When my alarm went off at 4:20am Saturday morning it wasn't raining. When I pulled up to the start of the Pisgah 111 mountain bike race a half hour later the rain was coming down in buckets. Memories, and nightmares, of pmbar just two weeks before flooded me and I sat in the truck in the dark for half an hour before I could convince myself to get out and get on the bike. I had spent the previous week sick for the first time in years and wasn't planning on rain. If I would have been there to race I probably wouldn't have bothered to get out of the truck at all but I wasn't there to race. I was there to pre-ride the course to ensure that it was marked correctly and had not been vandalized intentionally or unintentionally. Eric was depending on me so I got out of the truck in the pouring rain and made my way over to the start where I picked up flagging tape, arrows and x's, and then headed out hwy 276 by myself in the dark early morning rain.
The first few hours were simply insane. Climbing Clawhammer road was more like attempting to paddle up a muddy river than riding a mountain bike. My plan for the day was simple: maintain a slow pace all day and finish the ride. Due to my illness earlier in the week I was at only about half of my normal strength and no matter how tempting it was to bail I wanted to stick it out to prove to myself that no matter how I felt or how bad the conditions might be I could ride 65 miles in Pisgah. It really isn't that far of a distance and there is no reason why I shouldn't be able to do it. A thunderstorm greeted me at sunrise as I made the right turn onto black I turned my music up load, declared it a glorious day, and hightailed it across the top of Black and then across Turkey Pen Gap. It was now light out but the rain was unrelenting. Somewhere along the soggy way I looked at my watch and noticed that the race had started. I had been hoping the sunrise would burn off the rain but since that didn't happen I took a little solace in the knowledge that scores of p111 racers had now joined me in my glorious misery.
I don't remember much until I hit Yellow Gap and it stopped raining. Those first four hours had been very trying, to say the least, and I relished in the warmth of the sun and lack of rain as I passed through the North Mills River Rec Area and then on up to Spencer Gap. Although there was some sort of race going on somewhere behind me I wasn't in a race and focused on survival over speed. I knew I would be caught - that was unavoidable - so I didn't worry about it. I focused on checking the course markings and having fun in the woods. When I felt like walking, I walked. If I had to stop to put up some signs or flagging tape, I stopped and enjoyed the break.
At the first river crossing on North Mills River Trail Sam K. and David W. passed me as if in a dream. Before I could react they were gone. I stopped at the second crossing for lunch and to wait for more racers to come through. Eventually some did and I had reason to continue my march through the madness. Up Yellow Gap trail and then up Yellow Gap road trying to play carrot for Dicky who I knew couldn't be too far back there. I rode some, walked a lot and as predicted Dicky came by me right at the switchback.
When I finally made it up to Yellow Gap it was decision time: stick to the route and head up Laurel Mtn. or go ahead and bail on that part of the ride and hightail it for Black Mtn.? By this time all the front runners had caught me and a whole bunch of other racers were right on their heels. I was out of flagging tape and signs and couldn't see much of a point in going up Laurel to check the markings so I decided to skip Laurel > Pilot and headed out Yellow Gap Rd. instead. I was joined for some of the long spin by a racer who had decided to bail as well. We chatted for a bit and then I encouraged him to pull ahead. I found myself walking some of the short pitches on the road, because I could, and when a truck pulled up and offered me a ride I considered it for a few minutes before I told the driver "It is all downhill from here, so I think I can make it." I stopped at the rest stop at the gauging station that Mike R. with Suspension Experts was running. He re-hydrated me with beer and conversation and I sat in the mud for awhile before slogging on up South Mills River.
Many of the same racers who had passed me earlier in the day passed me again as I climbed up to Buckhorn Gap and then on up to Black Mtn. which would take me back to the finish. Somewhere in between Clawhammer and Black Mtns. it started raining again. By the time I got to the cave it was pouring and I needed to put on my rain jacket so I stopped under the rocky overhang. It was dry under there and I was tired so I did the unthinkable and just laid in the dirt and rested for awhile. I thought some racers might come by but they didn't and as the rain slowed I made my exit and headed on down the trail.
After ten hours on the bike Black was a blur. Some more racers passed me and my hands started to hurt. The rain must have stopped somewhere along the way as after I crossed the finish line I plopped down in the mud and sat there for a long time watching as racers finished. The P111 was the best race I didn't do in a long time! Thanks for the good time, Pisgah Productions!