This Wilderness 101 mountain bike race was on my to-do list, but I wasn’t planning on it for this year. I was thinking I could fit it in next year with a family trip out east or something. Anyways, after doing a bunch of shorter races this spring and then getting through the Lutsen 99er, I was itching for some longer and more epic rides. I also love getting out to new places and it looked like I could fit it into my schedule. The anticipation and preparation for a trip out to a new place is just as much a part of overall experience as the race day itself.
Podcast of Race Report
The Podcast version has some additional thoughts and commentary. However, I still suggest reading through the written report first and getting a look at the course maps/elevation profiles before listening to the podcast to enhance your listening experience…!
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I guess I don’t always mention the race venue in my race reports, but this one was a bit unique. I suppose I should probably talk about the venue set up regardless in the future. Anyways, the start/finish was in a little park in a very small town. The Wilderness 101 race took over the park starting Friday afternoon until Sunday morning. Everybody pulled in, set up their tents and hung out for the weekend. I could see the start/finish line from my tent. Friday afternoon and eventing was taken up by racers getting their gear ready and just hanging out talking. Saturday evening after the race, was racers hanging out, eating some race provided food and having a couple of beers. It was a really cool set-up. If you head out to this race, I suggest camping out in the park. There were no showers and only porta-jons, but racers were able to clean off with some hoses that were set up. I even soaped up a little and was clean enough to make it through the evening.
Wilderness 101 Course Layout
The course had a lot of gravel on it, but the singletrack was very rugged and rocky. The singletrack on this course probably had larger rocks and a higher density of rocks of any other course I’ve ridden, aside from True Grit. Marji Gesick 100 does have a lot more rocks, but the Marji also has way more singletrack. Like I said, the singletrack on this course was full of rocks, making for very little smooth singletrack riding. All of the smooth riding was out on the gravel roads.
For the most part, you were either going up or down except some gravel early in the race after the first climb and a couple sections of rail trail in the final miles of the course. Any flat stuff mid course was where you found the rugged singletrack, but even most of that was downhill. There were also some really high speed gravel descents. I hit 40+ mph at least a couple times.
Training Peaks is reporting an elevation gain of 13,345 feet, while Strava is reporting 10,850 feet. Strava is likely to be the most accurate on this one. I ran the elevation correction in both apps as well. I can see a very jagged edge on the elevation profile of all the climbs within the Training Peaks elevation profile and that is likely being represented as additional elevation gains that aren’t actually there.
Wilderness 101 Race Goals & Objectives
Over the past few years I have learned to set different types of goals for races vs just aiming for a finish time or place. That would be different story if I was at the level to hit the podium every time, but I’m not there, yet… I keep getting getting faster and I’m only 38, so I’ve got some time yet if I’m patient and do things right.
Anyways, when you’re headed out to a brand new race for you on new trails, terrain etc… You don’t know what to expect anyways, so setting a finishing time goal can be a bit arbitrary for your first go at a new to your race. That being said, I had heard that it can be really key to a good race if you can stay with the lead group through the first climb as it is all gravel from their to the first aid station. There is another hill prior to the first aid station that I would normally call a climb, but is dwarfed by the rest of the climbs on this course.
I should add that this was not a primary target race for me, especially since I didn’t even register till until a few weeks before the event. I also had been heavy on my training for the Marji Gesick 100 in September leading up to the Wilderness 101 and was carrying quite a bit of fatigue into this race and not in very good form at all.
Goal #1 – Stay with the lead group through the first aid station at mile 19.
I prioritized this goal over my finishing time. I just wanted to see what it took to stay with the lead group and then if I came back to do the race over again, I would know whether that was a good choice or not when chasing an overall time. The second time I go back to a race, I am more likely to prioritize my finishing time…
Goal #2 – Finish in 8 hrs, but would be generally satified with 9.
This is always a tough one, but I just took a look at previous years time and try to ballpark where I think I can realistically come in at. This is always a tough one to set a goal for, but at minimum it helps in planning drop bags, nutrition, etc… for the length of the race.
The Wilderness 101 Mountain Bike Race
Start to Aid 1 – Mile 19
The rollout eased out of the park and down a couple miles of paved river road, before making a left turn to start the first climb. Nobody busted out aggresively when we hit the climb, but it definitely wasn’t relaxed. During the first half of the climb, there seemed to be a little more moving around. I believe we were all just trying to make sure we were in a comfortable spot and didn’t want to get pushed off the back if the group were to split in front of us. At least, that is where my head was at.
