Employee Profile: Johnny Pratt & Bike Raising

From time to time here on the Performance Bicycle Blog we like to recognize our coworkers and let them share what they’re passionate about outside of work. This week we’re talking to Johnny Pratt, a Product Developer at our home office in North Carolina. Johnny joined Performance as the Merchant Assistant for components in August 2011, after working for companies as varied as Eastern Bikes and Credit Suisse. He grew up cycling and has always loved to be outdoors. He raced on the Appalachian State Cycling team while in school there and was a participant in the World Race, traveling to over 15 countries on five continents in a year’s time. Outside of work he spends most of his time racing bikes, doing adventure races, spending time with his family, and serving those in need.

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Johnny racing in the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race

It was that passion to serve others that led Johnny to co-found Bike Raising Inc., a non-profit organization that raises money for charity through cycling events. Bike Raising was born on a ride – Johnny and his friend Josh Stinger were riding in the hills of North Carolina when the concept was formed to create an organization that dedicated 100% of the money earned at an event to small non-profits that are hindered by lack of funding. But we’ll let Johnny tell you more about why he wanted to create and run a non-profit, in his spare time, in his own words.

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Johnny in his Bike Raising kit

What is Bike Raising and why does it exist?

We wanted to make a difference to a few non-profits that had massive goals, but were constantly held back because they didn’t have the necessary capital to make it happen.  With my business background and Josh’s project management background we knew we could create something to help out.  We both loved bike racing and we knew our goal was fundraising so the name Bike Raising was born.  It started simple and it remains simple.  You participate in a fun, safe and challenging cycling event and a small partner non-profit gets some help.  In what other race does everyone win?

The charitable organizations we partner with have a purpose and a mission.  We call this their “critical pursuit.”  When they are unable to fulfill their critical pursuit it slows down the change they are working towards.  Many organizations say that the resource they’re lacking the most is funding.  We don’t want them to shift their focus from their mission by dedicating the majority of their staff and resources to fundraising.  Bike Raising strives to eliminate the need for these organizations to take their eyes off their goal – which is where we become a valued member of the team.  We partner with the organization, learn their needs both financially and socially, put together a plan of action, set goals and set forth to accomplish them all.  We allow the organization to keep pressing on with their mission while we handle the rest.  This is why our motto is to Race. Give. Love.

What is Bike Raising involved with now and how can someone help out?

The Needle Gate Project is a journey from the Space Needle to the Golden Gate Bridge.  It’s a pursuit of physical and mental limits.  It’s a platform for freedom both to the individuals riding and those whom are yet to be free.

For this project we are proud to partner with She Dances, who is doing the great work of providing holistic restoration for young girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited. She Dances needs funding to be more efficient and effective in their mission.  Due to the nature of the human trafficking industry there is very little time between when they discover an at risk girl and when an actual rescue takes place.  Funding in the hands of She Dances makes this process move faster, which results in that child’s restoration.

BRSDYou can help us in bolstering the speed and accuracy of She Dances’ mission.  Choose from one of our many exciting perks. Join the insider’s circle and get the video of us shouting your name on the Golden Gate Bridge.  Maybe you’d rather go with the Primo Pack that gets you some sweet MiiR stainless steel products, coffee and an original She Dances Tee.  Or maybe you want to join the Bike Raising team and get the complete kit.  If you help out in any way, you’re joining us on our journey and you’re partnering in the fight against human trafficking. Our goal is to raise $5000 to help support the work and restoration that She Dances is providing.

Pisgah Stage Race: Looking back

Our team of Johnny & Chris has finally recovered from their second place finish at the epic 2012 Pisgah Stage Race – 5 days, 195 miles and 28,000 feet of climbing on some of North Carolina’s best mountain bike trails. Now that they’ve had some time to recover, we’re handing the blog over to Johnny, to wrap up their racing experience.

Chris & Johnny on the final podium (Johnny is on the right)

So I have had over a week to reflect on the 2012 Pisgah MTB Stage Race. I want to give you the highs and lows, products I am glad I had, and a few final thoughts. If you are thinking about doing any mountain bike stage races, especially the Pisgah MTB Stage Race, be sure and read this post along with our coverage during the race.

