Fog slowly rolled over the water that early morning, engulfing trees, and no doubt hiding the infamous creature that walks among us. Maybe it's just the feeling a rider gets before any XXC event, like someone or something is watching, waiting for you to make the wrong move. As starting time drew nearer and nearer, legs started spinning, coffees were finished, and the anxious chatter of racers filled the forest with light laughter and excitement. It was almost as if the creature himself decided the beeping of 70 garmins was enough to drive him crazy, because as Kyle Inman said "GO!!" the sun shone down on everyone and welcomed us to a long day in the woods.
A little bit of gravel grinding to get the 44 mile long day started is nothing to complain about, it is here when riders really get a chance to think about what in the hell they've gotten themselves into. Here is where they ask the real questions, such as "Why do I race XXC instead of just enduro?" A couple miles of this and it's time for the first bit of single track, weaving through the enchanted forest as sunshine slices through the pines puts everything back into perspective and we remember why we do it.
After a ridiculous steep climb, that was pushing even my wimpy gearing (28 x 42), fun was abound on lakeside as riders started their trek over to climb Trough. The first aid station at mile 15 was all smiles and sandwiches as riders started to get stoked for the first big decent down Buck.
Time of day: I don't remember — weather at the time of Hi De Ho climb: HOT. This climb is the epitome of the creature race; its the steepest, longest, and starts right after very easy (and tempting) bail point. Those of us that choose to pedal are as big of a monster as the creature himself, the thighs are burning, and the sweat is pouring, but the stoke from other riders keeps your smash levels high! Often referred to as "Hike De Ho" or "Hi De No" I am a firm believer that the only reason people climb this trail is for the promise of Gauntlet. (Thanks to those volunteers up at the top with lotsa water to dump on my overheated head).
Also featured in the creatureduro, Gauntlet is a screaming two mile downhill, while its easy to overcook some turns and she sends you over some rocky water bars, this trail is fun and fast enough to get the adrenaline pumping and keep any XXC rider going.
Post Gauntlet, riders backtrack along lakeside and fight the urge to jump into the Cove to cool off as this years 85 degree heat cooked you in your all black kit. Routing you around the mountain on some easy flow and then dropping you down the rooty, rocky, off camber Comet, the creature really does just keep you guessing. As your water supply runs low Four Gorges really plays with your mind as each crest looks like the final downhill before the last aid station.
After spending 10—wait.. no that cant be right. Actually, strava has concurred really only 10 miles.. the next aid station waits for you at mile 30. Just The Tight Gear, a local bike shop located just a few miles down the road from Carvins Cove, volunteers man this aid station and get you and your bike ready for (in my humble opinion) the best trail Carvins Cove has to offer– Rattlin Run!
TRIALS FOR MILES!!?!? Personally, Rattlin Run is a trail that's worth spending two hours on if you ever get the chance. The trail rides great both ways, has technical rock moves, and no matter what it ends in a downhill. While most of us don't have the luxury of sessioning our skills during XXC races, you're going to find yourself off the bike at at least one point on this trail , just enjoy the hike because more climbing lays ahead on arrowhead.
After Rattlin Run comes to an end you're really in the home stretch! Only a couple miles left of single track. This year some riders were greeted by a black bear on arrowhead, he didn't seem to mind the company and perhaps he was just there to protect us from the bigger animals in those woods. Waving goodbye to Mr. Bear, riders bomb down the final single track decent, take a sharp left back onto gravel, then gas it!
I think no matter what point you're at leg wise, the mental hype kicks in at the end of any long distance mountain bike race and you are made whole again. An uphill finish at the Creature gives riders the time to listen to everyone waiting at the finish line (with cold beer and food) and enables them to finish strong with a big grin spread across their face. When you cross the finish line, hear the cheers, and whip your legs around your top tube to put both feet on the ground that's when the question really is answered.
"Why do I do this?"
It's the feeling in the end: the tired, the happy, the hungry, the sore, the inarguable fact that the hours spend on a mountain bike are some of the best ones in the world.