Sunday, September 22, 2013

2013 Pisgah Stage Race - Day 5

Photo by Brad O Allen

It’s going to be a bit damp today.

My tires slipped and squirmed, desperately trying to find traction in the landslide of rocks and mud called Farlow Gap. This trail is heavy, and in the rain it’s down right ugly.

In a moment I was hiking down the last half of the main gnar on Farlow Gap. Joel from Canada rode around me and crushed the nasty. Man, this boy has got skills!

After some on and off the bike riding on Farlow, we started a ripping a section that had a sizable log drop in the middle of the greasy chunk. Shift the hips back, fist the left grip, drop that son of b!tch. We were Rollin and coming home like a letter bomb.

One guy dropped his chain so I got a pass as it opened up and put it in the big ring to chase down the loony Canadian. Farlow Gap trail had relented and most of the steep rock slides were behind us, but not before hiking across a coupe small waterfalls.

I was flying towards the end of this trail and had to bust some quick moves to avoid an ass over tea kettle event. We dispatched the rest of Farlow and dropped in on some wet, rutted out, log steps that were the entrance to Daniel Ridge.

The rain was picking up a bit.

Riding Daniel Ridge at speed in the rain is an exercise in controlled chaos. The trail is littered with large rocks, wet roots, and a precipitous drop to a creek about 40 feet off to the right of the bench cut snarl. Sometimes I got a less than desirable line going. Too wet to correct mid line so I just rode out the nap and let the bike knock around under my tense body and mind. Be like the water and flow where the trail naturally pushes your bike. Don’t even consider touching that front brake!
Photo by Brad O Allen

At last the trail eased and turned into the gravel path that would take us to the road. I had a moment to reflect on the school bus ride out to the start, as well as the gut busting climb we all endured to get to Farlow Gap. Man, the first part of today was heavy.

The gravel road gave me a chance to refuel. The mild rain continued.

After a fast section of single track next to Davidson River, I popped back on the road and turned right into the Fish Hatchery. I was careful not to toss it on the wet pavement.

Alright, here is the long but moderate double track climb. Just got to motor through this to get to the final descent down the Braken Mountain trail. After a few miles I caught back up to Joel. He was setting a good pace, and I pulled just in front of him and motored away. Joel stayed on my wheel and together we knocked out the seemingly endless double track. Each small grassy clearing that bent right looked like the one I had seen on my preride of Braken at the start of the week. But the double track just kept going.

We got it done son.

Photo by Brad O Allen

The final single track ascent relented and I looked back and waited for Joel to grab my wheel. We descended down Braken on the slickest trails we have ridden all week. It was raining and my glasses were dirty and fogged. This made it hard since I have prescription lenses. I rode the trail based on general shapes and instinct. It was going well.

We caught up to the duo team leaders and I was able to pass one of the guys on the inside of a hairpin. I started riding in earnest because I knew the finish was close at hand.

I rode a little too fast for conditions.

My front end washed out and I splattered into the mud, covering the left side of my face. Almost as soon as I was down, I was back up and on my bike. There was one final punchy section of climbing and Joel caught back up to me. I really wanted to ride the rest of the trail with him, but a nasty case of chain suck had him running his bike up the climb.

I was a little more tentative on the final twist and turns of the mud luge, and took it easy rolling into the finish. Wow! What an amazing day of riding and racing.

Soon all my fellow racers and new found friends came through the finish. Everyone had completed the epic. Everyone had battled through their distinct challenges during the week. Everyone had found their journey’s end.

I was a little sad that it was all over. The struggles, the fight, the purpose was over.

But now I had a chance to share fresh war stories, cold beer, awesome food, and the fine company of good people.

During this week of endurance, this week of tragedy, and this week triumph, we are all brothers and sisters, a community of adventurers. We are a Family forged in the high country that is Pisgah at the best adventure you will find in the promised land of the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race.


