I'd like to jump ahead to the journey from checkpoint 3 to checkpoint 4 where the world came unraveled and my race was finished but instead I'll have to start at the beginning. For those of you keeping score the Wild100 is a checkpoint style race like PMBAR with a few differences - the main one being that you must reach the cps in order. I signed up for the Plus (extra cp) class and was hoping for the best. This was my third time doing the race and once again it didn't disappoint.
The start was a study in reserved frustration. What I wanted to do was stuff the map in my pack and take off chasing the lead riders but what I did instead was take a minute to look at the map and then transfer the cp locations to a smaller map I had on my bars. By the time I got that done a dozen or so racers were already on their way up Props Run and I took off to chase them except as soon as I jumped on the bike my chain dropped. I guess I didn't get that problem fixed after all. I ran past several riders, stopped to get the chain on and started the eight mile climb up Props Run. I picked off a few racers right away and then settled in for the long climb up to Mine Rd. Climbing just 2000' over eight miles means Props isn't a steep climb by any means but it is still a continuous climb with no respite for those eight miles. Perfect for a single speed though I was perhaps a little spun out. By the time I hit the half way point I had settled in nicely and knew nobody behind me was going to be passing me. I found myself sort of just coasting along and though I was riding hard I wasn't passing anyone and reminded myself I should have been going as hard as I could. If I wasn't on the verge of puking or worried that my lungs were going to explode I was doing something wrong. So I dug in and went all out - Black Mtn. time trial style. After a mile of hard climbing a few riders appeared in the fog in front of me. I thought about holding their wheels and chatting for a bit but my wheels were already spinning so I went right by and made my way to the first checkpoint.
As I rolled through the cp I asked for clarification on the stretch of allowed pavement and by doing so saved myself from making a major mistake. They also told me that there were three riders in front of me - I was four minutes back on the leader and two minutes back on the others. So I dug in and finished the climb up Props as fast as possible. When I hit the gravel road at the top I could see a trio of riders climbing in front of me. I thought there was another few miles of climbing up the gravel but it went flat right away and the lead group pulled away from me once again. There is a lot of neutral ground in the race and a short while later three geared riders all blew by me in their big rings. Chasing would have been silly so I just let them go and prayed for more climbing.
I made the turn onto Gauley Mtn. Trail and it started sprinkling. Those first drops gave way to a hard steady rain and I dug in and decided to try and use it to my advantage. On the driest of days Gauley is a wet muddy mess that will test your will to ride a bike. In the middle of a rain storm it is a good approximation of hell. The conditions were bad and I had a hunch that there was going to be some fall out behind me, I was hoping that there might also be some fall out in front of me. It was the sort of rain that looks like it will last all day so I tuned it out and decided to just ignore it. I have no clue how long it actually rained, if I had to guess I'd say 30 minutes but from what others have said it must have rained hard for hours. Hmn, who would have guessed?
So, anyway, I made it through Gauley fast and then out to the road and on down to cp 2. There were several out and backs along the way which allow yo to see who is in front of you and who is behind you. The leaders were 15 minutes up on me and I was 30 minutes up on the closest rider behind me. Not too bad of a spot to be in, the leaders could see I was chasing and I could see nobody was chasing me too hard. I pushed on up to the top of Tea Creek Mtn. where I encountered the guy who wins every year fumbling with a flat. He was lamenting that it was his third flat of the race and had a bad rip in his sidewall. I thought about offering assistance but figured it was a race so instead told him "good luck with that." After making it through the very technical quarter mile rock garden at the top he caught up to me and said he was considering dropping out down at the cp. I told him I thought that was a great idea. (after the race he would tell me my comment was the turning point for him and gave him the motivation to pull off the biggest comeback ever)
Checkpoint 4 was in a bad spot. I wanted to run up Tea Creek to it. It would be a hard four miles, not rideable at all, but much much shorter than the other option of taking the road all the way around. I figured if I could run up it I might beat the lead guys there and we might actually have a race going on. But I've been good at making big mistakes before so I tried to convince myself to play it smart and stay on the bike and take the logical, safe route. This took all the discipline I don't have but I rolled through cp 3 and up the road to cp 4. This route started with a four or so mile climb gaining about 1500' - similar to climbing up to Buckhorn from South Mills River. I climbed this as fast as I possibly could. At any second I was on the verge of heart attack or collapse but it still took me forty minutes to make it up to the gravel road.
