Early season. The mysterious time of the year when every racer wonders if the work they put in during the off season was enough. Having had a less-than-stellar last season and wanting to get right back into racing, I jumped on the first opportunity to race an enduro. That race was The Rattling Creek Enduro in Lykens, Pennsylvania – a part of the Mid Atlantic Super Series (MASS). MASS is a huge series of XC and Endurance events in the Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland region and draws huge turnout from the many nearby metropolitan areas. This year, they’re adding a 7 stop All-Mountain series. I had a hunch that this race was going to be a very physical, fitness oriented race and wouldn’t suit my riding style, but what better way to evaluate where your fitness is at if not by throwing yourself in with some really fast XC guys? And in any case, there’s no way to push yourself harder than at a race, so I deemed this a training race and registered.
Brandon Draugelis, 2nd place finisher on the day, rocks Stage 3
I got a late start and made it to the venue late in the afternoon on Saturday. Without hesitation, I proceeded to get on the bike and preride the course. This would be a backcountry race so no lifts or shuttles. Ride the segments in the sequence that they will appear in the race and try to get a feel for the race stages. One run on each stage will have to do. The ride started with a hefty climb to the start of the first “bonus” stage. This is just a segment of trail to get first timers acquainted with the SportIdent chip timing system. This one was flat and really really rocky. The kind of rocks that stop you in your tracks and flip you over the bars if you’re not paying constant attention. I was glad this wasn’t a race stage.
Shortly after this was the actual Stage 1. This one was the shortest stage of the day at around 6 minutes. A fast start on the gravel followed by a 90 degree right turn into single track that would catch more than a few people off guard. Some tight turns in the trees but mostly straight forward, flat, pedal your ass off kinda stage. I quickly realized that my 5/6” travel trail bike was far from the ideal weapon for this weekend. The transfer to Stage 2 was a big gravel road climb that would have to be done twice during the race. On Sunday, the top of the climb would reward the riders with a really nice checkpoint with plenty of snacks and drinks.
Stage 2 was what I’d come to dread all weekend. This one was the longest and by far the most physical stage. Yet again, starting out on a fast gravel road and quickly ducking into wooded singletrack, this was a roughly 13 minute stretch of smooth, flat pedalling and really fun, really fast winding downward-trending sections. This stage would be hell during the race, I thought. The transfer to Stage 3 was the biggest one of the day, utilizing the same gravel climb from before, and adding a long section of chunky, unforgiving singletrack.
At this point in my practice ride, I was steadily losing light and warmth. Lucky for me, Mike Kuhn was driving by on his way back from course set up and offered me a ride to the start of the last stage. Mike is the organizer of the weekend and a whole slew of other area races, including the legendary Trans-Sylvania Epic stage race. We got a chance to chat about course design, race trends, and other events he’s got lined up for the year. Mike informed me that this race was a stepping stone to familiarize MASS racers with a new racing discipline in an area that hasn’t been exposed to much enduro racing. Generally, you have to travel south – Virginia/North Carolina, or north – Vermont/New Hampshire, to hit the big enduro races.
Unknown rider mashing through one of the many flat pedally bits
Finally, we were at the start of the last stage. At this point, the darkness has overtaken entirely and I set up the light I brought just for the occasion. This stage proved to be the most interesting one and the best suited to me. It had more elevation drop, chunkier rocks and a slower overall speed than the rest of the stages. It was also partially a fresh cut trail, having only been broken in by the hundred or so endurance racers from previously in the day. The very bottom was a full out sprint down a gravel road. I got down to the bottom feeling excited about the last stage, but wondering if the preride was worth it. The full loop was around 21 miles with 2200 ft of elevation gain. I tried not to push it but with shorter range gearing, my legs were feeling a little heavier than I would have preferred. Food and sleep would hopefully help with recovery and hopefully, the insight I got from preriding would outweigh the toll it took on my legs.
Karen Talley Mead, 3rd place Open finds a spot of dirt in a sea of rocks
Race day. It was great to see some familiar faces hanging around the parking lot, but there were also plenty of people I’ve never raced against before. XC bikes and Lycra were abundant, it was reminiscent of my bygone XC racing days. After a brief rider meeting, we were off and to my surprise, my legs felt well rested. I was very impressed with course marking. It was very well executed and all the markers were consistent and easy to read. All the starts and finishes of the stages were marked with multiple sings, somewhat like traffic lights: 4 consecutive yellow circles followed by a green one at the start, and 4 yellow circles followed by a red at the finish. I haven’t seen this at any other race but it’s something I wish every race had. This format made it pretty much impossible to miss the finish and mentally prepared you for the beginning and end of a big effort.
Paul Dotsenko at the mossy finish of the last stage
Stage 1 went smoothly, I didn’t miss the sharp right hander and other than stuffing myself between some tight trees, my effort was good for a 4th place on the stage. Not bad. Hmm. Stage 2 really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I knew I wouldn’t be as fast as some others, but 6th on a very long physical stage was Ok with me. Getting back up to the last stage, my legs were definitely feeling it. Good thing that what was left was the best stage of the day that played to my strengths and relied more on technical skill than anything else. Everything started out great and I felt incredibly good, thinking I might even take the win on this stage. That was until an unfortunate sequence of events that led to my chain dropping off my chainring and under my chainguide – requiring me to get off the bike and bust out my multi-tool. By the time I was done, I could see my friend Dillon Van Wart catching up to me. I knew a solid performance on this stage wouldn’t put me in contention for the win, but it would have been great to get a good result on this stage. Well, as they say, that’s racing for you.
All in all, this was a great weekend. It was also great to see and catch up with some familiar faces and meet some new ones. It’s fair to say that the first two stages were more XC stage racing than anything, with the 3rd stage resembling conventional enduro racing. Nonetheless, I got 45 offroad miles done in a weekend and got a pretty good idea of where my fitness level lies at this point in the season. This, more than anything, was the point of the race for me, and my excitement for the season is growing bigger and bigger. Congrats to the winners Stephan Kincaid and Selene Yeager. See you all at the next one!