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Click here to read Part 2.

Stage 5: R. B. Winter // 32.5 miles // 3,957′ climbing // 3:36:11

This was the other remote start stage of the week, about an hour’s drive from the Scout Camp. As Singletracks was one of the sponsors for Stage 5, I was hoping to have a good ride.

A spring-fed lake at R. B. Winter State Park

A spring-fed lake at R. B. Winter State Park

At the start my legs felt wooden from the previous day’s effort. I eased into the day, trying to warm up. That worked well, and I was soon feeling much looser. I started reeling people in and began to see the riders I had marked as the ones to keep pace with. Even though I wasn’t anywhere near the battle for the podium, I wanted to push myself. After four days of riding, I knew who was keeping a similar pace to my own.

On the first Enduro segment I was following another rider too closely. I should have passed her, but she was keeping a good pace so I stayed where I was. Somewhere along the segment I smashed the back wheel sideways into one of the endless baby head rocks. I heard the cringe-inducing sound of rim meeting rock. If I had had a clear view of the trail, I most likely would have been able to avoid it. The bike kept rolling, so I thought I had dodged a bullet.

After the Enduro there was a rolling doubletrack climb. I was still behind the same woman as she was setting an excellent tempo. We were pulling riders in left and right. And then I started to notice that my rear tire felt a little soft. Shit. It was definitely going flat. I hung with the rider in front of me until it was totally out of air.

I hopped off my bike and started getting my tools ready. I had two 20 gram CO2 cartridges, which is enough to inflate a high-volume 29er tire. Instead of just putting a tube in, I tried adding some air first, hoping that the sealant would take care of the leak. No such luck, though, as once the tire was partially inflated I could see the problem. The casing had torn away from the bead at the rim, creating a 1/2″-long cut.

Now I had to put a tube in, but I had wasted one of my cartridges. Luckily, the other racers were very kind and one guy stopped to lend me his pump. Eventually, I got it all sorted out and was back on the bike.

At this point I was warmed up and pissed at myself: first for getting the flat, and then for taking too long to fix it. I was riding with purpose; I was going to chase down as many people as I could. Back on the trail, I second guessed how much pressure I had in the rear tire. “It’s ok, it’s ok,” I told myself, “Check it at the aid station.”

Well, I made it to the aid station at mile 16 and totally forgot. I can’t even explain how. I actually grabbed my backup tube and pump from my drop bag, but it didn’t even register to borrow the floor pump they had there to add a few more PSI to my tire.

David Forkner of Carmichael Training Systems enjoying some East Coast Rocks. David and his teammate Matt Champion would finish 2nd in the team competition (image courtesy of TSEpic Media Team)

David Forkner of Carmichael Training Systems enjoying some East Coast Rocks. David and his teammate Matt Champion would finish 2nd in the team competition (image courtesy of TSEpic Media Team)

Immediately after the aid station was the East Coast Rocks segment for the day. As soon as I saw the sign for the segment, I knew I had made a mistake. Should I turn around and go back to the aid station? No, keep going.

I passed a handful of riders and just as I was starting to think everything would be ok, I smacked a rock and the rear tire went flat immediately. It was frustrating, especially since it was self-induced.

This time when I fixed the flat, I was sure to add more than enough pressure. Riding a rock-hard tire through rocks sucks, but it’s better than walking. Needless to say, it wasn’t the ride I was hoping to have. All told, my mishaps easily cost me 20 minutes or more. Back at camp I swapped the rear wheel from the Zen over to the Niner.

Justin from Freeze Thaw Cycles in State College, PA with his dog Bosco and his badass Kona Process 111. I picked up some more CO2 cartridges from his extremely well stocked support station at camp.

Justin from Freeze Thaw Cycles in State College, PA with his dog Bosco and his badass Kona Process 111. I picked up some more CO2 cartridges from his extremely well stocked support station at camp.

Stage 6: Tussey // 42 miles // 4,883′ climbing // 4:20:04

The Queen Stage.

There seemed to be a consensus among racers that had done the TSE before that this was the best stage of the week. It was long and tough, but also had some of the best singletrack.

As always, there was some gravel to connect everything, but Stage 6 was heavy on the singletrack: tight, rocky, technical. Branches slapping your face and arms. Rocks and roots lurking at the edges of the trail, waiting for you to get too close so they can throw you to the ground. This is East Coast riding at its finest. As someone who learned to ride on trails just like these, I was in heaven.

