Kerry Werner

Single Track Summer Camp – Kerry Werner Waxes Lyrical on The Transylvania Epic

The name implies fun in the sun, good times with friends, and an easy laid back attitude. I mean, they hand out beach balls and whoopee cushions on the podium!  However, the name does not glint even the slightest hint of the physical exhaustion, jarring rocks for miles, flats/mechanicals, wet roots, and climbs that hurt to think about, which lie ahead. While the later mentioned aspects of Transylvania epic don’t sound like joy they are crucial to balancing the week out. Plus, misery loves company and this year there were plenty of friends to share the long miles with. This picture depicts it best…

Cory Rimmer, Kona Grassroots rider, mean muggin with a SpongeBob popsicle

Last year was my first year of Transylvania Epic (TSE). I never had the pleasure to endure the 7 day version, which I honestly can’t imagine. All throughout my career as a junior racing in the Mid-Atlantic Super Series mountain bike races I would hear about this awesome/amazing race in the middle of Pa. Every year I would contemplate the possibilities. Though, I could never scrape the funds together or convince my parents to let me take a week off of high school.

It took 8 years but I finally managed to race last year and it was great! I ended up winning, which granted me a free entry this year and thus no excuse not to come back. Emily and I loaded up the RV and headed north!

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One thing that stands out about this race more than others are the promoters and their dedication to helping more kids get on bikes through NICA. Last year they implemented the first year of free entries by fundraising for PICL (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Cycling League). This meant instead of handing out comped entries to pros they we had to work for it. If you raised $1000 the first $500 went to the PICL, to grow the high school race scene, and the second $500 covered your entry fee. If you only got $5oo it all went to PICL and you had to pay for your entry. Talk about investing in the future and planting seeds! Mike Kuhn and Dave Pryor have developed a system which helps put about 10K into the local NICA chapter and generates a ton of talk, equally important. Link here to donate!

Race start was Thursday for us 5 day racers. The 3 day racers would take full advantage of the long Memorial Day weekend and not have to miss out on work. However, they would miss out on the enduro day, which was Friday.

Day one was a fast start to the race, traditionally dubbed the road stage, though the Wild Cat trail would easily change your perspective. We finished the 29 miles in just under 2hrs avging 16.4 mph! With rain the night before some of the century old rocks were slick as vaseline on glass, which created some gaps later in the race. I took full advantage of some course recon the day before and launched an attack late in the race, which granted me 20 sec, though Justin Lindine reeled that back to less than five by the finish. I won the stage but Justin won the enduro segments on the day, which gave him a 1min time bonus on GC. I got 2nd in enduro and got a 40 sec time bonus, so Justin was now up <20sec…Just like that the stage was set for 4 more days of racing. (each day there are 3-4 enduro segments, if you get top 3 in the enduro you get a time bonus on GC 1min, 40sec, 20sec)

Day 2 was meant for fun and fast. Enduro day! Only the cumulative time of all the enduro segments (5) were added to total GC time. That meant soft pedaling in between, snacks at the rest stops, and conversation rather than just breathing hard at each other. I slapped some beefy WTB Vigilantes tires on my Kona Hei Hei DL to give me some extra flat protection and more confidence when boring white knuckles. My fatty stanchioned MRP Ribbon 120mm for was my saving grace as I didn’t have a trail bike to hop on for the day. I got through with no problems and smooth runs but it was no match for Justin on a trail bike, who put 8 seconds into me.

Stage 2.1 was the go-karts after the finish… We didn’t get a time bonus but we did get some raffle tickets and became extremely close to cramping up in the go-karts.

Stage 3 would prove to be a humdinger of a day, a real bellwether. Tussy Ridge, 38miles, the longest, the gnarliest sections of rock pedaling, and equally demoralizing road climbs. I was feeling good and ready to do battle, though the wind was swept from my sails as I flatted at the bottom of the 2nd enduro section. I was following too close to the guy in front of me and wasn’t ready when a deep water bar popped out from behind his rear wheel. Two quick “PING PING” sounds came from my rims and a rear slow leak ensued. Unbeknownst to me the feed was a short pedal away from the bottom of the enduro, which would have aided in saving time lost due to wheel change or tube installation. However, I decided to do it trial side. I experienced some CO2 malfunctions and by the end of the day I would loose 14min to Justin. My head hung…

