Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pisgah Stage Race: Land of the Waterfalls Loop

Distance: 44 miles
Climbing: 9500 ft
Temperature: 30-40 degrees
Time: 5:26:13

Upon waking this morning, I still had not figured out what I was going to wear. The forecast called for rain/snow mix. Finally, I settled on arm warmers, knee warmers, a GoreTex rain jacket, shower cap, and toe warmers. I knew the river crossings would kill the toe warmers, but at least they would start off warm.

The 6 mile pavement start to Turkeypen Gap Road was pretty mellow. I guess no one was anxious to get to the 7 river crossings. I stayed just off the front, enjoying the draft. However, I did get a lot of wheel spray. It had rained pretty hard the night before, so the roads were very wet. With the easy pace, this was the first time that I got to ride next to Jeremiah, Sam, and Christian.

Once we turned left and began to climb up the gravel road to the Vineyard Gap Trail, the race was on! I kept a comfortable pace, allowing my legs to warm up and come to me. Upon entering the singletrack, Sue and Cheryl were ahead, and Brenda was just behind me. The trails were in awesome shape. Wet, but amazingly, traction was good. Kudos to Specialized and Ned for the Captain's!

The descent down to the river was a bit tricky as there were lots of slick-log, diagonal waterbars. I managed to stay upright and enjoyed the ride down. At the first crossing, which was the deepest, there was a volunteer in waders out in the middle telling us exactly where to cross. Talk about dedication!

It was just above my crotch, but the footing was good. The next 6 crossings were just as long, but only knee to mid-thigh deep. I actually enjoyed these crossings and managed to catch a lot of racers here, including Cheryl. I could not contain a small chuckle as I watched her cross. Her short (but powerful) legs made it difficult for her to keep her wheels out of the water. She struggled to lift her bike high enough to clear the water.

After the crossings and some more flattish singletrack, Cheryl and I were together for the second gravel road climb up to Yellow Gap. It was much softer today and it took all I had to hang onto Cheryl's wheel. Let me tell you, Cheryl is not only a singletrack goddess, but a fireroad phenom!

At the top of the climb, Cheryl stopped momentarily at the aid station. I went on. Surprisingly, even though my shoes and knee warmers were soaked, I was warm. I entered the Laurel Mountain singletrack feeling pretty good. I was soon joined by Van and Cheryl and together we stayed together on this section. As we continued to climb, it suddenly got really COLD and then it started snowing. It was beautiful. About 1/2 to 1 inch lay on the freshly fallen leaves and the trail was the only part that wasn't white.

There were some pretty rugged hike-a-bike sections. This was when my hands got a bit cold as I had to carry the bike. My toes soon lost feeling, which was o.k. because at least there was no more painful tingling.

Cheryl led us down the Pilot Rock descent. We soon dropped Van. I let Cheryl open the lead a bit. It was very technical with lots of loose rock and I wanted to be able to see what was ahead and not fixate on her rear wheel. At one area there was a group of people watching the racers. I was amazed at the numbers there because it was a pretty good hike up to this point. We mountain bikers are a tough breed!

Popping out onto the next fireroad, my fingers were cold from the long descent. They quickly warmed back up as the road pointed up. I stopped at the next aid station, grabbed a water bottle, and a mouthful of fig newtons. Thank you, Bruce for some real food.

Cheryl was only seconds ahead of me at this point. She must have turned on her afterburners because she quickly got smaller and smaller. I settled in to a comfortably fast pace, but that fireroad just seemed to go on FOREVER. This led me to a short section on Hwy 276, followed by a 1 mile climb up to a connector trail to Avery Creek Trail.

Being fresh cut, steep, and wet, I had to focus on a smooth cadence to keep from spinning out. Once I hit the Avery Creek Trail, I had a blast on the rocky, rooty, ledgy descent. This was much easier to ride as compared to last month when there was a small river running down it. The flat section of this trail passed by quickly and soon I was back out onto more fireroad.

Climbing up the fireroad to the Black Mountain descent, I was pooped! I rode as hard as I could. I wanted to concede as little time as possible to Cheryl. At times, I was pushing it to a point where I was breathing like an asthmatic. But I kept telling myself to just get to the trail and I could rest ... a bit.

The last little hike-a-bike flew by. It seemed much easier than the day before. I flew down Black Mountain much faster this time. I got squirrely one time, but overall had a good run in to the finish.

Cheryl had gained back 4 1/2 minutes back on me. Now I was only 5 1/2 minutes ahead of her. I knew I was in trouble, but could only hope that she had burned a few matches today. Sue, once again, finished about 15 minutes in front of me.

This stage was spectacular and had a good mix of singletrack and fireroad. The course markings were perfect; not once, did I have a feeling of going the wrong way. Lots of course marshals out there in extreme conditions, ensuring our safety.

My support crew gave me the opportunity to recover as much as possible. Zeke took care of my bike and Barb gave me one of the best massages ever! I went to bed early, hoping that my legs would be ready for tomorrow's fight.

(Photo by Rich Dillen)

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