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Saturday, August 11, 2001 -- Slatyfork, WV
Wild 100 Backcountry Race (iPO Event Id#: 2632)
Story by Brian Kemler with photos by Don Parks

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[1998 Wild 100] [1999 Wild 100] [2000 Wild 100]

Race Pic
The Wild 100 is all that... and then some!
The 2001 edition of the Wild 100 had all the elements for one long and wild Saturday epic. Leaving the Elk River Touring Center a little after 7:00am, and after encountering everything including a big black bear in the middle of a trail (a number of riders reported bear sightings), the first didn't return for over eight hours. Still others made their way back well after dark, some taking as long as 16 hours! Luckily there was plenty of great food and cold beer waiting for everyone regardless of when they finished.

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.

Camping
No time to sleep in at the ERTC
Like an alley cat race, the locale of the checkpoints is a tightly held secret until the race start. Unlike an alley cat, there are only about four miles of "legal" pavement in this course - take a real road and you're automatically disqualified. Several of the last year's contestants had their results, in some cases first and second placings, scratched because they took paved roads. Racers must hit each checkpoint in order. The shortest route on the map usually is the most difficult terrain. The checkpoints are scattered to the four corners of a 3' by 4' topographic map. Sometimes they're on a mapped trail, sometimes they're not.

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.

The Start
First things first, which way do we go...
Our day begins at 5:45am. I'm so out of it, I'm thinking why is someone yodeling at this hour? Alas, it's simply a rooster. As we rouse-to, I eat my usual breakfast and shoot the breeze with our friends and direct competitors Jennifer Duncan and Dave Haxhurst of Team Snow Valley (TSV). Last year, Jen and I raced together here as a Co-ed team; we took second place. This year we're friendly competition.

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.

Race Start
The first 100 yards of a very long journey
At this point I am feeling decent, especially considering I usually feel lousy until I warm up for about 45 minutes. Jason, master climber, has pulled out of site while Meghan and I hung slightly back keeping a brisk, but not full-bore pace. Nearby are Jen and Dave of TSV and, ominously, the Independent Fabrications (IF) woman, Tiffany, who trounced me on a single-speed two weeks earlier in the Wilderness 101-miler.

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.

CP #3
The hunt for checkpoint three
TSV rolls in behind us a minute later. Last year, checkpoint #3 was hidden and Jen and I spent an hour trying to find it. As sadistic as these promoters may be, we doubted they would do the same thing at the very first checkpoint. But, nonetheless, we're forced to decide between staying and finding the checkpoint, if it were there at all, and leaving, risking being disqualified.

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.

Jason Troxell
Jason Troxell on the road to checkpoint five
As we climb, we hit checkpoint #2 precisely on the switchback where it's marked on our map. They sign us in and indicate not a single racer has found checkpoint #1. We're beginning to think our hunch was right and we made the right call in not trying to waste time locating a non-existent checkpoint.

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.

Race Pic
It's all downhill to the finish
The section between CP #3 and CP #4 was the most grueling during last year's race. Perhaps that was because Jen and I spent an hour trying to find the third checkpoint while fumbling with directions. Next, we hit the only other legal pavement on the course; a two mile climb up Scenic Highway 150 to a double track dirt road, Red Lick Trail. Between this and the section there are two unmapped forks in the trail. There's no way to know which fork to take except through trial and error. Last year Jen and I tried and erred costing us precious time. This year, I remembered exactly which way to go without looking at the map.

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.

Race Pic
It's just you against the mountains
At CP #4, I have the option of changing the tube, or hoping the leak is slow enough that I can get by simply with filling up at the checkpoints. I decide not to change it, and that we need to get out of there ASAP because I am certain Tiffany is on our heels. Also, we've not seen Jen and Dave since they missed the turn to Tea Creek Connector. We're thinking they're totally out of it.

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.

Race Pic
Each climb comes one at a time
Eventually, I catch up and we climb a dirt wall into the section that leads to CP #5. After the race everyone complained how hard the wall was. I thought it was hard too, though I was so spent at this point, I assumed it was just me. Anyway from CP #5 to the finish it would mostly be down hill on fire roads. My tire was low, so I filled it again. It had lasted between the other checkpoints, so I assumed it would make it to the end of the race.

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.

Race finish
For many the finish comes well after dark
She slows, we round the last turn, cross the bridge back into the Elk River Turning Center and cross the finishline. First, in the Co-ed class.

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.