While racers receive last-minute instructions, hundreds of mountain bikes wait patiently for their owners. This is as clean as the bikes will be this weekend.
The dog days of summer: a black lab and his master walk a section of the course just before the race starts. The fate of the daisy in the foreground is unknown. (Our bet is that it was trampled.)
Granny herself looks on moments before the race starts. Granny is the “mascot” of the race, which is sponsored by Granny Gear Productions. She is outgoing and nice, making a point to introduce herself to as many mountain bikers as possible. She walks slowly and delicately, but we’ve heard a rumor she can really tear things up on a mountain bike.
And they’re off: after running through a steep “prologue” without their bike (in the Le Mans style), racers loop back and pick up their bikes for the start of the race. Hundreds of spectators cheer them on.
The first climb’s a doosy - but it doesn’t get any easier, especially after 24 hours. Most racers are part of a four-person team, alternating between loops of the course. However, there are also solo racers - once they finish an excruciating lap, they get to pass the baton … to themselves. This isn’t a day at the park.
Packs of riders will soon begin to spread out as the race goes on. The general spirit of the race is good-natured competition. Everyone has been friendly and courteous.
A lone rider blurs past, gaining speed on a relatively flat section of the course. The course contains every type of terrain the West Virginia mountains can throw at riders: gnarly roots, steep climbs and descents, and yes, occasional patches of gooey mud. However, racers are ecstatic that the ground is drier than it was last year - when heavy rain fell in the weeks preceding the race. As Joe Stevens, Snowshoe’s Communications Director said, racers this year are happy to see dust.
Airport Road, a gravel-strewn fire road, winds its way slowly but steeply up the mountain. But the top of the fire road doesn’t offer any relief: it marks the beginning of Highwall, a steep section of singletrack that climbs above the trees and offers great views of the valley below. But racers are too out of breath to take in the view - most racers, winded by this point, end up pushing their bikes before they make it to the top of Highwall.
Once Highwall crests, bikers head down into the trees. There are still some short uphill parts after this point, but it’s mostly downhill to the Silver Creek base area.
More bikers race through the trees.
Highwall at night: as the sun sets, a mountain biker’s headlight sweeps across the trail. This timed exposure didn’t catch the biker, who raced by too quickly to make an impression on the camera’s lens, but the biker did leave a trail of illumination behind.
As racers wind their way through the trees, going over or around obstacles such as roots and rocks, their headlights briefly light up the pitch-dark forest.
Things remained raucous at the base area throughout the night. Spectators cheered on racers as they finished arduous laps - ringing cowbells and shouting words of encouragement. Spectators helped raise the energy level of the event, happily cheering on friends and strangers alike.
M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.
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