Think back about one of your oldest friendships.
Take your time, and think about all the adventures you’ve shared. Over the years, you have been through alot, enjoyed many great times, and shared struggles along the way. Maybe, you’ll reflect on the how some aspects of your lives are quite different now, and on the flip side, how the same interests that brought you together still stand strong. This introspection can be surprising when you really take stock of the journey. Great friendships are dynamic. They change over time, and together you evolve. This is the type of friendship that I and many others have with the Pisgah Stage Race.
Over the past 9 years I’ve been blessed with riding in the Pisgah National Forest. Whenever a mountain bike trip can be had, I always find a good house to rent in Brevard and good friends to share Pisgah adventures.
Each year, the Pisgah Stage Race is a crown jewel on my race calendar.
There is a reason why I keep returning to the Pisgah Stage Race. The annual event has been carefully refined year after year. The best Pisgah trails are featured, and each day contains almost 75% single track. Each stage has professional chip timed Enduro segments. Every evening a gourmet dinner is complemented by professional race photos and an awesome video featuring race action from that same day. Racers come from all over the US and from around the world to participate.
However, looking back, the race itself has changed considerably from the original hard man’s backcountry endurance stage race that piqued my interest in 2009.
The inaugural Pisgah Stage Race started out rugged and bold. Like a lot of the riding in Pisgah, it was rowdy. The challenges could be quite intimidating. However, each year Blue Ridge Adventures has been continuously improving and refining this signature event. I’ve been fortunate enough to compete in the Pisgah Stage Race almost every year and have experienced the event’s evolution first hand.Enter the Lion
The first Pisgah Stage Race (PSR) in 2009 was billed as an epic backcountry mountain bike event. The Lion of Pisgah was about to rise and the PSR was set to be my second big mountain bike stage race. A year prior, I had completed the 2nd annual BC Bike Race. 2008 was a very challenging year to ride the premier event in British Columbia, and I was searching for something on par in 2009. I found the challenge I was looking for on the advice of NUE legend Garth Prosser. He had been racing in Pisgah for some time and clued me in to this new and challenging event in Pisgah National Forest.Growing Pains
Then, for the next three days, the PSR challenged us on three backcountry stages with about 40 miles and 9,000+ feet of elevation each stage. All of these routes had choice selections of classic Pisgah trails.
Think about that for a minute. 120 miles and around 28,000 feet of elevation in 3 days, all while negotiating the very technical mountain terrain of Pisgah National Forest. The unseasonably cold and wet October weather made things even more intense for racing in the temperate rainforest of North Carolina.
The final awards and post stage race meal were also grass roots and a bit country. We enjoyed a cookout with burgers and kegs of beer right there at the stage finish zone. Top racers split a lot of cash and prizes as they were awarded on wooden podium steps on the spot. Tough Love
The inaugural year was tough, often brutal. The routes were truly tremendous and the single track was high commitment. One of the stages started out in a mild rain at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, with a police escort out on the highway. Later, we were met with unexpected snow just before we reached the summit of Laurel Mountain. On Black Mountain, a fellow racer broke his nose and bled all over his white Trek. It looked like a crime scene.
Stage racing in Pisgah proved to be very challenging and also very rewarding. Usually, endeavours and friendships that are worthwhile posses these same qualities. The stage race involved technical and raw single track linked by massive climbs. Challenging winter-like weather amplified the epic nature of the whole enterprise. The race demanded skill and endurance. Aggressive racing rewarded courage and tenacity but punished the timid or unqualified brash. The riding was raw, old school, and backcountry. Pisgah demanded respect.
I fell in love with the Pisgah Stage Race.
A look back with Harlan Price:
Jeff: “Harlan, tell me what it was like competing at the highest level in the inaugural Pisgah Stage Race”
Harlan: “It was great to get to be riding close to the front that year but it was a really different race for me and it ended up being one of the best ways to race in Pisgah. I was tired from a long season and had agreed to ride it and write about it for Bicycling Magazine. I carried a camera everyday and would stop to take pictures along the way. That made it a relaxed pace where I got to enjoy the surroundings and chase down riders a lot. I still went hard when I could and missed the podium by a few minutes. I still have and use the knee warmers in these pictures!”
