Thursday, April 26, 2018

Pisgah Stage Race: Stage 4, Fox Factory's Carl Schenck Route

Distance:  32 miles
Elevation:  4200 feet
Temperature:  50-73 degrees F
Time:  3:51:35

Although I had no problems downing my Christopher Bean Coffee, I had to force myself to eat.  Fatigue and the stress of the first 3 stages was catching up with me.  The drive up to the Cradle of Forestry allowed ample time for digestion.  I got there early to do my 30 minutes warm up, which my legs begged for.  Thank goodness I opted for the 30 minute massage yesterday which had a "Phoenix rising" effect. 

I took my place in the middle 1/3 of the field.  Today's start was 6 miles on gravel, plenty of time to sort things out.  I found Patrick McMahon and hung on to his wheel for the gravelly bits.  The climb on FunnelTop double track was a doozy.  The gravel warm up was perfect and I felt pretty good on this section, despite the steep pitches which is one of my "limiters."

Once again, I found myself riding with John from Jersey.  What a positive motivator!  I truly enjoyed my time with him on the trail.  We, along with his friend Jerry, rallied it down Horse Cove.  The upper part was chunky and loose and the lower was fast and flowy.  A hard left onto Squirrel and I got to enjoy one of my faves again ... this time in the opposite direction.

My PSR racing buddy

Somewhere along Squirrel we pulled away from Jerry, but picked up Rod.  Rod was an amazing descender.  He also was the one behind the cash prizing for the Enduro category.  Even though I was carrying more fatigue, I felt faster on Squirrel today.  It  was probably the direction as well as having practiced my Pisgah dance the last 3 days.

Quicker than I imagined, I was making the hairpin turn onto Laurel Creek.  This was a bugger of a descent, what with the drops, slick water bars, and tight switchbacks.  I was pleasantly surprised to find myself passing several racers, off their bikes on the trickier portions.  Two of the creek crossings I did HAB through, passing several more who didn't want to get their feet wet.  My feet welcomed the ice cold water.  Happy feet are fast feet, so I obliged them.  The second half of the trail was stick-free, as opposed to when I had pre-ridden, where there were at least 100 derailleur killers.  Then a nice knee high creek crossing which brought me to the FS 5015 double track climb.

I settled into a rhythm of seated pedaling and refueling with intermittent periods of standing and stretching the back.  It was during this climb that I asked John how he was going to pay his wife back for him getting to play all week.  His response, which I absolutely loved, was that she enjoyed just hanging out with nature, reading, hiking, relaxing, and having "me" time.  You are a very lucky man, John!

There was a lot of chunky gravel on this climb. I was glad to see the aid station tent, knowing that that the best part was soon to come.  We stopped at the aid station and I grabbed a Cliff mocha gel.  Not so much for the calories, but for the boost of caffeine.

Slightly sweetened and with a hefty dose of electrolytes

I never thought I would be the one to say this, but with Infinit Nutrition, I can now fuel on just fluid alone.  This coming from a seasoned racer of 17+ years who needed additonal calories in the form of gels and chews.  As of now, I would say that for races of up to 5 hours duration, I will no longer need to reach in my jersey pocket for additional calories.  I love that I can dial in the taste, sweet enough to make me want to drink, but not too sweet that my stomach sours.  My formula contained electrolytes to my specifications.  I also opted for no protein and no caffeine in this blend (but will probably have a caffeinated version the next time I  order).

Unfortunately I lost John on the climb up Laurel (he needed a nature break).  So once again I was in my own little bubble.  Laurel Mountain is a beautiful beast of a climb.  I gauge it by the short slabs of HAB rocks followed by 4 climbs, of which today a good portion of each were HAB.  Sprinkled between the HAB sections were good bits of fast flowy tight single track.  Rounding a corner of one of the easier sections, I came upon a racer with a steady flow of blood from his fore arm.  A fellow racer was attending to him.  I slowed and offered my assistance, to which they responded they had it under control. I motored on, wondering how he could have sustained that type of injury on the tamest portion of this trail.  Later I came to find out that he had impaled himself on a rather large stick. Never underestimate even the "easy" sections of single track.

