Kanawha State Forest Has It Ups, Then Its Downs
There wasn't too much easy in between stuff on course at the Black Bear 40k. This is real mountain biking here, climb up a Lungbuster(TM) climb and then drop straight down on some gnarly stuff. Even Cannondales Jeremiah Bishop made it over to give the locals a lesson in how to ride fast. Jarret Smith and Tearjerkers worked had to put on a quality event.
Pulling into the parking lot a lot later than I wanted, courtesy of some semi load blocking the interstate and traveling 15 mph for many miles, it started to torrentially downpour. That's what the EZ-ups for, I thought, then I got worried about my tire selection. Ignitor semi-balds don't do so hot in the slick, but when tires are $80 retail, I'm going to run them till you can see the air through them.
I heard rumors about somebody bigtime coming to the race, the frontrunners were worried. Then I figured out it was Cannondale's main pro rider Jeremiah Bishop, and it was just like old times. I remember starting this race with him in 99, 2000, 2001. He used to be a WV local back when if you wanted to mountain bike race every weekend you came to WV. He had long hair and I think rode for the Bike Doctor team out of Virginia back then. He won the Fat Tire Festival in '98 when it was the biggest mountain biking event in the country. I never have seen him ride slow. We were always fighting over second when he showed up, unless he had a mechanical, but I have to give credit where credit is due, this guy could get a flat tire on the first lap, then build up enough steam to come flying back around on the second lap.
My claim to fame was passing him in the Revenge of the Rattlesnake one year. They had a XXC Rattlesnake that year, and Jonathan Martin was crazy enough to race that and take the victory (2 laps on Plantation anybody?). I remember coming up on him and he said "Jeremiah's right there" and it was target acquired. Now Plantation is a special place, and I'm not saying this would have happened anywhere else, but I came up on him and passed somewhere on Lindy. Right after that he snapped his derailleur or something, but he had already given me that special moment to cherish. I even told a black bear to get out of the way (GIITTT!!) so I could have my bragging rights. Again though to give Jeremiah credit, he fixed his bike into a singlespeed and rocked it to second place, taking TJ Platt on a sprint finish to the line.
Enough about the good old days, this was 13 years later, some old faces, some new faces ready to get their feet wet in the creek and start charging up the hill. After a traditional false start just to let Jeremiah know nothing has changed in WV, we were off. I can't stress the value of a warm-up enough, because I haven't been getting one and it feels like my hearts going to pop on the first climb every time.
I love the trails down there, especially the ones that go down, but you have to work to get up to the top of the ridge. You just got into the habit of climbing forever and then bombing down on some sketchy, switchbacky fun stuff. I tried to be nice and yield trail to Mike Boise at one point and he just kept coming over into my wheel, until we both were mired in a big swamp rut. Rubbin's racin' next time buddy! I kept thinking that a long hard race like this is almost a race of attrition, and tried to keep up a steady pace. Forroner was the first one I found out there on Middle Ridge, and he later ended up losing all back brakes on the Black Bear Trail (ouch - rigid, no rear brakes!) and finishing the race like that. Merwin was my next target I was hoping to see on an uphill, and on the very top of the Gun Range climb I saw him. He always cusses a little when he sees me, and that brings me joy when I hear those sweet words. I asked him if he knew about the big hike-a-bike, and he said no. I said "Well you'll know it when you see it, that's for sure" and I thought to myself "I've got this locked down if I can just survive." I guess shortly after his frame broke and he finished the last eight miles or so with the chainstay in two. A scary trip down Black Bear Trail, up the other side to Wildcat Ridge to the epic rock drop and DH, then the hike-a-bike. You get to the top, look back for a quick second, slam every bit of magic gels and drinks you got left, and hammer to the finish line. Every one of those last hills feels like a supreme struggle to get up, but eventually you drop down to the valley for the final time and race to the finish along the creek.
I know I say this about every course, but I love this course, its hard, but its real mountain biking. I even love the hike-a-bike in its painful way. Get tough or else! WV has the lockdown on epic courses, and this is one of the original classics. Thanks to Jarret Smith and Tearjerkers for all their hard work making this a continuing tradition.