This year’s Wilderness 101 was a tough one for me, but still loads of adventure.
For me, there seem to be 3 stages to any 100 miler.
Leaving early from work and racing from Richmond to Coburn. Getting registered, setting up camp, once over bike and drop bag prep, chow down, drink a couple of beers and tell questionable jokes. Whew, then try to settle down and sleep.
That evening, a few of our group chats about the forecast. Rain percentages for various times of the day are debated.One of my race buddies says I should run the 13 plate upside down, but I decide to mount it the way it's set up and not wory about superstition.
In the morning the next race starts. Get up just a bit before everyone else to eat, drink coffee, and bring systems online.
For me, I affectionately refer to it as the potty race. Yeah, that's right, the race to poop. 200+ people and maybe 12 porta potties... do the math. Now I'm not complaining, it's just a constrained resource, plain and simple. So if you can get it over with before demand exceeds supply, you are in good shape.
“Stage 3, the main event”
Ahemmm, with that out of the way, it's time to put on some kit, make sure the drop bags are complete, and well, dropped off. There has also been a light rain all morning and it’s chilly. I debate a base layer, but decide on arm warmers. I figured they gave me more thermal options.
Now onto the bike and check the tire pressure and last minute tweaks. As soon as Garth sees my number plate, he lends some sage advice in the soft way he often expresses himself... "Plassman, you got to run that shit upside down!" I don't have more zip ties, and don't want to mess with it so I defy cycling tradition and run it like I brung it.
The drizzling rain had pretty much stopped and we rolled out of the park onto the main road through town. Almost instantly, the real wetness for the day started as the peleton headed out of dodge on a soaked road with small standing puddles. It was like the road was rain up on us. Weird.
This year, I had decided to put in better effort on the 1st gravel climb and kept with the lead group for the 1st 2/3 of the climb and then just managed to keep them in sight for a while after. Following the initial climb, I put in a few hard efforts to settle in with the second main group. I worked toward the front and was trying to put some pulls in. 2 or 3 guys were pushing the pace fast, putting in hard pulls. I worked up to the front to contribute, and found it tough to pull hard enough to keep the hand full of riders setting the pace happy and got repassed. I'm not sure they realized the pace was intense enough to make it hard to get up there and take a turn. Oh well, I did manage to put in a few modest pulls, cranking near my limit.
We went under a tunnel to connect to more gravel and I was surprised to see us catching the A group. We had really been pushing a good pace. As our second group merged into the Peloton, we slowed to match the pace. I seized a rare opportunity to say hi to some folks I usually don't see after the first few miles.
Gordon asked me where my GoPro was and then I wished I had remembered to get it all set up before the race. Joe Fish said the pace was unusually chill and I agreed. I heard bits and pieces of a conversation about a bad crash that had occurred on the gravel a little while earlier.
When we hit Aid 1 I got a water hand up and was super stoked to hear that we were about 2 minutes back from the race leaders. Personally, I've never heard that in an NUE race before. It felt nice.
We hit the double track grass climb and I faded off the back of the main group. I was climbing the grass more aggressively than I normally do, but it was just not enough to keep them in sight. Still, I took out that climb faster than I think I have before and then bombed the downhill sections of double track, spun out in my 38/11 combo.
Eventually, the day's 1st single track was reached. I really liked this section because it's a nice mixture of flowing trail with some rocks and skinny bridges thrown in for fun. The morning's rain had for the most part left it nice and tacky. As always, Bob Popovich was on hand to grab some awesome photos of the racers on the last bridge before a pretty large rock garden.
Next up was what I consider the 'middle hump' part of this race. There are two combos of longish gravel climb + fall line descent. Sort of like the humps in a camel’s back. I could tell I had burned 1 too many matches on the first big climb and then discovered, my tire pressure was a bit high on the 1st descent. I made my way pass a few riders, but was having trouble really pinning it. I felt like I was getting knocked around a bit. Later I noticed my fork was only using about 60 of its 100mm. I stopped at the base of the next gravel climb and let some air out of both tires.
