“DAMNIT!!!” I yelled, realizing that for the third time I’d failed to do the one thing I set out to accomplish by exiting the freeway.
It wasn’t to buy the Doritos I was stuffing in my face. It wasn’t to buy the cheap sunglasses on my head. And it wasn’t to get the cheap beer I’d shoved in the cooler in back.
Less than a mile into the drive, a too-brisk left turn had made all of my cd’s very much out of reach. All I wanted to do was pull over to recollect my music.
As it was, outside of a severely scratched Husker Du CD,there was only one left within reach… and I’d already listened to it three times.
It’s a really fucking good CD mind you… even on my tinny, blown speakers…. but I was ready for something else, having screamed myself hoarse singing along in what I can only imagine was a horrifying phonetic mockery of the Norwegian language.
In a cruel twist of fate, these Norwegian beauts of men were going to be playing within a stone’s throw of where I was driving….Along with fellow prettyboys High on Fire.
And I was going to miss it.
But… I was going to get to ride my bike in Pisgah Forest for two consecutive 12 hour days on less than 4 hours of sleep.
So there’s that.
Back in March, I’d jumped at the opportunity to join the battle for “King of Pisgah.”
I have no idea….As the chances of me being crowned king of anything are pretty slim.
King of obnoxious nobodies? Maybe?
And my “battle” style is akin to the weird kid freaking-the-fuck-out and swinging his bookbag wildly at anyone and everyone in range. (I’m not saying that was me… just that… it might have been.)
But, I already intended to do one of the events in the series… the Pisgah 111… and utilizing highly complex Watts-math, I calculated that a ratio of 1/5 meant there was no reason not to do the remaining races.
The battle incorporated five of the races put on by Eric Wever of Pisgah Productions.
I’d already done the 111k the year before and loved it. Gnarly Pisgah descents, long-ass jeep road climbs, amazingly challenging singletrack with fun, flowy sections, creek crossings, rocks, roots (did I mention rocks?). It had kicked ass and kicked my ass. The 55.5k…. I figured it would be a cake walk (“It’s only half the distance of the 111 and that was a blast!”) It was not a cake-walk. Damn, that was some hard racing.
Monster Cross was an intense ultra-cross race on the many forest and fire roads in Pisgah. Sadly, conflicts had kept me from making it out that weekend…. thereby ending my battle for mid-pack in the King of Pisgah runnings. (But Damnit!…. watching the Dirtwire highlights made me super bummed that I missed it.)
PMBAR and DOUBLEDARE were total mysteries to me, despite the whispered rumors (which I blithely ignored). But I figured I’d done all kinds of races in my life…. how hard can it be?
As it turns out….Pretty fucking.
Even when you’re not trying.
You might recall PMBAR’s write up. (Hah. Recall? Watts.. ain’t nobody reading this shit.)
Well…. to fill you in, here’s the format:
Somewhere in the forest there are some checkpoints. X amount of these are mandatory. What route you and your partner take to them and how many you decide to get is up to you. But you have 12 hours to do so. Oh… and occasionally there’s an optional “stupid human trick” at a checkpoint. This might involve walking a slackline or eating a heap of gnarly pickled hotness.
Doubledare is essentially two days of this format… but with more checkpoints, colder temps, less daylight and less sleep.
1st aid kit
Water filtration device
Ok… so that last one might have just been a part of our mandatory checklist at PMBAR. Whatever.
My attached at the hip partner for the next 24 hours of riding would be Jana Morris.
Originally Jana was going to be doing the event with Rich, but during one of his many, many (many) crises, he began looking for an out. Zach Avant and I had half-assedly thrown out the idea of a partnership, but we’d never gotten very far with a plan. I think Zach and I take a similar approach to racing. Why make it into work when you can just … not.
Upon finding out that I still didn’t have a partner, Rich gently foisted me onto Jana and backed slowly out of the room.
It worked for me, as Jana and I are buds…. and as I obviously hadn’t gotten that far in my “planning.”
Truth be known, even up until my arrival at the start, the extent of my plan was “drive to Brevard” with the footnote “Don’t forget bike.”
By some cosmic fluke, I managed to remember pretty much everything AND to get off at a decent hour, arriving in time to meet Jordan and Jana for some sushi.
Jordan and her husband Sam own The Hub and Pisgah Tavern in Brevard. They’ve transformed what in my time there was a small outdoors store into.. well… exactly what the name implies. A hub. And tavern.
Suffice to say, I have a little bit of shop envy. (A good bit.)
If I could pick up my shop and life and boy and girl and ex and ex’s fiance and Neil Reitzel and move it all to Brevard, I would.
…In a hot minute.
But… I am where I am…. and that’s depressing as shit.
For about six of the six and a half years that I’ve had the shop, taps have been heavily considered. And I’ve made movement toward it… only to sit on my hands.
I’m just not happy enough with our current set up and location to pull that trigger….
