When the alarm woke me Saturday morning at o-dark-thirty, I felt like I got hit by a train. My head was pounding, my stomach was queasy, and my muscles hurt. Coffee helped, as did the small amount of food I choked down because I knew I’d need to fuel up for the 30 miles of snowy singletrack and mountain roads I was about to pedal. I had big plans to cook a hearty breakfast of eggs before the ride, but in my current state and with a shortage of time, that wasn’t happening. Instead, I packed plenty of snacks for en route and joined the small crew of people basking in the heat of the fire still burning from the night before.
Saturday’s ride is the “race” component of the weekend, with a 30-mile and 70-mile option. Both rides begin at a different location and end up at camp. The courses are not marked; rather, it’s up to the rider to navigate using maps and cue sheets. This is the first year that GPS files were also provided.
Last year, I wanted to push myself and see how well I could do. This year, my goals were to just have fun and get to know some of the people that I had met at last years event but didn’t get to spend all that much time with. Brent and I ended up riding together the whole time, and it was really nice to have a buddy for the day.
The bus dropped us off at Alan Seeger and we reluctantly exited the warm compartment for the cold air outside. We all stood around for a few minutes while everyone found their bikes, relieved their bladders, and got their equipment together. Evan on the megaphone signaled the start of the race, and we were off.
Conditions were perfect—sun shone through the trees on snow-covered Alan Seeger Road, and there was just enough of a layer of snow on top of the icy road to provide some amount of traction. Still, I was glad I had decided to run my studded rear tire (45NRTH Nicotine).
After a couple miles on the road, we hopped onto singletrack, and began a gradual uphill haul. The first bit felt like the hangover express, but I gradually began to feel better the more I rode. At the top of the mountain, we bombed down Lingle Valley Trail, a fun, loose downhill that ends with multiple stream crossings. The freezing temps made the crossings extra interesting—putting a foot down would make for a very uncomfortable rest of the ride, and ice-logged components and cables caused some shifting and braking issues at times. Yet another challenge of winter riding!
The first checkpoint was at the top of a climb up Conklin Road, where we were greeted by the smiling face of Jeff and the promise of snacks and water, which was a relief considering my hydration hose had been frozen solid since about 15 minutes into the ride. In my early-morning stupor, I had neglected to put warm water in my hydration pack, or add a little whiskey, my other go-to trick.
We hung out for a few minutes, passing around jerky and trail mix and guzzling as much water as possible while the chance was there. Then it was back to the singletrack, down Beautiful Trail, a rocky, fun ride along the ridgetop.
Partway down Beautiful, we came across Jamie holding her broken chain, looking quite disappointed. She said she was going to just hike back to the checkpoint, but Brent and I helped her fix it and continue on. Shortly thereafter, she went down on a rock while descending the mountain and banged up her knee. So, the three of us, along with Devin and Scott, who we’d hooked up with, stuck together for most of the rest of the ride. It was nice to have a good crew to ride with, especially for what is the toughest section of the route for me. From the bottom of the mountain, the course gradually climbs up singletrack, doubletrack, and finally, a gravel road all the way back up to the top. Though most of it isn’t that steep, I find it hard to get into a good rhythm. It also is far enough into the ride that I am tired and haven’t yet gotten my second wind.
The second checkpoint was at the top of the mountain, once again. This time, we were greeted by a larger crew and a fire, which we lingered around for a while. At this point, with tired legs and chilly bodies, it was tough to pull ourselves away from fire and friends to continue, but Brent and I did before the urge to hop in the truck for a ride back to camp set in.
The course always ends with a long climb up Turkey Hill Road and then a descent back into Martin Gap. The climb isn’t all that steep, but it’s over 3 miles long and psychologically challenging due to the many “false summits.” It seems that every time the top appears to be in sight, the road the keeps going up.
An added challenge on this day in particular was the sheet of ice covering the gravel. Even with studs, it was sketchy, especially going downhill. After we had finally reached the top and began descending the other side, I could see the sun glistening on the smooth, slick surface. I just hung on, tried not to make any sudden movements, and somehow made it all the way back to Martin Gap without a spill.
Back at camp, there was already a crowd around the fire. I don’t know who finished first in the 30-mile, and I don’t know where Brent and I finished. Quite frankly, I don’t care. I had reached my goals—I had a blast, I got to ride with new people, and I finished despite my rough morning.
As for the 70-mile riders, 4 out of 7 finished the whole course. Matt Ferrari of State College came in first by several hours, and the other three all rolled in together, united as a team to help one who’s light had died.
To everyone who rode, congrats. You’re all badass, just for getting out there and doing it.