When I hit the gravel my heart sunk. There was only one set of tracks when there should have been five. That meant I'd messed up and everyone else (well except one other person) had gone up the creek. I thought about turning around right then but decided to stick it out and kept going up the road. I knew it was six miles on 135 to the right turn onto Mine Rd. but had forgotten that it was a neutral six miles. A single speed nightmare. This took another 45 minutes to ride and took me to my lowest depths. I knew I'd been beat and there was nothing I could do about it. After awhile I decided I was the only one dumb enough to take the road and thought that once I got to Gauley Mtn. Trail I would start seeing the entire field coming back from cp4 while I was still on my way to it. A little while later I swore off racing forever.
Nothing lasts and just as the road ended I passed the lead rider coming back from cp4 as I made the turn onto Gauley. A while later I passed the other four riders in front of me and realized although I made a mistake and lost time I hadn't lost any places which had me feeling better. Gauley was a mess. My first trip up in the day, in the rain, had been before the masses churned their way through it. It slow going with mud puddles so deep and misleading I would not have had my bike if it wasn't required at the cps. Bear Pen trail was basically a small stream but the cp came easy enough without me losing any places or even seeing a hint of another rider. On my way out of the out and back I didn't find another rider until I finally wrestled myself free of Gauley Mtn. and encountered a large pack of riders all coming in from the road. The same way I came which had me feeling alright as I wasn't the only idiot.
CP5 was a gravel out and back and not much to report. I knew I wasn't catching anyone and nobody was catching me. When I pulled in Gil, the race director, asked me what I needed and I said a beer. His cooler wasn't there yet so I dug around in the sag bag and found my pbr and took my first break of the day.
Gil then asked how I was doing and I replied horrible as I was losing. He tried to cheer me up by saying I was #6 overall and that the leaders had taken some "big shortcut". I was just joking around though and set my ipod to some good ole Grateful Dead and made my way to cp6.
Number six had been kept secret up until this point and I was fully ready to head straight back into the heart of the madness - the Tea Creek Canyon. Unlike Gauley > Bear Pen this was surprisingly rideable in a hike a bike sort of way and I was having a grand time singing by myself no longer worried about 'racing'. I still hoped to finish in under 10 hours so I didn't linger too long at the cp but did allow myself a second three minute break and used it to chat up the volunteer for a few minutes. After that it was back out to the road and then the long gravel descent back to the start. Those were the only easy miles of the day.
I finished 5th and came in just as they were taping the keg. I'd ridden hard all day and my hunch that there was some fall out behind was proving to be true. The course was tougher than years past and combined with the rain had the field way spread out. I took a shower, got drunk, had dinner got drunk again and still nobody was finishing. Then finally Matt and Jeff Fusco came in to win the duo class and I had company for my party.
Awhile later Jonathon came in for a win in the first timers. Other riders trickled in and the sun set and it was clear many people were stuck on Props in the dark. Oh, what fun! Gil tried to do awards but had to delay several classes as nobody had from them had finished yet.
Jonathon had some moonshine and with the moon shining down on us the good times rolled on into late night. It was an epic day for everyone who finished I relished in ringing my cowbell as the last racers came down off Props, eyes wide and smiles bright!
The only problem with finishing well before everyone else is it gives you more time to party than everyone else so lets just say that my buzz was going strong. Somewhere along the way I'd told everyone I was going running Sunday morning so when I woke up at 7am I stumbled into my shorts and shoes and headed up Props Run. Tired, sore and perhaps still drunk I probably hobbled more than I ran but I tried nonetheless and enjoyed a nice slow and reflective 5k as the sun rose over West Virginia. Almost heaven indeed.
Sunday was just another day in the 'Mon. Jonathon and I hiked to the top of Spruce Knob on the way out of town. Gil told us it was only 1/3 mile but it was really 1.2 miles each way but was a nice end to a good weekend.