Friday, September 20, 2013

2013 Pisgah Stage Race - Day 4





My hands tingled following the breakneck descent down Spencer Branch. The climb up from the fire road earlier had not been too bad and I charged hard as the trail eased.

A right turn led me across a deep stream and the cold water shocked my feet. The single track I was riding started a long steady climb up a mild grade and I powered along. I was keen to see how my back felt after having to cut the previous days stage short due to low back pain. It was starting to ache a bit.

So I decided to get on the gas.

Middle Fork soon led me to a fire road climb. I could feel the rumblings of low back pain from the day before. Dang, I thought I had stretched this out. Seated pedaling seemed to be aggravating the situation.

So I stood up, and decided to hammer.

Well, I was surprised after a 8th mile or so. My back felt better and I my legs started to come online like they do in an XC race. I was motoring and it felt great. I thought, now I’m cooking with gas!

I felt great as I rocked out the rest of the fire road section and turned right onto Fletcher Creek Trail and kicked it up a notch like Emeril. Bam!

Fletcher Creek was a fast and fun descent with buffed out singe track and a few surprise stream crossings that came up fast. This trail crossed Spencer Branch and then had a moderate section of short punchy single track climbs. Once these topped out, I started flying down the rest of the trail and made my way to the aid station. I blew by the station knowing I would pass back by it in about 4 miles.

Now I was flying down the lower Trace Ridge trail and soon found myself hurtling down a section where a rut was developing into a deeper and deeper gash. I knew in a moment I would be at the washed out section that looks more like the grand canyon than a water eroded trail. It was gnarly, angry, and even hard to hike!

I finished lower Trace Ridge and was just about to catch one of the fast guys in my class. I hooped and hollered as we started a road climb back to the Aid station. While climbing the road, a car pulled up beside me and somebody said “Hey Jeff”. What a coincidence! One of my friends from Richmond was here with a ride guide and just happened upon me as I raced.

At the Aid station I grabbed my go juice from the drop bag and set out for the climb up  the upper Trace Ridge trail. I saw the GoPro helicopter and popped up the front in the best wheelie I could muster. The climb was steep, but I felt great. My back was fine and I continued to tap into my standing power. I was able to ride most of the steep technical climb. Finally relief came when I summited and turned back onto the top of Spencer Branch trail and began descending. I took it fairly easy at first and started to get back into a rhythm motoring down the fast, rocky and root littered single track.

Once the descent opened up, I was on a mission. I tore my way down the mountain.

Near the bottom, I got a little too cocky and plowed into a couple of rutted drops with bad line. I cleaned it, but I was riding ugly. A rock flew up and banged me on the shin. Pisgah was keeping me in check.

Back onto the fire road, I motored towards the final double track climb to a single track descent. I kept on the gas and stood up on my pedals charging the hill. At last, the trail head!

The ride back down to the start finish was fast and pretty loose in a few spots. The grassy field and start/finish came into view.

I knew I had done it proper today.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

2013 Pisgah Stage Race - Day 3

Sometimes you tame the Lion and sometimes the Lion tames you.

Cranking along Squirrel Gap trail, I knew I had some issues. Every time I tried to kick my power back up a notch, my lower back gave me a clear signal it was pissed with me. A couple of riders worked the rolling rock strew sections just behind me and I asked them if they wanted a pass. Nope, we were rolling along good and all three of us could ride the techy stuff well. I just did not want to slow them down because my back was aching pretty bad.

Squirrel Gap does not let you back off the power much. There are just too many techy sections and short pitchy climbs that demand momentum. They demand leg power. The legs and hips connect to the lower back. Every pulse of power to the pedals was pulling on my aching back. At least Squirrel Gap would start descending soon.

As an odd bit of coincidence, a small gray squirrel got spooked off a tree and started running down the trail in front of me. The little guy did this for a couple of bends and then hopped onto a tree. Squirrel Gap indeed!

