Race Report: Rothrock TrailMix

I often say that I don’t really race. I do a few events a year, but I usually would much rather go on a big group ride with friends than spend the day trying to ride faster than other people. That being said, I have had a lot of fun at every race I’ve ever done, and the Rothrock TrailMix was no different.

The TrailMix is a MASS (Mid-Atlantic Super Series) endurance event, meaning the full 36-mile course counts towards points for those doing the entire series. It also is a challenging, rock-strewn, 80% singletrack ride for those of us who don’t care about points but just want to have an epic day on the bike. The course is hard. Thirty-six miles on the rocks of central Pennsylvania is no joke.

But there are other options. A 19-mile Short Course offers up the same great singletrack experience in a less-intimidating package, and the Dice Run appeals to those who would rather gamble (or just have a fun day on the bike with friends) than race. New for this year, a 22-mile Enduro option was also added, so there’s something for everyone.

Photo: Greg Harris

The best part is that all proceeds from the TrailMix go right back into the local trails and riding community. Profits are split between two local youth mountain bike teams and the volunteer groups that maintain the trails in Rothrock State Forest. And so, if nothing else, this was a good reason to enter the event.

Rothrock State Forest is my home turf, so I was all too familiar with the trails we’d be riding. I was looking forward to stringing them all together into one long, hard day of rocky goodness.

As is par for the course on race day, I was nervous that morning. I had a million excuses for why I didn’t feel ready to ride more miles on dirt than I have in a while, most of them probably just unfounded self-doubts.

Familiar faces at check-in made me feel better. The good part about doing a race in your backyard is that even if you go by yourself, you know people. It turned out that throughout the day, I saw people I knew at almost every aid station, and shouts of “Go, Helena!” echoed in my ears all day. Even if they didn’t know me, all the volunteers were awesome – kind, encouraging, and helpful. Thank you all for making my ride that much more pleasant and memorable!

This was also only my second ride on my latest review bike (with my first being only a six-mile shakedown ride). The Proudfoot Primed is a steel full-suspension with 27plus tires, handbuilt to order in Golden, Colorado. The unique-looking frame and bright purple coat made it a head-turner for sure and sparked numerous conversations throughout the day.

The race began with a couple miles of gravel to warm-up and then we were thrown right into the rocks in Shingletown Gap. Technical riding is my jam, and I passed a number of people on the first few rocky bits, but I paced myself. The last thing I wanted to do was blow up. My goal for the day was not necessarily to be fast, but to finish strong, feeling good.

Photo: Greg Harris

Just a mile or two into the singletrack, I felt my hands starting to go numb, an issue I’ve experienced on and off for about the past year. I’ve tried different grips, different gloves, different hand positions. Nothing seems to help (anyone else have this problem?). I shook them out in between rock gardens, a difficult task considering the entire trail was basically one long rock garden at this point. Shingletown is one of the rockiest parts of Rothrock.

On the descent down Maguire Trail, I heard a gradually-loudening rattle and realized it was coming from my saddle. Somehow it had come loose. I stopped at the bottom to tighten it. My stomach hurt. This day did not seem to be going well.

Saddle fixed, I hopped back on the bike and tried to chill out. My hands would be fine. They always are. Keep drinking water. Maintain a steady, consistent pace. Have fun.

I was greeted with friendly faces, including that of one of my best friends, at the first aid station. I flashed a big smile but didn’t stop. I was starting to feel better now that the crowd of racers was spread out and I’d had some semi-alone time in the woods.

Photo: Greg Harris

I caught up to a guy on the gravel. “26-inch?” he asked, looking over at my tires.

“Nah, 27plus,” I replied.

“Oh, I guess they just look smaller because they’re so wide. Must be good for the rocks though.”

Yep.

We pedaled together briefly and then he pulled away ahead of me. But that wouldn’t be the last we’d see of each other – we ended up leapfrogging for the next ten miles before I finally caught and passed him on a climb.

The first half of the ride flashed by. From Shingletown up to the fire tower, down the newly-machined and fast New Laurel Run Trail, up another gravel climb during which a 14-year-old boy passed me as if I was standing still. Croyle Run was riding much better and faster than last time I’d been on it, the revamped sections of trail smoothed out and ridden in. The Gettis Ridge climb didn’t suck as much as I thought it would. It was getting hot but I was feeling better than I did at the beginning of the ride. And my hands weren’t numb anymore.

Photo: Steve Mongold

The Mountain Laurel was out in full bloom on Tussey Mountain Trail and was absolutely beautiful. Aside from one guy that I passed at the very beginning, I didn’t see a single racer during the entire time I was riding along the ridgetop – just a few cheerleaders and people out riding who weren’t associated with the TrailMix. It always amazes me how few people I see during the ride each time I do an event like this. I often end up alone for miles at a time. I’m not complaining. It helps lessen the “serious race” vibe, which is a good thing in my book.

As I glanced to my right and saw the layers of mountains and the valley below that I’d soon be riding in, I remember feeling awestruck at how beautiful this part of the world is. Although I ride this trail every few weeks, I feel the same way about it every time. It never gets old.

Not that much farther to go, I thought as I descended Leniency Trail. My legs felt fine, but my back ached and my arms were fatigued. Note to self: do more activities that involve the upper body (besides just mountain biking).

Photo: Greg Harris

Whenever I do this part of the ride on my own, I usually take Bailout Trail, which continues the descent to the road. But the race course stayed on Leniency and hopped on Tussey Extension, which curves back and climbs three quarters of the way back up the mountain before dropping down. Mentally, I wasn’t prepared for the extra climb. I crawled along at a snail’s pace, walking a couple of the rock gardens I could normally clean simply because my arms were too tired for that kind of bike control. I was thirsty, continuing to drink water but plain H2O wasn’t cutting it anymore. I should have brought something else.

There was a small aid station at the road. Another girl was there with her bike in a workstand. The lady manning the station told me to go left.

“Do you have anything besides water to drink?” I asked.

“We have Gatorade,” she replied.

Perfect.

“Eat the salty dog food,” the guy working on the bike told me. “It tastes terrible but it will help.”

The lady handed me a packet and I opened it. It did look like dog food. I popped a few in my mouth. And it was really salty. Excellent.

The girl who’s bike was getting worked on offered me some gels. “I’m okay, but thank you.”

After guzzling two paper cups of magic blue liquid I jumped back on my bike. One more gravel climb and I was at John Wert, another one of the rockiest trails around, known for several extra gnarly rock gardens. It used to be my nemesis when I first started riding. I remember lots of crying, cursing and crashing taking place on this trail for my first couple of years on the bike, so every time I ride it now it’s a reminder of how far I’ve come. This time was no different.

Photo: Greg Harris

With replenished electrolytes, I found my mojo again, dancing through the rocks of John Wert with only a few dabs and passing a couple more people. The last few miles were easy – mostly downhill, some rocky sections but mostly smooth, fast singletrack. I’d made it.

As I neared the finish line on the road, I heard tires bearing down on me, but I didn’t think much of it. I looked over, surprised to see a girl sprinting past me. I let it go – she clearly cared about the results way more than I did. At this point, we weren’t fighting for podium spots anyway.

She looked over at me after crossing the finish line nine seconds ahead of me. “Good job.”

“You too.” I smiled.

I found my friends and sat down to eat pizza and recap the highlights of the day. Once again, I had more fun “racing” than I thought I would, and I’ll be back next year for sure. You should come too. Even if you’re not a racer, you’ll have a great time, I promise. As long as you like rocks.

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