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Sunday, August 5, 2001 -- Kanawha State Forest - Charleston, WV
Black Bear 50K - WVMBA Point Series #9 (iPO Event Id#: 2633)
Story by Dave McKain with photos courtesy of Erik Eskew and Diann Clothier

[Details] [Coverage]
[Overall Results] [Results by Class]
Pictures: [Set 1] [Set 2] [Set 3] [Set 4] [Set 5] [Set 6] [Set 7]

Race Pic
The "Big Bear" takes on the "Black Bear"
Dubbed as "The Scariest Race in the World", the Black Bear 50K lived up to its name for many of the competitors. Besides taking on the challenge of the course, the heat and humidity during the race were oppressive. Thanks to whoever came up with the idea of the "Camelback" hydration system.

I was planning on heading out on the course with my trusty camera to take pics of all the happy faces as they rolled by but, due to problems with the camera stemming from the deluge at the Tour de Lake, I couldn't get it to operate that morning (reliably). Luckily, there were some others who would be able to take pics of the event and I could saddle up for the first time in a long while to try my hand at MTB racing. Needless to say, I wasn't very prepared although I had been riding a lot more regularly over the last month so I wasn't going to poop out but I knew that I couldn't "redline" from the get go.

Since I only had about 20 minutes to get my stuff together before the start. I neglected to fill my hydration pack fully before heading out. I knew that I had at least 50 ounces in there and that there would be water on the course so I didn't worry too much. After heading part way up the first climb, I headed back to the line to wait for the start. At least I had experience on the course and knew what to expect. Remebering the horror of the push climbs and the descent down spectator falls. I also remembered the horror of bonking last year after giving one of my two gel packs to an unfortunate junior expert rider. I had done really well in that race, passing several of my friends only to lose steam on the last few climbs and subsequently get passed, not just by those who I had passed recently, but by riders that I hadn't seen since the start. Riding down the switchbacks and having to get off my bike at every turn. Probably my worst bonk ever.

Anyhow, back to the start line. Cai Clothier had it out for me. Being the nice guy that I was, I had posted his picture on the cycling page at iPlay the previous week. While I saw no problem with that, he didn't think that the picture was very flattering and vowed to "Get Me" somewhere out on the course. Lucky for me, he was a junior racer and had to give me a 3 minute head start. I knew that I needed to hang back for the first few miles to get warmed up (this wasn't a sprint race, trust me) and didn't worry about the inevitable traffic jam on the first downhill. Just bide my time until the next dirt road section where I might be able to pass without as much risk.

Cai will be looking for revenge
I think that this may start a feud
Off we went - down the paved road (remebering that it had been gravel before). I stayed back and waited till the climb to start working hard, thinking in the back of my mind about the faster masters, junior and clydesdale racers behind me that would catch up soon enough. Pretty ho-hum on the first climb, said Hi to Womens Sport rider Courtney Dudley who, like me, was having a good time. Lo and behold, before I got to the top of the hill, here comes Bruce Wohleber, Masters racer extraordinare. At least I got a little cooling from the breeze as he blew by. Finally, at the top, it was into the woods. No more of this horrific climbing in the blazing sun. Time to head down the hill. I let a couple more of the hotshot juniors and sanbagging beginners blow by before the more trecherous parts of the trail. I heard the inevitable squealing of brake pads ahead which, to any mountain biker, conjures up the image of riders with their butts hanging back over the rear wheel as they head down steep pitches. I got to the bottom without too many problems (this was the spot where Joey Riddle got to see me eat it big-time a few years back - I remember that well and heed the memories).

The next road section was uneventful. A handfull of riders put the pass on while I caught a few myself. Time to head back into the woods and back up the hill. It was about here that I caught up with Womens Sport rider Amy Dunkin. We rode together for a while with some other guys. As usual, I had to deal with people coming up behind us as we pushed up the steep sections yelling "rider, rider, rider". Well, far be it from me to hold someone back in a race but a little trail courtesy was in order. As I rarely speak during a race, I was apprehensive about telling these guys where to get off but couldn't hold my tounge and gave them some trail etiquette lessons before sending them on their way ("On your left/right works fine"). As usual, they got past only to have to get off their bikes anyway. In a lesson learned by ole' Gunnar Shogren, if the section ahead looks unrideable, better to get off the bike with some steam (ala cyclocross) rather than come to a dead stop before frantically unclipping, getting the feet on the ground, and starting the march. About half way up the hill, I ran into Womens Expert racer Laurie Johnston. She was stopped and I asked her if she was okay (as if I was feeling that good). I didn't quite get what she said but did tell her to head back down the hill when she could (she later had to get her shin stitched up by my trusty Cousin Mike at the hospital in Morgantown - hardcore with scars to prove it now).

Race Pic
Specators were looking for carnage
Up the first of many climbs. Amy Dunkin explained how she had gotten wrecked earlier and was trying to catch up with fellow sport rider Amy Vance. We could see her just ahead on the climb and I knew that, being the competitors they were, it would be fun to watch. Unlucky for me, I didn't know if I could hang with the girls as they duked it out for the next 30K or so. After swapping places with Amy D. for a while and getting to the next road section, we finally agreed (not in word but in effect) that we would work together for a while. It's always nice to have someone to pace with. Match her speed for a while then work ahead while she hangs back. Man, did I start to feel the heat on the back section. My jersey was soaked through and it felt like I was in a suana. At least I had remebered to stop and get water at each opportunity so I still had plenty of reserves. In a show of my mountain biking skills, I showed Amy D. how to get over one foul smelling mud hole only to bury my foot up to the shin in the gooey mess. She got a kick out of that (I was just happy that it was only my foot).

