Descending down Spencer Trail was the 1st taste of some new single track sections added to the Wilderness 101 this year. The initial lead in section of single track from the road seemed very similar to the day’s 1st major technical descent on Croyle trail.
Soon however, the trail pitched downward more than I had expected… but in a good way! There were less rough sections of baby head rocks and more loam than the 1st rough and tumble plunge. The trail surface allowed me to carry more speed because I could spot ahead and find good sections of loam to scrub speed before letting off the brakes and rolling through the next rough and rocky section.
As I pulled into Aid 3 I had a feeling the rest of the re-routes in this year’s course would be fun. How could trails named Sassafras, SassaPig, and PigPile not be?
Earlier that morning I woke up at the crack of dawn and shared in the prerace rituals all the racers undertake to saddle up and dish out the watts for the better part of a day. The temps were great and the forecast seemed in our favor. I lined up at the start with my crew of Design Physics racers. I've competed in many ultra-endurance races with my team mates Tom Haines, Joe Fish, and David Reid. These guys are all fierce competitors and it’s always nice to toe up the start line rocking out a strong team presence.
Climbing back up to the top of Rag Hollow Road for the next sections of re-routed single track I began to think back to some of the experiences from the 3 hours of riding before bombing down Spencer Trail to Aid 3…
Chris Scott was a welcome face filming riders near the entrance of the day’s first single track section. I really enjoyed this section of flowing single track that gives way to a nice technical section punctuated by three narrow plank bridges, a cool rock garden, and bunch of cheering race fans. As usual, Bob Popovich was there taking some awesome photos capturing the whole spectrum of rider’s expressions. Faces of triumph were mixed with surrender. Technical trails demand the truth in everyone’s mountain bike skills.
Soon after this section we rode through a beautiful section of PA forest. Morning sunlight washed through the high forest canopy and lit the emerald carpet of ferns covering the ground. Stunning.
As I started the next major climb, two more race fans cheered us on. One of them was rocking out Iron Man on the kazoo. Classic! There was also the traditional, yet unofficial beer station. Complete with color coded cups for beer or water.
My cramping quads would soon drag me back to reality as I worked my way back up the mountain on the gravel grind out of Aid 3. Near the top I stepped up to a tougher gear and charged into the long and rocky single track. This type of trail really suites me and I was able to gain a number of positions before starting the fast descent down to Barrville Road. The re-routed trails rock! Figuratively and literally.
A long section of double track finally yielded to my favorite trail in the race. Sasser X flows down through a section of forest where the ground is covered in ferns. The curve of the smile on my face probably matched the arcs of the dirt slalom my tires consumed. Then the trail tightened up into a very twisty section of trails over loam and roots.
As I popped out onto the fire road, I felt pretty confident I had put a solid gap on every one I passed in the re-routed section of trails. Fortunately, the earlier leg cramps had subsided and were now getting replaced by nutrition from all manner of gels and high octane goop. Tasty.
Up and up some gravel to the last long section of trail. The single track at Beautiful trail is fairly rocky and has a couple of spots that take a power move or two. I bobbled a bit on one as my legs transitioned from taught attack mode to spaghetti dinner. Oops, bad a foot and drag the bike over that one. Good, nobody was here to see it :)
The downhill that followed on Kikapoo trail is very rocky and fairly steep with only a modest bench cut. I think it’s fun, but this late in a 100 mile race it hurts a bit, even on a full squish 29er. Where’s my trail bike when I need it eh? I was glad to see the road.
Aid 4 was a welcome stop and I swapped supplies out of my drop bag for the remaining 23 miles. The climb right after this aid station is long and fairly steep. Fortunately it was not that hot. Also fortunate was not rolling over that yellow and brown rattle snack slithering off the road. The climb eased up at the top and continued on gravel to Sand Mountain. The sandy single track felt like it went up more than it went down and I knew I was ready to wrap up a big boy day of riding.
I rolled the final downhill on the now primitive road called Panther Run. It’s not that technical, but it is super rough and very, annoyingly long. I would describe my relationship with this section as ‘abusive’. It beat the hell out of me physically and I verbally assaulted it back.
As flew past Aid 5 I prepared myself for the day’s last reroute. The Goat Path. It was very rocky and I was soon bobbling across the rocks as I made my way to the Fisherman’s path. Soon the rocks gave way to a fun and tight trail that delivered me to the last of the day’s gnarl. The Fisherman’s Path is always a challenge to hike / ride with 95 miles under your belt. I had checked this section out the night before and recognized the decayed tree stump that marked the point where I could ride out the rest of the path.
The rail to trail grade clicked by nicely and I gingerly rode across the last bridge before entering the old spooky train tunnel. I rode through the tunnel with no dramatics and soon was rolling into Coburn with nobody on my tail. Nice.
I crossed the line and was excited to see 8:18 on the big digital clock. Hell Yeah!
What an awesome day of racing! Thanks so much Shenandoah Mountain Touring!!