours.”

“So everywhere I go I hear: ‘Man I want to do that race but I can't…because my wife would kill me.’, or folks say, ‘I'm just out of money.’ or ‘I’m out of vacation time.’ The other thing is Cyclocross. Doing a stage race is completely different in your training and racing than Cyclocross. Early fall is the beginning of Cyclocross season.”

“We've moved the PMBSR to the spring this year, April 13th-18th.
We'll be the first stage race on the calendar for the United States.”

“In the fall Pisgah is very Robust from the summertime, green and briery…thick. However, in the spring, you have a nice green carpet on the ground. You can see everything, the views are more open. Nothing is really grown in yet. Flowers are popping up... Mushrooms are everywhere. It's quite a different experience, equally as nice as it is in the fall.”

“I'm really excited about the spring event this year.
It should be really good, and quite different from the past.”

“Also, this year we will have a full 6 nights of food, and it will be really cool to get everybody out to watch the racing video produced from the stage everyone just raced. We’ll go through the results, present the podiums. Hang out, have a good time, trade stories about the day’s stage, and then prepare our racers for the next day’s upcoming stage.”

Jeff:     How would you describe some of the routes in the PMBSR?


“There are certainly some classic trails here.”

“Avery creek has been one of my favorites for a long time. Back in the 90's Julie Furtado and Missy ‘The Missile’ Giove came here to ride, and they said that the Avery creek route was their favorite loop in Pisgah. It's become quite popular and we've done a lot of trail work to improve it. Avery Creek is a local favorite.”

“Farlow Gap. I think everybody's heard of it. Farlow is in the race and it's gnarly, gnarly, gnarly. The top section is extremely difficult and dangerous… although it is completely ride able. However, there are sections you can't ride, you have to hike. Lots of people are surprised by that. They are surprised that 'I'm hiking, and hiking', but that is the nature of parts of Pisgah.”

“Laurel Mountain / Pilot Rock has always been popular. It's a big climb up to about 4800 feet and you go through different zones on the mountain. As you climb you’ll ride through classic rhododendron tunnels, but as you gain elevation to the top, it opens up and you get those big, wide open vistas.”

“In the stage race, we are hitting all the hot trails in Pisgah.”

“There’s Squirrel Gap. One of the more talented riders that came out the 1st year, Harlan Price, gave us a new definition of squirrel gap. I've always called it single track. It's super narrow trail. Harlan comes back after the finishing the Squirrel Gap stage and goes, 'Man, what was that? ', and I said what are you talking about? He said 'That wasn't single track. That was Half Track!' So that word, that description, has actually circulated around Pisgah and has become quite popular thanks to Harlan Price. Half Track could describe Pisgah quite a bit. I think where you’re getting that is people are used to single track, but they are not used to your elbow dragging the bench cut wall to right, and the steep drop off to the left, with a surface littered with rocks and roots, not being very uniform. I think that throws people off. During the stage race, people certainly shoot off the mountain, and have to pick up the yard sale, and then climb back up. That's Pisgah, that's part of it.”

Jeff:    Who are some of the notable competitors in the PMBSR that come to mind?


“We've certainly had some players out there. Jeramiah Bishop ruled this race for the first few years. Adam Craig was certainly a delight to have here and watch his skill. Sam Koerber is a thrill to watch racing Pisgah. Melanie McQuaid was definitely one of my favorites, and we've had plenty of players that have come around. In 2014 we added Thomas Turner and he really showed that he knows Pisgah well, he really made it look easy. This year I've heard Jeramiah will be coming back since we've put it in the spring.”

“I'm hoping that for 2015 we are going to have a show down,
get all these players back and really let it go.”

“We’ve definitely had some strong heat in the men and the women’s field, and in the forty plus field we've had some real players as well. There are good riders from all around. You’ve got racers coming from international places and you just don't know what’s going to happen. Some of them are super strong. We've had 6 or 7 different countries that have come.”

Jeff:    What are some of great things you provide racers for the stage race?


