A few days after the hardest weekend of racing mountain bikes, here I sit finding it to be one of the hardest things to write about. This year one of my goals was to be able to throw down in the Queen of Pisgah series. Last year I wasn’t able to finish the series out because of collegiate obligations, and truthfully as much as I wanted those national titles I want that Queen of Pisgah belt buckle.
I’m lucky enough this year to have Harper’s Bike shop giving me all the support here in Knoxville to make my mean machines work (The lovely Lady LIV Lust, and the Giant Reign). Also with the support of Provision Sports giving me Joe Peeden with all the training plans on how to get faster and still have fun! Last but not least I scored big when I got the support of Nox Composites providing me with the toughest carbon rims around!
The first race of the series is PMBAR (Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race) and it is the first weekend of May. The race consists of partnering up with someone, and the two of you navigate to different checkpoints in a self supported race for over 8 hours in Pisgah. If it sounds easy.. you’re terribly wrong, but that is how Pisgah Production races are based. How difficult can it be to make some of the best mountain bikers second guess their decisions but still somehow keep coming back for more?
This year I got super lucky! I couldn’t find a partner for a PMBAR, the race was sold out so I had to find some one with an entry, and the race was just a few weeks away! I did my best in the wheeling and dealing of PMBAR partner scope out but no such luck. Then I get a message from a friend, Chris Brown, saying that he had heard of my scheming for a partner and was wondering if I wanted to trade positions with him and team up with Charlie Roberts. I hesitated in my reply because why should I act so desperate just weeks before PMBAR? Really though, I stalked Charlie out and realized he had just won Pisgah 36 and I instantly was intimidated! I asked Chris, “are you sure Charlie wants to drag me around all day?” Chris reinforced that he did, but I’m still not a 100 % Charlie knew what he was getting into!
The morning of the race Charlie and I met at the start and double checked that between the two of us we had all the mandatory gear (ranging from an emergency blanket, whistle, and water filter to snacks and rain jackets). All checks.. just time to wait patiently for the passports from Eric. Once we got the passport we jetted up black. Charlie read the rules and checkpoints all while riding up one of the steepest climbs in Pisgah (In just over 3 miles there is over 2000ft of elevation gain). This is where I know I have struck gold with getting Charlie as a partner. Charlie reads off the passport with the checkpoints and with no map needed the route is planned in minutes. When we get to Pressley Gap a lot of people turn left onto the gravel, and Charlie points to continue up Black to Turkey Pen Trail head to head over to the South Mills Check point. 2 hours in we finally reach it. I think our avg speed was 5 mph which is shockingly good for the route we just took. From there we headed to the Bradley Creek check point, and in Pisgah Productions fashion we were forced to do an out back on Bradley Creek Trail. This mean at least 20 creek/river crossings on one of the most over grown trails in Pisgah.
We head out and there is really no one around. Just the two of us every 5 mins approaching a creek crossing, hopping off the bikes quickly, shouldering them across the river, and then mounting back on till the next creek crossing. On and off, up and down, side to side, one river to another… Will this ever end…Where am I…UGH! The thoughts that came through my mind, and there towards the end we ran into a couple of teams head on. At this point it looks as if we could be in 4th if all of us are on the same route and we are on the fastest one. Where is everyone else? Well once we turned back around and got halfway back we hit traffic jam after traffic jam of teams crossing the rivers. Looks like they all did a different route than us..wonder how many check points they have?
To be honest though I trusted Charlie! From there we went and got horse cove, to club, and out to cove creek to the finish. It was a total of around 50 miles and 10000 ft of elevation gain. Charlie and I finished 4th overall and 1st in the co-ed category! I have never done so well at a Pisgah Productions race and I was beyond excited and grateful! A great start to the QOP Series and a super fun/hard/adventurous day with a new friend, Charlie! (I might add here I kept thinking ouch! Charlie that really hurts! ..If you don’t know what video I’m referencing too here’s the link.. it made me laugh some during the suffer fest https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzNSsDD_LzE )
After PMBAR there is a week off before the 111k & 55.5k, which was this past weekend. It is by far the toughest weekend on the MTB. It is not designed for the weak, and not just any one can show up and race it. It took 15 hours, covered 166 miles, and almost 18000ft of climbing. Some just compete in the 111k or just in the 55.5k, but if you are doing the series you have to race both.