Having seen this, I reminded myself that I needed to settle in on the Pilot Rock descent, which was still a couple miles away.  I soon found myself in the company of Hardwick, one hard core racer who I truly admire.  At 65 years of age, he still has the strength and skills to blow the doors off racers half his age. I found myself digging deep to stay with him towards the end of Laurel.  He dropped into Pilot just ahead of me.  As I rode through the Enduro start, I took several deep breaths to prepare for the penultimate Pisgah descent.  Starting at 4800 feet and finishing at 3300 feet, this 2.25 mile stretch of trail is nothing but a large mountain of rock, weathered by water, shoes, tires, and probably a fair share of broken bikes, bones, and helmets. 

No hecklers today, just encouragers.  Photo cred:  Dave and Dave

I had a hard time keeping Hardwick in sight.  There must be at least 15 switchbacks on this descent.  I have cleaned all of them in the past ... just wish I could do that on one run!  I was rolling through the first ones with ease, but once I choked, then I kept on choking!  Arrgh!  I was approaching the infamous rock garden, thinking the hecklers from hell would be there in force.  But there were only a few people and they were just ... too ... nice!  Well, except for the dog I heard about later at dinner. He was probably worn out and had lost his voice by the time I rolled through.

I popped out onto the gravel and still had a steep climb up to the finish of the Enduro.  Ouch!  That was just mean!  Only 5 miles left.  I put my head down and went into TT mode.  Thankful for the tailwind, I pinned it to the end.  Rolling through the finish line in great spirits, I was thankful I had escaped unscathed and with a relatively happy intact spine.

Strange cravings brought on by a solid 4 days of racing.

After a quick bite of recovery, I moseyed over to the massage tent and enjoyed another 30 minutes of bliss.  Then a quick trip to Sycamore Bikes where they had a bike wash station set up to clean off my steed. She wasn't that dirty, but going through the motions of washing her down allowed me to inspect and avoid potential disaster should there be an issue I need to address.  After a thorough check of the sidewalls, I pulled her off the stand, loaded her up, and went back to base camp to eat some more.

Dinner that night was delicious.  I didn't know which was worse:  the face that this was the second to last meal I would enjoy or that there was just one stage of crazy fun left.

Pork loin, two kinds of salad, and grits

Salted caramel gelato!

Here is a recap of the day's efforts.

One stage left.  In a comfortable lead, would I be able to just party pace tomorrow?

Monday, April 23, 2018

Pisgah Stage Race: Stage 3, Sycamore Cycles White Squirrel Route

Distance:  30 miles
Elevation:  5400 feet
Temperature: 41-73 degrees F
Time: 3:45:11

Might I add that Zeke 

Hump day!  Walking up the stairs at my hosts' house this morning, the legs felt way better than I expected.  The massage after yesterday's stage was well worth the money.  After coffee, eggs, and a sweet potato, I headed to the start a bit earlier than usual.  I needed an adequate warm up, as right out of the gate, some intense double track climbing along Black and Sycamore Cove would begin the day's stage.

When the gun went off, I expected mayhem as people jockeyed for position.  Everyone must have gotten the "restless leg syndrome" out of them in the first two stages, as the pace was tame. The legs were happy and I was excited to see "new to me" trail.  I had never ridden Sycamore Cove and since it was dry, I can say that it was fun.  Lots of roots along this side cut trail, with some ups/downs before you were able to send it a 1/2 mile back down to Highway 276.

Then back up Black again, this time on Thrift Cove Trail.  My new friend John from Jersey, decided that he liked my consistency (I had caught up to him and dropped him the first two stages) and rode with me most of the day.  We had some great conversation and he was super polite, making sure that he was not bothering me with his talking and riding my wheel.

The HAB up Middle Black went by quickly.  More than any other race I have done in Pisgah, the HAB this week was super enjoyable.  It was a combination of talking with my fellow racers and allowing my back some recovery time.  Descending off the backside of Black, I got a bit of a gap on John, but he caught back up to me on the descent down Maxwell.  More gravel climbing up Clawhammer and then a super fun descent down Buckhorn Gap.  There were a couple tricky creek crossings and I was glad I had pre ridden this trail the month prior.

