Tuesday, September 23, 2014

2014 Pisgah Stage Race - Stage 1

Man there is a lot of heat in the 40+ category this year! Garth, Wes, John, Bruce...all super fast!

I'm hoping I've got a chance to touch the wood today...that's stand on the podium in common parlance. It's gonna be tough with all these fast guys though.

Here is a video recap:

This morning at 9:00am we kicked off the 1st stage of this years Pisgah Stage Race. Thankfully a certain Toronto team was not here to force a sprint on the road
prologue. A nice civilized warm up on the highway to Turkey Pen Road.

Turkey Pen came soon enough and that's when things get real. We charged the gravel towards the 1st descent. The 1st descent is no joke with water bars, some small
drops, and classic Pisgah character. I bombed down it and gained positions I had lost on the gravel. Soon we crossed a suspension bridge and started up Mullinax which led to a lengthy and technical ride on one of the tightest trails in Pisgah. I really like riding Squirrel Gap in this direction.

I gained a few spots on the last 3rd of Squirrel chasing down Bruce. At the turn for the climb up Horse Cove, Popeye gave directions... and I ascended.

Garth Passed me back on Funnel top and I would not see him again till I finished.

A quick stop at the aid station and I hammered some water on the way to the climb up Buckhorn. I knew I needed extra hydration to avoid the cramps on the hike a bike
up Black Mountain. Buckhorn was long and mild as far as climbs go, but the real punishment awaited on Black. I sure which I could hike faster...

Finally, after what seemed like an endless series of hike a bike sections, the real challenge began. The descent on upper black is totally blown out. There is a 3 foot ravine with "holes within holes" (Brad quote) and I wiggled down as much as I bombed. I smacked my wide bars and almost bought the farm but managed to save it. This is one descent that I think everyone is gad when it's finished.

Now the last section of the Stage! Up and over lower Black Mountain, and it's a timed enduro section. The short but steep climbing section is killing me because I know I'm losing a lot of time here. I'm just trying to keep my legs from cramping.

Finally, the big descent down Lower Black and home to the finish. What a fun day of riding.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Prologue - Pisgah Stage

Adventure Awaits


There is always something appealing to me about a road trip. I think a lot of people also share in the same need for setting out on some type of adventure.So it begins as my latest adventure unfolds with the start of my 4th Pisgah Stage Race.

I've been completely consumed (obsessed even) with getting my gear and bikes ready for this event. Some of the tasks are routine maintenance that I've put off too long, and others are just part of prepping for a race. Re-tensioning wheels, truing rims, fixing those nagging cable problems, replacing wheels bearings I found were bad, and … well the list goes on.

There are also some nonstandard items such as testing and setting up one of my race bikes as a Franken bike. 650b in the rear, and I grafted a 29er front end on for Pisgah. It actually works pretty darn well, much better than the whole 26er with a 650b front wheel escapade I tried for a couple of years. Oh yeah, that's 27.5 in street terms...God bless Pacenti!

There were other experiments as well, such as inverting my front shifter to the right side so I can have my precious dropper post switch on the left. Other things were ghetto rigged as well. No integrated down tube protector on my Turner... Pisgah's got some big ass loose rocks, and I felt it would be pure neglect if I did not develop some solution. I fabricated one out of some vinyl floor baseboard material using a cardboard pattern of the down-tube shape I prototyped.

I spent some hours organizing my ramshackle assortment of bike tools into a respectable mechanics kit and also organized the cleaning tub and spare parts bin for two bikes and five days of stage acing. Like most bike racers, I'm my own mechanic, medic, and coach.

What about 5 days of race kit, spare shoes, spare gloves, did I pack those extra cleats? What about spare tires, do I have enough tubes, was my saddle this high last race? Crap that cable is frayed… oh these pedals need grease… now I’m trimming the steer tube that I’ve been putting off… Uh oh, that rear tires got a sketchy looking sidewall scuff…does that brake need bleeding, Arrggggghhhhh!!!!!!!!

Countless hour prepping and stressing so I can get it to all go smoothly, at least that's the plan. We'll see.

So finally, Fri night before I leave, the car is all packed, and I'm finally ready! I'm so relieved to have the last week and a half of prepping done.

I watch Ace Ventura Pet Detective, drink beer, laugh my ass off, and sleep soundly knowing the adventure starts in 6 hours...

Ramble On

5:00 am and it's time to get up, eat breakfast, feed the bottomless beasts I call cats, and bug out! The light from the sunrise bathes Richmond and I watch the skyline of my hometown fade in the rear view mirror.

The road trip is special because it's a transition to the non-normal, the new and uncertain adventure. Even though events are well planned, you never know what will happen. It’s different every time, both in the good and the not so awesome. World class stage racing like the PMBSR is cool because, you will make new friends, from all over the USA and the World. You will also find unexpected challenges and often transcendence.

Early into the drive, the old playlist I dug up has me going sentimental. I burned this one in 2011 when I was travelling back and forth to Huntington WV while my wife was teaching at Marshall University.

