Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Trans-Sylvania stage 3: A better day

Stage 3 was a much better day for me.

Lots of double track, fire and gravel road and climbing were scheduled for the 47 mile stage today.  All parts of a race where I seem to be at my best.

The neutral rollout starts at a pretty brisk pace from the scout camp.  Or perhaps it's just me.  I hate fast starts.  Things get reasonably sorted before the first single track descent.  I get behind some people that don't really want to descend too rapidly so we fall behind the lead group a bit.  A small group of us work together to catch back onto the lead group.  ...Just in time to get dropped on the next climb.  I thought it would be a long day of going solo, but soon a group of 5 us form and we begin to paceline.  It's kind of odd riding 20+ mph on the open road on a MTB but our group works together well.  A couple of big guys hammer the flats and I come to the front for the climbs.

At the pace we are going it only takes a little over an hour to get to the first aid station at mile 17.5.  This was a water-only aid station.  It turned out to be mostly just a place to screw water bottles all over the road because out of the 5 us, I think there were only 2 successful hand-ups.  Oh well, on to the climb.

The group breaks-up a bit on the climb, but a smooth descent and some more flat road caused us all to group back together again.  The same thing happens on the next big climb:  build a gap, bunch back up.  Next up is a short section of "singletrack" - well it starts out like singletrack then becomes large slippery rocks through the trees.  It's mostly unride-able, some of it barely hike-able.  But we all make it through.

Then onto a railroad grade.  We encounter some deep standing water, but mostly it's 2 lanes of smooth, fast rolling, gently-climbing sweetness.   Nobody seems very interested in pushing the pace knowing the biggest climb of the day is rapidly approaching so I spend extra time pulling at the front of the train.

I had some issues going through the infamous train tunnel last year, so when the tunnel comes up I make sure I'm at the back of our paceline, take my sunglasses off and follow the rider in front of me through.  It doesn't sound difficult to ride through a tunnel, but it can be a bit of a challenge to balance a bike when it's completely dark.  Plus Dracula was there, and some photographers and there "may" have been beer hand-ups.

So, after we all successfully get through the tunnel the biggest climb of the day starts.  It's rocky and steep, but it's wide.  I spend most of the time zig-zagging back and forth in search of the smoothest line.  It must've paid off because I've managed to drop all but one of the riders from the pace line.

At the top of the climb is the only fully supported aid station of the day.  The wife is there and we carry out our prearranged plan to refuel.  All goes well and I'm off rolling with one other rider.  We pace together on the gravel roads for a while.  But as the road  goes up and down, he begins to not be able to maintain contact and I'm riding in solo.  Every now then I see a rider up ahead and use them as motivation to keep pushing the pace.

Finally the yellow arrows point into the woods for a short section of sandy (and rocky - there are always rocks) singletrack, through the familiar snowmobile parking lot (this is Pennsylvania) and through the trails at the scout camp.  Another stage is completed as I roll thru the Red Bull arch.  Today there are lot less people hanging out at the finish.  Always a good sign of a respectable time.

There are some uber-fast guys in my class this year, but I felt good about my effort today.  Tomorrow is another day that should suit me well: 2 laps at Raystown Lake.  It's super-fast and super-flowy.  The big strong guys usually go a bit faster then us smaller climber types, but it's still a really fun day.

See you on the trails!

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