Monday, July 27, 2015

Double Down at the Wilderness 101

The adventure for this year’s Wilderness 101 started around mile 25 for me. I was blazing down the 1st descent on double track. I had started the first off road climb at the tail end of the lead group and was charging hard on the descent to regain a few positions. I was enjoying the warp speed trip through the green tunnel.

Spun out in my big ring and little cog, 38/11 was pretty fast. On this descent I kind of miss the 42 or 44 gearing of a triple ring. Another rider passed me and we were both just flat out hauling ass. At one point I was staying off the brakes a bit more, and started to reel him a bit. I wanted a clear line of sight, so I decided to line up a pass in the other lane of the double track.

The surface of this descent is deceptive. It can reel you in with the apparent smoothness. However, it’s punctuated with occasional rocky bits, branch pieces, and slick spots. All of these features can easily be concealed by ankle high grass.

I’ve descended this section during my 6 other previous Wilderness 101 races and have always had an awareness of the speed, and the risk. I noticed a wiggle from the rider in front and started to change double track lanes.

When your front end washes out, you experience a distinct and odd transition as physics takes over. In common parlance, shit hits the fan.

Only the green tunnel truly knows what transpired as it bore witness to my meteoric collision with terra firma. Maybe I bounced, but I knew I had hit my head with alarming force. I was acutely aware of the seriousness well before my carcass had completely stopped.

I paused for a moment and took stock of the situation. There were some spiders in front of my face skittering about on the ground.

Everything seemed to work as I raised my torso. My helmet had done its job. Dirt and grass bits dropped fell off my visor. Fuck, this may be a deal breaker for the day. At least I had remained conscious and didn’t felt like I had rung my bell. I could have been hurt a lot worse.

Where was my bike? I looked back and saw it sprawled across the double track. Man, I had better get that thing out of the way. I scampered over, picked it up, spun the front end back to the correct direction (forwards) and got out of the race line, just in time as a few riders zoomed by.

Where were my glasses? They must have come off. I found them down the trail where I had carcassed. I cleaned the dirt off with my water bottle and put them back on.

My bars had been knocked about 10 degrees out of alignment with the front wheel. I opted to ride to the end of the descent and straighten them out. My neck hurt, but seemed functional. Left thumb felt wonky, but no sharp pain. I was surprised as I caught and repassed about 3 or 4 of the riders who had zoomed by.

I stopped at the gate, busted out the multi-tool, and set about fixing my askew front end.

One of the riders I had just traded places with got to the gate and commented something like “Wow! There was so much carnage on that trail!” I think he was referring to all the riders who had fallen victim with flat tires and at least one busted rim. I chuckled inside because I don’t think he had any clue of my perspective. “Yep, lots of carnage” I thought.

Jim Mathews asked me if I was OK as he rolled up to the gate, commenting that it looked like I had taken a pretty good fall. I let him know I was alright and finished fixing my bike issues as he vanished into the distance.

I got back to work riding up the gravel climb over towards the three bridges single track section. Maybe I could still pull off a decent day? I decided to see how I felt by the time I reached the single track. Previous crash experience has taught me that adrenaline is a powerful pain suppressor and can mask serious injury for 20 to 30 minutes. Time would tell.

My neck hurt as I powered out the climb. I tried standing and seated efforts, but holding my head up hurt a bit as my neck ached. Something was a bit off with the left thumb as well.

My bike coasted up to the folks directing traffic into the single track. I had decided to call it a day. Head and neck injuries are nothing to fool around with and I was not in the mood to risk it for another 70 miles.

Chris rolled up on the moto and we discussed various options for riding back to Coburn where the race start and finish were. Fortunately, I had changed my mind as I had prepped my gear for the day, and had brought my smart phone. The kind folks marshaling the course gave me a few options and I headed off for my 23 mile ride back on some gravel and mostly paved road.

I made it to highway 322 and figured that taking highway 45 back to Millhiem and then over to Coburn was the most direct route and was safer than 322. My ride back was fairly pleasant, but it was a decently long pull. Getting buzzed by duallys belching diesel and bad manners was a bit unnerving, but there was a fairly decent shoulder.

I had plenty of time to take in the scenery.

Rolling into the finish from the wrong direction felt strange. It was way too early in the day. It was weird to see the race venue devoid of almost any people. Very peaceful.

I took a selfie, and fed my ego by throwing it on the “gram”.

I got cleaned up and headed to the Elk Creek cafĂ© for some lunch. Burger and fries tasted a lot better than two bottles of Perpeteum. I noticed some of the idle waitress glancing my way a bit. That’s when it dawned on me I was probably developing a nice shiner. Yo Adrian!

On my Instagram feed, I got a like from which gave me a chuckle. Apparently #rockybalboa has at least one close follower. I also saw a post from Watts Dixon. His day had ended with a destroyed rim, I think from the same descent. Man that sucks!

I sat in my car to give my neck a rest. Tumble weeds would have rolled by if I had been sitting been in the wild west. Very quiet. I was a bit surprised as Keck Baker came rolling in. Whoa, that was fast! I checked my phone, seemed like a time of about 6:30!

Witnessing the first finisher in person struck me as odd. Very quiet with the only cheer coming from a sole voice at the timing station congratulating Keck.

Within a few minutes more racers started coming in. Wow, all the times were so fast!

My race day didn’t turn out as planned, but fortunately I was not hurt too seriously. My shiner was really starting to come out, and the rest of the afternoon was a great opportunity for catching up with friends and hearing about how their races unfolded.

Here are some preliminary results::

Open Men
1 6:27:00 Keck Baker ChampSys/Cannondale p/b Battley Harley
2 6:37:00 Christian Tanguy Rare Disease Cycling
3 6:43:39 Dereck Treadwell
4 6:45:00 Ryan Serbel Toasted Head Racing
5 6:45:01 Gordon Wadsworth Blue Ridge Cyclery p/b Reynolds GM Subaru
6 6:54:00 Andy  Rhodes Black Dog Bicycles
7 6:54:01 Ronald Catlin RBS TREK MTB TEAM
8 7:02:01 Adam Hill Velocity Cycle and Ski
9 7:10:04 Michael Danish
10 7:12:06 Stewart Gross Griggs Ortho/Boulder Cycle Sport

Open Women
1 7:13:11 Vicki Barclay Stan's NoTubes Elite Women's Team
2 7:59:41 Carla Williams Joe's Bike Shop Racing Team
3 8:27:53 Lisa Randall SuperSport Athletic Wear

Single speed
1 7:14:07 Bob Moss Farnsworth Bicycles/Crank Arm Brewing/Torrenti
2 7:16:14 Matthew Ferrari Freeze Thaw Cycles - Stans NoTubes
3 7:18:57 Mike Montalbano Toasted Head Racing

Yo Adrian!

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.