I took off the Friday before the Hilly Billy and packed everything up to go down to the race. My wife Caytlin had signed up to volunteer for registration so we had decided to camp out for the entire weekend.
I wasn’t really nervous about the race, I had done some larger endurance races and have finished Pittsburgh’s Dirty Dozen the past couple years. I was no stranger to hills, but my friends told me this race would scare the shit out of you.( They weren’t wrong).
The weather forecast kept changing daily,and the outlook was calling for showers more or less the whole day. I wouldn’t have minded rain because it cools everything down, but I wear glasses so my visibility would really suffer when trying to navigate a line on a descent.
We made the 3 hour trip from central Pennsylvania and arrived at Morgantown that afternoon for packet pickup. I was really impressed with Pathfinder outfitters, the store had such a diverse offering of products/ brands and the staff were super welcoming. While in Morgantown we grabbed a bite to eat at Black Bear Burritos (I Highly Recommend).
We arrived at Mason Dixon Park later that evening and set up camp. We were right next to the river and we were pretty much one of a few groups of people camping that night. Our friends Simon, Steph and Jared joined us for the event so we shared a few beers and some dancing the night before. It was nice that the race start wasn’t till 10 a.m. the next morning so we could stay up a little later and still get some much needed ZZZZ’s.
First night camping. Photo by Caytlin
Anyone that camps outside knows that the morning comes quickly with the sound of birds and wind blowing through the trees. We all chowed down some breakfast and I finished off my pickle juice finally. Caytlin and Steph had to be at registration so they headed up to the Red barn around 8.
We had a couple hours to kill so I just talked to our neighbors, ate as much as I could and listened to some music that would motivate me through my soon to be painful journey.
There were so many different types of bikes at this race. I think that is what I love most about the cycling community. Everyone has their own style and take on things, and in the end it is all about riding and having fun.
I rode a Cannondale Slate rigid this year. 650b x 42 Surly knards with a tire pressure of 45 psi. I wanted to have enough pressure to push through some of the mud bogs and still feel like I could put the boots to the hills. I brought 3 tubes with me because I heard this course was riddled with slicing rocks and abrupt potholes. I figured that if I blew through three tubes I was done for sure.
On to the race…. 10 am had arrived.
JR grabbed the mic and started going over the course and signage. He mentioned the danger signs and the quote I remember most and soon would learn. “The Hilly Billy is no Dirty Kanza”
A gentleman (who I don’t remember his name), had the honors of starting the race. He had been a long time supporter of HBR and was going through a battle with cancer. It felt right that he had the spotlight that day.
Start photo by Caytlin
We had a neutral start and my adrenaline was pumping, we funneled out to highway 7 and a pace-line of 60 front racers hauled ass to our first climb.
We barreled into a left turn and started up a rough logging road. This was the first climb and shit was it hard. I managed to stay on till about the top but 60 guys funneling through an old logging road doesn’t work out too well. People were falling off their bikes, losing momentum, you name it.
I knew this was going to be tough, the transitions from pavement to rough washed out road were seamless. The climbs were fierce and the descents were equally so.
I found a group of riders and started to lock in my pace. We rolled into the first aid station at mile 20ish around 11:40. The once cool morning and overcast skies had split to show a burning sun.
I was so glad I grabbed some sunscreen off the Kenda Reps, Thanks again guys!
The whole day was just a story of survival. I would bite off a little bit of each climb. Frequently my mind would try to go to the future. I kept telling myself to focus on the now, get control of the moment and take your time.
I didn’t eat that much overall. I was living on a diet of pickles and heed.
Just before the second aid station at mile 40 we hit the mud bogs, or mud holes. Damn, it was like black ice. The orange clay was wet and slippery, I was leading a pack of guys through the bogs and decided the best approach was to go directly into the watering holes. This worked out well till the last hole before Indian Creek. I hit a large rock in the last hole and nearly taco my wheel.
Photos by Caytlin
Amazingly, I didn’t have a mechanical problem the whole race, no flats and no cramps.
Riders, much better than me, were constantly getting flats. One guy broke a chain and he was about 8 miles from the checkpoint. When I arrived at aid station 2 around mile 48 I texted my wife and asked her how my friends were doing. Caytlin said Jared was still going strong in the single-speed category and unfortunately Simon had to DNF because of a shredded tire on his Salsa Fargo. I’m not surprised, these roads were unforgiving. JR must have really dug deep in his rabbit hat to find some of these goat trails. These roads were a true representation of how wild and wonderful West Virginia Is.
Charging Indian Creek Ext. Photos by Mike Briggs. And winning tandem duo by Caytlin
Survival mode was fully engaged. I kept a big part of my energy on reserve after mile 50 for fear that the rest of the race would get worse. Luckily the climbs started to mellow out and were longer than steeper. I was ok with that.
The last aid station was a god send at mile 62. I ate bacon, Popsicles, Red Bull, Swedish fish, and a brownie. Cayt and Steph dropped by to show their support. They could tell I was tired. I was tired. and as I reached the remaining few miles I couldn’t believe I was almost there.
The best volunteers! Photos by Caytlin
I didn’t care that I had dirt and mud covering every inch of my body and bike. I didn’t care that the last hill was just as evil as the first. The views were great, The people were friendly, The beer was Stone and I had finished one of my favorite rides of my life.
Even at work on Monday, I’m still feeling the hills and the Hilly Billy spirit inside of me.
This event was the most organized, well marked course I have been to. Thanks again to all the vendors for such a great show and thanks again JR for all you and your family do to make this happen.
See you at Hilly Billy 2019!