Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race (PMBAR)

The first rule of PMBAR is that you'll find out the rules when the race starts.

PMBAR (Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race) is this super popular race put on by Pisgah Productions.  So popular, it sells out in less than a day (update: it sold out in 16 hours in 2014 and a record of 5 hours in 2015). The race is a checkpoint format with teams of two riders. But the highlight of the race (aside from spending an entire day in Pisgah on a bike) is that you don't know any details of the race until the morning of. It's all a surprise. Some consider Eric (the race director) to be evil. Others consider him a genius. But really, he's an evil genius and the perfect race director.

What you do know going in is that you will have to get a certain number of checkpoints out of a certain number of options; you must have everything on the gear list; there will be certain boundaries you can't go outside of and trails you can't use; you're going to start at Smoker's Cove, then up Black Mountain Trail (a 2.5 mile climb up a rocky, technical trail that no one typically choses to ride up); and you will have to come back down Black Mountain Trail (trail becomes a blast in this direction) to finish the race. This is a self-supported race. Bring everything you're going to need because you're not going to find it on trail. Oh, and it's going to be a hard, long day.

I've been wanting to do PMBAR for a while now. But have always been too intimated by the challenges of the race. Finally I said, screw it. I had to do it before before leaving Asheville.


Everything was frosted over race morning, a typical spring day in western NC. The start is always at Smoker's Cove. It's a low key set up. This year the race passports were given out 5 minutes before the race started. Sometimes the passport is given out after the initial climb up Black Mountain Trail to Pressley Gap. The passport is critical to have; it includes the rules, boundary limits, and most importantly what the mandatory and optional checkpoints are. Your passport (photo below) gets marked at each checkpoint you go to. Oh, and you make your route. You and your partner plan out how you're going to get the necessary checkpoint and get back before the time cut-off. This year there were 3 mandatory and 4 optional checkpoints, but you were required to get any 2 of the 4 optional checkpoints. Each additional checkpoint you get after the initial five is rewarded to riders as a time bonus. But you have to make sure it's actually a win-win situation if you try for additional checkpoints because it may take longer to get the extra checkpoint than the time bonus you'd get from it . At the end you only have you and your partner to blame if your race goes badly.


Below is the map that Eric gave out last year when Jerud and Andrew raced it together. The off-limit roads/trails/boundaries are pre-marked. Maps weren't given out this year so we used the same map again.


Unlike typical races, when Eric said "go" most racers set their bikes down, pull out their maps and passports to plan out what checkpoints they are going to hit before actually heading out. Some riders plan out the routes in their heads without ever pulling out the map. The better you know the trails, the faster you're across the start line. It's highly recommended that you read the rules in the passport before setting off because Eric has been known to throw in a twist or two.


Photo by pisgah productions


Andrew and me at our first checkpoint a the top of Clawhammer Mountain! The sun came out and the layers came off. It was another beautiful day in paradise.


Seeing the "grilled cheese sammies" sign was so wonderful. Partially because Stephen posted something on Facebook that tricked me into thinking that he wasn't going to be at PMBAR this year with his unofficial aid station. I had heard all about his aid station and felt that experiencing it was part of the true PMBAR experience. So this was a great surprise! And it was also partially so wonderful because never have I more wanted whatever Stephen was offering after the 9+ "creek" crossings on Bradley Creek trail. These are thigh deep, pick up your bike, arms get sore, don't fall in or it'll suck kind of crossings. I was glad afterwards that was the first time I had experienced Bradley or else I would have just wasted energy dreading it.


Because it's a pick-your-route race, there are teams of riders coming from all directions throughout the race. I LOVE the randomness and the unknown of what the other teams were up to and whether they're ahead or behind you in the game. You can have a team who was riding behind you but had potentially already gotten more checkpoints then you. We leap-frogged with one team on Bradley and then didn't see them again until an hour or so later when they were coming up Pilot Rock trail as we were heading down it. Andrew and I would see a team coming from a trail and ask each other, "What the heck is their route?" And just because you cross the finish line sooner than another team doesn't necessarily mean you've beat them in the race. Have I mentioned how much I love this race? This is a mountain bike race with logistical strategies. It's the best mountain bike race concept and format!

But it was hard. It was a long day riding on difficult trails. They weren't forgiving trails. It was also connecting together trails that I found hard on their own without adding other challenging trails. Sometimes it was just putting my head down and grinding through it. There were sections of our route that I was utterly worn out, like at the end with gravel grind up Clawhammer road to Pressley Gap when I was slow. Poor Andrew, I'm pretty sure he was bored! The picture below was taken at the top of Laurel Mountain, a trail that kicks my butt on normal rides. But with 40 miles and hours of riding in my legs, this trail beat me up.

The elevation profile for our PMBAR route.

The elevation profile for our PMBAR route.


Andrew and I ride together a lot. I have to admit that I usually get frustrated with him at some point during our rides because he doesn't ever get hungry or wants to stop for any reason. He just goes forever. And he gets aggravated with me because...actually I don't know if he does because he's so laid back when it comes to riding (as long as you keep riding). But we did really well together during this race. We went out to have fun and we did. 


Now that the pain is a few days old - that wasn't so bad. Especially when you get beer and burritos at the finish line.


If you think PMBAR sounds fun, check out Double Dare - it's two days of PMBAR back to back.


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