As I popped out on FS 477, John stopped at the aid station.  I kept going, thinking that John was gonna catch right back up to me.  This was the first time since the beginning of the race that I felt some sparkle.  I took it and ran with it!  I got into a rhythm of both standing and seated climbing.  I caught up to Gordon and Emily first.  Told Emily that I smelled a beast and that beast was her.  Just trying to send some positive vibes after her spill on TurkeyPen road yesterday.

Then I rode up to Meghan and David.  Meghan and I had talked quite a bit after yesterday's stage.  It seems that the ideal prep work leading up to this stage race had not occurred as we envisioned.  But that we were just gonna train through and have fun.  As I slowly rode away from her on the climb, I told her that her race (Avery Creek enduro) lay just ahead.

I met Kim from Vermont on the climb up Club Gap.  Having never ridden here before, she had crushed the first two enduros.  I told her that if I did not get out of her way on the Avery descent to just use me for traction.

Avery Creek is a huge chunky descent at more than 2 miles long.  Huge drops, ruts, and bouldery sections made it feel like I bull riding (for 10+ minutes).  I wish I had the confidence to just let my bike's suspension eat up the gnar, but the "I gotta work on Monday" mentality had me using way too much brake.

My goal was to not get caught by Meghan, David, and Kim.  They must have had a picnic at the top because I was within a 1/4 mile of the finish when I heard the buzz of their I 9's. I had plenty of time to yield to their mad skills.  Despite getting caught, I still had fun. I can say that my descending skills have improved since the last time I rode Avery, but my fore arms and calves let me know that I still have more to learn.

Hitting the aid station the second time, I stopped and swapped bottles.  Then a quick blast down FS 477 and up Maxwell to Clawhammer.  On the way, I saw James and Beth for the second time that day.  They are my favorite fans!

Hi-fivin' Wheelhead!

I found myself riding with Kim again.  We HAB'd it to the top of Black.  She wanted me to proceed, as she was just gonna chill down Black.  I knew better and let her on by.  I saw her for about 20 seconds before she vanished around a corner.  I was hoping I would have a clear shot with no dabs today.  I came upon a poor racer dude, who probably had to yield to Kim rushing up on his wheel and now me.  I tried to chat it up a bit as I made the pass; he was silent. Finally, a clean run (during a race) on Black.

I rolled through the finish line, first master's.  Putting more time into second, I now had a comfortable lead.  But Pisgah takes no prisoners and tomorrow was the Queen Stage.  I headed over to the massage tent to begin my recovery race. Today I opted for 30 minutes of bliss, where I melted into the table. 

After 3 days of racing, I definitely felt the hunger demons.  No worries as the farm to table food was a cornucopia of pulled chicken, black-eyed peas, corn pudding, and a salad.  No GF version of the corn pudding so I piled on the chicken and peas.  I did try a slice of tempeh, which was the vegan alternative to the meat every night.  Needless to say, glad I am a omnivore.

No sooner than my head hit the pillow was I fast asleep, dreaming of plummeting down a mountain of rock.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Pisgah Stage Race: Stage 2, Sunset Motel's Promised Land Route

Distance:  30 miles
Elevation:  4000 feet
Temperature:  36-63 degrees F
Time:  3:16:07

The sun does indeed shine in The Pis-gaaaaa!

Today's stage started out with a 6 mile "controlled" road start along Highways 276 and 280.  While I absolutely love my mountain biking family, when you mix coffee, asphalt, and 180 non road biking souls, you get chaos!  I was more worried getting taken out here than getting "squirreled" later in the course.  Although I managed to stay in the front 1/3, the accordion effect was still there.  I almost wished the police car would have pulled off and let the "real" race begin sooner than at the foot of TurkeyPen Gap gravel road.  I focused on staying far to the right so I would only have to deal with insanity on my left. 

Turning onto the gravel climb up to TurkeyPen Gap, I rolled by carnage that included Emily and another racer.  I said a brief prayer that she was ok and that Gordon would show mercy upon the other.  That 30 minute warm up was exactly what my legs needed.  The descent down South Mills was fast and fun.  The bike was dialed and soaking up the hits.  Hitting Mullinax, my last memories were of a slickety slidy muddy uphill, but today it was hero dirt.  The legs were happy, I was in my own little bubble, and my heart was full. 