The 111k I started out the gate super quick and on point (except for when Nick almost took my bars out over a mud puddle at the start line)! I wanted to win the 111k and I had the fire in my belly! The thing is no matter how hard you start you have got a long tough day ahead so your gas tank better be full. I honestly felt amazing till hour 6 climbing up laurel and I came completely unhinged. I knew I still had thousands of feet to climb, two of the gnarliest descents, and hours to go in the race. My side began to ache and I wondered if it was gas, hunger, gallstones, or an appendix rupture. I couldn’t give up though I knew I had come this far in the race to not let a side pain ruin my winning. It pained me to continue, but it hurt much worse to stop. I sucked it up and ended up riding with Andy who I met on Laurel. He was a good distraction asking about the hike a bike and other things in Pisgah that he wasn’t a 100% on. We hiked our bikes together and I embraced the distraction from my side pain and kept on rolling. Going down Pilot Rock was not as enjoyable for me as it usually was. Things ached on my body that haven’t ached before, and the side pain was just enough to make me mad and lose focus on the descent. I was glad to reach the bottom and know one last long climb and big descent before the finish. At this very race last year I passed Nina on that climb and this year I didn’t want the same to happen to me. I put it in a harder gear and rallied to the top as fast as I could.
On the hike a bike up black, the side pain became more noticeable and I felt the drive die back down. Then I saw Lee Simril down below and was convinced Brenda might be close. I panicked gave it a good jog up the hike a bike for a whole thirty seconds, just enough to pass Andy and max out what ever heart rate I had left. Lee ended up catching me and yelled out Brenda wasn’t with him because he knew I was worried. A sigh of relief but also still the ache to finish this craziness. I finished first in the 111k and was yet just excited this year as last to get that gold belt buckle.
The 55.5K was a hard start. We lined up to head straight up Black to Turkey Pen (The same way Charlie and I started PMBAR). There was some fast women that showed up Sunday that did not race the 111k and I thought in that moment the podium is not mine today. We started up Black and I just settled in. Hike a Bike is not my strength so I rode as much as I could and hiked as steadily as I could. I even got to see my dear friend Eleanor a lot on Black MTN and Turkey pen on Sunday. Seeing her was such a lift in spirit I can’t imagine that’s not how I got my engine fired back up. I hit a very low emotional point (which hopefully I will discuss later in this blog) between Aid 1 and Aid 2. It was a wave of panic and tears began flowing beyond my control. I’m sure I looked silly by the time I got to aid station 2, but there I saw Chris Despard who knew exactly what I was going through and gave me a good hug. I refueled and lit the fire before starting Laurel again. Here I ran into Andy again and we both were in a much better place on Sunday than we were on Saturday. We rallied up Laurel, over trees, rocks, up hike a bikes, and down pilot probably 20 minutes faster than we did the day before and with much better attitudes. At this point I honestly had lost my placement in the race. I just knew that the ladies that were in the queen of pisgah series were behind me, and if I could finish that way it would put me in great standing for the series. The climb up Black seemed less ridiculous and more rewarding than Saturday, and the finish was much sweeter and calming. I ended up finishing second in the 55.5k, so it turns out the podium was in my future after all!
I should also add that I stayed with Ally this weekend and being fueled by the best was probably a good influence in it all. I even got to stock my pockets with Ally’s bars for the races!
Eric Wever never ceases to amaze me with his races. Every year I thank him for putting me through such miserably tough races, and honestly I need to thank him for showing me just how strong I am. Pisgah Productions has introduced me to some of my best friends, and with them I have some of the best times going on adventures in the woods.
The week off between PMBAR and the 111/55.5k was actually the tough week that has made writing this blog so hard. I battle with whether to say anything or keep it strictly to the race report, but in all actuality I can’t imagine not mentioning my best friend Barnabas. This weekend in particular Barnabas, Scott, Nick, and I had a planned in sorts a reunion of bike riding and all things fun with friends. Unfortunately as most know Scott got the phone call from Brook and Baranabas wasn’t going to make it. I struggle with the whats and whys as many people who are reading this do. Personally I still question why I didn’t see it coming or how I could have changed the situation. I don’t know if that feeling will ever go away, but I do know that I loved by best friend Barnabas and I know a lot of people did. I feel honored to have been a part of his life and to have shared some great memories with him. My heart reaches out to Brook because I can’t imagine the pain she is going through, as well as to all of his friends and family.
Someone shared with me, “The death of a beloved is an amputation,” by C.S. Lewis.
Barnabas was a legend! He took a lot of us on some of the biggest adventures we have ever been on. Sometimes in the coldest, wettest, most miserable conditions, and yet somehow we all found our selves smiling, laughing, and enjoying life to it’s full potential in those moments. I remember so clearly on one of our winter adventures looking at Barnabas and telling him one of the best things I’ve ever done is be your friend and trust you to take me on such escapades. Barnabas was one of the kindest, most thoughtful, loving people I’ve ever met. When he left a part of me went missing as I’m sure it did for a lot of people.
I’ll always remember Barnabas’ smile and his laugh, especially in those darker moments on the bike where I just want to be done. Those were the times he would smile and say, “Kaysee this route was designed for you! You won’t regret it!” I’ll make sure to hug my friends a little bit tighter now because I realize how quickly friends become family and the impact they make on our lives! I’ll forever remember Barnabas and miss him.