Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Trans-Sylvania Epic: There's harder races but i haven't done one of them yet....

The Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic is often referred to as Singletrack Summer Camp, and it definitely lives up to both references! The race is headquartered at the Seven Mountains Scout Camp just outside of State College, PA and is hunkered down next to a scenic river at the base of the mountains. This was my first “major” event with the Redline Team and I was seriously excited and nervous at the same time; I had never ridden East Coast Rocks, legit enduro, or competed for 7 days straight before. The race runs from Sunday to the following Saturday, and the stages vary from day to day with different terrain, various enduro segments and distances. I made the trek from Grand Rapids to State College early Saturday and arrived in the afternoon. The Redline tents were already setup and Justin and Tim were settled in. The accommodations were fitting for a summer camp; a large bunkhouse with community bathrooms and kitchen and giant porch. We were bunked at the Eagle Lodge with a bunch of pretty cool MTB folks which gave it a fun atmosphere to help reduce the race day tensions. Justin gave me the low down on the stage 1 course and I decided it would be best to preview it Sunday morning before the time trial.

Redline tent setup

Stage 1:
The first stage Sunday was a time trial that would serve as a Launchpad for the GC contenders.
Singletrack constituted a fair portion of the TT with some gravel roads, two tracks, and ATV trails sprinkled in for good measure. Right off the bat we were sent into some newish singletrack that reminded me of home, somewhat loamy in spots, tight and twisty. From there all bets were off. The terrain changed quickly to a technical trail along the creek and then climbed slowly up into the surrounding hills. The first real rocky downhill caught me off guard a bit with my jacked up seatpost and whatnot, and I quickly appreciated why so many bikes were sporting dropper posts! All in all the TT was a boat load of fun, and challenging to boot with a lengthy enduro segment. I was happy to only relinquish a few minutes to the more studly riders and hit the chow hut for dinner. Every night the post dinner ritual was reliving the day’s events via pictures and videos and then proceeding into the next stage preview.
The bunkhouse at the start of the week...

Stage 2:
The second stage was slated to be one of the most difficult stages of the week and it certainly lived up to that expectation. It started modestly enough with gravel roads winding up and down through the mountains, but before long it hit the rocky singletrack that PA is famous for. I felt strong and was in good position when my compatriot behind me said “hey bro your tire is pissing Stans”. Sure enough I had a healthy gash in the sidewall and there was no amount of Stans that was going to resurrect my rear tire. After getting a tube in I was back rolling and only slightly perturbed. I made it to the aid station without issue and reloaded on CO2 and more tubes just in case… little did I know that the extra stuff I grabbed would barely get me through. The next enduro segment was a steep rocky chute loaded with rim and tire mangling rock. Two flats later I limped out of the segment and aired the tire well over 30 psi to help avoid pinching anymore tubes. I made it quite a ways before I felt the rear end give out and get squirrely in a rock garden. After this final flat it simply became a salvage mission; I had lost nearly an hour fixing tires/wheels and now I just needed to finish the stage. Lucky for me there was an epic demoralizing climb near the end complete with rattlesnake and river crossing, and the cherry on top was riding that horrendous creek trail from stage one backwards to the finish. What a long day…
Au revoir old tire setup

Stage 3:
Stage 3 brought out all the brahs that were ready to fully ‘send anything at the drop of a seatpost. I have to admit that I was excited to ride all of the big climbs at whatever pace I pleased since only the 5 timed segments counted towards the GC (which I was well out of at this point) and the stage. The first segment went off swimmingly and it felt nice to have some heavy duty Kenda rubber under me for the day to bomb the descents. At the end of the first segment a couple of us were informed that we were the first ones through, which was concerning as a pack of about 15 guys had steamed out of the gate to get to the first segment and fully ‘send it. Turns out they didn’t turn, and were somewhere’s off course in the PA woods, no biggie right? Well, at least it left the few of us near the front the freedom to fully bomb as we pleased, me to roll around in the rhododendrons on the second segment and a leisurely stop at the aid station to sip cold soda and get the details on the fourth ominous segment titled “wildcat”. Despite the majority of the riding being untimed it certainly wasn’t the rest day it was made out to be, because it’s hard to rest much when you’re climbing 4-5K feet in a day. I made it to Wildcat with much anticipation for what lay ahead, and the entrance reminded me of riding off the side of a gravel road down a sheer mountainside (probably because that’s what it basically is…). I felt good at first and just let off the brakes and held on for all I was worth. The full suspension Redline D880 was taking the hits like a champ, but much to my chagrin I completely cased a big rock and felt the rear end go soft. It should be noted that Wildcat is either rideable when being hit at higher speed or you’re gonna be walking it, there’s no in-between coasting as the ledges that lead into the rock garden and creek are best handled at speed with your eyes closed… So, with that in mind, and knowing the clock was ticking, I just decided to chance it and wrap it up riding the flat tire and rim the rest of the way. Needless to say I’m writing this, so I made it through unscathed but it was questionable. I have to admit I kind of took a liking to this new-to-me endurbro riding. I got to see a few people fly by me and show me how it’s really done (ahem, Michael Broderick). And I was happy to learn at dinner that my teammate Justin had fully ‘sent each segment and himself onto the podium for the stage!
Hanging out at Tussey, Endurbro racing is tough stuff

Stage 4:
Not much to report here, all I have to say is that the “road” stage is pretty much a flat out lie haha! There was more than enough two-track and singletrack to go around for the day, but I guess there was about 2 miles of pavement… and an epic hike a bike on Fisherman’s Creek “trail”. I use quotes around trail because it’s mostly orienteering through boulders and whatnot. The highlight of the day was riding through the famous railway tunnel with Justin and being greeted by vampires with cold beer handups at the end!
The Redline D680, singletrack rocket

