Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pisgah Stage Race: Stage 5

Distance:  43 miles
Elevation:  9500 feet
Temperature:  62-84 degrees
Conditions:  dry
Time:  4:57:45

Anybody know which trail this one is?
I awoke this morning with mixed feelings.  I was tired so a part of me was glad that today was the last day.  On the other hand, the little bicycle demon inside of me was sad that this would be my last Pisgah adrenalin fix ... for a while. Today I was ready to empty the tank; there was more than just fumes, as opposed to last year.

The first 7 miles, which was pavement, was brutal, because I pretty much suck at it.  Or perhaps I am at a disadvantage with the little wheels.  I managed to hang on to the second group until the last mile and then popped.  On the Turkey Pen fireroad climb, I regrouped and weaved my way through several racers. 

Vineyard Gap was rippin' fast.  I would compare this trail to a roller coaster ride.  I thought I heard the "tick-tick-ticking" as I was approaching the top of the climb.  Then, the trail just dropped away from the bike and I.  And whoosh! down I went. 

I had gotten ahead of David on the final climb, so when the trail turned downward, I shot down it faster than I had intended because I did not want him to catch me and spoil his ride.  I got a bit to pogo'ey on one section and was just about jettisoned from the bike.  Somehow I managed to save it and reached the river unscathed.  The 7 river crossings somehow seemed quite tame as compared to last year when temps were in the 40's and the water was chamois deep.

After taking a beating from FS 5015, I descended down FS 1206 to Laurel Mountain.  Ah, what a beautiful trail and an awesome ride.  No freezing winds, no sleet to contend with, just a glorious blue bird day.  On the hike-a-bike section, I met several Army officers coming down the trail.  I asked them ever so politely if they could just form a line and shuttle my bike to the top.  No takers.

Pilot Rock was gnarly and ready to eat your tires and bones if you chose the wrong line.  I acquiesced on several of the switchback; really do need to work on swinging my ass end around on those tight ones.  One of my mini goals I wanted to accomplish was to ride the boulder section towards the bottome ... mission accomplised, other than the huge downed tree I had to crawl over.

The remainder of FS 1206 seemed like an eternity but my legs were happy.  One more time up Club Gap and then on to Avery Creek, another one of my favorites.  Everything was rideable for me, save for the downed trees that hovered off the ground.  Once back out on FS 477, I had to stop and wait as a caravan of horses passed by.  I was just happy that none of them spooked as their passengers were children.

I grabbed a PB&J at the last aid station, had my picture taken while stuffing my mouth with said PB&J, and pedaled up FS 5058 and FS 5022 for the final time.  Once again I set a blistering pace down Black Mountain, scrubbing off another minute.  My fastest time on that final section of it, including the climb, was 16 minutes.

I rolled through the Start/Finish, happy that the stage was over, but sorry that it was the end of such a wonderful week of riding.  Todd and Company really listened to the racers' feedback from last year and put on a great race this year.  The post-race festivities were awesome:  a never-ending supply of Poppies-catered food, a fun and well-attended kid's race, a pie-eating contest, and cash for all divisions.  Indeed, I think everyone went home with some money.

Watch out!  Those ladies next to me can hammer!
I know Todd had to have taken a big hit this year, what with the low attendance, but kudos to him for not canceling.  I must say that has been my favorite race of 2010.  I am not sure how to attract a bigger field for next year, but we MUST.  Todd has plans for 2011; I just hope they can come to fruition.

As for me, I increased my knowledge of Pisgah ... to a point that I am going to tackle this man's events next year!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pisgah Stage Race: Stage 4

Distance:  40 miles
Elevation:  9000 feet
Temperature:  60-83 degrees
Conditions:  dry
Time:  5:29:58

By this time during a stage race, I usually wake up a little slow, stiff, and not as eager to begin.  This year was different, however.  I awoke feeling as good as I did on Day 1.  It was probably due to a combination of fitness and better recovery techniques.  Unfortunately, I missed the cool movies (Ride The Divide, Race Across The Sky, and Stars and Water Carriers) that Todd played during the evening festivities.

