Last year I bailed on this because of the weather, but I really need to knock this off my list after getting lost 2 years ago. The Pisgah Production boys don’t give you flak for not registering early, so I could watch the weather and decide that morning. I really wanted to do this, but also didn’t want to die. I saw that it was suppose to be dry until 3-4pm, so I figured lets do this.
I learned some things last time I attempted this, the first one was know the course. I was not getting lost this year and downloaded the route on my garmin for back up. Sadly when I arrive to the start, the course is different. Balls. Bad trail conditions and above flood level waters on the creek crossings make for big changes. So it’s mostly like the 111k course the day before, with fewer trails. I arrived a little too early and since I didn’t really know anyone, I just awkwardly got dressed early and overthought everything.
Anyway, my goal with the last course (55km, 34 miles) was 5:30, so lets say that is the goal again? I really have no idea anymore.
Instead of a hike-a-bike up Black, we are taking gravel up to the mountain. Ride with the front group of 10-15 for the first 15 minutes until it gets steep and settle into my own pace. Plenty of 1’s and 2’s around to ride with. I know it is going to be a long day but still, you want to start well. 40 minutes of gravel and we are at out first trail set of trails, Buckhorn and South Mills.
I’m with another local SSer and another more enduro looking guy. I let them lead me out for this. This trail is slightly downhill, smooth, wide open. It’s a little mucky in spots so it keeps you on your toes. Couple of down trees, nothing really too crazy here. I was starting to get worried that this new rain/wet course was going to be too tame and make me bummed it was re-routed.
The next ST climb the SS bro drops me and I’m kind of on my own. I can’t recall details of the Squirrel/Horse Cove details, but I start running into more humans and they start catching me from behind. There is a group of 4 of us at this point, which is cool. As always with these Pisgah races, it’s a lot of camaraderie and while we are totally racing, it doesn’t feel like it.
The next trail is Cantrell Creek, which has a cool ring to it. 3 miles along this creek that is way higher than normal. Not only is it along it, but you are going across it, maybe 8-10 times? It’s hard to find a rhythm, you forget you need to drink, but it is a hoot. Ass cheek high water, hoping over storm downfall. This is pretty rad. I get hung up and take a small spill here and jam my seat in my butt cheek. Not bad for almost 20 miles of riding so far. I lose a couple of the guys I was with but find them again on South Mills River Rd. This felt more like a CX race, holding 15-17mph, soggy mud, water spray, just enough roots/rocks that you had to keep your hands on the bars.
On top of that, we had some wooden bridges to ride and walk across, which always sketches me out. I was too close to a rider on one and the reverb through the bridges was having some weird effects on me. Thought I was going to get bucked off.
It’s not always pretty.
We get to the first aid station and with my 3L of skratch mix, I don’t take anything from here, either because what they had in solid food wasn’t appealing, or these Nut Butter Clif bars are to die for. I smash one and head on off, leaving the guys I was racing with behind. Soon enough I have some hootin’ and hollerin’ and I was going the wrong way, back over a bridge we just came on. I knew I should have waited for them.
We head up Mullinax and it seems that this is the first 32×42 climb of death so far. I lose my carrots, or the ones I wanted to follow anyway. I can’t really remember things at this point, sorry. Some guy is walking looking for a 10 speed link, ugh. I know I’m with another SS guy (who I think did 6 hours of warrior creek, not sure) at some point and we come up to another creek crossing and if I was by myself, I would have been screwed. I ask him if this it he big one, and he says yup. Waist high, bike on the shoulder, pretty heavy current too. Surprised we made it to the other side. Glad I was with someone who knew what was going on.
We dump onto a fireroad climb that I remember from the first time I did this, it seems that this third of the course is the same. SS guy leaves me. We end up catching local enduro looking guy from earlier in the day and he isn’t interested in riding with me. I just keep on keeping on. I know that an aid station is waiting for me at the top, which is the motivation at this point. 31 minutes later we arrive at the aid station and I’m looking for some grub.
Slam a couple shots of Coke, refil my water to the brim, have a snickers. There is about 6 people already here before me, so that was encouraging. There is some dialog about which way we go, the people at the aid station say this way, to Laurel. Cool. the guy on the SS that dropped me earlier is coming back from that way saying “are you sure, there isn’t any tape, blah blah blah”. They are sure that is the way, who else is going to tell us the right way? Another lady that was riding for fun that day said she would go down and check the tape and make sure it is at the intersection.
Looking back, I probably should have waited the extra thirty seconds until she went down.
I follow another guy out of the aid and I remember this fire road descent to the trail. I’m still looking for orange tape, but I’m not seeing anything. The guy said it was about quarter mile, so I was keeping track. Or so I thought. I start second guessing myself and slow down and at 20+mph, decide to pull up the GPX loop. We start climbing on the gravel road and I know this is wrong. F me. Dudeman I was following is completely out of sight at this point and I cannot save him. I went 1.5 miles and 5 minutes out of my way. downhill. The 13 minute climb back up the gravel was not fun at all, just thinking of the time that I blew. Looking at the Strava Fly-By, I lose a buttload of spots.
