Monday, July 31, 2023

Wilderness 101: 2023 Edition

Hundred-mile mountain bike races are pretty cool. That seems like such a platitude, and it is, but still, it feels worthwhile to say.  It's the perfect mix of physical suffering, accomplishment, and hanging out with friends old and new. The Wilderness 101 is the epitome of those feelings, and it's a race that will always be special to me. 

If you don't want to read any of my pre-pre-amble, you could scroll down to the race start line photo for the actual race recap. But, I would encourage you to read on. Or not. This website actually costs me money, and the more views I get, the more it encourages me to keep spending money on the domain. So actually, maybe stop reading now. Bless and thank. But anyways...

Chris Scott and Shenandoah Mountain Touring do a phenomenal job of turning the sleepy little town of Coburn, Pennsylvania into a mountain bike party for the better part of three days, and with the strong field of riders and countless friends that came this year, it was an especially rad party.

100 mile SS podium, from L to R: Joe, Kevin, me, David, Nate

The lease on my apartment in State College ends about a week after the race, so rather than camp, I decided to stay at my college apartment one last weekend. Before getting to my apartment, though, I did a pre-ride with Zach and Simon Friday afternoon in Rothrock.

We parked at the Galbraith Lot (near Tussey Ski Area) and rode the classic coat hanger loop: Dylan's Path - Tussey Ridge - Lonberger. I think it's safe to say that Tussey Ridge will forever me by favorite trail in Pennsylvania, and probably the country, so even though it's not in the race, I made it part of the pre-ride.

Most of the ride was uneventful, until I was descending down the last rock garden toward Kettle Trail. As I started down the rocks, I heard a weird noise in the woods around me. I couldn't figure out what it was, until I saw a large rattlesnake on a rock right next to the trail. Luckily, I rode past the snake - within a foot or two - without it striking at me. As soon as I got past it, I stopped and yelled out for Zach and Simon to stop. We spent some figuring out what to do, because Zach and Simon weren't too keen on walking right past a venomous rattlesnake. 

Suddenly, the snake stopped rattling, and I asked "what does that mean?"

"It means you can pick it up now", Simon said.

We all laughed. I didn't try that.

After a while, we were able to prod the snake away with a long branch, and we got on our way. It was a massive snake, easily the biggest rattlesnake I've ever seen, and I guess you could say it was a good sign for the weekend ahead.

Rattlesnake on Tussey Ridge (near Kettle intersection)

After the ride, Zach and I drove to Coburn to pick up our packets and hang out some more with Simon at his camper. On the ride we just finished, my back brake was squeezing straight to the bar without working at all, so I scoured the campground for someone that had extra SRAM dot fluid. You see, I had my entire bleed kit, but not oil, so I was no beuno.

Luckily, a friendly fellow at Joe Worboy's campsite had some extra fluid for me. I quickly and successfully bled my brake, picked up my number plate, and dropped off my drop bags, all in the span of an hour or so. I dare say it's the most productive I've been in a while.

I hung out at the park for a while longer until Ian got there, and then we all went out to get Mexican back in State College. A car caught fire in the parking lot. I ate some fajitas. Typical stuff. Then I dropped my brother off at his hotel and Ian and I went back to my apartment.

Ian tried to get me to learn how to play "Wish You Were Here" on his guitar (I forgot mine), but I was a slow learner. I have since learned the basic intro, though. Anyways, I went to bed a little later than I planned and set the alarm for 5 AM.

Start line of the W101

The race morning did not go exactly as planned. I got about three miles from my apartment when I realized I left my water bottles in my refrigerator. Oops. I raced back, grabbed them, and then raced to Coburn. I got to the start at about 6:40, and with a 7:00 AM start, I had plenty of time. Sort of.

On the start line, I was happy to find some fellow singlespeeders to line up next to. Scott, Nate, and Dave were all in the front row with me. The neutral roll out was not so neutral for me on 32x19, and I was alternating between tucking and spinning on the flat pavement road on the way to the first climb. I was almost already regretting not doing 32x18.

We hit the first climb, and I was able to position myself toward the front so I wouldn't miss any breakaways. There never really was a breakaway, but eventually I looked back and realized the front group had been narrowed down to the group of 10 riders I was in. Surprisingly, I actually felt really good on the climb. We were going at a good pace, but very sustainable for me. However, when we got near the top and started hitting some flat sections, it was clear I was going to struggle to keep up on the flats.

Sure enough, as we turned onto the flatter Mountain Church Road at the top of the climb, the leaders all pedaled away from me. There was no way I could spin my 32x19 gear fast enough, and just like that, I was in no-mans land. Back in 2021, I was able to stay with the leaders all the way until mile 25, but I had no chance this year. After talking with some friends in the lead group, it seems like they all hammered pretty hard on the flats, harder than usual. I guess I don't feel too bad about dropping, but it was still a stupid move by me.