This stage was going to be the toughest as it had 90% single track.  And it started out by going up Thrift Cove to Black Mountain to Turkey Pen.  Anytime I mention Black Mountain, just think "hike-a-bike of death."  Once again, I was able to hang with Sue until the trail pitched so steeply I had to get off and push.  Sue managed to stay on two wheels longer and eventually gapped me.

There was a train of bike pushers up to Turkey Pen.  Then the fun commenced.  Turkey Pen is mostly downhill with a few short grunty steeps that required more hiking.  This trail was like riding through a tunnel of rhododendrons, sometimes so thick the price for speed was lashings ... across the arms, face, and neck.  I lost count of how many times my eyeballs were saved by my glasses.

Towards the end of Turkey Pen, one of the single speeders was about 20 yards ahead of me pushing up a climb when he grabbed his calf and yelled out.  I thought he was cramping, but then he grabbed his thigh, then his butt, still yelling.  He cried out that he was getting attacked by yellow jackets.  I slowed my pace down a bit, but pretty soon was where he was.  I expected an attack, but it never came.  Whew!  One advantage of being slow.  I guess those little buggers had their fill of vengeance on the first 20 or so racers that came through.

Riding Squirrel Gap backwards from Stage 2 was fun.  Just after coming off Mullinax, there was a climbing section that was short, steep, and rooty.  A couple volunteers had staged themselves midway along the climb with cowbells going wild.  I loved it!  A great motivator to push on when your quads and thighs are like tree trunks.  One fella even ran with me for about 0.1 mile.  Awesome!

I kept running into this Sycamore Cycles rider most of the day.  I would catch him at the tops of all the climbs; he was always stopped and refueling.  But then he would leave me on the descents; David is his name, me thinks.  I had fun following him down FS 5018.  The grasses along this double track turned single track made it difficult to look for obstacles, but with David in front, I was able to follow his lines and use less brake.  I eventually got in front of him after aid station 2 and did not see him again.  I suspect he was having cramping issues.

South Mills River and Buckhorn were not near as long as they seemed during Stage 1. Riding Black Mountain opposite of the day before was not as bad as I had expected = less hike-a-biking.  The volunteer that directed us at this turn up Black Mountain told me I was only 4 minutes behind the women's leaders.  I believed that for all of 2 seconds!  Sorry, but a volunteer's sense of time and distance is indeed warped.  Take La Ruta, for instance, where 2k is actually 5 miles.  Or during TransRockies, where the last hike-a-bike section was actually the 3rd to last one.  I learned my lesson long ago about heeding the time/distance advice of volunteers.

Buckwheat was mysterious.  Having not ridden it before, I wasn't too enthused about the thick undergrowth, but it finally opened up with some nice riding.  The descent down to FS 477 was harrowing, but the Magura SL's kept me from crashing my brains out.  Couple sketchy, ledgy drops where my butt was acting as the emergency brake for the rear wheel.  It was good seeing Kim at the bottom, all smiles and hoots/hollers.

FS 477 was not fun; I swear I have gone twice as fast down that fire road when conditions have been tackier.  Dry, loose gravel, powdery dirt, and I mix like olive oil and vinegar.

Mr. Rattlesnake decided to make an appearance on FS 5022.  I tried for a couple minutes to encourage him to move, but all he wanted to do was coil and rattle.  Finally I had no choice but to make a wide berth around him through the weeds and pray that his buddies weren't lying in ambush.  Safely around him, I continued up the climb.

For the third time  I made the short hike up Black Mountain and then bombed down the backside to the finish line.  Cut another minute off that "Super D."  It is like your favorite rollercoaster that you cannot get enough of.