Earlier this morning the race started from the Cradle of Forestry center located here in the Pisgah Forest. It’s the site of the birthplace of forestry in the US. We rolled out with a police escort and initially there were no antics. Then, the front of the pack missed the left turn and had to do an about face as the rest of us turned left onto the gravel road leading to the climb up single track.

After a couple of minutes on gravel, I believe everyone was back to their normal riding line up and we made a sharp uphill climb on Club Gap, same as yesterday. Just like yesterday it was very steep and tricky to ride up with many riders dismounting from time to time.

We continued to climb up Black Mountain and soon were rolling single track on top that became more technical as it descended to Buckhorn Gap. A steep set of water bar steps/drops put us right in front of a ripping descent down Buckhorn Gap. We had climbed much of this trail on day 1, but it was much faster descending it!

Then we turned right onto Mills River trail and I powered away in the big ring of my triple at an alarmingly fast pace. A rider from New Brunswick, Canada was riding with me and I told him to let me know if he wanted a pass. He was cool and said we were rolling along good. We powered through all of Squirrel Gap together.

Squirrel Gap sure rides a lot different depending on which direction you ride it in. Today we were riding in more of the descending direction. Technical features we saw creeping towards us during the climb up the trail on Day 1 came flying up to us on the way down. Plus, a lot of these features are right where a tree is. You can see the technical line when climbing, but when descending, sometimes the entrance was nearly blind because the trunk of the tree blocked line of sight. We finished with a steep, choppy, technical descent.

Next a fast and dirty trail with a moderate downward grade took us toward the next double track climb. This section of trail had lots of root drops and small rocks littering the surface. One of the fast guys in my class got KO when he had a hard crash on this section. He would go on to finish well though, that’s pretty tough!

When the double track climb started I knew things were going south for me. My back really hurt and I kept clicking into lower and lower gears. I should have been pushing a decent pace p this climb, but I just could not make it happen. Soon, I started to get passed. I got passed a lot. Towards the top I stopped for a minute to stretch. I got back on the bike and used almost the easiest gears I had. Not good. Still a lot of problems with the back.

I decided to bag it at Aid 1, just before a very long and technical climb up Laurel Mountain. Better to save the back so I can hopefully ride the last 2 stages well.

I took the fire road back to the finish. It was still a pretty good haul, maybe 10 or 12 miles of rolling gravel. Oh well, still a lot easier than climbing Laurel, and hey, I’m on my bike in the woods and not at a desk.

It felt strange to crawl through the finish covering my number and explaining I was a DNF. There is always tomorrow.

I got cleaned up and headed back to the finish and waited for other riders. My friend Tyler came in and looked rough. He had a bad crash coming off the very last bit of Pilot Rock and took a beating. Damn son, tough break!

We took some time to recover with a good lunch at the cafĂ©. Later we attended the evening’s video presentations and awards party. It was a lot of fun with plenty of fresh war stories and good eats.

Tomorrow is another Stage.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

2013 Pisgah Stage Race - Day 2

What a fun, tough stage.

Today’s stage started with a cracking climb up Grassy Road Trail. We rolled out from the start line, but in the opposite direction from the previous day’s stage. The start pace was much more sane today and traffic separated nicely in advance of the downhill section on Sycamore Cove Trail. I could feel the effects of Stage 1 in my legs, but overall felt pretty good on the climb.

The downhill on Sycamore Cove Trail is pretty much the local loop for folks. Soon I was chasing Jim Matthews down some twisting trail that was about a 3 inch ribbon, nestled between roots and the edge of the bench cut. Fast and exciting for sure! A few surprise features for first timers snuck up on me and kept things interesting. At the bottom, wonder woman and I think a female sumo wrestler cheered us on just before the police guided race traffic on to the road. 

A short paved section of 276 lead back to the start shoot again. Here, a gorilla and the Pisgah Lion egged us on. 

