The Long Road To
by Yuri Eliashevsky
Photo's by Yuri Eliashevsky
On July 10th, 2015, I experienced pleasure and pain as I took out professional coach and finisher of multiple Ironmans, Mike McQueen, for a guided, one-on-one backcountry tour of the Pisgah National Forest Ranger District. This trip evolved into Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure’s record for longest single-day route in terms of distance, duration, and total elevation gain and descended. Over the course of riding the entire Black Mountain Trail, the entire Squirrel Gap Trail, and the entire Turkey Pen Gap Trail, with several other link-ups so that these goals could be achieved, Mike and I became brothers-in-arms and life-long friends, despite Mike living in Wisconsin and me living in Hendersonville, North Carolina.
As the day progressed our fatigue hastened due to increasing temperature and humidity, and the fact that our method for purifying water experienced a major hiccup when Mike unexpectedly ejected and lost one bottle descending Avery Creek Trail. This resulted in us splitting one bottle equivalently into each of our Camelbaks in an approximate half-hour increment. No sooner did we add these eight ounces of iodine infused water to our packs did we found ourselves consuming it. After waiting the suggested half an hour to pass so that the iodine tablets we were using to purify would cure, we would then immediately repeat the cycle. This was manageable. Down low, near streams and springs. In the shade that the forest canopy provided. However, this issue tested our limits and further put us in the red as we climbed the last but most significant section of Black Mountain. This stretch is devoid of any water as the seasonal spring near the intersection with Turkey Pen Gap Trail was dry, something that I considered earlier in the day. Close to the summit and recognizing that we would have approximately forty-five minutes of downhill coming very soon, being the most senior and experienced mountain bike guide on staff, I dug into my first aid kit and pulled out essential 'emergency whiskey.' Despite Asheville's own Troy & Sons working magic in numbing the pain, quenching our thirst, and ensuring smiles for miles, we unfortunately arrived back to the Outback two hours after last call at the Pisgah Tavern, the local watering hole, with me unable to fulfill the mid-day promise of a cold beer to celebrate our achievement at the time when we surpassed the mileage record and then later on, our survival.
Ten and a half hours on the bike with a partner in tow does things to relationships. It develops them. It cements them. Reflecting on some of my longest rides, I have maintained two close partnerships of five years each, and have yet to experience anything other than a successful Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race (PMBAR). And now, two significant Pisgah Running Adventure Race (PRAR) finishes. My son Oliver was conceived after fifteen and a half hours of riding following the 2011 PMBAR. I was the best man in my 2014 PMBAR and PRAR partner’s wedding. And I served as host to both the female and male Wisconsin State Cycle-Cross Champions following my experience with Mike.
On December 12th and 13th, 2015, Hendersonville, NC staged the North Carolina Cycle-Cross Grand Prix. On January 9th and 10th 2016, Asheville, NC will host the 2016 Cycle-Cross National Championships less than a half an hour drive north. Kayla Doan and Casey Hildebrant, both of Wisconsin, met mid-state and carpooled the thirteen hours from Wisconsin to Western North Carolina. Three bikes on the roof, one bike in the back seat, and extra wheels packed in any available nook and cranny up top, in the trunk, behind seats, on seats, on laps, you name it, arriving the morning of Friday, December 11th, with hopes to earn a few UCI points over the weekend and qualify themselves for the quickly approaching national championship. Both racing in the pro category, it was Kayla’s first pro race and watching her prepare it was apparent that she was keeping her nerves in check but that anxiety was present. Checklists were made and double-checked. Tire pressure was debated, checked, okayed, and then checked, debated, and inflated, and then okayed again. Routines were apparent and risks with food were avoided. Water was consumed religiously and alcohol avoided religiously. Casey, although younger, exhibited more experience and a calm and collected attitude both days. He was excited to be surrounded by the mountains, or, “in the mountains,” but it seemed that little phased him. Except for the apparently delicious wood-fired pizza that he ordered both nights at West First. The, “I eat a lot” comment made on the first night was the precursor to finishing his entire large pizza in one sitting. Taken back by this particular restaurant’s devotion to serving real food, the decision to return for their second night’s dinner was made without complaint or hesitation. Casey, true to form, ordered the same meal, this time with a large salad. This would guarantee that he would be full. Toasts were made, achievements celebrated.
Kayla finished her debut in the pro category in the money in the 20th spot. She was pulled from the race with one lap to go on day two, finishing 22nd, but was more than satisfied with her effort. Slightly awestruck by her peers, judging by her stories and smiles following several introductions, her excitement was as contagious as it was refreshing.
Casey finished in 19th on day one, and on day two fell from 12th place with two laps to go, to 18th place, the result of clipping the fence and crashing, and then being used by the 16th and 17th place finishers who wheel-sucked throughout the last half of the last lap to out sprint him on the paved, straight-away finish as he led them out; unable to challenge but maintaining a significant gap on 19th and 20th places. As a spectator and an experienced rider, it was heartbreaking to predict and then watch what you knew was inevitably going to play out.
With both champions either working or attending college, or both, their visit to WNC was certainly a whirlwind tour. Hopes to scout out the Biltmore Estate, the site of the national championships were scrapped. No mountain bike rides could be scheduled. Although the weather cooperated, with these out-of-towners experiencing a far cry from the below-freezing temperatures and snow that they had left in Wisconsin, they were fortunate that the predicted rain held off until Monday, after their departure, with Saturday and Sunday filled to the brim with sun or slightly overcast skies and 70 degrees. Kayla justified the long car ride in itself by just being able to ride her bike in these conditions. Casey commented that the last time he experienced anything close to these unseasonably warm and dry conditions was in early October. In fact, “You embrace riding indoors. Mike loves riding indoors. He’ll do three hours on his trainer and loves it. I ride rollers most of the time. The problem is, you get confident, or you still get bored, and I’ve ridden off them several times this season already. That wakes you up.” On his second day, Casey had looked forward to the conditions overnight so much that he rearranged his routines and the preparation of his gear so that he could ride from the house to the venue and then back, despite his tired legs. He felt that now was his chance to get it if he could, something to savor and dream about during the long car ride home. Their car ride was only slightly shorter than the time they spent sleeping, preparing, and racing in Hendersonville over the two days. Playing almost a parental role through the weekend, their long drive home made my heart sad. Although in reflection, when I was their age, a nine-hour drive to just be rewarded with a kiss, was nothing. The things you do when you are in love.