“A lot of people do our other events that are very popular, like ORAMM and kind of scratch their heads and say 'What could you do beyond this, this is such a great event, what more could you roll out?'”

“That is what we do at the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race,
we roll the red carpet out.”

“We really try to make things super enjoyable and top notch. Everything is at a different level. Some special touches include a handle bar / top tube sticker with the course elevation profile, distances, aid stations, and enduro start and finish segments. They are all color coded so the racer can quickly look at it and know exactly where he or she is at. This is information that is very important to know for your nutrition, very important to know for the enduro sections so you know when to ease back before scanning in and then bombing your run.”

“We have a program brochure that covers every stage. Every night we have a slide show covering the next stage and we answer any questions racers have. We really cater to every racer to make them feel comfortable and know that we are taking special care of each of them out on the race course.”

Jeff:    Where does the Pisgah Lion come from?


“People come to the race and tell me 'You don't have lions here, what is that all about?'”

“We are a temperate rainforest here in Pisgah, and things are very robust in the way they grow. When you ride here you can see all the fresh trail work we do, but we can't do enough to keep back all the growth that can reach out and grab at you. By the end of the stage race, you will have scratches on your arms, you'll have scratches on your legs, and you'll look like you've 'been through the bush'. That's the Pisgah Lion. You don't know when it's coming, but it will reach out and grab you.”

“When you come out, you’re branded. It’s called the Pisgah Tattoo.”

“That's what we'll leave you with. When you go home you'll not only have stories of the Pisgah Stage Race, and you’ll have the Pisgah Tattoo.“

Jeff:    What burns the fire in you, to put on this event year after year?

“The thing that burns the fire in me to keep doing the PMBSR is that I know it's a great thing. The riders that come, they understand it too. Pisgah's a tough place, and the first few years we started out, we really made it a ball buster. We are still recovering from that image. But, the words spreading quickly that it's a great time, and now the routes are not so hard. The elevation profile used to look jagged, like a saw tooth. But now, our routes have been refined and the profiles are smoother, more flowing. You really notice that when you ride in the stage race now.”

“To me out of all the events I do, it's the most precious to me”

“It is in my home town. I'm very proud of Brevard. I'm excited to be here. I've been here for 15 years now and I've seen it really changing here. The outdoor industry is growing, the population is changing, and it’s a younger, more vibrant crowd. We are really proud of the culture here. It's a very unique place with the first forestry school in America. Transylvania County is the land of the waterfalls. Brevard is home to white squirrels which it is famous for.”

“Also, what drives our economic development is part of it. We have two shoulder seasons here. There are seventeen camps in Transylvania County that very heavily use the forest. There are a couple of weeks between when the camps let out and when Brevard College is back in, and vice versa in the spring. During these shoulder seasons, it's just a little slower around here and it's interesting to me to work with the town, work with the Tourism development Authority and Task force to realize when are the shoulder seasons when we need to be bringing tourist in. We work with the town to fill that void and use it as an opportunity to show people what we have here. Hosting our dinners at the Brevard Music Center gets people going to downtown Brevard and lets them experience all we have to offer. For me the stage race is only part of the goal. It's the whole idea that we are bringing people into town, filling hotel rooms, filling that economic void.” 

“People are learning, it's not just Pisgah that's cool, it's also Brevard that's cool. What a great place to live.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2015 Metric/Standard

A civilized 50/50... Sounds funny right?

 If you've ever participated in this rowdy New Year’s Day ride, you know that the event follows the law of natural selection. Stay in touch with the group or die. Not comfortable blowing through stoplights in Metro Richmond? Then fall off the back and hope you can catch up. Get a flat somewhere in the first 50 miles of mountain bike, and you are likely to pick up the pieces yourself. Oh, and the pace at the start, it’s pretty damn fast.

