Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race

Greetings from the land of waterfalls, white squirrels, barbeque and retirees. I'm here in Brevard, North Carolina at the first annual Pisgah Mountain of Stage Race. This is the East Coast's only stage race(right now, not ever). It is put on by main man Todd Brahnam. Todd has been an adventure mountainbiker for a while now and knows these Pisgah trails really well. He is a great rider, too, winning a Super D National Champion title a couple of years ago. I don't know how long this race has been in his brain, but kudos for making dreams into a reality. The race is pretty small with about 70 racers. It has a laid back vibe and kegs New Belgium after the stages. But the main draw is the trail system here in Pisgah National Forest.

The first stage Thursday at 6:15pm on the campus of Brevard College. The format was a short track. It wasn't your typical start to a stage race. The recent rains had made the 1- mile course muddy and slippery. I hated getting my bike so dirty! I love my Turner Flux so much that I feel so bad when I get it really dirty. And living in Virginia, I've gotten used to a clean bike after rides. But dirty bike aside, it was way more fun than I expected. There was a switchback climb with baby roots that was just tricky enough to get us primed for the next days. Plus, since things were running late we only had to do 4 laps! And very dirty bike aside, I beat the other 4 women and got the leaders jersey. Churtle was second, Carey third, Janel fourth and Brenda fifth. Its a cool pink leaders jersey! Jeremiah Bishop won the men's pro. With Harlan in second!

The first "real" stage was a doosey. Some were saying it was going to be the hardest stage. Others said it was the most singletrack. Todd's beta said that it was 22 miles of singletrack with a total mileage of 37 and 9500ft. It was extreme. Or what it just hard? Or was it just Pisgah? Classic Pisgah. It was a mass start with the three leaders jerseys on the front. It wasn't a fast start, but I got dropped pretty quick. Starts hurt. The seven mile soft gravel climb hurt , too. But the singletrack was nice, nice. Buckhorn was smooth and fast and just a good way to start to get in the mood for skinny wet singletrack. Carey was hammering on this section. Maybe she was in the big ring. Then we turned and rode squirrel gap trail and welcome to off camber roots! It was a half track in spots and lightly undulating. There were a few small creek crossings. I liked this trail. It was challenging, but not scary. It was tricky and rideable(not all of it for me!). It was picky. Then a sweet downhill off of Laurel Mountain where I got a small gap on Carey. She said she saw me on the soul crushing second gravel road climb up to check point two at the twenty two mile mark, but then lost me. There was an out of character gravel downhill, and then a climb to a sweet trail along the South Mills River. This river is gorgeous!

At one point a dude marshall said, "Its all downhill from here!" I said "No, really? He said, "Well there are a few little climbs and then its all downhill!" This is a recurring scenario in my racing career. Sometimes marshals lie. They don't mean too. They just don't know. He didn't know. Mile 32 was the start of the hike a bike up Black Mountain. It was a pretty long one with roots, rocks, switchbacks, skinny singletrack and lots of wet leaves. It was a bit brutal. Then finally a little sketchy downhill with wet logs. Then another hike a bike and another fun, sketchy downhill and then a sweet ride back on Black Mt. complete with hugh banked turns. So ending with a fun feel good trail made me feel good. But I still stand by initial claim that it was a bit extreme. Of was it just hard? Like Jeff from I-9 Wheels said," Finally the drought is over here and classic Pisgah is back". And maybe that is why the logo for the race is 'The Lion has Risen'. The Lion likes it slippery and wet.

So I have another leaders jersey! But the women's race is tight, as is the mens. Its raining as I write this and the third stage on paper looks like a 22 mile uphill. Sam Koerber who was 35 seconds back of JB today and who knows every root out here, warned us about the cold water creek crossings tomorrow. We cross Mills River again like 6 or 7 times. Regardless its going to be an adventure!


Apparently it rained all night, but I didn't hear it. I slept well after an incredible meal of lentil soup with an organic ham hock. It was so nourishing. Eating often and eating healthy is a big part of stage racing and here at Chez Park we were eating great.