Highs:

  • Incredible world class trails – My new favorite place to ride.
  • Descents – Challenging, yet rewarding. You have to know how to ride a bike here.
  • Waterfalls/scenery – In one county alone there are more than 250 waterfalls and many of the 400 miles of singletrack pass right by some of the best.
  • Fellow racers – Everyone who participated and volunteered at the event was super friendly, ready to help out, and just a joy to be around.

  • Less of a race feel – It didn’t have the feel of a race. I mean this in a good way. There were no signs of prideful, ego-boosting personalities.
  • Satisfaction of completion – Finishing this grueling event is a feat in and of itself.
  • Weather – While the rain of Stage One was rough, the blue skies, low humidity, and fresh mountain air overly compensated for it.

Lows:

  • Weather – Part of the Pisgah National Forest is considered a rain forest, I believe it now.
  • Climbs – Long, never ending. Each time you think the next turn will bring relief, the trail goes up even higher. A familiar phrase from course marshals was, “Straight up that way.”

  • Mental – You get used to the physical difficulty of the race. What is more important is being strong mentally to keep going and keep pushing, no matter what it looks like around the next bend.
  • Bike part destruction – Your bike and parts will be put to the test. Bring a spare bike, just so you know you have a replacement of every part on a bike. It is truly the easiest way to ensure and bring all the spare parts you might need.
  • Recovery? There is a question mark because by the time you finish the stage, get cleaned up, eat, and get your bike ready for the next day, there isn’t much time left before you wake up, wash, rinse, and repeat.

Products:

  • Forte Pisgah MTB Tires – With the weather on day one, tire selection was critical to maintaining forward momentum on the narrow, rock strewn, rooty singletrack (or as some call it, halftrack). Therefore I was very glad I had the Forte Pisgah tires below me to grab hold of the rugged terrain. The Forte Pisgah excels at gaining traction in this type of environment. They did such a good job of maintaining traction on the trails that they boosted my confidence while riding and given the trail conditions I was more willing to attempt difficult sections, knowing the tires would not break loose. Let’s just say the tires definitely earned their right to be named Pisgah and also a long term place on my bike.

Forte Pisgah MTB Tires

  • White Brothers Loop 140 TCR 26″ Suspension Fork – Pisgah Mountain Bike trails are for true riders. One has to know how to handle a bike to survive the trials in the Pisgah National Forest. With that in mind, I enjoyed checking out the other racers bikes to see what products they were using. On multiple occasions I spotted a white brothers loop soaking up the roots and rocks at Pisgah. I have been riding the Loop now for about 9 months and with Pisgah to cap off my testing I can honestly say it has earned its keep on the front of my bike. The fork just works, it comes out of the box ready to go and it isn’t overly complicated with buttons, knobs, dials, and levers everywhere. In most cases, with such long days on the trail with varying terrain, I could just set the threshold damper all the way and leave it all day.

  • Shimano XTR RD-M985 Shadow Plus Rear Derailleur – As I am sure you know by now, the trails at Pisgah are tough, rugged, yet rewarding. I was glad to have the XTR Shadow Plus rear derailleur. I imagine the sound of chain slap would have driven me crazy by the end of the 5 day event. This technology is here to stay, as SRAM now has a similar feature in their TYPE 2 models. I did have to add some tension on one occasion during the week with the built in tool. I am curious to try out the SRAM version to see how it holds up because I am not sure how many seasons the Shimano mechanism will make it through.

Shimano XTR RD-M985 Shadow Plus Rear Derailleur

  • Shimano XT PD-M785 MTB Trail Pedals – Slippery Roots, skinny trails, creek crossings, and mud strewn singletrack call for two things when it comes to pedals; secure footing and mud clearance. The XT trail pedal has both.

