Monday, May 8, 2023

PMBAR '23: Part One

"You've never been there?", in an incredulous voice, is the usual response I get from people when the topic of Pisgah comes up. It's true. I've been fortunate enough to have ridden in well over 20 states, bikepacked the Great Divide, but still, I've never been to Pisgah. So, when Cinderbloch texted me back in February about being his partner for the PMBAR race, it was the perfect opportunity. In case you're wondering, Pisgah is a National Forest in western North Carolina, and it's the home of a huge network of trails.

I finished my last final exam at Penn State on Wednesday, and it went well, which means I unofficially graduated from Penn State. I guess they'll mail me my diploma? I dunno. I now have a B.S. (which mebbe stands for bullshit) degree in general science, and a minor in mathematics. I still have to get a teaching certification if I want to teach high school math, so that'll be one more year of school, but at least I'm one big-ish step closer.

But anyways, I drove home from Penn State Wednesday evening, hurriedly packed up everything I needed for a weekend of camping and bicycle racing, and went to bed as early as I could. Cinderbloch and I left around 7:30am on Thursday, bound for Pisgah, and got there just before dinner time. It's actually a pretty cool drive; the mountains on I-26 between Johnson City, TN and Asheville, NC are really something,

Once there, we set up camp (which for me consisted of my teeny tiny bikepacking tent), and then pedaled into town for dinner. We went to a BBQ place called "Hawg Wild", and before long, I got a text from Dahn Pahrs with a picture of him in the same restaurant when he did PMBAR a few years ago. He was bragging to us about how much food he ate. I guess you need a lot of food when you're Dahn Pahrs.

Hawg Wild with Cinderbloch; the picture Dahn sent me to brag about how much food he ate

The next morning, Cinderbloch and I went out for a little cruise in Pisgah. Of course, the definition of "cruise" in Pisgah means hiking our bikes most of the way up a 1,500 foot climb. It was stupid. But I like stupid, so I like Pisgah. 

Crossing one of the many creeks in Pisgah; one of the many hike-a-bikes in Pisgah

The trail we hiked up was "Avery Creek", and from the top, we turned onto "Black Mountain Trail". That trail had a lot more hike-a-bike, but also some killer views and excellent riding. To top it all off, we were rewarded with a fast 1,500 foot descent down Lower Black all the way to our camp. It was bueno.

The high-point on Black Mountain Trail; hiking on Middle Black; descending Lower Black

After the ride, we went to a Mexican place for lunch, where Dahn Pahrs berated me via text about it being Cinco de Mayo and me needing to have a margarita. I did have a margarita.

One margarita was enough for me, don't tell Dahn

Then we took a cruise in the car up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and of minor significance is that it was the highest elevation I've been at east of the Mississippi. The rest of the day was filled with bike tinkering, packet pickup, and dinner at Corky's Dawg House. I'm sensing a theme with these "-awg" endings in restaurants. Hawg. Dawg. I approve.

The loud birds woke us up again on race morning at around 6 AM, and after checking over our bikes and gear for the millionth time, Cinderbloch and I pedaled over to the race start. We said hello to some more friends, checked in, and settled-in somewhere mid-pack in the group of riders at the start line, since many people had already lined up ahead of us. That was our first mistake.

I guess first, I'll go over the layout and rules of the PMBAR race. There are five checkpoints, the location of which vary every year, and you don't know where they are until you get your passport at the start of the race. There is no suggested route, only a list of a few prohibited roads, and you must navigate on your own from point to point. Technically, you only need four of the five checkpoints, and the fifth is a time bonus of debatable worth, but the thought of only getting four never crossed our mind. All told, the race ends up between 60-75 miles and 9,000 to 12,000 feet of climbing. Total time would almost certainly be over 9 hours.

Now back to the start of the race. Like I said, most years, you get your passport at the start line, evaluate the map, and then start riding once you figure out generally where to go. This year, the passports were located at the to of a 1,500 foot climb, which means the start was a mass-start immediately into tight singletrack. Being mid-pack at the start line meant we got stuck behind so many people who were going so much slower than we wanted on the opening climb.

The start line

Being on singlespeeds, it was especially difficult to follow people up a climb who were, firstly, not as fast of riders as us, and secondly, shifting into their 52 tooth pie plate gear and spinning up the climb slower than we could walk most of the time. Passing people was impossible, especially because there was a huge congo-line ahead of us.

After almost an hour of being stuck behind people, we finally worked our way toward the front and made an attack. And by attack, I mean getting off our bikes and sprinting on foot past people as they spun in their 52 tooth great-great-great-granny gear. It worked. Free at last. I'd say we maybe lost 10 to 15 minutes on the climb being stuck behind people, but at least we were still fresh, because we barely worked at all on the whole climb.

At the top of the first climb, we got our passport and took a look at the locations to start plotting our route. I was totally clueless, but Cinderbloch has been there before, so he took charge, or at least, he had some hunches of where to go.

I'll save the rest of the race and the post-race festivities for part two, because if I make it all one post, it'll be way too long to read. Plus, I hate to leave out things just to trim it down, so you'll have to wait a couple days (or maybe just one day if I'm motivated) to read the rest. Because I know you're all on the edge of your seat to keep reading.

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