Listen, I KNOW “epic” is so played out as a descriptor. Like, epically played out. The word is practically retired from our lexicon. BUT REALLY, TSE is epic AF. In my mind it was going to be 3-4 hours of mountain biking a day with some hangouts in between and lots of burritos and everything would be ultra rad, no big deal. I was like 25% right. Let me attempt to tell you about it in a number of words that will hopefully not add up to “epic” length.
As background, it’s worth noting that I ended up at this wild event on a one-way TSE hype train driven by conductor Mike Wissell (choo choo!). If you’re unfamiliar with Mike’s um, fondness, for this event, start here.
The race this year was five stages, down from the historical seven. Some of the stages were similar to years past, some stuff was new. That’s what they told me, anyway. It was all new to me. There are probably a hundred people on the old internets that have already described the stages in detail, so here’s the TL;DR version:
- Stage 1: “The road stage”. Probably 50% dirt road/paved. Fast.
- Stage 2: Tussey! Beautiful exposed riding, ultra fun trails. Many rocks. Wrestling the bicycle for hours!
- Stage 3: ENDURO DAY! WILDCAT! HYPE!
- Stage 4: RB Winter. Pouring rain. Cyclocross practice! Note: don’t play gas tank chicken in the middle of nowhere.
- Stage 5: Get dropped off 20 miles away and ride back to camp. Start with an hour climb. End with a long climb. Wonder if you’re in one of those endless stair paintings as you crack from 20 hours of riding in five days.
I obtained a GoPro to document this adventure, but I’ll go ahead and spoil the surprise. It wasn’t on for my one epic crash of the week. I’m sorry. But I did get this really critical footage of NECX favorite and ultimate ray of sunshine Vicki helping me with a bike wash. I earned a coveted title at TSE – somehow I managed to be the actual muddiest person on course every day. Shocking I’m sure.
Also the time I aggressively rode the wheel of a stranger downhill (because he refused to let me enter the enduro section first). He finally let me pass and then followed me directly into the bushes when the trail turned and I did not. Oops.
On day 1 I hit the first trail section with all the enthusiasm of a person who doesn’t understand stage racing and thought I’d “make up spots” by “pedaling as hard as I could” over “rocks”. Obviously I flatted spectacularly after I smashed my rim into a boulder. Stans shot out of the tire. It was spectacular.. And then I blew a CO2 trying to fix it. So I waited for friends. First Vicki stopped for me. Then Alex. It held enough air to slow-pedal to the rest-stop where the fine Stan’s folks sealed me up and I was on my way. In my mind I lost approximately three hours in this endeavor and all hopes of reasonable performance were gone. In reality it was probably like 15 minutes. And way less than Ian, who exploded his fork and freehub yet somehow finished with a positive attitude.
Day 2 I was all “I’m going to get some time back!”. Which I was TOTALLY DOING when I pinned it on one of the enduro segments, right up until the trail took a sharp turn over some rocks and I promptly ejected into a mud bog. I did have an awesome interaction with Mr. Dirtwire himself up on Tussey Ridge, where he somehow made my inability to negotiate the rattlesnake pit of a trail actually fun. There’s even video of it here.
Enduro day is the crown jewel of the event, if you ask me. I was super stoked to share on-bike footage of the segments, but did you know that on-board cameras do a really crappy job of showing how EPIC the descents are? They do a really crappy job. EPICALLY crappy, amirite?? Note: this blog is actually only possible because Mike and Selene warned me a million times that Wildcat is genuinely hard and not to go full huccone on the way into the rocks. Unfortunately, I didn’t leave enough time before starting the segment and caught someone in the super steep chute before the rock section of death. The result is a weird stop/start video that culminates with a H-I-I-I-I-I-I T-H-O-M-M-M-M-M as I praised my dropper post and momentum for facilitating my survival. Wildcat was the last warmup for the final enduro segment, a long descent over a dagger field of rocks with completely shot arms. All I could think was how much it would hurt to crash, but my arms were too tired to brake. 10/10 would recommend as a mechanism for learning how to descend faster: I actually made up some time on enduro day.
Stages 4 and 5 were cool too. There was pizza at the end of stage 4! And I almost ran out of gas in the middle of actual nowhere. Literal gas. Like, for my car. We passed a half-dozen buggies with Amish kids in hats and I thought I’d have to ask one of them for a gas can. They should really warn us city-folk about how there can’t be a gas station on every corner, because there aren’t even corners in the country. And there are no gas stations in the middle of corn fields.
Every insane climb in the last two stages made me question what series of bad decisions brought me to the race. I was a shattered cracked shell of a human by day 5, saved only by riding with great humans and a copious amount of coke and pb&j at the rest stops. By the way, the rest stops. The humans who volunteered their time to feed shattered bike racers in the pouring rain deserve praise beyond anything I could provide. Now that some time has passed, all those negative feelings about climbing, rocks, and EPICNESS had faded and all that remains is my advance ticket to next year’s hype train.
Damn. I’ve reached “epic” post length and haven’t hit the most important part yet. Rimmey. The best part of the race was staying in this big boy scout cabin with a dozen bunk beds populated by some of the raddest humans I’ve had the luxury of spending time with. I was saved by their knowledge and advice at least once on every stage, and they were the biggest part of what makes this such a great event. It really is a summer camp vibe. We really dropped the ball on not making friendship bracelets. The promoters pour so much into this event too. They make it feel like they’re sharing their favorite trails with you and they really want you to experience the best of what their local trails offer. Their excitement shows through in so many ways.
Lastly, thanks to Thom for capturing all my last-day feels in this muddy wideo. I think. I was cracked. And I don’t like watching myself on video.
That was at least 500 words more than race report need ever be, and yet I haven’t even scratched the surface on this event. Until next time.
- TSE is actually epic
- The people make this race amazing
- There are a lot of rocks
- I still don’t know how to ride rocks
- My heart is full but my legs are empty