I was feeling a little discouraged after Stage 4, but an afternoon nap and stuffing my face with as many burritos as I possibly could at dinner that night made me feel a little better. I was a bit apprehensive about Stage 5 as I had never ridden any of the trails before, so I just prepared to make the most of another long day. As I emerged from from my van in the morning I spotted the kitten below sitting atop my bike. I laughed to myself and felt a lot better about the day to come.
Stage 5: R.B. Winter State Park
I grew up in Pennsylvania and even went to Penn State, spending two summers living in State College, but I have never see quite such a beautiful side of the state as the drive from Scout Camp to R.B. Winter. It was lovely rolling farm land, scattered with old barns, Amish plowing their fields with teams of horses, and rolling mountains lining the background. The park itself was fairy tale beautiful. If I saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs emerge from a hollow tree to cheer the race, I would not have been surprised. Mossy rocks, a babbling brook, bright green ferns, soft pine needly ground, it had it all. The trails themselves were great fun, and not as rough or rugged as I expected. And anytime I started to get a little discouraged, I just had to look down. It is impossible not to smile when a cute little kitten is staring back at you from your top tube.
Stage 6: Tussey Mountain
Feeling revitalized from R.B. Winter, I thought maybe I could push Stage 6 a little more. I was wrong. I had about one speed and that was it. The first half of this stage was a lot of boring climbing and me getting passed a lot, but it got more interesting after the first checkpoint as we headed into John Wert Path, which I think was easily the most technical trail of the week. The first time I rode this trail, I thought that John Wert and I have very different ideas of what constitutes a path, but now I think that if I were to make a path, I would model it after this one. Especially if that path led to my secret woodland hideaway.
A few more fun rocky sections followed. I caught and passed all those people who glided around me on the climbs, and it was finally time for Tussey. Tussey Ridge is a very scenic ridgeline trail that seems to be more or less rocky depending on how tired I am. Today it was pretty rocky and a lot tougher than usual, but still every bit as fun.
Stage 7: To the finish
The trails on this stage were a lot nicer than I was expecting. Some flowy singletrack and nice ridgeline trails. I had thought everything in this section of the forest was doubletrack, snowmobile trails, and “roads,” so I was pleasantly surprised. Fully enjoying the day, I stopped for a beer when another rider offered me one after the last Enduro Stage. I stopped again in the heckle pit because why not.
While riding this stage I had the disappointing realization that most people will never experience the forests of Pennsylvania in the way that I had a chance to this week. People fly to Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, and other famously outdoorsy destinations, but PA is worth experiencing as well. Even for those not willing to bike 200+ miles across the forest, there is still plenty to experience. As someone with no chances of winning anything, this was truly a mountain bike vacation for me, and I fully plan to do it again.
The transition back to real life was a little tough. Living indoors, doing my own laundry, cooking my own food, and eating normal portion sizes was all a disappointing reality. A seven-day stage race is hard for sure, but balancing work, training, cooking, cleaning, laundry, commuting, and other real life activities proves to be much more difficult. However, now I own a machete. So that should help.