Seeing that it rained for two solid days leading up to the Killer 3 Mountain Bike Race, I knew it was bound to be a typical mud fest in the South. I couldn’t have been farther from the truth in that prediction. It did not stop raining untill 5:30 AM the morning of the race. I knew this fact because I unwittingly drank way too much water the night before, and was waking up every two hours to relieve myself and heard the incessant downpour pounding the rooftop. It was like a maIstrom outside and I was dreading even getting up out of bed. I imagined long sections of pushing the bike in the mud and a slow, slippery course. Luckily, the soil around Poinsett State Park and Manchester State Forest is very sandy, almost beach-like in its texture, and absorbs water faster than a wet vac on steroids. The course actually turned out to be ideal. Locals said the rain is nice because it packs the soil down smooth. The sometimes loose, sandy turns become consolidated and ride like the hard-pack, groomed trails one could find in areas like Bent Creek in Asheville. Arriving at the park an hour and forty-five minutes before my start time, I saw the CAT 3 (Beginner) class start right at nine. I thought they might delay the start, but there was no need. I geared up, signed in, and began my warm-up ride around nine forty-five. I wanted to check out the start of the course and rode the first single-track section, which was a short and gentle climb 100 yards after the start. The trail really was drying fast. How was it possible? In another hour the course would be completely dry, ideal for racing. The start of the race was pretty typical. I was in the largest class, the 40+ CAT 2 (Intermediate) men with 29 starters. I was flashing back to races from my early days in Colorado, where 100 starters was very typical. Well, it was going to be a long day in the saddle, so I started conservatively and let everyone gun for the first single-track. I knew the field would spread out in due time. After around ten minutes, the group was still together and we were all there. One guy from a later starting class caught up to the pack and was yelling for everyone to get out-of-the-way. He was downright rude and was cussing at twenty guys to move over. There was a very heated exchange of words going on in the pack of riders. I was just laughing the entire time saying things like,”this is supposed to be fun guys”, “what a beautiful day to ride” and “loose the drama”. No one budged and the man grew increasingly agitated. He finally managed to pass a few of us at a wider section of trail and crashed hard about fifty feet later. Karma is a funny thing isn’t it? I really don’t understand the fuss. Back in Colorado, if a faster rider came along at a quick pace and the trail was too narrow to pass, they just bashed through off trail and passed. It was not a big deal. I am all for letting people pass and I always try to yield to faster riders, but sometimes there is just not room to move out of the way. Someone should not have to stop their race just to let another rider pass. Narrow single-track is one of the realities of mountain bike racing and people need to learn patience or learn to pass on the side of the trail. The drama has got to go. Well, after around ten minutes, the field was sufficiently spread out and we were all free to ride without the drama queen rants from the bunched up start. The sun started to shine and the single-track was getting nicer with each mile. Poinsett State Park is a really beautiful, unique area in the South. It is full of very large oak and pine trees and they are all draped in Spanish Moss that hangs down like the beards of wise men from old. It sways in the wind and creates a sort of eerie calm in the deep woods. It is inviting and reminds one of the old South. On numerous occasions the stringy moss latched on for a ride on my handlebars and I literally became part of the woods. There were a lot of tight, curvy sections of trail and you had to manuver very quickly to avoid the trees which were everywhere. After the race I heard many people say they hit trees with their bars and crashed. I was glad I pre-rode the course and knew to slow down during the tight sections. I was really enjoying the day, and the riding and views in the woods were spectacular. I ended up riding with one guy the entire race named Rob. He had just gotten back into racing like myself and we were very evenly matched up. We played cat and mouse the entire day and chatted the entire time, which is quite unusual. I would try to shake him and he always caught up. I tried to lose him on the second lap, but ended up pacing him and another rider from the 30-39 class for the last nine miles. I was pulling hard trying to shake them, but never could open a gap. The last three miles was a flat forest road, and I thought I could break away at that time. On the first lap, I managed to get some time on Rob and went into the single-track with a small gap. Then I nailed a tree with my bar and crashed fairly hard, and my chain sucked between the frame and chainring. I managed to get it free, but Rob passed me. For two miles, I had to push hard to catch up. I caught him and began the long nine mile pulling of the two riders and unfortunately did not leave enough gas for the final sprint. On the fire road, Rob passed me and I could not keep up. Pacing for nine miles and sprinting for two miles earlier fried my legs and they could not kick for the sprint. I conceded a place to Rob and managed to get 13th out of 29 starters for the first race of the Southern Classic Mountain Bike Point Series. I finished the 30 mile course in 2:29 with an average speed of 11.8mph. I was happy with the finish and as always gained a lot of valuable experience. Rob and I talked for a while after the race and we laughed about our day. It was a real treat to actually race against someone and to be pushed to try hard. So many times in a race you are alone and don’t know what is going on in front and behind. It was really nice to be racing with someone who was out to have fun like myself. We chatted and laughed the entire day and had a blast. The beauty about the veteran class is that everyone is so chill and is just out to have fun in the woods. It is not about ego and all about the win. It is about experience, pushing through personal limits and barriers, being in the woods and having fun on two wheels that are powered by your own legs. I look forward to the rest of the series and can’t wait untill next weekend at The Shootout at Angler’s Ridge in Danville, Virginia. Don’t you just love the names of races in the South?
About four months ago I decided to take up mountain biking again after a twelve-year hiatus from the sport. I never had time to bike anymore because I was completely obsessed with rock climbing. Obsession does not even do justice to what I was, it was more of a way of living. I was not living anything other than climbing. Reading about it, watching movies, traveling for climbing, everything climbing. My wife likes climbing too, and we have had a wonderful seven-year marriage and fourteen year partnership that started with climbing. But now I have a new mistress, and her name is mountain biking. After being laid off from my second job teaching English, I had a lot of time on my hands. Since climbing requires a partner, which is sometimes hard to come by, I thought what can I do with my time. My answer came in the form of beautiful, endless, flowing single-track found in my back yard of Asheville, North Carolina. Locals call the woods around here Pisgah, but I know it as pure, unadulterated, the most fun you can have on two wheels in the woods. The trails around here are very different from anywhere else in the country. It is raw out here, it is serene, and it is flat-out crazy at times. Biking is fun here in so many different ways. When I lived in Colorado and raced and biked there I had fun, but on my second go around at age forty-one, biking is more primal and spiritual for me now. It clears my head, it helps me to dig deep, and it has helped me to see things never imagined, like the three bear sightings this fall, or the lone silver fox I saw one evening. It has helped me to overcome my fear of competing and it has helped me develop new lifelong friends. I am going places the past four months I never dreamed of going, like my first forty miler at age forty, my first win at a mountain bike race, and my level of fitness surging to places I never even went to when I was twenty. In a real way, I am growing now, when before I was just drifting. I feel a surge of emotions and raw energy that is propelling me forward. I am once again obsessed. Funny how it gradually creeps into your life again. A few rides here and there, a race here and there, and now I read about it, I watch videos about it, I hang out with people who are all about biking, I talk about it, and I even write about it. Well, I think it is all right to be obsessed. I like it and it feels good to me. What is your passion? What do you think about constantly? Grab hold of that thing and do your thing. You will never regret it. Take care. Chris Coney