Once you’ve got the initial 50 miles out of the way on your fat tire sled, it's time for the 50 road miles. Better hope you can trade paint pulling the train, find a wheel and slum it out in the back, or get left somewhere in your spandex clown suit begging for a sip of malt liquor from a wino’s 40, because you've long since blown through all your food and you have no clue where you are. That’s about how civil the other three 50/50 rides I’ve completed have been. How else can you whittle down the 50 or so eager beavers that gather at 7:00am into the handful of whooping sticks worthy of the metal?

This year there was a noticeably lean start group, several of the usual suspects and surly instigators were not present. Steve Justice and JMAC were nowhere to be seen. For 2015, we had a change of venue from the traditional concrete and JRPS trail jungle of RVA to the much milder and easy going trails of Pocahontas State park. Maybe a change of heart was in the air as well. The mornings MTB session was… well… civil. I called it the Brady Bunch 50/50 because it seemed so wholesome. No one got left behind, and the pace was reasonable. It was very cold. Stopping was not the most enjoyable option, so I routinely busted out pushups to stay warm. Yeah, a kinder and gentler 50/50 start. It was also incredibly slow going, with a comedy of flats, crashes, and other snafu's. The pace was turning the 50/50 into what I'll dub a Metric/Standard. We barely got 50k dispatched on the MTBs but that gave me time to enjoy a can of suds. 

I snacked on PBJ refills in my car as I tried to warm up and get motivated for the 50 miles of road. Our crew was a little lighter, with some folks plain MIA (odd for such a tame 50/50), and some folks throwing in the towel, typical 50/50 behavior. Once you get on that road bike and head off with the motley crew, you’re in for a long haul, better hope no one is feeling squirrely on the road! I put on extra leg warmers, stashed lots of food, and a beer in my pocket, and got rolling on my skinny tires.

We had a solid group rolling out the road 50 on a route penned by the ride organizer, Foghorn Leghorn. The inaugural Chesterfield route started with a tour through several busy suburban roads ripe with hung over suburbanites, who were comfortably getting irritated in their warm cars. We missed a turn and tacked on an extra three miles as the ride ventured further into wilds of the county. Plenty of hunting trucks buzzed us and the cheerful sounds of gunfire lined the road. Blaze orange and tap out stickers, like carrots and peas. We rambled through a very high end neighborhood none of us could afford to live in. Oddly, the whole big and excessive housing/castle development had almost no signs of life. We stopped at the main entrance to re-fuel and reload for the final miles back to the cars, and victory.
Our Metric/Standard had a pleasant surprise at the end when we missed a turn and cut out some miles, thus balancing the extra we had gained from our earlier missed turn.

The after party was hosted by another local legend. Hanging out with the men who ruled the day at Church Hill’s Brown residence was a proper way to wind down the first big ride of 2015.

It wasn’t the toughest 50/50 I’ve done, but the Metric/Standard was great fun, even if it was a little wholesome.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

2014 Pisgah Stage Race

The pounding my body was taking was starting to piss me off. Frustration was the dominant emotion flowing out of my core as I fought my way through each rock strewn switch back nearing the big rock garden on the Pilot Mountain descent. I took a wide line on one of the last switch backs and a menacing Rhododendron grabbed hold of my left hand and I flopped hard to the ground. I cursed… a lot… remounted, and hurtled myself towards the rock garden.

Scene from Blue Ridge Adventure's awesome event videos
I sped by film maker Eric Crews who was shooting video of a chunky section and wondered if he heard my tirade from just up the hill. No matter, the rock garden was at hand and oddly enough seemed to be the easiest part of Pilot for me this day. I was actually looking forward to the few miles of gravel grind that would lead me to the finish.

I’ll bet no one totally bombs and shreds Pilot. I’ve raced it several times, some much better than this day. Each time it’s a duality of attack and survival. It’s like a boxing match where you cannot KO your opponent, but you have no choice to be fully in the fight..

Scene from Blue Ridge Adventure's awesome event videos
I know of at least one racer’s bike that blew out a rear shock on the Pilot descent.

