Tuesday, May 10, 2011

reading comprehension 101 - pmbar 2011 race report

It was just over two hours into the race and we were 11 crossings deep up Bradley Creek when it dawned on me: I only knew the location of four of the five checkpoints. In my haste at the start to read the whole passport I had somehow not only missed the wooden nickle but also an entire checkpoint!

"Toby, where is the fifth checkpoint?" I asked.

He didn't know. He trusted me and was just along for the ride. Toby has been riding Pisgah for something crazy like 17 years but these days he only rides here twice a year at most while I ride more times than that every week. He handed me the passport and I checked to see what I missed. I had thought they were at South Mills River and Bradley, North Mills River and Trace Ridge, Top of Laurel, Daniel Ridge and Farlow Gap and as such we were going clockwise and had smoked our way across Turkey Pen Gap trail to get to where we were now.

The passport told me exactly what I didn't want to know: South Mills River at Squirrel Gap was the missing check point. Wolf fucking Ford! The exact opposite end of Turkey Pen. So that is why everyone else was going over the top of Black. The right route would have been Black > Buckhorn > South Mills (cp1) > Squirrel > Horse Cove Gap > Cantrell Creek > South Mills > Bradley Creek (cp2). We, or I should say I, had made a huge mistake. There was no going back there now. We would have to keep heading for North Mills River and then Laurel > Pilot after which we could decide what the best way to get to Wolf Ford was. There was a little relief in knowing that two very fast teams, Same Koerber and his partner, and Marshall Hance and his partner, were going the same way as us. By my educated estimate we had lost at least 45 minutes, if not twice that, and would have and additional 2500' of climbing than the teams that took the direct route.

Nothing could be done about it then so on we went as fast as we could. There was no more time for screwing around and this would be a No Stop Signs sort of day. We took 5000 to Trace Ridge to get our second checkpoint and then climbing back up Yellow Gap trail, Rich Dillen and his partner passed us near the top of Yellow Gap trail and I had to wonder if they were already a cp up on us then. Dicky is very fast and I thought it was possible which would mean we were really screwed. But then once we were out on 1206 Brad Kee was leading a paceline of three teams down the gravel and I had a hunch Dicky was just as screwed as us and these were the leaders. We were an hour in front of them but they were an entire checkpoint up on us.

I'm beginning to really loathe Laurel Mountain in races. It is way too long and meandering and takes way too long in either direction so I thought it was perfect that pisgahpro was making everyone do the entire loop instead of being able just to run up and down Pilot Rock. All those teams who were a cp up on us were also just right on our trail so unless we wanted to loose even more time we would have to hold them off by going up Laurel as fast as we could. Laurel sucked and on the way up cramps were threatening so I had to slow a little but was able to rehydrate and refuel and by the time we reached the cp I had corrected the problem. Toby cleaned all of Pilot Rock except the downed trees while I slowly walked my way down.

Once we got to the stream at the bottom we needed water and needed to make an important decision about our route and our day. How were we going to get to Wolf Ford and Daniel Ridge? There was no easy way. Our blunder was very serious. No matter how we went we would be going a very long way out of our way. No matter how hard we had been riding it didn't matter - we would not be doing well at this race. So the real question was how bad did we want to get all five checkpoints? The answer, of course, was very bad. Getting all five and having fun were my goals but this looked like it was going to be really painful so we decided we would head straight for Wolf Ford and decide from there if we would get Daniel Ridge. Charlie Roberts and Chris Brown came up behind us for water and I knew they were the leaders of the race at that point. There was no need to rush any longer, we had been caught. I looked at the map and passport one last time and then I saw it:

Highway 276 was open between FR477 and FR475!

That is why Sam Koerber was going the same way as us. We hadn't necessarily made a mistake at all! We could go get Wolf Ford and then climb up to Buckhorn Gap, drop Clawhammer and hammer our way out and back up 276 to the Daniel Ridge checkpoint. I ran the calculator in my mind and deduced that our route was no longer than the 'correct' route and had no more climbing. That changed everything and my mood switched dramatically for the first time of the day. We weren't losing and were top ten for sure as long as we kept it up. I told Toby my realization and assured him we would get all five and finish well. Understandably he was not necessarily convinced but hammered on as always.

We hauled ass to Wolf Ford and then up to Clawhammer. Toby was paused and looking longingly at the turn onto Maxwell Cove Rd. but I rolled right on past to the highway. We acted like roadies drafting and stuff but it still seemed like a long way up to Daniel Ridge. Toby started to get a little tired on the way up Daniel for the first time of the day - keep in mind his longest ride of the year before this was 20 miles and at this point we were 70 miles and almost ten hours deep in Pisgah - but we hammered on to our final cp. Chris Strout and Greg Liester as well as Kee and Fusco passed us on the trail and our suspicions that we were actually still in it were confirmed. We weren't winning but we weren't losing either.

At the final checkpoint I could confidently say it was all downhill from there and we turned around for the final stretch home. Stienforth and Clark caught up to us at the bottom of the trail on singlespeeds and I remarked to Toby I wasn't sure we should be trying to race them. We were both tired and he agreed. But once we got out onto 276 they ducked into our draft and we used our gears to drop them off the back. We stopped at White Pines for water and they pulled up behind us for water as well. Once up on Clawhammer we walked a little to save our legs for Maxwell Cove. Clark caught us but not Bruce. I had a hunch they were tired as well but know Bruce is insanely fast downhill so holding them back all the way down Black and Thrift would be a real feat. I ride Black all the time and ride it somewhat fast and Toby took the lead and it was all I could do to hold his wheel. When we hit the bottom we were still in front of them and knew we had it.

We were the 7th team to finish with five checkpoints with a time of just over 11 hours over 85 miles. Mike Brown asked if we still had our nickle which of course we did which meant we got a two hour penalty and 7th place slowly dwindled to 20th. Not much to do about that but laugh. All that work and a nickle made all the difference!

This pmbar was another epic day in Pisgah. Many thanks to pisgahproductions and everyone who particiapted. I can't wait to do it again!


  1. Great race report Clay! Good to see you out there, and it was a fun day in the woods for sure no matter what.
    By the way Sam K and his partner went a different route than you, we saw them on 1206 on their way back from Daniel Ridge. It was cool how hard it was to pick the "fastest" route this year.

  2. Great report. Toby is a true gentleman amongst savages. However, he still has my wallet.