I just finished the Trans-Sylvania Epic Mountain Bike Stage Race in State College, Pennsylvania. This race made me think about all the history of mountain biking and the good things about our sport and those good things boil down to people(community), bikes and terrain.
The promoters of this race are Mike Kuhn and Ray Adams. They run the race under their company The Outdoor Experience. They are Pennsylvania born and bred mountain bikers. They are family men and have done their share of racing, wrenching, coaching and promoting and bike touring. This was a big dream idea for them and they made it happen. They made it happen with hard work and the help of their family, community and mountain bikers who are interested in these type of epic events. They chose State College because of the diversity and depth of trails, the strong cycling community there and the sweet Seven Mountains Boy Scout Camp location for base camp.
These are a couple of quotes taken from www.cyclingnews.com
Adams: The scout camp with its lodges, food, pool, pond, tent sites is our current headquarters. It would be tough to beat that, and it can house 300 or 400 people if we ever get to that level, though I don't know if we want to get to that level. It'd be hard to find another place as good as State College and the Alleghenies.
Kuhn: The Nittany Mountain Bike Association (NMBA) and the cycling community in State College are phenomenal. They are really active in building trails in the Rothrock State Forest. The work done at Raystown Lake has been incredible - it's been touted as some of the best purpose-built trail. In addition, there is an active moto community, and the leader of that community is interested in working with the mountain bike community to create more trails that are sustainable and can be used by mountain bikes, too. They want to build a long-term relationship. This area is a fantastic place to be hosting a mountain bike event.
Kuhn: More stages starting and finishing from the campground will build the community atmosphere of the event and people will have more time to hang out in the morning before the stages.
Adams: As we grow, we don't want to lose focus on the individual aspect of the race. It's about customer service. We don't want the race to become so big we can't make everyone happy. We want to run a quality event.
It seems to me that the driving force in stage racing is the enthusiast-level racers. It's important to cater to them, too. I want to balance fun and challenge. I want to err on the side of fun while still keeping it interesting for the pros.
I loved the fact that Mike and Ray's parents were there making cookies, making prizes, being course marshals and providing support for their sons. It was a cool atmosphere that they created. It was homey and fun. There were kids playing, dogs running, music jamming, slide shows nightly, pool, pond and creek swimming and nice prizes, too.
It was great to see lots of locals supporting the event. I use that as a measuring stick. Local businesses like Stans No Tubes, Freeze Thaw Cycles and Lizard Maps were sponsors. Locals like Vicky Barclay and Rich Straub and Richie Rich were fast podium finishers. The volunteers were young, local and vocal.
I also like that I could set up my tent and camp and cook for myself. I slept so good under the stars every night and it was easy to wake up with the sun filtering through the trees. The showers and bathrooms were close. The food at the cafeteria looked good with vegetarian and gluten free options. There were no laundry facilities, so Erin Bishop was sweet enough to do mine. Freeze Thaw Cycles helped me with any bike issues, but Tim had my bikes dialed in before I went up. Buck was there for massages.
There were seven stages and each one was a little bit different. The general lay of the land is gentle hills, springs, sandstone rock bars and smooth gravel roads. I was in my big ring lots more than in my granny gear. I liked the rocks and struggled on the gravel roads. I literally felt like I was going backwards when the gun would go off. The girls were hitting it hard on the gravel roads starts. Thankfully, I felt like I was flying when I was on the singletrack or rugged doubletrack. Mentally, I was refreshed by the singletrack and physically I was drained by the gravel. But in the end, like I said before the race, fitness matters more than technical skills. My fitness was lacking to capitalize on my skills, but I was pumped up by the singletrack so that left me happy. I had poor starts that left me a big gap to make up, which I never did. And since I was a little "undertrained", I came out of the race stronger instead of super tired.
And I had time to think about my Dad and his positive impact on my life. Someone suggested that I win the race for him and that would of been great but didn't happen. The main thing is that riding in his memory helped me keep the creeps out.