Jeff: “Race director Todd Branham tells people every year about something you said about riding Squirrel Gap…'that wasn’t single track, it was half track!'. Can you tell me more about your perspective on Pisgah riding?”
Harlan: “Pisgah has this beautiful combination of well used and cared for trail as well as a backcountry that makes you feel like you were hanging onto the trail by your toenails and fingertips. That element of raw rocks, roots, and leaves makes finding edges for traction one of those intense yet fun challenges you never forget.”
Big Boy Racing
I returned for my second round of racing the PSR in 2011. Many aspects of the PSR had changed over a couple of years. The race had grown to five big mountain stages. There was a proper opening dinner and registration with course overviews and plenty of beer from New Belgium brewing. After every stage, the Pro and Elite podiums were awarded in Brevard’s town square. Then, there was a happy hour after every stage award ceremony with hors d'oeuvres, social time, and, of course, New Belgium brews. The PSR was really dialed in the third year featuring all of the amenities we’ve come to expect from a world class stage race.Rock Star Status Confirmed
Additionally, there were multiple categories to give everyone a chance at vigorous competition in their discipline. These categories included Pro Men, Pro Women, 40+ Elite, Open Men, Open Women, Single Speed, 40+ men, Duo Team, and Relay team. No shortage of competition existed in any category. I fought tooth and nail every stage for fourth place in open men.The Shred Shack
Another element to stage racing I embraced that year was sharing a rental house with a proper stage race crew. There were eight of us sharing a rental property close to the start/finish. This allowed us to commute to the start at Smoker’s Cove as a nice warm up every morning. We barely knew each other at the start of the race. However, by the end of the week, we all bonded in the face of challenge and the hard won accomplishments. I still reflect very fondly on the experience. Sure, there is give and take sharing a house with people you barely know. That’s part of the experience of making friends. Stage racing is a crucible for forming strong bonds with other mountain bikers. We were all forming bonds with a shared friend as well, the Pisgah Stage Race.Making the News
The Transylvania Times featured a multi-page story covering the Pisgah Stage Race. Imagine my surprise and my pride as I gazed upon my picture in print. Very cool! A Proper Send Off
The final dinner and awards ceremony featured gourmet food, plenty of awesome beer, a live band, and an awesome kids’ race for young rippers. The Brevard Music Center boasted a wonderful dining and awards area with a venue that looked out over a beautiful lake and classic Pisgah scenery. It was quite a memorable evening and the perfect way to wrap up a week of stage racing.
Talking with the King of the Pisgah Stage Race, Jeremiah Bishop :Enter the Fun
Jeff: “Jeremiah, you’ve racked up the most wins at the Pisgah Stage Race and have dominated almost every PSR you’ve competed in. What’s it like to be King of the Pisgah Stage Race?”
Jeremiah: "Thanks Jeff, I’d say I have won the race a few times but that’s generous. Ha ha ha. I have had some incredible races there and it feels good especially when the race courses are such a challenge.
I like stage races but also like technical back country riding so this one has both and I gets me pumped every time I go."
Jeff: “You’ve also raced this event many years in a row. Can you speak to it’s evolution?”
Jeremiah: "Pisgah Stage race has evolved a good bit, it used to have a prolouge and longer stages more to my liking, now more medium distance stages. It’s great that they now have a lot more riders and a lot of international attendance now so it’s getting the attention it deserves. I think a downtown start each day would really spark a lot of attention for the race and create a new dynamic. The race is respected as on of the toughest and most fun races out there; i can’t wait to come back!"
