Serving up a true EPIC race – the 2010 Wild 100
WARNING: Contains dangerous acts, stupidity, pointless stubbornness and rude animal behavior. Not suitable for impressionable youths or those who see the bike solely as an expression of two-wheeled serenity.
Story and photos: Randy King
CP 3 to CP 4 – A long, muddy climb
In a point-to-point mountain bike race, the choice of routes can make all the difference; through the optimal trail choice, a bold rider can build big margins. Getting to CP 4, located in a lean-to shelter plopped in the middle of a bunch of squiggly contour lines on the “Difficult”-rated Bear Pen Trail, presented this opportunity. Riders could travel via the “Extremely Difficult”-rated, and “Not Recommended”-labeled Tea Creek Trail to climb up Bear Pen to the CP and continue on to Gauley Mountain Trail and out to the Mine Road. This 5-6 mile route presented some gnarly creekside riding and crossings in its 2,000+ of vertical gain. Given the deluge, the crossings had to be gonzo. Alternatively, riders could climb up the 7 miles of Bannock Shoals, a verdant double track, and then put it in a bigger gear on the Forest Service Road for another 5 miles of gravel road climb to the entry into Gauley Mountain Trail, and the climb up to Bear Pen Trail and to the shelter. One or two loco souls soldiered up the contour-crossing Turkey Point Trail to Bear Pen. The trail runs perpendicular to the contour lines for 1,000 vertical feet!
I opted for the “safe” route, thinking that I wanted to avoid the dark depths of the Monongahela’s worst. Thus began my lowest leg of the race. Slogging up a ten mile climb is never going to rank in the fun things to do list. Add in a deluge to slop the perpetually-damp doubletrack of Bannock Shoals and soften the gravel road, and I’m pushed to the edge of my morale.
Fortunately, no one passed me as I sat Indian-style on the wet ground, tightening the SPD cleats on my shoes. I hopped back on the bike and began the long climb. A swollen creek bellowed down the rocky valley to the left. Each pedal stroke pushed my tires into the muddy trail surface (and moved me slightly forward). I could see my front tire squishing into the muck with each crank, and it angered me. With the bike’s suspension locked out front and back, I was still losing so much momentum.
The climb up Bannock Shoals felt like it would never end. Each turn in the twisty, tree-arched trail brought only a limited vista of another stretch of grassy doubletrack disappearing into the darkness of the woods. Finally, I snapped. I roared out a primal yell at the top of my lungs. Immediately I felt better. And the next turn brought a break in the trees – the gravel Forest Service Road. The Fusco brothers were snacking at the gate marking the transition to a full road.
“Yeah, we heard you,” they responded. “We thought you had crashed.”
“I was just practicing primal scream therapy,” I said.
We continued up the gravel road, and soon the two Cannondale riders, Iggy Baron and Matt Lough, caught up to us – riding in tandem. Together we all ground out the long climb, seeking the connector from FS road 135 to Bear Pen Trail. None of us ever saw it. We eventually intersected with Mine Road and made our way to Gauley Mountain Trail for the second time that day. The puddles were much larger now, and we slopped and slid along the climbing grade. Eventually the Cannondale riders passed, and I followed shortly after, moving past the Fuscos who were struggling through a low point.
The Gualey Mountain and Bear Pen trails to CP 4 bordered on riparian. Water flowed down the trail, creating murky puddles of mysterious depth on Gauley Mountain Trail. Bear Pen Trail, with its steeper terrain, had water flowing strongly enough to create white water foam in the places where it dropped over roots. I saw river foam in several places in this rutted trail. Almost all of this trail section had water either standing or flowing across it. I marveled that my chain was not binding, yet I pushed several sections of the climb up from Gauley Mountain Trail, rather than risking a ride-ending chain bind or a bad leg cramp. Once atop the ridge, I put the hammer down through the root drops and around big puddles between the trees.
At CP 4 the youthful volunteer said that we had probably taken the best route. The connector between FS 135 – which we were all so bummed at having missed – was unmarked and unmaintained currently.
“Upper Bear Pen is really sketchy,” he said, having ridden in on it on his moto.
“The rocks are really slimy and wet, I almost dumped it on the creek crossing.”