This put 1st out of reach and 2nd was 8 min up now. I went into stage 4 ready and willing to take no prisoners. My aggressive attitude was matched by great legs. I was putting the wood to the guys early and managed a gap. Justin and I lead into the first enduro where I wanted to stay pinned in order  to gap the current 2nd place GC contender, Kyle Trudeau. We had him on the ropes until… (cue low toned dramatic music) I flatted again. This came as a mental wall collapse. I felt good on the descent, not taking chances, but riding fast and smooth, I never felt my rim hit any rocks or bottom out my suspension. I would come to realize this was just dumb luck. I fixed the flat and throttled out for the next 1.5 hrs by myself. I felt great and was able to get time back on the guys that surpassed me but I fell to 5th in GC with 3rd was now 2:20 up on me going into stage 5. Justin would later reveal that he has flatted on a single rock on that descent “like 3 times… It is pointy sharp and pointing backwards in the trail.” Someone should go dig that thing up and move it. Or at least point it down hill.

Stage 5 was going to be relentless. I knew I had to go early again to have enough of the stage to make up time on 3rd in GC. Though, after the first bit of, slick AF, gradual rocky climb I knew I emptied the tank on stage 4 and my legs weren’t feeling quite as snappy. Soldiring on I attacked about 15miles in and gapped Aaron Snyder, 3rd in GC, and never looked back. Justin and Kyle Trudeau (1st and 2nd in GC) came with and then went by me on the climb. I never saw Justin again but went up the final climb pacing myself on Kyle. I crossed the line and immediately started to measure the time gap between me and Aaron. Of course, I glanced away from the clock for one second at which point he comes into view and I lose track of time. Now all I can do is wait and reassure myself I did it even though in the back of my mind I knew there was a chance I hadn’t. I cleaned up, drank a lot of coke, and ate a lot of pringles until the results were posted.

(Cue sigh of relief)… I managed 2:50 seconds, putting me in 3rd by 30 seconds. Not too shabby of a race after 15o miles of some of the rockets mtb’ing in the nation. Though, Aaron proclaimed we weren’t friends anymore with a smile on his face, I am sure that will pass.

My Kona compadre managed to muscle his way into 5th throughout the stage race. He said this was the first year he hasn’t flatted! Good legs and good luck held him steady throughout the week and he maintained 5th in GC and 5th in the Enduro overall piloting his Kona Hei Hei Dl.

Link to Dirtwire.tv interviews from the entire race and amazing highlight videos!

I had some unbelievable support this year. Big thanks to Lynn and Kerm for providing soigneur and tech zone services. Thanks to my mom and dad for coming up and watching, and a huge thanks to the TSE volunteer crew who pulled off another year without a hitch. I’ll be back next year for sure, with some thicker tires!

You may have thought that was the end but I had other plans, since we drove 8hrs from NC to PA. Bald Eagle State Forest is not only home to the TSE and great mountain biking but also some amazing dirt bike trails, which opened to the public on Friday of the race. That meant the Tuesday after Memorial Day we had the place to ourselves! Emily and I used this opportunity to get her out on her first trail ride.

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That evening I hooked up with Aaron Snyder and Gunnar Bergey for a few laps on the SMCC Enduro Trails. These were the same trials we raced a few enduro stages on during the race, however, instead of going down these descents on dirt bikes we were going up. As if my arms weren’t pumped up enough!

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Big thanks to Bruce Buckley and the TSE Media crew for great content all week!

Kerry and Emily’s Blue Ridge Bikepacking Adventure: Beta

Words and photos by Kerry Werner.

It all started during cross season. We were staying at a host house in Sun Prairie, WI, getting ready for the Waterloo CX race, when our hosts started telling us about how they ride tandem. For some reason it clicked. I immediately thought of Emily and myself doing some sort of tandem adventure.

We had talked about doing some thing really cool this summer because in the fall she will start an internship, which will keep her chained to Winston-Salem. She will have little time for extended adventures – the likes of which a standard 4 year college degree and two years of grad school allowed, the latter less often of course.

Then I thought of a conversation I had last summer with a good friend, the Lees McRae Collegiate Cycling Coach. We pondered how cool it would be to do a fully supported Blue Ridge Parkway through-ride, by raising some money for a charity of our choice. This would allow us to simply ride with two bottles and a phone to take pictures then meet the support vehicle at the end of the day, have a good meal, sleep in a bed, and wake up to do it all again the next day.

