Adventure race photographer Will Ramos has over 1000 race photos online at thumbnails.php?album=116, including one of YOU!
The third running of the Potomac Highlands Epic Adventure race began Saturday morning May 27 at Yokum's Princess Snowbird campground with the traditional 2024' ascent of North Fork Mountain. Teams bushwhacked to the top and down the other side to the put-in on the South Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River.
Low water levels made for a longish paddle and the first teams arrived at the Take-out in Petersburg about 5 hours later.
From Petersburg the teams rode through he evening to the fiendish traverse of Kline's Gap. To say Kline's Gap is a 'bikewhack' is the understatement of the year - nothing to do but shoulder your bike and 'crash & bash'. Teams from the 2005 PHEAR knew it was a relatively short but intense section, but teams that had not been through before said some very bad words as they manhandled their way through.
Although not particularly steep, the 2600' climb to Bear Rocks on the eastern edge of Dolly Sods wilderness was relentless, and in the words of one racer "character building". From there, teams navigated westward on foot to the Timberline ski resort. Those that did not get started by nightfall had a little more difficulty as the eerie landscape can be especially confusing after dark. They did however, have the consolation of the clear night sky and with no light pollution, the view of the Milky Way was spectacular.
By the time some teams reached Timberline they were far enough behind that there was no way to complete the remainder of the race and get to the 'good stuff' at the end like the Sinks of Gandy and the Via Ferrata, so at that time they opted to have their support crews shuttle them ahead. Those that continued rode through the night on a mix of singletrack hiking trails and jeep trails. A few nearly collided with a big white van that someone managed to get stuck in the mud in the middle of the trail.
By daybreak the leaders reached Evenwood where some slept and others forged on ahead with an 8 mile hike along the Allegheny trail and then back on to the bikes for a long 25 mile climb to the mysterious Sinks of Gandy. The Sinks of Gandy is a one kilometer through-and-through cave and everyone was glad to experience this unique feature.
Another 660' of uphill biking along gravel roads brought racers to the Gatewood group campground which was the staging area for the 'freestyle navigation element'. Due to permitting restrictions, the US Forest Service constrains the race route to specific roads and trails and in an attempt to introduce more 'true' navigation, the rogaine element was added near the end to allow all teams to do some bushwhacking - unfortunately, most were bushed and chose to visit only the single checkpoint required to be an official finisher before a well-deserved rest and the climb to Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia. Kudos to the leaders at this point, Tom Wolf and Eric Turk - although they had a big enough lead on everyone that they could have virtually skipped the rogaine section and still won by a large margin, they gave it their best and visited 9 CPs for a total time credit of 18 hours and 10 minutes.
At noon on Monday the last of the teams left Gatewood, some of them even on their own power, rode to the top of Spruce Knob and then a wild 13 mile 2800' downhill to the Nelson Rocks Via Ferrata. It was hot on the rocks, so no one wasted any time at the top before completing the traverse and mounting up for the final push to the finish along Co Rd 6.
The winners, Team Carolina Trash finished early afternoon Monday and the rest of the teams made it back by nightfall. Congratulations to all who completed the race. Special notice goes to Chris Caul of Team Godspeed...early in the race one team member sickened and dropped out and Chris continued on unofficial with his remaining teammate, who eventually had to drop out himself, by which time the original teammate was feeling better...but since we have no 'relay' classification, they had to continue on as 'unofficial' even though Chris completed the entire course himself and would have placed second had his team not had those problems.
If you were at the race and would like to share your experience, please email the race director with your story...whoever submits the best account of their adventure at the PHEAR wins a free (fully transferable) entry to next year's race.