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Mohican 100K MTB Race Report

The night before the race, my friend Brent was cool enough to pick me up after work to head straight down to Mohican. We decided to just grab some quick dinner at Subway on the way. We arrived and checked in at Mohican Adventures campground, and found our friend Brandon, who had already checked in and got set up at our site.

The packet pick-up was supposed to close at 7pm, but luckily, a couple of volunteers were still hanging around later at the race check-in desk, so we were able to get that out of the way and not have to worry about it in the morning.  I got my number plate attached to my Mongoose Teocali Super, and gave the bike a quick once-over to make sure it was ready to ride.

The weather was predicted to be pleasant and cool for race day. That evening before, it got even cooler than expected, and I was worried that I didn’t bring enough clothes both for a night of sleeping in a tent, as well as for the race itself. We spent a little while sitting around the campfire trying to stay warm until we turned into our tents. I did shiver a bit in my sleeping bag, but still managed to get a decent amount of sleep.

In the morning, I ate of couple of bacon pancakes that I had packed up frozen the day before. Fortunately, they were just thawed out enough to eat, and wash down with some orange juice. Brent shared some of his camp coffee as well.

I put on the only cycling clothes that I had brought, which I planned based on the weather forecast: bib shorts, sleeveless liner shirt, short-sleeve jersey, SmartWool socks, Buff bandana, Sidi shoes, and full-finger gloves. I also wore my Pearl Izumi Sun Sleeves and Sun Knees, aka “arm coolers” and “knee coolers.” These have been working great for riding in warm weather to keep the sun off. Now, I hoped they were sufficient to keep the morning chill off. I also put on my jacket, figuring I could stash it in my hydration pack during the race. I stood there shivering while waiting to leave for the starting line, wishing that I had brought real arm warmers and legs warmers, and maybe even a wool jersey.

The starting line was in downtown Loudonville, and it was a short 10-minute ride there mostly along a paved bike path. Once I finally got moving, I warmed up much more than I expected, and was quite comfortable. It was a good thing that I hadn’t brought more warm clothing, because then I would have ended up over-dressed. I realized even before starting that I wouldn’t need my jacket at all. Luckily, I noticed a woman from a neighboring campsite helping her husband get ready to race, and she graciously agreed to drop my jacket off back at the campground so I wouldn’t have to carry it needlessly through the whole race.

We timed our arrival at the starting line pretty well, and only had to wait a few minutes before the starting horn. My goal for the race was just to finish in less than 8 hours, and hope to stay out of trouble and avoid mechanical issues. So, I settled into a spot about three-quarters of the way to the back of the mass starting group.

Once we were off, we headed straight through the main street of town, which as it left the downtown area, became a steep uphill, which helped to break up the pack. I passed a pretty good number of lesser climbers, plus one poor guy who was already sitting on the side of the road trying to look at some bike issue; I wonder if that was a bad sign of how the rest of his day went?

A mile or two outside of town, we turned onto a gravel road, which led to the first turn-off onto singletrack through the woods. There was were a ton of racers backed up at the entrance, and it was like a signaled freeway on-ramp. A handful of riders made their way onto the trail, the rest of us would take a few steps forward and wait some more. I finally got onto the trail after what may have been about 5 minutes or more.

Although the weather was dry this day, the trails were kind of slick from the rain of the previous couple of days. In a few spots, it was thick like peanut butter. I picked my way through a couple of sketchy downhills pretty slowly and managed to keep both wheels on the ground and my feet on the pedals.

There were more sections of paved roads and gravel roads, and then more trail as we climbed a long, steep series of dirt switchbacks. At around the 5-mile mark, we joined the trail near the beginning of the Mohican State Park mountain bike trail loop. Finally familiar territory! I tried to settle into a rhythm and make some good time, but it was a challenge passing numerous other riders. There were a few rough sections that I normally clear with no problem when I ride this trail, but I got hung up now just from being caught behind other who weren’t clearing them. When I’d flail, people that I had managed to pass before passed me up again, and the whole process would start over. All part of racing; that will teach me to be more aggressive and try to keep to the front of the pack more from the start.

At the covered bridge on the road over the Mohican River, I passed a large group of riders, probably for the third time for many of them, but flailed again at the re-entry to the singletrack. Once I passed a handful more riders around the steep switchbacks climbs in this area, the pack seemed to spread out quite a bit more, and I was able to get more into my normal groove for the rest of the long climb to the top of the hill above the covered bridge.