Climbing up Laurel Mountain and the fond memories of 2 years ago start coming in. This section reminds me of climbing some of the flatter, more techy trails at Wawayanda, for an hour. 70% is rideable, maybe 80% if you weren’t already 30+ miles into a bike race.
Wait a second, this is suppose to be a 35 mile race? I start doing math in my brain and start to suddenly realize we aren’t almost done. We have another 20 miles or so to go. Oh boy. I find another ride in front of me and we are hoping and on off our rides, as the slick rock is drenched from the rains and just completely unrideable. We socialize a little and try to keep each other spirits high. At least it isn’t raining, right?
I pass the intersection I got lost at 2 years ago and realize that I’m in good shape. I’m going to do this, I’m going to stay on the course. There is a gigantic hike a bike section here, and It is really really slow going. my whole body is already shot. Lots of fancy footwork, using the brakes on the bike not to fall downhill, it’s silly.
Then we hear rumbles of thunder. I was hoping I could do the Pilot Rock DH while it was dry, but it seems like mother nature has other plans. It sprinkles, then drizzles, then rains, then all out monsoon rain with thunder and lightning great us, right as the Pilot Rock trail sign greets us. I ask dudeman if he wants me to go first and asks how I am on the downhills. I would have felt confident without the rain, but #YOLO.
It’s really hard to describe the trail, but the middle portion is just rocks and killer switchbacks. Very trail bike worthy, but the Scalpel with dropper was up for it. With the stream of water running down it, I’m thinking it may have been helpful to see the path the water was developing. I followed that. We pass another group of people at one of the lookouts and said “this would have been a great view”. I’m sure it would have. I’m happy with my dropper, happy with my suspension, but I think I have no rear brakes at this point. I’m squeezing it and it sounds like a recycling center crushing cans. Rut roh. It’s still pointing down and even though my arms are screaming, I can’t stop, it would be harder to walk.
Come into the more gnarly section of rocks and I finally see a human, with an umbrella, taking photos. We are a long way from civilization, so he has a long day ahead of him getting back to the car to take photos. Huge shout out to IconMedia Asheville! I hold on and pray that I don’t eat shit here and actually ride this section like a god damn pro.
Stoke level is high still, even with the rain.
I feel the worst is over and start to enjoy myself, excited to be back at the car soon. One more aid station to go, wherever it is. I end up coming into it and thinking, how much farther can it be? It’s raining cats and dogs, if I stop here, how motivated am I going to be to keep going? I have enough water and a set of shot blocks to get me home. I say F it and roll out. The double track of South Mills River Road is along the water and it is ROARING. Holy crap that is a lot of rain.
Pass some lady on a legit 80s road bike with a rain cape on, WTF?
Eventually we come up to Buckhorn again, the flatter trail we descended on, and we have to climb back up. It’s only 2 miles and not very long, but at mile 45 and 5 hours and 40 minutes into your day, combined with the rain, muck and straight up dead legs, It’s like climbing a wall. my stomach is screaming for food and if I wasn’t such an idiot, I would have grabbed some solid foods at the aid station. At one point I hop off and open my pack of Shot bloks and inhale them, hoping my body can digest it and make this last bit of trail not a complete disaster. I get caught by another SS rider that was at the aid station here.
Thankfully I keep moving forward and keep my shit together, I see hints of gravel ahead of me. It’s the gravel we climbed, so I know it goes down for 99% of it. With 32×11, I’m able to quickly hawk down the SS rider that passed me. I start getting a little out of hand with no brakes, wet gravel and sharp flowy turns. I roll into the marbles a couple of times and almost eat it, so I let SS guy take the lead from me so I don’t die.
Cruise onto the road pass SS guy, hoping he can draft me for a tad. I’m just happy to be able to pedal all the way back to the finish, on course, with all of my limbs in tact and a bike that for the most part, handled the day well.
I ended up with 6:28 of elapsed time, good enough 7th in Open, 14th Overall (out of 40) and I can only think that my 20 minute detour puts me closer to 6 hours, which then puts me right outside the top 10 overall and I steal maybe 1 or to more category spots. Either way, an end to an epic day
The 55.5k ended up being closer to 50 miles, 7,600 feet of climbing and 6 hours and 28 minutes on bicycle. This may take the cake for the most grueling bike race I’ve ever done, even over ORAMM, even though ORAMM has more elevation and more mileage. I’m happy to cross this one off the list and say that I did it, and survived the longer course that was thrown at us. It’s hard to say Monday morning if I will be back or not, but only time will tell.