Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Swank 65

This past weekend I got to race Swank 65 up in Pisgah. I raced this last year pretty soon after I had moved to South Carolina, and that race had been my first time ever riding in Pisgah. Last year I knew I could handle the course and I more or less knew what I was in for. But I didn't have many expectations, I just figured it was a good way to ride a bunch of awesome trails for the first time without getting lost. Swank 2008 introduced me to the nearly endless potential of these mountains and opened up a new chapter in my mountain biking. For Swank 2009 I was aiming to break 5 hours. This despite the fact that I've been kind of unfocused, not in my peak form and slacking a bit on the bike due to a cracked rib a couple weeks back.

I drove up to Beth's farmhouse in Brevard Saturday evening with a bike that still had one or two mechanical issues. There was a decent size party going on there with a keg of the Pisgah Pale Ale courtesy of the Pisgah Brew Crew and many bike people both racing and not. Somehow what started out as me needing to put some new brake pads in my rear brake soon escalated to trying to push the piston back in, to losing tiny screws on a dark gravel driveway, to DOT fluid dripping all over the place, to idle speculation amongst ten or fifteen mechanically-minded people about what household substances might be a possible substitute for DOT fluid, to me ripping a brake off someone else's bike and installing it in place of my own now non-functional brake. (I am not pointing any fingers of blame here, but if I were to point such a finger it would be in the direction of a certain multiply-aliased, emphatically-mustached singlespeed serial race poacher.) There was also some lengthy discussion of how my tires were a horrible choice that I was going to regret bitterly come morning.

I slept great out under the stars in Beth's yard and definitely enjoyed the relaxed morning of coffee and bagel, not having to get up insanely early for the race start. At the race venue I felt kind of edgy, but pretty good otherwise, and even better once I realized that this year's race would have a much shorter and less treacherous LeMans start than last year.

I'm on the far right, telling people how the LeMans run through the forest last year was more dangerous than Farlow Gap
(photos by Amy Walters)


I got a good start and got into the woods much earlier than I had last year. The race starts with a climb up the gentle grade of Cove Creek, and I was just redlining it on this section to avoid getting stuck back in a mid-pack traffic jam like last year. Once the trail flattened out and sped up, a couple endos on technical bits illustrated just how differently adjusted my front brake was from the borrowed rear brake. It probably took me most of the first hour of the race to figure out my braking-- lightly feathering my front brake balanced with repeatedly pumping the borrowed rear brake. I had my technique dialed in by the time I got to the east side of Daniels Ridge loop and nailed those lines all the way down.

It's all clicking on Long Branch.

The middle of the race was great. I felt great on Butter and was feeling strong climbing Long Branch. Then I got really upset by a racer who was... let's just say... ungentlemanly in his comments... when I passed on the gravel road just after Long Branch. I got real shouty and told him off, then was so boiling mad I took it out by hammering super hard all the way up Pilot Mountain Road to the top of Farlow.

My head was on straight again by the turn-off. Farlow Gap was Farlow Gap. Brutally loose rock, straight down the fall line, scarce switchbacks. It has gotten a fabled reputation amongst people who don't often ride in Pisgah, although honestly I don't see it as all that different from some of the lesser-known great trails in this forest. Which is to say, check your ego and adjust your expectations because you are going to get off your bike a bit. Was I walking the bike on the steepest loosest sections? Of course I was. And even people who can clean the initial steep descent will probably be pushing the uphill grunt that follows. Pisgah teaches you, among so many other things, how to hike-a-bike efficiently and cheerfully. If you really hate pushing your bike, you will never really love Pisgah.

About halfway through Farlow, the uphill pushing section ends the trail gets really fun and rideable. Just as I was back on my bike and getting some speed a giant stick jumped out of nowhere (possibly thrown by ninjas) and rammed into my rear hub. One broken spoke, and something got damaged or dislodged inside the hub. The pawls were only engaging about half the times,the pedals otherwise spinning free. Coasting or backpedaling meant rolling the dice on whether I would re-engage the pedals when I wanted to. This would be a minor annoyance on gravel or on fast flowy singletrack. But on technical trail, it made things really hard. I ended up pedaling through a lot of rocky spots I would normally have coasted, sometimes pedalling and braking (with my borrowed rear brake) at the same time to maintain the speed I wanted without risking losing the ability to pedal. I got a new appreciation for just how difficult riding a fixed gear mtb would be.

It was an annoying problem but it actually didn't slow me down a whole lot once I got it figured out. I still cleaned all of the west side of Daniels Ridge and actually felt like things were clicking really well in the rock gardens. Except for a leg cramp forcing me off the bike for a minute down near the Fish Hatchery the rest of the race was uneventful. I came over the line at 5 h 15 minutes, almost an hour faster than my 2008 time. I expected to break 5 hours, but given everything I am pretty happy with this time. I was the fourth woman finisher, which was pretty cool, and squarely in the top half of overall finishing times. Big shout out to Shanna for a blazing fast third place finish! What a great day in the woods.

Swank 65 is a really great time-- this is truly grassroots racing at its finest. There's a real community feeling out on the trails and at the finish line. It was great to race on trails I love so much, and really fun to know so many people out there, volunteers, spectators, and fellow racers. Despite some issues I really felt like this race was great for me in a lot of ways. One year after my first ride there, Pisgah feels like home. I'm looking forward to this race again next year.

1 comment:

  1. Way to kill your time from last year girl! Nice job with all those bike issues too. It was great racing with you on the anniversary of our meeting. Riding Pisgah is awesome and I'm glad you've been a part of it!

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