It was hard deciding what to wear on a day like today. The rain subsided by the start, but it wasn't balmy. It was in the 40's. We started at 2200ft and would be climbing up to 5200ft. I wore the leaders jersey with an ibex wool bra and wool undershirt and ibex wool arm warmers, knee warmers, wool socks, and a plastic rain cape with the sleeves cut off. At first it seemed like a lot, but it ended up being perfect.

What a crazy day! We had to ride highway 191 for about 3 miles with serious water spray from eveyone's tires. But it wasn't too bad because all but a few stayed in the pack. My tires were craving the dirt and my legs felt like blocks but I was warm. There was some awesome singletrack in a laurel tunnel that led to the first of 7 creek crossings. The water was so cold! It almost took my breathe away, and the numb toes began. One of the crossings I dipped my front wheel into the current and tipped to the side. Yeeha...cold chamois! But the good part was that we got to warm up with the soul crushing gravel climb that we did yesterday, but today was a bit softer. I made it to check point one and then to Laurel Mt. trail. I glanced back after a while and saw that Churtle was not far behind. She was having a great day probably after eating all that lentil soup. I felt so slow and was having trouble getting on top of the gear. But the all the getting off and on the bike was helping the numb digits. And then thank god there was a hike a bike to warm up even more.

The amazing thing was that it started to sleet and then closer to the top there was snow! It did look amazing, especially on the ferns and with all the colored leaves. My core was never cold, so I just kept going. Its funny, at times I felt hardcore and then other times I felt soft as jello, thinking that I'm not getting paid to do this crazy shit why am I doing it? But I can do it and I do like challenging myself and look at all of the other people out here doing it with a lot less ability or experience than me and how much fun they are having. So I just kept riding.

And I was rewarded with an awesome downhill...Pilot Rock trail. It was so fun and energized me so much. Maybe it was a little more of a Virginia downhill or maybe it was just fun. Maybe the Lion was giving some love out. Then at check point 2, I got some more drink and food and dumond lube and was good to go. Club gap and Avery creek were both really fun. Talking about the tenacity of mountain bikers, Tennessee Brad broke his nose yesterday and was still out there today. I was thinking he was crazy, and all he said is that it hurts a little and he couldn't breathe out of his nose. Geez, that is tough.

I now know why the last check point is so close to the finish. I'm sensing a pattern. The last several miles of the race are pretty hard. There was a bunch of never ending climbing on a gravel road. And then we did the last couple miles of Black Mountain again. There was some hiking involved again. But I did nail some of the things that I didn't from yesterday. But the fun feel good feeling was only there because it was the end of the race.

I won the day by ten minutes over Churtle who is locked in a tight battle with sweet Carey. Carey has her by about 4 minutes. Well, bikes are washed, we have had our lunch and are going over to Sam and Trish and Lucy's for dinner. Sam had some bad luck with a broken chain and a flat tire and got third. His dad, Bob had a bike incident and fell on the corner of his eye.

We are all whooped. I have some serious deep gluteal soreness and need to keep it together to win the race. Tomorrow sounds burly. There is some talk of taking out some of the singletrack that is at the very top of the mountain and there is talk of ice on the rocks. I want singletrack because the gravel roads are killing me, but I also know that as we all get tired, wrecks can happen.


  1. Hope you kicked some butt, and no crashes! I love your write ups about single track, I get really jealous and wish we had more roots and trees.

    Can't wait to see you

  2. I'm the guy who told you it was "downhill from here" on the top of Clawhammer Mtn. I was not a marshal, just a guy out for a ride and I knew exactly what was ahead of you as I ride Black frequently. An hour and half earlier I had started up Black Mtn. from the bottom where you finished and stand by my statement that it was all downhill except for a few little climbs. You had a little five minute push with some fantastic views then a kick ass downhill, followed by another tiny push up to Hickory Knob before your final downhill. Sorry if I somehow upset you. Pisgah is hilly.