Thursday, May 19, 2016

Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race 2016

This year marked my eleventh pmbar and that milestone had me recollect one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs and made me wonder: Now is the time for what now?

This year's race brought a few surprises and with Eric urging us to read the passport it was clear it would be a wooden nickle sort of year.  A quick glance at the passport revealed no physical wooden nickles but showed mandatory checkpoints at both ends of Bradley Creek with FR1206 off limits. That was interesting to say the least and we headed up Black Mtn. without a route in mind. The checkpoint locations meant there would be a lot of single track and also a lot of people on Bradley Creek. The logical route was to take Turkey Pen at the start but I was worried about being stuck in traffic all morning on both Turkey Pen and Bradley Creek which sounded miserable. We decided to skip Cove Creek even though it was probably ever so slightly worth the time bonus figuring that the extra miles could hinder our efforts on Sunday. So, we formulated a route that would save both of those trails for the end and would also be 100% Pisgah single track.  That meant we would be pushing up Turkey Pen at the end so I named our route the Fool's Gambit.

Fools or not, our route had us start with all of Black Mtn. trail which is the perfect way to start any mountain bike ride. I really can't imagine a better trail in the area (even if the current tread condition is unfortunate) and going over the top of Black and Clawhammer mountains is one of my favorite things to do. A quick turn at the Club Gap CP and then back to Buckhorn Gap and down to Wolf Ford before heading up Squirrel Gap. I was curious as to when the fast guys (and girls) would pass us going the opposite direction and was expecting them at any time but we made it up to the top of Horse Cove Gap without seeing them. A few teams were up there who had taken the road but we did a fast turn back to Squirrel Gap. We made it through the rocky section before the first couple of groups going the other direction started to appear. It surprised me that it had taken them that long to get there and I imagined what the scene on Bradley Creek was going to be like.

Just before Laurel Gap, at the worst possible spot, Charlie Roberts and his partner appeared coming the other way and I pulled to the side of the trail to yield for them but in true rookie style I stopped on the downhill side of the trail and when I went to put my foot down the ground gave way and I tumbled an impossible distance head first down the mountain. Luckily there was a downed tree that brought me to sudden stop when my face and shoulder hit it. I was left a little scraped and bruised but was other wise unharmed and really quite lucky.

On across Squirrel and down Laurel Creek where the masses started to appear. The traffic that we had hoped to avoid by going the wrong was still bogged down on Laurel Creek as well as Bradley Creek and the next few miles would be spent trying to get around all the people as we wrestled our way across the creek, through the dog hobble and over the downed trees. We crossed paths with several groups of friends as we kept trying to move forward through the masses. Bradley Creek is a beautiful trail and I was happy to be doing it as an out and back but other teams seemed less than thrilled with the experience.

The end of Bradley Creek brought our final checkpoint and left us with just Turkey Pen Gap trail to Black Mountain to the finish. Some friends were headed up at the same time as us and they said at the checkpoint they thought it would be an hour and a half to the finish but I knew they weren't thinking correctly as I have pushed my bike up the trail several times and have ran it many more. I knew there would be pushing but I knew it wouldn't be too bad. I also knew we had gone the wrong direction and were losing significant time with our Fool's Gambit but didn't care.  Just like the past two years, this year's pmbar was all about surviving to be able to run the next day. There would be no red lining it to the finish, just a steady push up Pisgah single track through a splendid forest. Somewhere along the way a checkpoint tent was set up which meant that it would be a checkpoint on Sunday. Game on.

Once at the top it was all downhill from there and the challenging sections had us taking it easy as a crash might not bode well for the next day.  A little bop up Hickory Knob and we were on the final downhill stretch. I rode the upper eroded section just fine but just before the seep with the log steps and rock slabs my front wheel washed out and I went down hard. I came up a little bruised but other wise intact and Matt F. took the opportunity to pass us. It was good to see Matt riding again after recovering from a broken femur  so being passed didn't bother me at all.

The finish was just minutes later with us coming in with what seemed to be a big wave of the front of the middle of the pack. Whatever, all I was after was to be done so I could drink a beer, eat a burrito and rest up for the next day. Not getting all the CPs meant we had the two hour wait of shame to find out how we did which provided an excellent opportunity to catch up with old friends,  make new friends and celebrate how lucky we are to be able to have such adventures in such an amazing place. And best of all was knowing that the next day I was going to get to do it all over again but this time without the bike!

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