  • DT Swiss Tricon XM1550 Wheels –  As mentioned before, the Mountain Bike Trails at Pisgah are tough. They will test a rider and the bike to the limits. The trails are laced with rock gardens, roots, drops, and high speed descents with all of the above. I was riding these wheels to find out if we should bring them in to our product lineup, and these wheels took it all in stride. They are very stiff with a low weight, the perfect combo for a multiday stage race. After multiple encounters with rocks, roots, and drops they are still spinning true.
  • Brakes – We quickly realized how important brakes are at Pisgah. If you don’t know what I am talking about, see the post on Stage One. I began the race with the new Magura MT series disc brake. They are light weight and have great modulation. Once the pads were gone after stage one and no shops in town had a replacement set of pads (keep this in mind when gathering spare parts to bring to an event), I had to switch over the set of Shimano XTR BR-M988 Hydraulic Disc Brakes for Trail off of the spare bike. The Shimano brakes were a little heavier than the Magura’s; however, the increased power and finned pads were welcomed on the steep mountain descents. My verdict: All Mountain Riding: Nothing beats the power and cooling technology of the XTR’s. Cross Country Riding: Light weight and superior modulation make the Magura MT series a top contender.
  • Grips – I was fortunate enough to try out both the Ergon GS1 and GA1 grips throughout the stage race. My thoughts. The Ergon GA1 is labeled as All Mountain and it is when compared to the other grips in the Ergon line. I loved the feel and shape of the grip. The contour through the palm was excellent, as it filled the gap you normally find in the center of your palm when wrapped around a bar. These grips excelled on the descents, dampening vibrations and providing a solid feel.  These have made a permanent home on my bike.The Ergon GS1 grips have a larger surface area for your hand to rest on. Some people love these grips and use them on all their bikes; however, they are not for me. I enjoyed them on the climbs, being able to adjust my position and rest my hand some. On the other hand, with the steepness of the descents, I found myself sliding forward and with nothing to really wrap around I had to hold on much more tightly to keep my weight back on the bike. I had the feeling on many occasions that I was going to slide over the bars. These may be for you if your typical rides aren’t as steep on the downhill sections.

Ergon GA1 grips

  • Rockshox Reverb Adjustable Seatpost – This is one item I would not do the Pisgah Stage Race without. Having the ability to lower my seat to clear so many trail obstacles was priceless. I am not the only one who feels this way. Just ask most mountain bike riders and they will tell you their dropper post is their most favorite piece of equipment. The RockShox Reverb set the bar high and is one of the best dropper posts in the market.

  • Devinci Dixon- It was a blast riding this bike at Pisgah. Even though the Devinci Dixon is made in Canada, I think it was built with the Pisgah trails in mind. What a bike. The split pivot suspension design works very well under power and braking. My consensus for the race; Most others brought the efficient climber (29er hardtail) to race on with the thought they would just suffer through the descents.  The climbs were difficult in that everyone suffered, no matter the bike. Therefore, I was one of the few having a blast on the Dixon bombing down Farlow and Pilot Rock. If having fun, ripping down world class singletrack is your thing; you must try the Devinci Dixon.

2012 Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race Final Preview

A more detailed write-up of the final stage and a full race retrospective including in depth product reviews is on the way. We didn’t want to leave you in suspense however, so let it be known that we held onto second place duo team. If you just can’t wait to learn more about Pisgah Stage 5, check out Cycling Dirt’s video recap here (you’ll notice one particular Team Performance cyclist bravely pulling the field at about 1:16).

More to come!

2012 Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race – Stage 4 – Deathmarch

If any of you remember our coverage from the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race from two years ago, you may remember that Team Performance had a VERY rough stage 4. We limped across the line after 7 hours and 30 minutes of the most difficult riding we had ever done. Having that experience going into stage 4 2012 created a sense of dread as we lined up for the start.

The stage was basically identical so we knew in advance that we had to start by climbing the steep side of Black Mountain.

We sat in the pack and quietly hoped that the third place duo team was suffering as much as we were.

Black Mountain eventually gave way to Turkey Pen Gap. Todd (the race organizer) called this section of trail the most “back woods” section of the race and he wasn’t kidding. The trail was so overgrown that riders could barely see a couple of feet in front of their front wheels. This didn’t decrease the technical nature of Pisgah Forest, so it was a game of reflexes trying to stay upright.