One of the best "comfort" drinks that Todd and Co. had at the finish line as well as at each aid station was ice cold Cokes!  He also had PB&J sandwiches which I developed a taste for during this stage.  My stomach was nice enough to tolerate a 1/4 sandwich at a time.  I had gotten tired of the gels I had been carrying and by Stage 4, my HR was within the range of "sandwich acceptibility."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pisgah Stage Race: Stage 3

Distance:  45 miles
Elevation:  9000ft
Temperature:  60-80 degrees F
Conditions:  dry
Time:  4:58:20

I awoke in good spirits and with happy legs.  I had plenty of time to think about how to go out on this stage.  Barring some sort of bike and/or body catastrophe from Amanda and Sue, I realized that I was not going to win this thing and that was o.k.  I want to win based on my performance and not because my competition ran into misfortune.  As long as I finished, I would earn back my entry fee.  So, with that in mind, today and subsequent stages were all about racing my shadow.

The start involved a shuttle to Kuykendall campground.  While waiting on the others to arrive I warmed up.  Thom P. interviewed me and below is my 90 seconds of fame ... ah, the life of a semi- pseudo mountain bike pro.

Visit for more Videos

The start involved more running along with 1 somersault between the orange cones.  I think I bruised my kidney with my tire pump that was in my jersey pocket.  I have not done a somersault since 3rd grade!  I am going to have to practice up for the Swank.  I was headed up to Farlow Gap, but to get there would involve  a 12 mile climb, 11 of that being on gravel.  The forest service was nice enough to have just graded and graveled 6 miles of it so instead of asphalt-fast, it was loose and soft.

Farlow was fun; I made it most of the way down the rock chute, but decided I liked my teeth more than my ability to negotiate the 26" holes that dared to swallow my front wheel.  Anyways, it was just about as fast skirting down some of that stuff.  It was pretty much ride a bit, walk a bit for the first half.  A couple sections were even difficult to walk down ... they were potential ankle-breakers.  Once I got past the short uphill hike-a-bike, the remainder was fast and fun, well, all but the steps and last creek crossing.

A short ride on Daniel's Ridge followed by a long haul on FS225, which I have named "Mystery Ridge."  So overgrown, I could not see more than 5-10 yards in front of me, so I kept it light on the front end and brakes.  Luckily there were no downed trees or large rocks to catapult me off into the briars.

Cove Creek was a flowy fast descent.  Hoo-whee! I was smiling so much I think I got a couple bugs in my teeth.  After that was the short but steep connector to Daniel Ridge ... ouch!  The Daniel Ridge descent was fun, but a bit tricky as it was overgrown.  There were a couple of deep washed out areas that were hidden by the weeds.  Rolling down to aid station 2, I refueled and headed over and made short work of the Davidson River Trail.

The climb up 475B was longer than expected.  Just when it leveled out and I thought I was at the top ... it pitched up again.  It tricked me this way several times.  I also expected a longer leg-resting descent, but was surprisingly disappointed that it was only about 3/4 mile long.  More climbing on Hwy 276 and some more gravel leading to Club Gap. 

Turning onto Club Gap, the volunteers at the aid station asked if I needed anything to which I replied, "Do you have any sherpas?"  Some chuckling ensued as I began the steep 1 mile climb up to Black Mountain.  Both the body and conditions were much better than last year and I was able to clean the climb, albeit at what seemed like a snail's pace.

This new to me section of Black Mountain was fun once I got passed the hiking/pushing portion.  Then I hit FS 5058 to FS 5022.  That last push up 5022 hurt.  Those false flats were misleading.  The 3 mile climb was about a mile longer than I expected.  No expletives, but I think there was one, "Ah, come on, where is the top!"

I was a minute faster down the last portion of Black Mountain.  Rolling through the finish line all smiles once again.  Even seeing Amanda in civies already did not sway my attitude.  I met my little mini-goals for the day, I was having a blast riding in the Forest, and I realized that I was in the best shape of my life.  What more could I ask for?