The year was 2013 and the Pisgah Stage Race evolved significantly for the five year anniversary. Each stage had been redesigned to maximize fun, provide a great racing challenge, and leave racers with more time to enjoy Pisgah and Brevard while living the stage race life. PSR was no longer a test of survival and now offered a revised format that proved to be just as much fun as it was challenging.Singletrack Lifestyle
The routes were more manageable and became focused on showcasing the best single track sections connected by as much trail as possible. Gone were the huge endurance-focused stages. The PSR’s previously grueling routes had been re-imagined and specifically curated to provide the best Pisgah single track experience possible. Racing the PSR was still very challenging, but at the end of each stage, you could actually enjoy the stage race lifestyle for the rest of the day.Kicking it up a notch
Enhancing the fun of the revised stage routes were engaging route maps, stage descriptions, and helpful hints on where to go to get what you needed. These are all elements of running a world class stage race. In 2013, the PSR kicked it up a notch and went all out providing a wealth of racing information at your fingertips. Included in your race packet was a professional, high quality, printed stage race guide containing detailed maps and elevation profiles. These same elevation profiles were also printed on waterproof stickers for your top tube or handlebar. During a stage it was money to be able to look down at the graph showing your upcoming trail surface and elevation changes. Instant Replay
Fresh multimedia offerings added a whole new level of sophistication and enjoyment. Land of Sky media was out on course each stage collecting drone footage and dynamic, on-the-ground perspectives with a very capable miniature film crew. After each stage, the drone footage and other recorded aspects of the race were expertly edited into a video the same day! After refreshments, and just before podiums were awarded, we would all watch the day’s video, intently waiting to see if we made the cut. Reliving the stage through these engaging videos really added a whole new level of enjoyment. During each stage, if you saw or heard the drone… you knew it was time to give it the business and rock it out for your chance to make the cut.
Dirtwire.tv was also on hand gathering in race footage, and then doing post stage interviews. I really enjoyed watching the interviews with race leaders Pua Mata and Kerry Werner. The man behind dirtwire.tv, Thom Parsons, was also producing stage videos from his perspective as a race participant. Thom produced engaging videos of each stage from a racer’s perspective. Very cool. Becoming part of the Lions Pride
Another aspect of the fifth annual PSR was the focus on the race as a family. Blue Ridge Adventures really put a lot of focus and energy into making everyone feel welcome and part of the PSR Lions pride. There is really something to be said for an event that fosters competition and community in the same event. You will definitely get to know your competition when you’re trading paint racing five stages in Pisgah. Having a sense of community fostered by the stage race itself was very refreshing and, frankly, important. Backcountry riding can be dangerous. Knowing you can count on those around you during the race really makes a difference when things go upside down. We were all in it together, and the PSR helped guide us through the shared experience. Living the Dream
I’ll have to admit, that when I first reviewed the 2013 PSR course descriptions, I was surprised that it was no longer such a tough man’s endurance stage race. What surprised me was how much more I enjoyed the new format. Instead of being completely destroyed every day, I was able to race very hard and recover with enough time to really enjoy my spare time and take in some of the area’s other offerings. The PSR now made it possible to participate in a mountain bike stage race and take a vacation. There is really something to be said for enjoying your time off the bike as much as you do on the bike at a stage race. Sharing friendship with fellow racers and the Pisgah Stage Race make it special.Building the King of Spring
The Pisgah Stage Race proved to be a world class event that featured continuous innovation and outstang execution. In 2014 this precedent continued. The PSR routes were refined again and an exciting new race within the race was added with chip timed Enduro segments each stage. Now participants could compete in both the regular stage race and the Enduro, without ever having to slow down. Also, the Brevard Music Center became the home base for dinner every night and continued to showcase local cuisine as well as excellent stage videos. Icon Media Asheville joined the team and brought a whole new level of sophistication to race photography. Dynamic photos of action from deep within the forest showcased rider talent on a whole new level.A Glass Half Full
The PSR was not getting the turnout it deserved. A 200 rider limit for the event was not getting filled up, with sometimes less than half the turnout that the event could easily handle. Something was just keeping people from getting on board. This was puzzling to me as the PSR ticks all the boxes, and then some. As far as stage racing goes, I think the PSR is quite a bargain. Years before, I had raced the 2008 BC Bike Race and it easily cost almost 3 times as much. Additionally, one of the best things about the PSR is that the event is based out of a central location, Brevard NC. So for me it just didn’t make sense that the turnout was not what it should be. Perhaps a fall race in early October was just a bit too late in the season, or maybe conflicts with cyclocross calendar ramping were a cause.