Like Stage 5, my legs felt dead off the start but warmed up quickly. And like Stage 5, I got a flat early on. It happened at the very end of the first Enduro segment. I made it all the way down and through the timing gate and then ran over the sharpest rock in Pennsylvania. It punctured a pinky-sized hole right through the middle of my tread. No way sealant was going to solve this.

While I pulled the wheel off, I grabbed a Clif Bar. For one, I figured if I was stopped I may as well take the opportunity to eat, and also because I needed the wrapper to use as a boot. If I didn’t put something over the hole, the tube was going to poke out and would go flat again in no time.

Here’s what I carried in my jersey pockets. Everything except the pump and multitool fit in the pouch. A tube and CO2 cartridges were strapped to my saddle.

Here’s what I carried in my jersey pockets. Everything except the pump and multitool fit in the pouch. A tube and CO2 cartridges were strapped to my saddle.

I got the new tube in and pumped that sucker up rock hard. No way was I going to take any chances today. Again, I rode with a vengeance.

The highlight of the stage was by far the Tussey Mountain Trail. For over three incredible miles you’re riding along the ridge over massive rocks. A fire had burned away most of the large trees on the ridge, which provided stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Since most of our mountains on the East Coast are heavily forested, we don’t often get views like that.

Karen Talley Mead enjoying the views on Tussey Ridge (image courtesy TSEpic Media Team)

Karen Talley Mead enjoying the views on Tussey Ridge (image courtesy TSEpic Media Team)

I rode the ridge fairly well with only a couple dabs and one fall. The fall was the only “crash” I had all week. Trying to hump up and over a rock ledge, I lost my momentum and fell to my left. I stuck my left arm out to brace myself (stupidly) which spun me to the right, and I fell backwards onto a boulder below. The back of my head slapped against the granite hard enough to make me see stars. “That’s why we wear helmets,” I muttered to no one as I picked myself up. After a brief system check with my brain, I got back on the bike and made my way down.

The rest of the day went great. I rode hard, caught some people that had passed me when I was dealing with my flat, and I had no more mechanicals or crashes.

Stage 7: Bald Eagle // 28 miles // 2,455′ climbing // 2:41:48

I expected the race organizers to take it easy on us during the last day. They did. Sort of. Stage 7 was every bit as technical as the others–it just happened to be a bit shorter at 28 miles. There was no phoning it in. Some people were electing to ride in groups at a chill pace. The singlespeeders were having their own rolling party and invited me to join.

I was conflicted. On the one hand, it was the last day of the race and no one would blame me for cutting loose. On the other, I had something to prove to myself after the disaster of Stage 2, the double flat on Stage 5, and the single flat and crash on Stage 6. I wanted to make it through a day where I felt good and didn’t have any mechanicals. There would be plenty of time to party after the race, I told myself, and I decided to push hard during the last stage.

The author finishing out a phenomenal week of trails (image courtesy of TSEpic Media Team)

The author finishing out a phenomenal week of trails (image courtesy of TSEpic Media Team)

While I did miss the singlespeed shenanigans, I had a great ride: no flats, no crashes. Interestingly, there were some crazy-steep uphill sections on the last stage. As in hike-a-bike steep. The vast majority (98%) of the climbing during the week was rideable, even with 32×36 being my easiest gear. I think there was only one other section on Stage 5 that forced me to walk. On Stage 7, there were two or three sections I had to hike up. Perhaps I was just tired.

Rolling through the finish brought mixed emotions.

The race was over, and I made it! As terrible as I felt during Stage 2, it was hard to believe. Over 220 miles and 26,000 feet of elevation: finished. I have to admit that I was pretty proud of myself. But also, the race was over. Tomorrow everyone would be heading back to the real world. When would I see all my new friends again? This must be what it feels like to leave camp as a kid.

Mike Kuhn and his team have built something truly special with this race. The trails are fantastic, the people are welcoming, the accommodations and food are great, and the overall vibe is amazing. What could be better than spending a few hours every day riding your brains out and then hanging out on a porch recounting that ride with new friends? There’s a reason most of the riders at the TSE are repeat customers: it’s the total package. It’s Singletrack Summer Camp!

While it may have taken 33 years for me to get to summer camp, it certainly won’t be the last time.

Huge THANKS to Mike Kuhn, Chris Jones, Dave Pryor, Abram Landes, Charlie Harklerode and his crew at the Seven Mountains Scout Camp, all the volunteers that spent a week making things as easy as possible on the racers, and to the sponsors that made the race happen!

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