The 2016 Savage CX by Yuri Eliashevsky
Having adopted a lifestyle recently in which bikes have become a focal point of securing a livelihood, I don't find myself riding recreationally often. This summer I hit a milestone, which has been surpassed of course, of guiding seventy-five trips for Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventures. When you're leading clients three or more times a week, in the humidity and heat, often you cherish your "off days" looking forward to the rest, or taking advantage of the downtime to ready yourself and gear for the next trip. Blue Mountain Revival's Savage Cross proved to be a compromise.
Friday's wake-up occurred at 4:30am and within one half hour I had a sleeping four-year-old tucked back into his car seat for a very long drive back towards home from Delaware. Making good time, beating traffic across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel, and through many cities, I found myself very tired midday and opted to stop in Greensboro to visit Watts Dixon's Revolution Cycles and take a nap. No matter how woozy I was, I could not fall asleep on a very comfortable shop couch at 2:00 in full sun, with my blue-eyed, well-behaved son investigating small parts and expensive bikes. After an hour I resumed my travels and within a few more hours I passed through Nebo, NC and situated myself among friends at the South Mountain Children's Home and began setting up the race's start/finish area and rest stops.
I say friends in this instance as they thoughtfully did not suggest that I get back in a car after twelve hours of driving to mark the course. I was really dreading the fact that this may have been my role. As the sun baked down on all of us, we worked slow and set-up. Registration duties had me occupied until 10:00 at which point Eric of Pisgah Productions indicated that the next day's timing duties were squared away. Since I had a bike with me, and under the pretense of riding mountain bikes Sunday with said friends through Wilson's Creek, I should ride the event.
I was very tired, almost jet-lagged, but accepted the proposition under the mantra, "The only easy day was yesterday." I was there, I had my riding clothes, a bike, and an attitude of, "Let's do this." I chose to ride my single-speed. There aren't many or any events that I am devoted enough to want to win, but I do certainly enjoy challenging myself and seeing what my body can handle. I think that deep down I may have some guilt. There are a lot of people on this planet that are not nearly as privileged as me or don't impose challenges into their lives but I have to accept it. Maybe it's a penance of sorts. I really do not know. I slept in Saturday until 7:30 when I heard my boy call out from his tent asking for something. I think his shoes. Which were right next to him under the vestibule. Regardless of an atypical wake-up, the norm being him coming into my room, kissing me on the cheek and telling me "It's time to get up. It's sunny out." I needed to get moving. Beating the presumed 8:00 pre-race bathroom rush-hour, which I predicted accurately, I brushed my face and washed my teeth. Ate several Clif Bars and drank an Arizona Tea. It's all that I had or could find without caffeine or carbonation, two things that are not huge in my diet to begin with. I believe I thought about eating a vanilla Hammer gel because it was "breakfasty" but I didn't. I found it later in the day still tucked into my jersey's back pocket. Once I took care of myself, I tried to help taking care of people at registration, aided by the help of my best friend Michele. Seeing her energy and enthusiasm for her role to be honest, was the sunshine of my day.
A neutral start to the race proves to be anything but neutral for a single-speeder. If it is possible to get flushed from the pack twice in the opening two miles, let me tell you, yes, it is possible. The saving grace to that phenomenon is becoming familiar with the other handsome single-speeders off the bat AND the distinction of crawling through half the pack beginning on the first climb. Let's be honest here, if you are unfamiliar with Pisgah Productions or Blue Mountain Revival let me quickly summarize: Pisgah Productions, as a series, puts on the hardest adventure-type but mountain bike specific events on the East Coast and Blue Mountain Revival leads the charge in facilitating gravel long-distance bike events on the East Coast, and probably as a series, a front runner. Enough so that Shane Cooper and DeFeet are often time present on-course. As well as many other hotshots. So it is really with no surprise that Savage Cross' savagery occurs immediately after the start with an estimated 70-80% of the climbing occurring in the first seventeen miles of a fifty-two mile course. In the sun. Well, for a lot of it.
If I have a strength, according to me, it's my ability to climb and... thrive in hot conditions. I'm the weight of a really big hummingbird or a very skinny ostrich, and my frame serves very effectively as a radiator, so I am able to exchange heat well with the environment. I also have a hollow leg(s), don't need a lot of water, and never cramp. All of that to be determined in an eventual autopsy. So despite being tired from driving and working in the heat I thought, sure, the course has a lot of climbing (strength) and it's hot (strength) and I am among friends, what do I have to lose? Nothing.
Six guys riding one gear I believe were on course. I knew three. I saw four. Sometimes we talked. Sometimes some walked (NOT ME). Sometimes some got dropped (me). I distinctly remember at times compliments in both directions were shared. We are definitely a group that recognizes that we're swimming upstream. The gravel played to our strengths as did the climbs. And the chunky "railroad" gravel probably also gave us a silent, no chain-slap advantage, so we were like ninjas in the Back 40. But the ending stretch of road near Lake James was like riding or writing a feature story on Purgatory. There was no shade. I know, I tried riding center line a lot hoping to get in either side of the road's shade offering, to do whatever I could to keep my head from melting. It literally was that bad. And flat. So little tension on the chain and so little forward momentum. I remember thinking that I was being passed by all of these riders, with others on my heels, who were pace-lining, ducking, drafting, big-ringing it, aero-tucking, and there would be a slight rise ahead. And me, coasting, tucking, pedaling out, you name it and categorize it under "not single-speed's strengths", waiting to hit that rise and then go full gas. Which is ironic seeing how others hope to just soft-pedal up it and I'd be full-bore sprinting. Who the heck wants to ride a bike where that bike's strength is sprinting uphill? Dumb idea. And then also, as a collective group, have this additional disadvantage of other people not wanting to get beat by someone on a bike with one gear. So often times I would watch those whose territory I was creeping up on, look waaaay back, see me coming, know that they had passed me and my one gear, and then pedal even harder. My goodness. I should have been frustrated but truthfully, I found a lot of humor in it. And by the end of it I think I picked off three of the six that had passed me on pavement. That was nice. I did have to work for it.
After tending to myself with a cool, wet towel, drinking copious Coke, and packing up my tent before an afternoon spritzer rolled in, I offered little on-course assistance to other riders who were facing their own struggles. Unfortunately I missed watching the podiums. I knew the usual suspects on the single-speeders' podium. Those guys are something else. I think we all finished 52 miles within 20-25 minutes of one another and we all rode different types of bikes, different types of tires, and different gearing. It really is a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure sort of thing. And it all boils back to "adventuring" my new catch phrase. Not winning. Winning probably is nice but maybe not as important. At least to me.
One last thing, hey Kris, I love my bikes. Thanks for facilitating my adventuring.