This year marked the 10th anniversary of the Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race (PMBAR). Unlike other adventure races where there is typically a running or paddling segment, this race was all bike. Nico had originally teamed up with Alex for the event, but after an unfortunate encounter with some traffic furniture Alex was out and Nico needed a new partner.
Not knowing much about the race and trying to temper Nico’s expectations (Alex is much faster than me); I agreed to give it a go. Having firsthand knowledge of how brutal the trails in Pisgah are, I developed a ‘training plan’ consisting of riding a whole lot. Very scientific, I know.
This past weekend, it was go time. Nico along with his sister and son, (over)loaded his Subaru Friday evening and set out towards NC. We arrived around 11 PM to a quiet campsite where Charlotte FMers Kurt and Tumas were staying. Nico and I quickly set up his brand spanking new tent from our buddy Mitch over at Gear Revival. A few minutes later, everyone was out.
The wake-up call came early as it usually does on race day, around 5:45 AM. There was a flurry of activity as Camelbaks were filled, breakfast was eaten and knobs were fiddled with. You always need a certain amount of supplies when setting out into the woods, but due to the remoteness of much of the race, the organizers required everyone to carry the following items:
2. Rain Jacket
3. Water Filter or Iodine
4. Emergency blanket
6. First Aid Kit w/ Gauze, Tape, Ace Bandage, etc.
9. Compass or GPS unit
10. Red 'Blinkie' rear light
11. Emergency Light Source (Flashlight, LED, etc.)
12. PMBAR Passport
With full bellies and packs, Nico and I headed to the check-in at the base of Black Mountain. After getting some of our gear scoped and a warning that folks would be checking on course, we pounded coffee and waited for the racer’s meeting. The promoter handed out maps and explained what trails and roads were off-limits for the race then told us that our passports were at the top of Black Mountain.
The race was on! Kurt, Tumas, Nico and I started together up Black Mountain riding where we could and pushing where we couldn’t. Eventually we reached the top, got our passports and began planning our route for the day.
There were 5 checkpoints on the map. In order to finish, each team had to get at least 4 of the 5 checkpoints. Two of the 4 checkpoints were mandatory, and as you may have guessed, were at opposite ends of the forest. Get all 5 checkpoints and you get a 3 hour time bonus.
The four of us rode together for much of the day. One of the rules was that you have to remain in contact with your teammate at all times, which gave me the rare chance to actually hang with Nico during a race. Usually he’s way out ahead of me.
A little while after reaching what would be our third of four checkpoints, Kurt and Tumas lifted off the gas in an effort not to push themselves too far into the red. Nico and I were both feeling pretty good still, so we kept rolling. Up a fire road, onto the pavement, back onto a fire road and then pushing our bikes up Club Gap, we were headed to our last checkpoint before the finish.
The checkpoint was about 1/3 of the way down Avery Creek trail which ended up being one of the best descents of the day (Black Mountain is pretty hard to beat). After the checkpoint, Nico and I continued on the descent down Avery Creek and then headed up Clawhammer road to Maxwell Cove. This part went pretty quickly, but it was all up hill. We also found out after Kurt and Tumas finished that we could have taken a much shorter and easier option from the checkpoint on Avery to Maxwell. Ah well, then we wouldn’t have gotten to ride that descent!
After Maxwell ended, it was a short but brutal push up Pressley Gap to the top of lower Black Mountain. From here we knew we had a ripping downhill and then the finish. A few blissful minutes later, Nico and I were crossing the line!
We finished around 5:40 PM, almost 10 hours after we started. Just less than 8 hours of that was actual ride time. 65 miles and well over 10,000 feet of elevation gained made for the longest mountain bike ride I’ve ever been on, although Nico and I immediately agreed we should have pushed for that 5th checkpoint, now we know for next year.
This was the hardest race I’ve ever done although it was also one of the best times I’ve had racing. The whole vibe was great, everyone was friendly and waved or smiled even when pushing their bikes up 30% grade or slogging through knee-deep creeks. I felt good throughout the day, much of that thanks to my partner Nico who made sure I was eating and drinking regularly. Having a group of four FMers was also a big plus, especially since Kurt and Tumas are pretty familiar with the trails in Pisgah.
Apart from having all four chainring bolts loosen simultaneously, of which I was able to retighten three, we had no mechanicals to speak of. This was a good thing too since as Kurt pointed out, I only have one chainring. No flats and no major crashes, just a few slide-outs.
My set-up for those who care:
Maxxis Ikon 29x2.20 (rear)
Maxxis Ardent 29x2.20 (front)
Running tubeless on Stan’s Arch rims
The Ikon/Ardent combo is my favorite for big rides in the mountains. The Ikon is light but durable and rolls like a mofo. The 2.40 Ardent up front gives me the confidence to point and shoot with plenty of volume to help out when things get sketchy or I pick a less-than-ideal line. I started with around 28 PSI in the front and 30 PSI in the rear although I let some air out of both as the day progressed. I’m not sure what pressure I ended up with in the Ikon, but just dropping a few PSI made a huge difference. Early in the day I was spinning out the rear when it was steep and slick, but after the adjustment I was clearing much more of the climbs.
The one thing this weekend left me wanting was a dropper post. The descents in Pisgah are ludicrously steep, requiring you to get way behind your seat, which is hard to do when it’s at full extension. Nico has a Rock Shox Reverb on his bike and loved it. I was almost neutered by my saddle coming down Avery Creek at the end of the day when my front wheel hit a root at the bottom of a drop. Yikes! Time to start saving my pennies.