Climbing Black Mountain was a mix of riding/hiking.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pisgah Stage Race: Stage 2

I did a longer than usual warm up for this one as I did not want to have the "crummy leg" experience again.  Stumpy, my '08 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR, would be my steed for the remainder of the race as she would provide a bit more suspension and a more relaxed, but still very effective and fast, ride.

The start was neutral until we hit FS 477.  Then it was all about hanging on to the lead group, which may have lasted 30 seconds.  That would be the last time I saw Amanda.  I wisely chose to follow Sue up the 6 mile gravel climb.  Just too cool being on the wheel of such an awesome, yet humble, world-class athlete.  This is one of the few sports that allows the average joe to compete alongside the best.

I hit Buckhorn Gap first and was able to get a gap on Sue during the ensuing descent.  Thom P. let me pass him and then stuck to my wheel until the bottom.  Check out the footage:

Visit for more Videos

Sue soon caught back up to me as I was climbing the first steep bit of Squirrel Gap.  I was able to follow her for a while, but then I guess her diesel engine warmed up and she slowly pulled away from me.  I knew I did not need to go any faster for fear of burning too many matches.  I wish my HR monitor would have been working, but it decided to go on strike the day before, so I had to base my effort on PE.  I would have preferred numbers!

Squirrel was enjoyable and more rideable than last year, although there were a lot more downed trees to negotiate.  Laurel Creek was FAST and dry!  I guess I was having too much fun and getting a little wild because one of the waterbars grabbed my front wheel and threw me down the mountain.  Thankfully, I landed in a soft mossy area devoid of rocks.  Whew!  That could have been a lot worse.  As I pulled Stumpy off of me and started to climb back up, I glanced down and saw the trail only feet away.  Heck, might as well make the most of it.  Turns out there was a switchback just beyond where I exited the trail.

The 5 mile climb back up to Yellow Gap on FS 5015 was o.k. despite the "marbly" gravel.  It was a definite give/take situation with the dry spell Pisgah has been having.  It makes the trails less technical, but made the gravel grinders very loose.  I had more, "Oh, sh!t!" situations on the roads vs. the single track.

I swapped my Camelbak and gel flask, shot a Red Bull, and headed off to the undulations of FS1206.  Todd was at the turn off to FS 475 and gave words of encouragement.  It is always good to see the race promoter out on course and in every one of his races, I have seen him, sometimes more than once.

South Mills River to Buckhorn is a fooler.  It starts off with a slight descent, but then slowly climbs back up for several miles.  You think it is an easy climb because it looks flat but it just goes on and on.  And a lot of it looks the same so you think, "Just around this corner is the end. Well, maybe the next corner .... the next? Finally the end comes and suddenly you wish it did not because of the hike-a-bike of death that follows.

Knowing what I was getting into this year on the Black Mountain hike-a-bike, it seemed to go by quicker and with less frustration.  Heck, no frustration ... I was smiling the whole time.  The view at the top was spectacular; it reminded me why I love mountain biking and racing. 

At the top of the Black Mountain hike a bike. 

It is unfortunate that so many will never experience the suffering of pushing your body to its limit.  The reward is the ability to live your life to its fullest ... and to have multiple OMG moments! To many choose to sit on the couch, in a vehicle, on a stadium seat, in a darkened theater ... numb.

Stepping off the soap box, for now.  Where was I?  The hike up was worth the ride down.  The erosion upped the entertainment factor.  And then onto the last section of Black Mountain that I would see 3 more times after today.  My goal ... to get progressively faster on this stretch. 

I rolled through the finish in 4:18:07.  Faster than last year by almost 30 minutes.  Although conditions were better than last year, I feel that my fitness played a larger part in that time gap.  Amanda and Sue crushed it, putting more time on me.  Now I was a flat tire AND broken chain behind them ... but still smiling nonetheless.

