Since I really, really wanted to sneak back into the top five overall (it's been five years), I insisted that we stay at the Hampton Inn right outside the entrance to the forest. No sleeping on dirt or staying in the company of others that might encourage generous prerace libations. We ended up rooming with Mark and Tom (also on single speeds) and Dip n' Spray slept on the floor (he was volunteering), which meant that maybe there were a couple beers consumed before bed.
The routine was familiar. Stand around, listen to race announcements, check the off-limits map (no surprises there), Eric "PMBAR Honcho" Wever tells us five minimum checkpoints with two extra available/ two hour bonuses each, get the passport, and then "GO!"
Zac and I just took off up Black Mountain without hesitating. As a matter of fact, we were at the front of the race. I glanced at the passport whenever I would climb one handed. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, and boom.
They were in my head. Our route was immediately apparent to me. Furthest checkpoint first, then work our way to the highest elevation, and after that we'd get all the fun trails of the day to knock out last. Finish with as much descending as possible.
Other racers started coming around us as we climbed. Koerber and McGahey, Johnston and Prosser, Sam Evans and David Wood. These would be some of the guys going for the top podium steps. We were in good company. Our single speed roomies snuck in behind us. I pushed the hike-a-bike pace hoping to lose them before we started making routing decisions, but they clung to Zac's wheel and made the turn onto Maxwell Cove right behind us.
They followed us down to Clawhammer Road. I told Zac I wanted to stop and "check the map." They stopped too. I asked them if they were just going to follow us.
Alright then. No more shenanigans. We all set off to the furthest checkpoint with an agreement to work together on the long road stretch. It worked just about as well as four dissimilar single speeders could possibly manage, which was marginally better than doing it in two pairs. One long climb later and we were at our first checkpoint.
Zac was feeling the initial spun-out road miles, and I dropped back to tell him that we would drop these guys on the first real descent. All he needed to do was let me hike-a-bike away up Pilot Rock and make sure that he didn't let them get between us. I stopped to take a leak, remove my arm warmers, eat... taking off every time I heard them coming. At the top, I took out the passport, put it in my teeth, got my SPORTident out and ready to be scanned. As soon as Zac arrived I told him to drill it down to the checkpoint. He did. I could hardly keep his back wheel in sight as we bombed down the nasty bits to the Laurel Mountain CP. In my hurry to get to the volunteer ASAP so we could leave before Mark and Tom came along, I somehow managed to go over the bars in their relatively flat campsite spilling my jersey pocket contents all aboot.
And like that, we were off. We both agreed to change the plan on the spot to going down Laurel as opposed to sticking with the out and back on Pilot. We saw quite a few of the stronger teams coming up Laurel as we bombed down. Long story, but I'm positive (as I could be) that we made the right call. Even more positive after we saw none of those strong teams on the out and back to the Slate Rock Overlook.
We were now committed to hitting the more trail heavy end of our day. Zac was really feeling it on the climbs, but said he knew where his zone was, so I went along at my own pace being sure to put down a gel every once in awhile. I didn't wait at the top of Horse Cove very long, and before I knew it, Zac was dusting my ass on all the tech gnar going down. We regrouped on Cantrell and made our way down the South Mills River trail at a talking pace. I almost made the second absent minded wrong turn that Zac had to save us from, and then we were at our fourth CP.
Back up South Mills to the slog up Cantrell where Zac's punchy tech climbing skills crushed my low point of the day hike-a-biking. We got up to the Squirrel Gap CP, got some water out of the creek, and headed towards Buckhorn Gap via Squirrel/Wheelchair Ramp.
I let Zac make his own pace, and we got to the gap in decent but not record time. Up and down Black Mountain for our sixth CP and then headed over to Avery Creek for our final CP and a helluva way to finish a PMBAR. We started seeing more and more riders and as we were so close to the barn now. No one claiming to have gone for seven CP's though. Sweet.
Through the final CP, we continued down Avery Creek to 477. Then the slog up lower Clawhammer and over to Maxwell. Zac dieseled along while I tried to sort out how we would go about dealing with the riders ahead of us. I needed to get on the final descent before he could catch me towards the bottom. I put four riders between us on the final hike-a-bike, kindly telling them that if they caught me, just yell and I'd get out of the way.
I was really thinking, "Hey, when my partner starts riding all up in your shit, will you let him by?"
As I hit the final few pitches coming down, I looked back and there he was. Hammer, hammer, hammer... caught one more team, pointlessly pipped them at the line.
Eric looked happy.
"How many checkpoints did you guys get?"
photo cred: Eric Wever"I think you're first single speed."
Scott Rusinko came up to me and confirmed that he was on the single speed team we just beat... by about four minutes (results are up, it was nine minutes). They only went for six checkpoints... and it almost paid off. That was close.
But truly, Zac and I wanted that top five overall. It took awhile to find out, but we got it. Fifth (or fourth... getting conflicting info this morning) in the overall... behind those teams I expected to see on the podium. That's the victory I really wanted.
I'm super proud of Zac. He hasn't gotten as much riding in the past few months as he had wanted, but he dug super deep all day for just over ten hours and made quite a few remarkable comebacks throughout the day. I knew he had given it his all when I saw this about an hour after we finished.
photo cred: Marilyn Sawyer Bennett
A PMBAR without regrets?