I promise myself not to disappear again for an entire month, only to return with a race report, and once again without pictures. The rest of the month was about travel. Fly to work, drive back and forth between my two "homes," an all to familiar laughably short stopover in Love with an equally long visit to heartache, and then a return trip to Friendship. The friendship came about after 13 hours driving from Asheville to State College, PA, and then 8:50:14 of volunteer suffering at the hands of the Wilderness 101's rocky trails and steep climbs. The drive provided time to talk to those that remain close to me, even though I'm never around. The ride provided the desire for my mind to think about anything but my legs. Anything. The end product: Asheville as home is no longer threatened. Friends are forgiven of their near sins. Pisgah Princess is still okay by me. I learned a lot in the process.
On to the race details. It seemed the promoters desire to start the race matched my own, and at 7:04 we had a nonchalant roll out, with barely the mention of "go." I took what I learned over 7 days of fast starts, the fact that I don't start fast, and rolled out quite slow. The first 35 miles of the race are gravel roads through the national forest and bucolic valley farms. There was one interesting moment around mile 4 where a marble laden off camber gravel curve threw a few nearby racers ditchward, but I stayed out of the fray, shaved some speed and was able to overcome the crux. There was also a couple little technical challenges thrown in, a few bridges and rock gardens, blessed with the most spectators I've seen at an ultra endurance event. Maybe the 20 second walk to the road had something to do with it. Thirty one more miles of scenic but otherwise unmemorable travel occurred, I volleyed with some teammates and geared folks, and the legs finally started to feel light again. It took an inordinate amount of time to recover from BC. All of my riding over the past 30 days has been a struggle to wake the legs up. Here at mile 40, it all started to come back.
The heart and soul of the Wilderness 101 lies in its middle 45 or so miles. More accurately, it could be described as the ebony and ivory, the yin and yang, or the Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana of the course. The climbs weren't all that long, but they were either steep, or kicked up in alternating breaths of climb/recover that easily demoralized you if you got sucked into their trap. Once your legs were sufficiently worked, you dropped into steep sections of rocky singletrack. The most rocky single (and double) track I've seen. Really. It was all rocks. Not the kind of rock riding where you choose a line per se. More like rocky single track where you just hang on, hope your hands don't cramp, and ignore the sound of fist sized rocks bouncing up off your downtube. I'm still riding on BC break pads, which was a mistake as they easily glazed up. The 140mm rear rotor isn't helping. Nor is the fact that I've actually been carrying the replacements around in my car for a month.
After the first decent, I shook the hands out a bit, and the legs were now dyeing to put some power out. I spun through a short flat section, and started the gradual start to the second climb, came up on Zak Dieringer, and later Chip, and passed them both pretty swiftly. Zak figured I was having trouble early in the race, and was off to go kill it, and he let me go. Chip and I hung for a bit until I heard him declare he was off. Chip was still experiencing post BC fatigue, and hadn't actually ridden a bike since Whistler 3 weeks prior, somewhere in the middle of that second climb he through in the towel. I passed 4 or 5 more one speeders before the halfway point of the climb, just happy to be pushing the 32 x 20 that fit the grade and my cadence zone really well. I was able to sit through all the road climbs, the whole day. Same as before, the gravel apex gave way to a rocky descent, a bit faster than the first, but still arm numbing. All good stuff. It was motivating to alternately trash each half of my body, which just made the other half thirsty for some abuse. Climb and hurt. Drop and Hurt. Repeat all the way to Aid 3 where I had sagged some much needed nutrition. Descent one had ejected my second bottle just after moving it into position for use. Which means I was now 55 miles in on one bottle of Rapidade, and just some H2o in the camelbak. A quick pit and we rolled into something new. Climbing on singletrack.
I think for the next 8 miles I had two flats, or atleast it felt that way. The climb wasn't all that techy, but it was rocky enough that you couldn't fall asleep, and the loamy pine needle bed offered enough rolling resistance that this climb hurt, and caused a little walking. As is typical, you can still make ground on geared people while walking, and I actually passed 2 riders on this climb. The top leveled out and got legitimately technical. It reminded me very much of the Snake Creek Gap course in Georgia, and my years of winter success down there fueled me into a better mental spot over the next few miles. I cleared a lot of rock sections, with immediate power demands and skill that I know I didn't have before BC. So there it is, the upshot of those 7 suffer filled days. One more rocky descent, with big line choice inducing boulders, and we were dropped into yet another environment; the wet leafy rooty lowland singletrack of PA national forests. It was like day in night. It rolled a little better, but now you had to watch the traction of your front end, ignore the traction of the rear, and pick lines over bridges, roots, wet turns and stream crossings. This met the palette with anticipation. It was something new. In 101 miles of riding, anything new is good. I was genuinely having fun, and for a few miles my mind was cleared of all the other thoughts I had fed it.
Then came the rail grade. Not a lot of it, and definitely not a knock on the course designers, but the end of the course sees lots of flattish stuff. It also sees some really cool pitch black tunnels, some long skinny bridges, riverside technical riding, and a finish line. Over all the course was great, but over the last 15 miles, there wasn't much I was going to do with a 32 x 20 to improve my position. The legs were fresh, but power wasn't the issue. In retrospect, if I were mentally prepared to race, all eye of the tiger 'n shit, I would have pushed a bigger gear, and some simple math would probably show a 15-18 minute improvement.
As it stands, after some discussion with timing, it was an 8:52:11 effort over 101 miles, an average speed of 11.2 mph, with 11,748 feet climbed. Good enough for an 11th place finish, my first out of the top 10, but with the local talent on hand, actually one of my better results, maybe. Who knows. These things are long. I was farther off the leaders than usual, but a big pack of fast people will always pull eachother away from the chasers, so its hard to say. My best guess and lousy math puts me in 4th overall in the national series, but with so many races left, and only a 4 race requirement, its totally up in the air, most likely to end in a showdown with Topher Valenti or anyone else that can put a few more strong races together.
Click here for GPS stuff
thanks to Harlan for making me some super sweet water jug grass skis, Fuzzy for pulling the Sprinter, UltraLight and my stupid ass, and Dejay for catching it in digital splendor. Where's the rest of the footage?