100s of Miles and 1000s of Feet Later The Queen of Pisgah Series is Over!

The Knoxville Crew at the start of Double Dare! Knoxville Rules!!

The Knoxville Crew at the start of Double Dare! Knoxville Rules!!

Eric Wever did it again! I sit here on a Wednesday still wondering what happened to the weekend! Double Dare is not for the weak, and it made a spectacular way to end the King and Queen of Pisgah Series.  Anybody that has survived this series deserves to give themself a big pat on the back.

It started off with PMBAR in May soaked with rain and temperatures that barely reached 40.  I remember hiking up Pilot Rock Trail, reaching the top of Laurel Mountain and my Garmin read 32 degrees.  BRRR!! It made it almost unbearable to leave the fire at that checkpoint.  However we were on a mission! While sitting by the fire we realized that we shouldn’t get all the check points.  Teams were only required to get five checkpoints and any extra checkpoints reduced your time by an hour.  If you know Pisgah then you know that to get almost anywhere it takes at least an hour or more.  We already had made the mistake going out to FS475B to FS225 and getting that checkpoint, so we bailed on Pilot Cove and headed to get the one on Squirrel and then our final one at the bottom of Turkey Pen! Wow! Turkey Pen has to be my biggest soul crusher. Hiking up from the bottom towards Black Mountain I was wondering if I even existed anymore or maybe I was just having a nightmare.  How can one trail be so gloomy and seem so impossible?  Eric thankfully puts Black Mountain as a mandatory descent for the finish though, and after descending a muddy, fast Black Mountain I was all smiles!!

Scott and I at the Laurel Mountain Checkpoint.  Eating some pizza and trying not to stand to close to the fire, so it will be easier to leave!

Scott and I at the Laurel Mountain Checkpoint. Eating some pizza and trying not to stand to close to the fire, so it will be easier to leave!

Finish line smiles after descending Black Mountain at PMBAR!

Finish line smiles after descending Black Mountain at PMBAR!

Two weeks later it’s the 111K and 55.5K weekend.  I think all of us were just hoping for better weather.  However, since we had already done all that training in the mud at PMBAR we might as well spend this weekend in the mud and rain as well.  I barely made the start of the 111K because I didn’t want to get out from under our pop up at the campground, but I managed to suck it up and started my way up Clawhammer Road to begin another grueling race put on by Eric Wever.  I remember chatting with my friend Chris Joice after we had just hiked over Black Mountain, went down Turkey Pen, and then got dunked under the freezing cold water at one of the many river crossings about how all I wanted was to be sitting on a beach with the sun warming my body.  I never hear Chris complain about anything, but he seemed to agree a beach would be better than this at the moment.

The 111K start in the rain! Scott and I were a little late!

The 111K start in the rain! Scott and I were a little late!

During the 111k! All smiles!

During the 111k! All smiles!

Again thankfully Eric Wever puts Black Mountain descent as the finish and I can’t help but feel extremely accomplished and happy at the end of that race.  It’s not over though, we got to get up and do the 55.5K in the morning.  Yaaaay (with a big hint of sarcasm)! The 55.5K was a rough start for me hiking up Black Mountain, but the sun was actually out and my mood started to lift when I began going down Turkey Pen (Wait did I just say my mood lifted while riding Turkey Pen? … I really was losing it).  I began to pass A LOT of people going down the muddy single track, and one guy even asked, “Are you really going to ride this?” which I proceeded to tell him, “Yes I can ride down this better than I can walk down it!” By the time I got to the end of the 55.5K I was in great spirits.  I descended a river flowing down Pilot rock, and my favorite ending descent on Black Mountain! Woo Hoo!!! This weekend is finally over! Thank you Eric for making me know what real mountain biking, and what a real suffer fest is.  You have made me a stronger rider with your races!

Fixing to get a fist pounding from the one of the guys I passed on the Black Mountain descent at the 111K! :)

Fixing to get a fist pounding from the one of the guys I passed on the Black Mountain descent at the 111K! 🙂

At the end of the 55.5K!! Needless to say I felt good, accomplished, and ready for a beer!

At the end of the 55.5K!! Needless to say I felt good, accomplished, and ready for a beer!

Monster Cross was the next race in the series, which is a 70 mile gravel/road race.  The weather was great, and tons of people were there, but man oh man after all the other racing I had been doing the month before (Shenandoah, Three Peaks, and the Collegiate Races) and the fact I stayed out late celebrating with our local mountain bike club at the Clips Film festival I was dirt tired.  I may have even fallen asleep on the Parkway with my eyes open.  It was a tough race for me because my heart and mind were not in it, but I knew I had to finish.  I had already made it through over thirty hours of racing in this series.  I did not want to give up now!  I finished in the top ten which was better than I expected.

