Gnar, Old school West Virginia style Gnar. That’s how Gunnar Shogren, the 2010 Masters winner of last year’s Revenge of the Rattlesnake, described this year’s edition. With my average speed clocking in at just over 8 miles-per-hour, I must agree. Last year was hard. This year was ridiculous. If you like difficult terrain, this race is for you.

Stop #4 in West Virginia Mountain Bike Association‘s Ultra series, Revenge of the Rattlesnake usually starts and ends at Blackwater Bikes in Davis WV. Davis is an east-coast mountain biking mecca. There are so many miles of mountain bike trails accessible from town, race promoter Todd Romero continues the long tradition of a different gnarly course each year.

I love Davis and so decided to make a weekend of it with my friend and Bike Doctor rider Jed Prentice. Mike and Dianna Buchness invited us to join them for the weekend in their house at the base of the Timberline ski resort, eight miles from Davis. Their vacation spot is awesome!

Chez Buchness

As we line up for the start along side the Black Water River I see Mike Capraro, a Masters winner of past Michaux races. I also see Mike Boyes who races Masters on single speed and who finished just minutes ahead of me last year. Gunnar Shogren’s here, but he’s racing in the single speed category. I’m chatting with Robbie Spreng who has a super trick Superfly 100 with a Cannondale lefty fork. I’ve got my Superfly 100 also. We’re comparing notes.

Weapon of choice

Bang! We’re off down the River Road Trail towards Blackwater Falls State Park officially County Rd 29/1. It starts out tame enough but quickly develops into a road that’s not really maintained with lots of big puddles and sink holes. It hasn’t rained in a few days, but it’s wet here. It’s like spring time wet. I’m trying to steer around the puddles, but it’s pointless.

After two miles we’re in Blackwater Falls State Park. This year’s course has an 8 mile prolog loop in the Dobbin House trail system which borders the Monongahela National Forest land just north of the Park. We bang a hard right on the pavement heading toward the trailhead at the Northern most part of the park. As we scream down the hill that crosses the Blackwater and start to climb up the other side, Gunnar passes me spinning like 140 RPMs on his Single Speed. There are only 4 or 5 riders in front of us including Robbie Spreng, Jed and now Gunnar. My heart rate is really high. I’ve got to settle down.

2011 Revenge of the Rattlesnake

As I dive into the first single track at the Dobbin House trails, I’m aware there’s another rider who’s with me. I’ve also caught who I think is Joey Riddle. I’m flying through the pine grove section with confidence. I’ve ridden these trails many times before including with Jed as our warmup the day before. Joey Riddle is flying through here and the mystery rider is still on my tail.

As we start climbing up a semi-technical section that is really the only sustained climb in Dobbin house, I goof up a section and have to dab… The rider behind me asks to get by. As I let him go, I realize it’s Mike Capraro. He drills it going by and within a few minutes the new Masters leader is out of sight.

Roots Rock at it's West Virginia best

The Dobbin House prolog loop is actually a figure eight layout, at some point in the middle, we cross back over part of the course we’ve already done. I know the race promoter was planning on changing the course tape after the first time through, but when I arrived to find a confused Capraro, I saw that it had not yet happened. I knew to cross over the 4-way intersection and continue through after stopping long enough to convince Mike to follow.

I managed to stay in contact with Mike though the rest of the Dobbin House. We get by Joey as he over shoots a hard left turn that I had overshot the day before in the warmup. Mike’s got a small gap that I close back down the pavement towards the Yellow Birch trail. With a nod to his technical riding skills, I let him by to lead us through.

Yellow Birch trail is a rock minefield with some slippery roots thrown in. There isn’t really always a line to follow. Often there are several. About half way through, I’m so focused on staying in contact, I don’t notice that Mike has veered off course. As we’re hiking out to return to the trail, a train of 3 riders including Joey Riddle motors by. Somehow Mike is suddenly on their wheels and I’m gapped.

Riding alone, the rest of the Blackwater falls trails go by in a blur. Red Spruce Trail, Balanced Rock Trail, Cherry Lane Trail are capped off with a blazing descent down Sledd Run underneath the Rope Town Tower Line rope tow for cross country skiers in the winter.

Rope Town Tower Line

With a left turn at the warming hut onto the southern end of the Canaan Loop Road, I take some time to catch up on hydration. The technical trails in the Park demand vigilant attention making the reach for bottles feel like a Cirque Du Soleil audition.

Just before the left onto Railroad Grade Trail, I pass Jed on the side of the road fixing a flat. Like his tire, he looks deflated. He’s fast, he’ll be back.

Railroad grade, despite the fact that much of it is under water, is relatively fast. The technical demands of the single track are gradually increasing. The magic of Revenge of the Rattlesnake is the racing opponent inevitably becomes the course. By the end of Railroad Grade and half way through the course, I’m pretty wet.

I merge with the Loop Road again and ride a few miles to the Aid station. The Aid station volunteers are the first humans I’ve seen in nearly an hour. Right turn onto Pointy Knob Trail, the most difficult section of the race.

Pointy Knob Trail starts out with 6 or 7 stream crossings which are not ridable. To make matters worse, I loose my footing on the slippery rocks of one of them and suddenly I’m chest deep. Laughing at myself out loud to no one, I’m struck with how ridiculous this race is. The stream crossings are replaced by rock gardens that are made more difficult by the gradient of a climb.

One hour later, after what must have been 20 dismounts and over a thousand feet of elevation gain, the trail banks around to the left and we start descending. The descent off of Pointy Knob is the best part of the course. The trail is a combination of rock gardens and rock bridges. As difficult as it is, it seems easy compared to the climb. I rider who I think is John Martin, whom I passed on the climb, dances by me during a brief moment of confusion. He’s an awesome descender.

Left on the Loop Road after a very wet finish to Pointy Knob Trail then right onto Lindy. Right on Plantation Trail and Left on Davis Trail. Nothing exciting to report except a pretty spectacular wipeout on the last real feature at the bottom of Davis Trail… right in front of a photographer. I’m surprised to see another person in what seems like my personal Amazon rain forest. It’s weird how few racers I’ve seen since about mile 12.

Back onto Yellow Birch Trail heading in the other direction and finally the backtrack on River Road Trail to the finish at Blackwater Bikes. I cross the line at 4:03 which is good enough for 2nd in the Masters, 10 minutes behind Mike Capraro. Mike Boyes crossed 12 minutes later for 3rd. Nice race fellas!

Masters podium - Your's truly, Mike Capraro and Mike Boyes

Gunnar was 3rd overall and easily won the single speed in 3:51. Nice work young man. The overall goes to Robbie Spreng on the trick Superfly. Joey Riddle ended up 3rd in the open. Well done! Jed finished at 4:14, never really recovering mentally from the flat tire delay. Mike Capraro’s wife Susan Musante took advantage of a too-big gear on Betsy Shogren’s single speed to finish 2nd in what can be called a nice upset. Great job Susan!

Single Speed winner Gunnar Shogren

Huge shout out to Todd Romero and all of the volunteers that made this year’s Revenge so awesome. In what’s becoming a tradition, I donated my awesome, handmade by Thomas local Ben Nelson, coffee mug trophy to Hypnocoffee, the local Davis coffee shop to be included in their regular rotation.

Can’t wait till next year!


One Response to “Revenge”

  1. […] Roger Masse 29er Crew It's not about the racing – it's about the people racing « Revenge […]

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