Saturday, May 14, 2011

PMBAR 2011

If this race had been kindergarten, this would be the kindergarten report card for our team:
  • Plays Well With Others
  • Difficulty Following Rules
  • Poor Reading Comprehension
  • Understands and Uses Maps Well
  • Excellent Attitude 
  • Excellent Attention Span and Patience
  • Problems Following Through At Snack Time

I don't know why, but I am kind of proud of this report card. I swear, we tried to do better, we really did.  Read on for the full story, the long, complicated full story...

Once upon a time, long long ago (like this past winter) in a dreadful gray city called Charlotte, there lived a Dicky. This Dicky spent his days riding around on the flat ground of Charlotte, occasionally finding logs to ride over or fall off of. While he rode around on the dreary pavement, he dreamed of a land called Pisgah where the ground was all slanty and covered with rocks and tall trees.

Dicky began to have the close-to-impossible dream of winning the Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race. How could he make this dream come true, when all winter the weather in the gray city had been so sucky, and he had spent almost no time in the mountains, and he had a track record of getting lost in Pisgah? The mountain folk even came down to beat him on his own trails. He despaired. He obsessed. He despaired again. His dream seemed as out of reach as his new frame. But Dicky would stop at nothing, nothing, in this quixotic pursuit. His boldest move of all was to cast aside his loyal two-time PMBAR partner Thad in favor of a so-called "faster" partner.

While Dicky then auditioned Replacement Thads, Original Thad and I decided to be PMBAR partners. Our goals were for Thad to avoid all the catastrophes he had the last two times he did PMBAR, for us to have fun times all day, not kill ourselves, ride some great trails, avoid some crappy trails, hopefully finish, and secretly hopefully beat Dicky.

Over the course of the race we DQ'd ourselves twice over (once knowingly and once unknowingly), got a two-hour time penalty, got many free ProBars, and never crossed water deeper than shin deep. We did not finish. And we did not beat Dicky, although we did confuse him. We did, however, have a great day in the woods.

Here's how the race went down.

At the start, we did not read all the instructions. Even though Eric told us to read the instructions, and Dave at ProBikes had told me very emphatically that I should read the instructions, and the instructions themselves said right on the top that we should read them, we did not read the instructions. We did glance at them long enough to note that there were five total checkpoints, three were mandatory, and we had to get at least four of the five to finish. Then we pored over the map very closely, plotting a route to the checkpoints, noticing which trails and gravel roads were legal or not-legal this year. All the while neglecting to pay any more attention whatsoever to the instructions. In retrospect, I like to think this is because Thad and I have creative, iconoclastic minds unfettered by nit-picky rules. We are idea people. Big-picture types. Yeah.

At the start. Definitely looking at the map. Not really looking at the instructions. Photo by Eric.

We planned out a pretty fun-looking route that would let us hit four checkpoints and go on some nice trails in a somewhat decreasingly-difficult sequence. No deep river crossings whatsoever, and some really fun trails. We rolled out about mid-pack on the mandatory start-route of Black Mountain to Thrift Cove and back onto Black. We saw two teams who were apparently having some race-rules confusion on Black, but somehow it still didn't occur to us to check the rules any more carefully than we had. Anyway, we headed on to Turkeypen, which was in fine shape. Somehow it seemed like the climbs have gotten shorter and the descents have gotten buffer, because neither the ups nor the downs on that trail seemed like much of a big deal this time. Thad was killing it, off the front, and I was wondering if he was going to be waiting for me all day.

At the end of Turkeypen we rolled easy down to the first checkpoint, South Mills and Bradley, where we were greeted with the smell of freshly frying bacon. The checkpoint volunteers had hauled some boxs of donuts, a little grill, and a mess of bacon down to their location and were handing it out. Bacon seemed a little much for me right then but I happily wolfed down a donut. Thank you volunteers! We headed up South Mills, encountering several of the fast-guy teams coming the other direction on some fast-guy route. No Dicky to be seen, though, hmmmm....

The first part of South Mills is like a highway with nice wooden bridges. The last part of South Mills is a lovely old decayed logging road. The middle part of South Mills is straight from hell. It goes right down the river, without any bridges, and includes at least seven or eight really treacherous waist-deep-or-deeper river crossings. I rode/swam that section during P36AR, and knew I would never go back voluntarily. We turned onto Cantrell just after the last of the South Mills bridges. We headed up Cantrell to Horse Cove, which after a bit of an uphill grunt leads onto Squirrel Gap.

Up Cantrell. The new Moots kits are not quite as neon blue as the last year's kits, which meant Thad can hide better.

Right then, my buddy Mark and his partner rolled up. We chatted for a second and he told us about this wooden nickel coin taped to the last page of the instructions, which we were supposed to have given Eric before we left as a test of how well we read our instructions. Uh, yeah, we didn't do that. Mark said it was just a two hour time penalty, so we decided it didn't really bother us that much. As long as we didn't have any mishaps, we could get back before 8 with no problem, which would mean even with 2 hour penalty we would still be official finishers. Interestingly, Thad and I still didn't think of this encounter as a good reason to open up the instructions and read through them thoroughly just to make sure we hadn't missed anything else.

We rode down to the end of Squirrel Gap for our second checkpoint. No bacon here but I got a couple free ProBars, which was good. I had realized that all the food I had brought on the bike was caffeinated, and was a little afraid of what might happen if I ate that much caffeine in a day. Maybe a heart attack or some hallucinations? Thankfully ProBar Fruition bars are pretty damn tasty, so I didn't have to find out. Across the bridge, and onto the high-and-dry last section of South Mills, having skipped every one of the nasty river crossings.

