Sunday morning at Smoker's Cove was like returning the scene of a crime. The carnage from the previous day's bike race was apparent as mountain bikers were passed out in all sorts of places. The runners, being runners, were scattered about doing their final preparations before heading off into the unknown. I did my best to get Mike P. and Watts D. to give the race a go and Watts seemed interested but used not having shorts or gear as an excuse. Yuri assured him had everything he needed in the back of his car but Watts wasn't biting. Maybe next year. With as big of a hit as pmbar is I was surprised at the light turnout but that is just everyone elses loss as this year's prar would prove to have the best course.
As Eric gave his speech and instructions I could hear mumbling about how last year there had a been a bus and we were shuttled. There was no bus in the parking lot. Something was up. Remember how I said I can't imagine a better trail in the area than Black Mtn.? Well, that is what was up. A quick glance at the passport one minute before the start revealed we would be starting and finishing with Black Mtn. to Pressley Gap. I left Yuri to ponder the rest of the passport and lined up alone at the start so that we would start exactly at 8am. The clock counted down and off Yuri and I went, passport in hand, while everyone else tried to make sense of the passport and routes.
You had to go to either a mandatory cp at the helicopter pad on Looking Glass Rock trail or Deep Gap on Turkey Pen Gap trail and then get a total of four checkpoints with the others being Club Gap, Avery Creek at Buckhorn Gap and Coontree Gap. A fifth cp would result in a two hour time bonus.
Local knowledge goes a long way and I have been wearing a hole in Black Mtn. as well as other trails in the area recently and the only question I had was if the Looking Glass Rock cp would be worth the time and effort. I calculated it to be close and as we discussed routes we decided we needed to leave Looking Glass Rock hanging for the end if we felt so ambitious. That would mean we would going all the way back up Black to a little out and back on Turkey Pen Gap before heading back across Black to Club Gap. Talk about Deja Vu.
One thing we had learned from previous years was that there was the potential for real pain and suffering as the race wore on so we had both brought poles to help ease the wear on our aging joints. A lot of time had been spent fine tuning our systems for carrying them and just a few minutes after starting up Black Mtn. we decided it was already time to take them out. My poles would stay out for the rest of the day as they proved invaluable on the steep sections of trail - both uphill and downhill.
With the whole race behind us it was only going to be a matter of time until we got caught. I was expecting teams to blow by us at any moment but we rolled over Hickory Knob and through Pressley Gap without seeing anyone and the first team - the Wrights - wouldn't catch us until just before Turkey Pen Gap trail. I took that to either be a good sign or a bad sign - I wasn't sure which. As we rolled up and through the gaps on Turkey Pen a female team (whom I would refer to as The Ladies) caught and passed us and that felt better. A quick turn at the Deep Gap CP and we were headed back up to Black. On the way back up we crossed paths with several other teams including Simon and Damien - the only other team doing both pmbar and prar - as well as my old neighbors Thad and Kellie. Smiles abounded all around.
Back over the top of Black and Clawhammer mountains for the second time in as many days and there was no place I would rather have been. The Ladies were just in front of us but they hit the gas on the drop down to Buckhorn Gap and were out of sight as we rolled up and down the trail to the Club Gap CP. With as close as they had been it seemed like we should have been able to see them at some point but we never did. That had me thinking they might have made a navigational blunder and that a game was a foot.
Straight down Avery Creek to the CP at Buckhorn Gap where several teams including The Ladies were congregated. I pulled a sandwich and bag of chips from my pack and we continued on Buckhorn Gap trail towards the road as I ate my lunch. The short stretch of Avery Creek Rd. would be the only road we would be on all weekend in the single track heavy weekend. The Wrights passed us about half way up Bennett Gap trail on our way to the Coontree Gap CP and I estimated they had a ten to fifteen minute lead on us. That seemed like an impossible gap to make up which was fine with us. The Ladies were still in front of us and I expected them to be coming down the trail as we were headed up but they didn't. Then when they weren't at the CP it could only mean they were going big and heading for Looking Glass Rock or had taken Perry Cove to get to Bennett Gap. Simon and Damien passed us on their way up Bennett as we were headed down which gave us 10-15 minutes on them - a lead I knew we could hold as long as nothing happens. The mind game in these races is truly fascinating.
Pressley Cove is one of my all time favorite trails and would be the crux of the race. As long as we could move steadily up it we would be finishing well. I took the lead for the first time of the weekend and ran all the pitches I felt were reasonable. The rest I fast hiked. We paused at the stream to get our last bit of water and pushed on ahead with no signs of teams either in front or behind us. As we started up Hickory Knob I felt the first warnings of cramps in my left hip flexor and that had me squirting mustard in my mouth and toning it down a little as that was not the time or place to be rolling around on the ground with cramps. Once we could finally say Downhill From Here and it actually be true for once the cramps subsided and we hit cruise control to the finish coming in just under a minute after the Wrights.
Having not gotten the extra checkpoint meant that we would have the two hour wait of shame before we knew how we did. As the teams trickled in nobody had gotten the fifth checkpoint and we all just hung out and chatted as we waited for our two hours to pass. The communal aspect of these races is one of the many reasons why I keep coming back and I had a great time hanging out, drinking beer and listening to everyone's stories from the race. Our second Second Place PRAR finish was unexpected but more than welcome!
Now is the time for what now?