Once through the dense Turkey Pen Gap we headed back onto Squirrel Gap. This time we rode it the other direction and it was dry. What a difference! We were cleaning lines that only days ago we had to walk.

At the end of the day we solidified our lead over third place (and lost even more time to the first placed team). Tomorrow brings the climb up Laurel Mountain and the Pilot Rock descent. It’s going to be a brutal day but at least it won’t be snowing!

2012 Pisgah MTB Stage Race – Easy Day?

We were informed last night by the Pisgah Stage Race director that today would be the easy day. Let’s just say that an “easy day” in the Pisgah Stage Race is one of the most difficult days back home! While there were some lovely high speed sections, we also encountered the usual Pisgah Stage Race mountain climbs where only the strongest riders can power up while staying in the saddle. But first let’s take a look at some videos from Stage 2. Here’s the start of the stage:

A quick view in the pack mid-race:

And then the madness that is Farlow Gap:

Now let’s get back to the third stage – our day started like every other.

We pulled into the start about 30 minutes before the gun fired thanks to one wrong turn on our way in. That still left us enough time to get ready and warm up a little before the start.

The Performance Team felt strong today, now three days in. We know you are wondering, and yes we were able to put a little time back in between us and the third place team. The cheering section out there was also in full regalia:

The course was the usual mix of rocks, roots, and stream crossings.

Tomorrow we’re going to work on capturing some video as we tackle the stage that everyone calls the most difficult stage in the race. In the meantime, you can find us doing us what we do best in the latest video from Cycling Dirt here. (That would be eating)

The product of the day is Paceline Eurostyle Chamois Butt’r.

If there’s one product that I (Christopher) would not be able to live without at an event like this, it would be good chamois cream. Paceline’s Eurostyle has just the slightest hint of the cooling effect that differentiates it from non-eurostyle types of cream. It’s not overpowering and it really does last a very long time. Proper “body” care is absolutely essential to surviving an event this long and difficult and my care starts with Paceline.

2012 Pisgah Stage Race – Furious Farlow Gap

With minutes to spare we got our last needed set of brake pads replaced (check yesterday’s post to see why) and headed to the starting line of stage #2 of the 2012 Pisgah MTB Stage Race. The stage started out of the Cradle of Forestry, a first ever for the Pisgah Stage Race.

The Performance Team of Chris Danz and Johnny Pratt ended up in second place for the duo team category after stage one. Therefore, we had to do our best with sore muscles to maintain our position. While the weather for stage one created a mindset of strictly business to finish the stage, day two’s sunshine brought about smiles, excitement, and chatter among the racers as we barreled down the technical singletrack.

Do not be fooled however, because pretty soon the climbing ensued. The beast of the stage was a particularly steep 4 mile climb that put our mental game to the test. With mind and body battling it out we anticipated the infamous Farlow Gap downhill. Let’s just say this section is extremely difficult to complete in dry conditions, with so many drops, ledges, and boulders making up the descent. Then you throw in the downpour from yesterday and you now have the Farlow Gap Waterfall. Johnny was able to clean the line somehow, all the while passing racer after racer attempting to walk (more like slide) down with their bikes.

Meanwhile Chris was putting his medic skills to use bandaging up victims of the descent.

A happily bandaged rider.We both came out alive on the other end and powered our way to the finish.

We took third place for the stage and maintained our 2nd place position overall. We are excited to see what challenges stage 3 will bring us tomorrow.

Items we’re glad we had – Rockshox Reverb dropper post, White Brothers Loop Suspension Fork, Ergon GS1 Grips.

Ergon GX-1Casualties of the day: 1 Bottom Bracket – Even sealed bearings couldn’t survive yesterday’s stage.

Now we’re just a few back-porch repairs away from sleep. Tomorrow’s stage will be the shortest of the race at only 25 miles. Does that mean we’ll have a super easy time of it? Will our bikes hold up? Will we hold off that third place team? Stay tuned to find out!

Pisgah 2012 Stage 1 – White Squirrel Loop

Stage one of the 2012 Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race started just as the Weather Channel predicted it would – with rain.

