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.
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 décor 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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