Adventures in Pisgah

Monday, May 16, 2022

Cruel Jewel 50 Condensed Version

Everything went right.

I never felt like quitting.

I never questioned why I was there.

I never hurt too bad.

I never felt sick.

I never got tired.

I made new friends.

I ran all night.

I marvelled at the beauty of it all.

I had fun.

I finished.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

2022 Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race

Compared to last year's surprise epic rendition that had us squeaking in just seconds before the cutoff, this year's version of the Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race was rather uneventful.

When David and I got the passport at the start the surprises turned out to be there was no silly prologue loop and no mandatory checkpoint. Without a mandatory we were forced to decide at the start if we wanted to go ahead and skip Cantrell or if wanted to leave the opportunity open for all five CPs. We chose the option for all five and headed counterclockwise across Squirrel to Bradley Creek. Squirrel Gap saw us in the thick of the middle of the pack where many teams seemed to not know how to pass or racing ethics which was frustrating but representative of the new breed of mountain bikers. We rolled straight through the CP while a dozen teams that had been in such a hurry to get by minutes before milled about doing who knows what. I remarked to David we would be seeing most of them finish after us and that turned out to be true. 

Anyway, on to Bradley Creek we went where we quickly passed more teams and where I wasn't expecting to be caught but a voice came up behind me and when I looked it was Team Dicky.

'Dicky, what are you doing here? You should be way up front.'

'We made an error.'

'You can make it up,' I said, 'Go Dicky, go!'

Rich and I are the longest running PMBAR competitors and knowing he was looking for the big W, I was geniunly bummed for him and was hoping they could indeed make it up.

Down to Mills River and then right back out again we went. On the climb back up to Yellow Gap we chatted with Chris N. and Joe about the best route to Slate Rock Creek and then when forced to make the call for ourselves we perhaps fumbled it by going out and back on the cove side instead of up the creek. I also started to get dehydrated and was having stomach issues through this stretch and relinquished my pack to Cook but we made it to #5 and then back to the road and the home stretch.

Our final descision was at Buckhorn Gap. Do we go down the road or over the top? We weren't winning and climbing Maxwell didn't sound fun so over the top we went. If we were to have made a mistake during the race this was it - I know the road is a lot faster but we took the trail anyway.

After 63 miles and 9500' of climbing we finished my 16th PMBAR in just under 11 hours. Another great day in the woods with a friend.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

