Monday, January 30, 2012

Dragon Rides and W101 Course Appendix

Something about New York City makes me want to listen to Christian rock. Not that I am ordinarily into that, and I know that there are those of you out there who think that Manhattan at rush hour is romantic and fun because you see Time Square on the Today Show every morning and Al Roker looks super friendly and huggy. But driving through Queens in January with the filth and potholes and $10 tolls, rats, angry assholes, blown out tires, dirty roadside furniture dumps, and the feeling that everything everywhere you look is a scam...well, I find the seek button on my rental radio and tolerate Creed before Creed was Creed, pray for Jesus or Al to be with me now.

I also yearn to ride the dragon. Something about life going a little too fast and complicated inspires the need to simplify, slow down a little, and ride a rigid 1x8 for a while. And this, in the year of the dragon itself, might be a theme of its own creation, the Chinese New Year.  I'm told that, astrologically speaking, Dragons prefer to live by their own rules, driven, unafraid of challenges, and willing to take risks. They’re passionate in all they do and they do things in grand style. So then, 100 rides on the dragon by next January?  I'm only on number 4, but goalsetting aside, sometimes you just need to shake yourself up a little.  Rigid, rooty singletrack might be a tad uncomfortable, but it's certain to give your life a good rattle. Perfect.

In the spirit of simplicity, I'm still running a 1x8. I considered a singleator and a gusset kit, but weary of having to actually use my brain to solve chain tension and chainline problems, plus the prospect of flat road one-track connector ass-chafing due to inadequate gears, and I made the reliable choice and loaded her up with an old 600 series road derailleur and a same era 11-26 cassette. And let me tell you, it shifts like a rusty, 1940's jeep. Again, perfect. The process is the point.  I'm in no hurry.  In fact, quite the opposite, I'm feeling a little rushed to stop rushing. 

Speaking of not rushing, let's talk about the Wilderness 101.  It would seem that multiple BRC racers who have never ventured into the wilds of Rattlesnakeavania have the itch to go test their mettle.  Resounding, Oh hell yes.  I won't use the space herein to debate the merits of 29er vs 26er on this course, tire selection, 2X9 vs 1x10, etc.  I just don't have that kind of knowledge anymore.  But, I can tell you where to poop.  So I drew up a little practical advice guide for the longest race on the NUE series, sent it down to Big John in Richmond last week, and I thought I'd post it up here as well for the semi-education of the not-so-masses.  Ahem...

29er vs 26er matters less than making sure you wipe thoroughly. 

W101 Appendix for Big John:

Course map:

