Photo by Devon Balet Media
Summer camp. I remember it vividly. It was a time when time didn’t exist. No school, no agenda and no place to be except in the middle of the woods for weeks. Making new friends in a bunk house, eating breakfast in the mess hall, going out all day to play in the woods, swim in numerous lakes and streams, get muddy and even injured, then at the end of the day come back to the mess hall for dinner. Once the sun set, rivalries with other bunkhouses, bonfires, random shenanigans and sneaking beers behind the backs of camp counselors were nightly occurrences. It was a period of our lives that most of us wish we could relive.
Well if you’ve got a mountain bike and like riding for seven straight days in an atmosphere resembling the above, then the Trans-Sylvania Epic (TSE) is most definitely your gig. TSE takes mountain bike stage racing and turns it into a “Singletrack Summer Camp”, with most everyone staying at Seven Mountains Scout Camp just outside State College, PA.
This was my first year doing the TSE, and I pretty much knew what to expect; rocks out the blowhole. And as predicted, the TSE didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was by far the most brutish week of riding rocks in my entire life. As I type this, my fingers, wrists and arms are more sore than my back and legs.
Perhaps part of it is because I chose to ride a 26-inch Ibis Tranny hardtail singlespeed. It should come as no surprise I was the only one in the race on such a bike. Out west you can still get away with riding a 26-inch bike, but in central Pennsylvania? Bring a big bottle of ibuprofen. You’re gonna need it. It’s like getting clocked senselessly over the head for seven days with a ball peen hammer.
Each stage featured numerous enduro segments and “East Coast Rocks” segments geared towards technical riders and those who love to send it on the downhills. A simple and reliable chip system lets riders log in and log out at the beginning and end of each section, enabling riders to go at any pace they wish. Some riders going for General Classification (GC) status in their respective classes would skip the segments, while others would hang back, wait for a clear section of trail and target the segments. In short, there is something for everyone to compete in at the TS Epic.
Photo by A.E.Landes Photography
Stage 1: Time Trial – 15 miles
To break-in everybody kindly for the week of to come, Stage 1 was a quick time trial on miles of deeply wooded, winding, tight and rocky singletrack surrounding race headquarters—Seven Mountains Boy Scout Camp. Among the stage s highlights—riding over gigantic excavator tires and a pump track section on a motorcycle enduro course, as well as a nasty semi-rideable section of muddy, rocky and rooty singletrack along a creekbed known as Fisherman’s Trail.
Along the last section of singletrack I passed a real talkative singlespeeder who didn’t have a number plate on. He tagged along and chatted casually as I was flogging myself into hyperventilation. He was asking question after question, and I was trying to be polite, but eventually I had to choose between answering his questions and continuing to breathe. Who was this guy, and why the hell wasn’t he racing? I came to find out his name is Buck and he was the event’s masseuse for the week just out for a quick cruise. Buck is a local legend, having won the 2005 MTB Singlespeed World Championship and sporting the tattoo to prove it. Good company.