2021 Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race Report

I should have taken it as an omen of what was to come when Evening Song by Phish was the first thing to pop into my head when I woke up the morning of the Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race. Approach the night with caution, it's the best that you can do the song begins and from there the warnings continue. We all know the changes that come when day gives way to night and that was of no concern to me for PMBAR. In 14 finishes I had never never needed lights. Once with Yuri we came close and finished right at dark and in recent years I'd only been bringing the 500 lumen required light - not a powerful bike light - and that trend continued for year 15. People talk about being 'off the couch' and while I had not been just laying around doing nothing leading up to the race, I also had very much not been riding. All of September found me getting out for just three bike rides for a total of 41 miles. Sure, I had still been running - including the Table Rock Ultras 50k - but mountain biking I had not. I also had never missed a PMBAR and wasn't going to let not being prepared for the race stop me from doing it. As such, my approach would have to change. Instead of going hard and trying to win I would be playing it safe and trying to finish. To achieve this goal I convinced long time WNDC friend David Cook to join me for the race. He would be the perfect partner for the long day ahead. We took our time at the start and examined the passport before heading out and things started innocently enough with a normal prelude lap around Thrift Cove. I'm not a fan of these preludes but sometimes it is part of the game so an added hour upfront was just part of it this year. With three mandatory checkpoints I realized it was going to be a long day and as we made our way across Clawhammer Rd to Squirrel Gap I was doing the math in my head and was coming up with 35 miles to the top of Trace Ridge. That would make the race a 70+ mile day when I had been hoping for a 60 mile easy year. There had been a lot of recent rain and with bridges out across South Mills River the Wolf Ford crossing was a very serious undertaking. I started across, found myself in a hole at risk of losing my bike, and had to turn around to try again.
Across Squirrel Gap we went and by the time we got to Cantrell Creek and our first checkpoint I was already tired. I was going to have fun and take pictures at all the checkpoints but after this first one I quickly forgot the pictures but did my best to still have fun.
From there it was an impossibly long distance to the next checkpoint at the top of Trace. We talked about taking the shortest route and pushing up the trail but decided to stick to the road instead, that decision would prove to have been right and helped us conserve energy. My math had been correct and it had been 35 miles to get there. I kept doing the math and realized we were likely looking at a finish well into the night. My wife was returning from a trip and her plane was landing in Asheville at 10pm - right when the race ends - and we had talked about it with me assuring her I would be able to pick her up and her assuring me that if she didn't hear from me she would just get an uber home and as we made our way to Laurel Mountain I was starting to wonder if she would be getting that uber after all. We stopped for water at the campground and I got a sense that this was going to be an attrition year as there were already looks of defeat on many faces of the racers we were seeing. A team was getting water and talking about what was to come, and if it was worth even trying, so I took the opportunity to ask if they had real lights. They did and I asked if we could borrow them. They laughed but I was only half joking. Up Laurel we went with me having to walk a few stretches of the climb up to Yellow Gap. I hadn't had to walk on gravel in a decade or more and couldn't help but laugh at - and curse - myself for thinking it was a good idea to do this race without training. David put on a very impressive display riding the technical sections on Laurel as I slowly drug my weary shitass up the mountain behind him. Jay was manning the checkpoint and we took a full 10 minutes to catch up with him and get ready for the next stretch. Our plan was out and back on Laurel, then out and back on Pilot Cove to Slate Rock and as we went down Laurel I was still doing the math and realized not only were we going to be finishing in the dark we were going to be lucky to finish at all! We stopped to read the passport and confirmed that there was a 10pm cutoff. Fuck, that didn't bode well. I then went through what was to come in my mind: it would be dark before we got to Slate Rock, then it would be a wet and slow slog up South Mills and Buckhorn. In short, we were screwed. My lack of training was very apparent and though I was digging as hard as I could all signs were pointing to a dissapointing DNF and that didn't sit very well with me. So I kept doing the math and going through the options. Wrestling our way up and down Pilot Cove and then the muddy mess on the climb up from the Gaging Station in the dark with little more than emergency lights sounded miserable. Approach the night with caution. And then it occured to me that we should stay on the gravel and the checkpoint on Bennett Gap instead. That would mean more miles but a lot more easier of miles. We talked about it, agreed, and set our sights for Bennett. I was having to walk nearly flat sections on Yellow Gap Rd and David was apparently still fresh but was very patient with me. We stopped to get our lights on and I laid in the road for a few minutes as several teams rode past us, most of whom were all bailing all the way down 276. I was surprised how well my light worked and told myself if I could stay on the bike for the entire little climb up the backside of 477 we might just finish this thing. The math was right there for a 10pm finish. As we got the last checkpoint I thought about sending a text to my wife but there was no time for that. She would have to figure it out. "Go back up the trail," Cook yelled at me as we got the cp, "It only took us seven minutes to get here," he said. I didn't even take time to think about it - I just pushed back up. It was a brilliant call on his part. I didn't need to be bouncing my way slowly down Bennett in the dark. It was already after nine but the finish was finally close, all we had to do was go down one road and then up another and then down the trail. It was right there and possible to do it before 10. Not likely, but possible. I had no choice but to walk part of Clawhammer but once we were on Maxwell Cove I let it all out. Anything I had to give, I gave. A single team passed us - singlespeeders riding strong who I assumed might be doing well. I also noted that we really had not been passed since Trace Ridge which either meant we were doing even worse than it appeared or that the game was afoot and the race was harder than even we thought. I dared a glance at my watch when we got to the top of the final descent down Black. It was 9:48. Twelve minutes. Could we make it? I'm not a fast descender, especially when I haven't been riding, and am had not ridden the recently rerouted trail. I fell twice. Those twelve minutes were quickly fading and there was no time or reason left to check my watch. Down, down, down. Cook stayed with me and when we hit the bottom of the trail he slowed a little and I just yelled "Go!". As we approached the finish the crowd was yelling to hurry. I'd already assumed it was over and we had dnf'ed. I tried looking at the clock as we rolled across the finish but all I could see was a red blur. Everyone cheered and told us we were the last team to finish with just five seconds left on the clock and out of the 70+ teams that had started only 15 finished. DFL and my 15th consecutive pmbar finish - I'll take it.