Some might have called it a deluge. Still, we left our rain jackets behind and signed our fates away to Todd Branham and the insanity he calls a “stage race”.

And with that, we lined up and headed out into the rain.

The White Squirrel Loop is the reason that Pisgah trails are sometimes referred to as “half-track” (as opposed to single-track). The trail is narrow, there are roots and rocks everywhere, and there tends to be a cliff’s edge to one side or the other.

Sadly, even though we were up to the challenge of riding in the rain for 6 hours, our cameras didn’t quite excel. Suffice it to say, it was very wet all day and more than a little muddy. How muddy was it? Without exception, everyone we talked to had the same issue at the end of the day:

 . . . worn out brake pads! Those pads were only weeks old and looked like they were brand new at the beginning of the day. No matter the brand and no matter the rider, we all are spending our evenings cleaning muddy bikes and replacing worn out pads.

Tomorrow we tackle the fabled Farlow Gap. We’re in second place so far in the team standings, so wish us luck and check back for more updates soon!

Pouring Rain, Product Impressions, Pounding Hearts…..The Pisgah MTB Stage Race is Here!

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are about to change, the temperatures have dropped into the “constantly pleasant” range, the days are growing shorter, and our summer fitness is going to go the way of the white squirrels (hiding for winter). This can only mean one thing: it’s time for the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race!

This year, one of our Pisgah veterans David will be spending the week reporting from Interbike so I (Christopher) am taking the opportunity to introduce another co-worker (Johnny) to the sweetest single track on the planet. Over the course of five gruelling stages we’re going to try to accomplish our eternal stage race goal: don’t be last.

In an attempt to not be last this year, I’ve got a new bike! Meet my GT Zaskar 100 9r:GT Zaskar 100 9rNow those with a sharp eye will notice that I’ve made a couple of upgrades to my Zaskar. I wanted to call out one in particular today. This week I’m going to be giving the most challenging test to our new Forte Tsali 29er tires.

Tsali SidewallThe Tsali is the latest in our new line of 29er tires. It’s named for a trail network that’s in the same area as the stage race, so this race should leave the tires feeling right at home. At 656 grams for a 2.2″ 29er tire, they are a great race ready tire. The dual density rubber has shown an impressive amount of grip on my training rides and I’m looking forward to really seeing what these tires are capable of. I’m about 160 pounds and with Stan’s Tire Sealant sealing these tires to ZTR Crest rims, I’m running these tires tubeless at about 25 psi.

Tsali treadWith rain in the forecast for tomorrow’s White Squirrel Loop, stage 1 promises to be a real test for the Tsali 29er tires and for us the riders.

Now I’m going to turn things over to Johnny for his first thoughts and product highlights.

Cue Jaws soundtrack. Why you might ask? Two reasons really.

  1. The 2012 Pisgah Stage Race begins tomorrow! My heart is beating a little harder today in anticipation. I can feel the adrenaline beginning to flow through my veins.From the race director:We’ve got another great year planned and are honored to have so many folks from such a vast area want to be a part of this race. We have 75 riders coming from 12 different states, including Colorado, Texas and Vermont. Over 20% of the riders are coming from outside of the United States from places like Canada, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands. The youngest registered racer is 22 and the oldest a mere 58. Only 12% of the racers are under 30 years old and only 16% of the racers are women.We’re excited to be starting a day out of the historic Cradle of Forestry on Wednesday! This is the first time an event like this has operated out of this facility and as you will see, it is spectacular. This is the site of the first forestry school in America, founded by Carl Schenck, also the stage’s namesake.
  2. We might as well be in a scene from the movie Jaws because 3-5” of rain is expected to fall in the region over the next 48 hours. The singletrack will be our great white, looking to eat us up with every twisting, slippery root and unsettling boulder. As if the trails weren’t epic enough, throw in all the rain and I can only imagine the battle between man and mountain that will ensue. Makes you want to come out and join us right? Be sure and lift up that warm mug of coffee tomorrow morning one more time for us.

In case you are wondering, this is what I saw this morning as the weather channel page loaded:

Yes, that pinkish white section, meaning 5”+, under the word Wednesday is where we will be racing.

