Words: Alison Zimmer
Photos: David Tufino, unless noted
King of the Mountain Enduro: Stage 2 of the Triple Crown Enduro Series, Mountain Creek NJ
I pulled in to Mountain Creek around noon on Friday with 80 degree temps and humidity like high summer. With few of the enduro stages taped, it was luck (and help of friend Smokey) that found me with Jeff Lenosky the local legend and course designer to lead a small group of us through the 5 enduro stages, 3 of which the amateurs would do, with the final 2 stages for Pros only. Jeff said that the final courses would be the toughest enduro stages the East Coast has yet seen, and comparable to the Enduro World Series in technical difficulty.
Mountain Creek is a unique place. Bike park, rock garden central, with a strong DH vibe looking for burliness, air and features… ‘Creek attracts a unique crowd. Saturday proved another day of sweaty course training with some tech due to overnight showers, morning fog and humidity. Despite strong wishes and hopes for clear weather there were showers Saturday night, and we woke to cooler temps, soggy and socked-in conditions. Normally a bit of moisture is to my advantage, but this morning I was already feeling nervous about stages 4 and 5. Sadly, only 2 other women turned up to race the pro/open stages of the event, but in a way it was nice to have time to hand out, get to know and ride with 2 awesome ladies.
Stage 1: A 5-10 min pedal/climb off the lift to the start, and was the XC stage of the course… pedally and tech…not a lot of flow, but a fair amount of bike handling skills, coordination and strength are needed to clear it with any momentum, especially with the wet and slick conditions. For me it was a flop, off my bike twice, not in the right gear, sliding out, getting bramble bushes stuck on my shorts; there was but one thing to do, laugh. The first transfer was a short 10-15 min mostly single track enjoyable climb.
Stage 2: An awesome mix of mild down/XC with some tight turns, fire road scramble, and flow to fast open double track and road, creek crossings, with a random mix of mini features. Despite one corner dab, my bike stayed under me!
Stage 3: Once up the 30+ min hike a bike/climb back up the hill we were stalled with time delays, having to wait in the blowing fog/mist, wind and chillier temps. The last of the amateur stage began on an XC type trail, but quickly dropped to the park and was a mix of flowy DH park trails with small/moderate doubles and tables, a little techy DH, small mellow climbs, tight and fast berms, and a sweet step-up. Just as I was about to drop into my run the timing guys intercom declared “there is a rider seriously injured on course.” Beeep…dropping. With no shouts of course hold I rode on, but the with the words “seriously injured” stuck in mind. I rode cautiously, slipped out on a muddy corner and ran a couple steps, but overall was feeling OK. Coming out of “break out” I heard “slow down, rider down on course” just at the last pitch to the fire road on the off camber rocks. I controlled myself and with heaviness rode by my flourescently dressed downed comrade, with a heavy heart. The Transfer to stage 4 was a long steep access road with loose gravel and needless to say, we all walked, talked and took out time.
Stage 4: After another timing stall in chilly mist and clouds I was the last to drop in the pro field (30 second intervals between riders). Steep slick roll downs greeted me. I went off the trail on one, and with my chain off tried to roll the next, but without a pedal stroke I was off the bike again. Chain back on and rolling I caught both of the pro women in front of me in the creek bed rock garden “Slayer”, and although I made it down a good part of it on my bike, once I slipped off it was near impossible to get on and rolling fast enough again. Alas, made it to the steep short climb, and down to the finish. This time it was a lift ride transfer 🙂
Stage 5: A short pedal to the top of “Outlaw” trail with some nice steep roll downs ending in a mini-drop. Although my chain was off (again) the hecklers at the end of Outlaw yelling “you’re a beast!” had me laughing. Chain back on for the nice pedal around one of the many ponds on the mountain, and a short techy climb (where I passed the first of the women in front of me), on to “Tempest” with some fun table tops and a couple of small drops. The trail diverged into a resurected old school trail (Dairy Queen) with ridiculous rock gardens full of moss, off camber sketch, and tech galore, and wet! The first 1/2 to 3/4 went super smooth, but after slipping on a rock getting rolling again was not going well, and once I caught up with Kelly (the last of the women in front of me), race mode was abandoned and it was time to just have fun. I encouraged Kelly (who had just sprained her ankle) to follow me out so we could ride the rest together, at this point waiting for a friend was enjoyable! We rode out together with smiles and talking about our soon to be had celebratory beer!
It was later that Dan pointed out my Maxle was scarily loose, and I was lucky I didn’t lose my rear tire. Note to self, check your Maxles after every stage and DH run!! In the end I was so stoked to have the chance to ride such challenging stages with awesome folks and skilled riders! Ready for snow but rolling on….
That’s 2/3 Triple Crown Enduro Series races for Ali with one to go!Photo: Mtn Creek Bike Park