Sunday, November 14, 2010

Double Dare

These races fade into memory so fast.  Shifting from a vividly remembered action sequence into a hazy montage as new events pile on top.  The last weekends have been some great racing, I'll do my best to tell the stories before they get any hazier.

Double Dare is a two day race in Pisgah from Eric and Erinna of Pisgah Productions, the folks who bring us PMBAR and the Pisgah 36.  Like PMBAR, it is raced in duos.  Each of the two days, you have 12 hours to get up to ten checkpoints throughout the forest.  If you come back after the end of the 12 hours you are disqualified, so a lot of the race strategy is knowing how to manage your time and energy in the woods.  Local knowledge definitely helps.  The first day starts at noon and ends at midnight, and the second day starts at 6am and ends at 6pm.  No sleeping in, either-- if you don't show on the starting line at 6am you're out. 

Leading up to Double Dare I was not taking it too seriously.  I had been finding it much harder than expected to bounce back from the pneumonia- although I didn't feel sick any more I had lost a lot of fitness and still had a lowered aerobic capacity.  I just couldn't mash up hills as fast as I would expect and would still start coughing and wheezing after hard efforts.  I knew my endurance was still below where I would like it to be and that I would have to maintain a pretty chill pace to last the whole two days.  Getting all wound up about this race would only lead to disappointment later.

Through some mutual friends Katie Miller and I partnered up, the only women's duo signed up for the race.  Luckily Katie was not too dedicated to any sort of awesome finish for this race, which was good because I didn't think I could handle a lot of pressure or stress about the weekend.  Emphasis would be on having fun times all weekend, and on finishing.  

Time was marching on and we still had to get out on the trail and get stuff dialed in.  Two weeks before the race we finally got it together for a ride in Pisgah that included her first ride down the steep and technical Farlow Gap trail.  Just one week before the race I got Katie out on her first night ride ever, equipped with one of my lights.  It was like we were cramming for an exam, and the exam was Double Dare.

When you read the above paragraph, maybe you rolled your eyes.  But you shouldn't.  Doing well at something like this is about being brave enough to take on new challenges. You need to be confident enough in your capabilities to believe you can finish what you start, and good-humored enough not to be deterred by the possibility that you won't. 

In the ten days leading up to the race a lot of shit hit the fan for each of us in our respective lives.  Like, really messed-up shit, the kind of thing that would make great excuses to not race.  Hearing what was going on for Katie made me worry that she was going to drop out, and maybe a tiny part of me would have not minded too much if she had decided to do that.  Maybe she felt the same way about me.  But she was still psyched to race, so I was still psyched too.

Somehow I found some form of equilibrium that would hold long enough for me to go race all weekend, and tried to partition the stress off into a far corner of my mind.  When I woke up Saturday morning I realized I had done zero packing for the race.  I threw everything I could think of into the car and crossed my fingers that I hadn't forgotten anything too important. The only real issue was food, as I had completely run out of energy bars or other food for all-day-long hard rides.  I ended up grabbing anything that seemed remotely appropriate and portable.  This meant that day one I was packing along some bananas and a large, two-day-old deli sandwich, and day two I was bringing half a loaf of whole wheat bread and some M&Ms.

 Katie and I on Cove Creek trail, photo by Brad O

The race started with Eric handing us our first day's cue card.  10 checkpoints, 1 mandatory one at the top of Slate Rock and 9 others scattered far and wide across the eastern side of the forest.  Katie and I took a look at the options with the map before us. She had some high hopes for how many we could grab, but I kept being the pessimist (a role that does not come easy to me).  I was really worried about how much I could ride and was very afraid of getting stranded far from the campground while the time was ticking down to midnight.

We started off our ride by grabbing one checkpoint at Club Gap on the way to the mandatory.  The day was beautiful and chilly, the trails were in great shape and very dry.  We headed back around to ride Black-Buckwheat-Bennett and pick up a third checkpoint halfway down Bennett.  I could ride the technical downhills faster than Katie, but was getting slow as hell on all the climbing.

We were on our way up Clawhammer-Maxwell to the intersection of Black and Turkey Pen for the final checkpoint of the day.  I was dragging behind, and Katie had ridden far ahead without noticing.  Afterward, talking to other people, I realized that every duo had some dynamic like this, one person was almost always going to be hurting more than the other at some point or another.  At the time I just felt like I was letting her down.  Anyway, in the moment I was just tired, and hungry, and feeling bad about myself and my poor fitness, and stressing out about everything else.

As the sun began to set, we turned onto Black Mountain for a good uphill push.  Every once in a while it is just time for a good cry in the woods and I guess that was the time for me.  Some nice catharsis while pushing up that steepest part of trail, the frustrations of the past weeks flying away into the darkness.  After that moment, everything else in the race felt so much lighter and easier.

