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Saturday, August 17, 2002 -- Slatyfork, WV
Wild 100 Backcountry Race (iPO Event Id#: 4796)
Photos by Don Parks

[Details] [Coverage]
[Overall Results] [Results by Class]
Pictures: [Set 1] [Set 2] [Set 3] [Set 4] [Set 5] [Set 6] [Set 7] [Set 8] [Set 9]
Past Wild Coverage: [1998] [1999] [2000] [2001]

View from Rt. 150
Miles and miles of the best Slatyfork has to offer
This year's edition of the Elk River Touring Center's Wild 100 Backcountry race was every bit as wild, and wonderful, as ever. Well over 100 riders were up bright and early for a 7:00am start, eagerly awaiting the course maps that are kept secret until just before the race begins. A pre-race briefing by Gil Willis and soon the riders are off into the morning fog to begin their search for the sometimes elusive checkpoints.

It was almost seven hours later that Chris Scott would be the first to make his way back to the finish, followed closely by Mike Buchness. For others it would take twice as long, finishing well into the night, for the glory of simply knowing that they complete a Wild 100.

Race Pic
Charting a course for the Wild 100
Race Report: The Wild 100
By Brian Kemler
City Bikes Mountain Bike Team - Washington, DC
Slatyfork, WV 8/17/2002

Run Lola Run

For the last two years, I've made the 5-hour drive to Slatyfork, WV for this 100-kilometer, backcountry, orienteering mountain bike race as a racer on a two-person coed team. This year, bolstered by my team's placings the last two races, I thought I'd go it alone and see how I'd fare as a solo contestant. The last two years, we either came in first or second depending who's figuring this stuff out.

What makes this race particularly difficult is not just the jagged, technical single-track terrain, but also the choose-you-own course via connect-the-dots (in the form of 5 checkpoints), on a 3' by 4' topographic map. And, unlike many long races, the fastest way to complete this one, doesn't involve much fire road.

This year City Bikes ( Mountain Bike Team ( of Washington, DC, fielded three racers, Pat "Swampy" Riggin and Josh Lerner racing as a team and myself. Josh and I headed down early Friday night and arrived to set up camp just before the dark and the default weather condition - rain, set in.

Race Pic
Navigating the trails of Slatyfork
Going to bed early, I awoke to the sound of roosters at 5:45am. The night before I completed most of my pre-race preparation including setting up my bike, filling my Camelbak, and getting my drop bags ready.

It's 6:45am and I am listening to the pre-race announcements impatiently and I'm awaiting receipt of the course map, a tight secret until the start. The sun is finally out after a night of rain and I know the course is going to be wet even if it heats up. Coming back on the plane the other night, I studied the courses from the prior years learning the similarities, nuances and going over the routes in my head.

That paid off. As I am handed the map, I take a quick glance and immediately recognize the 5 checkpoints and I close the map almost as fast as I opened it, tuck it in my shorts and get on the road heading up Props Run. The last time I did Props was when I was getting into mountain bike racing and I took a shuttle to the top and rode down. We were heading up Props today. Until now, I didn't know people did that.

Race Pic
Don't forget to take in the sights
Now it might be called Props Run because it's easier to run than ride, but I think the real reason is, because it's just that; a run, or for Northerners like my self, a creek. We hit the single track. Swampy takes a belly-dive trying to cross a stream and Josh and I press ahead. We're grinding it up this thing at a breakneck pace. The three off us ride together and intermittently exchange places. Overall, we're somewhere in the top-ten. We continue riding for about 45 minutes and we're gapping the racers ahead of us while we're dropping those behind us. The people in back don't look particularly happy.

Chris Scott passes us, but after that we maintain a solid position. I notice his Camelbak - it's huge and stuffed. I am glad someone takes as much crap with him as I do during these races. At this point, I am feeling great. I actually feel like I have juice to spare and that I may pull away from Swampy and Josh. Deep down inside, I just have this amazing feeling about my riding today.

Suddenly, I notice some strange creaking from my saddle. I think the binder bolt is loose. Not to worry. I will stop at Checkpoint #1 and tighten it there.

By now, we must be close to 75% of the way to the first checkpoint. All of a sudden, I feel slightly faint, so I ratchet it down a notch to catch my breathe and I hear that creaking noise again - then a sharp snap. My seat is snapped completely off one of the rails. There's no way I am riding another 55 miles with a half-broken saddle poking up my butt.

Race Pic
Chris Scott takes the win in 2002
Now, I know I am out and I am really bummed I won't be riding with my Swampy and Josh. I am especially upset because I am feeling so strong today and I know the course.

I turn around, and disappointedly head back down Props. I pass all the other riders still heading up and explain my predicament when asked. People joke that they would give me their spare saddle, but they forgot to take it today. Everyone was sympathetic, though. One dude even said he was "sorry". I appreciated the sentiments.

Now I am wondering how I am going to make this a decent day. I take my time getting down, and pull over frequently to let the folks climbing have the right of way.

