Trans-Sylvania MTB Epic 2022
by Paul Wojciak • June 13, 2022
TS Epic Mountain Bike Stage Race – Central Pennsylvania’s Finest
Every year around Memorial Day weekend a disparate and dedicated collection of mountain bike riders descend on the Rothrock and Bald Eagle state forests. They are rising to the challenge of racing and riding what’s known as East Coast Rocks at the Transylvania Mountain Bike Epic. The event offers a five day version for the intrepid and a three day version for the hardy. The terrain includes ample singletrack, fire roads, even more singletrack, gravel road connectors, and finally, singletrack. Trails offer ridgetop vistas, lush rhododendron bordered paths, fern filled fields, and miles of uninterrupted hardwood forests. Oh, and rocks, there are a few of those too.
I signed up for the three day event in the men’s 50+ field. I’ve ridden the event on six different occasions including when it was a seven day epic back in 2012. Central Pennsylvania forest riding is my favorite within reasonable driving distance of my home in Poughkeepsie, NY. I structured my training plan this year to build for the TS Epic. While many folks have been utilizing Zwift as a training aid for a long time, I’m a newcomer, joining the platform November 2021. I credit the training programs, workouts, and racing on my Tacx Neo 2 smart trainer for my race readiness.
Regarding the TS Epic, owner and race director Ryan Fulton is fully committed to making your racing experience the best it can be. Lodging, meals, race starts and finishes (except for the RB Winter stage), daily award ceremonies and briefings, race support and logistics are all hosted out of the Seven Mountains Scout Camp. Every stage is fully supported with amply stocked aid stations. Courses are well marked and while the gravel roads are open to traffic, you’ll appreciate the real wilderness vibe while you’re out there racing.
Each race day offers something different, as you’d expect, but they all have one thing in common: wonderful and challenging single track. The three stages I did this year were R.B. Winter, Tussey Ridge, and Bald Eagle. The five day begins with the Poe Paddy stage followed by Coopers Gap. All are worthy and do not leave you wanting.
I was sporting my new Bikeman Giordana kit at the starting lines this year. The FR-C Pro and Vero jerseys have excellent lines, graphics, and feel. They wick really well. The FR-C Pro Bib Short chamois is spectacular and rivals my go-to Assos Milli bibs.
The R.B. Winter stage route was reconfigured from the prior year and included more single track and much less gravel and pavement. The result was a fast, flowing, fun yet challenging course that left little time to step back. I rolled the 31 miles in just under three hours. Turns out that was good enough for first place in my category on the day.
After a hearty dinner and good night's sleep, we lined up under the arch for the Tussey Ridge stage. Rain was forecast. Only question was when. Turns out the weather hit about an hour into the 36 mile stage, and it poured down for the better part of an hour. The ride across Tussey’s ridgetop rock gardens was about the hardest I could remember. I took a hard fall racing down the rocks onto the ridge that left me a bit gun shy, not the preferred way to cross the ridge. Puddles were everywhere and the little soil there was mushy loam. After the ridge, the rain stopped, and the gravel return to the finish line at the camp rolled refreshingly smooth. I have to say that these conditions convinced me the Giordana FR-C bibs were the real deal. All told, I finished second on the day which was satisfying given my travails on the trail.
Day three dawned damp but rain free and my body and mind were feeling ready for Bald Eagle Forest. The 18 mile course while shorter, offered sweet flowy single track and included miles of challenging trails on private land only accessible by bike during the race. The enduro was a thrill dropping down through a rock filled chute and ending in flowy singletrack snaking through acres of ferns. My luck was in while my main challenger’s luck was not, i.e., his twice flat tire. I rolled the stage under two hours and ended up claiming top step on the podium. Overall, this resulted in me taking the men’s 50+ general classification for the three days.
One unexpected surprise this year involved the recognition of those few that have totaled 500 or more miles over the years at Transylvania Epic Races. Who says loyalty doesn’t earn rewards?
I’ve written about racing in central Pennsylvania a number of times before. My thorough preparation made a difference this year and a little luck served me when I needed it. Of course, you don’t need to race the Rothrock and Bald Eagle trails to have fun down here. You can spend a few leisurely days rolling gravel and descending singletrack. There’s lots to do in nearby State College to boot. I know I’ll be back both for recreational riding and racing in a future TS Epic. If you have any questions or are looking for tips, let me know. I’m happy to help. Plus, it would be great to line up alongside fellow team Bikeman riders and take on the trails together.