I woke Saturday with mixed feelings: I was relieved that the last day of racing was upon us, but I was also sad to know it was ending. I enjoyed my time in the race "bubble," and the return to real life and the craziness that was to follow wasn't as much as anticipating a long day on my home trails. The goal for the day was to just have fun, time markers be damned, and to focus on riding these trails at race effort as best I could.
For the most part, this was a familiar day for me: A road start north on 280 > Turkeypen Road > Vineyard Gap > Riverside > Bradley Creek > 5015 > Yellow Gap > Laurel Mtn - Pilot > 1206 > 276 > Club Gap > Avery Creek > 477 > Clawhammer > Maxwell > Black > FINISH! I'd never done Vineyard to 5015, and I hadn't been on Avery for 8 months (since the original Death March!), but the rest were home trails and roads, and I was really looking forward to the challenge. Most of all, I wanted to ride Laurel Mountain at race pace, even after four previous days of racing!
We started out, and I just tucked in. I used all the roadie mojo I had, hiding out near the front and letting the pack pull me along. At one point, Stephen came by and tapped me on the rear, signalling a massive lead-out that kept me in the game exactly when I needed it. That's what teammates are for!
We hit Turkeypen, and I settled in. I was climbing pretty well, and just concentrated on turning it over. The road went OK, but once we were on Vineyard and it got steep, I started to slow. Riders started coming by, Sue included at one point, and I just kept on moving. Peter was ahead of me, so I knew another day in front of him was out of the question, so instead it was all about focusing on the task at hand and keeping on, keeping on.
The descent off of Vineyard was ... well, fun is the right word, but I was completely unprepared. I made it about halfway down before I lost my nerve on the waterbar-after-waterbar-after-waterbar chute, and moved over to let another host of riders past, including Wes and his teammate. No worries, though, and it was on to Riverside, perhaps the most dry it's ever been. The 15 water crossings were more like 6 or 7, and I chose to walk the deepest ones rather than subject my new chainrings and chain to a soggy beat-down. I lost time, sure, but who was I racing at that point other than myself?
That said, me and another rider traded places through the riverbottoms, until we hit 5015 and it was time for me to motor again. I caught Wes near the top, and he confessed that he was glad I had gotten out of their way: "I knew you'd have trouble on that trail," he said. "Classic Pisgah with all those drops." His teammate was riding strong that last day, and the three of us started up Laurel together, with Sue not far behind.
I can't say that was the fastest I've gone up Laurel, but it was certainly the smoothest. Following Wes and his teammate, and eventually Sue as well, was a master's course in trail reading, and it was all I could do to keep them in sight. About halfway up, the Sycamore guys were beyond my reach, while Sue had caught just before the climbing got tough. Evan was in there too, and he and Sue hit the hike-a-bike just before me. I gave them some encouragement, and as we crested the top, I was alone.
And oh, boy was I alone -- for the rest of the race. I had my best descent ever off of Pilot -- yes, I walked the rock garden, but cleaned the rest! -- and as I dropped down to 1206, I realized just how alone I was. I started grinding, using my local knowledge to full effect, punching the rollers and relaxing on the short downhills in preparation for the assault on Club Gap. Onto 276, thankfully downhill from this direction, and then before I knew it I was turning left and climbing again ...
Club Gap went much better this time! I didn't clean the whole thing, but came close, only losing the line on two little steeps and riding the rest. That felt good, and I enjoyed Avery as much as I could, knowing I had only one climb to go. Avery isn't in the best shape, but it's not horrible, and I had fun hitting the stuff that only a few short months ago was the stuff of nightmares for this recently expatriated flatland FIB ...
Onto the gravel and one more climb to go ... my goal for the day was to finish Maxwell in the big ring, and I did! I was a bit surprised, but it felt good to put that out there, and cresting the last little steep just felt awesome. The hike-a-bike was mercifully short, and the descent was amazing -- I finally hit that point (that also comes about 2 a.m. in a 24-hour race) where I was so tired I just rode stuff I'd never try when fresh -- and I cleaned them! I still walked the two stairs, but other than that, I bombed Black faster than I had all week, and rolled across the FINISH line as a FINISHER of the Pisgah Stage Race! Woo hoo! Todd came up seconds later and handed me my FINISHER's medal, and what a sweet reward it was!
Kim and Kate arrived a few minutes later, and after a few minutes in the river and them getting to see Stephen FINISH, we headed to Dolly's for my other sweet reward ...
... and since I don't think that photo does it justice, here's a close-up:
Oh, yeah. I hit that. And I cleaned it.
(For the record: Large (6 scoops) coconut-mint chocolate-cappuccino chip banana split *with* sweet nuts, whip cream and cherries. Oh, yeah. People in line to get their own delicious treats were in awe.)
We then headed up the road a few yards to do something I've been wanting to do for months: Take my photo at the iconic Pisgah National Forest marker. Complete with my WBR-Siren jacket and Kate in tow, the photos turned out great! (But, alas, they're on the other camera, so will get posted later.)
Though it was time to head to the Brevard Music Center for the post-race festivities, we decided some barbecue was in order -- so as a just dessert to Dolly's, I polished off a BBQ plate at Hawg Wild across the road too. Oh, boy, was it fantastic too ...
We bundled up the little one and headed to the Music Center for the after-race awards and party. It was a fantastic time, as Todd put on the best post-race event I've ever been to. We had a ton of fun hanging out with Stephen and his family, and Nolan and his family and friends, as well as reliving the race with all the other FINISHERS, as well as tons of locals there to enjoy the event. Poppie's provided amazing grill fare, and yes, I polished off a couple of burgers (no buns) and a hot dog ...
In all, I didn't finish last in my class, as we had one more abandon on the last day, due to illness. I managed to beat some of my pre-race goals, I didn't crash all week, and I rode well in spite of a rough pre-race preparation period and some intra-race hesitation on trails I need to work on this winter. Most of all, I'm happier than ever to be racing again, and for that I owe a very special thanks to Mary for hitting the switch and shining a big ol' HID light to show me the way. Thank you!
Most of all, I think what I'll remember is twofold: That I did OK for myself, and that thanks to the wonderful after-race party, I got to participate in Kate's first-ever bike race of her own. And for that, the Pisgah Stage Race 2010 will be forever a highlight of my racing career. Thanks Todd and Blue Ridge Adventures!