My heal was throbbing, and I knew I had earned a fresh trail tattoo on my right shoulder that would come into its own a few days later. I felt a bit defeated as I rolled through the timing gate at the end of the Enduro segment. You gotta respect the mountain.

Stage 4 of the 2014 Pisgah Stage Race was nearing the end for me and  through the fog racing a I smiled while gasping for air as my thoughts drifted back to earlier parts of the stage. It had been an awesome stage race so far and I tucked in tight and pedaled for all I was worth. I craned my neck looking back at each major straight to see how hard I would have to fight to keep my 4th place position, a theme I had gotten used to this week with my inauguration to the stiff competition in the 40+ masters category.

We had started from the Cradle of Forestry earlier in the morning. I’m not sure how many racers knew, but there is a tree on this site that was grown from a seed that has visited the moon on an Apollo mission with an astronaut.

Scene from Blue Ridge Adventure's awesome event videos

B Rad pushed out hard from the start and was chasing the pace Subaru. The race pack turned left in chase onto the gravel and soon were throwing ourselves into the climb up Club Gap. Black Mountain’s steep and rocky side was tough because the trail is pretty ‘dirty’. When I finally got on top and started rolling the trail towards Buckhorn, my front end took a vacation in a turn that was traction challenged. Somehow I saved it, yelled out with a big hoot, and got right back on the gas, braaap.

I came across Evan Plews, who was hobbling along with his bike. Lacerated knee… that sucks. Then I got ready for the steep ‘stair’ section that ended this portion of Black. I slowed a bit and plopped down it much easier than I had thought I would. Dropper post rock!

Soon I was rolling down Buckhorn in my biggest gear and caught up with Aaron Albright and then we caught Garth. I took the lead and we sped down the rest of Buckhorn and South Mills River towards the slipperiest suspension bridge I’ve nancied across all year.

My front derailleur refused to budge as we started up Squirrel Gap and I had to kick it…to drop into my little chain ring. I was relieved to have the smaller gear on the 1st steep and relentless section of Squirrel.

During Stage 1 I had felt great and really attacked Squirrel gap well coming from the opposite direction. This day the trail was much wetter and there was 3 days of racing in my legs. I rode well and finally caught Garth near the end of Squirrel, just after Jon Stang had passed me. Jon was riding very well this day, just like he had been all week. I managed to keep him in my sights as we zoomed down Laurel and Bradley creek trails.

As I closed in on the top of the climb on FS 5015, I thought it odd that Garth had not passed me yet. When he did, I asked if he had gotten a flat. I think he thought it was giving him shit, but I was serious. He rode off into the distance and flashed me the bird. If only I could have mustered more strength to pester him on the techy bits of Laurel Mountain.

Climbing Laurel was fairly enjoyable, very nice temps and some cool foggy mountain scenery. That pleasantness disappeared during the hike a bike. Just when you think the hiking’s over….well that’s just when it really begins. Finally I arrived at the Enduro section start, but was bummed that it began with a fair bit of climbing made harder by my thoroughly spent legs.

At last! The descent started and I discovered my dropper was stuck in the fully extended position. I fiddled with it while ripping down the top section. Not an advisable thing to do there because it’s hard just to hold onto the bike through that speedy chunk on top. At last, the post ceased to be disobedient and I entered the ring with the Pilot Mountain descent… and so it went.

The gravel seemed to just keep going. Surely this was the slight rise followed by the right hand turn that would lead to the pavement…I had stopped checking behind me a few turns ago. My legs were giving all they would. I don’t know if I could have pushed harder, even if a coked up black bear had been in pursuit. It had been a tough day, but overall my race had gone pretty well. Sure, I went a few rounds on Pilot, but some days you take a punch or two.