Forward thinking with Todd Brahnam:
After the 2014 PSR I sat down and talked with Todd Branham, the driving force of the PSR and owner of Blue Ridge Adventures. We discussed many aspects of the PSR and plans for the future. The future was a move to the Spring.
Jeff: “Tell me about choosing the Spring schedule for this year’s PSR.”
Todd: “In the Pisgah National Forest we are limited to 200 people for the stage race, and we haven’t filled it up yet, and we have investigated why. I know we have a good product. Everybody's stoked about the stage race. Anybody that has raced other stage races and our stage race is scratching their head, thinking why there aren’t more people here?”
Todd: “I truly believe it's been the time of the year.”The Lion Rises in April
“We have two shoulder seasons in Pisgah. We have been working with the town of Brevard and the Tourism Development Authority to realize when the best seasons for the stage race are, the two shoulder seasons. One shoulder season is in the spring, and the other one is in the fall. Originally I chose the fall for the stage race. However, people are pretty burnt out by the time the fall season arrives, and some people are just finishing up the NUE series. Also, there are a lot of stage races in the world before ours. There are only three stage races in the United States, but two of them are before ours.”
“So everywhere I go I hear: ‘Man I want to do that race but I can't…because my wife would kill me.’, or folks say, ‘I'm just out of money.’ or ‘I’m out of vacation time.’ The other thing is Cyclocross. Doing a stage race is completely different in your training and racing than Cyclocross. Early fall is the beginning of Cyclocross season.”
“We've moved the PSR to the spring this year during the second week of April. We'll be the first stage race on the calendar for the United States.”
“In the fall Pisgah is very Robust from the summertime, green and briery…thick. However, in the spring, you have a nice green carpet on the ground. You can see everything, the views are more open. Nothing is really grown in yet. Flowers are popping up... Mushrooms are everywhere. It's quite a different experience, equally as nice as it is in the fall. “I'm really excited about the spring event this year. It should be really good, and quite different from the past.”
April 2015, and Pisgah National Forest witnesses an earlier arrival of the Pisgah Stage Race. The PSR had been moved to the spring shoulder season. As I was pre-riding classic Pisgah routes for the event, I noticed just how much more of the terrain you could see. There was a soft green glow from the budding leaves that were on the verge of popping. Plenty of other spring colors, sights, sounds, and smells were bringing new life to the forest.Roll Out the Red Carpet
The PSR had already been doing a great job with each stage post race recovery as well as dinner offerings for the first and last night's event ceremonies. However, with the move to Spring, also came a renewed focus on making this the headline event for Blue Ridge Adventures. Todd Branham told me he wanted all the racers to experience the red carpet.
The PSR now offered fully catered local gourmet cuisine every evening of every stage. The Brevard Music Center served as the host venue for each stage’s evening meal, results, media and awards. There was clearly a lot of emphasis on refining each aspect of the post stage experience including dinner for all the stage racers, stage and cumulative results printed for review, a slide-show of photos from the day, the stage video for the day, podium presentations, and a preview of the next stage.
Other red carpet offerings included coffee and pastries at the start location of each stage as well as optional services like massage, laundry, and daily bike maintenance. If you wanted or needed something, the staff of the PSR was going to find a way.
