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Friday, May 10, 2013


Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race

I have ridden all over this area of Pisgah National Forest, just North of Brevard, but not competed in this race until now.  I got the call from Garth Prosser, Garth is a laid-back dude of the same vintage as myself and we get along well. I can pour on the smack talk thick, and he can dish it right back, and we have fun with it.  I had planned to do a 6-hour solo race at home on a course I didn't care to ride multiple laps on, so the beckoning of the Pisgah single track gave Garth the 2nd half of his team.  

PMBAR is a race where teams of two, 100 teams of two, must reach 5, 6 or 7 check points to complete the race.  Checkpoints 6 and 7 are optional, but offer a 1 hour time reduction for each.  They each will add just under an hour to your total time, so the time gain bonus is marginal, but the fatigue level might neutralize the gains.

As my first year, the rules were still fuzzy, but our plan was to hit all the checkpoints.  Previous year's winners had hit all the check points.  The rules are, and I'm more clear on it now, that you need 5 checkpoints, and who has the fastest time wins.  The 6th and 7th checkpoint reduce your ride time by an hour each.

The checkpoints are a secret until the start of the race, although the promoter set up tents a day or two before for the officials to have, or for seriously over-extended racers to take a nap. Some racers might have gotten drift of the locations.  There seems to always be a checkpoint  on Laurel Mountain, somewhere near Turkey Pen trailhead, and on Black Mountain.  This knowledge is of no help as racers want to make the most efficient route to hit all of their targeted checkpoints, not just the known ones.

At the start we have just minutes to open the race passport and lay out a route.  Every team takes their own route.  Some wait until the first intersection to open their map, opting to get ahead of traffic, but in years past you had to perform a task before leaving, so everyone was franticly scanning for the strange.

Well, there is the basics, now the race:

Ready, Set, Go!

We open the map and decide to study a route before leaving, that cost us a lot of time, but we hope it pays off as taking the wrong route can cost big time.  We decide our route, or I decided.  Garth has always been with a team partner that knows the woods, so he had no opinion, and he said his navigation skills were limited to being able to follow the other guy. 

In general, the quickest way to the top of a mountain is straight up, even if you have to hike, not bike.  We decided to get to the top of Laurel Mountain via way of Pilot Rock - one of the most rugged descents in the forest, so not the best ride-up trail.  It was quicker though.

Bradley Creek trail was also a factor.  It has 15 deep stream crossings at least; ankle biting rocks, and strength sapping cold water.  Going down that trail made more sense than going up as cold muscles don't like to work.  Skipping it altogether seemed the best choice.

I know the trails, but not well enough to know which route is quicker than the other in my head.  I came pretty close.  Our route sent us clockwise, opposite from the majority of the racers.

Oh, before I forget, we had to be self-sufficient.  No feed zones, no sag drops, no water.  I had a Steri-pen, the one I reviewed in another post, which enabled me to grab water out of any stream with just a 45 second treatment per bottle.  I carried several doses of drink mix and about a dozen food items. [insert picture of un-used food stuffs here]  We didn't drink much water because it was pretty cold and our pace was slow enough for a predicted 7 hour ride.  As it turns out every checkpoint had energy bars to share.  Garth drank directly from the stream.

Our time spent mapping put us at the back going up a long single track climb, and passing a lot of teams walking.  That always make you feel fast!  Once at the first intersection we parted ways with the majority of the racers who were going in the opposite direction as us.

Gart had competed in the Cohutta 100 just 7 days before, a 100 mile off-road race in the rain that you don't recover from in a week, so we knew the other teams would have a fitness advantage over us.  Only a better course choice would gain us the advantage back.  I was also not fully recovered from a big block of training, so we each were less than ready.  Hopefully our route would work, but we had nothing to lose.

To the first checkpoint at Avery Creek (about mile 10), we could go down and up, or up and down to hit it, there was no clear choice. I think up and down would have been 5 minutes quicker than our down and up route, but I could not remember where those nasty sections were in relation to the CP.

The quickest way to CP 2 (~mile 18) was up and over Club Gap, then down hwy 276 and out the forest service road.  This is about a 40 minute round trip out and back. The Garmin said 30 when I studied it after, but I am not sure it is right.  On the gravel road we probably talked too much rather than raced, but Garth was at his limit.  As it turns out the winning team would push each other in such a situation as to maintain their speed.  I wasn't up for that.

On our way back from CP 2 we started second-guessing our route. Something I do not like to do, I tend to trust map-in-hand Andy above riding-and-thinking Andy. By now we had figured out the rules of getting just 5 CP's and skipping the bonus ones.  There were 3 mandatory CP's, but which ones were they again?  Was Turkey Pen one?  Garth didn't remember Turkey Pen was one, but it was never called that in the passport, it was called Bradley Creek, the same area.  If we skip Turkey then we have a kick-butt route, yes, we like that. We talked on and on about that.  However, what if Turkey is mandatory:  We need plan B, we need to pull out the passport and check, but no need to stop and lose time as we will stop before we need to tun anyway, so we decided to just make Plan A and Plan B.  I finally asked another racer and he confirmed that it was, whether we call it  Turkey Pen or Bradley Creek, we had to hit it.  We looked at the passport later to confirm again.  Much of the early race mileage was spent pondering the route.