Somewhere on 1206 in Pisgah National Forest doing Monster Cross

Somewhere on 1206 in Pisgah National Forest doing Monster Cross

Last but not least, DOUBLE DARE!!! This year was my second year competing in it, and for me I completely enjoy the atmosphere of this race.  Many of my friends from Knoxville come to this race to participate and have fun, and having them there in my favorite place to ride makes me a very happy person!  Scott had a cold the week before, but we started the race strong. We got in a fast group on our way up to Bent Creek Gap, a two hour bike ride to get our passports. Then the real race started.  From there we realized it was going to get dark in a few hours and we still had to get up to Pilot Rock and all the way back to the campground by midnight. So we got all three checkpoints in the Trace Ridge area and then made our way up Laurel Mountain Trail in the dark to the top of Pilot.  From there we did the hike out to Mt. Pisgah and back and made it back to the campground around 11:30.  Shew Wee! That’s a lot of riding in 12 hours for only 6.5 checkpoints, but day one was done and I was ready for a beer and sleepy time.

Checkpoint at Bear Branch! Jim Rivers sneaking in a tickle!

Checkpoint at Bear Branch! Jim Rivers sneaking in a tickle!

5 A.M. came way too early Sunday.  It took me almost 45 minutes to get dressed in the car trying to stay warm and getting ready for the day.  However once we started the climb up to Farlow Gap my spirit lifted, and I got to see a beautiful sunrise.  Not many people can say they got to do that! Once we reached the top I knew Scott wasn’t feeling well, so we stood at the Farlow Gap checkpoint debating on whether we should go down the gravel road and take today seriously or if we should have fun with our friends?  Who had already decided today was just for fun and they were not going to descend the gravel, it was time for some single track. At that point I felt the months of racing every weekend enter my body and take over.  I really was not competing against anyone at Double Dare, but myself.  I was in a solid third place in the series and the only way I was going to move up is if Carey or Kym DNFed.  That’s when I looked at Scott and smiled, “Let’s go down Farlow!!”

About to descend Farlow Gap!

About to descend Farlow Gap!

We met up with our friends at some point on Farlow and the rest of the day our ultimate goal became have fun and get the mandatory checkpoint.  Needless to say we had a great time.  The descent down Farlow followed by riding Long Branch put a huge smile on all of our faces and made the long road climb up to Pink Beds seem not so horrible.  Once we got back to the campsite at around 2 that afternoon we had raced around 19 hours that weekend.  It was time for a beer, good food, and some fun times around the fire!  A lot of us had decided to take Monday off and camp out one more night so we could enjoy the finish of Double Dare, and we did just that!

Made it to the bottom of Farlow!!

Made it to the bottom of Farlow!!

In the End, I finished the Queen of Pisgah Series in third place behind some of the strongest women I know! I could not be happier.  These ladies are such an inspiration to me, and I could not be more proud of myself for standing on the podium with them! A big HUGE congrats to Carey Lowery for killing all of us women in every race and being the Queen of Pisgah, and another HUGE congrats to Kym Schifino on getting Second.  I watched Kym win the Pisgah Stage race last year, and then got to watch her kick some butt this year in this series. Needless to say she rocks!!

The Queen of Pisgah podium!

The Queen of Pisgah podium!

A big HUMONGOUS thank you to Scott Smith, who has been my partner, bike mechanic, and biggest fan this year! I know that I would not be this strong without him telling me to suck it up on hike-a-bikes and that excuses will not get me anywhere!

Thank you Scott!!! :)

Thank you Scott!!! 🙂

The Seasonending at Nationals!!

Well here it is my first blog post!! Everyone tells me I need to make one so here we go!!

It’s been a whirlwind of a year mountain biking.  It is crazy to think that just a little over three years ago I picked up a bike for the first time! I owe a big THANK YOU to all of my friends that helped me learn how to ride a bike.  I loved Dustin Simmon’s, who was a huge contributor to my biking skills,  comment the other day “you have earned this finish one crash at a time,” and then Brian Hann’s comment “Seemed like only yesterday we were pulling a stick out of your butt. Literally.”  It’s been a lot of work these past few years, but it would not have been possible without my Knoxville/AMBC/DST/TVB/King cycling friends! There are way too many people to thank and I wish I could thank everyone personally, but I just want everyone to know that I really do appreciate all those times you waited on me, watched me crash, and helped make mountain biking the most fun sport ever!

