Fall break is one of many long weekends in college, depending on how thirsty your Thursdays are. On the first weekend of October, most freshmen drive home, some Greeks go to formal and others probably sit in their apartments alone with a couple Mike’s Hard Lemonades waiting for their friends to get back.
I did not go to the beach. I didn’t stay home, and I definitely didn’t wallow in my own loneliness. Instead, I packed my bags and went to Brevard, North Carolina, to compete in an endurance mountain bike race or an “enduro.”
In the outdoor sports community, it is commonly said that there are two types of fun. Type I is anything that’s fun to do and fun to remember. For example, going to a Mac DeMarco concert was a ton of fun, and I enjoy reminiscing about it.
Type II fun usually sucks when you’re doing it, but you’re going to be proud when you finish. For example, I ran a 10K once, and it was chapter one in my book of bad ideas, but after I finished I was stoked about it. This enduro was going to be type II fun.
I woke up at 5:30 a.m., bright and early to meet my pal, Ryan Lane. If we obeyed standard traffic laws, we should have gotten to North Carolina around 3 p.m. Instead, we didn’t, and we got there at 2 p.m.— including a leisurely stop at a Bojangles.
When we arrived in Pisgah National Forest, we pre-rode some of the race stages. We went to the hardest parts of the course to make sure we knew what was coming for us the next morning. Unbeknownst to me, no amount of preparation was going to prepare me for the ass beating of a lifetime.
Saturday morning was race day. We woke up before the sun and had breakfast in the misty cove of hemlock tress that was our campsite. We packed up and drove to the entrance of Pisgah National Forest, where we’d later be shuttled to the start.
The race is like this: There are three stages of gnarly downhill trails that are timed. In between those stages are grueling uphill trails and sections so steep and rocky that you have to carry your bike. We have six and a half hours to finish the 20-mile race. The stages are timed, but the rest of the race isn’t. The person with the fastest times on the three sections wins.
9:30 a.m., mile 0, 2490 feet
I press start on my watch and my suffering begins.
9:45 a.m., mile .75, 2746 feet
I hate myself right now. This hill I’m climbing is 4 miles long, and I’ve already biked the height of Pearce-Ford Tower. I put on my best attitude and push on.
10:20 a.m., mile 4.6, 3596 feet
Sweet baby Jesus, I’ve made it to the top. I take a break to eat a Clif bar before I hike my bike up an awful wooden staircase seemingly held together by dirt and prayers.
11:30 a.m., mile 6, 4078 feet
Joke’s on me. Just when I think it’s over, I have to bike/hike the height of PFT twice.
There is a massive line to start stage one. I sit in my sweat for half an hour and wait. The ridge we’re on is so high it’s literally in a cloud, so the temperature is hovering around 64 degrees and it’s begun to drizzle.
12:30ish, mile 8.4, 2664 feet
The unfair reality of mountain biking is that you spend hours climbing uphill, suffering, and the reward of speeding downhill takes a fraction of the time. What took me two hours to bike up, now takes me about 17 minutes to ride down.
???, mile 12.6, 3579 feet
Time is an illusion. The wind blows and shakes the leaves from the trees. The wind blows and whistles through the hollow shell of the man I once was at the start of the race.
1:30 p.m., mile 14.2, 4626 feet
My bike is a third of my body weight, and I have to carry it for the last half hour. I pass a beautiful overlook at the peak of Black Mountain and think the only thing that would make the view better is if I threw myself off into it.
As I munch on an energy bar and slurp from my water bottle, I hear an unmistakable eastern Kentucky drawl from behind me.
Story time: when I was younger, I went to summer camp in North Carolina, and I did a lot of mountain biking. One of the bike counselors, Dwayne, was from Berea. We bonded over being the only ones from Kentucky. He was an awesome guy and an even better biker. Last time I saw him was in 2012.
Sure enough, it’s Dwayne. The experience is surreal. This guy got me into mountain biking when I was 15. Now, I am 20 years old and a mountain bike counselor at the same camp; now, we’re competing against each other — and by “competing,” I mean he smoked my time by a solid 15 minutes.
It’s a small world, folks.
I give Dwayne my best as he puts the hammer down on stage two. He flies off into the woods as cowbells clang, clang, clang through the still mountain air. Soon after, I drop into one of the hardest stages of the race.
2:00 p.m., mile 15.4, 3392 feet
The bottom of stage two is the time to flex if you can. There is a long straight-away of four and five-foot drops, large rocks called “baby heads” because they’re the size of guess what, and everyone is at the bottom watching racers haul it to the bottom. One of the best parts about racing is watching everyone thrash downhill at 20 mph. This stage wrecked my arms and legs because of non-stop drops. The graph that shows my elevation change on my watch is a straight line going down.
2:30 p.m., mile 15.8, 3642 feet
The transition from stage two to stage three is a good break. I lower my heart rate, eat some more and prepare myself for the longest stage yet, which is a full mile longer but still just as steep as the rest. Everyone at the top of stage 3 is in good spirits. We know the end (and the free beer) is near. As the day goes on, I don’t regret signing up for this race. My body is screaming in pain but in a good way. I’m stoked about the adventure. I’m determined to make this last run a fast one.
3:00 p.m., mile 20, 2274 feet
The bottom of stage three is more lit than a WKU tailgate in the Valley (I mean, South Lawn). Riders are lined up at the bottom cracking cold ones and getting rowdy for everyone racing down the mountain. I’m sucking for air and my wrist is bleeding from where my watch rubbed all the skin off, but it doesn’t stop me from letting go of the brakes and putting on a show for the folks at the end. As my timing chip beeped across the finish, I gave my longest yeehaw ever.
I completed my first enduro, and it was the gnarliest, fastest, most fun race ever. Being here is totally worth neglecting the seven assignments I haven’t started that were assigned a week ago…
You won’t find me sitting on a beach during a school break. If the activity sounds horrible on paper, but fun in retrospect, sign me up, fam. Type II fun is the best type, and you can’t argue with me.