I first heard about the Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic the day I was born. The nurses in the hospital were watching on the TV and cheering on the winners as they crossed the finish line on Day 7.
While that is obviously entirely false, that is sort of how the Trans-Sylvania Epic feels to me. The race is only in its 6th year, but it feels like it has always been in the back of my mind. Something I wanted to do, but at the same time, seemingly impossible.
Not impossible at all.
Overall, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. But “expected” is relative. I “expected” rocks covering every inch of the trail, constant battering, struggling through each day, and becoming delirious in the woods. I suppose some people would describe the days that way, but they probably didn’t take a fear-based approach to training on the rocks like I did. I was well prepared for the rough stuff and consecutive days of riding. Consecutive days of racing however, is another story. I basically had one speed, and that is the speed I went all week. I could only catch the person ahead of me if they slowed down, and of course they did not slow down at all. One woman even broke her hand on Day 6 and I watched her ride away from me on Day 7 in an East Coast Rocks section. That is about how tough the women’s field was.
I finished 13th out of 14 in the overall General Classification that was primarily composed of professional mountain bikers, but pulled off a slightly better Enduro finish at 10th out of 14. (The Enduro segments are mostly downhill sections of trail that are timed separately, and you get points depending on how well you do on each segment.) ENDURO!
Stage 1: Time Trial
The time trail was a good preview of the terrain to come during the week. Some flowy single track, technical sections, tight and twisty trails, fireroads, double track, two Enduro sections, and an East Coast Rocks section that was completely devoid of rocks and completely full of tight twisty singletrack.
Stage 2: Coopers Gap
If on Stage 1 the race directors gave us kittens to snuggle with, on Stage 2 they threw us right in with the lions. But no one comes to PA to snuggle with kittens anyway.
A lot of the early trails were smooth flowy singletrack; the kind I didn’t even know they had in PA. Any rocks in the first half were on the smaller side or short in duration. I was soon to an Enduro segment that I knew about from pre-riding, and it and was weighing on me a bit. It was steep, on the side of a mountain, and a little loose. But I was feeling confident going in, and cruising along nicely. Suddenly, I launched straight into the air and started flipping over my bike and falling down the mountain. We were on quite an incline, so I had a long way to go. “When am I going to stop falling?” I thought. And then, “this isn’t going to end well.”
I finally stopped moving in a pile of brush (luckily not a pile of rocks). I got up and checked my bike. Everything seemed to be in once piece and on straight. I seemed to be in once piece as well, but my shoulder ached. I took a breath and headed back down the mountain. Heading down the rest of that descent after a crash like that was an exercise in sheer willpower. I wanted to stop, sit, rest, cry. But a bigger part of me still wanted some Enduro points, so on I went.
The trails got a little rockier after that. Chicken Peter was the East Coast Rocks timed section of the day, and was mostly big rollable, rideable, fun rocks. Beautiful Trail was up next, which is one of my favorites. It is mostly big solid rocks that feel really rewarding to clear because it just doesn’t seem like it makes sense to ride a bike there…until you do. Then it makes perfect sense. No Name trail was the last singletrack and last descent of the day. It is mostly big chunky rock, but it is overall rideable as long as you look at the trail and not off the side of the mountain. It’s all rocks, no need to look.