Saturday, August 11, 2001 -- Slatyfork, WV
Wild 100 Backcountry Race (iPO Event Id#: 2632)
Story by Brian Kemler with photos by Don Parks
[Overall Results] [Results by Class]
Pictures: [Set 1] [Set 2] [Set 3] [Set 4] [Set 5] [Set 6] [Set 7] [Set 8] [Set 9]
[Set 10] [Set 11] [Set 12] [Set 13]
[1998 Wild 100] [1999 Wild 100] [2000 Wild 100]
The Wild 100 Mountian Bike Marathon
By Brian Kemler of City Bikes
This West Virginia back-country race is a whole heck of a lot
different than most mountain bike races. And not just because it's
upwards of 75 miles long and has over 8,000 feet of climbing; but
because, like an alley cat race, the racers select their own course
based on their determination of the quickest and most direct route
between the five, sometimes hidden, checkpoints.
This year three City Bikes racers made the 7-hour, traffic ridden journey to Slatyfork, WV; Jason Troxell, Meghan Ryan and I. Meghan and I raced in the Co-ed class. Since the three of us rode the race together, and thanks to Jason's help at the end, without which our result wouldn't have been possible -- in my mind, this was truly a three-person effort.
Elk River Touring Center (www.ERTC.com), host and promoter of the Wild 100,
is a neat little village of cabins and houses tucked between a
mountain and a stream. They have a complete bike shop and dining
room. It's quaint, cozy and charming, making for a nice, laid back
getaway spot - especially compared with the institution-sized lodge at
Snowshoe up the road. Meghan and I camped in the field next to the
Touring Center, while Jason was living in the lap of comparative
luxury in a furnished room.
Little did we know how much competition.
As we got our maps, we immediately mounted our bikes figuring the fastest racers would figure out the route and we could just trail them to the first checkpoint, which is historically, the easiest to find. A field of 140+ racers started the race. This is not a tactic we could employ later in the race, but it's the quickest and best initially.
We cross the bridge to State Route 219 and hit a two mile section of legal pavement. Meghan's complaining that her rear tire's low. I tell her to hang in until checkpoint #1. She's annoyed that she has to ride on low pressure; I don't want to stop three hundred yards into the race.
I relent, pull out my C02 air cartridge from my Camelbak - while
riding - and instruct her to pull over. She does, I blast her tire
with air and we're off. In a 30-mile expert race, this could have cost
us serious time but, in an all-day race, there's more maneuver room in
terms of stopping for mechanicals. Or so we thought. Back on the bike,
we hit the dirt, double-track, Forest Road 135 (FR135), for grueling,
roller coaster-steep switch-back climbs.
She's racing Co-ed with a dude from Seven Cycles (Seven), both hail from my home state of Massachusetts. Immediately, I peg them as our most serious competitive threat next to TSV. I'm disheartened that this time she's riding a geared bike!@#$! I'm pretty scared Tiffany is going to have us for breakfast. There's another couple from the East Coasters Team whom I didn't recognize, but who would spend most of the first and second checkpoints ahead of us.
The switch backs give way to a rolling ridge and we are riding with Jason. Later, I spot Tiffany heading back toward us and I'm thinking this can only mean they've already hit checkpoint #1 and are on their way to #2. Either that, or they're lost. By this time we've logged about 10 miles and we're looking for our first section of prime West Virginia single track, the Turkey Point Trail.
We find it, and since the default weather condition here is rain, the
trail is soaked, though, mercifully, rideable. We walk up a couple of
hike-a-bike sections, pass a bunch of riders, make our way back on to
our bikes and ride to the intersection of the trail where the
checkpoint is supposed to be. To our astonishment, the fastest thirty
or so racers are scouring the scene looking for the checkpoint. It's
no where to be found.
We concluded there was no one at checkpoint #1 to sign us and we high-tail it for checkpoint #2 with most of the pack, including TSV, in tow.
Back down Turkey Point, to the Boundary Trail. This is a serious hike-a-bike, but I am relishing the time off the bike to stretch and give my biking muscles a break. We make the turn for Bear Pen Trail and are back on our bikes. At this point I am inadvertently riding way ahead of Meghan. I tend to ride the technical parts faster, while she tends to ride the climbs faster. But this is a team event, and she's annoyed (rightfully so) that I am not riding with her. We have some words, but then both end up apologizing. It's all good from here on out.
