Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pisgah stage 4

Hunter Subaru Pisgah Stage Race - Day 4
Stage details - 39 miles, 8,000+ ft of elevation gain

Race director Todd Branham warned me of this stage and on several occasions he would address the group around him warning of stage 4 being the hardest of the race. His hype was spot on. We started from the bottom of the Black Mountain trailhead and headed up the trails that we normally finished the stages on. That sweet fast downhill was now a long grinding uphill all the way to the intersection of the Turkey Pen trail.  2,000’ of climbing in the first 5 miles, some you could ride, some not as it got rockier, washed out and steeper. Once to the turn off to Turkey Pen we hit some great down hill sections and the constant reminder of how remote we were started to sink in. There is no easy way to these trails so they don’t get much love in the way of trail maintenance. We had to endure constant face and arm whacking by Rhododendron, briars etc as you tried to pick the cleanest lines. Suddenly thrown straight downhill on some of the fastest sections and boom, straight back uphill, off the bike and pushing. (Rinse and repeat). Finally making it to aid station 1 and giving the White Squirrel a “high five” on the way. Stocked up on food and water and headed out for the next trail section. Along the way, I came upon a fellow racer, Cissy who was leading the overall in the Open Women’s division. She was sitting trailside with her 3rd flat. She was desperate for a spare tube. As I carry only 1 spare with me and have extra ahead at the next aid station, I couldn’t say no. I stopped, took off my saddlebag, fished out the tube, some spare duct tape to patch her tire and wished her luck and moved on. I had a goal to finish the hardest stage in less than 6 hours. I realized that I would be in the same situation as her if I flatted but here I was on day 4 with no flats, no mechanical issues and hoped my luck would hold until aid station 2 where I could pick up my spare tube and pick up the pace. With lot’s of singletrack ahead, I continued to be cautious and rode conservatively as I worked toward the next aid station. After riding Squirrel to Horse Cove, I came upon a banjo player (no kidding) at the intersection, plucking away and pointing me uphill. Ride, push, ride, push. Finally dumping out on to a section I was familiar with since I had ridden it with Tracey, Jim, Andy and Scott a few weeks earlier. Fast, reclaimed FS road with some spectacular views, which in a race, you don’t get to enjoy. Caught up to a couple of riders and sat in behind a guy from Canada named Garnett. Followed him down to aid station 2 and warned him about some washed out sections ahead so he wouldn’t crash. His whole side was dirty; tell tale sign of previously sliding out. As we rolled in to the aid station, Garnett started telling the volunteers about the 2 bears he encountered. Says they were 30 meters away from him and spooked him pretty good. I grabbed some food, small cup of Coke and headed out. Now knowing the rest of the course I realized I would really have to pick up the pace to come in less than 6 hours. I really started pushing harder and started catching more and more racers. About 2 miles from aid station 2 when I realized I had forgotten to grab the spare tube. Holy Crap! I decided to keep on going and just be careful. Made the gradual climb back up to Buckhorn Gap fairly quickly and was looking forward to seeing Tracey there where she was the course marshal. Pulled in and chatted for a few seconds and my teammate Scott George was there. He said he would ride the next section with me down to Club Gap and then he had to turn off. I can’t tell you how much that did for me. We didn’t talk much but knowing he was there gave me a sense that I knew I would finish the stage as best as I could. We rocked that section as we rode the sections where other riders were pushing. I had settled into a nice pace, keeping my heart rate just under 165 and grunting through some of the steeper sections and recovering as quickly as possible to tackle the next set of steep pitches. Scott pulled off at Club Gap, I was sorry to see him go. I headed down the treacherous Buckwheat Knob downhill to FS 477. Once there it was a long high speed downhill to aid station 3 and some more climbing to Maxwell Cove, a little hike a bike section on Black Mountain and I would be at the finish. I stopped at aid station 3 and grabbed the spare tube, emptied my pockets of all non-essential food and headed out. I figured I had lost about 15 minutes on the day from riding cautiously and another 5 from stopping to help. I kept pushing and as I turned onto Maxwell Cove, I picked up the pace, just concentrating on riding as hard as I could. Off to my right I heard a loud crashing noise and as I looked over I saw a pretty good sized black bear about 50 feet off the trail and running at approximately the same speed I was riding and we were side by side. For some reason I didn’t seem to be too concerned and I simply started dinging my bell as I didn’t want him to come up in front of me and cut me off. The encounter was no more than 10 seconds but the adrenaline surge and let down were totally noticeable. Whew. I kept going and finally hit the downhill section of Black Mountain, constantly checking my time and finally figured I was not going to make the 6-hour goal. I kept off the brakes as much as possible without being stupid; I still had 1 more stage to race and didn’t want to risk a crash. I hit the finish line and could see the clock at 5:58:58 and crossed in at 5:59:00. How about that! I finished 6th on the stage and remained 6th overall.
Garmin date for stage 4:

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