Friday, September 30, 2011

Pisgah Moutain Bike Stage Race: Day Four

The best part of a hard stage is the feeling you get from actually finishing.

Four out of five stages end coming down a technical (but rideable) super fast descent on the famed black mountain trail.  To shake things up a bit, we rode UP black mountain today.  I have to say that while I was hiking my bike up the worst parts that I can't believe we actually ride down at break-neck speeds (well hopefully not quite that fast).  The first aid station was at mile 9, but it was a long 9 miles.  After hiking black mountain, I believe the long swinging bridge was up next (don't look down).  Then it was Turkey Pen (I think).  There was more hike-a-bike, lots of rhododendrons followed by a long descent to the aid station.  I'd been having issues clipping in and out of my pedals all day and I ended up with my right foot unclipped and my chain off bombing down a rather gnarly (but not rocky, for a change) stair stepped descent.  I ended up in the bushes which is far better than going off the side of the mountain.  I untangled myself then my chain, managed to clip back in and complete the descent to the aid station.  My wife was able to get to this aid station so I got everything that I needed to be able to get to the next aid station in short order.

I think it was squirrel gap that was next.  Anyway,  it's several miles of trail that's not terribly rocky or rooty or steep but it's mostly narrow and mostly on the side of the mountain.  I always feel like I'm losing time here (and I'm pretty sure I really am) because I slow my pace a bit to make sure I stay pinned to the side of the mountain.  I know if I keep my focus on where I want the bike to go it usually works out but there always seems to be a rock or root trying to hurl you over the edge.  I lost contact with the rider I had been closing in on, but I didn't crash and there was plenty of time and trail to make up lost ground.

After another descent to aid station two there was some sweet singletrack climbing where I was able to get back into a rhythm.  My heart rate has not been working most of the day, and my Garmin lost satellite reception so I was a bit unsure of how far to the next stop and what kind of effort I was really doing.  I think maybe it was just a little reminder from God to just trust him.  So I ride how I feel, reminding myself I have another long stage tomorrow. 

Soon we get to the top half of the black mountain trail.  It's gnarly going down.  It's gnarly and painful going up.  Since we are going up today, the barely hike-a-bikeable stuff going down becomes quite hazardous going "up".  I have another rider in sight so I'm using him as a cue as to when to get on and off the bike.  One section I rode had two long drop-offs that I definitely would never have ridden given the opportunity, but I didn't get one.  Too fast to stop, no where to ride around.  My only thought is "I'm going over the handlebars.  It's going to hurt."  but then I quickly tell myself  "No I'm not!" and I let off the front brake, push the bike forward to keep my weight back, pogo off the front wheel, land the rear wheel and do it again for the next step.  Somehow I stay wheel side down and I bounce the rest of the way down over the rest of the rocky section where I went ahead and started breathing again.

I know there is a long descent to the final aid station, but I don't know if it's gnarly or fire road or single track.  So when we popped out onto a fire service road I was pretty happy because I knew I could get some fast miles in.  I had been shooting for a 5:15 day, but the pace thus far was looking more like a 6:00 day.  The aid station is at the bottom of the descent, at the horse stables and I know it's just one more time up the mountain, and one more time down black mountain trail.

I pace myself on the climb up, but I'm feeling pretty good because I know the remainder of the course.  Judging by the riders that I have been riding near, I feel like I've been doing pretty well.  The descent down black mountain is extra sweet today.  Maybe it's from having walked up it earlier, or from having to work so hard to get here, or maybe just from nearing the finish of the week's toughest stage.  But it's drier and grippier and I know it better and I stay off the brakes a bit more and give my bike permission to fly through the air over the water bars and maybe even slide a little through some of the corners.

I came through the finish at 5:07.  Better then I expected.

Tomorrow is another long day, but a bit less hiking and more sweet single track.  It's supposed to be quite a bit cooler tomorrow.  Apparently there are quite a few creek crossings early, too.  As long as I don't succumb to hypothermia it should be another great day on the bike.

See you on the trails!

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