The average person can totally do this race if they train some for it doing 3-5 hour rides. I think doing a handful of cross country races where you really push yourself at the start will help. Doing some very technical mountain biking on some sundays with friends will get your body and bike ready for the roughness of Coopers Mountain, Rothrock and Tussey. Going to the pump track once in a while will help with Raystown and RB Winter days. And putting in the road miles and occasional group road rides will get you ready for the Coburn stage and the in between. And if you are a serious racer, there is very good competition there and seven days of racing is great to do that time of the year.
Some stage highlights:
Stage 1 Prologue: Riding some local's moto trails. Riding up a false flat through a fern forest that had a hot tail wind like a hair dryer blowing on me. Going hard for the first time in a while...ouch.
Stage 2 Coopers Mountain: Some very nice singletrack with only a couple of big gravel climbs. Watching Vicky Barclay wreck when she thought that I said Vicky and I said Dicky. Losing the group of girls when I stopped to let air out of my tires and being never able to catch back up. Stopping a getting water out of a spring because I was dying of thirst. Never got gauardia so there are some clean springs up there. Amanda started to show her strength today. Selene is super fit too.
Stage 3 Coburn: Started out missing a turn and going off course for 2 miles. Being pleasantly surprised with how fun this day was after that, when on paper it looked like a roadie day. Having a high speed wreck five minutes from the finish that totally wrung my bell. It crunched my neck and scraped my face, chest, stomach and knees. I was frustrated and scared but my friends and doctor at the finish made me feel better. Sadly, stage one winner, Karen Potter, drops out with the cabin flu that is going around.
Stage 4 Raystown Lake: This was the easiest day by far. I thought that I would be cramping and going backwards in the heat and with all these tiny climbs. But it was the only time that I rode with Amanda and rode away from the other girls. It was just fun. Then a swim in the lake and a trip to Boxer's Pub for burger and beer made the day complete. Also, on the way out to Raystown stopped at an Amish Garden stand and got a couple pints of amazing strawberries and tender asparagus.
Stage 5 RB Winter mini xc: I didn't really know what to expect with this day. I thought that they were super d's even though the profile showed some climbing. The first stage had the most climbing and I lost the most time on that one. I rode the downhills well, but the lack of fast at the start made it hard to win. Plus, the amazing turbo of Selene Yeager made everyone else look like molasses. So happy that I never flatted. And even though we were out there a long time and got really thirsty, I liked this day. Of course it would be nice to have more downhill.
Stage 6 Tussey: Yes, it lived up to its name as the Queen Stage. Mind blowing beautiful ridge riding with laurel, fern and an old forest fire. I rode that ridge perfect and I'm sticking with that story.
Stage 7 The girls agreed to have fun and parade. It had all been sussed out in the previous 6 days. There were gaps of at least 15 minutes between everyone and that was not going to be changed in a 22 mile xc day. So there was lots of chitchat, some beers and a local winner. Those chicks are cool and so fun. A big highlight of the whole week was hanging with my buddies.
Stage 8-(optional) Beer crit. sloppy and funny. My beer chugging skills have gotten better since living in Harrisonburg but I still am tight lipped around those cans. That Maple Syrup drink, I'm calling it Green Mountain A-mish mash, was strong and got me more than a little silly. Reba and Greg helped me to bed in my minivan, thanks friends.
Stage 9- drive home and clean up...almost the hardest and saddest stage of all.
I ended up in fourth place overall and won $800. I was on the podium three times and got some cool swag including a sweet engraved buck knife which is way cooler for an east coast person than a belt buckle. I had a lot of fun, saw a bunch of friends, made new friends, got some bruises, went through some electrolytes and tires. I am a lot fitter now and can't wait to keep riding throughout the summer. I recommend this race if you like bikes, community and good terrain. I was thinking that they were going to have a tough time making Pennsylvania seem like an exotic adventure. I mean you can't ride an elephant or up a volcano or get caught in a june snowstorm at 10,000ft. But you know what, TSEpic is not Exotic...Its Homey and Intimate and I like that a lot.