I pulled myself up to sit in about the top 15 or so riders and dropped into a comfortable gear. There were 3 spots on the climb where the grade let off a bit, but definitely not leveled out. You can see the red line in the elevation chart where my heart rate did rise up. I burnt a match or 2 going up, but not significantly. I think it was about 3/4 of the way up when I noticed a split in the group happening behind me. I was not on the rivet yet and since I had made the climb on Thursday; I new at this point that I was going to stay on.
I would do this same thing all over again when I go back to this race a second time. Sometimes, these are just little tests as you progress through your racing to see where you are at. I think you have to do things like this, even if it could be detrimental to your overall race. Like I said, this wasn’t my primary target race, so why not see if I can learned something extra out of it.
The descent on the other side was fast and at some point we came to a hard left, which I was ready for because I had driven the first 19 miles of the course in my car the previous day. There seemed to be a hard effort on the hill out of that hard left and the tail end of the group almost got strung out a little. I made it my business to stay on as I knew there was going to be a handful of miles with not much elevation change until we got closer to the first aid station.
There was some point in here and I can’t remember if it was before that previous left turn or after it that it seemed like everybody just kind of sat up and backed off. I guess it probably started with a few guys at the front that didn’t want to get stuck pulling the entire time. There was a few small conversations happening as we rode along and I had the chance to chat with Gordon Wadsworth quickly. I always enjoy his social media posts, but never had the chance to chat with him in person. I’ll toss a link to his blog at the bottom of the report.
You never really feel like you hit a solid hill prior to the first aid station, but at some point you do start heading up hill again. You start feeling the work again and then it does come to a bit of a steep grade before descending down to aid station 1 and I could see folks looking like they were getting ready for the second game on to begin as we made the right hand turn into aid 1. I think there were about 15 of us, maybe 20 when we made the turn.
Aid 1 to Aid 2 – Mile 33
There were volunteers handing out fresh bottles if you wanted to drop yours, but I still had plenty of water and kept riding. I intened to get to aid station 2 at mile 33 before I refilled anything.
After the first aid station, we started climbing up a 2 track and that’s were the lead group started blowing apart. It wasn’t instant, but I dropped off fairly soon after the aid station and then could see some others behind me, along with others up ahead getting strung out. I felt a little flat going up the 2 track, even when it started to level out for a little bit. This make a little sense with how much focus I had been putting into strength work and my lack of doing much spinning up fast with high speed anaerobic work in the past few weeks. That being said, even the part that felt like it had leveled out, didn’t really level out… It was a false flat and we were still climbing.
There was a crazy fast decent down some rough 2 track. It was still wet from the rains the night before and my glasses were getting splashed with mud. It was one of those, let it rip and trust your bike descents. I got caught by a couple people on this section. Maybe me a bit too much of a chicken…
There was another gravel climb, which I was strong on and believe I pulled a couple people back in on. We finally hit some singletrack and it was wet and rocky. It wasn’t the rockiest part of the course, but the rocks were big rocks and this was not flowy IMBA style trail. I finally hit a section that I later came to know as 3 Bridges Trail where a big long pile of rocks follow 3 bridges if I remember correctly. I quickly recognized this section as the big rock garden from previous DIRT WIRE TV videos of the race. I’ll throw some links to those old videos at the bottom of the report. I’d recommend checking them out if you decide to head out to the Wilderness 101 at some point.
There was another gravel climb, where I think I lost a spot or 2 and then the gravel took a left up more of a 2 track or lighter jeep trail before hitting Aid 2 at mile 33.
Aid 2 to Aid 3 – Mile 50
I wasn’t at mile 33 long at all. I did hang my bike up quickly, filled my water bottle and then got back in it. Leaving Aid 2 was single track that quickly turned into really rocky switchback descending. It was awesome! I was actually fairly amazed that I rode the entire thing. I actually yelled out a big “woohooo” or something toward the end of it. I suppose for some folks, it might not have been that big of a deal, but this was new stuff relative to the singletrack that I get to ride.