Eager to hit Squirrel, one of my favorite trails, I managed to stand and hammer up the last bit of Mullinax before dropping in to the trail I give the utmost respect to.  Squirrel is half-track, with roots looming in the most inopportune places and bouldery sections to negotiate.  Being side cut, the price for failure is high, and I have the scars to prove it.

Fortunately it was dry and with the trail work that has been done in the past two years, it was easy ... with easy being relative.  As much as I wanted to attempt to clean the gnarlier sections, I had to make the smart decision and HAB more than I normally do.  Cleaning a good portion of the flattish or uphill sections requires a lot of bike handling and upper body/back work.  While my back was good on the descents, any time I tried to use force to work through an uphill rocky or rooty section, I would have pain eminate from my L5 area.  What kept me from pushing through the pain was that I envisioned my disc as a Cadbury egg.  I imagined the ooey gooey center exploding through the chocolate candy shell.  And that is what allowed me to hop off the bike, dance through the dicey sections, and remount with no pain at all.

On the right, what my disc looked like 3 weeks ago ... did not want a repeat event.

On Squirrel I passed John Lewer, from New Jersey, that I met on Day 0's opening ceremonies.  He hung with me for awhile, but towards the end of Squirrel I got a gap on him.  What is unique about this stage race is that although the stages are tough, you are not so blown at the end of the stage that all you want to do is go back to your room/house/motel and crash.  There is enough time to recover as well as enjoy the camaraderie of your fellow racers at dinner later in the evening.

Stephen "the squirrel tamer" Janes blew by me in a fit of sheer awesomeness.  He was ragin' on his single speed.  I tried to stay with him, but was not in his league.  Talk about a man on fire!

The climb up South Mills and Buckhorn was smooth like a highway and not too steep.  I was still feeling great at this time and chatted with several on the climb, including David Noletti, who was vying for a spot on the SS podium. 

The gravel descent down Clawhammer was sketchy!  Dry and loose and I could not seem to find my drifting skills.  Somehow I managed to catch up to Stephen Janes on the gravel.  We rode together down to the aid station, where he stopped and I motored on up Maxwell Cove.

After a 20 minute grind, I hit the Black HAB up to the enduro of the day ... middle/lower Black.  The last time I had cleaned this section was on a ride many moons ago.  Today was the day I would have justice.  Unfortunately, I got caught behind a racer whose reptile brain took over at the sharp short uphill with a quick turn to the right before hitting the wet rocky/rooty descent.  I clung desperately to a track stand but just could not hold it long enough to make a clean go at it.  😡😡😡

I had to dab down, but then quickly got by him and made short work of the steep rooty switchback to the right.  The rest of the descent was so ... much ... fun!  Only wish I had the cahoneys to go faster.  By the time I hit the bottom, my calves and forearms were dying. 

I won the stage and put a little more time into second place.  My bike was amazing.  Someone (who shall remain nameless) out in podcast land was poo-poo'ing putting a Fox 32 120mm on a Top Fuel.  While it probably wouldn't make sense for a 140+ racer to run this, for this buck ten, it has been a game changer!

Salmon, rice, carrots, and a salad

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Pisgah Stage Race: Stage 1, Clif's Looking Glass Route

Distance:  25 miles
Elevation:  3400 feet
Temperature: 37-54 degrees F
Time:  2:34:56

Thanks to Scott's Bikes for Blaze, my trusty Pisgah steed!

I raced the first two editions of PSR and it took me 8 years to recover.  Why, you ask?  It might have had something to do with 45 mile days, 9000 feet elevation gain per day, freezing temps, multiple waist deep creek crossings, snow on Laurel/Pilot, Farlow Gap iced over, uphill both ways, etc.  2009 was insanely hard!  2010 was warmer, but still had a short prologue followed by long days.  Back then I was racing against the big guns:  Sue Haywood, Cheryl Sorenson, Amanda Carey, and Brenda Simril.

This time, I was racing in the Masters 40+.  I figured, at 49 years, I earned my way into this category.  I almost didn't get to race, as 2 1/2 weeks prior, I herniated my L5 disc.  But with some chiropractic work, and Dr. Stuart McGill's book, I was well enough to give it a determined go at it. 

