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Saturday, August 16, 2003 -- Slatyfork, WV
Wild 100 Backcountry Race (iPO Event Id#: 5746)
Photos by Don Parks with a lot of help from the ERTC folks.

[Details] [Coverage]
[Overall Results]
Pictures: [Set 1] [Set 2] [Set 3] [Set 4] [Set 5]
[Set 6] [Set 7] [Set 8] [Set 9] [Set 10] [Set 11]
Wild Event Coverage: [1998] [1999] [2000] [2001] [2002]

Race report by Brian Kemler

Race Start
7a.m. and the natives are getting restless
This year, as the last three, I made the six-hour trek from Washington, DC to unincorporated Slatyfork, West Virginia. The home to the Elk River Touring Center, host of the Wild 100 back country mountain bike race.

I called the day before because my credit card had not been charged the race entrance fee. I reached Gil, the owner of Elk River and the race's creator. He seemed happy to hear from me. Then he explained that "the worm" had burrowed into their computers. Not to worry, I would be registered. He then asked me pointedly, "So, are you going to take it this year"? I replied, having less confidence in myself than he had in me, "I am really not in as good shape this year as I was last".

Last year, if you recall, I broke my saddle an hour into the race on the climb up Props Run. It caused me to have to restart the race, two hours late - in dead last place. I managed a respectable showing of 21st place of 57, despite having ridden two additional hours. It was a riot to hear people recounting this story. In past years, other obstacles racers (including this one) have had to over come include; missing check points, pavement poachers, hidden check points and inclement weather - to name a few.

Race Pic
Remembering the fun of a Wild 100
This year my hope was to have a race without any of the aforementioned glitches. Heading down to the race in my truck, I got over confident about directions - I didn't take them - causing me to miss a key turn and tacking on another hour to my trip. I hoped this wasn't a bad portent for the race in which I'd have to find my way through 62 miles of wet, wild, wilderness with nothing but a 3' by 4' topographic map. This course, unlike most, is not marked. It's choose-your-own route, using your own, sometimes crippled judgement.

As I drove through mountain passes, the weather alternated between overcast skies and torrential rains. I was dreading the prospect of racing an all-day race in the rain. I arrived at Elk River and set up camp by an empty stream bed. There were a lot of little worries on my mind; would the nearby road traffic keep me up, was my bike dialed in, would it rain all night and day, would the other campers keep me up, was I getting up in a enough time, would I sleep okay, was 6 hours of sleep enough, would I be pounded out of my sleeping bag to the sounds of speed metal as I had been at the Wilderness 101 three weeks ago?

I tried to quell the pre-race jitters, get a good night sleep and get my mind into a Zen-like state completely detached from any outcome, and focused on riding and enjoying every moment of the race. It worked, I got a good night sleep and woke up at 5:30am, thanks to the nearby roosters. I ate a good breakfast, enjoyed my Peet's coffee and got my gear prepped for the race.

One issue I have had this year with racing is nutrition. I haven't been eating as much as I should because solid energy bars are too hard to eat when riding and the gels, often make me feel like some one is sharpening razor blades on the walls of my stomach. I also have had no idea exactly how many calories I require per hour of physical activity.

Race Pic
You have to eat to survive
Before this race, I looked up the facts. In an hour of intense activity, I would burn between 600-800 calories. This took the guess work out of the equation. I realized that for an 8 hour race, I would need to consume 4,800 calories - approximately 2 and a half times the RDA for a 5' 10" 150lbs male - all while riding my bike with my heart rate on tilt. That meant consuming 48 packs of Clif Shot or Power Gel. I wanted to hurl. Luckily, I had a stash of Hammer Gel and Hammer Gel Flasks that were big enough for me to only have to worry about sucking down six of them - plus food at the rest stops. The Hammer Gel was a prize from the Wilderness 101.

At 6:45am the riders' meeting commenced with Gil going over the race rules; no riding on pavement - except where marked on the maps- bring a compass, you'll need one, get to check point 4 by a certain time - I wasn't really listening. Suddenly, I wondered if I should go back to the tent and get my compass. I decided not to, not having used one in years past. But would something be different this year? Who knew? In any case, they handed out the maps, with the five heretofore secret check points, and gave us three minutes to go over them before saying "GO!".

Gil set us off. There are two ways up to the mountains where most of the race takes occurs. Either Props Run or Mine Road/USFS Road 24. I instantly looked at my map, recognized and memorized the route and tucked it away under my bike shorts. I should have used the extra minutes to memorize the route to the next check point and double check my route to the first.