I believe I dumped back out on some gravel again for another climb after that. Once at the top of the climb, I believe this where I was dumped back into what people were refering to as the river later that evening around the finish line party. It was a rocky and steep downhill, with holes that you had no idea how deep they were going to be when you hit them. I lost a couple spots in traffic here. I was brave, but also fearful of hitting those holes too hard and going over the bars.
Each one of them had a little berm on the other side that look like you were just going to lose your front tire in the hole and hit a wall. I think there was some purpose to this whole set up to avoid complete errosion of the trail. If I remember correctly, it looked like these holes were there from water routing off the side of the trail versus water running right down the trail. That being said, there was a section of the trail going down hill, that was rocks and deep flowing whitewater. It was crazy.
At the bottom of that was more gravel that still went downhill for a short period before making another gravel climb up to Aid 3, right around the 49 mile mark. I lost some time on one of the previous climbs and then got caught fast in that last “river trail”, but was still on a strong pace for the day as I was nearing the halfway point.
Aid 3 to Aid 4 – Mile 69
At Aid station 3, I grabbed the small shot bottle of Pickle Juice that was in my drop bag and then had my water bottle refilled. I also refilled my hydration pack with water and my CarboRocket powder that I was carrying with me and then was on my way. I grabbed my extra shot of Pickle Juice because I had actually used my first one earlier. This was actually the first time trying this product, but I had felt my left calf start to tighten up earlier in the race and cracked the Pickle Juice at that point. The cramp never came back, but I thought I should go ahead and grab my other shot of it for the rest of the ride.
The road headed up another climb out of Aid 3 and I remember it getting steeper as I got a littel outside the Aid station. I think this is one of the first times, that I really started to feel the fatigue in my quads from the last few weeks of training start stacking up on me. My legs started feeling flat here and I was moving really slow up this climb and watching my pace drop off. At the top of the climb, there was a slight downhill before dropping into some singletrack if I remember correctly.
I really struggled in this singletrack if I am remembering back to the right time and place. It was scattered with lots of rocks and I was not making very good time on it at all. I got caught and passed by a few guys on this trail that seemed to be busting through it and handling the rocks really well. I just couldn’t get a good flow going on it and it worked me over. It eventually turned into steeper downhill and a wider path that I could carry enough speed to not worry about what line to ride and just go. I should mention that there really never was a good line to follow through any of the rocks.
There was more gravel road after this before hitting another section of singletrack. I believe this is where the trail that was refered to as No Name was at. It was a stupid narrow bench cut, full of rocks along the edge of a steep hill. I almost stopped and walked it, but then I commited. It was actually more than a half mile long though. Not only was it narrow and rocky, it was actually a fairly steep grade going down as well. I was nervous going down it from the standpoint of knowing that if I crash, I would likely end up tumbling a little way down the side of the hill.
At the bottom of No Name was a wet bridge that I hit at too much of a angle and lost the front end. Thankfully, I was most of the way acrossed it when I went down and didn’t drop off the side of it and managed to crash into the ground on the other side, right in front of the photographer. I was ok and the photographer actually showed me the picture that he took of me coming across. He said, 1 more frame and he would have gotten me hitting the dirt. I was leaning in the picture, but still upright. I jumped on my bike, laughed and told him “only him and I know the truth of how that one played out, haha” and was on my way. The later release of the picture, would obviously show that I was well on my way to hitting the dirt though…
I hit a gravel road again, made a left on some pavement and found myself at Aid 4.
Aid 4 to Aid 5 – Mile 89
I had a slight hiccup at Aid 4. I was just going to fill my water bottle up and grab my spare gels and waffles out of my drop bag. After doing so and jumping back on the bike, I decided I better top off my hydration pack and throw a little more CarboRocket powder in it. The volunteer helped me top off my pack and then I went looking for my drop bag, which was gone. They’re efficient at the aid stations and had already thrown my drop bag in the trailer, thinking I was done with it. Anyways, one of the volunteers realized I needed my bag back and helped me grab it from the trailer. I grabbed my back up CarboRocket out of it and added some to my pack and then was finally off.
Leaving Aid 4 was a long Jeep trail type climb. It really wore on me. I mentioned earlier that I was carrying quite a bit of fatigue into the race and my quads were just tired and flat at this point. I worked my way up the jeep trail at a really light pace, where I got caught by another rider. In hindsight, I really regret not pushing this climb harder.
