Every so often there is a ride that surpasses all others. It is hard to measure the special magic that makes a ride great. This was not my longest distance or fastest ride. I have done rides with more climbing. In terms of “racing”, my result was not great. Our team went beyond the time cut and due to our course change we actually did not even officially finish the event. There is no way to “measure” this sort of ride but on my own personal “awesome” meter PMBAR 2014 is now my top ride.
This was a ride that almost did not happen. I was not sure of my plans for the year so I did not pre-register for the event. I have ridden PMBAR in the past but for 2014 I was planning to skip the event as I focused on other races.
The thing that changed for me was how I felt leading up to and at Curse of the Crab. Focusing a bit on my fitness and watching my diet had given me good legs so I was thinking about how to use them.
PMBAR is a complicated event where you need a teammate who is ideally riding at a similar level. Putting together a team at the last minute is hard because you need to find someone who is willing to take on the challenge. I posted on my local forum just to see who would respond.
Tom Boylen put is hat forward and I responded with a mix of excitement and fear. On single speeds Tom is one of the strongest riders I know. Having a teammate of such high caliber is scary because you know it will be a big day. Tom’s is quite a bit stronger than I am am. I was worried that I would not be able to hold up my end of the team. On the other hand the idea of riding for such a strong team filled me with excitement.
At the start line, we both knew that our fitness made a big ride possible but as riders from Raleigh, NC our inexperience with the massive park would be our weak point. The PMBAR event is “complete” and epic mountain biking. Teams are given passports with seven checkpoints scattered all over the park. To race well you must be a strong for climbing, descending, strategy, and most important understand how to navigate.
The passports are handed out at the start. We took ours but did not even look at it because we knew that riders who had better navigation would be available. Our “race” plan as to head out and follow wheels for the initial stages of the race and hopefully find our way to the first checkpoint. We figured that if we picked good wheels the plan would ensure that we at least started with sane navigation.
On the first climb we got in behind Rich Dillen and Zak. I knew Rich had a strong understanding of the park and as such was confident that any choice he made on a turn would be superior to ours. Rich is a good competitor with a strategic mind quickly figure out plan. The initial miles were fun as our teams felt each others out to explore our relative strengths and weaknesses. On the climbs Tom and I were strong enough that while we were fresh we could keep Rich and Zak in sight. The technical descents in Pisgah are some of the most impresses in North Carolina. Tom and I realized that this would be our challenge and at some point we would not be able to follow.
Heading into the second checkpoint Zak made the move. There team quickly distanced Tom and I such that when we reached I “T” intersection they were already out of sight. This gave our team an opportunity to do some honest navigation. I don’t quite remember our position but the intersection was near Turkey Spring Gap. After five minutes or so of map reading we decided to head left thinking we would climb to the checkpoint. A short while later we asked some hikers if they had seen any cyclists and realized that we must have made a bad choice.
After turning around we found the checkpoint on the other side of the “T” intersection. At this point we took time to “really” look over the passport and come up with a route for the next five checkpoints. The volunteers were friendly and even loaned us a pen. From the map we tried to guess what Rich and Zak would do next and thought we had a good plan.
The descent of Turkey Spring Gap was awesome with fast flowing single track and the occasional technical section. Eventually, I crashed and later Tom crashed but we were not hurt. At the base of the descent we arrived at the cheese sandwich rest stop where we loaded up with cokes and food knowing we would never see the rest stop again.
Our next turn was on a trail that I don’t currently remember. We thought it would take us to the 3rd checkpoint and headed up into what quickly became a very steep and mostly unrideable hiking trail. When we finally arrived at the checkpoint we quickly realized that we were back at checkpoint #2 and had made a two hour mistake.
We went back down the Turkey Spring Gap descent and this time managed to avoid crashing. Once again we stopped at the cheese sandwich rest stop and headed out to get checkpoint #3. This time we managed to make the correct turn. We turned around and headed to checkpoint #4 but missed our turn for Bradley Creek so once again we arrived at the cheese sandwich stop where we backtracked and eventually we found the proper trail.
We got lost at least once on the way to checkpoints #5 and #6 but they were minor missteps where we caught our mistakes without losing time or spending two much effort.
After checkpoint #6 we got confused and went the wrong way as we navigated to checkpoint #7. We did not realize our mistake for an hour or so and by this time it was getting dark. We eventually back tracked to find checkpoint #7 but knew that we would not finish the inside the race cut off time so we decided to take the simple route back to the race start. We road down to 276, made the wrong turn and road several miles in the wrong direction before once again backtracking and eventually getting back to the start finish with around 100 miles over about 13 hours of riding.
Both Tom and I enjoyed the day. The navigational issues made the ride special and helped us develop a better understanding of the park. It was a huge ride and while Tom was stronger than me as a team we worked well together and other than a brief period of low energy I was pretty happy with my pace. It was a very special day and goes down as one of the best rides of my life.
My bike performed great and as a team we had no mechanical issues. As a single speeder gear selection is critical and I was very happy with my choice of 32/20.
In particular I enjoy riding my own frame and a bunch of “made in usa” parts such as my Endless cog, I9 wheels, and Thomson seat post.