Transylvania Mountain Bike Epic 2016

Ever since the Transylvania Mountain Bike Epic, also known as Singletrack Summer Camp came into existence about seven years ago, I have had the itch to race this beast. Every June, I would tune into social media and track who was in the lead for each stage and follow along with videos and photos posted. This just seemed so out of reach for me, but it would happen, eventually.

TSElogo
Transylvania Epic Logo

Fast forward to this past November and I reminded my husband, Jack, about how badly I wanted to race the #TSEpic (it’s almost second nature to hashtag it now). Jack was supportive about it and decided to help make this happen. The entry fee is sort of a hefty one, but through the support of some family, friends and Jack, as a surprise Christmas present, I was able to register for TSE.

A little information about TSE; it is a five day mountain bike stage race that is similar to what the Tour de France is, but with mountain bikes and way cooler. Mike Kuhn is the brainchild behind this amazing event and other events as well. www.outdoorexperience.org       In each stage, there are also endure segments that are timed and racers can get enduro points and possibly podium for this separate classification.

Training began early January with Coach Jonny Gabor and I knew immediately, this would be tough work, but it would pay off. Months passed and after many hours on the trainer, road, mountain bikes and time in the gym, it was MAY!!! TSE was merely a week away and we packed and prepped and the nerves settled in.

My family and friends were so kind to say that I would win it or be in the top three. Granted, I have been on the podium many times in the past, but I knew this would be a different scenario. I was going to be racing against pro women and women who have done stage races before. The goal for myself was at least top ten or better and to complete all five days successfully.

Last Saturday, we hit the road with our borrowed pop up camper and we were packed to the brim. We arrive, unpack, set up, get our bearings and the “tent city”, see Mike Kuhn, who was setting up course marking for Monday. Mike seemed to be in good spirits and was ready to get things started. My nerves were getting the best of me, but I prepped for Monday and thankfully, had Sunday to spin my legs and relax.

STAGE 1: COBURN 36.9 miles 4,015’ climbing

All smiles before the week begins!
All smiles before the week begins!

Today’s choice was my Cannondale Fsi, as there were a lot of dirt roads in the first stage. Sporting my Rare Disease Cycling kit on the line, checking my Garmin, realizing I forgot my sunscreen, I was ready to roll and get things started. Neutral roll out from camp and then instantly shot into windy singletrack around the camp and back onto dirt. I remember thinking how great my bike choice was once on the dirt roads. I felt okay throughout most of the stage, but started experiencing bad leg cramps around mile 27. I was hydrating, getting nutrition, but they still appeared. I had to hop off the bike once to stretch them out and let out a little yell because of the pain. This allowed for two girls to scoot past me, but it’s the first day, don’t panic.

I managed to get out of the singletrack and finish up for the day in 12th place. I was not very satisfied with this finish, but again, it’s the first day and I needed to stretch and focus on the upcoming days.

STAGE 2: TUSSEY RIDGE 36.9 miles 3,921’ climbing

Tussey Ridge has to be, by far, some riders favorite stage. The ride/race up to Tussey is not an easy one, but it is well worth it. I decided to switch over to the Cannondale Scalpel as today would be more singletrack and technical.  I felt pretty good, cramps were lingering, but nothing to stop me. I downed a water with a ton of sodium in it at the aid station, which helped. I felt great in the singletrack and was right behind some girls who finished up in the top ten the day before. Not sure what my deal was on the dirt roads, but either my legs or mind was not pushing. I never stopped on the climbs, but my speed was not there.

After accomplishing a successful ride across the ridge (my best ever time on Tussey), it was a long fun, enduro segment that was flowly, filled with berms that just naturally took you around and shot you to the next turn. I could have ridden that all day. Onto some more roads, knowing I was maybe close to top ten, I pushed on and finished up feeling happy and satisfied with my day. I ended up in 11th place, still not happy, but inching closer to top ten.

STAGE 3: GALBRAITH ENDURO DAY!! 29.5 miles 4,377’ climbing (5 timed downhill segments)

Enduro day! The buzz for today was how “relaxed” the day is compared to the others. With five timed downhill segments that are used for the day’s results, I was confident that I could possibly do a little better than the previous days. I was again on my Cannondale Scalpel to best tackle the downhills. I saw everyone else on their big travel bikes with dropper posts, knee pads and baggy shorts and there I was in my lycra, no knee pads, but just as ready to get the day going.

The rollout was from State College and it was a long ride, hike and wait at the top of the first segment. The first three segments seemed pretty tame and I thought my times were decent. The climbs in between were long, but it was a day to spin up them and keep the heart rate lower. The vibe of the day was definitely different, as racers would gather at the bottom of segments to compare their runs and strategies. I moved along without too much stopping because I was afraid that if I stopped much, those silly leg cramps would come back.

Segment four was lined up and I was being warned by the guys in front of me how rocky and steep it gets. They were not trying to scare me, but reassuring me that if I just “let it roll” I would be fine. I made it down that famed “Wildcat” trail and survived, as I just “let it roll”. I did take a moment to just let my arms hang by my side, once at the bottom. I got my arms alive again and completed segment five.