The gravel section after the first climb is a pretty miserable one. It's so flat, and I was pretty blown out from my effort on the first climb and trying to spin with the leaders. Sure enough, a couple geared riders blew past me. If I was fresher, I would've tried drafting them, but I was trying to recover and I let them get by. 

Eventually, Matt Ferrari, the second place singlespeeder, came up behind me. I had no choice but to stick with him and his group. Thankfully, they weren't going super hard on the flats, and I stuck with them no problem.

When we approached the first aid station, I asked Matt if he was going to stop. I borderline had enough water to get to aid two, but since Matt said he was stopping, I figured I'd stop as well. I wouldn't feel right about dropping the other lead singlespeeder by blowing past a stop like that.

The climb out of aid one was Thickhead Mountain. It's a moderately steep doubletrack climb of about 600 vertical feet. Matt was on my tail at the bottom of the climb, so I slowly dialed up the pace. I was feeling pretty decent, but I was still avoiding going all out for now. Eventually, I hopped on to the front of another group ahead of me and slowly increased the pace there. I think I inadvertantly popped that group, and before long, it was now only me and two other riders spaced slightly apart. I was able to put a gap on Matt, and I never saw another singlespeeder the rest of the race.

The next miles of the race went by about as good as they could for how blown out I felt. I climbed Laurel Run Road pretty slowly, but then I ripped New Laurel descent and passed a rider halfway down. The subsequent Bear Gap climb was tough, but I felt a little better, and then I ripped Croyle Run Trail, which boosted the spirit. I passed one person on Croyle, but a second rider wouldn't let me pass. Understandable, it wasn't that far to the bottom, but it did mess up my mojo.

From Croyle, the course takes gravel to Dutch Alvin Trail, which is a sandy and exposed trail in Coopers Gap. That trails leads to aid station three, which then goes directly into the Kettle Road Climb. The climb up Kettle was not as bad as I feared, and it gave me some hope ripping into Sassafrass Trail. I really felt good on Sassafrass and Pigpile, so I blasted those trails pretty fast. 

I passed Zach on Pigpile Trail, but shortly after, my leg started cramping. I've never experienced anything like that before, but my right quad started seizing up and becoming extremely painful. I always sort of thought of cramps as mild, but this one was quite sharp and severe. I punched my leg a few times while riding and eased off slightly, and the cramp went away. Fortunately, I was able to stay ahead of Zach and the other rider I passed on the trail. The cramps came back again, but I was able to push through once more.

Except for the cramps, I felt pretty good in the following miles and loved riding on all my favorite rocky trails. The descent toward aid station four is perhaps my favorite of all in the race:  No Name Trail. It's steep and rocky, and easily the gnarliest trail in the race (that's rideable). I ripped that trail pretty fast, and Strava tells me I had the fastest time on that trail for the race.

After No Name was aid station four, which leads to the infamous Stillhouse Hollow climb. I grabbed some more water and food at the aid station and left full of energy and excitement to climb Stillhouse. Seriously. I was oddly excited.

Stillhouse sucked as usual, but in a not-as-bad-as-it-could-have-been way. I tried to take it a little easier so I didn't cramp, and it seemed to work. But like I said, it's a 900 foot climb over 9% grade, and it's rocky. So yeah, it's still hard.

After Stillhouse, I really started to notice one of my other issues for the day. My stomach was extremely bloated, and although I was having some stomach issues all day, it wasn't until later in the race that it affected me. Nothing I could do except harden up, so I unzipped my jersey to relieve some pressure. Seriously, my jersey went from perfectly-fitting at the start to not-fitting-at-all toward the end. I was really not doing great.

From Stillhouse to the final aid station at mile 88 is my least favorite stretch. There's a lot of gravel, deceptive climbing, and, like I said, I wasn't feeling too great, so this year was especially tough. After the last aid station, though, I got a second wind.

I've always thought the last 12 miles to the finish are very straightforward: rail-trail, big climb, impossible rocky trail, and more flat rail-trail and road to the finish. As I got to the base of the last climb, I saw a couple guys behind me who seemed to be pedaling a slow cadence. I feared they were singlespeeders who had caught me, but luckily, they were geared guys. I still wanted to beat them, though, so I turned up the pace and put a gap on them on the climb. I was very motivated to finish under 8 hours, so I stayed ahead of the geared guys to the finish.

As I approached the finish, I felt very satisfied with myself. It wasn't my fastest race, and I felt pretty crappy, but I pushed through and never once even thought about backing down or being soft. Plus, I got  the singlespeed win and finished 9th overall with some serious hammers in the top 10. 