I learned that year of travelling 6 hours one way, back and forth from Richmond to Huntington every other weekend, what this saying really means: "You don't really know where you’re from, till you leave it all behind." You see, there was a very real possibility I would have been moving there and leaving RVA and everything I know behind. Those long drives in the middle of the night made me realize how much I love my home town, how much I love my wife, how much the everyday means... and how easy it is to get bogged down in the familiar grind we all get accustomed too and forget how good we have it.

I seek adventure to escape the mundane and be in transition. Transition creates an instability that's exciting, dangerous, and a valuable counterpoint. Transition helps highlight the good in the cyclical every day and provides an opportunity we all have to transition and explore our world.

Mo Bikes, Mo Problems
After arriving in Brevard and getting my campsite established, I head over to Dupont to spin the legs out and identify any bike set up issues. The 1st loop I make of burnt mountain left me feeling a little insecure of my set up. I try different settings, realize it's probably me to some extent, try both of my bike out, and ultimately discover my head game was a big part of it.

Having two different bikes to ride can be very handy, but it can also mess with you if they are not identical. Riding downhill fast in Pisgah will often have you riding close to the intersection of control and not control. That’s when subtle differences in how different bikes handle really become noticeable.

It’s the People you meet on the Way

While getting my whips dialed at Dupont, I passed a group of guys a few times on the climbs and the descents. We traded places, and I zoomed by a couple of guys as they let me by or were waiting for one of their riding buddies to catch up. I was focused on how my bike was riding and did slow down to chat. Sorry guys, I was on my own little mission.

As I cleaned up at the car, the three riders rolled up and were parked right next to me. We said hi to each other, and then chatted a bit about the ride. They were a cool bunch of guys from Grenville SC. They offered me a beer and we exchanged bike stories and descriptions of riding in our home towns.

I was really glad to have stopped focusing so much on my own ride and have the chance to relax. That’s the thing about riding mountains bikes. You are almost always guaranteed to meet some really cool and friendly people in just about any corner of the world where there is mountain biking.

Local Flavor

The next day I spent some time pre-riding / hiking a trail that turns into a huge ravine. I figured out a line for the last 1/3 or the section, but determined first 2/3 are basically not to be ridden, at least not by me. Later I found out this part of the course had been changed and would not be included. Oh well, I was satisfied that I figured out the line I did anyway.

Afterwards I traveled over to Asheville for the best Shrimp and Grits to be had in the south at Sunny Point Café. Mmmmmm….so good.

Next up was a stop at the local bike shops. Sycamore Cycles always has the gear I need. Then I went over to The Hub and caught up with some folks I’ve met before down here over a nice cold beer.

Home away from Home

I checked into the house we have rented out for the week and got settled in. The décor is an "eclectic mix… leaving no culture unmolested" (thanks for the awesome quote Brad!).  

It’s also a great place to stage from for the race.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

2014 Shenandoah Mountain 100

Damn, I’m sweating already just getting my bike and my kit ready. It’s soooo humid. I’m fussing with the GoPro, but today it’s just not going to make it. I’ve had to make some last minute adjustments to my seat mounted tool bag and tube strategy and I burned up all my time. No warm up, but really, that’s probably just fine.

It’s always good to say hi to all my friends at the start line. Having a relaxing chat with good racing buddies is much better than being stressed out about strategy and the like. I forgot some of my food, Doh! No worries, no time to change right before the start.

We’re off! Alright everyone, let’s just get to the pavement with no dramatics.

Conditions were much drier this year, and when we started climbing festival this was evident. There are a few small rock sections that folks spun out on last year, but this time the climb was going a lot smoother. I settled in behind a few riders on Narrowback then had a lot of fun chasing another rider on the upper part of the tower trails. We were having fun hitting the sweet table top jumps and railing the corners.

I settled in with a pace line on Tillman and picked the pace up a bit as we headed for the paved road section leading to briery branch dam. I was getting some low back pain and wondered if I had set my saddle up correct when I swapped sea posts the other day.

Lynn trail was nice and dry, and in great shape after all the awesome trail wok to get it ready for the race. I was pleased, having managed to clean pretty much the whole climb. The secret to Lynn is to not push too hard in any one spot, but to take it at a light to moderate pace, and then crush the ridgeline and descent on Wolf Ridge.

I rode the majority of Tillman back to Aid 2 solo. I tried to pace line with another rider but he was just a bit stronger than I could go. So after a couple of pulls I popped off. However, I knew the pet cemetery area was coming up were Tillman heads mostly downhill back towards aid 2. Another pace line invited me to join and soon I was rolling into Aid 2 with a fast group.

I called out for my bag and the awesome volunteers had it to me in short order. They always take such great care of us racers!

The climb up Hankey was a sharp contrast to the first to two climbs. Basically an “easy” gravel climb instead of single track. I always find single track easier because it takes my mind off the toil. Another racer voiced some solid advice that I’ve also come to learn over the past few years. Ride the grass between the double track if it’s not too high. Usually it’s a bit smoother and less sandy than the mild double track ruts.

OK, so now my lower back was hurting more than it should, I backed off the pace a bit and that helped, but I needed to go a little slower than I wanted to.

