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  • Writer's pictureScarlett Graham

2019 USARA National Champs!

Updated: Nov 17, 2019

Scarlett, Brent and Dusty

Location: Boone, NC

Distances (approximate): 10 miles paddling, 30 miles trekking, 110 miles mountain biking

Team: Brent, Dusty, Scarlett

Place: 1st out of 50 teams

Quest is very excited to report we were able to capture first place in the hotly (omg, so HOT) contested USARA National Champion race in Boone, NC on September 27-28, 2019. The team was comprised of Brent Molsberry, Dusty Caseria and Scarlett Graham - who made the long trek east to the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina.

Flying with bikes. :)

The journey from Bellingham to Boone had its share of typical travel snafu's including flight and baggage delays; and we were all very happy to finally arrive to Boone at 2am on Thursday morning. We had an additional snafu on Thursday afternoon when Dusty’s front break failed on him during our pre-ride! Luckily, we were able to find a local bike shop willing to bleed the break line at 5pm – thank you Rhoddie Bicycle Outfitters for your two awesome mechanics.

Finally, the race began at 8am on Friday morning at the Appalachian Ski Mountain with a canon-shot and a sprint uphill to the top of a ski slope. Our bikes were staged at the top of the hill and from there we had a short ride to the Prologue. We took the lead from the start on the uphill.

Start of the race

The Prologue was staged at a small lake off of the infamous Blue Ridge Parkway. We arrived first, but others teams followed less than a minute behind. We were handed three maps with one checkpoint for each of us to go find on foot. Two were on-trail and one appeared off trail. We quickly divided the maps and took off to find our points still in full bike gear.

We finished the Prologue still in first place, and jumped back on the bikes and started the 2000 ft descent that we would have to climb back up to finish the race. The descent went through the cute town of Blowing Rock, NC, and then steeply down the 4-mile long gravel Globe Rd. We read later that this was the longest sustained gravel road descent/ascent in the state. Race directors instructed us to check our speed and obey the posted speed limit of 25 mph.

At the bottom of Globe Rd, we hit some beautiful rolling agriculture lands. Dusty with the maps, Brent as a workhorse keeping the paceline together and fending off aggressive dogs, and Scarlett playing wildlife spotter/sight-seer. Along the way, we saw a big flock of turkeys, a blooming field of hemp (smelled that one before we saw it), and a deck on a house completely trimmed with porcelain coffee mugs.

During this first ~40 mile bike stage, the other teams were hot on our heels. And we lost the lead for ~10 minutes while we paused for Dusty to flip the map over. Michigan Racing Addicts (MRA) – an all-male team - blew by us. We were able to regain it before TA 1/2 for the canoe paddle, and were first on the water.

The race director had to change the paddle from river to flatwater at the last minute due to low water levels across the state, and we were happy flew our wing paddles out with us. We also brought a hand-made pedestal foam seat from a Bellingham paddler for Scarlett to sit in on in the middle of the canoe – thanks Edoh! Brent was able to brace his legs against the back of the pedestal for more power during the paddle, and despite the normal sitting butt numbness, the stage went well. We learned later that we were the fastest team on the water winning the “Blazing Paddles” award in 2:19. However, while we were blazing along, the sun was also blazing down on us…

After the canoe paddle, we were back on the bike heading towards Wilson Creek and TA 3. This was during the heat of the day and we were all feeling the affects of dehydration and heat. To add insult to our heat stress, there were many sunbathers lying on the rock slabs along the beautiful creek. The highlight of this section was the single track up to a CP 8, where upon arrival we all had to paint a fingernail purple to prove all team member had completed the out and back. Brent got carried away and painted three nails!

