Tuesday, February 1, 2022

2021 Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race Report

I should have taken it as an omen of what was to come when Evening Song by Phish was the first thing to pop into my head when I woke up the morning of the Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race. Approach the night with caution, it's the best that you can do the song begins and from there the warnings continue. We all know the changes that come when day gives way to night and that was of no concern to me for PMBAR. In 14 finishes I had never never needed lights. Once with Yuri we came close and finished right at dark and in recent years I'd only been bringing the 500 lumen required light - not a powerful bike light - and that trend continued for year 15. People talk about being 'off the couch' and while I had not been just laying around doing nothing leading up to the race, I also had very much not been riding. All of September found me getting out for just three bike rides for a total of 41 miles. Sure, I had still been running - including the Table Rock Ultras 50k - but mountain biking I had not. I also had never missed a PMBAR and wasn't going to let not being prepared for the race stop me from doing it. As such, my approach would have to change. Instead of going hard and trying to win I would be playing it safe and trying to finish. To achieve this goal I convinced long time WNDC friend David Cook to join me for the race. He would be the perfect partner for the long day ahead. We took our time at the start and examined the passport before heading out and things started innocently enough with a normal prelude lap around Thrift Cove. I'm not a fan of these preludes but sometimes it is part of the game so an added hour upfront was just part of it this year. With three mandatory checkpoints I realized it was going to be a long day and as we made our way across Clawhammer Rd to Squirrel Gap I was doing the math in my head and was coming up with 35 miles to the top of Trace Ridge. That would make the race a 70+ mile day when I had been hoping for a 60 mile easy year. There had been a lot of recent rain and with bridges out across South Mills River the Wolf Ford crossing was a very serious undertaking. I started across, found myself in a hole at risk of losing my bike, and had to turn around to try again.
Across Squirrel Gap we went and by the time we got to Cantrell Creek and our first checkpoint I was already tired. I was going to have fun and take pictures at all the checkpoints but after this first one I quickly forgot the pictures but did my best to still have fun.
From there it was an impossibly long distance to the next checkpoint at the top of Trace. We talked about taking the shortest route and pushing up the trail but decided to stick to the road instead, that decision would prove to have been right and helped us conserve energy. My math had been correct and it had been 35 miles to get there. I kept doing the math and realized we were likely looking at a finish well into the night. My wife was returning from a trip and her plane was landing in Asheville at 10pm - right when the race ends - and we had talked about it with me assuring her I would be able to pick her up and her assuring me that if she didn't hear from me she would just get an uber home and as we made our way to Laurel Mountain I was starting to wonder if she would be getting that uber after all. We stopped for water at the campground and I got a sense that this was going to be an attrition year as there were already looks of defeat on many faces of the racers we were seeing. A team was getting water and talking about what was to come, and if it was worth even trying, so I took the opportunity to ask if they had real lights. They did and I asked if we could borrow them. They laughed but I was only half joking. Up Laurel we went with me having to walk a few stretches of the climb up to Yellow Gap. I hadn't had to walk on gravel in a decade or more and couldn't help but laugh at - and curse - myself for thinking it was a good idea to do this race without training. David put on a very impressive display riding the technical sections on Laurel as I slowly drug my weary shitass up the mountain behind him. Jay was manning the checkpoint and we took a full 10 minutes to catch up with him and get ready for the next stretch. Our plan was out and back on Laurel, then out and back on Pilot Cove to Slate Rock and as we went down Laurel I was still doing the math and realized not only were we going to be finishing in the dark we were going to be lucky to finish at all! We stopped to read the passport and confirmed that there was a 10pm cutoff. Fuck, that didn't bode well. I then went through what was to come in my mind: it would be dark before we got to Slate Rock, then it would be a wet and slow slog up South Mills and Buckhorn. In short, we were screwed. My lack of training was very apparent and though I was digging as hard as I could all signs were pointing to a dissapointing DNF and that didn't sit very well with me. So I kept doing the math and going through the options. Wrestling our way up and down Pilot Cove and then the muddy mess on the climb up from the Gaging Station in the dark with little more than emergency lights sounded miserable. Approach the night with caution. And then it occured to me that we should stay on the gravel and the checkpoint on Bennett Gap instead. That would mean more miles but a lot more easier of miles. We talked about it, agreed, and set our sights for Bennett. I was having to walk nearly flat sections on Yellow Gap Rd and David was apparently still fresh but was very patient with me. We stopped to get our lights on and I laid in the road for a few minutes as several teams rode past us, most of whom were all bailing all the way down 276. I was surprised how well my light worked and told myself if I could stay on the bike for the entire little climb up the backside of 477 we might just finish this thing. The math was right there for a 10pm finish. As we got the last checkpoint I thought about sending a text to my wife but there was no time for that. She would have to figure it out. "Go back up the trail," Cook yelled at me as we got the cp, "It only took us seven minutes to get here," he said. I didn't even take time to think about it - I just pushed back up. It was a brilliant call on his part. I didn't need to be bouncing my way slowly down Bennett in the dark. It was already after nine but the finish was finally close, all we had to do was go down one road and then up another and then down the trail. It was right there and possible to do it before 10. Not likely, but possible. I had no choice but to walk part of Clawhammer but once we were on Maxwell Cove I let it all out. Anything I had to give, I gave. A single team passed us - singlespeeders riding strong who I assumed might be doing well. I also noted that we really had not been passed since Trace Ridge which either meant we were doing even worse than it appeared or that the game was afoot and the race was harder than even we thought. I dared a glance at my watch when we got to the top of the final descent down Black. It was 9:48. Twelve minutes. Could we make it? I'm not a fast descender, especially when I haven't been riding, and am had not ridden the recently rerouted trail. I fell twice. Those twelve minutes were quickly fading and there was no time or reason left to check my watch. Down, down, down. Cook stayed with me and when we hit the bottom of the trail he slowed a little and I just yelled "Go!". As we approached the finish the crowd was yelling to hurry. I'd already assumed it was over and we had dnf'ed. I tried looking at the clock as we rolled across the finish but all I could see was a red blur. Everyone cheered and told us we were the last team to finish with just five seconds left on the clock and out of the 70+ teams that had started only 15 finished. DFL and my 15th consecutive pmbar finish - I'll take it.

No comments:

Post a Comment