So with these two thoughts aligned my brain instantly computed that Emily and I should do a Parkway through-ride, bikepacking on a tandem. I dropped the whole support aspect of the original plan because it would be more fun to camp and make an adventure out of it. I like to get out of my comfort zone, it helps me grow and realize I am human. Plus, I was watching my friend Russell Finsterwald’s Instagram, and what not, all fall. This must have lead to an immense amount of pent up jealousy, which erupted into this idea.

From there the plan changed slightly, only in the approach. Instead of a tandem Emily would use panniers and I would pull a B.O.B. Yak trailer, behind my Major Jake of course.

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It was Emily’s spring break, instead of Punta Cana or Cancun, we decided an abbreviated bike packing trip (3 days, 2 nights) from Winston-Salem to Stone Mountain State Park. Stone Mountain State Park, along the Parkway, to Boone, NC, Boone back to Winston-Salem, with a mandatory bakery stop (and later an emergency donut stop).

We strapped on our cold weather gear, loaded up the rigs and headed out into the burliest head wind… and that is how it was for the next 5 hours.

Tall shadows confirming our late arrival at the end of Day 1, which was not a pleasant way to start this journey. It ground our average pace down to 12.8 MPH, which wasn’t planned when we started late at 12 noon.

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It was an expected low of 15ºF that night and the temp was dropping fast when we rolled in. We got out of the saddles and straight into the tent, inhaled some freeze dried food and cookies, then lights out.

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We woke…

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Breakfast…

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Packed and hit the road!

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The night was nice, our gear kept us warm, the sun was out, and we were feeling revived, refreshed, reinvigorated.

Got on the Parkway in the first 5 miles and didn’t have to get off it for the next 60.

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These were the reason the Parkway was added into this equation. Vistas to the right and left for 60 miles.

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The BRP holds a special place in my heart because I trained on it for 6 years while I was in Banner Elk, NC going to college. This is why…

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I can remember doing efforts on climbs and finishing at the top, completely blown, I crane my neck and my eyes focus on layers of pastel blues darkening and deepening as the miles stretch on.

It was just as I remember it.

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We called a friend in Boone because why struggle when awesome people want to help? We were welcomed into a warm kitchen, straight to a bubbling pot of chili, and as much hot tea as we could manage. After warm showers and a great meal it wasn’t long before lights out. Besides, tomorrow was going to be a big day.

Pancakes for breakfast, lots of them, or rather one giant one that would fill your plate like a mini pizza but was half an inch thick and absorbing all the syrup you could throw at it.

Out the door, but first to Hatchet Coffee for a little pick me up and a pastry from Stickboy Bread Co.

Now for real, Boone to Winston, 100 miles! The previous two days were 65 miles. We were a little nervous because the all day head wind and the 60 miles of Parkway forced our average speeds down – below 12 the second day. If we didn’t have a tail wind or wouldn’t have started the ride by dropping Elk Creek Road – a big paved, snaking decent, which intermittently pops on and off gravel as it serpentines next to a gently rolling creek – we wouldn’t have made it before dark.

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Luckily, the bike gods were on our side because by the end of the day we averaged 16.1 MPH. This was after an emergency donut stop just outside of Wilkesboro, NC. As well as a stop at the Amish Bakery in Windsor, NC before the last push home.

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It was a long three days and the temps were certainly unfavorable, thus adding to our post ride exhaustion.

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In hindsight it is comforting to know that we managed to do the trip in the harsh, cold temps that we experienced because this was all just practice for the big hoorah! The real Blue Ridge Parkway through-ride is planned for early June, after the Trans-Sylvania Epic mountain bike stage race. We plan to use fitness gained from that 5 day MTB stage race to get through the Parkway through-ride.

This mini 3-day trip was crucial to first see if bikepacking is something that we both could enjoy as well as dial in our gear and weed out unnecessary pieces of equipment. I am more excited for the through-ride now than before our adventure. The warmer temps will make the whole ride more tolerable and give us longer days; we started before the time change. Thus, we will have more time to follow the brown signs of the park services to waterfall off chutes, swimming holes, and welcome centers that will be open in the summer, which were not at the beginning of March. All in all Emily and I are both excited for the big trip, though I doubt you will see us towing the B.O.B. trailer across America or down the Continental Divide anytime soon. Baby steps.