Race Pic
Taking it easy on the Mine Road
They set us off, and I headed in haste up the long, fire road climb to the first checkpoint via an unrelenting series of switch backs. There would be no time to warm up. My body and back immediately felt sore, but I tried not to fight the pain, knowing it would pass as soon as I warmed up. We crested the mountain, passing a few intersections, but it was difficult to see anything; visibility was down to less than 50 feet in a thick fog. At the beginning of the race it's easy to just follow along and see how everyone gets to the first few check points. But as the race progresses and you're stuck on your own, the only way to find each check point efficiently is through a combination of logic, luck and gut instinct. Throughout this race I would crudely employ these varying tactics.

1,800 vertical feet, a handful of switch backs and about 6 miles later, we arrived at check point #1. I found the single track climb off the fire road and proceeded up the technical climb. I wasn't pushing too hard, but I felt like I was moving along at a solid pace. I thought that there were only 20-30 people ahead of me at this point. Most people proceeded in and out the same section of trail and I only saw a couple riders exiting this checkpoint, so I knew I was doing well. Most importantly, I felt fresh. And, no doubt, looked it too, caked in a second skin mud.

I got there, signed in, check the map and memorized the route to CP2. I screeched down the downhill section passing six or seven riders riding conservatively on the wet, mossy rocks. This course is more technical than the typical mountain bike course and the rain and wet weather only compounded that by a factor of n - making it both at once more technically and physically demanding.

Race Pic
The Fun Hogs of Dirt Rag
I would have to retrace my steps to a series of tangled trails off the fire road and then head up the first one on what would most likely be a hike-a-bike section leading to the Boundary Trail. Sure enough, it was too steep and technical to ride, so everyone was portaging their rigs over fallen pine trees, rocks and slick, loamy soil. At this point in the race the rain is coming down and the trails are completely soaked. In years past, I worried about it raining later in the race; this year I could look forward to it clearing up.

The next section to the infamous, sometimes hidden, always hard to find, CP3 would be the longest distance-wise in the course. I immediately recognized the route, committed it to memory and left CP2 before the crew of people I'd had been getting into a riding-groove with. I cleaned most of the downhill we had hiked up and gave encouraging words and bearing points to the racers trudging up to CP2.

I headed back down the fire road looking for my right turn down the unending Crooked Fork Trail. This would take me most of the way to CP3. It's a lengthy, wet descent with undergrowth up to my ears. The rain has made everything grow beyond normal proportions this season. I was hurtling through an organic car wash in over drive; stinging nettles, pine brush and other assorted flora scrubbing my arms and legs - at least this might get all the mud off.

I cross route 19, and am riding with a bunch of nice folks from Cincinnati. They are riding really strong and are a great bunch of people. We trek through cow pastures and cow patties on our hunt for CP3. At this point, I am thinking the map is going to be of no use. Another rider warns us we are totally in the wrong direction. My gut tells me he's wrong - though he seems adamant. All of us, including him, continue along my route. After some hike-a-bike, the same rider says he's spied wet bike tracks on the road. This time I chose to follow him - and shortly we spot two riders heading out of CP3.

Race Pic
Oh yeah, there was plenty of mud
We find CP3 just up the hill. I take advantage of the break eat three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a pita pocket filled with hummus. Larry Camp arrives at CP3 and so do a bunch of other folks. I check the map, scrutinize my complicated route to CP4 and head down the road toward the Scenic Highway, only one of two legal pieces of pavement on the course.

I climb steadily and there is no one in sight - either in front of me of in back of me. I hit the woods where they have a car stationed to make sure there are no pavement poachers - this is also an unwitting directional cue. Into the woods, I slog through the mud and up a climb overflowing with flora.

The trail is slick making the climb even more difficult. There are beautiful wildflowers, mini-daisies, brilliant red flowers and others of a purple variety. At one point, a bouquet of mini-daisies has fashioned itself onto my left shift lever. I pass a rider or two and come back to the Scenic Highway, cross it, follow the trails into the woods and then cross the Scenic Highway again to the diverging trails.

Here, I must decide between taking the Right Fork via the Gauley Connector or the Gauley Mountain Trail to Red Run and into CP4. The problem is the maps says Gauley Connector and the trail sign reads Tea Creek Connector. I am thinking they are one in the same, so I follow the sign to the Tea Creek Connector. The Right Fork, paralleling the Right Fork River, is marked most technical, as is the Gauley. However, the Right Fork appears to be shorter. I took that.

I know I am looking for an intersection a short ways in. The problem is they've changed the terrain and there's a wooden bridge covering most of the trail. There is also a new crushed rock section. I follow that into a meadow and inadvertently end up at the start of Tea Creek. This is a brutal climb/hike-a-bike that has been in each of the previous races I've done here. I check the map and see I am slightly off. However the good news is there is a branch off this route that leads to the Right Fork Trail - according to my map, that is. I don't recall this spur and I start climbing.

