Pisgah MTB Stage Race
by Paul Wojciak • May 01, 2023
2023 Stage Race Adventure in Pisgah North Carolina
Nestled in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina, Brevard plays host to a network of mountain bike trails spanning hundreds of miles. Within those trails, the Pisgah Stage Race offers up a buffet that includes many of the tastiest and savory sections of single track. Spanning five days, 140 miles, with 20000 feet of climbing, every participant gets their money’s worth from Pisgah.
I raced Pisgah back in 2016 and vowed to return at some point. I made the decision that 2023 was the year and I am very glad to have done so. My preparation for the week included many miles and meters with zwift and my smart trainer and a few in-real-life miles on my Yeti SB115 mountain bike here in Poughkeepsie, NY. My accommodation during the week at the Foggy Bottom Cabins proved an excellent choice. Easy driving distance to the race starts and just across town from the evening meal and accompanying ceremonies at the Brevard Music Center. Getting to Brevard from New York is easy highway miles albeit a good 11 hours in total.
A change of race ownership to Ryan Fulton this year maintained the high standards participants have come to expect at Pisgah. Ryan produces a ton of races under his Trans-Sylvania Productions logo, including the Trans-Sylvania MTB five day epic in central Pennsylvania. Timing, course marking, aid stations, evening meals, and daily ceremonies all were top-notch.
Spring had sprung in the mountains of North Carolina. Dogwoods and red buds were well represented and the hardwood buds were greening up. Temps were around freezing though on the first few days warming into the comfortable sixties during the afternoon. Of course, that means the handful of creeks we forded during the week did not invite one to linger in their icy embrace.
I rarely see our team members at the stage races I favor. This time though, Colin Johannen and his singlespeed were sporting the Bikeman colors while rocking the courses. Hats (or helmets) off to Colin since racing Pisgah on a singlespeed is no mean feat.
Each of the five stages has something unique as you would expect. What they all had in common though were a blending of climbs, flowy singletrack spiced with roots and rocks, fast technical descents, trails winding under rhododendron canopies. The first stage allowed everyone to ease into Pisgah. We did a fair amount of singletrack ascending but there were some ripping downs too. The emphasis was more on flow rather than tech. The descent down Joel Branch was fast and fun. A little bump up and down at the end rounded out the day.
Stage 2 offered up both Squirrel Gap, a bench cut, rooty singletrack trail that challenges you to find your rhythm. The race included a steep hike-a-bike up Buckhorn Gap, which really took it out of you. The reward was ample though as Pressley Gap, which included the enduro, plummeted 1300 feet in under two miles. A rip roaring time that only stopped descending as you crossed the finish line. With stage 3, you had to work. Five different climbs and descents, totaling almost 6000 feet, over 30 miles. The high points were the descents of Avery Creek, Bennet Gap, and Black Mountain. Avery was particularly technical with lots of features inviting you to send it.
Stage 4 had us start and end at the Cradle of Forestry center in the heart of Pisgah National Forest. Mother nature soaked everything the night before. We had to ride Squirrel Gap in the reverse direction with a wet, technical root feature tour de force. The saying goes, “Ride high, slide low” and certainly applied. We also got to do an eight mile climb up Laurel Mountain to the Pilot Rock descent and enduro. As soon as crossed the enduro timing tape it started to rain. The first couple minutes of Pilot were a blur. The trail has piles of rocks, long slabs, fall line sections with repetitive drops, and was challenging in the extreme. Still, I made it safe and sound, but satisfied with my effort. We wrapped up with Stage 5. Butler gap was a rhododendron filled ditch that was pretty fun. We descended Bracken mountain on machine made flow trails for a 25 minute drop that culminated at the Brevard Music Center.
A wonderful experience for me at Pisgah 2023. I finished fifth of 17 (31 started the week) in the men’s 50-59 category general classification. My equipment was solid all week. I particularly like the Giordana FR-C Pro kit bibs for long hours in the saddle. The race community during the week was fun overall and focused when they needed to be. I’ve nothing to gripe about really. Guess that means I’ll have to come back to Pisgah again someday. Sounds like a commitment worth keeping.