The first aid station was located in the parking lot at the top of the hill, at the 20-mile mark, or what is normally the 15-mile mark of the state park loop. I scarfed a couple of snacks, chugged a cup of Heed drink, and topped off the water in my hydration pack. I thought I had been drinking a fair amount along the way, but was surprised when it only took about a large cupful of water to refill the pack. Mental note: drink more. I was going to use the porta-potty, but there were a couple of other guys waiting in line, so I decided it wasn’t an emergency for me.

Continuing on the state park trail, there was more passing to be done, but I found myself having to do less flailing and wasn’t getting passed by very many others. I didn’t clear the infamous steep climb at the 21-mile marker of the state park trail, so I took advantage of that opportunity to duck behind a tree for an impromptu porta-potty break. Luckily, the pale color of the result indicated that I’d been taking in sufficient fluids while riding.

I was looking forward to one of my favorite sections of the trail, around the 22-mile marker where you descend a series of fast, swoopy curves. Just after the beginning of this section, a volunteer was posted at the apex of the second of one of those curves, directing us to make a hard left off the trail. As I made this turn, I saw the horror that awaited us–The Wall–a trail of loose dirt that went straight up so steeply that, I promise you, NOBODY was pedaling it. My feet felt like bricks as I trudged up, pushing my bike at nearly a crawl. The toe spikes in my shoes came in handy to avoid slipping, and even potentially rolling back down the hill.

When I finally reached the top, the course opened up onto a gravel road. Then it led back onto a wide dirt trail that’s normally a hiking-only trail. Along a downhill section, there were wooden planks installed across the trail as water bars. With the mud and my wet tires, I knew it could mean a treacherous ride. I saw one rider walking his way down, but I determined that my mountain biking skills were up to. I took each water bar as head-on as I could, rather than at an angle, and managed to clear all but one, which was placed at a nearly impossible angle. It grabbed my rear tire and yanked it out from under me, forcing me to put a foot down almost into an unintentional split, but I managed to keep it all together otherwise, re-mount, and keep going.

The course alternated between more some paved roads, gravel roads, and dirt trails with a couple more hike-a-bike sections. The roads weren’t much relief, as they usually involved climbs that were steep enough to be just barely ride-able. At around the 28-mile mark, it started to feel like work instead of fun. I had to force the thought out of my brain that I was not even halfway done yet.

The second aid station came at the 35-mile mark, and was located at the Buckhaven Learning Center, a hunting camp. I downed some snacks, topped off the water again, and used the (thankfully) inside restroom.

The course from this point followed what looked like a dirt four-wheeler trail for a couple of miles, with a few ups and downs, but nothing too steep. Then more alternating mind-numbing steep climbs and descents on gravel and pavement. Fortunately, no particular body parts nagged me with any pain; I just struggled with overall fatigue. Pedaling the long climbs while in the saddle did make me a little more sore in that area than I usually get, but nothing too extreme. I was ready to just be done, but I just had to try not to think about how much further I had to go. I knew that my entry fee included all the Great Lakes Brewing Company beer that I could drink at the finish line, but I couldn’t even imagine myself enjoying that. All I could picture was collapsing in a heap as soon as I could after I cross the line.

Eventually, the course turned back onto some singletrack, which I surmised (correctly) was the Mohican Wilderness mountain bike trail. At first I thought, “Finally!” until I realized that I was so cooked that I had neither physical nor mental wherewithal to navigate the trail, which is considerably rougher compared to the Mohican State Park trail. I flailed and dabbed a bit, and took it slow where necessary. On two occasions, in the middle of tight hairpin turns, I miscalculated, took a bad line, and failed to recover, which sent me hard into the dirt on my face and arms.

Finally, the course opened up through some grass along the edge of a large, open field, which led to aid station number 3 at mile 58. The usual routine: eat, drink, pee; this time eat and drink a little more. The 100-mile course split off at this point. I didn’t want to head off in the wrong direction, so I asked a volunteer which way the 100k course went. He pointed out the LARGE banner indicating such just across the road.

I headed on down the road, thankfully flat for the first mile or so, but then it got back to more of the same as before–up, down, up, down. The first was Valley Stream Road, which has several “humps,” which make you think you’re done when you’re not. I passed a female racer on this climb, and the two of us ended up leap-frogging each other for much of the rest of the course.

A flat road ran alongside the Mohican River and led to State Route 3 just outside of Loudonville, the usual start/end point of the Mohican State Park trail. With 4 miles to go to the finish line, the aid station number 4 that was set up here almost seem superfluous. I almost skipped it, but stopped for a quick chug of a cup of Heed.

