Written by Paul Wojciak Thursday, 01 June 2017 00:00
Have you ever ridden "The Wilds" of Pennsylvania? Do you even know where they are? Central Pennsylvania, east of State College, the home of Penn State, holds host to 100's of miles of technical single track interconnected with fire roads and gravel. With white knuckle descents, rhododendron tunnels, rocky gardens, mountain top vistas, the swoopy, flowy, challenging trails of Rothrock and Bald Eagle state forests play host to the five and three day Transylvania Epic Mountain Bike Stage Race.
My third visit to the TS Epic turned out to be a fun, hurt so good experience. Pennsylvania has some of my favorite MTB riding. Returning for the race's 2017 edition, the three day TS Epic offers a great dose of the best trails in the wilds all with the convenience of having them marked for you. Mike Kuhn puts his heart into event preparation and assembles an all star cast of support, volunteers, venue, and timing and scoring. The event bases out of the Seven Mountains Scout Camp where lodges, camping, meals, laundry, and all manner of various sundries are available. Each day in the event offers something a little different in terms of terrain, distance, and course vibe. The one consistent factor being the thrill of the great trails.
Three day participants were treated to Tussey Ridge as their opening stage. Called the Queen stage of the event for good reason, Tussey is one of the premier rides anywhere, combining technical challenge, mountain top vistas, and a plummeting enduro descent. There were nine of us racing the men's 50+ field. I knew the trails, I knew my preparation, I didn't know the competition. Wet weather forced closure of the John Wert trail and a reroute. This was good and bad. If you're wondering, John Wert is mossy, rocky, rhododendrons for miles and is beautiful, but hard, very hard. The trail conditions during the stage were great overall. Tussey was the highlight, but a pleasant surprise was a couple miles of machine made trail with gentle rollers on a loop around Colyer Lake. Rolling the stage in just over three hours, I ended up winning the day.
Sunday's stage changed tunes. Less climbing, with ripping fast trails and three wicked enduros made Bald Eagle State Forest a great second day. There's a wonderful fern forest that seems to go on and on. During an enduro segment, you pass through the ferns after navigating one of the toughest rock gardens of the whole epic. My bike was working perfectly and the dropper post I had added just before the event was a great help. I was feeling a little more comfortable on descents, a notorious weakness for me. Beside my equipment, nutrition and hydration were spot on. I've been using Vega products for a couple years now and they allow me never to second guess nutrition and hydration. The cool, cloudy day finished sunny for me and I won the stage.
Torrential rain overnight caused the DCNR to force a reroute on the Cooper's Gap stage. The trail conditions were as tough as you'll find in the wilds for the final stage. This didn't dampen the racer's enthusiasm though, since the enduros on the day and some of the single track were as good as you can get. The stage started with a high speed descent on Stillhouse Hollow fireroad. Of course, what goes down, has to go back up! A five minute descent became a 25 minute climb at the end of the stage. Rolling in at just under three hours, I sealed up a win on the day and first place overall in the men's 50+ three day epic.
One other Bikeman teammate was racing this weekend, Paul Simoes, on his single speed. I have great respect for guys like Paul. Mountain biking can be hard. Single Speed puts the exclamation mark on hard!
The TS Epic happens every year around Memorial Day weekend. I strongly encourage you to consider racing it. If you're not up for racing, they offer an experience class for the rider desiring to access the same trails and support without the pressure and intensity of a race. Either way, experience or racing, "The Wilds" of Pennsylvania offer plenty of what you want from mountain biking. Perhaps I'll see you there next year?
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