Seven days, 200+ miles on the rocks, 21,000+ feet of climbing. The misadventures of Fang, Dyno, Gorka, and Thor. The blow by blow race reportage from the Fang:
Fear and Loathing in PA: The Transylvania Epic, the Juggernaut ESF, and what became of the most horrible decision ever
Day (-), How did we even get here?
It’s useful at times to reflect back on what it was that got you to where you were. Reflect, ponder your decisions, recount where you were mentally when you said “yeah, that’s a great idea, how come we never thought of this before?”
Not surprisingly, The Benevolent Society of the Juggernaut ESF isn’t exactly sure where this awfulness began. Gorka blames the whole thing on Dyno, which is: i) predictable; and ii) plausible – i) the blame always goes in that direction, and ii) the possibility that it is all Dyno’s fault, according to Gorka. But then again, Gorka and Dyno represent the yin and the yang of the ESF (not to mention Kinger, but he didn’t go … so let’s forget Kinger for now), and are – well – somewhat vocal in their conflicting interconnectedness. The rest of us are more fatalistic, accepting the judgment of horribleness, pulling up our Swiftwick socks, applying chamois creme to our – uhm – chamoisessess, lubing our chains (where’s this going?), and riding off into the unknown.
Horrible decision enshrined in financial commitment, the Juggernauts accepted their fate, fixed their bikes, went shopping for a ton of food, resigned themselves to so little beer drinking as to be unnatural (arguably one of the best moves ever … Best. Move. Ever.). Then we got into the Honda Element and the Vanilla Panzierwagen (Gorka’s and Dyno’s respectively. NB: I could go on forever on those two, but I won’t) and drove to meet our collective fate.
Day 1, Minor Victories
So not too bad. We made it out of DC, only stopped at one brew pub enroute, got to the Ingleby Lodge, confirmed we didn’t forget anything significant, made it to the starting line, and all of us finished the Prologue intact – for the most part.
Jay-sus. When I think ‘Prologue’ I think: ceremonial ITT through picturesque [insert Euro city] at start of the Tour. Sacré bleu! Not so Pierre, not so. Rocky single track ready to lay the ginsu on any unsuspecting: sidewall, rim, body part, etc. Every time I race here I’m reminded of how gnarly these trails are.
One stalwart Juggernaut got ginsu’d – three times … pretty much a Tang Short with a scythe through your scapula, but just missing the main artery. The rest of the ESF prevailed.
Clean bikes, drink a beer, eat, go to sleep, wake up, eat, go to the start. The beginning of groundhog day.
Day 2, An Amish Panty Raid
This has nothing to do with the race, except that we’re racing thru Amish country, and Mondays must be laundry day. I’ve never seen so much laundry hanging out to dry at the local farmhouses. So much room for mischief, but all of us too tired to do anything about it. That and a silent moment of wonderment as we tried to figure out how they actually strung the clothes line across what appeared to be a half-acre of muddy creek. Resourceful people. But don’t invite me to that party.
This was a great stage with portions of the Wilderness 101 and Stoopid 50 for trails, but for a first go at a 7-day stage race, a previous day’s multi-flat race for one of the Juggies, and the all-consuming sense of a race-ending explosion just around the corner there was still a wee bit of trepidation amongst the Juggs.
Race organization commentary: “Mileage (like size) matters.” Somewhere in the backcountry Pennsyltucky calculations a couple extra miles keep getting added in. A recurring theme.
Day 3, The 3 Hour Mudder.
The reality is this: this sh**’s hard enough without too many extra variables. Rain is an unwelcome variable. Bikes get extra dirty, rocks get extra slick, trails extra muddy, brakes extra ineffective. Rain is a negativity multiplier. There was a lot of rain this morning. Negativity multiplied.
The ESF – ironically enough – thrives on negativity. Debacle, Horrible, Travesty, Awful. All part of the Juggernaut lexicon which is intended to amplify the effect of overcoming overwhelmingly horrible odds. Yeah, you read that right – ESF triumph lurks in the shadows, just waiting for the absolute worst POSSIBLE moment for the Juggs to pluck it from certain catastrophe and shine the bright light of conquest upon it.
Today was no different. Nothing good was to come of this impending debacle, until – KERPOW – a roundhouse kick to the muddy TS Epic stage. Juggernaut victory. Yeah, the audience actually stood and clapped … *sniff, sniff* … we love our Juggs.
TS Epic Day 4 Enduro – excellent until it wasn’t, and Dyno gets his groove back
Mixed emotions about this stage. Rest day: positivity; potential for catastrophic bike failure: negativity. From Fang’s perspective, there was only one bike – a hard tail, and the Appalachian rocks he’s learned to hate. Giving up starting slots to anyone that showed up with a full-suspension bike, or a pulse for that matter, he just wasn’t into it. Unfortunately for him, the RAD in him got fired up leaving the first start point: First downhill section, passed three guys and cleaned sections that others were missing … danger Fang, danger. Second downhill, one of those superfast overgrown jeep trails – pfffft, soooo easy. Third drop, fall line stuff, ass over the back tire just like the old days in Laguna Canyon. More of the same on the fourth and fifth downhill. Fricking stoked, Fang was all “THAT was a RADS ride” – best stage ever (best. stage. ever.) … easy ups, and bomber downs – YEEESSSSS!!! All good until the washrack session that night. Depression, cracked the seat stay on a crash in one of the rock gardens. Fang desperately needed a bike pimp.