My race house mates and I stopped by the Barbecue joint where our Australian import ignored Carolina BBQ tradition and ordered a hamburger and fried pickles. Cheesus and I dispatched some Barbecue platters while B Rad did the same while also taking fire from a couple of Torpedoes from the Sierras. We noticed an odd juxtaposition provided by the cute stuffed pigs and cartoon drawings colored in by artistic little carnivores. It would be like Chick Fil A replacing the Cow campaign with Chickens saying… eat more chicken. I guess you’re the butcher or you’re the pig. The barbecue was delicious, and of course there were a few obligatory Pulp Fiction quotes.

Next up was a stop at the Oscar Blues brewery where we grabbed a couple of pitchers and sat our tired buts down for a few pints. It didn’t take long, but soon our table was flanked by other groups. Packs of Bro’s stoked about their rides, EPIC trails, and no doubt some Sick Edits, Brah!... Fist bumps abounded.

The Dale’s Pale Ale was great, but the day was quickly departing and I had a bike to clean, maintenance tasks, clothes to wash, wounds to lick, and beer at the house... all Bro free. Cheesus and I stopped at the Ingles market and picked up some much needed re-supply.

We returned to the house we were renting, greeted by the eclectic d├ęcor that B Rad described as “leaving no culture unmolested”. Claire thought she saw a weird bust of Jesus popping out of the wall, but realized it was the face of a creepy polar native seemingly birthed through a strange furry apparatus. In her room there was a wall hanging with a figure… whose eyes seemed to follow you around the room. I have no idea how she slept in there!

Somehow we seemed destined to run into Brevard’s finest. A day or two before while we were eating a late lunch, some odd young ladies pestered us trying to sell cleaning products door to door. An hour or so later, the cops showed up and were escorting them out of the neighborhood.

Garchiapet’s wacky GPS phone had gone missing and she was convinced someone had stolen it from her car parked in front of the house. So… she called the police after the insurance company told here a police report was needed to cover the phone with insurance. In a Flight of the Concords style of dialog, she told the police she wanted to ‘get a report’ and they asked her when she had filed one… “ No, I need to Get a report because someone stole my phone” …classic. Later the phone’s mysterious disappearance was solved, fortunately before the local constabulary had dispatched to our temporary residence to get a report.

Mayor McCheese and I had also taken in some local flair at the aptly named Food Matters Market. The sandwich lady running the take out operation was keenly efficient and to the point. Like a carving knife… she was all business. I made sure to know my bread and cheese selections after witnessing Cheesus’s interactions with the curt maiden of cold cuts and Panini. Next, a completely different interaction graced me in the checkout line. I proudly waited to buy a six pack of Green Man IPA. The fella in front of me said I should go ahead of him because I was young and had things to do. He then explained that he had been speculating about how many times his heart had beat over the last 92 years. I was grateful for his kindness and patience… and he let his big heart beat a little bit extra so I would not have to wait… while “lightning”, the gabby checkout clerk, queried him on all his purchase selections.

There were a number of Bee incidents for racers during the week. Fortunately I escaped without a single sting. I had my EpiPens with me the whole time, but I’d much rather leave them in my jersey pocket, and not test the effectiveness of my venom therapy... at least not during the stage race.

Saturday morning arrived all too soon and we headed over to the Brevard Music Center for the last stage. Farlow Gap was beckoning and I recalled the long bumpy ride in a Cheese Wagon from last year. I took care not to drink too much water before getting on the bus. It’s funny how just riding in a school bus can make you feel like a kid again.

Hitting the climb up to Farlow really smacks you in the face on day 5. It’s long and fairly boring, but there are some nice views if you can pull your head up from the rigors of climbing. I charged near the top even though my legs were not in agreement. Nabbing a few positions afforded me a nice clear entrance rolling into Farlow. I was able to ride more than I have before, but got unclipped and discombobulated about ¾ of the way down the main rocky trail steep, where it seemed the mountain itself had vomited.

Then Farlow opens up a bit with some fast, steep, and challenging trail that reminds me of riding in Squamish BC. It is ride able, but you need to commit.

The majority of hike a bike sections were over and lower Farlow’s fast, technical, and surprisingly pedaly single track, takes you to the steep stairs, switchbacks, drops, and rocky trail that ultimately crosses on the top of a waterfall. I walked the waterfall. Anyone ride it?