Cooled the legs off in the river talking to Sue.  Told her I would be "the lurker".  She had better keep her "A" game on (no, make that her B- game) or I would be just around the corner, ready to pounce!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pisgah Stage Race: Stage 1

The view from the finish line.
The first stage was short.  Called the Blue Moon Hill Climb, it was 12 miles and 2000 vertical feet on a mix of pavement, gravel, double track, and single track.  The finish was in a high end mountain development.  To get to the start, I got to "warm up" with a 7 mile, sketchy a$$ descent down a gravel road that has not seen rain in a month.  Like riding on marbles.  Some poor soul blew the tire off his bike within the first mile; how he managed to stay upright, I do not know.

At least my bike had her race face on.

True to Todd Branham's races, the start was Leman's style.  I was the first to mount my bike and hit the short section of relatively flat to slightly downhill pavement.  Within minutes Amanda blew by me, almost causing me to go into a tailspin.  I recovered and was able to latch on to her wheel.  Soon enough Sue was up with us as well.

As soon as we turned onto gravel, the road pitched up and I popped off.  What's up, legs?  We are not going that fast.  But my legs suddenly turned into cinder blocks.  I was able to keep my competition in sight, but I knew that today was going to be just about surviving.  Coach told me that today was not going to be pretty, but that we would use it as my "leg opener."

When I started on the trail, I was bouncing all over the rocks.  I don't know if it was my suspension or me not being "at one" with the trail, but I felt like I was on a pogo stick.  People started passing me right and left and I lost sight of Sue when I had to get off and push up a few sections ... which I should not have had to do. I was expecting the trail in the Dupont State Forest to be smoother, but this trail was like riding up a dry creek bed.  Still, it WAS rideable.

I popped back out onto some more gravel grinding and seemed to find my flow a bit better.  The gravel climb back up to Blue Moon was steep and loose.  Turning back into the development, I was treated to more single track, albeit hiking trail.  Lots of steps and bridges and the last 1/2 mile up to the finish was just heinously steep.  How I managed to ride it all with crappy legs was a miracle, but I did.

I crossed the finish line in 1:11:39.  I was in third!  But of course, there were only 3 of us.  Oh, well, I was only a flat tire behind Amanda and Sue so I still had hope that I could reel them in!

Zeke raced his new SS!

I managed to give away quite a lot of Chamois Butt'r product.  One racer made the embarrassing mistake of stopping by to pick up some product in the middle of me changing back into civies!  He later introduced himself as P. Tom (as in Peeping Tom).  After he regained his composure, which wasn't until Stage 5, we had a good laugh.

Turkey and avacado on sourdough with pasta, chips and homemade cookie.

Post race food was from Poppies,  a local grocery in Brevard, that also serves delicious sandwiches, wraps, and pizzas.  The post-stage vibe was very good as racers hung around to partake in the vista, food, and beverage.  Kudos to Todd and Co. for stepping it up.  I was looking forward to Stage 2.

Monday, September 13, 2010

T Minus 1 Day

Yep ... in a little over 24 hours, I will be entering a place of beautiful suffering ... The Pisgah Stage Race.  I am looking forward to it, for when I exit, I will be a much stronger person.  The Forest is rich in waterfalls, wild, rugged trail, and vibrant views.  But to get to it and through it, one will have to take a journey of immeasurable proportions.

Last year the Pisgah Stage Race was not so kind to me.  I started off great, but fell to pieces during the last two stages.  It was not the course, but my body that failed.  Unbeknown to me at the time, I was carrying around one defective little gall bladder. 

Well, this year, I have no excuse.  I have trained for this week, so we will see what I have got.  Although the field is smaller this year (which is a shame since this is gonna be such a stellar event this year), my competition is against two very tough and talented ladies.  As I see it, right now I am solidly in third, with no way to go but up.

The weather is perfect and the course is ever so sweet, with the likes of Squirrel Gap, Laurel Mountain, Pilot Rock, and Black Mountain, to name a few.  Todd Branham has done a great job of recruiting volunteers, acquiring sponsors and I am looking forward to the food that will be provided by Poppies!