Making this red carpet experience happen was no small feat. Todd Branham made the decision to re-invest the majority of the $20,000 that had previously been awarded as prize money. He now invested that money into every racer’s red carpet experience. Epic Racing Battles
The move to spring also ushered in a new level of competition. The two fastest racers that year had a grueling week long battle. Thomas Turner and Jeremiah Bishop went head to head each and every day, battling it out, often within slapping distance of each other. They were trading paint on the challenging Pisgah terrain, with attacks and counter attacks the entire time. In the end, less than two minutes separated them over the course of five stages. I was lucky to be able to get each day’s racing action straight from the source as Thomas described how each stage unfolded to all of his housemates for the week.
I found myself in my own knock down, drag out battle for 3rd place in the 40+ men’s category. The week had been very wet and this played into my skill set. On the fourth stage I was able to make a lot of headway charging Squirrel Gap and then by burying myself on the long climb up Laurel Mountain. I had a pretty solid grasp on second place, then I crashed on Pilot losing some time and a little skin. By the end of the stage, I had ended up in third place by 20 seconds or so. Fortunately, I rode to second place on the fifth stage and earned 3rd place in the overall for the 40+ category. It took me five stage races to get on the podium, and it was awesome.Got your back
Weather racing solo or duo, I’ve found that you always have support and friends at the Pisgah Stage Race. The PSR staff work very hard to ensure you’ve have the best experience you can. Wether its mechanical support or first aid at a pit stop. the dedication to each individual's race experience really puts the PSR on the next level of world class stage racing.
Team racing with Gordon Wadsworth:Build It, They Will Come
Jeff: “Gordon, your duo team has been dominating the duo race category ever since you started racing the Pisgah Stage Race. I think you’ve probably been having the most fun out there as well. What makes racing the PSR on a duo team so much fun?“
Gordon: “I will definitely accept the mantle of ‘most fun had’ Jeff! Duo racing is so big in other international stage races and Pisgah really amplifies the partnership element of duo racing. Most international stage races are duo-only format; taking a hard thing and making it harder in a sense, and Pisgah is absolutely the best testing grounds I've ever raced in for a racing partnership. The technicality and the difficulty of the terrain really rewards or punishes partners based on their relationship and communication. I've found that when the duo partnership is really humming along both racers are moving faster than they would solo. It's a great dynamic. Riding through the steep and deep of the Pisgah Forest with another similarly strong partner really encourages you to get more than a little sendy. Everything is a booter or a sender and the whole forest is your playground. I've been blessed to have some partners who really appreciate that and dig in with both feet. I've been lucky with partners; settling the past few years with Elliot Baring as the perfect match for me, and have a lot of love for the Duo format. I would love to see this continue to grow stateside and at the PSR. I'll keep coming back as long as they keep having me! Even after 5 wins Pisgah still teaches and preaches for me!"
For 2017 the Pisgah Stage Race hosted it’s largest turnout ever. Nearly 170 racers from 11 different countries across the world gathered in the Pisgah National Forest for the 9th annual PSR. I was very keen to see how the event would scale with almost twice the number of participants as the last few years.
The Pisgah Stage Race rose to the challenge without batting an eye.
What really impressed me the most was how seemless the 9th annual event took place. I thought I would definitely notice a difference with the event finally nearing the capacity it deserves. Think about an event you normally host or attend, and then double the number of people. The best compliment for me would be to explain how I didn’t really notice the impact of twice the amount of racers. The same great event experience repeated itself every day as it always has the last few years. To me, that is a clear indication of the PSR’s excellent planning and execution.
I was also excited to see how the stages would feel with the larger number of racers.More racers, more options
With the increased depth of participants, several categories of competition were available. This allowed racers to enjoy vigorous competition within the age group that made the most sense. In addition to Open Men, Open Women, Single Speed, and Duo Team other categories were available. Co-ed Duo Team, 40+ Men, 40+ Women, 50+ Men. Great racing action, more podium opportunities, these options really enhanced the competition among racers. Of course, there is also the Enduro race category that is contested by the fastest trail chargers out there.