We continue riding and hit the junction of Tea Creek Connector and Bear Pen Trails. Three choices. We're pretty sure we should take the Connector, head down it, but in the wrong direction. TSV follows and pushes ahead. Jason calls out to me and I stop. He's certain it's the other way. I turn around and we've yelled out to TSV, but they're gone. Interestingly, one of their other riders, Chris, heads out ahead of us in the direction we choose. We think perhaps Dave and Jen will be following shortly. We won't see them again for over 8.5 hours.
We ride along a stream, fjord it several times and then hit a steep,
technical climb. We're in sight of the East Coasters Couple. We pass
them, they pass us. Repeat several more times. I don't think they're
serious competition because we keep passing them. Meghan contends
they're a threat.
East Coasters leave CP #2 and we're on their wheels. We climb out of the woods back on to FR135 and descend for about a mile, making a quick right turn onto a several mile decent, the Crooked Fork Trail. This is a screamer of a downhill and it's pretty straight despites its name. I'm approaching 40MPH when I hit a boulder and my back tire explodes. I stop, Jason and Meghan immediately catch up and I replace my tube with haste. East Coasters have passed us again. We're back in pursuit mode.
We blast through a technical section and dispatch the East Coasters for once and for all. My memory is kicking in from the last year and we barely need the map now. CP #3 was hidden last year and this year it is too, but at least it's in the same vicinity. Near the bottom of the descent, Jason flats; Meghan and I drive ahead. As we get to the short road climb into CP #3, we slow to give Jason a chance to catch up. He meets back up with us.
The map is useless now, and we're going through cow pasture, replete with actual cows, navigating via my memory from the year before. We hike-a-bike straight (no pun intended) up Gay Sharp Knob. At the top we begin to ride. My front wheel kicks some fresh cow patties up into my face. Splat. I now can say I have literally eaten s---.
We climb another hill, look back and CP #3 is down the hill and across
the field. We turn around, race toward it and check in. This is the
first supported checkpoint and I am downing everything in
site. Apples, candy, Clif Gel, cookies. The promoter, Gil, is there
and confirms no one is going to get DQ'ed because of missing CP
#1. Thank goodness. He also signals we are the first Co-ed
team. Tiffany and the Seven Dude roll in; this is our cue to roll out.
At this point last year, I am sore, aching and tired. Now I'm feeling fresh and stronger than at the beginning of the race. We blast up a slight climb and make our way to Red Spruce Trail. It's mostly flat and rolling at this point until we hit a slight decent onto the Gauley Connector Trail. We wind our way downhill, then across a meadow and into the mostly hike-a-bike back-side of the Tea Creek Trail.
This is full-on technical single-track at its best. Except on the back side, we're climbing until we get to the top of the third ridge. We're back on the bikes and I am riding behind Meghan. Jason's up ahead. We're slowly climbing and the dude in front of her stops quickly and gets off his bike without getting out of the trail. This causes Meghan to fall over (hard) on to a rock and then she yells at him. He's feeling like an ass.
We prod on, still feeling strong, Meghan shaking it off like a champ. She is one hardcore chick. I notice my tire's a little squishy, but I don't think it's a big deal. I'll ride it out to CP #4. At the top of the last ridge, the terrain flattens into a 300 yard boulder section making Michoux look like a paved bike path in comparison. We hike-a-bike through.
I decide to blast the downhill ahead of Meghan and Jason so I can have
time at CP #4 to deal with my tire. The way down is off-camber
singletrack and switchbacks. I am loving this decent. Fast, fun,
gnarly. I am eating it up. To me this is what mountain biking is all
about: my hard earned reward after all the long climbs and
hike-a-bikes. Half way down, I spot Chris from TSV. He's flatted out
and run out of spare tubes. I stop to give him my last one, fairly
certain I can make it to CP #4 where they'll have another one for me.