The fun doesn't stop with the finish line, though. I had so many friends doing the race that it felt like a big party afterward. I cheered on Simon as he finished 2nd SS in the 100km, and we all cheered on Colleen as she finished 2nd overall in the women's 100km. Plus, before I finished, my brother had got 5th overall in the 100km and Anthony won the 100km. My dad also came across the line a little later and we all cheered him on as well. He shaved about 30 minutes off his time from the year before. Once again, a pretty successful day for Pittsburgh. Outside of my Pittsburgh friends, Ian had a strong finish in the 100 mile (he smoked me by quite a bit) and seeing all my singlespeed friends have a strong day was really awesome.

There was some post race barbecue food, so a group of us sat down under the pavilion to eat and share stories from the race. It was a good time. I don't see a lot of those people very often, so every race feels like a reunion of sorts, which is pretty neat.

Coming across the finish line

Before I move on to the post-ride on Sunday, I want to write a little of my own reflections on the race. I know that sounds like some soft bullshit, but I really do like looking back at my old blogs and seeing what I thought. You forget things over time, so writing them down helps me remember.

Overall, the race was successful, I mean, I won singlespeed, which was my goal. But besides that, I made a lot of mistakes and had some issues. For one, I made the mistake of going up the first climb with the lead group of riders. By the top, there were only 10 of us, and no other singlespeeders, so it was looking like a repeat of 2021. This time, however, the geared guys hammered on the flats after the climb and I couldn't spin fast enough. I got dropped, passed on the long flat stretches by a couple riders, and eventually latched onto a small group with second place (at the time) singlespeeder Matt. So basically, I could've just hung back on the climb with Matt, been in the exact same position, and been way fresher. Instead, I was totally blown out, and 400 watts felt impossible the rest of the day.

Besides my opening climb mistake, which haunted me the whole race, I also had a lot of stomach issues. I had ran out of Flow Formulas and thought I could make do for one race with other drink mix, but it ended up being quite unpleasant.

Anyone who knows me knows that I dislike being an advertisement for brands. I just don't like feeling obligated to praise a product. That said, to be totally honest, Flow Formulas works very well for me and it's the best I've used.

Chatting after the race with Gordon (L) and Simon (R)

On Sunday, the day after the race when we were all super tired, I planned a fun ride in Rothrock with my brother and Simon. We hit all the rockiest trails I could think of from the Galbraith Parking lot, and much suffering was had. 

Highline Vista on the post-race ride with Zach and Simon

I took us on Bald Knob (all the way out), Charcoal Flats, Highline Vista, and then we finished with a couple rowdy descents: Sand Springs and Spruce Gap. Of all the trails I've ridden in Rothrock, I think Spruce Gap is the gnarliest. It's steep, has enough rocks to keep you honest, and did I say it was steep?

I warned Zach and Simon before we did it to be careful, and tried to point out what lines to take. Unfortunately, Simon had a little crash at the top and bent his finger and cut himself up a little bit. He said he was trying to traverse to the side line at the top, but caught his wheel on a rock and went over the bars. He was in good spirits, but it seemed like a pretty tough one for him. Oops, I did feel slightly bad about it, especially because I've always talked about how Spruce Gap would be treacherous at the end of a ride. Oh well, I've actually gotten used to it now, so it's not that crazy for me anymore.

Laurel Fire Tower and Highline Vista

After the ride, I had to move out of my apartment, which meant packing up the U-Haul while I was extremely tired. It wasn't fun, but we got it done. With that, my time living in State College is over, at least for now. It's a pretty cool place, and I could definitely see living there in the future. Who knows, maybe I'll join the ranks of my friend Brad and others who went to school at Penn State and ended up living there after college. 

Well, I really rambled on in this one, but it's over now. I need to try and make these things shorter, but I have such a hard time leaving stuff out. You see, when I write, my brain just sort of flows through streams of thoughts, and I type them down as fast as I can. If I ignored some words to trim down the blog post, I wouldn't feel quite right. I guess it's happening again now, so I'll just cut myself off before I make an even bigger fool of myself. Until next time.

Simon coming down Spruce Gap; Simon's wounds from Spruce Gap

Some of the other podium pictures for posterity:

100k women's podium (Colleen in 2nd!) and 100k SS podium (Simon with 2nd!)

100k open mens podium (Anthony with the win and Zach with 5th!)


  1. Good read! Very entertaining, keep it up!.

  2. Great job man! Keep at it and see you at Shen?

  3. Thanks! Oh yeah I’ll see you at Shenandoah!

  4. Good to meet you, man! Congratulations on the win! And being able to ride the next day! 😆 I was not...

    1. Thanks! Great meeting you as well, and congrats on the strong finish. Hope to see ya around at some more events!

  5. Great recap BurgerSS. That was a fun weekend. Crooked finger and all