For the past eight weeks straight I have been racing nonstop! You would think that I might have hit a burn out point, but no, I can honestly say that I have had the time of my life! I have made such great friends and gotten to ride some awesome single track.  It started off with the Shenandoah 100, the most fun 100 miler you can do, up in Virginia.  I got fifth place after battling it out with Brenda Simril all day, who is a Bad Ass.  I think it was there that I realized I am stronger then I had been giving myself credit for.  I was just hoping for a ten hour finish time and ended up getting on the podium! It was a great day for me in the woods, I found myself climbing very strong and finding my nirvana on the single track.  Needless to say it was a great day and a great finish for me!

The Women's podium at the Shenandoah 100

The Women’s podium at the Shenandoah 100

The weekend after Shenandoah I proceeded to start my first season of collegiate mountain biking with King University.  The first race was at ETSU which is a 5 mile course of root filled flowing single track.  I actually made a mistake when going through the short track course.  There was a jump that I did not realize was over a ditch with an inflatable alligator in the ditch.  I proceeded to roll the hidden jump and crashed straight down onto the alligator!! OUCH my handle bar nailed my groin! After fighting through the pain for a couple of more laps I finished first!! Woo Hoo!!

After my First place finish at ETSU!

After my First place finish at ETSU!

This is the point where my weeks start intertwining and I have no idea what race I did what weekend, but here is the condensed version of the next 6 weeks of riding! There was Three peaks which actually may be the hardest cyclocross race in America.  It is 50 miles and you have to climb three big mountains. Then there was the Pisgah Monster Cross, which was part of the Queen of Pisgah Series, which I am competing in.  It consisted of around 70 miles of road and gravel over the Blue Ridge Parkway and through the Pisgah National Forest.

Somewhere on 1206 in Pisgah National Forest doing Monster Cross

Somewhere on 1206 in Pisgah National Forest doing Monster Cross

Then there was the Check Point Tracker National Championship Adventure Race here in Knoxville! Woah! This may have been the hardest race of them all! It was 30 hours long and Scott Smith, Daniel Sanders, Ryan O’Conner and I were a team.  It started off in Windrock where we proceeded to ride our bikes up some of the steepest gravel roads possible for ten hours.  Then we road in the dark from Oliver Springs to Concord Park, where we got in our canoes and paddled for thirty miles upstream in the dark, foggy night trying to find checkpoints.  By hour 22 I am pretty sure all four of us had lost our minds! However we never gave up, well maybe we gave up for ten minutes when we had reached rock bottom! We finished though and in fourth place. We kicked some butt at nationals!

At the finish line after 30 hours of nonstop paddling, running, and biking!

At the finish line after 30 hours of nonstop paddling, running, and biking!

The Clemson race came after the ETSU race.  This race had more and faster girls at the starting line than were at the ETSU race.  I was pretty sure that I was going to be in third place that day, but my coach and my friend Rachel were there to motivate me! By the first lap I already had a 20 second lead from the second place girl! I told myself to just ride smooth, hard, and keep smiling that was the way I was going to be able to win, and I did!! I had, up to that point, never raced so hard and been that focused.  It was great and felt amazing to win that race! A big shout out to Rachel for driving me around that weekend and having to deal with loud rude campers that weekend!

After the win at Clemson! All Smiles!

After the win at Clemson! All Smiles!

The next two collegiate races were at Mars Hill and Brevard.  Erica Zaveta, who races for Brevard and Redline is an awesome bike rider, won those two races.  Even though I did not get first it felt good to race that hard against someone so fast! I honestly think that by racing her it pushed me to get faster and stronger! The best thing to come out of the collegiate racing is knowing that there are so many girls that love this sport as much as I do!

Now for Nationals!!! Woo Hoo!! What a weekend that was.

When I left Knoxville on the Thursday before nationals it was Sunny and 60 when I arrived at Beech Mtn North Carolina it was snowing.  I never remember in my week of looking at the weather that it was going to be snowing, so yes I was shocked!

At registration I was told that this is the first time that they have had King University at Mountain Bike Nationals and they were excited to have us this year! It felt great being able to bring King into the mountain bike scene.  After registering, I was ready to get my first lap in at practice.  Woah was my first thought when I started the climb up Beech Mountain! I could not believe that they were having us climb straight up the ski slope. I actually stopped half way up and waited until I saw someone else pre-riding the course just to make sure I was going the right way!