The course here went straight back onto the state park trail, what is usually the final mile of it, but in reverse of the usual direction. Then it turn uphill and on some unfamiliar singletrack. After a while, the singletrack started to look vaguely familiar again, and I realized that I was back on the beginning section of the state park trail, also in reverse of the usual direction. A couple of fast, presumably expert-class riders passed me in this area, but the rest of the field was so spread out that I saw no other riders for the rest of the course.

Soon I was able to see the Mohican Adventures campground, where the finish line was located. Friends who had done the race in past years had warned me about one final hike-a-bike climb up a steep dirt trail that was thrown in only about a half-mile before the finish. Turns out, this hill was removed for this year’s course, and before I knew it, the finish line was right in front of me, almost anti-climatically.

I crossed the line and a volunteer handed me an empty pint glass. I did not feel as completely spent and ready to collapse as I had expected. I set my bike down in the grass, and looked around for any familiar faces. Seeing none, I walked over the Great Lakes beer trailer and filled my glass with a Dortmunder. It was refreshing, delicious, and altogether welcome, contrary to my fears during the race. I looked around a bit more, and I asked somebody what time it was to try to get an idea of my finish time. It was 10 minutes before 3:00pm, and I figured I had been wandering around for about 10 minutes. Based on the 7:00am start time, that put me at an overall time of about 7 hours and 40 minutes, safely and happily within my goal.

I ran into Brent and Brandon, and we commiserated about our respective race experiences. I got some lunch at the barbecue buffet, which included ribs, chicken, and an assortment of sides. Brent had dinner plans at home, so we didn’t waste much more time before packing up our camping gear and hitting the road.

Checking the final results at home later, I ended up with an official time of 7:39:02, placing me at 161 out of 276 finishers (322 total if you count the DNF’s) in the Men’s Open 100k division.

Mohican 100K Training Ride

The other day, I made a sort-of last-minute decision to sign up for the Mohican 100K mountain bike race, so today I took the opportunity to test how prepared I am for it physically and mentally by doing two laps of the 25-mile Mohican State Park mountain bike trail.

My mountain bike was still caked with mud from my ride at West Branch State Park a week ago. I had been wanting to clean and tune it up, but had not been able to make the time since then. When I arrived at the Mohican parking lot, I gave it a quick rub-down with a rag to get the major chunks of mud off, and lubed the chain. Both the front and rear disc rotors had gotten a little bent from my flailing in the rock gardens at West Branch. I spun the front wheel a few times to identify the main bent area, and trued it back with my bare fingers good enough that it spun quietly. I did the same with the rear rotor; it still rubbed a little, but it was ride-able.

I kept a good pace for the first lap, not trying to set a record, but quick and steady. The only incident of the day came when I was still pretty fresh, about 6 miles in during a relatively easy section of trail. I split-second lapse of attention caused me to clip my handlebar on a tree. It yanked by wheel sideways, sending me into a Superman fall, following by the bike flying and landing on top of me. I took some impact on my head and right shoulder, giving me flashbacks to a rail-trail in Idaho. Fortunately, most of the impact went to my right forearm, leaving a new bruise and scab on top of the old bruise and scab  (more by-products of the aforementioned West Branch rock gardens). The impact was also enough to knock my stem off-kilter and my seat angle tilted way too forward, so I had to spend about 20 minutes on the trail fishing out my multi-tool, and then re-adjusting everything.

I rode a little tentatively for a mile or two following the crash, but got back into the groove after shaking the cobwebs off and getting my nerve back.

I finished the first lap in about two and three-quarter hours (not counting repair time), a typical respectable time for me. I stopped by my car to scarf down a bagel with peanut butter and chug a bottle of Gatorade. This would have been a potential time to decide “Heck with it, I should quit while I’m ahead,” but I didn’t let the thought even enter my mind, trying to keep myself in the “failure is not an option” mindset that I’d need for race day. Only after I started pedaling toward the trailhead for the second lap did it briefly occur to me, “What the heck am I doing?”

Despite the tendency for physical fatigue to cause you to be more likely to make mental mistakes, the second lap passed without any crashes or other incidents. My legs got tired, my feet and back got a little sore, but nothing unexpected. I had to use my granny gear more often than usual, and dab a foot as I failed to clear some of the switchbacks and steep climbs as well as I usually can. I stopped at the 15-mile mark (the second time around) to down a Clif bar for more re-fueling.

