My hydration/nutrition game was on point today and my bottle only 90% empty when I hit Aid 1. Dialed aid station crews generally amaze me but the 2018 Pisgah 111 Aid 1 crew takes the cake. In spite of the rather miserable conditions the three volunteers seemed to be genuinely happy to be out there helping us crazies accomplish our goals. One volunteer swapped my bottle while another refilled my hydration pack and the third handed me my drop bag. I was back on the trail in less than a minute, riding toward the two way section for the second time. Normally, the way from Aid 1 to Aid 2 goes via Bradley Creek and Forest Service Road 5015 but because of the flooding some additional trail sections were thrown in, including Mullinax, Squirrel Gap, and Laurel Creek Trails. Eventually I found myself on FS 5015 climbing a long and painful 30 minutes up to Aid 2.
Aid 2, which also doubles as Aid 3 (more on that later), was just as well run as Aid 1. The 10 or so year-old kid who reported of some heroic fully rigid single speeder up ahead crushed my spirits just a bit, though. I believe his words were along the lines of “you’re pretty cool racing this and all but the guy up ahead on a fully rigid single speed is insane!!!” Thanks, buddy!
Never one to dwell on a crushed spirit, I continued onto FS 1206, a nearly 3 mile long winding service road downhill. My clothes and gear were soaked at this point and I was horribly cold the whole way down. The next 4 miles lead me along FS5000 another service road which connects to the steep climb up Spencer Gap Trail which, in turn, gives way to some awesome downhills along Fletcher Creek, Trace Ridge, and North Mills River Trails. Eventually, the trail dumped me back onto FS 1206 some 2 hours later; only this time I found myself at the bottom having to ride back up. Well ain’t that a bitch?!
Many riders find the hike-a-bikes up Laurel Mountain just past Aid 2/3 to be their darkest moment during the 111k. Personally, I find this 90 minute climb back up to Aid 2/3 at least as bad, if not worse. I feel a bit guilty to admit that I found some motivation in the cheers of several racers who were still on their way down this cruel mistress while I was already trudging back up. I tip my hat to you guys, for I can only imagine what kind of personal hell you must’ve been in later in the day.
On the cue sheet the 10 miles from Aid 3 to Aid 4 would have you believe that you’ll get through them in a breeze. Let me tell you: Not so. Laurel Mountain Trail, which comprises 90% of the way from From Aid 3 to Pilot Rock Trail covers some 1600 feet of uphil, a lot of which is basically unrideable because of its steep pitch, rocks, and natural steps. Jeremiah Bishop, one of the most accomplished U.S. endurance mountain bikers Strava PR stands at 4 minutes 40 seconds, a whopping 3.0 mi/h pace on the section of Laurel called Laurel hike-a-bike. This earned him 7th on the leaderboard at the time of this writing. The KOM, by the way, goes to one Miss Paisley Wigglebottom with a time of 1 minute 38 seconds or 8.7 mi/h, which is more than twice the speed of the runner up. I won’t share my embarrassing time with you but suffice it to say that my Garmin did not detect movement for this part of the race and simply jumped from bottom to top in one long glitch.
Finally, at the top of Laurel, awaits your reward: The infamous and gnarly downhill known as Pilot Rock. Pilot Rock will forever be one of my favorite trails. The top section consists of a series of tight switchbacks about half of which would literally drop you off the side of the mountain if you didn’t turn in time. Between the switchbacks you’re faced with a mix of drop-offs and increasingly chunky boulders as you weave your way toward and through the middle section. Toward the bottom all roots and dirt make way to rocks and boulders as you pinball down this white knuckle descent.