Rolling into Laurel Mtn CP
Our next plan was to hit Pilot Cove, then Pilot Rock CP's, then roll down Mills River.  Both of these involve super steep technical uphill efforts.  We did the bigger one, Pilot Rock, first.  After descending  to the CP Garth figured it would take too long to backtrack as planned.  The CP was placed right where there was no clear fastest way back down.  But, by continuing straight we would miss Pilot Cove CP.  That's fine, it's just an hour time bonus that would net us maybe 15 minutes, but fatigue us further.  This also means going down Bradley Creek, something we decided not to do.  The other route would have been fast paced riding on easy trail.  Bradley has many slow spots and more stream crossings than any trail should ever have.  My ankles are still sore from the bashing the rocks provided.

At the bottom of Laurel Mtn trail, below the Pilot Rock CP (~ mile 32), Stephen Janes was there with grilled cheese sandwiches and chips. I resisted at first knowing what greasy food would do to a racing stomach, but by this point our pace had slowed enough that it doesn't matter.  That tasted good as I shoved the whole thing in my mouth before my speed picked up on the downhill too much.

Our Route
I told Garth that I had never ridden Bradley Creek to the end, so wasn't sure where the trail popped out, the normal route was off-limits to the racers, but the trailhead should be at the bottom of the hill at the stream.  It's more of a river than a "creek".  There were two racers filling their bottles at the trail, so we just asked them.  Then down we went, not too long, about 50 feet, and we crossed one of many deep rain-swollen stream crossings. We kept seeing the road up to our left and the many short-cut trails we could have taken to quicken our route, oh, well.

We cruised along uneventful knowing it was good we did the clean trails first and not these muddy mucky ones turning our bikes brown, and our chains to sandpaper.  Bradley Creek trail was at around the 40 mile mark - see elevation chart below, all downhill.

After the Bradley Creek CP (mile 44), aka Turkey Pen, it was off to one of my favorite trails - Mulinax and Squirrel (CP at about mile 48).  I kept Garth close on my wheel on the downhills as he was riding a little faster in my flow than he would alone.   We chatted it up the whole way.

By now it was raining, so the chains were getting gritty, I stopped to rinse some muck off mine, I let Garth go ahead.  The bike is working flawlessly and the shifting still spot on, I think it must be around the 7 hour mark by now (~ mile 55).  I finally needed to stop and fill a bottle; I had only consumed two bottles thanks to the cold and wet.  I was getting a little dehydrated too.  Garth squirted some Pro link on the chains as I treated the water and off we went.  Though the KMC chain had been treated with Prolink before the race, it never hurts to add

The next and final CP was the top of Black Mountain (~ mile 59).  At the start line we tried to determine which side was easier to ascend, the North or the South.  This affected our route decision.  I still don't know as each has a fair amount of hiking, but the North side ascends only 600 feet from the trailhead while the South 800 feet.  The South has more rideable sections so might have been the better choice.  Either way we were ascending the North face now.

We walked a lot anyway, my legs were getting tired.  Garth has long legs and can walk uphill faster than anyone I have seen.  Now I was the one getting dropped on the climbs. He had the passport so he could arrive at the CP a little bit earlier and have it all taken care of.

Elevation profile of our ride
Now the rain was coming down steady.  All we had left was the big mountain downhill down Black Mountain back to the finish line.   Someone told us that Sam's team had hit their last CP and were headed back.  I figured that must have been two hours ago, as she was a good distance from where she could have seen them, that would put us 2.5 hours behind them given we still had 30 mins to go.  They had to have only hit 5 CP's, and not gone for the bonus.   If they are 2.5 hours ahead then there will be other teams ahead also.  Our slower pace and bonus CP's did not help, but my math was spot on as it turns out; we were 2.5 hours back at the finish.

We still hate not getting that last CP in, maybe just for bragging rights, but we were ready for civilization again: hot showers, and cooked food.  I kept Garth on my wheel as we sped down the hill.  My rear brake started to fade, so Garth took the lead.  Finger frozen.  Temps dropped to 36 degrees on the top of the mountains, so that explains the numbness.  Now the brakes were fading and the fingers could not pull any harder.

We finally reach the finish! (mile 62.8) Garth was amazed at my smooth riding, then I showed him my Vee Rubber tires. The tread is a dry conditions semi-slick design, not intended for mud.  It is a super fast tire, but made the muddy turns and climbs a challenge.

Hot burritos at the finish line greeted us, and Eric, the promoter, was all smiles as he sees racers come in smiling also.  I normally would not spend 8 or 9 hours in the rain and mud, but this was a fun ride. We ended up taking 6th place somehow.  All but one in front of us just did the minimum - slackers! lol. This was a fun event.

Moving Time:7:11:59
Elapsed Time:8:52:45
Avg Speed:8.2 mph
Avg Moving Speed:8.7 mph
Max Speed:34.9 mph
Elevation Gain:17,233 ft
Elevation Loss:17,230 ft
Min Elevation:2,152 ft
Max Elevation:4,862 ft

Double Dare is in October, the same kind of race, only a little shorter, but over two days. Now I am a wiser man so would not be going into it blind.  We'll see....