We got to the intersection, took the photo for proof, then turned around to head back down Black.  It's a striking trail to ride at night because you can see the lights of civilization, shops and cars and homes, way down in the valley.  There's something beautiful about seeing the prosaic activities of the town and feeling just how remote you are from it all.  Up high above you feel the quiet stillness of the stars against the dark edges of the mountain ridges, a sharp contrast between the forest and the town.  This was Katie's second night ride of her whole life, and this descent is by no means an easy one even in the daylight.  This was an awesome ride, way to go Katie.

Took the long mandatory trip down Cove Creek trail to get back to the campground and made it there with plenty of time to spare.  We had not gotten many checkpoints than other teams, but had time to eat and rest around the bonfire while other teams were still riding around in the freezing dark.  There was still a whole next day of riding to come. 

Returning to the camp ground at the end of day one.  
I don't know why Eric's head has disappeared in this photo.  Spooky! 
Photo by Brad O

Due to the fun of the bonfire and the promise of an extra half point for a "special test" slow-race at midnight, neither of us sacked out til 12:30 and awake again at 5:00.  The race would re-start with a time trial gravel grind from the campground to some spot where we would be marked off and given our checkpoints for the day.  Any team that didn't start when their team was called at 6am was disqualified.  Ack! the stress!  Discombobulated and tired, shivering in the pitch dark, we nonetheless appeared on the line at the right time.  We started and headed up the gravel to Butter Gap.  I felt awful but it seemed like I was not the only one as many teams were dragging on this climb.

Just below Gloucester Gap I saw some eyes shining at me from the undergrowth along the roadside.  I figured it was an opossum so kept my light on the eyes to check out that cool little animal as I passed.  When I neared I realized it was not an opossum but actually a nice-looking plump calico housecat.  Like fifteen miles from the nearest home.  What the hell?  No one else saw it or seemed to share my excitement about seeing it, so after a couple minutes of trying to chat about the cat I just let it go.  But... you guys!  Seriously.  A housecat!  In the forest!  Alone!  Living wild!

Anyway we got our day two cue sheet and as the sun came up I started to feel better.  Much better.  We rode down Butter for a checkpoint and started up Long Branch.  At the intersection of Long Branch and the gravel 5095 we stopped for another checkpoint.  A guy rolled up behind us and asked us if we were going to take 5095 or the "Tunnel of Terror."  We both looked at him blankly, trying to figure out what he was talking about.  Tunnel of Terror?  Was there some really fun secret trail around here that we didn't know about?  Eventually we figured out he was referring to the truly moderate and pleasant Long Branch, which does include a couple rhododendron tunnels but contains absolutely no terror.  We told him we thought we would brave the tunnel of terror.  As Long Branch includes a good bit of uphill it probably would have been faster to take 5095, but it actually never even occurred to us to choose the gravel over the singletrack.  As we rode it, we repeatedly cracked up about its new name, Tunnel of Terror.  Heh.

This is really not the sort of thing I do on a regular basis.  At all.   
Photo by Brad O

Following Long Branch it was up to the top of Farlow for the mandatory checkpoint of the day.  There was a special test there too, involving eating pickled eggs for a half-point.  When I dropped my bike, the QR lever gashed the side of an unopened can of PBR that had been sitting on the ground.  It started hissing away and it was like I had no choice but to shot-gun it!  

Starting down Farlow after the eggs and beer.  Photo by Brad O

Finished with that and headed down Farlow.  It seems like I've been riding this trail a lot lately and I sure do like it.  Up onto Daniel and from there onto the gravel of 225.  There were some sections of 225 where the Forest Service had lately put down some fresh gravel and in one downhill turn I slid out and laid the bike down.  Some road rash on my leg, hip, and arm, and a fairly deep pain in my ribs. I jumped up and back on the bike pretty fast, but the bruise started to hurt when we got back on singletrack.  

Lucky us, we got to ride Bennett again for a second time in two days.  Riding that trail is always sweet and made all the sweeter due to its closure during the summer months.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder.  Down Coontree to the pavement, and a slow grind back to the campground to end the race.  We ended up with 11 points, which put us in eleventh place overall.  Given how lousy I was feeling on day one I was pretty happy we ended up not in last place!  

This race was serious fun.  There was a lot of stress involved on day one, but it was entirely in my head and once I got over it I really enjoyed myself.  The race really helped me get my heart and mind reoriented towards the positive.  It helped me remember how great this planet is and how lucky we are to be able to ride bikes over its forests all day and all night.  Thanks Eric and Erinna for all the hard work of designing and producing such a great race.  We got two fantastic days of really fun long rides on great trails.  Who could ask for more than that?  

Some of the better checkpoint photos:

 On Bennett, Day one
Black Mountain and Turkey Pen, day one

 intersection of Butter and Long Branch, day two

Pinkbeds, day two

Slate Rock, day one's mandatory checkpoint


  1. If it makes you feel any better, there are houses only about 2-3 miles down the other side of Gloucester Gap -- well up from 215. Maybe the cat is from there?

  2. oh yeah! totally forgot about the houses over that direction. That cat looked like it could take care of itself anyhow.

  3. Girls on Bikes Rock! nice work Emily & Katie great seeing you out there, Great smiles!