This last weekend participated in the Swank 65k (38 mi) mountain bike race in Pisgah Forest, NC. Having a few MTB races under my belt I decided I wanted to try a Pisgah race. I’ve been visiting Pisgah since I was a young kid and really started visiting on a regular basis while in college at Clemson. Having climbed at Cedar Rock and Looking Glass and spent time hiking here I have developed a deep love of the Pisgah National Forest. The still undisturbed solitude brings joy deep into my heart each time I get to wander out into the sea of rhododendron tunnels, scale the granite faces, and stand in the cool mountain water streams. The technical singletrack trails, surrounding forests, and mountains are becoming internationally famous in the mountain biking community with the Pisgah Stage Race. The trails offer wet rocks, roots, gnarly descents, extreme climbs, and amazing views. The city of Brevard is only a few miles away and is growing with outdoor enthusiasts.
So I signed up a few months ago for the race. I realized it is popular because it was sold out at the time I finally became seriously interested. Luckily someone was selling an entry and I was able to get a spot. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy after reading several race reports and knowing that the famous Farlow Gap was part of the course. See below picture for a shot of Farlow’s boulder action, this last weekend having it covered in leaves added to the fun.
I arrived at the race site and the morning was cold with brisk mountain air. I grabbed my race number and packet and began the prep work of double checking tire pressure, nutrition, water, and general supplies. While I waited on the race to start I met up with some familiar faces from other races and met new friends. At about 10 til 10 we all headed back to the Cove Creek campsite to get ready to do the Le Mans start of the race and immediately headed up Cove Creek. For those who don’t know the Le Mans start began in the auto racing world. It is a running start to your racing vehicle which helps to thin out the crowd before the true race begins. The running start was hell because funneling 200 folks into that running area then having them go against the oncoming crowd to start was intense. Luckily I was one of the first out and avoided much of the chaos.
Onto Cove Creek now…. We climbed for about 3 miles at some points there were technical obstacles or bridges which caused a mad rush to try and pass while others maneuvered around or got seemingly ‘swallowed’ up by mishaps like loss of traction. Outta cove creek onto some gravel. Finally feeling a little relaxed and at home knowing I can make time on gravel I begin to haul as fast as possible. We then dropped into the top of Daniel Ridge. From there we came to Rest Stop #1.
Paige and Bosco saw me at Rest Stop #1 and later told me my average was about 7 MPH at that point. I heard from another racer we were about 15 minutes off the leader. It opened up to gravel and started climbing. Pushing hard and passing lots of people I travel to the crest of the hill and down to the start of Butter Gap. I’ve hiked the start of Butter Gap before and knowing the terrain gives me an advantage. I flew fast up to the turning point and started the downhill section of Butter Gap. It was somewhat more technical than I bargained for, at the speed I was going the off-camber roots seemed to eat my 4 inches of rear travel on my Specialized Epic begging for more. I made quick work of Long Branch by running uphill. I didn’t see anyone on their bike at this point. And back on the gravel. I immediately saw Tab (friend from the Fool’s Gold 50) he told me his brake was broken before the race and he started an hour behind everyone else. He may have had an advantage not fighting the massive crowds on these singletrack sections. I launched into my high gear as I could see Rest Stop #2 at mile 18 and realized the Farlow climb is soon to follow. I stopped and refilled my water bottle.
The Farlow gravel road climb was long and steep. It’s a solid grunt and seeing many folks outta the saddle or walking slowly wasn’t unusual. I gave it my all to stay on and spin it out. I talked to several locals on the way up and realized what I was in for on the Farlow Gap trail. Many said they have ridden it for years and named pieces of it they could ride. No one seemed to say they could even ride 50% or more of the trail. I soon realized my practice of carrying my bike and running up and down hill was going to come in handy. The access trail up to Farlow after the gravel climb was pretty mellow. At the top where several trails intersect there was a big smiley face and a course Marshall that said ‘Have a nice flight!’. I dropped into the singletrack after the Farlow sign. The top flew by quickly and seemed somewhat reasonable. Further down the steepness increased, the rock size increased, and the number of folks flying off their bikes grew exponentially. Watching three folks ahead of me ‘eat it’, I decided to start walking. It was almost as hard to walk down as ride. The early leaves that had fallen disguised many of the rocks. I reached the creek and crossed only to find the uphill side was as steep as the downhill.
I made it out alive! I thought as I started onto the other downhill section of Daniel Ridge. It seemed to fly by quickly. I passed Rest Stop #3 and started the last part of the race. I saw Paige and Bosco again. They cheered me on as I passed by and dropped onto the easy singletrack Davidson River trail. From there I hit the road again and back onto gravel to finish with a climb up to the top of Cove Creek again. My legs burned and I felt like cramping but held it off. On the way up I had a view of Looking Glass in the late afternoon sun. It reminded me of why this area is so magical. I dropped into Cove Creek off the descent and was at the finish line at last!
I finished the race in 4:44 for 42nd out of 200 racers. I learned tons about my biking ability and that I should practice some of the more technical sections before racing Pisgah again. I had a good time and have a good story to tell.