I tried to conserve the water in my 2-liter hydration pack so that I’d have enough to last for the whole ride, since there isn’t really a practical place to refill along the trail. Conventional wisdom says that if you’re hydrating enough during physical activity, you should be urinating frequently, and it should be clear or mostly clear. I only stopped to relieve myself once during the whole ride, at about the 16-mile mark of the second lap, and it looked the color of stale Mountain Dew, which probably was not a good sign. I don’t expect this to be as much of an issue during the race, though, as I’ll be able to take advantage of the aid stations for fluid and snacks.

I finished the second lap in a little over 3 hours. I felt pretty beat up, tired, and stiff, but felt like I put in a respectable effort. Despite the parking-lot tune-up, my bike performed admirably. I’m told by race veterans that if you can handle two laps of the 25-mile state park trail, the 100K (62-mile) race course should feel easier. Stayed tuned in a few weeks for a report from the actual race…

Product Review: Salsa Fargo, Part 2 – Singletrack Showdown

I gave an introduction and first impressions of my new Salsa Fargo bicycle a week ago in Part 1 of this product review. Those impressions were the result of short commuting rides, and a medium-length road ride. Here in Part 2 are my thoughts after giving the bike a thorough workout on singletrack mountain bike trails.

I wanted to do a head-to-head comparison of the Fargo versus a “traditional” mountain bike. I suppose to make it as much of an “apples to apples” comparison as possible, it would have been ideal to match the Fargo up against a rigid, geared, 29er bike with a regular flat or riser handlebar; this would have highlighted any perceived differences of the Fargo’s drop-bar geometry compared to regular mountain bike geometry, while keeping everything else roughly the same.

However, I did the comparison with my Mongoose Teocali Super. You might say this bike is the “anti-Fargo.” It’s a 26-inch-wheeled trail bike with RapidFire shifters, hydraulic brakes, a riser handlebar, and five inches of suspension travel both front and rear. Long-travel trail bikes are pretty standard equipment among mountain biking enthusiasts these days, so the Mongoose is fulfilling the original mission of this review series, that is, to see how well the Fargo might replace what the masses are typically riding in various situations.

The location for the test was Quail Hollow State Park, located just outside of Hartville, Ohio on Friday, July 15. The mountain bike trail in the park is a 3.5-mile loop with mostly beginner-level terrain, and not much elevation change to speak of. It’s often used as a “proving ground” by riders testing out new bikes (in fact, I came across another guy taking the first ride on his new Niner Bikes hardtail). I took both bicycles to the park and did alternating laps, thus eliminating any uncontrollable variables (weather, trail conditions, my fitness level for the day) that would have affected the results had I taken the two bikes on two separate occasions.

Mongoose Teocali Super and Salsa Fargo at Quail Hollow State Park

I typically do 4 or 5 laps whenever I ride at Quail, and the middle laps tend to be the fastest. This is probably because I’m warming up during the first lap, and starting to get worn out during the last lap. So, I decided to start out on the Mongoose for the first lap, figuring it would be best to warm up in a more familiar saddle. Here are the results for the 4-lap workout:

Lap Bike Time Average Speed Maximum Speed
1 Teocali 19:35 11.0 16.8
2 Fargo 19:50 10.9 16.9
3 Teocali 18:11 11.8 18.3
4 Fargo 18:30 11.5 20.0

As you can see, I was able to hit higher maximum speeds on the Fargo, but my lap times and overall averages were better on the Teocali. I suspect that I hit the maximums during a section of the loop known by regulars as “The Meadow.” It’s a long, flat section near the park boundary roughly halfway through the loop, with a wooden boardwalk for about 100 yards of it.

The Fargo felt at home on the singletrack. In smooth, flowing sections of the trail, I could hunker down in the drops and put the pedal to the metal, and the bike hugged the curves and kept its line right where I pointed it. I bashed the big chainring on the first log jump of the trail, indicative of the Fargo’s lower bottom bracket height, but I never had this issue on any of the other log jumps.

As expected, the Fargo did not feel as tame in the rougher sections of trail, i.e. rock gardens and roots. The Teocali is a “point-and-shoot” bike; I’d just keep up my speed and the suspension helped me float over the rough stuff. The Fargo required more skill in line selection and finesse in maneuvering. The rough terrain takes more of a toll on your body when using a rigid bike; after each of the Fargo laps, I felt noticeably more “beat up.” My hands got numb or tingly a couple of times, but this subsided after I reminded myself to relax and release my death grip (even those of us with some experience need to re-learn the basics once in a while).