CP 4 to CP 5 – The soloist
I found out that Iggy and Matt, the Cannondale riders, who were at the CP as I arrived, were Solo Male racers. Blast! I had dropped to 4th, mysteriously. Grabbing a Clif Bar for the trail, I mounted up and headed back out of Bear Pen as the Fuscos arrived at CP 4. At the steep section dropping to Gauley Mountain Trail, I encountered a traffic jam. Rolling down the rutted, rocky and loose terrain, I weaved through hiking racers (the cheaters from CP 3) and a moto coming into the CP in support of our race. Thanks to that moto rider, for his cheer of support as I railed down the slope. Little stuff like that serves as a shot of high octane in an almost-empty tank.
The ride out on Gauley went fast, as it is mostly downhill. Still, I had grown tired of the mud; everywhere the mud! Slopping through those puddles for the second time in 40 minutes, I looked forward to the relative dryness of the gravel road.
What a long, grueling roll along the ridge by myself. While my tires sank into the soggy gravel of the road, I tried to keep pushing a taller gear even as my energy drained away into the muck. No riders caught up, but I couldn’t catch Iggy and Matt either. One 100 Plus racer met me coming back to his extra CP. It was Clay Faine, another PMBAR-star from Asheville, who I would hang-out with later that evening at the survivors bash. We gave each other a shout-out – I had also encountered him as he rode out from CP 4, on the wet and gnarly Bear Pen Trail. I headed into the mist on the ridge.
Arriving at CP 5, I refilled on Gatorade, downed a bar and learned that I was seven minutes behind the Cannondales.
“You can catch ‘em on Prop’s if you hurry,” said Gil.
“Or Prop’s can catch me,” I said, soberly remembering its physical brutality.
“Yeah, or that could happen.”
I had originally thought I would take the gravel road back and bomb the Mine Road’s 1,800 vertical feet descent to finish up on pavement. However, after having slurped across the ridge on the way to CP 5, I didn’t know if I could maintain the necessary speed to out pace a normal descent of Prop’s.
And then the game changed yet again! A racer rolled up out of the mist – someone I had not seen all day. I wriggled into my CamelBak and picked up my bike with my soaked gloves.
“What class are you?” Gil asked.
“Solo Male,” the mystery rider confirmed. I mounted up and pedaled around him.
“Hey, what class are you?” he queried.
“Solo Male,” I said. “I was just trying to sneak out of here quietly.”
“Aha! And so the hunter becomes the hunted,” Gil chortled evilly.
CP 5 to Finish – The hunter becomes the hunted
Prop’s Run is a nightmare. I pride myself on my descending skills. It was all I had going for me when I started epic racing. However, Prop’s has my name and beats me every draw. I have picked up silver-dollar sized blisters on my palms from descending it at the end of a long race. I have flatted after its rock-lined water bars and dropped a place in the last minutes of the race. One of my best Wild 100 moves was the year I took the Mine Road all the way to the bottom instead of descending Prop’s.
Now I faced my worst Prop’s scenario. The soggy gravel road meant that another transverse of the ridge was too much of a gamble. My nearest pursuer was only a minute or so behind me. I knew I struggled with this descent. The pressure wouldn’t help.
I tore into the eight mile, 1,900 foot descent. Within 20 pedal strokes, I realized I had left my riding glasses at the CP. However, to go back meant losing precious time against my pursuer. I plunged on, knowing that of the entire race, these next eight miles were where glasses would mean the most. Eight miles of saturated, muddy downhill stretched away before me and my unprotected eyes. I shifted into the big ring up front.
Each horrid, rocky vee clutched at my slick tires. Mud spray-coated me front and back. Glops of black, West Virginia mud flew into my eyes and robbed my depth perception frequently until I could cry the mud free or swipe at my eyes with a muddy glove, risking a colossal wipe-out with these one-handed antics. Anger and frustration pulsed over me like the tide tearing down a sand castle. My goals were slipping away before my gritty eyes.
Riding beyond your limits is stupid. Riding beyond your limits with faulty depth perception and on an empty tank is beyond that. Still, I pushed beyond my limits as I sliced through the muck and slammed into the drainage features on Prop’s Run. Despite my effort, I soon heard the sounds of pursuit – the echo of rocks clunking as tires passed over them behind me. We raced silently like this for awhile; I knew any error of line selection on my part would open the gap for my hunter to pass. I rejoiced inwardly any moment I sensed he had fallen back for a second even. I knew he would have his moment. Mud kept preying on my left eye, and my hands relayed that my front tire was losing pressure slowly from all those poorly executed drainage crossings.