With all that rain on the way, having a firm grip on the handlebars is going to be very important. Therefore, we will be sporting grips from Ergon. I am going to alrenate between their all mountain GA1 Evo, which I have been riding over the past 6 weeks, and their GS1 which provides a little more support. I love the subtle, yet important contour to the GA1 grip. It fits under my palm very well and spreads out the impact over a larger surface area of my hand resulting in more comfort. With these long stages ahead, comfort is going to be critical.

Here we both are, in good spirits, relaxing over a game of cornhole. Stay tuned tomorrow and through the rest of the week as we bring you live updates from this ultimate mountain bike adventure!

Race Recap: 2011 Swank 65 & Osprey Packs

Unlike recent years, we didn’t have the pleasure of suffering through the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race in 2011. But since we missed on that epic 5 days of Pisgah Forest racing, we decided to send Christopher and Greg to Blue Ridge Adventure‘s Swank 65 race instead. Todd Branham has organized the Swank 65 race on for the last 13 years, and it’s a great opportunity to get a small taste of the huge trail network in the “Ranger District” of Pisgah National Forest.

Christopher and Todd

Swank 65 covers about 38 miles of trail but the top pro riders still take well over three hours to finish, and many amateur riders are still trickling in after eight hours! Luckily for us racers, Todd had arranged to have New Belgium beer on tap and burgers served hot off the grill. Nothing gets mountain bikers to socialize quite like an epic ride followed by fresh burgers and great beer!

Bikes, beer and stories after the race

Of course we weren’t just there to race on the world’s best mountain bike trails, we were also there to put a new product to the test – namely Osprey Packs.  We had read great things about their packs, but before we put something in the next Performance Bicycle catalog, we don’t just read reviews in magazines but instead test the products in real-world conditions.

Chris with his Osprey Raptor 14 before the race

To that end, our riders Christopher and Greg saddled up with Raptor 14 and a Viper 10 hydration packs for the race. Both bags feature Osprey’s 100 oz Hydraform Reservoir – able to hold plenty of  water to make it from checkpoint to checkpoint. The Raptor 14 holds a bit more gear, which worked out perfect for Christopher as we was carrying a spare jacket and a GoPro camera. Meanwhile Greg enjoyed the slimmed-down profile of the Viper 10, which held just what he needed and nothing he didn’t.

Greg finishing up with his slim Viper 10 pack

So what were the standout features for our racing testers? Both packs feature Osprey’s awesome bite valve with a magnetic clip, which holds the hose in place even when decending Farlow Gap. Most importantly, both packs were extremely comfortable – an important feature since it took Christopher 5 hours and Greg over 7 hours to finish Swank 65. Also telling was the fact that their Osprey Packs were not alone amongst the other racers – it looks like the word is out to the mountain biking elite that Osprey makes some amazing hydration packs. In fact, at least a quarter of the packs at the race were made by Osprey. It was clear by the end of the day that Osprey makes high-quality and well thought out hydration packs and that we needed to carry them in our product lineup. Our racer’s recommendations were passed along to our buying team, who have added a full array of Osprey Hydration Packs. If you’re planning a big mountain bike ride this year, make sure you consider bringing along an Osprey Pack.

Pisgah MTB Stage Race – Stage 5

Finally, the fifth and final stage of the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race was upon us.  Our route for the day was the same as day 3 from last year, but that was about all that was the same!  Instead of wet and freezing temps, we were greeted with another beautiful day in western North Carolina, with clear skies and temperature ranging from 60 up to 85 degrees (no chance of snow on Laurel Mountain this year)! As you can see in the Google Earth map generated from my Garmin Edge 500, we had another big loop in store for us, with many stream crossings, the highest point of the race, and one of the gnarliest downhills thrown in for good measure:

But before we started, as promised, here’s a shot of Chris and I (David) with one of the famous white squirrels of Brevard!  OK, maybe the sneakers give it away, but that’s just a guy in a (somewhat tattered) squirrel suit.