Since the Quail Hollow trail is pretty flat overall, I found myself just picking a comfortable gear and settling into a singlespeed kind of rhythm, more so on the Fargo than on the Teocali. I suspect this is because the bar-end shifters make me put a little more thought and effort into the shifting process. The mantra of avid singlespeed riders goes something like “If you can’t shift, then you learn not to miss shifting.” In the case of the Fargo, that motto might be adapted to “If it’s not convenient to shift, then you learn to get by with less shifting.” Of course, the choice of bar-end shifters was mine; the Fargo can be set up with drop-bar integrated brake/shift levers (the Fargo complete bike offered by Salsa comes with SRAM Apex brake/shift levers).

In contrast to the occasional times I spent riding on the hoods on the Fargo when riding on the road, I found that I spent 100% of the time in the drops when riding singletrack. The drops gave me the leverage and control that I felt I wanted (not to mention easier access to the shifters) for reacting to the constantly-changing terrain encountered on the trail.

With the initial singletrack shake-down ride done, today I headed down to my favorite mountain bike trail, the 24-mile loop at Mohican State Park outside Loudonville, Ohio. This trail is mostly intermediate-level terrain that contains all of the features you’d expect to find: flowing smooth sections, rock gardens, roots, log jumps, and climbs and descents of all stripes, including a handful of steep, tight switchbacks.

On a trail of this length, it’s not possible to do as much of a “scientific” test as I did at Quail Hollow. However, for comparison purposes, I have my previous ride at Mohican, which I did on the Mongoose Teocali Super on June 16. I felt really good that day, and turned in what was probably one of my best times ever on this trail, about 2 hours and 42 minutes. I rode it that day without stopping, so my ride time is the same as my actual elapsed time. It was a bluebird-perfect day for mountain biking, with temps in the mid-70′s, and relatively low humidity.

Salsa Fargo at Mohican State Park

I tried to prepare myself ahead of time so that I’d be feeling as good today as I did that last time. I ate a hearty dinner, got a full night’s sleep, and had a stack of pancakes for breakfast, with a couple of hours of digestion time before I had to hit the trail. Today, however, was a different story from a weather standpoint–about 20 degrees hotter, with the humidity making the temperature feel like it was in triple digits.

All of the things that I noticed at Quail Hollow about the different ride feel of the Fargo compared to the Teocali I felt again at Mohican, only multiplied due to the more challenging terrain. I did shift a lot more often on this ride, which was necessary for the numerous climbs, plus I felt like I was starting to get the hang of using the bar-end shifters more in a technical environment. The Fargo felt balanced and stable, whether cornering, climbing, or descending. I still stayed in the drops almost exclusively, although there were a couple times I sat up with my hands in the hoods, mainly during the gravel road climb near the 13-mile mark. I was getting some stiffness in my lower back, and this allowed some relief. I should note, however, that I do get this stiffness occasionally during long off-road rides, no matter what bike I’m on. I didn’t have any issues with numbness in my hands this time around.

During some long, smooth sections of the trail, it would have behooved me to put some power to the pedals and make up time lost in the rougher stuff. Usually, though, I took advantage of the break to just coast and give myself a little rest.

One aspect of the Fargo’s long and low geometry that did give it an advantage that I was able to capitalize on was its climbing ability. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to clear all of the steep switchback climbs, most notably those located between the 12- and 13-mile marks (just after the covered bridge). I also cleared the infamous climb just after the 21-mile mark. I would drop it down into the granny gear at just the right moment, slide my butt up onto the nose of the saddle, and get down with my nose floating just forward of the stem faceplate, and the Fargo stayed on track, feeling neither like the rear wheel wanted to spin out, nor like the front wheel wanted to float up off the ground.

I ended up completing the entire loop with a time in motion of about 2 hours and 48 minutes, just a handful of minutes longer than on the Teocali. However, my actual elapsed time was considerably longer at almost four hours, due to several factors. One, the feeling of getting beat up made me want to stop and catch my breath a couple of times, although I’m sure the heat and humidity also played a part in this. Two, I got a flat tire, and three, I stopped to look (unsuccessfully) for my cyclocomputer that had popped off (which is a story for another day).

In summary, and to be honest, I would say that this head-to-head test between the Salsa Fargo and the Mongoose Teocali Super did not tell me anything that any experienced rider would not have been able to surmise just by looking at the bikes. However, it was fun collecting the concrete data and experience to confirm these things.

The Fargo design gives it advantages in some off-road situations, at the expense of the disadvantages that you’d expect from a rigid mountain bike. Maybe someday I’ll swap on a suspension fork and get the best of both worlds. In an XC race situation, I’d probably stick with the Teocali or some other bike with suspension, but I’ll never have any qualms about reaching for the Fargo whenever I just want to enjoy the day exploring new trails or hanging out on my old familiar trails.

Coming next: Touring on the Fargo

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