By Matt Baatz
The first wave of intrepid racers lined up on the top of Tweed. Downpours in the wee hours of the morning were enough to make the course, henceforth known as the “gnarled albatross” for the route’s peculiar resemblance to a seabird, not just techy and hilly but downright treacherous. Fourteen-year-old local Jackson Ziegler, ailing with an emergent case of strep throat, lead the pack up to Shrek’s Cabin, but was soon exhausted by his illness.
Four laps, 50 miles, 6,500 feet on terrain most riders would be pressed to handle with fresh legs in pristine conditions. After the first lap, it was already apparent who was going to go the distance and who was just trying to survive to go another round. Sam Darling, Phillip Parrish, and Tucker Weaver held their positions almost the entire race, with two veteran racers, David Boyce and Robert Paton, making respectable showings not far behind. Parrish, racer for Bicycle Express and a GMT regular, made his move on the last lap, overtaking Darling by two minutes, which in a race of this length and intensity could just as well be two seconds. Weaver rode in a half-hour later to take third.
The Gnarly Adventure did not look like the start of the race, but the start of an expedition, and in a way it was. The racers had their maps spread out trying to make heads or tails out of the mish-mash of arrows and Xs sketched onto them. When the RD was fielding questions, someone asked how long this would take. He gave a wild guess—four hours … now wait, maybe five. Nervous laughter ensued.
They were off with a good chance that we would not see them again for another six hours, and for about half the field, this proved true. Not only did they have to collect tokens from each and every trail, they had to navigate in such a way that it would not interfere with the loop course. Several racers had been riding the GMT for years, but no matter. They underestimated how tough it would be.
Peter Woolson showed up, flushed, exhausted and exhilarated, at exactly the four-hour mark with all 20 tokens, going down as the Gnarly Adventure’s first victor. He, as well as Christina Mattsson and Casey Novotny, who wandered in a half hour later, were all local riders.
Those three were impressive. But what blew our mind was Mark Whalen, whose first serious ride on the GMT was during the race yet still managed to complete the challenge a half hour after the regulars. The rest of the field filtered in close to the cutoff, each missing only a few tokens, each exhausted and having had the time of their lives.