There was some downhill at the top, but I believe this was on a 2 track or jeep trail as well versus gravel road. It wasn’t very long and I came to an old bridge that was missing everything but the steel beams, with arrows that took us down below it and right thru the creek. It felt nice and cool, but I really didn’t need my shoes full of water again.
My shoes were in bad need of replacement and I’ve actually been Gorilla taping the velcro straps closed for races this summer and all the mud, water and rocks wasn’t helping. I had actually cut the tape on one of the straps from each shoe earlier in the race while banging off of rocks in one of the rock sections and they’d been flapping around since. I try to get a full life’s use out of my gear, plus a little more…
Back to the race… I dropped another overall place shortly after the creek, which happen to be to the Men’s Master (50+) winner that day. He was looking strong and motored away from me up the old road, jeep trail or whatever we were on.
I think I came back out on some actual road at somepoint after this and can’t remember if this was the little pavement section that went by a few houses or not. It may have just been another short section of gravel, I can’t quite remember. Anyways, it wasn’t very long and then I think there was another section of trail. I’m having a hard time picturing what this section looked like, but it worked it’s way uphill for awhile according to the elevation profiles and it might have been a bit sandy. I would error on the side of saying it was rocky, but I can picture some sandier type of riding at some point and this may actually have been that section. Which, is a fair chance since the section on Strava is named Sand Mtn.
I remember feeling some fatigue really starting to hit me at this point and was going really slow. I had been climbing for the last 7 or 8 miles, aside from the one short downill at the top of the jeep trail and it was stacking up on my legs. Much of the training I had been doing in the 3 weeks leading up to this race was actually climbing, but was really short, very low cadence and very high efforts. My legs needed some rest at this point.
Back to the race again… I hit a section that was fairly wide and looked like it was actually a maintained type of trail. I remember laughing a bit, because I swear there was a sign at the start of it that said “no motorized vehicles”, but then shortly after that, seeing a sign that said ATVs must give right away to foot traffic… Anyways, it was a faster section of riding and I think started going a little downhill at some point. I got up to speed at one point and washed out the front end in a corner and went down hard on my left side.
I laid there for a minute and got up slow, stretched and checked myself and bike over as it rung my bells pretty good. My left shoulder is what hit first and I couldn’t tell if I had actually hit my head or just got one heck of a jarring out of my shoulder hitting the dirt. I had a little bit of a headache and eventually jumped back on my bike and soft pedaled away, taking awhile to get back up to speed.
I was back out on some gravel at the end of this and on another really steep gravel climb. It wasn’t super long, but I was ready to start heading downhill soon. My wish was granted shortly after and I was sent downhill to hit the fastest speeds I’ve ever hit off of pavement. Based on my GPS file, it was right around 3 miles of downhill and it was steep. It was loose gravel, pretty much the same gravel that was on the rest of the gravel roads and it twisted it’s way down out of the hills. It wasn’t super twisty, but there was a couple turns that you had to get into the brakes heavy and well ahead of time or some bad stuff was likely to happen. I hit 42 mph coming down this hill according to my GPS. It was awesome and scary all at the same time.
At the bottom was a left hand turn up a paved section of road with a nasty headwind, or at least it felt like a nasty headwind. It wasn’t flat for very long and then I was working back uphill again for the next 5 miles on gravel roads if I remember correctly. After the climb, it was back downhill again on gravel roads and I knew I was getting close to the next aid station.
At some point as I was making my descent down the gravel roads… 2 guys on dirt bikes came around a corner hot and wide, right in front of me. I had to get into the brakes and they left a skid mark themselves. I soon came to a camping area and saw the arrows for a right hand turn where I found the last aid station.
Aid 5 to The Finish of The Wilderness 101
I stopped quickly at Aid 4, filled my water bottle and downed 2 cups of coke and then took off. Soon after the aid station, I believe this is where I entered a fairly long railroad tunnel. The surface was paved and when you entered you could barely see the opening, so it was pitch dark. After the tunnel, I hit a nice gravel bike path that was an old railroad grade and picked up the pace.
I made really good time of the bike path and then was turned up a gravel road to a switchback up another jeep trail climb. I was thinking this had to be the last one as the mileage was in the 90+ mile range now and I knew what the last mile or 2 looked like. My legs were flat, but I stood up and forced some extra effort into the pedals, knowing that it was likely the last climb.