But as always… there are schemes. So many schemes.
(The glory holes we added last year were a big hit, but it just wasn’t the clientele we were looking for.)
After sushi, we headed to Sam and Jordan’s for more beers, taunting Rich with fibs of epic happenings.
The race didn’t start until noon the next day, so we were able to have a nice lazy morning. Unfortunately, the nice lazy morning meant that we weren’t moving toward breakfast very quickly, and as a result, I wasn’t consuming anywhere near the calories I’d need for the day.
This would be a theme.
We arrived at the campground pretty early to try and stake out some level ground…
….then headed back into town to find a hearty breakfast. After two strikes, we finally rolled up to Sunrise Cafe, which we all decided should have been stop numero uno anyway. After a killer breakfast burrito and a stop by the Hub for some last minute provisions we headed back up to Cove Creek Campground to get ready.
Despite backing out of the race due to “conflicts”, Rich had come up anyway, along with Kurt Rampton, to heckle, harass, hand up, high five, drink and ride. In that order.
Like just about every racing scene, the SE endurance scene is pretty incestuous. And I like to think that because it’s the south, we’re a little more incestuous than most.
(I have no idea what I even mean by that.)
Just that I like seeing the same faces at all of these events. It usually makes for instant party.
To be sure, this kind of racing brings out certain varieties of nut-jobs
Anyway…. Nutjobs. The lot of them.
After tons of highfiving and assgrabbing, we finally put our gear on and gathered what we needed. Then we headed to the start line, eagerly awaiting our instructions.
Because up to that point… you have no idea what’s in store. Eric keeps it all a very well guarded secret.
It could be a 5 mile hike-a-bike to the gnarliest descent in Pisgah… or it could be a 10 mile gravel grind.
We lined up and Eric gave us the “good news.” Our first task was a 25 mile time-trial to Wesley Branch Rd, right beneath the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Despite the beautiful morning, clouds had rolled in and the temp was hovering right at my discomfort point. I was either too hot climbing or too cold descending.
25 miles of climbing later, we made it to the first checkpoint, where we were given our passports. These would be our checklists for the next 9 hours or so.
Everyone grabbed some real-estate and began pouring over the maps, trying to determine the best order and best routes to bag the checkpoints.
We came up with a rough plan and started riding, snapping mandatory photos of the checkpoints.
I’d discovered early on that one of my lights had decided to detach itself from my handlebar.
(Needless to say…. Fuck.)
By the time darkness descended and demanded we light our way, we’d been riding for 6 hours.
Luckily I’d stashed a Light and Motion Stella 500 in my bag as back up.
I was pretty wiped out already, battling waves of food-bonks, and was dragging ass as we hike-a-biked up Laurel. More than once, as I slipped on the rocks and leaves, I considered hurling the bike off the side of the mountain.
(“Oh no, guys! I can’t race anymore… cuz you know….My bike and stuff!”)
We finally made it to the top, where we were greeted with a checkpoint and a roaring fire.
And a stupid human trick.
(Man…. I don’t know about the voiceover on that video.)
Jana and I opted for the hot pepper.
I love spicy food… but without fail, I will start to sweat when I eat anything spicier than say…. milk. And I wasn’t stoked about a hot pepper on my empty, growling stomach… but knew that the chances of me being able to contact the hacky-sack even once were pretty slim.
We lucked out, as the pepper wasn’t too bad. Yes…. I began sweating, but chased with a stashed sandwich and snickers bar and I was good.
Until everyone left me.
In the dark.
“Come on… let’s get rolling,” I’d heard them say.
“Yep… right behind you. Oh wait! Jana… you dropped your extra gloves! Hold on…I’ll grab them.”
When I looked up… everyone was gone.
Riding up the trail a little, I saw some lights ahead and turned right to follow them.
One of the options at this checkpoint was a hike/run to the top of Mount Pisgah and back. I’d wondered why I’d seen so many running shoes strapped to backpacks. Who knows what I thought they were for.
Well… now I knew.
“Man… this does not look right at all” I said to myself.
Finally, I ran into two hikers, headlamps bobbing, who laughed and asked what on earth I was doing.
“I uhh…Well…. I’m uhh…going the wrong way, aren’t I?”
Cursing, I turned around and made my way back to the correct trail.
(Yes… in case you’re wondering, if left to my own devices, I can and will get lost under any and all circumstances.)
Flying as fast as I dared down Pilot, I finally caught up with Sam, who had flatted again. Once we got moving, I did my best to stay on his wheel. The Stella was doing it’s job, but I could have definitely used my handlebar mount. I have a hard enough time with Pilot in the daytime.
I’d opted for one of the shop’s Santa Cruz Tallboy demos over the usual rigid singlespeed, and was having fun really opening up on the downhills.
That said, I still couldn’t stay on Sam’s wheel.