The climb got steeper but, alas, we finally approached the big switchback signalling that the end of the climb was near. Unfortunately, the shade that we occasionally enjoyed was now gone but only for a short while. Amy D. put the pressure on and pulled away but, once in the woods, we got back together. A big Hayes Disk Brakes banner and lots of skull and crossbones warnings signalled the top of the dreaded Black Bear and, worse, Spectator Falls. I had ridden the section on the previous day and instructed myself to get off the bike at the earliest sign of trouble and run like the wind but, in the heat of the battle, I decided to go for broke (at least until I saw lots of spectators). I was able to pass Amy D. and made it to the top of spectator falls without too many problems.

With a shout of "I ain't giving blood today" I promptly dismounted and ran down the falls. It's nice to have people out there cheering you on but I felt that the crowd at this point was looking for carnage and I wasn't going to give them the pleasure. After the toughest section, it was back on the bike to the bottom then, as usual, it was back to climbing. I took one look at the hill and decided that I'd be better off push-climbing than trying to ascend that hill. For the first time in the race, I was on my own (at least for a while). Eventually I looked back and saw Amy D. coming up behind me and gave her a yell but she stayed back (or I stayed up front - different perspectives).

Over the next while, I did catch up with Amy Vance. That gave me a boost since I know that she does well in all of the races. The only problem was that I needed to keep up with her and didn't know if the old bones would hold up. I don't want anyone to assume that I didn't want to get beaten by a girl (heck, that's where I usually end up - behind Mandi, Missy, Sue and countless others). I've seen and heard of guys who will do anything to get past a girl for some odd reason. Anyhow, I would have to at least keep her in sight. Visions of my previous bonk at this race started creeping into my head as I pulled out my final energy gel. I just hoped that it would kick in at the right time and last to the finish. My best strategy was to use my bulk to my advantage - that is, get down the hill faster than Amy V. then get a break while she caught up.

This worked for a while until I headed down a 200 yard long, washed out, rock strewn trough. Using my ninja-like biking skills, I hung my butt back over the rear wheel and took my fingers off the front brake as I careened down the trail. I was about to the bottom when a big rock in the V of the trough stopped me dead in my tracks. I should say, it stopped my bike dead while my body launched forward. Luckily, my weight being over the back wheel, I didn't go over the handlebars and used my arms and legs like shock absorbers. Unluckily, the rest of my body launced forward and was only stopped by the impact of my private parts on the back of the saddle. This wasn't one of those "knock the wind out of you" hits but it did make me worry if I had done permanent damage. I got going again, wincing with pain, and made it safely to the bottom although I heard Amy V. behind me.

Time to put the pedal down again but, as my pedals whirled around, I didn't go forward. Damn, in all of the bouncing around my chain decided to escape from the front rings. With some forward momentum left over, I tried to trick it back on by shifting up on the front derailleur but only heard grinding noises (hey, sometimes it works). I pulled off to let Amy V. by and yanked the chain back on (man, I hate to get my gloves dirty). As I got back up to speed I could see that Amy was pulling away. Worse than that, I took a pull on the camelback only to hear that gurgling noise that means you are empty. This wasn't going to be fun.

Up we went again. I couldn't quite remember how far it was to the finish (seeing that I was in a stupor the last time I rode this section - although I know that it was the Cipriani boys who did me in as my body quit working) but I had to perservere. The questions were 1) Was there another water stop along the way; 2) were two gu packs (along with 4 brown sugar frosted pop-tarts and a coke for breakfast) going to get me through and; 3) was Amy V. going to fade a little. This was one of those many races within the race - competitions between individuals and between mind and body.

I caught up with Amy V. in a bit but didn't know how long I could keep it up. The good thing was, she was groaning over the same trail sections that I was. Especially up the short climbs when my legs were screaming for mercy. Lucky for me, the path to the finish was downhill and, if I could keep up, I could use my girth to my advantage. By this time, not only were my legs aching, my arms were a bit on the tired side. This didn't bode well for the upcoming switchback hell ride to the bottom. We pretty much stayed together until about half way down. Amy V. got a little squirrely and, being intelligent, dabbed on the uphill side of the trail. She graciously let me by but I didn't know if I had it in me. If she was close at the bottom, she would beat me in the sprint to the finish. I took a few chances the rest of the way to the bottom (only had to dismount for one of the switchbacks) and made the turn for home.

I didn't look back for fear of seeing how close Amy was until just before the finish. Lucky for me, she wasn't there and, with great relief, I got over the finish line. I hadn't lost any blood or broken anything which was a success. I had a great time and a challenging race. When I told Amy D. how close she had been to catching Amy V. she was bummed that she didn't push a little harder although I bet the wreck took a lot out of her (they sure do me).

My privates are fine after their near catastrophic encounter with the seat. The pizza and all-sport were welcome after the race. All-in-all, it was great to be racing again. To Doug Atkins and his crew for all the work they put into pulling off another great race and to all the support people out on the course, Thanks. To Amy V. and Amy D. - thanks for the competition and the company.

PS-I know that there are other stories from the race, hundreds of them in fact. Just thought that you might enjoy the perspective "from the saddle" than "from the sidelines". As usual, if you have your own story to tell, feel free to give us a shout.