Enduro style, with Lindsey Carpenter:Competition on a whole new level
Jeff: “Lindsey, you dominated the women’s Enduro race! What was your favorite stage?“
Lindsey: “All of the enduro stages were rippers, but Avery trail was the dirtiest and definitely took the cake for me. Sometimes the most unsustainable trails are the most fun to ride! Big ruts and sketchy rocks down a fast-fast chute of an old creek bed, with a long, straight, sprinting stretch at the bottom. Pilot Rock was a close second, very versatile trail, lots of rocks and "oh my god hold the eff on", and a huge heckle zone.”
Jeff: “What does it take to be a blazing fast rider on the challenging terrain of Pisgah?“
Lindsey: “Strong arms, eyes up, and drive. I had never ridden in Pisgah before the PSR last April, and I went into every stage blind. I thought that was advantageous. Instinct took over and I didn't have time to react to how big that drop was or how gnarly that rock garden was because I was already in it and had to ride it out. I was lucky to be competing with the incredible Sue Haywood and fit as heck Jena Greaser, both fantastic riders. Knowing about their talent urged me to take more chances and let go of the brakes. I was stoked on how technical the trails were. Growing up in Harrisonburg, VA gave me a huge appreciation for rock tech and hard switchbacks, so it was a treat to find that Pisgah had such challenging terrain.”
Jeff: “Serious Enduro competition seems like a different and equally as fun way to approach the PSR. What’s it like to focus on charging the Enduro sections?“
Lindsey: “When we were unloading our bikes from the shuttle rig for a remote start one morning, someone looked at my Salsa Redpoint and commented on how much travel it has and its weight. Sure, my climbs may have been more efficient if I rode a hardtail or something, but damn was my PSR experience fun. Having a plush 650 steed with big rubber was perfect for the downhills, eating the rocks and I had no flats all week!!! My commitment to the Enduro allowed me to be more comfortable and socialize the rest of the time. Don't get me wrong, I strongly admire the women who are lung busting the whole race. But it was sweet to spend more time on course and talk to other riders, and not stress. I went into every enduro stage feeling warmed up and fresh, ready to sprint at any pedaling opportunity. The PSR was the perfect way to train for some of the coveted East Coast Grand Tours, including the Giro d'Ville, the Tour de Burg, and La Vuelta a Georgia. Pedaling steady all day and hitting the downhills hard is the perfect way to keep a solid place in the middle of the peloton and maybe snag some Super D points from the boys. Todd and his crew put on a fabulous event, with awesome support, courses, and vibes. I will definitely be back.”
The 2017 Pisgah Stage Race saw its largest field ever, and the ferociousness of the competition was on a whole new level. This was no parade of weekend warriors, it was a full on assault by all the battle-hardened men and women of the Pisgah Stage Race.The Evolution Continues
For 2018 the Pisgah Stage Race will host the 10th Anniversary PSR. I’m confident that it will continue to showcase all of the best racing in Pisgah in an event that continues to be refined and improved year after. The PSR has demonstrated year after year that a world class stage race can continue to innovate and grow every year. In addition to the excellent selection of categories already available to racers, the PSR has added a 50+ women’s and 60+ men’s categories.
Prizes for 2018 will include $3000 in cash for the XC categories brought to you by Industry Nine. For the Enduro specialist, $800 dollars in cash prizes are up for grabs, brought to you by Mossey Mountain Bikeworks.
I’ll be mixing it up for the 2018 PSR as well, by racing in the duo team category. I met my duo race partner Justin while eating dinner at a bar back in 2009 recovering from a big stage at the first PSR. We were reliving the epic route from that day which had started in the rain, snowed on us going up Laurel Mountain, and finally ended with the ripping descent down Black Mountain. Ten years later, and it’s tough to keep up with all of the awesome friends I’m made racing at the Pisgah Stage Race. Luckily, I have the chance to do it all again in 2018! Roots, Rocks, Repeat!
Sign up for the Pisgah Stage Race
and prepare to make friends for life. I know I have.