Mile 0 -  Coburn Park.  A jolly good time.  Right on Penn Creek, more of a river.  Good fishing.  Happy ball playing area, and perhaps a tussle for Mr. Jonas (john's dog) should he choose to accompany you on this great journey.  Good camping, shower in the river, but probably avoid showering near anyone named “Sandusky.” 
Mile 2 - First climb.  Yeah, that happened fast.  Good news is it's pretty mellow, but it's also packed with midget climbers sprinting for the top.  Roll over nice and easy and there’s a long, gravel decent.  Careful on a sweeping right hand turn.  Just a gravel road, but people always blow it here.  A couple years ago, some guy left approximately one third of his ear in the gravel on this turn. 
Mile 10 ish - At this point, I'll begin be a little vague with the mileage, and chances are so will you.  This is rolling gravel.  You are probably flying through here.  Slow down, it’s easy to go way too fast.  Sticking to someone’s wheel is nice, but not so nice that you should kill yourself doing it.  Spend as little time on the front of a group as possible.
Mile 22 or so - An amazing 1.5 track decent.  Gets a little more singletrackish every year.  Smooth as butter.  4 ish miles long?  Goes on forever.  Wooosh. 
Mile perhaps 28 -  A pretty radical rock garden in some singletrack somewhere in here.  Don’t hurt yourself.  A couple of long skinnies.  Inevitably, someone is laying on the ground here, cramping and screaming like it’s the end of the world.  Crowds tend to gather to see who can ride this section (but moreso, who can’t).  Probably not worth it.  A big climb immediately follows. 
Mile 40, for certain -  Aid 2.  40 miles in.  Eat yourself a sammich.  Keep takin’ it easy.  It’s been mostly a gravel road ride so far, and you can feasibly make it here before 9AM.  Do NOT get here before 9 AM. 
Mile 41 - Shit just got real.  A monster climb out of this thing.  1500 feet in about 4 miles or so.  It could be getting hot by now.  Probably a good time to shed a layer, especially if you are wearing pink panties.  They will be useless from here on out. 
Mile 50ish - For every monster climb, there is a great decent.  This one is gnarly, so watch yourself.  No need to ride all of it.  It beats on you – could be worth a stop on the way down to let the arms unpump. 
Mile 53ish -    Amish picnic area.  Look strong, they are watching you.
Mile 60, solid. -  Aid 3.  60 miles in.  I once made it here in 4 hours.  Do NOT get here in 4 hours.  Certain death awaits if you do.  Avoid a heavy feed – there’s a big, crampy, singletrack climb leading out of it.  It could be worth your while to grab a bar or a sammich and eat it while you hike a bit. 
Mile 61 - The aforementioned climb.  People crying on both sides of the trail, who, 3 hours ago, thought they could send this race in about 7 hours.  I’ll be about ¼ of the way up on the left, sobbing.  Please provide me with a sammich and encouragement.
Mile 66 -  Sassafras.  Goddammit this thing is good.  It’s got steep descending, flow, a berm or two, a jump with a cameraman, and it just rolls and rolls.  The problem is, you start to feel pretty terrible by about this point, and it’s a little tough to enjoy.  About halfway down, there’s a right hand switchback that 50% of riders blow.  No big deal, just don’t huck your meat straight off it into the peripherique. 
Mile 68? -   A super gnarly decent coming off a dirt rd.  It’s pretty straight, so if you just line it up you can send it.  But it’s sorta long.  And you’ve got to pedal through some sections to maintain your Mo.  Again, this might be worth walking bits of. 
Mile 70 -  A wee road section into aid 4.  30 miles to go.  The next 30 miles can take you either 3 hours or 12 hours, depending on what you’ve done to yourself up to this point.  Again, there’s a big climb right out of the aid station.  Don’t eat at the station, put something in your pocket and eat when you hit the top.
Mile 75ish, I can never see my watch because of the tears -   The top of perhaps the toughest climb.  Rattlesnakes are, literally, everywhere around you.  You might not see them, but they are in here.  Some of the densest rattler country in the USA.  If you must collapse in a pile of sobbing misery, try to stay on the trail. 
Mile? -  Some pretty rad singletrack atop Sand Mtn.  It’s, well, sandy.  But sorta neat.  Chances are you won’t appreciate sandy singletrack at this point, but in hindsight, you will reflect and think, wow, that was sorta neat. 
Mile 80something - Little Poe trail is a long, sort of flowy descent, but for some reason you have to pedal through the entire thing.  It’s not rocky, so I don’t understand why.  The physics of this one are lost on me.  But the bottom gets you to Aid 5.  It’s possible that SMT won’t get the permit to ride this section, in which case they’ll route you over to some godforsaken jeep road.  Less pedaling when you hit the top of it, but the decent will probably eat any tubes you have left.  Patch kit.  HTFU.  Stay positive. 
Mile 88 -  Aid 7.  If you can make it here, you can finish.  Too many people throw in the towel here.  Don’t be that guy.  Get a soda and turn your brain off.  Pedal, damnit.    
Mile 90 -   The run in.  It’s a long, flat railroad grade beside Penn Creek for a bit.  My grandfather used to fish in here.  Paved.  Super easy.  I’ve seen good riders walking this section because they just couldn’t take it anymore. 
Mile 94 -  Climb.  It’s really not too bad, but it’ll feel pretty tough.  If you’re feeling OK and you’re in a group, this is a good place to get away from them if that’s on your agenda.  One good attack usually let’s people know you’re still feeling like fighting, and if they are not, they’ll probably fold. Last year I got smoked and had to walk some, failing to avoid a dead porcupine carcass mid trail which I actually flatted on.  It is what you make of it.   
Mile 97 - Ridiculous, boulder-strewn, riverside singletrack.  Come back and try to ride it another time.  It’s a short hike back onto the railroad grade. 
Mile 99 -   A couple of dark train tunnels and you emerge onto the road back into Coburn.  The good news, if you are finishing in the dark, is you have your lights on anyway and the tunnels aren’t really a problem.  The good news, if you are without lights, is that you just rolled W101 in 12 hours or less.  Just roll straight and look for the light at the end of the tunnel (literally.)  You’re almost home. 
You take the good and the bad, that's just how racing goes.  I circled this thing my first year in 8:44.  Last year, I couldn't break 10 hours, and my wife, 6 months pregnant with twins at the time, had to push my bike from the finish line to our car because I was incapable.  I left a lot of pride at Coburn park. 

But, like all things shameful, I'm keen to return someday with a mind for redemption. 
Until then, keep climbing. 
Keep looking up up up. 


  1. Quite easily the hardest race that I have ever done. There are climbs that dont end and when they do there are rattlesnakes to greet you with a cold bottle of cramps. I passed out in my tent in a cramping fit only to awake the next morning with a growler of ale from the Elk Creek Cafe that I had previously purchased to enjoy post race. For those of you that know me, waking up to a full growler after a race of the magnitude speaks volumes to where I was emotionally, and there was rattlesnakes.

  2. I lost communication with my man-parts twice on my first attempt. I had no business being there.

    My 2nd attempt went better. I owe that place a visit on the SS.

  3. Looking forward to this race in 2012.