After South Mills we rode Gauging Station and 1206 over to the bottom of Pilot Rock. It was funny how little either one of us really cared about the wooden nickel business. It is not that we didn't want to play by the rules, or that we didn't care about finishing well. But neither of us was too upset about having made that mistake. To me it seemed like we were there to ride bikes well and to plot great routes through the woods, and we would still be doing that no matter what.

We headed up Pilot to the third checkpoint at the Laurel-Pilot Connector. I was a little worried because at PMBAR last year pushing bikes up Pilot was where my partner shifted from riding slowly and seeming quietly disgruntled, to declaring she was going to quit the race right there and then. Anyway Thad had done the push up Pilot before and knew exactly what it entailed, unpleasant and steeply rocky pushing for about an hour or so.

Thad pushing up Pilot. Photo by me.

Me pushing up Pilot. Much better photo, not taken with a rinkydink battered point-and-shoot. By BradO.

Pushing up Pilot is not really suffering anyhow. The flowering trees make you feel like you are in a garden, and there are several nice vistas of the various mountains. Most people feel happier and less complainy when looking at a good view or a flower tree, even if they are exerting themselves at the time. I really am that person who, halfway up Pilot, exclaims with joy over how great everything is. Vista!

We got to the top of Pilot and turned onto the connector, where we ran into Dicky and Zac, aka Replacement Thad. We did a really good job of fooling Dicky into thinking we had turned in our wooden nickel (which he hadn't) and a mediocre job at fooling him into thinking we were on some amazing five-checkpoint loop that would beat him.

We rode off the connector and up to the checkpoint guy. We got marked off. He asked us where we were going, we said right back where we came from, down Pilot. Apparently, he was supposed to be telling people that it was a DQ if they go back the way they came on this trail. That you either had to do Laurel-Pilot or Pilot-Laurel, and you couldn't go up-and-back on either one. He didn't tell us, and as you know we didn't read the instructions, and so we didn't even know we had DQ'd ourselves till it happened to come up in a random conversation around the keg hours after the race was over.

Anyway, yeah. We went back down Pilot, and it was AWESOME.

Just after the end of Pilot.

We rode out 1206 to 276 to 475B to 225. Thad was looking a little under the weather but said maybe he would rally over the course of the long mellow gravel grind we had ahead of us. Unfortunately his stomach issues meant he could not keep food or drink down. When we started to climb up to the Daniel Ridge connector it was clear he was running out of gas. We cut down onto Daniel Ridge for checkpoint four, and then on the awesome rocky section of Daniel Ridge I found myself way in front and was pretty worried. The whole first part of the ride Thad had been killing it in the technical sections, so I knew he was really not okay if he was holding back.

 On Daniel Ridge. What a fun trail.

We got onto the pavement and even though Thad said he definitely wanted to keep racing, I started thinking we should probably drop out. It was just around 5 pm so we had plenty of time still to finish. But I wasn't sure if it would be all that smart to let a guy who was bonking out so hard that he couldn't even ride straight on pavement, try to ride down Black Mountain. We hung out for a couple minutes and Thad said maybe he wanted to try out his emergency blanket by laying down on the side of the highway for a little while. I was pretty sure that would cause gawking and/or alarm from the cars. Okay, time to stop racing. I had to convince him that it was time to quit, he really didn't want to but I was pretty sure he would have been headed to the hospital if he had kept going. When we did quit, it was a mutual decision, because it was very clear that there was no way we could finish safely.

We rode down the off-limits section of 276 for our second DQ of the day, but this one was intentional. We got back at 6pm exactly, with four checkpoints.

Finish line! No one is lying under their emergency blanket! Photo by Eric.

This race shows people who they really are. The mental and physical challenge of the race is pretty significant, and it forces us to dig a little deeper into our personalities than most races do. To enjoy this race you might need to be as humble as you are strong, because pretensions and bravado won't get you too far. We saw some crushed souls out there for sure, or at least some crushed egos.

I think there should be a PMBAR podium for the people who really showed how to persevere in the face of frustrations. Third place: Katie (my 2010 Double Dare partner) and Chris, who thought they were totally disqualified because of the wooden nickel but kept on going all day anyway. Second place: Shanna and Laura, who ended up doing the 8 river crossings on South Mills in the dark and finished right before the time cutoff with big smiles. And first place: Pisgah heavy-hitters Yuri and David, who looked so rough when we saw them at noon that I thought they were gonna drop out. Somehow they pushed through to finish all five checkpoints even though it meant they got back well after the official cut-off time. That is real endurance, real Pisgah riding, real bike love. Good job everyone!

I am really, really happy with the race, even though we didn't finish. Thad was a great partner all day, he had an awesome attitude and was a great rider. Even when he was on the verge of keeling over, he did not complain or want to quit. It was great to be out there with someone who was on the same wavelength and who was just passionate about riding bikes all through the forest, even after it stopped being easy. Thanks to Eric and Erinna for making the race, thanks to every volunteer who was out there for creating such friendly checkpoint stops, and thanks to every single rider for making the race what it is! PMBAR is like Christmas for Pisgah riders, it really is. The greatest day on a bike all year.


  1. THAT looks like too much fun!!!!

  2. I"m going to print off our report card and make H. put it on the fridge!

    Thanks for an awesome time in the woods Emily! Best PMBAR Ever (of my 3).

  3. I agree! thanks for partnering up, Thad.

  4. Great race recap! The Bici racing team had some guys out there as well - they also forgot to turn in the nickel but were equally happy just to have been there.

  5. yeah, I saw John K and his partner at the start but did not have a chance to say hi as I was so busy not-reading the instructions. Good to hear they had fun!