Now the climb up began in earnest on Thrift Cove. This was a pretty extended double track type climb that gave way to a fast downward section. A rider was right on my 6 as we zoomed down the trail and I had tunnel vision while hauling the mail. Darth Vader pointed his light saber towards a slight right and soon the trail got steep and fast. After a minute on this descent it became apparent that we were careening back down Black Mountain. I thought this was strange, but there were trail markings so I kept on the gas. 

Unfortunately it turned out that turn near the top got mixed up a bit somehow and I found myself and a few others climbing all the way back up Black Mountain. Several other riders also found our motley crew as they came flying down Black Mountain. And so it was.

Never trust Darth Vader.

I was a little bummed, but damn it I came to race and that’s exactly what all of us lost souls did. We got back on track and summited the gnarly hike a bike back up Black mountain and headed into a ripping double track descent that gave way to a rolling fire road.

A left turn onto Buckhorn Gap trail turned out to be a really fun descent with some rocks and gnar at the bottom. Then Buckhorn Gap opens up a bit into a fast and flowing trial covered by a tunnel of trees. It was really fun!

Aid Stop 1 was a welcome sight and as usual the volunteers made it really easy to get what I needed and back on the chase.
A long gravel climb up FS 477 led us to Club Gap trail. While climbing the steep entrance I heard what sounded like a raging hornets nest. I was a bit freaked out. Then I saw the quad copter with the GoPro landing. What a relief!

Club Gap sounds like a fun trail. I mean, it’s a club, right? Really it’s a steep rocky climb that led us to the descent down Avery Creek. And oh mama what a descent Avery was. It started out with a steep, chunk, and washed out section at the top. There were many more bombed out sections that punctuated the rest of the trail before it eased up. But not before several seriously big drops had to be dispatched. I leaned back and wheelie dropped these things, but on a 4” xc bike it was a little harsh. Then the flowing section of the trail returned and I was back at the Aid Stop for round 2. A bit more smashed than before.

Zooming down a gravel road felt pretty good at this point and only one more major climb awaited before the final descent down Black Mountain. I drank my go juice and set to work on the extended climb.

Descending black the second time today was a little bitter sweet. Man, it’s a fun ride. But it served as a reminder that the mix up earlier cost at least 20+ minutes and probably 2 or 3 positions. Oh well, sometimes you just gotta play the hand you got. I still had an awesome time riding my bike on wonderful Pisgah trails.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2013 Pisgah Stage Race - Day 1

This morning I choked down a bagel and some coffee. I’ve done a lot stage of racing over the past 5 years and I'm still surprised how my stomach can turn in knots at breakfast before the start of the first stage. I'll just chalk it up to the anticipation of awesome.

Tyler and I quickly gathered all our gear and our bikes that we had prepped the night before. We and loaded up the car and headed to the race start.

I ran into some familiar faces rolling around the parked cars and race start finish. There were also a lot of faces I've not seen before, but glad to share a stage race with.

We rolled out behind the police escort from the start without any dramatics. The pace was pretty easy as we followed the flashing lights to a main intersection. 

As soon as we turned left, the Canadian team guys PUNCHED it, hard. I was not expecting this since the last two times I've done this race, the leaders save the 'pop' for the gravel road where traditionally the race pace has kicked in. There was a pretty big hill on the way out of town that would slow em down a bit, eh?

After a short lived pace line, the group I was rolling with turned left onto Turkey Penn RD, the first gravel climb of the day. 

We rolled along a gradual incline and it was nice to sense all the riders settling into a more rational pace. Soon we would hit the day's first single track and bomb down the start of the Mullinax trail. There were a lot of small fast water drops that kept it interesting. Then we crossed a short suspension bridge and started the climb up Mullinax Trail towards Squirrel Gap. I pushed a bit harder through this section and made sure to start consuming my calorie laden elixir.

It was not too long before Squirrel Gap trail welcomed us with its mix of roots, tight bench cut, and single track love. It was nice to be climbing lots of sing track. Tough stuff for sure, but much more engaging than grinding it out on the gravel. 

