This Was Originally Written for the MORE monthly e-mail newsletter back in June... Just stumbled across it while I was cleaning up the MORE site and figured i'd post it here...
ECNASSCU 2004: I've Got to Climb THAT on a Singlespeed?
That’s what I was thinking as I checked out the course map and description for the ECNASSCU Part Deux for the first time. According to the description, stage 2 was a hill climb that gained 700’ in a mile. I’m normally at my limit riding Fountainhead on a singlespeed and I was starting to doubt the wisdom of trying to do this, and doing it while carrying half of my camera gear and trying to shoot the race. But I should start at the beginning and not in the middle.
I drove up to State College, PA on Saturday morning for ECNASSCU (the East Coast North American Singlespeed Championships of the Universe, Part Deux) and the MORE spring camping trip – convenient how those 2 events just happened to be in the same place on the same weekend – it’s almost as if someone planned it that way. Pulling into the campground around 12:30 I found Scott Scudamore and Mark Wigfield trying to out for what should have been a morning ride. I set up my tent and joined in the discussions around the map as we tried to hash out a route.
We finally set out on what we guessed was a 10-12 mile ride in Rothrock State Forest around 1:30, joined by fellow MORE members DT, Trevor, Eric and Lisa. The ride started with a 2 mile fire road climb that gained about 350’ from the campground. I was on my singlespeed, as I’d decided to stay in the spirit of the event and ride 1 gear all weekend, and I was feeling surprisingly good on the first climb. After some navigation discussions at the top of the climb we found our route and turned down a long smooth descent on an old fire road, losing over 1000’ in 3 miles. The downhill was pretty smooth, but you could let go of the brakes and hit speeds near 30 miles an hour.
At the bottom of the fire road we decided that instead of riding the road to the next section of the ride we could carry our bikes down a steep and rock portion of the off-limits to bikes Mid-State trail to get to a legal trail that ran along side a creek. The trail at the bottom was a blast with a couple of nice rock gardens that we sessioned for a while. Once we made through the trail we started up Long Mountain Trail to get back the vertical that we lost earlier in the ride. The trail turned out to be 4 mile, 1100’ climb up an overgrown fire road and I probably walked as much of as I rode.
Once we hit the top of trail it crossed a gas line right of way and became singletrack so tight that you could barely see the trailbed at times through the mountain laurel. We climbed for short time and then the trail turned into a sweet twisty downhill with a very steep and rocky section about half way down which we attempted to ride but I don’t think anyone managed it. After some more singletrack the trail dumped us out half way up the first fire road we climbed at the start of the ride and we sprinted back down to the campsites.
Later in the afternoon, as we drove into town, I looked at a copy of the course map for the race the next day and kept looking at the description of the 2nd stage. 700’ in a mile sounded like another long hard walk after my performance on Long Mountain. By the time we got back from town the rest of the group had arrived, set up camp and most had managed to fit in a ride. We finished the day with a great potluck dinner and settled in for a night around the campfire.
The next morning we had a great pancake breakfast – courtesy of Scott and his mobile kitchen – and then packed up the cars to head over to Tussey Mountain ski area, the staging point for the race. Since I, like most of the riders there, was there to ride and have fun, not to compete I brought my camera along and tried to shoot as much of the race as possible.
We started with a long but fairly gentle climb that started on road then became doubletrack and finally singletrack. At the top of the climb everyone lined up for the lemans start of stage 1 and I headed down the trail into the woods to find a good place to shoot. Since the race is a stage race I’d have plenty of opportunities to get ahead of the pack to set up. After the last racer came through I started down the trail, a sweet, rocky, undulating ridge top trail. I didn’t keep going for long as I had my first flat, then a second, and third. I ended up walking to the end of the stage and caught the support van just before it was about to leave. They gave me a “Rothrock Approved” inner tube to replace mine and gave me directions to the 2nd stage, since it had left long ago.
The stage 2 climb that I had been dreading was hard, but it was on a smooth gravel road and I surprised myself by managing to climb the whole thing without walking or stopping. At the top I managed to find the start of stage 3. Stage 3 was a 2-up downhill time trial, riders raced against the clock, starting 2 at a time about 30 feet from the entrance to the singletrack. When I arrived there were about two dozen pairs of riders left to start so I walked down the trail a short way to shoot the riders starting the stage. After the last riders started I rode back to the end of stage 2 with a couple of the Mt. Nittany Wheelworks riders who were helping to run the event. The finish of stage 2 was also the finish of stage 4, a climb on an old rough fire road and I wanted to be there early to make sure I was there when the racers finished in case it was contested at the end and finished in a sprint. After shooting the racers finishing (including a sprint) we rode over to the top of stage 5.
This is the stage that I’d been waiting for. I’d seen pictures and heard descriptions of it from last year. The racers were still waiting at the top and would ride it as a time trial, but the non-racers were already heading down the trail, and combined with the fact that I was carrying a lot camera gear I decided to ride down the fire roads to the finish. Once we got to the finish I walked up to the rock garden and spent the next 45 minutes shooting the action and watching riders come down and try to clean it. The atmosphere at the stage finish was amazing; everyone was watching and cheering on each and every rider as if they were old friends. There were a few crashes and less than half the field made it through to the finish without at least a dab. The biggest cheer was for an injured rider walking down the course.
Stage 6 started with a climb up a fire road that was followed by a beautiful bench cut downhill just technical enough to keep you on your toes. I got a head start on the climb and managed to make it up and find a place to shoot the downhill just ahead of most of the field. I rode down to the end of the stage just as everyone was forming up for stage 7, a short dab/no-dab section through a rock garden and 3 narrow footbridges. The atmosphere was like stage 5 with riders watching and cheering on everyone as they made their attempts on the rock garden and then the bridges. Very few riders managed to clean the whole section.
After the end of the stage 7 we rode trails back down to the ski area where Scott was firing up the grill for the post-race party. After some food and beer the top finishers and a wild card faced off on the go-kart track to decide the winner. DT rode the whole race fixed-gear and got the wild card slot. In the end go-kart the race was won by the same rider who’d won the most points during the race, a local road pro.
We rounded out the weekend with another night around the campfire and another great pancake breakfast, this one provided by Bill Trossen. All-in-all it was a great weekend. The weather was great, as was the company and the riding. If you’re thinking about heading up to the state college area I’ve got a couple of quick recommendations. First, get some nice thick tubes and keep the pressure in your tires higher then usual, and second, make sure you’ve got a map and some local knowledge of the trails – Rothrock is a huge park, not all of the trails are well marked, and some a definitely a lot better in certain directions.