Brent showing off his handi-work

At the TA, we would have to complete two orienteering “O” courses. One course was completely on foot, and the second course was with “Two bikes”. We opted for the longer on-foot O-course first. From the TA, we headed straight uphill towards CP 9. We tried to rehydrate filling our Katadyn BeFree bottles in every stream we saw, and splash water on our heads to cool our boiling brains. We opted to do the bushwack between CP 9 and CP 10. Dusty determined it would cut the distance down to about ¼ of the distance we would take on trail. And worst case, if we got hung up in some dense Rhododendron – it shouldn’t take us any longer than the trail. Luckily for us, we found an old road grade above us and a quick path down to CP 10! After that we were all on trail to the remaining CPs. We continued to push hard for this leg, power-hiking the ups and running the downs and with this effort we collected the fastest split on the O-course.

We arrived back at the Wilson Creek TA at the same time that Rootstock Racing (the defending USARA National Champions two years in a row) was completing the “Two Bikes” section. We were unsure what that meant for how close ahead or behind them now, so we continued to keep up the pace. Nightfall was just upon us.

For the “Two bikes” section we had to collect 4 CPs, all located off of gravel roads and do this with the three of us staying within 30 meters of each other with only two of our bikes. We opted to wear our running shoes and take Scarlett’s and Brent’s bikes. Our strategy for the two bikes section was as follows:

1) for flat or really bumpy downhill roads: the bike-less one passes their pack off to a rider and runs alongside the bikes,

2) for uphills: bike-less one keeps his pack and hikes or jogs alongside the bikers,

3) for downhill smooth roads: Dusty and Brent snuggle up on one bike with Brent standing on the pedals and driving, and Dusty sitting on the seat with his feet balancing on the rear triangle. It was terrifying, but do-able!

We can't say we loved this section of the race, but it was challenging and required some trust and teamwork.

We arrived back at the Wilson Creek TA3 and were served delicious grape soda and Halloween candy, and took a few minutes to change our shoes. All of sudden, people in Rootstock’s red jersey arrived into the TA and our hearts sank – but then we realized it was there B Team! Phew.

Relieved and feeling semi-secure with our lead, we set off to find TA4. And this is where the blazing sun from the day before really started to catch up with us... First, Brent commented that his muscles felt a little tweaky, and on the verge of cramping. He decided to try to push his bike on the uphill to stretch a bit more, and the moment he stepped off his bike, both quads cramped violently as he almost fell over. Quad cramping was followed by calf cramping and a wave of nausea. We rallied around Brent telling him it would pass as we walked slowly up the hill. After a few more bouts of cramping and about 15 minutes of walking and a few liters of water, he started to come around. We cautiously finished that bike section telling ourselves that we no longer needed to push. We just need to keep it together and keep moving forward! Meanwhile, Dusty gave us updates that he was peeing frequently but that it was all the color brown.

For the final orienteering trek section, we hiked the whole thing and Brent and Dusty both started to feel better. On our way back to the TA 4, we ran into Rootstock heading out on the final O course, and that gave us the first real assurance that we could win the race if we continued to keep it together and not get lost.

From TA 4, we descended some singletrack back to the notorious Globe Rd, where we started the massive gravel grind climb back to Boone, NC. We managed to stay on our bikes for the whole thing despite Dusty again feeling on the urge of cramping and all our butts feeling numb. The 2,000 ft climb was a mental one as much as a physical one.

We arrived back in Boone, NC at 5:15 am, stoked on our accomplishment and ready to lie down. We shared a few moments with the Cherubini Brothers were also finishing and then made a B-line for the cold pizza and hot showers in the hotel room. On the steps of the hotel, Dusty felt a wave of nausea and decided to park it on a bench before heading inside.

It would take us a few days re-hydrating and sleeping to get that human feeling back again. We do not experience heat and humidity like in North Carolina very often, and we felt a little lucky to have held it together despite pushing ourselves to the brink.

Thanks to all our families and friends for the support, USARA for putting on a great race, the competition for pushing us, as well as @schwalbe, @heatherschoice, @dirtbags.bikepacking, @gearaid, @rocketpure, @terraingym, @peakenergyperformance, @thewhatcomdream. Special thanks to the @rhoddiebicycleoutfitters for hooking up Dusty's bike in Blowing Rock!

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