First... put the front wheel back on. Where's that 15mm skewer?
Flashback to earlier that morning when I loaded the car and remember that moment when I set it down on one of the rack trays, telling myself "don't forget that," and then I do that. My skewer is sitting somewhere along the side of the road between my house and here. Sads.
Zac emerges from The Spoke Easy. I explain my dilemma. He heads back into the shop, "borrows" a skewer from someone's bike he's pretty sure won't be riding this weekend, and although it's a Fox compatibru skewer... it sorta works. Enough so that we can head west to Pisgah.
After a chilly night of occasionally interrupted hammock sleep, we're up at 6:00AM and with plenty of time before the start. We're so fucking ready.
Ugly bags on top tubes are too handy to refuse to put one on my bike once or twice a year.
The racers gather in Smoker's Cove, Eric "PMBAR Honcho" Wever postpones the start by fifteen minutes, Zac goes for one last movement of the bowels, and Eric begins the reading of the rules. As he rattles off the off-limits roads, I hear a jumble of sevens, two, fours, letters... I think I got it in my head, but I will find out later that I don't.
Zac emerges from the blue closet, we sidle up to the side of the front of the start line under a couple pop-up tents.
photo cred: Cam FraserWith the word "go," we jump onto the first climb early enough to be heading up with the strongest of the teams, at one point leading the charge. On the way up, I try to pull out the passport and read it while I climb. I've done this for years now, but my vision is not what it used to be. I've been putting off the inevitability of getting my eyes checked, and right now I'm regretting it.
What information I do manage to gather: There are five possible check points. Four needed to finish, none of them a "mandatory," the fifth one would be a two hour time bonus. Looking at how far apart they are, I think that in a four check point scenario, three of them are far enough out that either one could be dropped. I make a plan, and we go with it. A plan that with hindsight could have been much molar betterer, but that's PMBAR.
Up Black, down Maxwell, up Clawhammer, down Buckhorn Gap, down South Mills, on Squirrel...
Somewhere along Squirrel Gap, I innocuously fall over. I'm okay, bike's okay... but it's not. My rear brake lever is dangling down. Hmmm. I inspect it, and it appears I pulled the push rod clean out of the master cylinder. I've seen it happen on old Hayes brakes and somehow those people didn't die. It's an issue that I'll share with Zac later but not now, so as not to concern him.
We make our first CP at Horse Cove. Down Horse, down Cantrell and we pass the only other team we've seen going this way (Nina Otter and Matt Williams), only for them to come around us on South Mills heading towards our (and their) second CP. My lever has given me more problems than I care to go on with. The reach is too far out, my brake is engaging when I hit bumps because I have to keep a finger on it. At one point, the push rod comes all the way out and there is zero brake coming down a very sick portion of Cantrell. Gotta fix it.
While riding down South Mills, I manage to get the rubber band off my map, wrap it around the bars and lever, and I now have some manner of a functioning brake that I have to sometimes manually turn off. Better than before, so whatever.
My unbroke brake at the end of the day. The rubber band rendered my bell useless. Fail.
We get to our second CP, and from there it was Bradley Creek, a trail I've vowed to never use in PMBAR due to its 19(?) creek crossings. We pass the coed team and stomp through all the creek crossings making our way to forest road 1206.
We coulda went right to hit Laurel up to our third CP, but I prefer the hike-a-bike up Pilot. We go left on 1206 and Zac starts feeling crampy. He forgot his mustard, so he uses one of mine, and I put one down as well. Something about tired legs splashing through crotch-high, cold creeks and then expecting them to work again? Anyways, ride to Pilot, walk up most of it, take a right on the connector, start coming down Laurel...
and here comes the coed team up from the third CP they've already hit. They made time on us coming up Laurel instead. My sads confirmed. We shoulda went the other way, but the time lost does not seem significant enough to get too pissed. A couple other teams that took similar routes come from the same way, including Captain Morgan and Russell. We hit the CP, turn around, watch the Captain and Russell ride way... and then I got the joy of catching them coming down Pilot, so suck it.
Until they ride away from us while we fill our bottles in a creek at the bottom of Pilot.
Time for the long haul over to Daniel's Ridge. Tons of gravel ahead and very little trail. I sort of planned the route to be gravel heavy as opposed to trail late in the day, since trail skills diminish later on as fatigue sets in. On the way over to Daniel's Ridge, Zac's energy levels continue to fade. He's super apologetic, and I try to tell him that's just how it goes. PMBAR is cruel. Fucking cruel.
We get to the bottom of Daniel's Ridge, hike up the nasty, make our way up to the CP, and turn it around. Zac shows some excitement, screaming "WE'RE GOING HOME!" as he blew by me in the chunder. We pop out at the bottom and head back towards the finish... the wrong ass way.
The thing that I missed in the meeting... a very long stretch of relatively flat pavement from here to the mandatory final climb and descent was OPEN. I never heard that part during Eric's pre-race speech, Zac was probably wiping his butt at the time, and I never stopped to look at the passport closely... nor did I tell Zac I'm blind as a bat. The fine print, fuzzy in my eyes while riding, my jumbled and wasted brain power... I missed it.
Instead of the flat'ish road, I force my partner (who is now just hanging on and blown through all the mustard) to climb the multiple pitches up 475B, the short but painful 276, and then up another climb on 477 to put us at a way-high point that we have to come down from to get to the final climb... instead of approaching it from below with almost no climbing and probably half the distance. Meh.
Zac continues to powers through the hazy pains and sads. I ride with him for short sections and then just leave him to his own pace, occasionally yelling back something positive (something I'm not good at). It was a terrible slog to get to Pressley Gap, which will from now on be known as Hot Dog Gap thanks to Stephen Janes.
photo cred: Stephen JanesI start up the hike-a-bike before Zac so I can get ahead on the downhill. I'm no match for him on the Stickle, what with it's 150mm fjork being piloted by his skill set. I pass a team that moves out of my way having no idea it was Jim Rivers and Gary Chambers... a single speed team. I get to the agreed stopping point of Thrift Cove, holler back to Zac... and he hollers back seconds later. We're home.
Bang zoom all of lower Black. It's so f-a-st. We somehow come in first out of all the single speeders. Many more teams than I'm used to are already done. Now we wait to see if any other single speed teams come in over the next two hours with all five checkpoints. Two minutes later, Jim and Gary come in... with only four CPs. Phew, bullet dodged.
Zac eats half a burrito, tries to hang out, and then tells me he's going to lie down. Awhile later, Mark Farnsworth and John Haddock come in, a single speed team with five checkpoints. We get bumped to second. I want to let Zac know, but I can't find him. His messenger bag is still at the finish, the Stickle is on its side nearby. I look all over, can't find him, ride all the way back to camp, and there he is in his hammock.
"Why didn't you ride the bike back instead of walking?"
"I just couldn't take anything with me?"
I let Zac know we got bumped, but it's obvious he gave it his all. Even if we had came back the smart way, we still never woulda beat Mark and John with the five CP two hour time bonus. They played the game well and won.
More words tomorrow, I guess.