Indy ('09 Specialized Era) will get the call up for the Stage 1 Hill Climb, but it will be Stumpy ('08 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR) that will tackle the big stages. 

I will have Chamois Butt'r samples with me at the race, so come and get some.

No matter what the end results are, I will enter and exit the pain cave with a smile on my face ... well, perhaps a grimace. 

See you on the other side!

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Little Stuff Is Just As Important

I am hoping that this will make it onto Specialized's website under "What's New."

Dealer Grant Program and Elementary Physical Education

Tennessee endurance mountain bike racer Carey Lowery used her talent this year to raise money for two local elementary schools, one of which her 8 year old daughter attends.  Over Memorial Day weekend, Carey raced solo at the Burn 24 Hour Challenge in North Carolina.  Using this as a platform to raise money through pledges per lap, she was able to secure $5500 for the schools.

Prior to her race, Carey, along with several other local cyclists went to the schools and talked to the classes of City Park and Ingleside elementary schools about cycling, physical fitness, and nutrition.

Just last month she and The Outdoor Store, her local bike shop, presented a check to each school for $2750.  This money will be used by the PE departments to purchase much needed equipment.  In addition, with Specialized providing funding through its dealer grant program and through the generosity of several local businesses, Carey awarded prizes to the winners of her kids’ contest.  The top 3 boys and girls from each school who were closest to guessing the number of miles she rode in 24 hours were awarded bikes, helmets, and gloves.

When asked about how difficult it was racing for 24 hours non-stop, Carey’s reply was, “Knowing that I was racing for a cause and not just my own personal goals, it really was not hard at all.  I have done several 24 hour races, but this was the first one where I smiled on each and every one of the 27 laps (204 miles) I completed.”

Carey Lowery lives in Athens, Tennessee.  Unfortunately Tennessee was named the second most obese state for 2010 by Trust for America’s Health.  20.6 percent of the children in Tennessee are obese.  She hopes that she was able to reach out to the 500+ kids about the importance of exercising and eating right.

I feel that what happens locally, especially when it comes to children and childhood obesity is just as important, if not more, than Schlek's wedding or another roadie winning an international race.  Hopefully Specialized will see it this way as well.  They have an outstanding grant program that needs to be showcased.  I did not even know about it until I accidentally stumbled upon it earlier this year.

Our kids are our future.  If we Americans want to continue to podium on the international level, we all need to address this situation.

I hope to be able to continue to influence the children at City Park and Ingleside in the future.  I was recently asked to be on the city school's health and fitness committee, to which I happily said, "Hell, yea!"  We shall see what this one little grassroot's racer can do. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fundraiser Culmination

Today has honestly been the biggest accomplishment of my 2010 season.  No, I did not set any PR's nor did I beat any famous mountain bikers.  Today I was at Ingleside Elementary School presenting them with a check for $2775 and presenting the winners of the Kids' Contest with their prizes.  Last Thursday I did the same for my daughter's school, City Park.

Presenting the check to the President of the Ingleside PTO

 I gave a brief wrap-up of my race, The Burn 24 Hour MTB Challenge, to the student body.  The kids hooted and hollered when I told them I won and was 3rd O/A.  They laughed and giggled when I told them I had to get off the bike 4 times for potty breaks.  And their eyes got really big when I told them that the distance I covered was from my hometown of Athens to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia.

Then, through the Specialized Dealer Grant program as well as the gracious donations from The Outdoor Store and several local banks, Pam and Bruce Blevins presented the winners with their prizes, which included bikes, helmets, and gloves.  In case you don't recall, the kids wrote down how many miles they thought I could race in 24 hours and the closest 3 boys/girls won.

Pam, Bruce, and I with the Ingleside winners

And with the City Park winners

Last week when we did the same for City Park, I was surprised when the principal presented me with this:

I could not have done this without your help.  Many thanks to all my cycling and non-cycling friends and acquaintances who made donations.

Sometimes it is just not about you and the bike, but rather who you can help and influence while riding your bike.