Stage 3: Galbraith Enduro — 29mi, 4,200′ climbing
Each stage has enduro segments within it, but stage 3 was an enduro day, meaning only the descents would be added to your overall time for the week. Everyone was free to ride the transfers between the enduro segments at their own pace.
I opted to bring my Kona Process 153 for the enduro day. The Norco Revolver I rode the rest of the week is a full-blown XC bike with just 4″ of travel at each end–and, it doesn’t have a dropper. My Kona, on the other hand, sports 6″ of travel, has a dropper, and some bombproof wheels from Hope. It was the right choice.
We started and finished the stage at Home D Pizzeria in State College, which meant a long section of road, gravel, and then trail to spread the field out. I resisted the early temptation to hang with the lead group, and settled into a comfortable pace.
Apart from a bobble into an uphill rock garden on the final segment, I felt like I rode smoothly. Knowing I could bash the Kona into just about anything gave me the confidence to let off the brakes.
The chill pace between stages made for a long day in the saddle–3:50–but I rode well enough for 3rd in my category! I was stoked to get a podium on the enduro day, since going fast downhill is pretty much why I ride bikes.
Stage 4: R.B. Winter — 35mi, 4,600′ climbing
R.B. Winter is a State Park about an hour’s drive from the Scout Camp. This was the stage I got two flats on last year. That really pissed me off, since I was otherwise riding well. The start routed us up a steep road climb before climbing even more on some freshly-graded doubletrack. The pace was furious as ever, and my legs were feeling dead after pushing a 30+lb bike around the day before. Soon, though, I was warmed up and feeling strong. The trails at R.B. Winter are well-suited to my strength, which is power. The singletrack was undulating, with no really long sustained climbs. When we were climbing for long periods, it was on road or gravel.
About an hour into the race, it started to rain: a light misting at first, which made the rocks treacherous. After spinning out on one particularly slippery rock, I took the opportunity to let a couple PSI out of my tires. I had been conservative with my pressure all week to avoid flatting in the nonstop rock, but I was sliding all over the place. I still played it safe, not letting too much out as I did not want to be changing a flat in the rain.
I spent a large portion of the day trading places with the leaders in the pro women’s category, which meant I was making good time. In fact, the overall leader, Vicki Barclay, pulled me along for a good 5-mile stretch of rolling doubletrack. I gave it everything I could to stay glued to her wheel, a steady spray of mud flying into my eyes.
I rode well enough for a 5th place finish, with just two minutes separating me from 3rd and 4th. When I checked the overall results at the nightly meeting, I was sitting in 6th. If I could make up just a couple minutes on the last day, I might be able to move up into 4th overall for the week. Game on.
Stage 5: Cooper’s Gap — 35mi, 5,500′ climbing
The final day was another remote start, but it finished back at the Scout Camp. It had rained throughout the night, making the ground squishy. A steady drizzle continued during the long bus ride to Greenwood Furnace State Park, but it let up once we arrived.
While I was rolling around warming up, I looked around to find the guys that were in 4th and 5th place. I wanted to memorize what kits they were wearing and make sure they didn’t get around me. My plan was to go apeshit from the start, and keep going apeshit until the finish. I was going to finish the week in 4th overall… or blow up trying.
I had a great start and was hanging onto the back of the lead group for the whole first climb. The first enduro segment was… interesting. Race director, Mike Kuhn, had warned us about a particularly steep part of the trail, but said it would be marked. In my head, I was picturing a roller of some sort. Well, the entire segment was stupid-steep, with a few downed trees crossing the trail. Without a dropper, it was everything I could do not to get bucked over the bars. When I finally saw the arrows marking the dangerous part, the trail went from stupid-steep to near-vertical. Riders in front of me were crashing left and right.
As I was having my own struggles, someone yelled out, “Cody’s coming!” They were referring to Cody Phillips, the leader in the enduro category. Not wanting to jam his game up I tried to get to the side of the trail, and ended up just falling over. I was fine, but then I had to run the rest of the downhill. The trail was too steep to get restarted on. Even running down it was sketchy.
Shortly after the first enduro, the skies darkened and the rain returned. The ground was already saturated, so anything that wasn’t rock quickly turned to mud. My drivetrain made horrible grinding noises. Every brush against a branch or plant would dump gallons of water onto me. Bikes were breaking and people were cracking. I could see it in their faces as I passed them. Anyone can deal with one day of rain and mud, but two consecutive days is brutal. I thrive in shitty conditions, but it was the toughest day of the week for me personally. I’m sure many others felt the same.
One of the people I passed was 3rd overall in my category. I think he had crashed on an enduro segment. On the following climb, I could see him trying to close the gap behind me. “Not today buddy,” I said to myself. Whenever he got within a hundred yards, I would lock out my suspension, stand up, and mash.
Just before the final enduro segment, I ate shit on a rocky ridge. It was one of those crashes that happens so fast, you don’t even have time to react. That’s probably a good thing, as if I had tried to put my arm out, I likely would have broken it. As it was, I landed squarely on my left hip. Searing, white hot pain. Almost blinding. It took my breath away. I writhed in agony for a few seconds before standing. Once I realized nothing was broken, I got back on my bike as quickly as I could. It was the kind of pain that makes you say, “Ooo, ooo, ooo,” repeatedly. Kind of like this:
The final enduro segment was heinously rocky. And off-camber. One wrong line choice or a clip of a pedal and I’d be tomahawking into a pile of boulders. It was the most nervous I had been all week, with my throbbing hip only adding to the tension. The stage finished with a two-mile climb up Stillhouse Hollow before winding us through the Scout Camp singletrack. I was so relieved to see the finish arch! It had been a taxing day, bordering on not fun at times.
I knew I had a good ride because I had stayed ahead of 3rd-5th places. Turns out, I had ridden to another 3rd place finish. Not only that, I had made up enough time to move into 4th overall for the week! It was so rewarding to have a plan and be able to execute out on the course.
Once again, I had an amazing week in Central Pennsylvania. It takes a lot of work throughout the year to make an event like this happen, and then even more work during the event itself. There were numerous volunteers that gave up their time to make sure the racers had everything they needed. Course markings were excellent; if you get lost out there, you’re just not paying attention. The aid stations were well-stocked and organized. I could roll up, throw my empty bottles on the ground, and volunteers would hand me full ones. Not only that, they’d grab snacks for me so I had to do as little as possible. Because of this, I probably never spent more than a minute at any stop. I can’t thank those folks enough.
I would also like to send a special thanks to Race Director Mike Kuhn, Hype Man/Cat Wrangler Dave Pryor, and Photographer Extraordinaire Abram Landes. Without these guys busting their asses around the clock, the Trans-Sylvania Epic wouldn’t be possible. So, as they say in Pennsylvania, THANK YINZ!
If you’re interested in racing the 2017 edition of the Trans-Sylvania Epic–and you should be–you can reserve your spot now for $200 via BikeReg.com!