There was a nice rolling gravel section with some periods of pavement through a very scenic park. A large group of Amish were enjoying a nice Saturday morning. I caught a glimpse of all their horses and carriages in a grove of trees. That was a pretty cool alternate scene of transportation in this age of packed parking lots in the city.
As I made it to the top of the second climb, it was nice to enter the trail after dowsing my head with a water splash hand up. Whoever you were up there... Thanks!
This descent was a good bit steeper, but I felt the trail had a more agreeable soil to rock ratio. Plus, my tires were now tracking much better. Too bad my motor was still playing catch-up.
Aid 3 was a welcome sight and I got some much needed hand ups from my drop bag. Onto the next big climb!
At the top of the climb, I was all alone as I rolled into the rocky mountain top single track that for me marks the point where this race gets really fun. At first I was struggling a bit to keep my momentum, so I dropped my seat post an inch to force myself into a more attack focused position and started charging out of the saddle. Things were picking up and I was pleased to be riding all the rock features with a bit of grace and a lot of mojo. My core was starting to get tired just as the warp speed downhill section started.
Then after zooming down the fire road that followed, I turned left onto the rolling double track section. I was motoring along when all of a sudden my drive train just seized. Damn! I surveyed the damage and cursed loudly when I saw the two foot branch section with one end jammed into my cassette by the upper part of the derailleur, the other end of the stick was stuck between my big chain ring and chain. WTF? It took all the strength I had to pull it out of the cassette. Luckily it shifted halfway decent. Amazing, but quite annoying to have wasted 5 minutes.
I hammered my way to my favorite single track in the race. The fern floored forest trail is second to none and a welcome contrast to the rock fest from the top of the mountain. I rolled through this section well and had just passed a rider when I found myself Tarzanning off my bike and grabbing a tree with my left arm just in time to stop my fall from grace. It still hurts pretty go to launch off your bike and hug a tree. I guess I'm an aggressive tree hugger.
Following that awesome trail section is a pretty moderate gravel climb to the last long rocky trail. The flattish rock strewn single track that leads to the descent was beating me up more than usual and I finally realized I had all my bike’s squish locked out. Duh! Freshman move Plassman. I caught a rider on the descent, but was glad to slow down a touch because it's some damn rocky. Nearing the end, I eagerly anticipated the gravel/pavement section that leads to Aid 4, the last stop I usually make.
Once again the awesome force of aid station volunteers hooked me up and helped me on my way to the last major climb of the day.
At the base of this climb, there is a house just off the road that always seems to be burning trash when we ride by it. The climb is very long, has a rough road surface, and just when you think it's over... keeps on going. But at the top awaits a short section of sandy trail on the aptly named Sand Mountain. In the parking lot I spied a local rider laying on his back beside his car. I assumed he was taking in a nice relaxing break after his ride. I was so jealous!
Now, I knew there was my least favorite part of the race coming up. Panther mother fucking road. It starts out fine enough, but just gets progressively steeper and rockier as it wears on. Unlike an actual Panther, this predator slowly beats you into submission. I always find myself cussing this descent quite loudly. Panther run and I have a hate/hate relationship. You might as well hate the Panther road, because trust me...Panther Run Road already hates you.
The gravel road up to and past aid 5 is a blessing after the Panther. Even the goat path hiking is not as bad because it's over with pretty soon and turns into a really cool section of single track that leads to the infamous Fisherman's path.
The key to the fisherman's path is to know it. Here is where a pre-ride of this section comes in handy. It shows you where you can get back on your bike so you don't get lured into re-mounting to soon. The other key is to get your bike off the ground and just power hike through it. Not so easy with 95 miles or so on the body!
Once on the rails to trail, I spun out in the 38/11 combo and got passed by a rider just before the final narrow trestle bridge and tunnel. If you know the line to take in the old abandoned tunnel, it's cake. Again, this is a key pre-ride spot. I exited the tunnel with no dramatics and decided not to chase the other rider too much, though I did look over my shoulder more than once as I raced to the finish line.
I was a little disappointed with my 8:46 finish, but I was glad I could ride my bike all day!