Today’s Guest Blogger is Joe Rinhart. Thanks for sharing your story Joe. -Kid
Smiles. Everyone was smiling. Some guy just did a full-speed endo that sent him head-on into Jesse and his bike into me and even he was sort of smiling. He’d need a few stitches in his arm but, hey, we could all move forward.
Forward motion is all you need for happiness during PMBAR - the Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race. Following an unknown route in the middle of Western North Carolina’s famous trail system, it’s not the longest in time or distance, but it’s the singularly most intense event I’ve ever done. Two-person teams expect ten thousand feet of climbing while riding fifty to seventy miles over multiple ridges, crumbling rock fields, and thigh-thick roots. Overnight survival gear is mandatory.
The rule of thumb for visiting riders is to divide your average speed and distance by two or three and bring two of everything: everyone here knows that Pisgah breaks bikes.
Jesse and I aren’t here for speed. Instead, we both like to bite off things we’re not sure we can chew. As we texted our plans on Facebook, they spiraled to a point that his Iron(wo)man-triathlete wife called “that fine line between badass and dumbass.”
“Full-suspension or Fargo-style?”
“There is a large part of me that wants to say Fargo...”
“Then Fargo it is.”
“Do we go whole-hog bikepacking and ride to and from?”
“I see no other way to do it but whole hog.”
Settled. Three days would see us ride the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Mills River valley, camp at the base of Black Mountain, race, sleep, and then ride home.
Friday & Fargos
After a pavement ride from Asheville to Brevard, NC we were in the same place Bike Magazine used to do its 2012 “Bible of Bikes” issue. Guys like Seb Kemp tested the longer-travel All-Mountain category on these trails.
Instead of inches of travel, we rolled into our campsite at dusk on fully rigid drop bar 29er Salsa Fargos loaded with bags and gear. When the handlebar and seatbags came off they began their transformation from cargo-hauling tour bikes to singletrack machines. We grinned as a kid rode by wearing glow sticks, singing while she carved curves into the campground road. Those of you who love riding know the honest and harmless joy that made us smile.
Jesse and I are both more than mildly enthusiastic about bikes in general and Fargos in specific. Whenever Kirk Luedtke says “Oh lord, it’s the Fargo Twins” or I show up on my full-suspension bike and someone asks where my “crazy ‘cross thing” is, I chuckle with a bit of pride. We’re probably both guilty of “inappropriately enthusiastic Fargoing.” He still apologizes every time he says “I love this bike,” but I’m right there with him. It’s the one bike I can’t imagine selling. With a change in tire pressure I can carve singletrack, get lost on a weeklong camping trip, or just tow my kids to a picnic at the Biltmore estate.
An evening trip to a barbeque restaurant came complete with fried pickles and a live bluegrass jam session based on the Smokey and the Bandit theme song. Stomachs full, we went to sleep. We had a long way to go and a fourteen-hour time limit to get there. One PMBAR vet said it couldn’t be done.
“Teams must start the event with Black Mountain Trail. Teams must end the event with Black Mountain Trail. Teams must reach all three of the mandatory checkpoints to finish. Teams must reach five out of seven checkpoints (including mandatory) to finish. Ignorance of the rules is not an excuse.” There are no aid stations, no support, and no convenience stores—you carry your own food and find your own water.
Eric Wever of Pisgah Productions finishes reading the PMBAR rules and says “Go.”
Everyone sits down.
Seriously. About twenty people who know Pisgah by heart take off while another hundred and sixty sit down and go nowhere. Everyone else consults a map for a little while. Until now, nobody knows where the checkpoints are. Three are mandatory, placed to make sure you face hard decisions over a long day. Along the way, you also need to reach two of four optional checkpoints to be considered a finisher. Some teams will reach all seven, scoring four hours’ worth of time bonuses.
Starting and ending on Black Mountain is particularly cruel. It’s a trail nobody normally rides uphill. Strava’s segment pegs it at 1800 feet of climbing in 2.5 miles, mostly up eroded waterbars and small rock ledges.
In all fairness to the PMBAR vet who said we wouldn’t show up on our Fargos, he’s the same one who told me we’d be fine if we just kept moving forward. If you’re moving forward, you’ll be happy. We move forward and it seems to work.
We later realized our selected route fit our “can we make it harder?” style. Going up Black Mountain, we decide to “ride” (hike) “down” (involving much “up”) to the summit of Clawhammer mountain to get to our first optional checkpoint. Descending, our choice is validated—very fast teams are already coming back up to the summit of Black, getting ready to ride Turkey Pen over to its trailhead.
Turkey Pen alternates between flowy downhill and raw, violent hike-a-bikes. My computer tops 30% before we’re moving so slowly it can’t give a reading. West-to-east, it has 1700 feet of descent and 800 feet of climbing in five miles. The downhill isn’t overly technical, the kind of terrain where I brake less than Jesse, so I take the lead. One hike-a-bike is so steep it involves us passing our bikes upwards through a downed tree before pulling ourselves up and through it. Jesse leads us downhill over rocks, steps, and sixteen-inch drops before I take back over in a parking lot, bombing a gravel road and bunny hopping horse manure to our first mandatory checkpoint.