Zachery Valdez, who won the Men’s Division II short track and cross country for Brevard, and I ended up pre-riding it together! I am so glad he let me tag along with him! After the steep climb all the way the top to Beech Mountain you enter into, what seems like, the rootiest single track in the world and the mud was not helping.  We had a great time though I kept catching myself laughing from all the fun I was having riding my bike in the mud while the snow was coming down! I think at that point Zach and I realized just how epic nationals were going to be!

snowy drive

Friday morning while driving up to practice I was in shock! It was 15 degrees with the wind chill and snow was still coming down! I met Maria Carrelli and Namrita K’Odea in the parking lot so we could pre-ride together and I may add that I had just my shorts and tall socks on because I did not bring my leg warmers! Maria let me borrow some of hers, but the best was when I was saying how I couldn’t believe I did not bring mine, and Namrita’s response was “It’s ok Kaysee, you’re from the South.  You didn’t know.” haha

Maria and Namrita getting ready for practice on Friday morning

Maria and Namrita getting ready for practice on Friday morning

As we began the climb up Beech Mountain that morning, I literally felt all the heat leave my body.  I have never ridden in weather that cold in my life! My fingers felt like they just got smashed into my car door they hurt so badly.  None of us spoke to each other until we got to the top because we were so miserable, but once we got into the single track it was amazing.  I had so much fun riding my bike in the snow.  It was a totally different course then the day before.  It was just hard packed snow versus muddy, slippery roots.  Plus it was gorgeous riding in the snow that day. I have never seen anything like it, where fall leaves are covered in snow! It was spectacular.  I never felt nervous about the race because I was having too much fun riding with the ladies!!

At the top of Beech Mtn before we entered the singletrack

At the top of Beech Mtn before we entered the singletrack

Namrita and I on the second climb before the descent back down to Beech Mtn

Namrita and I on the second climb before the descent back down to Beech Mtn

Saturday came way too fast! After months of preparing for this moment I still did not feel ready.  The sun was out and it had to be at least twenty degrees warmer than Friday.  Also Scott, my parents, and some of my teammates and coach came up to watch me. So today was the day and ready or not, it was time!  I got called up about fifteenth which put me on the second row, and at this point I think I was a basket case full of butterflies.  If there is one thing that my coach sees it is when I am nervous, but it helped having everyone there to talk to.  I told Maria in the bathroom that I wished we were just riding again like yesterday!  Here it was though, and we were off.  I had problems clipping in at first from all the nerves but told myself to stay calm and don’t exert yourself yet.  Starting the climb I was in sixth place and I could see Erica and the girl from Colorado Mesa taking off, so I decided to give it a little more effort but not too much because I knew the single track was going to take a lot of energy too.  By the top of the climb I was in third, and honestly at this point I started to relax and smile because I was already impressed with myself for being third!

Once we entered in the single track I immediately had to start passing the D1 girls.  The fact that all the snow was melting made the roots unimaginably slick.  My brain immediately switched to what I call my Pisgah mode! Ride smoothly, breathe, focus, and don’t hit your brakes unless you have to. Not too far into the woods is where I saw Erica off her bike.  I took the pass and wanted to say something to her but just couldn’t. I knew that this was my chance to get second. Not too much further from passing her though I took a big spill while trying to pass someone.  I just hit slippery root and slid out like superman on the ground.  I was sure that Erica was going to catch me but she didn’t, so I got back on bike and told myself to stay calm and do what you know how to do:  ride smooth!

The second time up the climb

The second time up the climb

Before I knew it I was down at the bottom of Beech Mtn again ready to start my last lap back up the climb.  The best part of the whole day was when the announcer said, “Woah wait Kaysee Armstrong Division 2 second place woman, where did she come from?”  That gave me a little oomph! I knew Erica was a stronger climber then me so I wanted to hold her off! It was great seeing everyone cheering for me on the climb.  The mud had gotten so slippery that with every pedal stroke I was sure that I was going to slide out.  Many girls in the D1 had to walk up the climb.  I knew I was not going to.  I made it to the top and Erica was ten seconds back.  I never would have thought that I would be sitting in 2nd place at that point, and that’s when I told myself I could do it!

I got in the single track and only had one mistake.  The rest of the time I was passing people, riding the roots smoothly, making all the climbs that I had to walk the lap before, and I was still smiling! I had found my Nirvana moment!! Once we hit the last climb I stood up and powered up it as hard as I could! I was not going to leave anything out there on the course that day! The descent down to Beech Mtn was great! I kept telling myself stay smooth, no silly mistakes, stay smooth, breath, you are almost there!!!

When I crossed that finish line I was beyond happy. I was in shock! I had never thought that I would finish second at nationals! It honestly still does not feel real!

Scott, Dale and I with my bike after the race

Scott, Dale and I with my bike after the race

Again a big thanks to everyone that supported me, King Cycling team for letting me be on their team, and Kona for making such an incredible bike! I rode the Kona Hei Hei Carbon 29er and it was the perfect bike for this course.  It cornered great, I was able to climb super-fast with the suspension locked and then I was able to unlock the suspension for the rooty single track.  Having the suspension open during the single track was key to riding so smooth!! Without that bike I am not sure that I could have rode that well and had so much fun at nationals!

Medal

Division 2 Cross Country Podium

Division 2 Cross Country Podium