The final stage started with a controlled roll-out, with police escort, onto the road that leads out of Pisgah Forest from our daily start/finish site at the base of Black Mountain.  We even got to stop traffic at an intersection (but the people of Brevard were exceedingly polite about the whole event, but perhaps they were just utterly perplexed by the sight of 50-odd spandex clad mountain bikers rolling down the road)!  Once we turned onto the main highway leading north, towards our first singletrack of the day, I tried to stay tucked in with the lead group as long as I could, but faded off the back on the first big hill (the first 4 days were really catching up with me).  Chris dropped back and we pacelined the rest of the paved miles until our turnoff onto the first big fire road climb of the day.

Soon enough we hit singletrack, a fun rolling stretch along Turkeypen Gap, before we dropped down to a creekside trail.  We waded through the chilly water many times  as the trail zig-zagged back and forth across the stream.  The first crossing was the deepest, but it was only about knee-high this year:

Since I had my GoPro HD Hero helmet cam ready to go, I made a little compilation of the stream crossing action, to give you a feel for the experience:

Once we finished the lowland stretch of stream crossings, the trail pointed ever upward and we started the long climb to the top of Laurel Mountain.  As I said, it was a beautiful day, so attempting this climb without blinding snow made it eminently more enjoyable, but it was still a hard slog.  We are definitely not elite level mountain bikers by any means, so riding for 5 straight days for over 5 hours was really starting to wear me down.  Even what would normally be fast and fun singletrack just became a matter of survival.

But battle on we did, pushing our bikes up Laurel Mountain when we had to (well, everyone had to at some point, as it was ridiculously steep)!  Once at the top, the view was amazing, but we soon had out hands full with the descent off of Pilot Mountain.  Rocky hairpin switchbacks greeted us for miles as we plunged downward–we needed every suspension advantage from our GT Sensor 9rs to get down in one piece.  Here I am navigating the “humvee” section near the bottom of Pilot Mountain:

After some paved road connectors, it was back onto the Avery Creek Trail for one last hurrah of Pisgah singletrack.

After one last fire road climb, and a last time pushing up over Black Mountain, we got to enjoy the 4 mile downhill that ended every day during the race!  Final stats for stage 5: 41.48 miles, 9,127 feet of elevation gained and a time of 6 hours and 43 minutes.  If we look a little wiped-out in the photo below, now you know why:

All that was left was to enjoy the post-race festivities.  But, wouldn’t you know it, on the way there we actually saw a real, live white squirrel!  I actually forced Chris to turn the van around so I could go back and get photographic evidence this time.  Cute little guys, aren’t they:

The closing ceremonies were held at the Brevard Music Center campus, where there was plenty of room for vendor booths and activities for young and old (from a kids’ race to a pie-eating contest):

Here’s a cool cut-away view of the internals of an Industry Nine freehub body, on display at their booth–they’re based near Asheville, NC and make some fantastic wheelsets:

Finally it was time for awards.  Once again we were only able to finish 5th in the team classification, but at least that meant we made the final podium (OK, technically we were standing on the ground).  To see a list of all the winners, check out Cycling News for their final breakdown (pro Jeremiah Bishop took the overall title once again).  Our final tally after all 5 stages: 173.50 miles and 39,621 feet of elevation in 28 hours 9 minutes (but who’s counting).  To see more from the race, check out the photo album on our Facebook page or go to our Youtube page (plus Thom from Cycling Dirt also logged some great coverage as he raced).

The Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race was again an epic challenge of endurance and willpower–definitely the hardest test on a mountain bike that I’ve ever tried.  Chris and I survived the race more than anything else, but it was still a blast.  We had no major problems with either man or machine (unless you count my sore legs), and our GT Sensor 9r mountain bikes performed great throughout all 5 days.  We’ll post more detailed reviews of our equipment in the next couple of weeks, to give you a few tips about what we discovered by pushing our gear to the limit (and hopefully let you know how you can get a GT Sensor 9r of your very own, while supporting Hans Rey’s great Wheels for Life charity).

But we’ll finish up this post with a few words from the race organizer, Todd Branham, talking about this year’s race, and what he has in store for next year.  Knowing Todd, it will definitely be an adventure!

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