Massanutten is a challenging mountain bike course. It’s hard, it’s rocky, it’s in legitimate mountains and it is unforgiving. It’s also incredibly fun and fast, has some ripping, white-knuckle descents and is some of the best single-track on the East Coast. This year, the Kenda Cup had its one East Coast US CUP race at Massanutten June 4-5, and as part of the “main event” on June 5th, my VeloWorks-Spokes, Etc. teammate, Terri and I (Emily) headed down to take on the 32-mile XXC race. Looking back, I’m not exactly sure why I thought 32-miles was a good idea, again due to my recent lack of time on any bike, but the trails there are great, and with Speedfreaks cancelled, I wanted to get miles in this weekend. Terri and I headed to Harrisonburg Saturday evening since our race started bright an early at 9am on Sunday. With a good dinner from Dave‘s Taverna with good company from some of Terri‘s friends we randomly ran into at our hotel, we were feeling ready to take on 32-miles of hills and rocks.
It was a bit overcast Sunday morning, and amidst the clouds of gnats at the race site, a few sprinkles made us wonder if we’d get drenched by storms. Thankfully that would not be the case. Terri and I warmed up around the parking lot, and if I say so myself, we were looking pretty sharp in our team kits and shiny white, red and black Specialized bikes. I was taking the Specialized Stumpjumper 29er out for the first time, and was a mix of excited/nervous. This was my first race on a 29er and first race on a hardtail and I had picked one rocky, technical and long course for a test run. Luckily, the bike is awesome, and seemed to float over many of the rock gardens that cover the course at Massanutten.
Emily rolling easily over rocks out on the XXC on her Specialized Stumpjumper Expert 29er
The XXC was incredibly challenging – it started out similar to the normal XC course at Massanutten, but then diverged over a rocky ridge with a few hike-a-bike sections, followed by a long, technical downhill that dropped you out basically in the middle of a creek. For the first few miles, Terri and I had been going back and forth, riding together on the climbs, but when we hit the first major downhill, she took off riding strong and letting her Specialized Epic fly over the bumps, turns and rocks.
I’m a little timid when it comes to downhills, but while I was a little scared on this one, I held on and cleaned it and enjoyed every terrifying second. The course then turned into what appeared to be a dried out creek bed. Then we hit what Terri came to call “the jungle” a section of trail that was a bit overgrown to the point that you really couldn’t see any obstacles (i.e. logs) in the trail until you came up to them. Plus no matter how fast you rode, there seemed to be a perpetual cloud of gnats following you along. Once through the jungle, we had a brief respite as we popped out on a gravel road for a mile or so. Then there was a much-needed rest stop at mile 13- water and bananas were life-savers, and then the gentle downhill slope of the gravel road, took a sharp left turn onto an uphill fire road. Ouch. The volunteer at the rest stop remarked how he couldn’t believe myself and another girl were racing this course on hardtails, but actually, on the fire road was when the hardtail came in handy! It climbed like a dream! But, as with everything, what goes up must come down and after a bit of climbing, we ducked into some rather gnarly single track, a descent through a huge rock garden of everyone’s favorite “baby head” rocks, followed by an off-camber descent through another stream valley intermixed with some technical rocky and rooty sections. Here, is where my race went from fun to challenging. I way back off the saddle trying to navigate a steep descent that was covered with leaves and had a big mud pit in the middle. Something slipped, or got stuck, or I’m not even exactly sure what happened, but next think I know I was face down in the mud, my bike on top of me and had an annoying pain in my calf from where my pedal had slammed into it. Okay, pull it together, push the bike off of me, stand up, and ooops, wait, there’s blood. I saw a huge smear of blood on my left leg and lifted up my arm to see about a 3-4 inch gash dripping blood. Awesome. Luckily, Dee from the Bike Lane Team came over the top of the hill and stopped to help me out. We dumped about half the water from my camelbak onto the cut to clean the initial mud and leaves and who knows what else out. I got back on the bike and Dee rode behind me to make sure I didn’t wipe out and cut up my arm any more. Thankfully we came to a first-aid station not even a mile away, and I stopped to get my arm even more cleaned out and bandadged up. There was no way I was going to quit unless they made me, and it looked like the bleeding had slowed down enough that the gauze wrap the medic put on would be enough to keep me going for the next 17 or so miles. But I had lost enough blood and was shaken enough that the next few miles were brutal. The course went straight up a rocky trail, where at least for me at this point, it turned into more hike than bike, and when I could get on my bike, I was pretty shaky. I forced some food down and tried to get my head back in the game. The food worked and soon I was pedaling feeling a little stronger. And while my gauze wrap kept getting lose and causing me to stop and tie it up, I stopped at the next first-aid station and we put a huge zip-tie around my arm to help keep the gauze on. You have to love the ingenuity of first aid in the woods.
By this time, I had lost about 2 spots in the race and was feeling pretty worn out and still had 12-miles of the regular XC course to go. My arm was throbbing and my water was running low as I made my way back up the mountain on a trail that snaked through switchbacks and rock gardens. Was I ever-grateful for the smooth-rolling 29″ wheels on my Stumpjumper, they made it not so painful on my worn-out and aching body to roll through the seemingly endless stretches of rocks. I made it to the top, and thankfully there was a volunteer there who re-filled my camelback. Unfortunatley, I sucked down too much water too fast after not having any for a bit and my stomach rebelled. Not fun, I kept it in, but the next mile or so, along an extremely rocky ridgeline was nothing short of painful and uncomfortable. I was ready to be done. Finally I hit the swooping downhill that makes this course so much fun, but my arm was having none of it. After handling all the climbing and rock gardens, which puts a surprising amount of pressure on your upper body, when I went to grip the handle bars and charge downhill, I had a shooting pain in the gashed part and a dull ache in my left tricep. I also noticed that the bleeding hadn’t completely stopped, or had started again due to the pressure I was putting on my arm. Not good. Not good at all either when trying to keep steady and not hurt my arm anymore I got passed by another girl on the downhill and lost another place. Sigh. I gotta get the arm healed up and get over my fear of crashing if I want to keep up with some folks on the downhills I guess… But crashing, recovering and learning to overcome your weaknesses is all part of racing and as this was my first race back and first real ride in the mountains in a long time, I was happy that I was still coherent and able to pedal. A few more miles, one nasty little uphill kick in the pants and I was home free and done. Finally done after about 5 1/2 hours. I lost my gauze wrap flying down the final descent, and as I shakily took the final berms into the finish, I crossed the line and headed straight for the first aid tent.
Thankfully the verdict was that it wasn’t too deep that it definitely required stitches and plus, after I rode out about 2 1/2 hours and 17-miles on it, it was too late to go for stitches anyway. A few butterfly bandages, some more gauze and anti-bacterial goo and I was wrapped up, looking a little gimp’d out, but I had finished in a decent time and in 7th overall.
Terri, on the other hand, had absolutely rocked the XXC, navigating the rocks, and descents like a pro and scored a 3rd place finish in a very tough Women’s Open XXC field for VeloWorks, Spokes, Etc. Congrats Terri!! We cheered for Terri as she stepped up on the podium and then packed up and headed to Klein’s in Harrisonburg for some hard-earned ice cream.
Thanks to all the folks from the US Cup and Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition for putting on a great race!