Daniel Ridge was up next and I was a bit distracted by camera flashes while trying to float over a bunch of rocks and roots at speed. However, the photos posted by Icon Media Asheville were well worth it! Near the end of Daniel Ridge, I hesitated and walked a silly steep little hump and blown out whoop dip. I got heckled by a spectator, but like Kenny says…“You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em”.

Passing by the Aid station I felt a little guilty as I dropped my water bottle like a torpedo from a dive bomber, hollering about which bag to please put it in. Sorry fellas, race brain was not thinking to clear.

Upon turning right into the Fish Hatchery, I took care speeding towards the next double track climb. There were a lot of moving cars, people, and non-race signage everywhere, all in a whirl of activity.

The double track climb up to Bracken Mountain just never seemed to end. I pushed a solid pace but was saving some braaap for the Enduro segment at the end. But Rick Hatfield from Michigan had other ideas… and soon I was battling with him over 4th place. It was tough, but the battle certainly made the last couple of  miles of double track go by faster! Some chain woes stuck his bike, and I punched it towards the final descent down Bracken Mountain.

I declined the whiskey hand up as I rolled through the Enduro start. I was going to need all my focus to try and win this Enduro segment! My ride down Bracken went well and I rallied through much of the trail. In the middle of the segment there was a moderate, but unwelcome climb. I gasped for air, looking a fool,  as I passed by a course marshal. Soon enough, I was heading back down and into the pedaly blaze red section of Bracken. I left my dropper post up because I wanted to maximize my pedaling power and still stay efficient. I dropped it back down for the final blue blazed decent and put on full steam, balls out, till I reached the finish.

Later at the awards dinner, I had reviewed the results and was bummed that to not have gotten a podium spot… Then later, I heard someone announcing, “… from Richmond, Virginia… racing for Design Physics…”  Hey, what the?  “...Jeff Plassman” I was sort of dumfounded. I walked up to the podium and asked Heather if I was supposed to get on the top step?… I was! Finally! I got on the Podium at the Pisgah Stage Race for the 40+ Enduro Win for the Stage, and it sure felt great after 5 days of hard charging.

After a great dinner, awesome awards ceremony, and plenty of good libations, the pie eating contest got under way… The skinniest volunteer up there decided to take off his shirt in an odd display. So… one by one all the racers who were volunteered by the MC Tyler Crotts, came to the pie table… through peer pressure, or some odd ritual energy that had entered the room … all went bare chested and commenced pie eating… on one side of the table kids eating pies, and on the other side… beefcake! It was like a train wreck, you just had to watch as it unfolded, no matter the cost to your psyche. Some things can never be unseen.

Popeye joined us for the festivities as well. He was just one of the many awesome folks guiding us through the stages and just plain taking care of business. One of my favorite things about Popeye was that he never seemed to break character, no matter what the situation was.

I graduated to the 40+ masters racing category this year. There was a lot of heat in our category. I traded paint with Garth Prosser, Bruce Myer, and Jon Stang all week. These guys are all class acts and super-fast to boot. Some days I could get my wheels out in front for a while, but they always reeled me in. The three of them had a battle royal going all week, often finishing within a minute or so of each other. Other 40+ stand outs that kept me honest were John Kuhn and Rick Hatfield.

Blue Ridge Adventures really knows how to put on a stage race. The routes are planned very well, marked clearly, and staffed by a great crew. Not to mention the pre-stage dinners and happy hours where Todd guides you through the upcoming stages and lends valuable knowledge and advice. There’s an awesome printed race guide for each stage, top tube/handle bar elevation profiles, stocked aid stations, friendly volunteers, and incredible race videos. All of these made for a cycling adventure in Pisgah that should be on everyone’s bucket list! The Pisgah Stage Race is one of the best ways you can do it. Put it on your list, and I guarantee you be glad you did!

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