Monday, July 28, 2008

Don't be Fooled by the Title

The Wilderness 101 is far more challenging as a 101 mile back country mountain bike race than it would be if you came across it as a gen ed in your school's course listing. I've been doing this race for the past three years as a part of my annual visit to Coburn, PA which has been going on since birth. Before bike racing the reason for going to Coburn lies in the nearby waters of Penn's Creek. It had been a part of family tradition to go here every year, fish, and make lasting memories with family and friends. While the focus has changed from fishing to racing this area of central PA continues to create unforgettable experiences.

After a good nights rest (for camping) I crawled out of the truck at 4 a.m. and stumbled over to the cabin for some breakfast. Don't be confused, I just prefer to sleep outside while staying here. The cabin tends to get a little stuffy for sleeping. A big meal of ham, eggs, toast, and coffee fill up the tank which gets topped off an hour later with a banana and peanut butter. While this may make most people feel quite bloated, my tape worm takes care of the bulk. I get all my gear together and catch a ride from my mom to the start (about a mile down the road). After a short warm up and some conversation I feel awake enough to race.

Starting off I sit in on the pavement being careful to conserve every bit of energy I could for the efforts that will be needed later on. The first climb was considerably faster than usual, but not overwhelming. This pace left the majority of the hundreds of racers off the back and by the end of the second climb there were only eight of us compared to the usual 30 - 40 some. This group consisted of myself, Jeff Schalk (current NUE series undisputed ass kicking machine), Chris Eatough, Harlan Price, Chris Beck, Michael Simonson, Christian Tanguy, and Wes Schempf. After a few more fast paced fireroad climbs and descents, Wes dropped off the back and the pace slowed slightly... at least enough to spark some conversation which at least in my case gave a friendly reminder that my competition is not just a bunch of pain loving, pedal stomping fiends, but a great group of people with separate lives outside of racing. After this moment of realization Harlan requested a pee break, which I was very grateful for at the moment, but as the rest of the group slowed, Christian apparantly didn't have to pee and held onto the pace. Damn. No stopping now. I believe this is the second year in a row that the traditional pee break was thwarted for Harlan (last year I was that guy who picked up the pace instead of slowing). Serves me right though. Now I know what its like to have to hold my bladder for the next couple of hours, because I am horrible at pissing myself. I've tried several times during races, but there is something in my brain that prohibits this from happening. So the race continued through the central PA wilderness. Soon a super fast, grassy descent would cause Christian to engage in a disappearing act due to a flat. Now there were six of us off the front and riding hard. Approaching aid station #2, the group broke up with Jeff and Michael making the fastest stops, while I continued to ride with Harlan, Chris E., and Chris B. With a cream pie jammed in my cheeks either Harlan or Eatough made a not so nice move by making a charge to bridge the gap between us and the two up front. I painfully hung on and tried not to choke on my lunch until the surge settled back down to a steady, but still fast pace. The two leaders kept a constant gap for the next several minutes on one of the longest climbs on the course. Next it was Chris Beck who would make an attempt at closing the gap. His solo charge to the front was successful and was immediately followed by Michael dropping off of the leaders pace and settling in with the rest of us chasers. Soon Michael fell off of our pace and I led the chase group to the top of the climb turning over each pedal stroke in the big ring. Following was a sweet, technical, brake smoking descent and another climb at the bottom. This was the las time I would have constant human encounters through the end of the race. Harlan and Chris threw it down on the next climb leaving me in the dust. I settled into a pace which I planned on holding for the rest of the day and just kept chugging along. Shortly a blur of yellow would scorch past me like a cheetah on crack. Christian was back in the race and was wasting no time at all. I had no desire to respond to his passing and just watched as he teleported up to Harlan and Eatough who at the time had nearly joined back up with Beck. Then in a flash they were all gone. I continued to follow the ways of the W101, climb, cramp, climb, take in the scenery, descend, grin, descend some more, grin some more, repeat. After what seemed like a long time, I passed Christian again who suffered yet another mechanical. So I picked up the pace hoping to stay ahead of him for the remainder of the race. However he soon caught back up, but just in time for a bit of a technical descent. Taking advantage of this precious moment I picked up my game and lost him into the rocks before rolling into the final aid station. Just as I got done with my pit stop, Christian rolled in proving that he is not so easy to shake. Within 10 minutes he would catch and pass me. I returned to my 6th place position, but was determined to catch back up to Chris Beck who was only 30 seconds up at the last aid station. The last 10 miles would consist of flat rail trails, 1 climb, more rail trails, and 1 section of technical singletrack. Running on empty, I dug deep through the first section of rail trail and the first half of the climb before I was struck with some pretty wicked cramps, stinging my left leg from the inside of my knee all the way up to the groin. Determined , I didn't let the cramps slow me down as I kept it in the big ring for the remainder of the climb as I changed position and stood on the pedals to the top. Still no sign of Beck. Maybe I could get him on the infamous fisherman's trail if I keep my pace high on the remainder of the rail trail. I got to the fisherman's trail and there was still no sign of life, ahead of me or behind. Instead of thrashing the singletrack, the singletrack thrashed me as I was now running on fumes. What would usually be a challenging, yet fun trail, became impossible to ride. Soon I would ride through a dark tunnel, a trademark of the W101, which signifies the end of the race. Without a soul in sight, I would finish 6th for the day with a time of 7 hours and 4 minues, approximately 20 minutes ahead of my time last year which scored me a 4th place finish. This race just keeps on getting harder and harder every year, but the finish also becomes more and more rewarding as my times continue to decrease by large numbers. Ahead of me was Jeff Schalk, who secured the win for the day along with a NUE Series Championship. Congrats. Chris Eatough was 2nd followed by Harlan, Christian, and Chris Beck respectively.

24 Hours of 9 mile is already less than a week away. The wait is killing me.


Jake said...

Nice write-up Brandon, those of us not near the front of the 101 always wonder what life is like off the front... sounds like you had a good ride. I cut my time by a little over an hour this year...

Jason said...

Nice job B.D.! Good luck at Solo Nationals!