The Transylvania Epic is a special kind of race. If you have ever ridden in central PA you’d understand what I am talking about. It doesn’t have the majestic loam of the pacific northwest or the smooth flow of Pisgah, but it has a lot of its own unique and beautiful aspects. You may have to work a little harder for these gems, though, that only makes allows you to appreciate it more once you come out the other side.
I grew up in southeastern PA. So riding “east coast rock” was a make-or-break thing for me and my cycling career. Luckily, I started young when I was more resilient and didn’t know any better. As I ascended the junior ranks I’d always heard about TSE and thought of how cool it would be to do a race that big so close to home. Flash forward 15 years and I now have my fifth race under my belt. That alone speaks to the fact that it’s worth coming back for.
With last years pandemic racing draught I was super eager to make a splash this year. I wanted to come into my first race firing. Therefore, Emily and I came up a little early and did some pre riding. I am glad we did this. For one to see my family, but also to get reacquainted with the rigors of riding multi-mile rock gardens.
Stage one came fast and swift with a lot of gravel and other anxious racers. All that gravel meant it would be tough to establish a time gap, especially when you consider that everyone else was likely fresh and ready to race.
After a smooth start, we funneled into the first bit of single track, which was crushed shale-lined OHV trail. About three miles into the stage I got a puncture on my rear tire and my heart sunk. Here we were less than 30min into day one and my GC hopes and dreams were being diminished. Luckily, the Stan’s Race sealant I used sealed it, but not before I dropped to 16 PSI. I started at 26 PSI. In hindsight I am glad I didn’t know how low I was because I likely would have not pushed as hard as I did later in the stage.
Three of us got away about half through and started rallying to build our gap. Then Logan flatted out and just Nick and I were left to gap building. Earlier in the stage I could tell I was the stronger of the group in the tech. With a slippery tech climb coming up I decided to punch a bit to test Nick out. (This is where I probably wouldn’t have pushed had I known about my 16 PSI in the rear). I got a small gap and built on it as the rocks continued. That low tire pressure was probably helping me grip my way along slimy, slanted, rock and I walked away with an almost four min lead on day one.
Happy about this I knew it meant nothing. There were a lot of flats on day one and if it wasn’t for the tire liner I was running my sealed puncture could have easily been a rim strike and second puncture! I checked the insert when I changed the tire post-race and I took a rim strike that the foam insert likely prevented from being a pinch flat.
Stage two is one I have never particularly liked. Mostly, because of the big finish climb. Basically, a five-mile grind up to the finish after throwing yourself at the mercy of rocks and roots all day. Not to mention it is usually pretty warm and this day was no different.
Flat prevention and proper hydration was the name of the game on this day. I found myself alone early as Logan had another flat. He chased back on and we rallied for the middle half of the stage before he suffered two more flats.
Guys were also blowing up in the woods from heat related exhaustion. I rode a steady race all day and managed to have enough in the tank to ascend Stillhouse Hollow rd, the final climb, with my dignity and pride in tact! That is a first for me. We even beat the 2019 course time!
I gained another handful of minutes on GC and went into stage three thinking, “If I can keep air in my tires and avoid mechanicals I may be able to pull this off.” Easier said than done. The rocks that lay ahead dictate your future. You just steer the ship the best you can.
We traveled 40 min north east to R.B. Winter State Park for a faster flatter stage.
I pushed early wanting to hit the enduro, and biggest descent, first so I could go my own pace and scope out the best of the worst lines. Then it was all the Logan Kasper show. He latched on at the bottom of the enduro and quickly got to the front to start pace making.
He anchored down into the saddle and pushed hard across the flat bumpy terrain making me pretty uncomfortable at times. I knew that just by sitting on his wheel I was making time on GC and also getting the stage done as fast as possible.
He pulled all day so I was in no place to battle him for the win. It was his and he deserved it.
Oh yeah! It was Sherms Birthday on the 27th!
Tussey Ridge is stage four, and it’s one of my favorites. The whole day is jam packed with my favorites. Starting out with John wert, Lonberger, Three Bridges, Tussey Ridge, and a brand new trail Sidewinder. I had an ulterior motive for the day. Over the years many big name racers have attended Single Track Summer Camp, Barry Wicks, Jeremiah Bishop, Tim Johnson, Kris Sneddon, and all have raced on the same trails. Tussey Ridge is an iconic trail that everyone rides, even if they are not doing the race. Once, up on the ridge you get some pretty incredible views of the surrounding valley’s and to say it’s a challenge would be an understatement. So from the road on the west side to the beer tap on the east side (yes, there is an actual beer tap stuck into a stump) there is a highly coveted KOM. I wanted it!
Logan and I got away early on John Wert and started working our way through Lonberger and 3 bridges. Then we crushed gravel to the start of Tussey and I told him I was going to push it a bit.
It didn’t take long for me to create some distance and as I navigated the rock and boulder fields I started feeling really good about my time. I came up to the final stretch and forgot that it started pitching up. I burned quite a few matches early and my legs didn’t want push as hard as they needed too. I was feeling the fatigue.
Unknowingly, I didn’t get the KOM but I felt good about it and this fueled my solo pursuit to the line from there.
I was dreading the final day. Not because it was going to be harder than the others, on the contrary, it was only 15 miles and had only 1500 ft of vert. gain. The problem was that it rained all night, was still misting when we woke up, and here is the real kicker, it was 45ºF. I didn’t even pack clothing for suck temps. It’s late May early June in Pa it’s supposed to be hotter than the blue blazes and more humid than the Amazon.
I put on leg warmers, put plastic grocery bags in my shoes, put woolie boolie defeat gloves on then put thick nitrile gloves on over top, and a rain jacket to seal in the heat and deter wheel spray.
My attire worked well, I was actually a little warm especially when we started pushing the pace.
We quickly jumped into single track and I was at the front taking up the pace making. I love slipping my way around on wet greasy rock, or at least I love being in the front. I’d rather have full line of sight at what is coming rather than follow someone else’s wheel as they ping pong around.
I created a small gap that was shut down immediately after the single track. Three of us rallied the middle portion of the stage. I snuck my way in front on the final climb before the enduro and carefully picked my way down using half pedal strokes and lots of full body coordination maneuvers.
I popped out onto the road, which we took us all the way to the finish. I had about 30 seconds and didn’t want to play finish sprint politics so I put my head down and chewed on my stem. I finished off the week with the stage win and the overall.
Looking back on the trails we rode it’s hard to say why I come back to this event every year. The trails are just tough. You have to work hard just to move forward and even harder to have fun. I think what it boils down to is the challenge. Every year I have come back with varying levels of fitness, different equipment, and different competition. It is so hard to throw together consecutive years of flawless racing. Flats are a given, you never know how your body will respond, the weather changes everything, and it’s just so different than what you’re use to. All that seems like not fun. However, for me racing is about pushing your limits and testing yourself outside of your comfort zone and I can promise you that no two years at TSE are ever a like, which is why completion tastes so sweet!