Like all great adventures the idea or concept starts in almost a "dare or bet" type of fashion. The adventure that I had last week took me to new levels of fitness, perseverance, discovery, pain, suffering, and fear....yes fear, and it all started when a client and friend of mine said to me with beer in hand.
"If you sign up I will"- Phil Hatcher
...and so the adventure took form. Below is my story and the names have not been changed to protect the innocent. There is adult language and some nudity.... you've been warned.
Welcome to Pisgah (aka Gnarnia)
The week started off with a "calm before the storm" type of feeling. Energy was high and those pre-race nerves were showing their face as if taunting me to have a beer and relax. This sounded like a great idea so I kindly listened to the voice in my head and grabbed one of the seemingly endless supply of Oskar Blues Brewing (title sponsor) IPA's and calmed the voice. Meeting up with friends new and old over a beer before a race is like an affirmation party. Everyone there in their own way was silently telling one another, " we'll survive five days of racing in Pisgah....right?"
In reality many (including myself) weren't fully aware of the level of technical riding that lay ahead over the next week of racing. Little did I know that the bike I had brought would be so brutally outgunned on the descents that await in the forest to gobble up travel of even the lowest and slackest of bikes. Afterall many of the timed enduro sections for the week are the training grounds of world cup level downhill riders and enduro specialists....not exactly the venue for a hardtail 650b bike with a 100mm up front. I told the voice to shut up and have another beer.
First day was full on XC mode right out the gate as we shot up the opening climb as if it would all be over in an hour. The extended climb left most the field struggling but I climbed out of the rubble in solid form and ahead of the main group but off the lead group...some call this "no man's land" I call it IDEAL as the terrain quickly turned to singletrack and down fast and gnarly. The day ended with a solid midpack finish and just a taste of what lay ahead for the following stages. As the voice and I discussed the day over a beer at dinner (post hammock nap and river-icebath) we agreed to push on and see if tomorrow would be easier after opening up the first day.
Ouch.... more beer, nap, food, sleep...repeat
Phil ripping it!
Today was the crux day feeling better after eating until a coma was induced the night before left me hungry....to ride. I broke this day into five climbs rather than think of the treacherous five descents that lay ahead of me. By the time I arrived at the start line the thrid day in a row everything became a familiar kind of numbness that started with stumbling in the dark making coffee and eating overnight oatmeal (cold soaked muesli) to sneaking in one last hot cup of coffee and a scone as I froze each morning awaiting the gun to go off.
The voice got louder and the cranks went faster as I attacked the climbs and scared the shit out of myself on all of the descents. Ending the day unscathed and in a euphoric level of fatigue I jumped into the cold river post race and lay at the bottom unphased by the glacial ice bath slowly coming up and out of the water being reborn with energy. You know that slow motion shot of the model coming out of the jungle swimming hole slowly dripping wet and hungry? Yeah this didn't look anything like that. It was more like a refuge scrambling out of the river after he jumped in after his fishing pole fell off the bridge.
More beers, laughs, burritos and naps.
Stage 4 "The Yardsale"
Restless sleep and new levels of fatigue greeted the day as I clung to the warmth in my sleeping bag. Did I mention I was camping in a van down by the river? (commence jokes and laughing) so there I was in my van by the river in my sleeping bag pushing my snooze to 6:30am past the 6am mark set the previous three days. Daylight crept in and it was straight up work to eat and make coffee, the now lifeblood of energy to start my day. Today was a three-cup day and not that bullshit euro-size cup but an all american 12oz 3-pack was the order of the day to get these legs turning. Today was the infamous DH descent down Pilot for the second time and just in case you had forgotten what it was like from the previous day's enduro down it, you got to hike UP it first today before ending the day at your most fatigued point in the race descending it...brutal. To put perspective on this descent.... imagine a riding down a dirt road in a burning bus full of laughing clowns with knives and then someone hands you a balloon, cause that's about the level of defense I felt I had going down this thing. It's a full on downhill run that is a proving ground for some of the the best DH riders in the world and I was on a 100mm hardtail.
But lets revearse to the highlight of the day. I made it up over the opening climb in solid position and was navigating a winding mellow benchcut in and out of flowing springs that trickled accross the trail. I came to the first descent of the day which was unassumingly mellow albeit the network of roots and pools of rocks. I hit the "send it" button and went full gas over the roots making it to almost the end when one of the knife weilding clowns took my front end out and sent me sailing into a rock ledge I can only describe as a human meat cleaver. A part of me died that moment as I peeled myself from said clever bleeding and battered to recover my equipment, which was now a yardsale on the trail. Amazed that I didn't break anything (me or the bike) I walked the remaining yards to a clear patch of trail to collect myself and let the adrenaline ease. Needless to say the wreck set a tone for the day and I descended with ease from there on.
I kept my coffee:beer ratio even... cause I like symmetry and the day called for three beers. Besides at this point I was sitting outside the top 30 and licking wounds might as well have a good buzz to ease the pain of sleep tonight.
That's a dick in a thong.... yup in the middle of nowhere right before the infamous Farlow descent stood a thong clad ghost white stick figure in a thong guiding our adventure with a gentle sway of a flag. Farlow was the culmination of Gnar that t-shirts are made of to showcase that you are a certain level of badass. Farlow I believe in native gnom tongue means "freefall" (totally making that up) and it's fitting cause it is one freefall after another with roots and rocks set to repeat. In closing we finished on the only groomed machine cut trail in Pisgah on a Super-D course that was ripping fast and smooth as pavement compared to the last 4.8days. Coming accross the finish line totally spent and feeling accomplished I was happy to redeem myself from yesterday's yardsale and finish the day knowing I couldn't have poured anything else into the energy bank.
As I type this it's Monday evening and I'm reflecting on what I have to do to prepare for next year's adventure in Gnarnia. Till then I'm going to sip on a few beers and sharpen my blade to battle those damn clown's in 51wks.
PISGAH STAGE RACE (5days / 140mi / 20,000ft+ elev. gain) details at ( http://www.blueridgeadventures.net/pisgah-stage-race/race-5/ )
SPECIAL THANKS TO THOSE THAT MADE THIS POSSIBLE
My Wife and Family
Phil and Kelly Hatcher
Jim Chickos and Family
Nick Hahn and Family
All my athletes
All my friends along the Way
****Video/Pictures**** by Blue Ridge Adventures (www.blueridgeadventures.net)