We have a choice: a direct climbing route that’ll go over the top of the infamous Pilot Rock or an indirect and easier ride along Bradley Creek and up Laurel Mtn., Pilot’s sister trail. The direct route is going to be rougher, but there’s an optional checkpoint along the way, so it’s our route.
That’s when two teams bomb down Squirrel Gap. “Downhill yields to uphill” is in the rulebook, but safety tells us to get out of the way. It doesn’t help: the second rider loses it and he flies into Jesse. I’m registering this when I realize his bike is still flying at my head. Luckily, it’s moving tires-first, and I stop it with my Fargo’s front wheel and my left tricep. Hours later, Jesse points out a tire print that’s still across my arm.
Everyone sorts themselves out. All bikes are working. All bodies are working. There’s some nervous laughter and more than one “That was lucky.” That’s the tone Pisgah Productions sets for this event: it’s about the adventure that is getting yourself to the end, not beating the other rider to it.
Clipping back in, it’s up and over Squirrel, picking up our second optional checkpoint and then down Horse Cove to the start of Pilot Rock.
Like most people, I’ve never been up it. Unlike most people, Jesse has: “I tried it one day when it was really fogged in and wet and horrible to see what it was like, just in case we had to do this. It’s really not that bad.”
I’d seen some very knowledgeable people use the Pilot out-and-back to cut miles but it means climbing and hiking 1500 feet in two miles, descending half that in one mile, and then going back. Kirk’s out spectating and brain checks us at the bottom—“You know you’re doing this backwards, right? You are not lost, and you are aware of where you are and what you’re about to do?” We each treat a bottle of creek water and head up.
Two miles and an hour later, we go over the top, drop down to Sassafras Gap, and score our second mandatory and fourth overall checkpoint.
Leading the hike back up, I’m chanting “Relax, breath, loose on the bars,” under my breath. I was secretly afraid of the famously rocky and technical Pilot downhill. I’d never ridden anything but my full suspension here, and even that takes me to my limit.
Rolling down, Jesse starts making a game of trying to clean loose and rocky switchbacks. Some have serious falls into rhododendron safety nets. His game works. Before I know it we’re just two kids riding bikes, seeing who can ride down what. By the bottom, we’re laughing and whooping it up. Fargos do that to you, peeling back the complication of multi-pivot suspension and hydraulic brakes, lowering your speed a bit, and taking you back to when you were just riding along with your buddies, jumping curbs and daring each other to ride down steps.
I have a laughter fit as we gravel grind to the thankfully in-bounds Pink Beds water fountain before climbing Club Gap to the top of the Avery Creek trail. After a trip down its eroded and technical upper half we score our fifth and final checkpoint and spin to the base of the day’s last climb.
Ending with the Black Mountain trail means that any route to the finish involves climbing Black Mountain. Since we did Turkey Pen first, we get a gravel grind to the top. It may be 1100 feet in under four miles, but we’ve got the start of a beautiful sunset, a cool breeze, and scenery for miles. Kevin Dobo is out spectating and meets us coming down the road. A true gentleman, he turns around and rides back up with us for a bit, giving us encouragement the whole way.
We cross the gap, descend Black Mountain, get our picture taken by Erik, and see the best sight of the day: two massive Sharpie-labeled coolers. One says “Burritos” and the other says “Beer.” We eat, drink, swap stories with friends, and smile at the kids riding bikes and playing with toys on the podium. Then we realize our day’s not done: we don’t have any recovery drinks or food in our campsite.
The cashier at the grocery store says says nothing to the smelly, muddy, slightly bloody, utterly happy guys buying milk, orange juice, protein shakes, mango smoothies, potato chips, apples, and tallboys.
Jesse showers first and is almost asleep when I get back to our campsite. I make it about three sips into my beer before I’m out.
Back To Asheville
After a breakfast stop at the store, it’s time to head home. It’s a slower trip than the ride south. These trips help get me ready to deal with the real world, bringing values into focus, but I always find myself hesitant to leave behind this therapeutic simplicity. PMBAR’s helped me focus on challenge, growth, and community support. Riding with teammates like Jesse develops trust and teamwork—any decision Jesse or I made counted as one we both made, and blame wouldn’t enter into it. And, of course, there’s fun and two-wheeled adventure—nothing compares to the Fargo.
The Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race: that was one good adventure…by bike.
ABOUT THE GUEST BLOGGER: JOE RINEHART
As a kid, I always loved riding a bike. When I hit 240 lb in college, I knew a change was in order. Bikes have been part of my life ever since—first as I dropped weight, then I raced crits and XC events, and now I sink deeper and deeper into the world of off-road endurance. I’m not the fastest guy to the finish, so I make a point of turning every ride and event into a personal challenge, a learning experience, and a chance to share this passion with others.
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