Race Pic
Things get wild at the Wild 100
Suddenly, a racer is coming down the mountain, cursing (literally) the person who told him it was the right way. It seems the map was wrong. He's huffing and puffing and is blowing up physically and mentally. I am just glad he was there to warn me. He made the entire cruel and unusual climb up Tea Creek Mountain before realizing his mistake.

We turn around and I follow him through the meadow and listen to his diatribe until he endos and I politely route around him and proceed toward the Right Fork. We get to the intersection I remembered and he insists on going right. I explain, using a combination of logic and graphic display courtesy of my map, that it's definitely to the left. He disagrees. I spend a little while trying to convince him - more than what I would do normally - because he saved me from the Tea Creek Mountain ascent.

Finally, he agrees and we head off toward CP4 on the Right Fork. Bam, we've nailed it. I drop him, and mercifully the trail turns out to be mostly flat and only slightly technical. Even though I've lost 20 minutes on Tea Creek, this trail is hooking me up. I catch up to Larry Camp and shortly we both arrive at CP4. Welcomed by the friendly Elk River Guide Joey (whom I caused to wreck on the way into CP4 - sorry bro!), I suck down four Clif Shots and look at the map. I am so worked up I can't even make out my own location on the map - let alone how to get to CP5. Larry's bolting and since I know and respect him and his judgment, I decide to follow instead of taking the time to figure out the directions. I am not sure he knows this.

The climb up Red Run is highly technical and I can't get into a groove. It's so slick and wet; I don't want to blow up trying to be a tough guy riding it all. So, I walk. It sucks and I see Larry and a couple of the other boys riding. Nearing the top, I catch a lot of riders, including the Cincinnati crew and Brian Junkins descending into CP4. They were with me at CP3, but took the Gauley instead of the Right Fork. That cost them a lot of time, but hooked me up - 20 minute Tea Creek debacle notwithstanding. I get to the top where the trail t's with Gauley Mountain Trail. I compose myself, check the map and memorize the route to CP5. Larry and company are out of sight.

Race Pic
Plenty of singletrack to choose from
Gauley Mountain is in terrible condition. It's the wettest trail of the day and could practically qualify as a stream. It's slightly technical and slightly up hill. I am feeling good physically, but am itching to hit the fire road. My bike shorts are beginning to feel like big, black, lycra diapers with the concomitant diaper rash. Soaked through and through, with just enough sandy grit to make each pedal stroke hurt, I can't wait to shed these babies at that end of the race. I hit the fire road and stop for a map check. There's one problem: the map fell out of my black cycling Huggies.

Luckily, I am pretty confident that the fifth and last check point is a hidden climb just before Forest Road 135, called, how appropriately, Forest Road 134. I pass the Aid Station where riders are allowed to stash food and lighting equipment and spy Don Parks from I ask to check his map; my memory serves me right, he takes a picture of me for his website

and I am on my way. At this point I think I am in the top 20, maybe the top 15. I hit FR134 and see last year's winner and Wilderness 101/Shenandoah Mountain 100 promoter Chris Scott barreling down the descent. Hhmm - just to be this close to Chris must mean I am doing better than I thought. Chris finished first last year (as well as in past years) and only two or three more riders are behind him. I catch Larry on the climb and suddenly I am thinking I may have shot at the top 10.

Additionally, in all likelihood, some of the riders ahead of me are doing the new "Plus" category which adds a sixth checkpoint and 7 miles this year. I haven't accounted for that, so I may be doing even better than I've been thinking. I've declined to do the "plus" as I am going for what Charlottesville rider Sue George calls the "Triple Crown"; Chris's two one-hundred milers; the Wilderness 101, the Shenandoah 100 and of course, this race, the Wild 100k - all within a five-week span. Of course what I am really gearing up for is the 270 mile, 3-day La Ruta De Los Conquistadores in Costa Rica this November, but that's another story.

Race Pic
Partying it up back at the ERTC
Larry and I arrive into CP5, check in and somehow Don Parks has teleported himself there from the aid station to take pictures of us. This didn't strike me as strange at the time, but in retrospect it meant there was an easy and time-saving way to bush-whack to and from the aid station to CP5 that we failed to exploit. Oh well. Out of CP5, I jet and hammer it back to the fire road. I try to concentrate on keeping my pace up. On the switchback descents it's not hard; I'm pushing 50mph on loose gravel and suddenly the vibrations cause me to jettison a water bottle. Ballast at this point; there's no way I am stopping for it.

I hit the last section of pavement and there's no one in front or in back of me. I try to relish the last few minutes of the race. The sun has come out and dried the mud to my body and I am beginning to feel tired. I bang the left into Elk River, cross the finish line and am greeted by Carrie, Elk River's office manager. Carrie remembered me from my snowboarding excursion this winter, which was quite nice. I inquire as to how I've done, she counts the racers in front of me, "one, two, three, you're fourth". Fourth, 15 minutes off first and pleasantly surprised.