So I Googled “Pisgah” thinking it might be an interesting local Native American word. It is actually a Hebrew word referring to the mountainous area from whence Moses was allowed to view but not enter the promised land after wandering aimlessly in the desert for years. Balaam, a local diviner, refused an order to hang a curse on the Israelite tribe and instead “uttered favorable prophecies” after being “rebuked by the ass he rode.”
While our own little Pisgah trek was only hours long, we suffered neither rebuking asses nor divining curses. (unless you had a mechanical or crash). It was simply delightful…. skies were blue, roads were dry and and temperatures were down right balmy for a divine day of wandering mountain roads. All was good in the land.
The promising Gravel Cyclist crew fielded five pilgrims from far away Gainesville, Florida where roads are flat and sacred mountains don’t exist (not including the legendary North Florida Flappalachians). JOM, Pfaff Daddy, Dr. Pain, Mrs. K-Dogg and Mr. K-Dogg lined up with approximately 200 other holy rollers of all abilities. After a quick sermon on the mount by Eric Wever, beseeching us to behave in a godly manner and to turn the other cheek if your shorts get torn, we began our exodus into the wilderness of Pisgah.
After a brief paved escort by the local Pharisee, the road turned to gravel and the race was on. I had managed to weasel my way right to the front on the flimsy excuse of filming for Gravel Cyclist. I was second or third onto the dirt but quickly invited a few others get in front of me. It is mere coincidence that this is also the safest and easiest position to ride and least chance to get crashed. Fifteen seconds later, 15 more guys five wide squeezed into three pot holed tracks. I held that position as long as possible and got JOM some good video of life at the front with the gifted – something my 61 year old self rarely films. Did I mention I’m 61?
Then the road tilted up. I felt less gifted with each pedal stroke. Then more tilting. The enthusiasm to stay near the front vanished and so did most riders. Multiple, tight switchbacks quickly limited my sight line front and rear. The fifteen talents were now two corners up the road and spitting out a rumba line of blinkies like rejected angels falling back to earth.
So sad and yet suddenly peaceful. The sounds of singing doves peacefully filtered through the sunlight dappled old growth forest. And all was good in the land… as long as you enjoy hypoxia.
I chanced a look back. Nobody in sight except Pfaff Daddy and JOM chugging up towards me. It was a miracle! These two rip my legs off constantly on Florida roads but on long mountainous climbs… not so much. Suddenly though, Pfaff Daddy had a mechanical and stopped. Something about misaligned jockey wheels (scroll to the bottom of JOM’s report for info on that malady). We never saw him again. And all was less good in the land of teammates. And yet JOM was having the ride of his life. He managed to climb right with me for miles, which is unusual. In previous races we had both cracked badly on the long dirt climbs to the Blue Ridge Parkway because we went too hard too early. We discussed riding smarter. Soon the climb became a long fast marble-y descent (that I suck at) and he went screaming downhill away from me. He went flying. I went screaming.
Somewhere in between I was joined by Tom Ratajczak, another 60 + Master’s gravel racer. We have been trading positions on the podium for years. We climbed together chatting amiably for a while then, like JOM, he rode me off his wheel downhill. On the last climb before the Parkway I passed him at the first rest stop pumping more air into his tires hoping to go faster on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Interesting, but it cost him two minutes. Two minutes that I barely but successfully took to the finish hours later. I never saw him either until the finish. I also learned at this point that Mark Ruscoe, who eventually took first, was up the road. I chased hard but never even got him in sight.
On this same climb up to the Parkway JOM was still way ahead of me and climbing well.
But not well enough. It had taken one hour of climbing gravel and two miles on the Parkway to run him down.
“Oi!” I yelled in my best Aussie voice. “Oi” he dejectedly repeated as I rolled past. They say Moses carried two heavy stone tablets down from the mountain. JOM got mixed up and tried to carry them back up. It wasn’t pretty. I slowed a bit for my teammate but he couldn’t quite jump on the Pisgah caboose.
For the next two hours the miles rolled by in slow motion broken up by occasional cool tunnels and gorgeous gorges. Fields of brilliant flowers contrasted against the blue sky and verdant green mountain top vistas that stretched to the promised land (or at least Tennessee) in all directions. Small groups of riders floated past me or I them. Time stopped for a couple of hours. My Garmin showed an undulating and unbroken sinuous purple line.
Riders came up or dropped off in slow motion. Temporary alliances formed and broke depending if you had mountain bike gearing or road bike gearing. The ability spin a small gear uphill or turn a big one downhill seemed to balance everything out.
I had been working well with two to three nice young gents for an hour. They kept pointing out Mark about a quarter mile up the hill. At seven mph this seemed an insurmountable time but eventually we clawed up to this little group. Craning my neck I quickly realized they were too young. No white hair, no wrinkles or liver spots. “Damn, he is flying!” I thought.
Eventually the road finally began the last long paved descent of 215.
Naturally I was dropped a few miles later by my winged buddies. The road was quite smooth and safe but my bad head movies never give me a break unless I’m pissed off for some reason. It was too beautiful out to descend into terror… that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Two miles from the last food stop, on a long gentle slope the quads and calves began to cramp a bit. Now was a perfect time to field test my new anti-cramp formula called “Hot Shot.” Teammate Dr. Pain, a doctor of some kind and dubious of most sport elixirs, highly recommends it. Twisting the top off I threw back the mystery liquid like a shot of Tequila. In two seconds I felt like I’d been punched in the back of the throat by hot pepper. Ten seconds later everything below my waist cramped… badly! I stood up and flailed my quads and calves trying to shake it out. I sat down – then shot straight back up again writhing in pain. Thirty seconds later it all suddenly stopped! All cramps went away. My legs were still tired but totally calm and remained calm the last thirteen miles of punchy hills to the finish. This stuff works! You just have to be ready to briefly feel like you’ve been tasered. (Taze me bro!)
Soon the last few miles of smooth pavement slid under my tires and I knew I was at least on the podium. I hadn’t passed anybody old enough to identify behind their helmets and glasses but I wanted to make sure Tom didn’t catch me this close to the end.
I was pretty sure I’d totally biff the heinous cyclocross barriers if it became competitive. True enough Tom was only two minutes back while Mark was already wandering around near the free food.
We had crossed the river Jordan and were now in the promised land of milk and honey…. well maybe beer and burrito’s.
Special thanks to Eric Wever (Pisgah Productions) and the other fine folks who gave us such an awesome fun time in Pisgah.