Blue Ridge Adventures puts on 3 epic MTB races per yer: Off Road Assault on Mt Mitchell (ORAMM) --I did it in 2009, Pisgah Stage Race -- 4 day hardcore pro level race, and Swank 65.
The 12th annual Swank 65 was Nov 7, 2010 and I was there. The first Swank was 65 miles with more fire road. Over the years it has evolved into a ~40 mile race that includes lotsa schweet singletrack and one of the most insane trails I've ever rode, Farlow Gap. From their site:
The Swank 65 Mountain Bike Journey is mountain bike racing at its most primeval, far removed from civilization and polluted air. The race begins at 2500 feet, and consists of a triad of cloverleaf shaped loops winding around Gloucester Gap in Pisgah National Forest. Rolling over rugged mining roads, fun single track, tough climbs and hell-raising descents, the exhilarating course will test your skills and desire as you explore the devilish terrain of the Pisgah National Forest.
Sample some of Pisgah's best trails in this great season closer - including the famed Farlow Gap!
The kids had off of school on Friday for some teacher developement blah-blah-blah day, so we packed up the minivan and headed to Asheville on Thursday after work. Snow was falling on the TN/NC line on our way. Arrived at NC Dave and Kathy's house around 2AM and crashed. Dave and Kathy moved from MD to NC about 5 years ago and the Blandfords make at least 2 annual pilgrammages to visit. Pisgah mountain biking is always on the visit agenda. This visit was more special because Dave turns 40 this week.
I had a cold on Thursday and Friday so I bailed early on the lake side campfire debauchery on Friday night. A pseudo-birthday gathering for Dave with craft beer and like minded moutain biking buddies. Earlier that evening Jen and I took a race pace spin around Enka Lake to test out the bike setup. I was playing games and bumping into her rear tire and went down--luckily I landed and rolled in nice soft grass.
Saturday my cold symptoms subsided as we packed up the car for Sunday race day and night-after camping party-scene. I racked the Surly 659er rigid with 32X20 and Dave went with SS too, a Jabberwocky/Reba 29er with 32X21.
MUNI (Mt Unicycle) Ben and Diane came over for dinner and we watched How to Train Your Dragon with the kids;-) After getting the kids to bed the grown-ups watched a documentary on the Great Divide Race which NC's own, Matt Lee, has won many times over. Movie seemed apropos the night before a big race, but has double meaning in this blog entry....read on.
OK, OK! Here's the 411 on the race already!
On Sunday morning we woke to freezing temps and drove to the Cove Creek Campground, site of the race start-finish-party. Three of Dave's buddies were there already: Jamie, Rob, and Bill. Scene was friendly as ~140 riders donned their gear and readied their rigs. I rode in the most mismatched kit out there. Orange long sleeve jersey with AFC white/red-dot jersey on top. MTB baggy shorts and XL arm warmers on my calves and thighs --- I had to safety pin them to my shorts to keep them from sliding down;-) Grey wool socks, black cap and helmet, and full finger gloves.
It was 35 degrees or so when the starting gun went off at 10 am. A Lemans start took us in a loop around the campground twice, once running and once riding, before we entered the single track Cove Creek climb. I was skipping Extreme Gene style for about 1/3 of the Lemans start--I wonder if it'll show up on Youtube.
Dave and Rob and I rode together with the pack up Cove Creek trail. The Lemans start was just enough to prevent bottle necking but Dave and I on singlespeeds had to look for opportunities to pass a few granny spinners at a time to keep moving up the hill. I, of course, forgot to start my GPS until mile 1.3, d'oh! A nice descent down rocky rooty Daniel Ridge trail followed. Dave and Rob blew me away on the downhill--man, a little front suspension woulda been nice. A few riders passed me through here. Then the trail opened up and 20+ mph overgrown fireroad singletrack led us into rest stop 1 where Dave was waiting for me. I nearly bought the farm in a rut on that fireroad but was able to keep control as I had no choice but to drop in and ride it out. I felt like a squirrel that doesn't want to run in front of the car but has no choice in the matter.
At mile 8 rest stop one I removed some layers. Temps rose into the 50s over the course of the day...weather was perfect! Off came the cap, the arm/leg warmers, and the thin full finger gloves. My hands felt like lobster claws on the way down Daniel Ridge so I was looking forward to the half finger gloves with some padding. I also resolved to drop my front tire pressure front 35 to 30 at the top of the next climb.
