|The wooden nickel cost 30/100 teams a 2 hour penalty as they failed to adhere to Rule #13!|
My first Eric Weaver race is in the books. And I must say that it has been the best race of the season. My first foray into mountain bike adventure racing and I am hooked! I really did not look at it as a race (well, maybe a little) but more as a fun way to spend an epic day in Pisgah learning the network of trails, dialing in my navigation skills, and using gear that I will come to rely upon come Labor Day weekend.
The day before we had talked to several PMBAR veterans who had told us that it was a mad start and the best thing to do was to race up to Pressley Gap and then pull out the map and beging plotting. At that point we had decided to try to hang with some of the big dogs and try to get an idea where they might be headed first.
|My PMBAR bike, fully loaded it weighed 29 pounds + 6 pounds on my back.|
Race morning was chaotic. I got separated from my partner, Todd Henne, and I could not hear the pre-race meeting. Finally we hooked up about 7:50; Todd had the Ziploc bag with map and passport inside. At 7:52, Eric said, "Go!" Fortunately for us, we had a "deer in the headlights" start, so we actually opened up the passport and map and began reading the instructions. All the rules were pretty typical, save for #13, which was brand new for this year: "Every team race packet contains a wooden nickel that must be given to the race director prior to leaving the start."
We plotted out our points, in a counter-clockwise direction, so as to get the 3 mandatories and the closest optional to those mandatories first. Then, if we were still feeling frisky, we would go for the 5th (Farlow/Daniel Ridge), which was way out there by itself. As we were dropping our nickel off, Eric stated, "There are going to be a lot of frustrated teams, including several big dogs, out there." (30 teams did not drop their nickel off).
Climbing up Thrift Cove and Black, I knew I was going to have a good day. My legs were very sparkly, and I had to keep a governor on the motor. Todd wass an awesome partner and kept me cool and level-headed. We had the same cadence, shifted gears at the same time, and knew when to get off and walk.
Our first checkpoint was South Mills River/Squirrel Gap. The trails were in excellent shape and blazing fast! I was all sh!ts and giggles on the South Mills River descent until I rounded a corner and there stood Brad and Matt. Taking my eyes off the trail, just for a split second, caused me to hit a slab of off-camber wet rock and down I went before I even realized it. I "Super-Manned" over my bike and landed just a few feet from Brad's feet. I bounced up quickly, refusing to acknowledge the pain in my shoulders and right thigh. I checked Stumpy ('08 Specialized Stumpjumper FS) out; whew, nothing broken.
|photo courtesy of Brado|
So I embarrassed myself in front of the "Pisgah Yeti" and the "Jeremiah Johnson of Pisgah", but I was also glad that we ran across them; it reassured us that our route and checkpoint order was a good plan.
Once we got our stamp from South Mills River/Squirrel Gap, we then headed towards our second checkpoint, South Mills River/Bradley Creek. Here is where we made a mistake and did not take Horse Cove to Cantrell Creek but rode Squirrel Gap to Mullinax. Oh, well, Squirrel was in such fantastic shape that I was not too disappointed. The work done on this trail was very minimal but vastly improved the quality of the ride.
We boogeyed to the second check, passing a lot of teams on the way. So far, the route we took, along with my sparkly legs, made it seem like it was "all down hill." Todd was feeling great as well. I was quite surprised, as he had put in a podium effort at the Cohutta 100 the weekend before.
Our next checkpoint was North Mills River/Lower Trace. Sweet! I had just ridden the Trace Ridge area 2 weeks before on a recon mission. Lucky call ... I knew exactly how to get there. I had even ridden a section of Bradley Creek that intersects with FS1206. That was fantastic as I knew exactly how many creek crossings there were.
Unfortunately, Todd took quite a digger on one of the Bradley Creek crossings and landed right on his hip. Soaked our passport as well, but luckily it held up the remainder of the day. The cold creek crossings worked wonders on my legs and feet, but they shut Todd's legs down. He had a hard time on FS1206 as his legs were not wanting to cooperate. We passed by Stephen Janes station at Yellow Gap; looked like a party! We refilled our Camelbaks at the North Mills campground. Used to racing with a Camelbak, I had emptied most of it. Todd, on the other hand, still had quite a bit left ... our second mistake as he was under fueled. I should have been telling him to sip every 10-15 minutes.
The single track seemed to bring Todd back to life and we crushed the Lower Trace descent and the hike-a-bike out of there went by quickly as well. It was here that I did not know Wash Creek; it may have been the better way to go, but Trace Ridge is such a blast to descend. Once again, no regrets. As we climbed up out of that lollipop loop, we were now going into our 6th hour of racing. For once in a long time, I was feeling great on the gravel grinders. My bike felt chainless. As we hit Yellow Gap again, we stopped to lube our chains; Todd's bike had become the "squeakinator" in the last hour. Stephen gave me some homemade hummus which was to die for!
As an aside, Stephen Janes used $150 of his OWN to provide delicious and tasty snacks for the racers. Talk about a morale boost: grilled cheese sandwiches, ice cold cokes, hummus and chips, cookies, etc. I suggest we return the favor in giving to his non-profit, Trips for Kids WNC .
Our next check was Laurel Mountain/Pilot Rock Connector. Getting our single track mojo back, we were able to motor to the checkpoint. I always forget how long Laurel really is. Up the last steep hike-a-bike, my bike suddenly got HEAVY. Man, was I glad to see the volunteer and get the passport stamped. But unfortunately I left my mojo because I absolutely sucked going down Pilot. I couldn't clean anything! I don't know if it was the super loose trail conditions, fatigue, bad fork/shock set up, or the lingering memory of my crash on South Mills. But my mind and body were at war ... and the mind kept winning. Todd, with his big wheels (Specialized Epic 29'r) did not have any problems.
|Partners in Pisgah|
Once we popped back out onto FS 1206, we made the decision to head back to the Start/Finish with 4 checkpoints. We figured that attempting Farlow/Daniel Ridge was gonna take 2 2 1/2 hours. But we were risking a catastrophic failure in the form of a crash or bike mechanical that could cost us the race or more time. With Todd feeling the Cohutta fatigue monster and I nursing an injured knee, we made the right decision to finish with 4. No regrets!
We were the 2nd team with 4 CP's to finish in 8:40 and that put us in 12th place out of 100 teams. Not bad for two middle age out of staters.
|Finishing with grins ... not grimaces!|
Kudos to Eric Weaver for this race that tests your mind as well as your body. Thank you, Todd, for being a wonderful partner. I hope to be able to race with you again!