Highly highly recommend for any of you low back sufferers

The first stage had us racing back down the gravel into Cove Creek campground.  Towards the end there is a fairly deep but rideable creek crossing.  So one can hit the crossing rubbing elbows with other racers, or play the waiting game and walk across a narrow bridge.  With everyone in stoopid crazy mode to get to Daniel Ridge which was the enduro section, I opted to take the time penalty and walk the bridge.  I did not come all this way to be taken out in the first 2 minutes of the race.

Hitting FS 475 and climbing up to the turn off to Daniel Ridge, guys and gals came by me so fast, I almost went into a tail spin.  My legs were HEAVY, but had only myself to blame for less than an ideal warm up.  The gravel single track climb on Daniel hurt like the dickens. I was happy to see the HAB (hike-a-bike) train when Pisgah greeted us with the first technical climb of the day.  Conditions were a bit slick as the rain the day before made the roots glisten and the rocks shine.

I took my time along Daniel Ridge, including the enduro section, as I waited on legs and body to re familiarize themselves with the Pisgah gnar.  As I popped back out onto FS 475, heading up to Butter Gap, I felt like I was at the back of the pack.  I was o.k. with that because I survived the first single track without any back pain.

Climbing up to Butter, I was greeted by the Hoffmeisters, James and Beth.  I have gotten to know these amazing people in the last year or so.  They were screaming at me, "You are our favorite racer!"  Awwww ... I blushed.  But as I went by and another racer approached them, they said the very same thing.  Hmmmm ...  come to find out, every racer was their fave!  They had me laughing all the way down Butter.  After the initial chunk and drops at the top, I found my groove and cleaned it all.  I had to make my way around several hike a downers and soon found myself behind Gordon and Emily. 

This was the first time I had ridden with these guys and let me tell you.  Emily had the bad-assery moves going on!  That lady has come a long way in a short time.  Her skills were poppin'!  I was most impressed and thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with them on Butter, LongBranch, and then descending FS475 to Davidson River.

I popped off their wheel as the climb up FS475B to Cove Creek began.  Emily had a G-bike on the climbs.  Occasionally Gordon would put his hand on Emily's low back and whoosh!  Up the road they would go, at a pace I don't even think I could match on a good day.  It was amazing to see the power output that Gordon produced.  Very cool!

Towards the latter half of the climb on FS475B, my legs finally came around.  I was able to get in a rhythm of standing and hammering, followed by periods of rest on the false flats.  Soon I was groovin' on the FS225 double track descent to Cove Creek.

The Cove Creek Trail had some major work done on it since the last time I had ridden it back in 2014.  Most of the spindly log bridges had been replaced by rideable wooden plank ones.  Now you could really send it!  I was having too much fun and almost face planted on one steep rooty drop.  How I managed to save it I do not know.  Thank God for a healthy set of reflexes!

I did miss the smell of hamburgers on the final drop in to the campground (from the Swank days).  But there were recovery drinks and plenty of food (chips, scones, bananas, and oranges) to eat at the finish. 

I rolled over to the results table where one could not only see your results on a screen, but also print them off, too.

After a not so strong start, I was just hoping to make any podium appearance.  I was pleasantly surprised that I had finished first in my class and had a respectable overall performance, too. 

After a brief stretch, I went and had a 15 minute massage. OMG!  If you are going to sign up for the race, you need to sign up for the post stage massages as well.  They are a leg and body saver!  It is well worth the extra $$.  I melted into the table!

With short stages, there is plenty of time left in the day to recover.  I went back to the house, showered, stretched some more, sat in my Elevated Legs, and then headed over to the Brevard Music Center for the evening meal and video/photo recap of the day.

Bacon-wrapped GF meatloaf, buttered Lima beans, roasted Yukon Gold potatos, and a salad.

The food was provided by Black Eyed Susan's Caterers and it rivals Mulberry Gap at quality and taste.  They even provided gluten free and vegan alternatives.  And as much as you wanted to eat!  Oskar Blues Brewing provided 1 beer per person per day.  Not being a drinker, I saved mine for Charlie (future kitchen passes!).

That leader's jersey felt good!

Having 15 minutes on second place, I was focused on playing it smart and safe on Stage 2.