Once up on Squirrel, it opens up a bit into some fast sweeping sections with tight, rocky, and wet turns. These are awlays a bit of excitement. I was pushing hard to catch the rider in front of me and keep my small lead on the rider behind me. Soon, there was a right turn up a rooty and very steep trail. The top of this trail gets very steep and chewed up, making it a challenge to ride. But I knew that some reprieve from all the single track climbing lay ahead.

After cresting the climb, a rolling section of old road bed double track granted some nice views of the Pisgah Mountains. A white knuckled gravel descent had me entertained as I drifted through a few corners. Soon I popped out onto a gravel road and the aid station. The awesome aid station help already had my bag ready and I grabbed my bottle, rolling out in probably less than 30 seconds. Thanks Guys!

The short section of gravel that followed gave me a chance to suck down some nutrition. I was going to need it for the hiking on Black Mountain that lay ahead of us. Just after the gravel, a fun trail called South Mills River was a blast to ride. Race director Todd Brahnam was dressed in a Lion suite and cheered us on. The trail soon began a gradual climb up to the Black Mountain trail head. I was mindful while climbing Buckhorn Gap to leave a little in the tank for Black Mountain.

Roots, roots, and more... roots greeted me as began the assault on Black Mountain. Pretty soon I was just trying to hike my bike as quick as I could. My legs ached as I neared the 1st hike a bike summit nd began pedaling again. Wow, my legs were smashed. Another two or three hike a bike sections had me hurting, but I made it to a hair raising descent. The trail coming off the top soon turned steep and very water eroded, with a deep rut (1/2 to 1 foot) running down the middle of the trail. It was pretty gnarly, but I was happy to clean it all and not smack my hand on a tree. I had done this a few days before when I pre-rode this section.

The angry trail finally eased a bit and I picked up speed heading for the last techy climb and then the sweet downhill that follows. I made it about halfway up the next steep, rooty, and difficult climb. However, my legs surrendered and soon I was hiking again. I knew another rider was right behind me and put it on full steam to keep my position going into the 2nd part of the Black Mountain descent. Cresting the last bit of climb was nice as I shifted into high gear and descent mode.

I made some great time on the descent and had truly ripping finish down the last third of the trail.

I finished 5th Open Men in about 2:58. 

What a fun way to start the 2013 Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race!


Monday, September 16, 2013

2013 Pisgah Stage Race - Day 0

It's almost here!   The 5th Annual Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race

This morning started with a steep rolling climb up the relatively new trail Braken Mountain that starts just a the base of the Pisgah Mountains in Brevard, NC. This new section of single track heaven is a super twisty bench cut masterpiece that flows off of mountains and into Brevard, right next to the music center. The climb out of town was fairy steep, but the numerous and well planned switch backs made the ride a piece of cake. When we turned around on our out and back loop we already had an idea of just how good it would be to roll back into town. And believe me friends... it was awesome on the way back down!

After our moderate pre-ride of Braken we headed into town to check out Sycamore Cycles where I had a chance to catch up with Wes Dickson and the crew helping all the racers during the stage race. Sycamore is an awesome shop and has everything you could want in a bike shop at the base of some of the most epic riding on the east coast.

After rolling around town and grabbing some chow, we headed back to the sweet mountain cabin I'm staying in all week. I had some tire repair to take care of after destroying my front tire riding in dupont the previous day. Luckily my bad ass Industry Nine wheels seated up without much fuss and the fix was done.

I took a nap and got ready to head over to the pre-race dinner and festivities.

Sufficiently rested, I got it together and headed over to the Brevard Music Center for the "Day 0" activities.I had a chance to catch up with lots of race friends and relive some tales of Pisgah Past. 2009, it snowed on us on the way up Laurel Mountain. Man that was cool, and cold!

The pre-race meal and beer were great as well as the race briefing from race director Todd Brahnam.

After getting all set up at dinner, it was back to the house to do final prep on the bike, plan out my aid stop drop, and hit the hay!