The three of us roll out of CP #4 heading straight to the Bannock Shoals Trail. This climb is steeper than a railroad grade, but smooth and non-technical. It goes up forever and ever and then some. Jason and Meghan start to drop me and for the first time and my lower back is starting to hurt from all the time in the saddle. I pop a bunch of really nasty, but free, "Rasberry Tonic" Clif shots. Yuk. No wonder they're free. I eat a Clif bar and suck down some water and Cytomax.
Feeling a little better on the climb, I settle in behind Meghan and grind up the hill. To releive my back, I'm gearing down and riding out of the saddle. Jason and Meg are noticeably stronger and I'm getting passed by other racers which wasn't happening so much earlier in the race.
We top out of Bannock Shoals and are on FR135 again. This time we're headed to CP #5. The good news it's mostly fire road, the bad news is this checkpoint is well off any established trails. I am having visions of deja-vu from last's year's checkpoint #3 fiasco. I am concerned this will be the same sort of debacle and that we'll have to be out on the course for an additional and unnecessary hour.
But that's still a good 8 miles away and my immediate concern is that my tire is losing air at about the same rate that I am losing steam. My chain is so dry I am getting chainsuck and can't use my middle chainring. This forces me to use my big one, wearing me down even more. I tell Jason and Meg to go ahead, find CP #5 and then wait for me. I start to feel a little better, but I am still considerably slower than I was up until now.
I am beginning to realize that maybe bombing the technical sections
was not just bad teamwork, but it was also bad strategy. Had I paced
myself by matching Meghan's earlier speed, maybe I would be keeping up
with her now.
As we leave CP #5 to climb back down the wall, Jen and Dave are climbing up it. Seeing TSV, who by this point, we're all but writting off, is like a shot in the arm. Literally, I felt a shot of adrenalin rush through my body. But that won't be enough to win, so I down an entire bottle of Cytomax and eat four Clif gels. Yuk. It will be a sprint finish, but only if my tire holds up. They're only a few minutes back - probably about as long as it would take to change my tube.
We hit the road again and immediately see Tiffany and the Seven dude heading into CP #5. Great, competition from two fronts. Anyway, we step on it, and I begin recovering. However, my tire is getting soft again, this time much more rapidly. There's no way to win if we have to change that flat. The timing is too close. We catch up with Jason and I asked him if he'd swap out his back wheel with me. Selflessly, he did while saying, "just win this #$&*)& race!!!". Earlier in the year I had stopped during a race to give Jason my camelbak because he was broken down. That payed off in spades.
We swap wheels and begin an eight mile sprint. When we hit the
downhill swichbacks, the same ones we started the race on, we're
pushing forty miles per hour. I didn't bother to check the back
brakes. Jason's rim is that much narrower than mine that my back
brakes will not clasp his rim. I'm riding the front brakes alone on
loose gravel around switchbacks. I'm convinced this is the definition
of "sketchy". We round the last switch and the pavement is in
sight. We're in the home strech, but not easing up at all. I'm trying
to draft behind Meg but she's too strong for me now.
Or so we thought until they handed out awards, placing us second, after arch-rivals (and friends), Jen and Dave of TSV. Since the promoters failed to get a person to checkpoint #1, they started the clock from zero at checkpoint 2. Hence the time that mattered was not when we started, but when we left checkpoint #2. So even though we reached that checkpoint and crossed the finish line first, Jen and Dave's time between CP #2 and the Finish, was faster than ours. And truth be told they must have really been hauling ass to make up for the mistaken turn. We estimate that cost them between 15 minutes and a half hour. That meant that they made up an incredible amount of time. And they only finished minutes behind us.
Meanwhile, Jason doesn't have a spare tube and he finishes the race out riding my rim about a half hour later. Worse still, my cassette is an eight speed, while his was a nine. He could barely shift the bike through the rest of the race. I owe Jason a world of thanks for swapping that wheel out.
Anyway, now we're feeling like we finished second due to a technicality and are in the awful position of having to contest the victory of our friends Jen and Dave. We've talked to them and the promoter and what I will say is that now everyone is concerned about the facts and what makes the most sense in terms of fairness. Jen and Dave and the promoter are being really cool about the situation and no one is freaking out. Since it's still up in the air as to whether we finished first or second, I will limit my comments on this matter until it has been resolved. Suffice to say that my friendship with them is way more important than coming in first.
This was an amazingly fun race, regardless of our finishing place.