Photo credit: N. Thomas "Letting it roll" at the bottom of Wildcat.
Photo credit: N. Thomas
“Letting it roll” at the bottom of Wildcat.

Results were posted that night and finally I was in 10th place. I was kind of satisfied with this, but wondering what I could have done differently, but there were two more days to go.

STAGE 4: R.B. Winter 35.2 miles 4,515’ climbing

This stage was also said to be pretty technical with a lot of climbing on dirt roads as well as singletrack climbing. I was nervous, knowing I only had this day and the last day to put up better results. Off we go!! Straight up a massive hill and I was slowly losing sight of the women in front of me. They were all climbing so great all week and for some reason, I could not find my normally strong climbing legs. I kept on rolling and made it into the singletrack, where It started to drizzle, then rain heavier, then it turned into the heaviest downpour. My glasses were completely fogged, so I took those off and chanced my contacts falling out, just to be able to see the trail.

I had a “dark” moment at one point early in the race when I almost wanted to cry. I felt like I have never raced before and feared not catching anyone ahead of me. This tough moment passed pretty fast as I was not going to feel sorry for myself mid race. I kept rolling and it was absolutely pouring. Some people were walking their bikes up the greasy singletrack trail, but I was able to keep pedaling as my tire choice was perfect for these conditions (Ignitor on the rear and Rampage in the front).

The aid station was approaching and I saw some girls standing there in the rain. I was not sure who they were or what class, but I knew if I wanted to make any time up, I had to just roll through and keep moving. I did just that, but pretty soon, Karen did catch me. I was able to hang with her on the singletrack, but once we hit that dirt road climb, she rode away from me and I had trouble making up that difference.

I was not sure what place I was in, but thought maybe I had managed to pass a few more at the rest stop. The rain continued to come down until a few miles from the finish. Covered in mud, soaking wet and a little chilly, I crossed the line and went right to the bike wash to get the mud off of the Scalpel.

Today’s results, 10th place. Again, happy to scratch the top ten, but slightly disappointed that I did not end up better than this. I would have ended up in either 11th or 12th place if I did not stop at the rest stop, so I was happy I made that decision.

STAGE 5: COOPER’S GAP 34.5 miles 5,466’ climbing

The rain rolling in.
The rain rolling in.

Last day and I reminded myself to make the most of the day. We started at a remote location, but finished up at base camp. This day was again a mix of long dirt road climbs, singletrack climbs and fun technical singletrack sections. We knew there was a chance of showers, well, it showered for sure. It poured again for a few hours of the race and at one point, the aid station was just about under water. Drop bags were sitting in a “river” and volunteers were covered with umbrellas still making sure racers got what they needed as they rolled through.

There were times that the rocks on the singletrack were under water and finding the right “line” was tricky, but I was able to manage good riding in the rain. I was back and forth most of the day with singlespeeder, Karen Brooks. I am not sure how people can do this on a singlespeed and I praised every one of them that I saw.

The rain stopped in time for the final climbs of the day and became muggy and humid too. The final climb came with a warning from a fellow racer. He said, “This climb sucks. I’m not trying to scare you, but just being honest.”

It didn’t scare me, but I knew I had to ride up it the whole way as I was sure I had at least another 10th place position. The climb was quite awful as it did not seem to end, ever. I get to the top and there was a guy there and he says, “all downhill from here.”

I knew this couldn’t be true, as there was still some more elevation to gain. After some more climbing on doubletrack and then a little greasy singletrack, camp was finally in sight. I could hear people and I shot out below our “tent city” and around to where the big, Stans NoTubes finish line was. Dave Pryor was there to give finishers a hug and high five and Jack was also there, taking photos and cheering me on. I was covered in dried mud, I was tired and a little in disbelief that after so many months of planning and training, TSE was over, just like that. 175 miles and 21,000 feet of climbing later and it was all finished.

DONE!!
DONE!!

My results for the final day, 9th place! I was satisfied with this finish and secured 10th overall in the solo women general classification.

We spent that evening, as we did previous evenings, recapping the day by watching Firespire Photography’s photos and Thom Parson’s video of the day. It was amazing to have completed five days of racing in such a fantastic area. Mike Kuhn and Dave Pryor kindly recognized all 150 racers as they gave finisher awards, jerseys and called the raffle numbers. It was a fun way to end such a fun week. Everyone was tired, but in good spirits. Jack had a great week too, helping out at aid stations and lending any helping hand he could when Mike or Dave needed him.

I will be racing this again next year and of course, will be hoping for continued improvement with my results. I am happy though. I successfully raced all five days, I rode hard, I pushed myself and made top ten. I learned a lot about myself as a rider and a racer. It’s not always about the podium, although it’s pretty nice to be up there sometimes. Every race, every ride is a learning experience. Learning from what we do helps us grow and hopefully, teach others in the future. The support I received from friends and family were amazing and greatly appreciated before, during and after the race. I truly could not have done this without my husband, Jack, who supported me every second of the way.

This write up might have been long, but it is merely a glimpse into what the week really was about. I was proud to represent Rare Disease Cycling/Keswick Cycle and will continue to do my best throughout this season.