Stage 5:
I had heard plenty of horror stories are the previous years’ stages at R.B. Winter park and was somewhat concerned that the trails that had been handing my arse to me the past few days were considered “modern” and well maintained in comparison to the “rustic” trails I was about to experience. It was all for naught though, as the selected trails were much more manageable than what had been used previously. The riding was simply beautiful; trails paralleling babbling brooks nestled deep in the hills, overgrown grassy two tracks with smooth clay beds, baby head riddled trails that I could actually keep rhythm on, and scenic gravel road climbs with a few enduro segments so keep things interesting. The only folly on the day was an overzealous descent leading to a Lefty style rear derailleur (you only need one half of the derailleur cage right? I think the pulleys are made to take cantilever loads…). I saw the rock, I hit the rock and the rock didn’t move. Thankfully I was able to limp the last few miles and roll the last enduro segment without hiking. Pizza and camaraderie finished off the day along with a healthy nap at the bunkhouse upon arrival back at camp.
Something isn't right here

Stage 6:
Tussey Mountain offers up some pretty impressive views of the surrounding countryside, the only problem is I have maybe 2 seconds to take it all in while otherwise navigating the rock and boulder strewn trail. Stage 6 is one of the longest stages alongside stage 2 and offers up plenty of climbing, descending and rocks to keep one busy for the better part of 3 to 4 hours. The weather was ideal for the race, if not a bit warm and the roll out across the highway to the starting line helped to warm the legs up a bit. Good legs were a must for this stage as I knew there was a 6 mile long climb lurking in the distance. Being from Michigan I’m lucky if I can find a climb up north that lasts a mile and a couple hundred feet let alone 6-7 miles and well over a thousand! The first enduro came and went uneventfully, and then we droned on for sometime through a lowland area filled with Rhododendrons and rocks. There were times that I found myself cursing not so subtly at and about the rocks, but alas they gave way to some gravel and I was able to regain some semblance of sanity. We hit some flowy sinlgetrack which put a big smile back on my face and before I knew it I was staring down the climb. It started out innocent enough, on gravel road and at a reasonable angle, but surely the road turned away and we continued onward to a two track. Some folks back when were kind enough to line the two track with rounded rocks to help increase the longevity of the two track, so that was good… As time wore on it became more grass and less dirt. It seemed as if it were never going to end, but finally it relented and we hit a plateau if just for a minute before descending the backside of the mountain. Unfortunately, a fellow rider found out the hard way, as I almost did, that the water bars cut into the backside descent were dangerous at speed. Matt Ferrari was just ahead of me and took a good spill which led to him damaging his hip and having to withdraw from the race. I was saddened to hear this as we had spent some time chatting on stage 3 and I found him to be an amicable fellow. He made an appearance on the last day of the race to assure folks he would be on the mend soon. The remainder of the stage was a grind, up to Tussey Ridge, assailed by rocks, and back down managing to only crash and get stunned for a minute or so once. It was a good day for some of my compatriots at Eagle Lodge, with Rich “Dicky” Dillen taking the stage win for SS, and a rough day for others.
Tom McDaniel keeping the steeds in impeccable condition

Stage 7:
The battles earlier in the week left me yearning for stage 7 to come and go, and for the pain to end, but on the morning of stage 7 I felt a particular sadness creep in that the week-long biking extravaganza would soon come to an end, as all good things must. The stage itself was a good time, I felt good on the bike, it was short enough to not put me in the depths of the hurt locker, but long enough to wax philosophically on what it means to MTB in the east coast, and how I felt about it all. It was a tough week, and stage 7 was a good way to bid adieu to the trials and tribulations of the earlier stages. In perspective it’s just riding a bike, but the competitive spirit always manages to morph it into something much more. I felt that on the final stage I could finally ride confidently among the rocks, roots, descents and climbs much more so that on day 1. IT was a good feeling at the end of the stage to know that I would be leaving PA with new skills, knowledge and techniques for handling the haggard terrain. Basically I had fun!
The start of Stage 8, that's all i'm allowed by law to show you

Stage 8:
If you don’t know, then you should probably sign up for the race and live it for yourself. There’s not much else I can tell you…
...and the bunkhouse at the end of the week


The TS Epic pushed me to new limits as a competitive mountain biker, and much was gained through the experience, but it’s important to mention that it wouldn’t be nearly what it was without all the great support of sponsors, friends and family. Tim Rutledge of Redline Bikes and Tom McDaniel made a terrific support team throughout the race, and both having decades of racing experience really helped to shine a light on how much I have to learn. Justin Lindine is an all-around great guy and team mate to learn from. I came in ready to go thanks to Dr. Jason Ross at Train Out Pain chiropractic, and can’t recommend him enough, both before and after treatments were awesome! My mom was kind enough to board my dog for the week at the retirement home for dogs (14 YO Doberman, 15 YO black lab and 10 YO korgi). Jenny had a nice send-off evening for me with beers and good food overlooking GR. My GR training buddies and Freewheeler teammates for keeping me in decent shape. And of course my friends and family kept me motivated with kind words and thoughts on facebook and via text message. My Redline D880 and D680 worked great in the rough terrain, the Kenda Tires were much better replacements for what I was running, and my Wolftooth Components Shimano GC made climbing some of the steeper stuff possible. Big thanks to everyone!