Trans-Sylvania Epic 2013
This is my first stage race, so I thought I'd share the highlights of my experience here for anybody thinking about giving it a try.
Quick background on me:
For over a year I've been racing single speed endurance events exclusively because SS keeps me honest (forces me to work on the climbs since can't gear down!) and I had lost interest in the redline-pace of Cat 1 XC races. It's a good fit for my riding style and I podium at most races in this discipline.
That being said, I always feel pretty worked after a race and the rocky descents are more challenging then fun on a hardtail, so for the stage races I'm doing this year I'm riding a geared FS (which I only squeezed one training ride in on prior to the TSE!) since my objectives are to just have fun on a variety of new trails (but not be last!) rather than gun for a podium finish.
The race is based out of a scout camp in the mountains of PA and the bulk of the 7 stages will start and end here. It's a beautifully remote setting - totally worthy a week-long mountain bike destination. There are a variety of lodging options ranging from tents to cabins to bunkhouses. I went with a bunkhouse and lucked out with an incredible group of bunkmates like Stage 1's SS winner Dax Massey and MTBR's own Andrea138. So not only am I getting a fun week of riding, I'm getting to meet & learn from some much more experienced racers.
Since this is my first stage race, I'm taking things very conservatively. So while most racers did a pre-ride the first stage and an extensive warm up, I treated it like a warm up for the rest of the week. So I started the race with cold legs and struggled a bit on an initial technical section with some off-camber roots, but soon got into my groove. The course was 14 miles with a mix of single track, forest road and paved road that was 99% rideable, so it was a nice way to ease into the week. There was definitely some nice chunks of single track that quickly reassured me that this was going to be a fun week to be enjoyed, not a grind to be dreaded My main observation with riding the geared bike is that I am MUCH slower going uphill spinning in the saddle than I would be standing on the SS. So in stage 2 I'm going to stand a lot more and hope that I won't burn my legs out for the rest of the week.
Here's a link to some footage I threw together:
Trans-Sylvania Epic Stage 1 2013 - YouTube
Thanks for posting MC. Please keep it up if you can!
What an incredible day on the bike! The weather and trail conditions were absolutely perfect. Since yesterday was my "warm-up" day, I planned to push a little harder today. We rolled out with a neutral start due to a washed-out bridge 2 miles into the course that would have to be walked. So I made my only mistake of the day by not worrying about position because I ended up being stuck at the back of the pack when we opened up. I was able to gain some ground on the initial doubletrack climb, but it quickly turned into steep, tight, but rideable single track that most people in front of me ended up walking. So I lost a lot of time there, but once I finally reached that first summit I was able to race at my own pace and enjoy the course. The course was 36 miles of great trail with enough road sections mixed in to catch your breath. The road sections were actually fun too because the scenery was awesome, ranging from deep, wooded & rocky valleys to ridgeline views of the surrounding mountains. A couple of times I lost focus on the race and was sucked into absorbing how incredible it was to be riding in such a beautiful location on such a perfect day - this was exactly the experience I signed up for (and the beer hand-up from "Count Dracula" somewhere around mile 28 was a nice bonus)! For the first time ever I was actually sad to see the finish line - I was having so much fun riding I wasn't even close to being ready for the race to end! I'm glad the week is still young! And despite my less than ideal start, I did manage to move up a few positions in the finishing order from yesterday.
Trans-Sylvania Epic Stage 2 2013 - YouTube
The weather for stage 3 was cold & rainy, neither of which I was prepared for since the forecast looked good coming into this week (lesson learned!). Fortunately, I was able to use my compression leggings as arm warmers & doubled up on my jerseys so I managed to avoid freezing before the day's efforts warmed me up. This stage was primarily a mix of different road surfaces, but like stage 2 it was still great riding with a huge variety of scenery. And while being called roads, the two enduro sections were washed out & ragged enough to cause many a flat (which I luckily avoided!). Despite the amount of rain, the opening section of singletrack was the only place with any nasty mud. The rest was slick but rideable with exception of a portion of green moss covered rocks called Fisherman's Trail that would have been a challenge even in the dry. Still a fun day in the saddle even though the weather was less than ideal (although my legs are starting to feel a little fatigued...manageable but noticeable).
I left the camera behind since I figured the rain would spot up the lens, but I'll probably bring it out to Stage 4.