Monday, January 31, 2022

trying to catch a ray

My Zion and Phish trip came to an end when I woke up at 8:50 on Monday morning. The night before we had been transported to the year 4680 to Get More Down and after the show I was exhausted as will happen after five days of canyoneering and four days of Phish. back in my hotel room I managed to get my horns off and the all the facepaint cleaned off and my bags mostly packed but had forgotten to set an alarm. My flight home was at 9:54. I took a quick look around the room, grabbed my bags and ran to the lobby where I jumped in a cab for the airport. I still don't fully know how I did it but I managed to just barely squeeze onto the plane before the door shut and this SciFi soldier was finally heading home.

Keyhole Reprise

With a Phish show to catch in Vegas that night, I didn't have a lot of time to do a canyon on my last day in Zion but Adam and Andrew were itching to do something and both Jeff and I were game so we did Keyhole for my second time. Keyhole is logistically a very easy canyon to do - it is right by the road and doesn't have a long approach or exit and you can do the whole thing in under an hour. I had been a little apprehensive when we had done it on Sunday evening since it was my first Zion canyon but after three full days of big canyons Keyhole made for a fun romp and the perfect bookend to the canyoneering part of my trip. Just six hours after leaving the canyon I would be at the MGM Grand Arena waiting for the lights to go down for the first of four shows leading up to Halloween. Adam and Andrew were going to Phish as well but skipping the first night so they could get more time in Zion. Night one would not dissappoint as the setlist had a theme - descending numbers - and the band was on fire. During the encore of Backwards Down the Numberline I found myself trying to go back through my mind of all that I had seen and done in Zion and wondering what the next three days in Vegas might bring.

The Subway

For our last big day in Zion our group picked up three more people and we did the classic Subway from the top down route. This is the route we had intededed to do on Tuesday but the rain the night before and the cold temperatures had us put it off for a day as there are several long swimming and wading stretches. It was still quite cold and just like with Spry it was difficult to take pictures due to having to take gloves on and off. This canyon is much larger than the others and lacked narrow slots and big rappels but it more than made up for that with the spectacular scenery. This was also our longest day at 13 miles and over eight hours. The exit hike was way longer and harder than I imagined and by the time it was over I was done.

Saturday, January 29, 2022


Rain is not common in Zion in Autumn and rain is exactly what you don't want when canyoneering. We knew it was coming and as we hung out around the fire on Monday night we talked about our options forba canyon after the rain had passed the next morning. The Subway seemed like a bad idea and after much consideration we decided to try for a Spry permit the next morning.

The rain came right on time and kept up all night but as the sun rose over the Watchman the rain was gone but with it the temperatures dropped into the 40s and a nice brisk wind blew in.

We got our permit and headed out for Spry. A long approach took us by some petroglyphs and provided a chance for us to warm up but we all knew what was coming and I think we were all a little worried about how cold it was going to be. We delayed putting on our wetsuits for as long as possible but the normally dry Spry was quite wet and at the top of a hundred foot drop we could see a pool below and knew we would be swimming and the time had come.

Stripping down and putting on a wetsuit at the top of a waterfall with a strong wind in your face is quite the experience and from there we knew were going to have to move fast through the canyon. I can get really cold but my 4/3 wetsuit proved to be up for it and was never too bad.

Both Edmund and Jeff had done the canyon before but neither could quite remember it or agree what was coming up next. After a dozen or so rappels and some tricky downclimbs they both decided we were at the next to last rap but every time there was another one right around the corner. We must have done six 'next to last' raps before there was nothing around the next corner and were looking out from the last rap to Highway 9 and Pine Creek from where we had come.
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