How high’s the water momma?
Five feet high and rising.
How high’s the water papa?
She said it’s five feet high and rising.
- Johny Cash
Wilson Creek runs clean and cool most of the time, gurgling over a 1930’s dam pretending to be a lovely clear running trout stream flowing lazily southward out of Douthat State Park in the Alleghany Highlands of Virginia. I hate Wilson Creek.
A number of distinct logistics nightmares rob race directors of sleep: injury potential, clear and complete course marking, course sabotage, Rescue Squad support, ops plan, adequate dependable volunteers, so forth. Weather, the bad kind, owns the highspot on on that list. By May, the myriad of nasty jet stream delivered byproducts of winter have usually melted away (In this, the winter with no end, never so sure).
I hate Wilson Creek. The precise year evades me, but on the first Sunday in May of about 2000, wide awake I was introduced to the Babadook, whose form in this legend is described as 9 inches of gushing rain, lashing a small patch of Bath County in just 2 hours time a bit after midnight. At 11 that night, I sat outside gazing at stars under a clear, jet black sky whilst pondering the Middle Mountain Momma ops plan for the race in the morning.
Water slakes quickly down the solid slopes of these ancient Alleghanys, finding creases and crevasses that flow, in accordance with gravity’s law, downward into the rivers and creeks. During supercells, even the finest of all natural drainage systems get overwhelmed and pukes brown junked up water all over the place,and on down into Wilson Creek, dragging dirt, trees, leaves, small rodents, and whatever it grabs along with it.
Up that morning, the rain was gone. Hot damn! There’s a race on. To the staging area at once!
The green truck was already there. The dirt road where it sat leads to the staging zone a quarter mile up and across the low water bridge below the dam. A fellow named Tad wearing a natty state park uniform tersely informs me without so much as a g’mornin that “there won’t be no race today. Water’s 5 feet over the bridge.” Staging and racing takes place just the other side of the bridge. Can’t remember too much after that, stunned except all the folks setup in Campground C (renamed Carson) also on the other side of a sister bridge downstream, were awarded an extra nights free camping. Among the stranded, pro and National Champ Sue Haywood.
I hate Wilson Creek. The dam looked like a brown Niagara with uprooted trees and stumps spilling over rather than lunatics in barrels.
Racers en route had no idea what with a decent forecast for the day. Sponsors and food prep folks en route had no idea. Despite previous experience with challenging conditions, I’d never scratched a race before, so therefore lacked experience doing so. What I did know was a foul, twisted gut sickness with random spastic thoughts firing through my thinking bit, seeking logic and flow, but finding only fog and disorientation.
There are, of course, things much much worse. Life, the story goes, carries on. We work on it, clean up the mess and move on. This, the rain of the century was now behind us, so we’re good for a hundred years, right? No way this happens again.
Except it did. Twice.
The worst part of do-overs isn’t refunds nor the doing again that which was done. You simply lose all but maybe one third participation. This race isn’t required, like a pro or NICA race, with racer’s calendars all but set--understandable.
2011, rain yes, but we launched the 9:30AM XXC racers before the big stuff started coming down. God bless those folks who endure through dark George Washington National Forest backcountry while Wilson Creek crept higher and higher. Well shy of the noon XC start, the water lapped over and we were forced to evacuate staging, and get across Wilson Creek quickly. There would be no XC, and there was no way to notify the 40 mile racers on course. A re-route was quickly engineered, bypassing Stony Run. Miraculously, everyone made it out alive, damp, not defeated. We would return, and run a meager XC a few weeks anon.
2017, rain yes, arriving a few days ahead of raceday despite 6 weeks of drought. Multi inches, submerged bridges, the green truck emerges: “won’t be a race Sunday.” My already lean race operation is reeling, wobbly as my constitution on the brink of submerging neath the thrashing brown water of Wilson Creek. Regroup, alas, redo, and keep moving.
May 4, me and #1 son in for Lasso Loop recon and markup. It’s hot, dry. The Wilson Creek two time crossing is low, incredibly clear. We were about to be double crossed.
The green truck arrived on Saturday, May 5. “Big rain’s coming, 2 inches or more. Cancellation is likely for tomorrow’s race.” No, just...no.
No rain most all that day, just a brief but sturdy downpour around 3 in the afternoon. Denial is a God given emotional protection circuit. Tack up the last of infinity arrows Momma requires. Head to to town for a Tavern Burger and IPA then home to the Buckhorne Bungalow to wait and see and fend off dread. It rains more than 2 inches that night.
No rain that morning, had we dodged the deluge? As one who counts only hatched chicks, feelings were short of optimistic though it was not raining! Driving in alongside my liquid nemesis I observed the water was high and milky. Uh oh. The Camp Carson roadway to staging approached...do I spy the green truck? No green truck? No green truck! There’s a race on...the 20th year, 21st running of Middle Mountain Momma. Not only was no green truck there to shut us down, there was no contact with any park officials all day long. So quiet like we weren’t even there.
We were the eye of the storm
Despite the weather we had 40 XXC racers start, and one get robbed of a start because of a cracked frame. We've since talked to Albert, and he has gotten his frame welded!
When I put on races, markings are number one. I am, after all, a professional. You can find many trailhead signs and trees out at Douthat State Park with many staples lodged in them. My son, posted up at this turn in order to tell riders to go down the Salt Stump Trail (and snap some great shots!). Look closely at the two arrows above. Sabotage is one thing, but don't take down me and my son's hard work.
Philicia and Robert Marion from Carpediem Racingcame out. From fatbikes, to electric bikes, to XC this couple does it all and we love the enthusiasm and drive!
I'll be honest, this is the longest I've ridden my bike.
- Lucas Weaver
Oh I'm not much of a mountain biker.
- Andie Thompson, 1st Place XC Sport Women
I just started riding 4 months ago
- Mike Sutherland, XXC 40 mile racer
And the rain came down
Like an angel come down from above
And the rain came down
It’ll wash you away and there ain’t never enough.
- Steve Earle