This was the new Enduro stage, which was 22 miles long and about 4k feet of climbing. It was 5 stages with untimed climbs up to the timed descents. Despite the climbing it was a nice mid-week break to chat & ride and spin the legs out in between stages. Each had a slightly different character so it ended up being an enjoyable experience overall, even though descending is a weakness for me (especially when things are slick as they were here from the previous day's rain). The first stage was a twisty set of relatively buff singletrack. The second took me by surprise as it was mostly forest road and double track - I lost some time here by not opening up since I was expecting something technical to pop up. The third was rocky, steeper & a bit more challenging. Stage four was the most insane descent I've ever encountered. It was loose, rocky, rooty, slick and straight down with no stopping - you were either riding or falling down it! The grade tapered out by the end into some gnarly rocks that took me out on the final section. I learned afterwards that even the most experienced local riders walked it since they knew better than to try it! The 5th stage was the perfect cap - a nice mix of fast & technical rocks that were challenging but rideable. That night there was a little mid-week celebration with some beer, bunny hops & other assorted tomfoolery
This stage was at R.B. Winter State Park. Coming into the race it was my most dreaded due to how rocky I heard it was. My trepidation increased after hearing about a descent that was just as gnarly but longer than the worst of stage 4. So the race started and I was pretty much un-phased by all the rocks since I had that descent on my mind. When I finally hit it at about mile 11 I let two riders I had just passed on the climb leading up to it go first since I know I'm a weak descender. I gave them a minute or two then set off after them. It was just as long, steep & scary as I had feared, but surprisingly all my recent time on the rocks had apparently improved my skills and I quickly overtook both riders. This sort of terrain was scary to me because one mistake & you're freefalling down a mountain, but I learned that it's really not that tough - just keep your weight back & steer and gravity will bring you down. With that over I finished out the course in a much better mood, which was a mix of rocky single track & gravel roads. Even learning that my GoPro mount had snapped & my camera was lost somewhere on the course couldn't bring me down (and I'm actually more bummed about loosing the footage of nailing that descent than the camera itself). My legs are tired but not destroyed, so I'm looking forward to the Queen stage next!
Too bad on the GoPro. Thanks for the updates!
This was the stage I was most looking forward to since it had lots of climbing, which is my strongest ability. It also includes some of the best trails of the week (challenging but rideable rocks), like the ridgeline trail along the top of Tussey Mountain with incredible views. I had a great start and managed get pretty far up in the group by the end of the first climb. I carried that momentum through to the single track too. The first section had a few slick rocks that were tough but once the trail turned dry I had some of my best work ever in clearing rock gardens. It was getting hotter and hotter though, so by the time I reached the Tussey ridge it was just plain scorching (GPS read 97F). The combination of the heat & 6 days of racing was pretty draining but thankfully the switchback descent was shaded. I wiped pretty hard on some loose leaves there though, so between that & the heat I was unable to keep up my pace.
Again, I wasn't really bothered by it because it was great just being out and riding my bike in an awesome place
Here's a link to a picture from the iconic Tussey Ridge: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?f...type=3&theater
I was planning to make the last stage, a 26 mile jaunt from camp, a leisurely ride to cap the week. I was less than a minute from the next spot up though, so I felt obligated to race it after all. It ended up being a pretty fun stage with a good mix of just about every kind of trail we'd seen the previous week as well as some stellar views. Racing or not, since this was the last day I didn't say no to the two beer hand-ups courtesy of Count Dracula...and I managed to gain that position I was trying for
Last night was the unofficial 8th stage. Sonya Looney was the MC, Sue Heywood was overseeing the beer and Amanda Carey & Vicki Barclay were assisting with the transition area. It was a 3 lap relay race where the baton was a lake-soaked hoody. Each team member had to ride a lap, rack the bike, do 3 spins on the broom handle and chug a beer. Where it got interesting is that the spectators moved the obstacle & course tape each lap to guarantee you were going down at least once as well as falling into the lake at some point regardless of your bike handling skills...all while having fireworks shot at you! Here's some footage:
TSE Stage 8 - YouTube
I was pleased with my 18th place finishing position since I rode conservatively all week and identified a bunch of weaknesses in my game that I could easily improve. I went into the week thinking it would be a one-time experience and that I'd try something new next year, but now I'm itching to go back and really try to race it (I'll be more competitive next year too since I'll move up to the 40+). So we'll see how the rest of the season unfolds, but there's a strong likelihood I'll be back!
Also, while I went for the racing & opportunity to ride new trails, I ended up getting way more out of it. The riding was really only 50% of the experience since I met so many incredible people and learned so much from more experienced riders. I never realized how much of the awesome overall experience would come from the social aspect of it all. Beyond bunking with others, there's lots of opportunity for social interaction every night at the daily award ceremony & video recap of the day.
It was also a very well-run event, so I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. This is my first stage race, but what sets it apart from other stage races according to other participants is the strong social aspect that's missing from others where riders go back to their condos after every stage until the next day.
It was good to meet you, man! Rimmey Lodge represent!
I can second every comment,i had a fantastic time.I did the "Experiance" catagory not being very fast.Turns out if i tried a little harder and didn't stop so often to recover i would not have been last in my age group,pro 2nd to last.
Met some great people,gonna plan on going next year,we were lucky with the weather!
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