Monday, May 15, 2017

PMBAR 2017

This year was my twelfth consecutive PMBAR. That is a long time and over the years I have done the race in any number of styles. I've been on a full suspension little wheeled bike just trying to survive, I've done it singlespeed more times than I can remember, fully rigid a few times, I've raced to win, gotten all the checkpoints regardless of the result, I've made more than a few ugly mistakes and have even gotten lucky a time or two and for the last four years have been more concerned with the running race the next day. Going into the race this year I was more prepared for both the bike and the run than I have been in years but knew riding around 70 miles one day and then running around 30 miles the next day would be no easy feat.

After a quick look at the passport at the start Yuri and I knew we would be getting all five checkpoints for the first time since PRAR started four years ago and our only question was which direction we wanted to go. With cold temperatures and the very real threat of rain Yuri voted that we start with Bennet Gap trail and save the frigid Bradley Creek trail and the final checkpoint on South Mills River for the end of the day when the rain would arrive and we would be cold and wet anyway. For whatever reason I seriously misjudged the best way to get out of Turkey Pen and agreed with him.

 Our two day pace had us walking long sections of Black Mtn. before we hit Pressley Gap and coasted down the road towards our first checkpoint at Saddle Gap. A short way up Bennet Gap a singlespeed team caught up to us and asked if I knew what we were doing. I reassured them that I did. It was some sort of bike race I said, but beyond that I didn't know much. Then Yuri snagged some thorns that snapped back and slapped me in the face before tangling around my wheels. On up Bennet under gorgeous blue skies with ominous high wind gusts that suggested the weather was changing.

Saddle Gap was an easy enough checkpoint but I knew things were bound to get harder. On out too the highway and then the start of a long and casual trip across Yellow Gap Rd. The Slate Rock CP was just a quick blip until I started to have air pressure problems. My front tire went low on the way up and we did the fools move of just adding air which worked until it went low again on the way down which then caused me to pinch flat. Yuri was just ever so slightly in front of me so I just ran down the trail with my bike until we regrouped and did what we should have done the first time and switched out the tube. A careful examination of the tire revealed a thorn - a likely souvenir  from Bennet Gap.

Back out to Yellow Gap Rd. and on to North Mills River. On the way up to Bear Branch another racer noted that the skies were about to open up and it was going to pour. He appeared to be right but I assured him rain was a good thing. Bear Branch out and back with just a few drops of rain and then on to the Spencer Gap checkpoint. Up at the gap it was very windy and the rain finally came and we began a long cycle of trying to regulate our body temperatures by taking our rain jackets on and off in a time sucking manner.

On the climb back out of North Mills River the rain stopped only to start again in earnest as we reached the crux of the race - Bradley Creek Trail. I cannot imagine a trail that is anymore beautiful than Bradley Creek but on this day that beauty was to be countered by equally unimaginable pain and suffering. The creek crossings were very high and not easy to navigate with a bike. It was raining hard and we were heading into the bowels of the forest. At the old Hendersonville Reservoir the flood gauge was completely submerged and so were we it seemed.

It was somewhere along there that we began to discuss our end game and I realized we had taken the Fool's Gambit for the second year in a row and would be pushing Turkey Pen Gap to get out of our predicament. I had actually trained a little bit this year and was prepared to put it all on the line out on Maxwell Cove Rd. but there would be none of that. Instead we would crawl our way across the two mountains and seven gaps on Turkey Pen before finally plunging down Black Mtn. back to the finish.

It was five o' clock before we hit our final checkpoint where Dennis was waiting in the rain for us stragglers. We told him our plan and he agreed it was our best option and should be able to finish before dark. Yuri surprised me by doing a full wardrobe change before we finally started on the final leg of the journey. The rain stopped and Turkey Pen Gap wasn't bad. I run it frequently and know it well but it still stung to know we were going the wrong direction. At Deep Gap Horse Knob hangs just in front of you and you would think it was Black Mtn. but it isn't and there is still another gap to cross and another ridge to push but we still made it to the top in just under two hours.

Downhill from there straight back to the finish. Hickory Knob hardly even registered and we passed a rather haggard looking team before the final downhill run. Black was just a blur with me only wanting to be done. We made it back to the finish in less than three hours after leaving Dennis only to be faced with impending darkness and a over pumped keg of beer. There would be no hanging out to watch everyone finish this year as in just twelve hours we would be heading straight back up Black towards Turkey Pen and South Mills River.

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