I don’t remember exactly what the descent looked like, but I believe it was the same type of 2 track or jeep trail that I had just climbed and I let it rip. I came to the river and then hit the arrows to the singletrack that I later heard folks refering to as Fisherman’s Trail. It was a complete hike-a-bike over big rocks. There was joking at the finish line that some local guy that rides with no helmet and cut off shorts can ride it, according to legend…
Fisherman’s Trail was followed by a railroad grade that I assumed would hit the final narrow bridge. It was in fact it, but the railroad grade seemed to go on forever. At least it felt that way. I finally hit the narrow bridge over the river and dismounted. The bridge was barely wide enough to fit your handlebars, so I stood my bike up on it’s rear wheel and ran across the bridge with my front wheel in the air. I had rode out to this bridge from the finish line the previous morning and knew I would have to dismount for it.
Across the bridge was another old railroad tunnel, but this one wasn’t paved and it was rocky. I had checked it out the day before also, so I knew what I was getting into. I jumped off my bike to lift it over a couple rocks and a log that was laying across the entrance. There were 2 older ladies walking around and checking out the tunnel and they looked at me confused as I jumped back on my bike in the tunnel and started riding. There was a good ridable line with only a few rocks in it and the tunnel was short enough to give a little bit of light. I’m not sure if they knew there was a race going on or not, but if they were there for more than a couple minutes, they saw more than me going through the tunnel.
I popped out of the tunnel and was in the home stretch back to Coburn Park for the finish line. I stayed on the gas, right back into town and into Coburn Park. As I pulled into Coburn Park, I dropped my chain again off the bottom of my cassette, locking my pedals up as my chain jammed between the cassette and my chain stay. I got it to free up with a few back and forth pedal strokes and pedaled across the finish line.
I ended up finishing in 8 hrs and 33 minutes with a 26th place finish in the Men’s Open Class and a 36th place overall finish. The 10 place difference in the overall finish was to the winner of Women’s Open, winner of the Men’s Master (50+) and 8 of those crazy single speeder guys.
Closing Thoughts On The Wilderness 101
What I would do different
Climbs – I should have pushed myself harder on the climb coming out of aid station 3 near the 50 mile mark and also again on the jeep trail climb coming out of aid station 4 at around the 66 mile mark. My legs were flat, but I had more in me based on how I rode the last 10 to 15 miles and should have pushed it more. I lost a lot of time on those climbs.
Nutrition – I still haven’t gotten my nutrition nailed. I feel like my body responds well with Coke, but I didn’t drink any until the last aid station. I think I could use some more simple sugars throughout the race for those high effort bursts and steep climbs.
What I would do again
I would definitely go up the first climb with the lead group again. I’d actually set a goal to hang with them up the following climb as well.
I liked the race. There was a lot of gravel, but the single track was rough. I just like getting out and experiencing new races, trails and terrain. Those climbs were much more than what I am used to. It’s a different approach vs the short punchy stuff that I ride here that you can bursts up in less than a minute. I wasn’t quite sure where to dial in my effort for those long and steady 20+ minute climbs.
Would I do The Wilderness 101 Again
Yes, I liked the whole set up of the race. Although not an actual campground, the camping at the start/finish line was included in registration and fun, the course was marked well overall and the racers were well taken care of after the race with food and beer. I’ve been to a lot of races where the after party and awards are scheduled later in the evening. I enjoyed the fact that I didn’t need to leave the race site and the party just commenced on from the time you crossed the finish line. It wasn’t really a party atmosphere, but just a some good hanging out and camaraderie. I met some really nice people as well at the race because of the camping at the start/finish line that I otherwise would not have met.
Relevant Wilderness 101 Links & Files
Aid station split times…
Strava file (feel free to follow me on Strava)…
Some photos from the weekend…
Shenandoah Mountain Touring – race organizer
NUE (National Ultra Endurance Series) – series organizer
Bob’s Photo Gallery – race photos
Dirt Wire TV – videos of previous years
Quadsworth – Gordon Wadsworth’s website
Facebook (endurancepath) – follow me on Facebook
Instagram (endurance_path) – follow me on Instagram
Twitter (hamlinsm) – follow me on Twitter