We then climbed to Butter Gap and caught up with Dave's buddy Bill. Bill is a DH racer and was riding his 38lb 8" rear 7" front Santa Cruz downhill bike -- I learned later why this bike was a perfect choice for Swank. Butter Gap was funnnn! Fast windy downhill with a few technical log and rock armored creek crossings to mix things up. I was able to pass a few riders on Butter;-) As the trail started to go back uphill I felt a cramp in each quad waiting to come out, but I rode through it.
Next came Long Branch trail a steep clay chute full of rocks and ruts and flanked with rhododendrons. I hammered outta the saddle through about 1/5 of this climb before starting the ride's first hike a bike section. Now I wished that I had gears because a few people were cleaning this section just fine. Mile 18 rest stop two was time for Heed refills, Enduralytes, and a full PBJ for me. Yummiest PBJ I ever had. Dave was cracking Spanish Beef Jerky jokes, hahaha!
A brutal fireroad climb to Farlow gap is next. With a granny gear I woulda been riding and happy, but being outta shape and on a single speed I was miserable. I had to walk most of it. Dave and Bill pressed on while I suffered. At around mile 19 my left quad cramped up so bad I had to stop for a couple minutes. I drank a whole bottle of Heed and that seemed to help. At the top of the hellish fireroad was a doubletrack rocky trailhead, just as steep as the fireroad for about a mile before the craziest downhill I've ever seen in a race, Farlow Gap.
This trail is like Pigs Run for 2 miles. You lose 1000 feet of elevation in 1 mile. I can normally hang pretty tight on the steeps on my rigid SS, but this trail was just too gnarly for me to clean. Bill on his Santa Cruz was obviously loving life through here. For me a bike with some front squish and 26" tires woulda been real nice through here. A group of drunken hecklers with horns and cowbells made fun of us for clipping out in one of the gnarliest sections too. First time I've been to a race that the cheerers make fun of you;-) Here's a video that doesn't do the steepness justice but gives you the idea of what Farlow is like at the first section near the top. Farlow continues with more big drops, steep switchbacks, giant boulder trials creek crossings, and impossible steps...oh and did I mention that everything was strewn with moist loamy leaf debris? Love it!
I DID NOT SHOOT THIS VIDEO. I CLEANED UP TO ABOUT 1:35 OR SO. THEN I CLIPPED BACK IN FROM ABOUT 1:42 TO 1:53 AND WALKED THE REST.
Farlow Gap turns back uphill for a 0.4 mph hike a bike section (at least that's what my GPS read when I was trying to decide where I was going to plant each next step up this mountain goat climb). Shared a couple Enduralytes with the guy on my wheel through here. Kept asking if he wanted to pass as things turn back downhill but he kept saying he'd just cramp up. After Farlow Gap is over you get to ride downhill on the other side of Daniel Ridge. Still quite gnarly but mostly ridable. I was loving this part but still wishing I had front squish immensely. Enduralyte guy passed me near the bottom. Rest stop three and another PBJ came next.
Davidson River trail is a fast, shady, and cold 25+ coast down a gravel thread on a grassy fireroad. And lastly a gradual fireroad climb that I could thankfully ride the whole way after a caffeinated HammerGel boost to the top of the Cove Creek trail and back to camp. After passing a group of 6 and a guy on a blue Specialized up the fireroad I didn't see a soul till a guy with a flat around mile 37--bummer;-(
Pulled back into camp with 6:03:36 on the race timer to be greeted by family and friends. Jen was sick back at the house with a 24hr stomach bug, so Kathy schlepped 6 kids up to the site to see us finish and pitched our tent;-) Thanks, Kath!
A change of clothes and some grilled hamburgers and New Belgian on tap finished the day. Darkness came early since clocks moved back on Sunday and the parking area thinned out and left 13 of us that decided to camp overnight. Shared campfire with none other than Great Divide Race winner, Matt Lee. He came in 9th place. Jamie came in 19th one place behind the first place woman so he's gonna uber-train in 2011;-) Rob, Bill, and Dave finished in that order ahead of me. Dave is loving that he beat me by 31 minutes;-P I ended up 97th out of 137 finishers.
We cheered as the last 2 riders came in with 8:13 on the clock and a girl with headlamp leading a lightless rider in the new moon pitch dark. Man, was it starry out there! Milky Way, satellites, meteors all over. Campfire wound down around 11 after psycho-pyro-chick emptied the last of the charcoal lighter fluid on the fire. Woke at dawn for coffee and packed up. Chatted with race promoter Todd and complimented him. Breakfast on the way home at the diner for Dave, Bill, Jamie, Rob and I before we parted ways. Home in Elkridge for dinner and kids to bed;-)
Now having said all that, here's the race report in 10 words or less: SHOULDA RODE MY 26 INCH GEARED HARDTAIL!!! COOL T-SHIRT TOO!!