Dyno on the other hand ripped it – 3d best time in the 40+ Masters, top 10 time in the Solo Men … and (AAAND) 3d best time in the Solo Women – breaking into the Stan’s NoTubes Elite Women’s kung fu grip on the peloton. Dyno was going downhill so fast he peeled the black off his sunglasses.
We also understand that Sue Haywood verbally berated Colby at some point on course, but that hasn’t been confirmed. [Editors note: Confirmed. Though it is worth saying she also berated Gorka. This had no effect because he only speaks an extinct form of Portugese that is punctuated with tongue clicks, chirps, and hand gestures. He also had never seen a woman that is 18x stronger than him.]
Overall a great day. It did turn out to be a rest day of sorts with the easy ups and short, intense downs. A combination of XC, jeep trail, and steep rocky single track downhills with easy fire road climb transits is about as good a MTB day as you can get.
Day 5 – The little things make all the difference:
Thor, Dyno and Gorka had a solid day for the stage. Nothing out of the ordinary except for two killer AE Landes photos of Thor and Dyno tail whipping and crossing it up as they aired it out coming into the finish. The kind of thing that keeps you coming back.
However, back in the GC, Fang was taken by surprise late in the stage coming into the finish. Pulling another rider on the final fire road, he looked back to see the yellow jersey for the Women’s GC – Amanda Carey – smoking along with a Cannondale rider. Surely something had gone horribly wrong somewhere for her. Apparently it had. Turns out Amanda and all the Stan’s NoTubes elite women had taken a wrong turn at one of the less obvious intersections adding a significant time to their stage. Bummer. Amanda maintained the GC on that day by several minutes despite the course deviation. But too bad nonetheless. Small signage misread, big difference in the day’s outcome for the GC lead. The other backstory on this – as relayed to me by another racer – was that the Men’s 50+ leader was part of that course deviation with the Stan’s team and was DQ’d for the manner with which he got back on course.
Another pretty fun stage – Fang got to ride it on Dyno’s borrowed HT – a supersweet and superlight bike.
The most horrible decision ever is starting to be not so bad.
Day 6 – The Queen Stage – God Save the Queen
A killer stage despite an additional 7 miles more than planned (no course devs mind you … just a documented misquote. So, what’s an extra seven miles when it’s 90+° out?).
Queen Tussey Ridge needs no description, but there are a couple of other trails worth mentioning: John Wirt and Lomberger (Limberger, Lonberger, Lowenbrau, Lion Tamer … something like that) were excellent, and the switchbacks off Tussey ridge were killer. The reason we ride mountain bikes.
The mileage thing again … So we all pretty much knew the mileage was going to be off about half way through the stage. A planned 37-ish miler turned into 44 by the time it was done. Ouch.
That, and the Juggs had been doing some decent map study before each stage and knew when the climbs were coming – but that last climb that went up, and up, and up, and up some more over Boals Gap to the finish – with just ooooone more little fence line climb took. Oooh mercy dear Queen, mercy. I guess that’s why it’s Epic.
Only one more stage to go. We could win this thing. Ha!
Day 7 – D-U-N dun Mutha f**kas
A Great Day for the Race … the human race as they say.
Another killer stage. The map looked a little roadie-ish, but turned out to be mostly singletracky-ish. Awesome. We rode straight up to Sand Mountain trailhead from camp, then onto singletrack – really great. Dracula was even shlepping PBR early on during the stage – even better. A bit of fire road here and there, but a lot of single track to top off the week.
Race organization comment before finishing this out: Some of you might remember the plastic rodent playgrounds from many years ago – HABITRAILS. I can think of no other way to describe the last mile or so of the last stage. I refuse to throw the whole Epic out with this section, but holy sh**(!?) ending a week-long MTB race with something better suited for the county fair Shetland pony ride is probably best left out. You choose: Triumphantly swooping back into camp for a victory wheelie under the Red Bull banner, or impatiently standing in line at the grocery store. Tedious. Not epic. That’s all I’ll say about that.
A killer week overall. The final stage was perfectly laid out with the right combo of single track, PBR hand ups, and fire road connector to make it absolutely solid. The kind of ride you’d do on a weekend with your buddies, rolling back into the parking lot with a huge smile – wheeey better than any Michelob Ultra commercial.
The final reckoning for the most horrible decision ever
The ESF finished the final stage gallantly with PBR photo ops, and well-earned IPAs in the pool afterwards.
The Juggs finished 6th (Thor), 7th (Dyno), 8th (Gorka), and 9th (Fang) in the 40+ Masters out of an original 26 starters in that category. A tight shot group. Thor the WallerBeast brought home 10th in the overall Enduro.
Not too bad for a bunch of city-dwellers with badass kits.