And that said….I only crashed three times… and only once threw a mini-tantrum. Luckily, it was dark and Sam having long left me, the mountain was my only witness. And he’s seen that shit like… a million times.
We got to the bottom and made the executive decision to head back to camp, where we’d made arrangements to have hot pad thai waiting for us.
And damn if I didn’t need a beer.
Donning our jackets, we descended the bulk of hwy 276, flying as fast as we dared along the dark, trafficless road.
And finally…. we were back. Day one was over. 9.5 hours later.
Our pad thai had fallen through, so our hired gopher had opted for 4 large pizzas.
That sounded amazing.
Coupled with the kegs from French Broad Brewing and I was in a very, very good place as we settled in by the fire.
At midnight, it was time for one more point-nabbing opportunity. A 1.8 mile time-trial around the campground. Jana and I considered it, simply for form’s sake…
…but we opted to watch from the warmth of the fire instead.
Around 1am, after tons of pizza and countless beers, we climbed in our sleeping bags and passed out.
Less than 4 hours later, it was time to wake up and get ready for the 6am race start of day two.
Motivation was at an all time low, but I just went into robot mode and didn’t let myself think about it.
Sam and Jordan bailed, refusing to get out of bed… So Jana and I were flying solo.
Lining up at the start, we learned that first up would be another time-trial, this time straight up to Farlow Gap.
We were released in 30 second waves, and rode up up and up, following a train of lights.
After about a half hour of riding, the dawn was bright enough that we could turn off our lights and enjoy the views.
It was unbelievably beautiful as we climbed upward, varying angles of the sunrise visible through the trees, invoking much sentimental nostalgia for my salad days in the mountains.
Finally, we reached our destination, where we were given our passport.
We’d relied on Sam and Jordan to navigate for us before, but now we were on our own. Despite having no internal compass (on all too many levels) I can read a map (even if I choose to ignore it), and Jana knows the trails…so we were able to come up with a rough attack plan.
The most critical decision of the day was that we’d ride until it wasn’t fun anymore. At which point we’d head in.
We traded places with a bunch of teams with similar agendas.
The mandatory checkpoint at Pinkbeds featured a stupid human trick.
Either hit the target with the world’s worst bb gun? Or eat 4 pickled eggs or sausages.
(I’m told that the previous year, Garth Prosser and partner arrived at the checkpoint earlier than anyone was expected, and hence found the site devoid of any chaperons. “Oh sweet!… Pickled Eggs!” he announced, spying an unattended jar. After consuming a few in quick succession, they started to roll out, right when the chaperons appeared and informed him that he had to eat four pickled eggs. Which he did. Again. With relish.)
For my part, a glance at the ovum and wieners floating in the red horrible… and I opted for the gun.
And nailed it in one try.
Running into Barnabus and Mark, we agreed to their plan of bagging one more checkpoint and heading back to drink beer. That would be five in all.
Worked for me.
After a wonderfully hairy descent down Coontree, we made it back to camp.
Day two was done. 7+ hours of awesome riding in Pisgah.
The first day had consisted of a lot of work. Lots of climbing… lots of gravel… some hike-a-bike… more climbing…descending in the dark. Fun, but hard.
The second was almost exclusively awesome. The day was beyond beautiful and the riding was hard, but always fun.
We’d gone in with a very lax attitude, and as a result I finished the event in a good place, as opposed to the wasted wreck I usually am. (note to self…. train this year. At least a little)
I have no idea where we fared in the overall results… and I don’t care. Maybe next year I’ll “go for it.”
But then…. maybe not.
Either way… I’ll definitely be there toeing the line.
And I’ll probably sign up for the battle for King of Pisgah again. From what I hear, Eric is going to change the format a little and give dil-holes like me a shot at our own little niches.
So the chances of me pulling off a 35+tattooedsinglefatherwithscoliossinglespeed King of Pisgah crown just went up.
We changed out of our cycling duds and made our way to the fire and beer.
Jana and I ended up with about 70 miles on day one, and just under 60 on day two.
Barnabus and Mark had 96 (hard) miles the first and about the same the second.
That’s a lot of damn Pisgah Miles.
During the last hour of riding, I had been getting myself all kinds of worked up about the possibility of the cooler full of delicious burritos that often follows Eric’s events.
Alas… not this time.
But I’m told next year for sure. Right Eric? Right? Right? Eric? Right?
As it was we decimated every salty morsel we could find as we did our best to finish the keg of beer before the other racers arrived. Sympathizing with our plight, Eric’s wife pilfered their own private stash, and shared gourmet hot-dogs and salty things. Thank you!
Looks like the dates for the new battle will be posted soon. Get on it, kids. It’s good stuff.
On the drive back, I made sure to have all of my music within easy reach. And I made sure to play it as loud as possible.
Kvelertak and High on Fire did their best to keep me awake.
For more garbage from Watts, read his bleargh.
Support your local bike shop.