Thursday, May 9, 2013

I've got a bike

PMBAR. You never know what you are going to get or how it is going to go regardless of how many times you have done it or how well you think you've got it figured out. After last year's finish that saw us just seconds off the podium this year Yuri and I went into the race this year with high hopes. As regular readers of this blog know my training recently has mainly consisted of canyoneering, which doesn't necessarily translate well to mountain biking, but I still have fitness and perseverance and figured that would be good enough for a single day in the woods with a bicycle.

At the start there were no wooden nickles but instead Eric told us there would be seven checkpoints this year, three mandatory and you had to get at least five. At that announcement I confirmed with Yuri that would be getting all seven no matter what and he agreed. Charlie R., who was standing next to us, asked the important question as to what the bonus was for additional checkpoints. The answer - one hour - meant that this year you didn't have to get them all to win. In fact if you went for all seven it would likely mean you would be placing lower than teams who only went for five or six. I confirmed again with Yuri that our goal was all the checkpoints and not trying to see how well we could place. That wasn't what it was about for us this year.

We were so confident in our decision when Eric said we could open the passports we read the rules (no wooden nickle) and looked at the checkpoints but did not bother to notice which were mandatory and which were not. We quickly processed the checkpoints into a route that would mean the least mileage and least amount of elevation gain possible. It would mean a whole lot of single track and gravel only at the end but we were sure it was the right route. We started up Black Mountain trail before any other teams that had taken the time to look at the passports at the start but behind the teams who had just taken off blind and were waiting to look at the passports further on up the trail.

We took the first part of the climb up Black a little too fast. I was watching the splits and had to keep reminding Yuri to tone it down a little to a pace we could hold all day. On the hike up from Pressley Gap we fell in with Brad K. and Matt F. and chatted until the trail leveled out enough to ride our bikes again. I opted not to try to ride any of the technical stuff on the saddle between Black and Clawhammer mountains and instead put my running experience to use. Several other fast teams had caught up to us and Mark S. at one point remarked "this is rideable", he got on his bike and then immediately crashed.

The first checkpoint at the top of Clawhammer was pretty much a freebie. From there it was down the flat grade to Wolf Ford before heading up Squirrel Gap to cp. Mark S. and Kelly K. were on South Mills River spinning furiously and while I was happy to sit on their wheels and take a free ride Yuri felt we should be using our gears so around them we went. In hindsight that was a mistake - drafting them and recovering from the climb up Black would have been the smarter thing to do as once we started up Squirrel I started to feel the first hints of cramps.

Checkpoint number two was uneventful as well. We just rolled right through and then on down Squirrel to the river and cp3 which we went right through as well. At the first river crossing on Bradley Creek there was a line of racers carefully trying to pick their way across. I took one quick look at them, jumped off the bike into the waist deep water and ran across the river. As the freezing cold water caused my quads to cramp another racer trying to find his way across remarked "You guys are awesome," but he didn't know about the cramps my heroics caused.

Bradley Creek is always a pleasure to be on. Lots of people hate it because of all the crossings but you will be hard pressed to find a more beautiful stretch of trail. That slice of heaven brought us up to Yellow Gap Rd. for a short stretch of gravel before we hit the crux of the day - Laurel Mtn. Laurel has become my nemesis in recent races and this  year was no exception.  It was getting cold out as the wind picked up and it started to rain. I had to stop to put on my rain jacket which I didn't want to do (I was hoping to not stop at all during the race) and got passed by several fast teams on their way up. Sometime later my bike stopped cooperating and wouldn't shift properly and became almost impossible to ride. The smart thing to do would have been to stop and try to fix it but that would require stopping so instead I just got off and walked. As if the bike problems were not enough my body also stopped cooperating and I proceeded to bonk as I walked my way the mountain. Eventually I told Yuri of my plight and we swapped bikes. I pushed his as he fixed my shifting problems. With everything  a little better we rolled through cp4 and on up through the rain and mud.

Pilot Rock gave me a chance to recover a little and by the time we hit the connecter over to Slate Rock Creek I was feeling all right. Along the way we started discussing our route choices and pondered which checkpoints were mandatory. We hadn't bothered to check and assumed 225 had to be mandatory - why else would anyone go all the way out there? As we paused at the checkpoint to get our passport signed we were surprised to see that 225 was not mandatory. Interesting to say the least.

Out on Yellow Gap Rd. we were caught by Brad K. and Matt F. and after a long stretch of nobody saying anything the silence was broken. Brad asked me if we had one or two checkpoints left. He didn't ask how many we were going for - he knows me and knew we would be going for all of them no matter what. I told him two and he said all they had left was 225. With them ahead of us in cp count we offered to try and help them make time by having them draft us. As we all headed for 276 together my mind started to wander and have crazy thoughts. Could we hit the checkpoint on Avery Creek and make it back to the finish an hour before Brad and Matt could get to 225 and then back to finish? The answer was yes. That would mean we would beat them. And if we beat them we would beat a whole lot of other teams as well. Getting six would mean a top ten finish. But the question was did we want to see how high we could place or did we want all the checkpoints?

Yuri remarked that the rain was coming and I dreamed of beer and burritos but we both knew what we had to do. We made the turn onto 276 and then coasted right by the left onto 477 and committed to all the checkpoints by making the right onto 475B. The rain started coming down and the race started to get real once again. It was a long way out to the checkpoint and once we got there we were both freezing. Some very helpful checkpoint volunteers helped me change into warmer clothes and we left freezing in the pouring down rain. Hypothermia was a legitimate concern as we both had opted to pack as light as possible. Out on 276 I watched as Yuri was shivering uncontrollably and couldn't help but think we had made a big mistake by going out to 225. Not only did 7 checkpoints ensure that we would not be finishing in the top ten - it also now appeared that even just finishing the race could even be a challenge.

I knew where the checkpoint on Avery Creek was but in my hypothermic state was not thinking clearly. Jonathon L. and Joe P. where on their way down and I asked how far it was. Jonathon said "not too far" which was reassuring but then when I asked a second rider he said "quite a ways". Great. I vowed not to ask anymore questions and just get the race done instead. The checkpoint was right where I knew it would be - not too far after all - and came as quite a relief. All we had to do from there was get back down to the road and then back up to Black and on down to the finish. An end to the suffering was in sight.

Clawhammer and Maxwell Cove roads were nice because they were climbs and let us warm up. It was approaching dark and I was not looking forward to having to stop to fumble with lights for the final downhill so when we hit the top of Hickory Knob right at 8pm and dusk we rolled right over the top without bothering with lights. Black was a muddy mess and what we normally rip right down was now treacherous and we chose frequent dismounts and walked long sections instead of risking a crash at that point in the day. By the time we hit the final section after Thrift Cove it was dark and I was riding off of memory and faith. We crossed the finish line in the pouring rain after twelve and half hours - my longest pmbar to date - with all seven checkpoints. Good enough for 30th place!


  1. Nice work Clay. I couldn't imagine riding in that all day. It was bad enough manning a CP.