Eventually Hankey Mountain’s rolling gravel gave way to a very steep grassy climb towards Dowels Draft. A super strong single speeder rode passed me in one spot laying down the Watts. The rest of Hankey went well and I rallied down Dowel’s Draft snagging a pass here and there and then ripped down to the final set of jumps into aid 3.

Ahhhh… 250… I always cramp up a bit on the road section of 250. Sure I play switch foot on Dowel’s but I always cramp a bit here. Nothing a little diesel fumes from a dually hauling ass a few feet off your left shoulder can’t cure. Get R Done!

OK, everyone needs to thank Bryan Wright for clearing a sweet line in the rocks that cross the creek just before the climb up Bridge Hollow. It’s super sweet to ride that bit!

Bridge Hollow is a tough climb, but if your patient, you can clean the whole thing. Definitely a case where a bit of tortoise works in your favor. I’ve seen a lot of rabbits charge this and then fall over on techy bits. Fortunately, I had a good run, with just a minor dab in one of the rock gardens.

The descent down Braley’s was fast, dry, and loose. Good stuff. One of my favorite descents in Virginia, just watch that last right.

 On the next bit of trail an unfortunate rider crashed a bit in front of me and I believe he broke his nose. He was walking along OK, in some pain no doubt, but he indicated he would be alright. So I rolled to aid 4 got my drops, and gave them a heads up about the injured rider.

Soon I passed some oncoming racers from aid 3 and set to knocking out the pavement and gravel leading to the death climb. A couple of guys on road bikes passed me, but declined to trade whips for this section.

I don’t think it’s the “death climb” that gets me. I always have trouble on the deceptive climb up the fire road leading to the death climb. It doesn’t look bad, but it always seems to punch me square in the nuts. This day was no different, and I felt awful as I got into the climb to aid 5. That’s when I knew something had to give.

If you can’t change the player, change the game.

So I stopped, took a break to eat some cliff blocks, and drank some water.
I knew I did not have in me what I needed to push the pace I wanted to...I wanted to stop.  

So I changed my goals away from a good finish time, got my mind into party pace, and shifted into ‘fahgettaboudit’.

The rest of the climb up to aid 5 was much more pleasant now. Sure, a steady parade of riders was passing me, and it was fine. I’ve done enough of these 100 milers not to get too serious. I mean, I still wanted to crush it, but I had a new reality to deal with, and going fast was just not in cards at that moment. I looked at wild flowers as I creeped up to aid 5 and dreamt of PBR hand-ups. I spent some time at aid 5 and got some much needed supplies. The rest of the endless double track climbs and grassy fields went by OK and I got my spirit and my legs back just as the Chesnutt descent began. I had a lot of fun attacking the loose and rocky turns and chutes. I crossed my fingers mentally a few times as I felt my rear rim ting off the off rock or three. Stan’s No Tubes baby, tube less is the only way to go!

Freshly invigorated, I skipped aid 6 and powered the pavement back for the second climb up Hankey. I made it up better than I thought I would, but not as fast as I wanted to. A fellow racer was holding my tail as we zoomed down Shaffer Hollow. I enjoyed having someone to keep me honest on the last descent and felt pretty good when he revealed that he was on a 6 six inch travel bike. That’s a lot of bike for 100 miles!

I rolled a section of the last bit of gravel with an SM100 legend, Ramponi. He was on his trip-cycle, and you know he was on it All Day!

Finally, the bomber section through the camp ground led way to the best finish of any hundred out there. It’s like rolling into heaven, with cheers all around, all your great friends, and a well-earned sense of self accomplishment and triumph.

Thank you so much to Chris Scott, everyone at Shenandoah Mountain Touring, and all the incredible volunteers!

Not my best finish time at the SM100, but not my worst either. I came in with a smile, and really that’s the only result that matters.


Oh Yeah, some highlights from the results:

Open Men
1          Jeremiah Bishop
2          Sam Koerber
3          Brian Schworm
4          Keck Baker
5          Cameron Cogburn
6          Gered Dunne
8          Ryan Steers
9          Lee Hauber
10        Joe Fish

Open Women
1          Selene Yeager
2          Laura Hamm
3          Kaysee Armstrong
4          Trish Koerber
5          Carla Williams
6          Linda Shin
7          Anne Pike
8          Misty Tilson
9          Simona Vincenciova
10        Denelle Grant

Single Speed
1          Gordon Wadsworth
2          Gerry Pflug
3          Ernesto Marenchin
4          Daniel Rapp
5          Donald Powers
6          Dennis Baldwin
7          Dwayne Goscinski
8          Watts Dixon
9          Todd Ace
10        Peat Henry

Masters Men
1          Roger Masse
2          Henry Loving
3          Alex Hawkins
4          Anthony Hergert
5          Michael Ramponi
6          Terry Blanchet
7          Michael Boyes
8          David Jolin
9          Jim Miller
10        Joseph Baremore

1          Joshua Draper
2          John Lewis
3          Joel Kelly
4          Mark Bates
5          Chad Sexton
6          Sid Rappe
7          Robbe Smith
8          Brian Parr
9          Tim Kelley
10        Daniel Abate