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!