I make it back to Elk River Touring Center not realizing how far we'd already gone at this point and am spotted by its owner and the race promoter, Gil. Is he the only other Gil other than the musician Gil Scott-Heron? He immediately asks me what's wrong. I explain, for the fourteenth time, and he rushes to get me a saddle. At this point I am not even thinking of getting back in the race.

Race Pic
A long day with your biking buddies
Rather, perhaps I will tool around, help other racers and check out the scene. Gil rushes back with what looks like a Schwinn Exercycle Saddle from the 70's with everything but the springs. This, Velour Plus Saddle, with a $20 price tag, looks like it could seat two and has a "prostate protector" so wide I am scared my skinny butt my fall through.

In any case it's a saddle and it will help me get some miles in on this nice day . It looks especially ironic on my high-end titanium mountain bike. Gil offers some encourage words then tells me to get back in stating "you may actually catch some riders". I am still half-dazed and I reluctantly agree.

I head out of the touring center for the second time and look at my watch. It's 9am, exactly two hours after our 7am start time.

100 yards down the road and I am already reconsidering and I contemplate hanging out in my tent by myself. I feel like I am acting out the mountain bike race edition of Run Lola Run. I hit props and for an hour I am riding everything I already rode this morning, but now I am completely alone and worse still: dead last. I know I will pass some people, but I also know it will take a while. I finally get to Checkpoint #1 and it's gone. They've packed up, thinking that no one is so slow as to still be out on that part of the course. So I head to Checkpoint #2. I feel pretty good and I am riding strong, but not at the blistering rate of before. Just outside of CP #2, I pass my first racer. Hurray - now I am second to last! I had hoped to finish in the top 20, now if I finish in the bottom 20, I will be happy. I roll into CP# 2, and thankfully, it's still there.

Race Pic
Racing through the dark
I glance at the map and immediately memorize the right route to Three. On the way across the Gauley Mountain Trail, I pass some of the people I was rapping with on the way down Props. I stop for a moment to receive some words of encouragement. It's funny; everyone knows my story since they saw me going down Props. They're routing me on and encouraging me and I am feeling really motivated.

The approach to Three is one-way in and the same way out. It's a fast descent in, and a climb out. I am riding head-on against the folks leaving Three. After I pass about 8 folks, I start loosing track of how many I've reeled in. I roll into Three and the person at the Checkpoint queries me, "Brian Kemler??? City Bikes? Didn't you DNF {did not finish}???"

"DNF", I reply, "Me, no way". I drink some Sprite (even though I usually hate soda), eat a couple of sandwiches and jet. I am now climbing my way to Checkpoint #4 and passing a lot of the folks who I had seen on the way down. They're all encouraging me and it's quite a rush. On the last section of climbing it gets really steep and technical and I am walking for the first time.

Race Pic
Energy to spare...
My bike is caked in mud, it's raining and the course is totally wet. I hear intermittent thunder, and when I get to the last decent into CP #4 it's so dark I can barely see. This is compounded by the fact that it's so wet I can't wear my glasses because they'll steam up too badly to make them useful. Somehow, none of this is bothering me and I am completely psyched to be racing and back in the game.

I descend into Checkpoint #4 - which is the only checkpoint that has remained the same year-to-year (thus far, at least). Physically, I still feel strong, and I settle in to do the unending climb out of Four, up Bannock Shoals Trail to Fire Road 135. What Bannock lacks in terms of being technical, it makes up for in length. I settle in and eat 5 Caffeine-charged Mocha Cliff Gels. I switched flavors after last year's gross experiment with Raspberry and I've found the Mocha Flavor compares favorably with my thick-viscosity morning coffee.

I pass some more folks and finally spit myself out onto the FR135. Now I am looking for an unmarked, unnamed trail approximately 1.5 miles east of where Bannock ends. This is the only part I fumble during the whole race. Thinking I went too far, I turn around, and head back toward Bannock. Then I think maybe I didn't go far enough, and I turn back again. Obsessive Compulsive Navigation Disorder is in effect.

Race Pic
No pain, no gain?
Finally, I spy some bike tracks through I field and the name "Mike" carved into the dirt (thanks Mike!) with an arrow and I get back on track. At this point I won't have to look at the map again. I've memorized all the turns through the end of the race.

This section ends up being the most technical, steep and grueling. Most of it I end up walking. I pass no one for an eternity. Finally, I get to the top of the ridge, start descending and hit the last Checkpoint, #5. I feel a rush of relief, pass some more riders and head back down Gauley Mountain trail, to the Fire road and make my final approach into Elk River Touring Center. I cross the line, a full half-hour better than my time last year in 9 hours and 53 minutes (including the two hour late start). My final result was 21st of 60 in my class and 28th of 100 overall.

Swampy and Josh, I learn, have ground out the whole race and they finish 2nd in their class and 7th overall. I wish I had the chance to ride with those guys, but it was a fun race just to finish.

PS: Gil - the check for the saddle is in the mail