We darted up an embankment to pass one of the mires. I rattled down the roots and back onto the railroad bed. My pursuer yelled something, and I feared I had lost something from my bike or pack. I slowed, feeling guilty to just roll off if he had been nice enough to pick up my stuff.
“Hey, I have a flat!” He yelled.
“I flatted again,” he said, rolling his bike up with a flopping front tire. My oxygen-starved and anger-squeezed brain didn’t understand what he wanted.
“This is my second flat on this wheel,” he babbled as I stared at him through bloodshot eyes.
“I gave away my other tube to Benji earlier, cause he needed it.”
“You don’t have a tube I could have do you?”
I looked at my own partially-deflated front tire. I had one tube.
“No, I don’t,” I said, making an ethical decision. “I can give you some patches.”
“I’ll probably never be able to find the leak in all this mud!” He cursed. “I can’t believe this is happening.”
“I was in second place all the way through checkpoint 3. Then I took Turkey Point to Checkpoint 4. I lost an hour or more.”
That solved that mystery – how I had lost only one place after being passed by the two solo males on the Cannondales. I glowed at this random draw. I gave him two glueless patches and a piece of sandpaper.
“It’s most likely a pinch flat from all these rocks,” I said. “You should be able to find it pretty easily.”
I rode away, only going about 30 yards before I stopped to add air to my own front tire. Fully inflated, I pushed off and continued my descent of Prop’s, feeling fortunate and with a little breathing room. On the “flats” across the bottom of Prop’s Run, I kept one eye on my back trail, to make sure that some devil wasn’t catching up. My heart beat lightly and free as I rolled into the lodge to the ringing cowbells and muted cheers of a few faithful onlookers. 4th place in Solo Male. Well, 3rd, if you counted that the two Cannondale riders tied for second place. Either way, I had achieved my goals! The euphoria of accomplishment swept away the pain of the last 9 hours.
All that followed: Winner’s circle
“I know you probably don’t care,” said the girlfriend of one of the Cannondale boys as hosed off my bike and waited for my turn in the showers, “But your face is covered in mud!” I snapped my own photo to commemorate the scene.
Bike cleaner, self showered, I made my way over to the survivor’s feast. For awhile I hung out with the Cannondale groupies, relaxing with their banter and gibes at their friend who had DNF’d. They thought they had placed 8th or 10th, based on what the kid at CP 4 had told them. I told them they had done really well, and one of their group stepped over to the results board to confirm their placement. They left to get back home, and the Fusco brothers and friends showed up a bit later. The local brew and the plentiful buffet line slaked our thirst and lulled the hunger as well as started the healing process. We laughed at ourselves and each other, reliving the low lights and the ridiculous moments. The party went on until 9 when Gil awarded prizes. Moonshine in a Mason jar made the rounds. The mellow fellowship continued for another hour plus until the last racer – a 50+ rider – rolled in well after 10 p.m., having persevered through more than 14-hours of Slatyfork. We rang the cowbell and cheered him in. ERTC’s Mary had saved a heaping plate of food for him.
My prize was a bag of some of the most potent roasted coffee beans I have ever smelled, and a Burton hoodie. While I really don’t need another hoodie – I have a half dozen – I thought it highly appropriate, for the hoodie displayed a knife and fork clutched in two caricature fists and the admonishment – “Stay Hungry!” Indeed.
That was my big moment of self-awareness from the 2010 Wild 100. To place in a race like this you must be fit, you need luck,and you have to WANT IT. You have to be hungry for it. That’s the only thing that will get you through the long miles of gravel road, or the energy-sucking mud. Yes, you have to train and train. True, one moment’s bad luck could steal your goals. Yet, you still need to want it to achieve stretch goals.
That’s true of life too. I came home from West Virginia and entered 14 straight days of work. With each long day I told myself: if you can ride 70 miles in the mud and rain, you can do this. And so I pushed on, aiming for and achieving my goals with the same dogged determination that had carried the day in West Virginia. That’s what makes a truly epic ride: It changes you, as a rider and as a person.
©2010 Big Mountain Riding