The planets finally aligned for AOA. After 11 dreary years there was no rain in sight for their big annual fundraising event. This year the Mayhem would be all new, a first-of-its-kind-for-Ohio multi-stage Enduro. For a gravity addict such as myself, this was not something to be missed (in contrast to the previous 40 mile mud slogs). The master artist for this event was Heath Boedecker and his canvas was the Wilds near Zanesville, OH. Decidious jungle has mostly reclaimed the undulated stripmine wasteland terrain of the Wilds, but Heath and the AOA crew did some hard graft over the winter and turned this average XC trail into five unique and slightly downward traversing sections containing some fantastic suprises – real expert options and technical tests that were intended to up the fun factor but also sort the wobbly lycra-clad thunder thighs from those stylishly skilled slackers.
See what I mean? (Photo credit: Joe Clark)
Indeed, this was the main question after our recon ride on Saturday – who will this event favor? It wasn’t nearly as downhill as some of us expected, these were definitely XC sections and those with protein diets and strict training regimes were definitely going to put major time into the average joes. But then there were occasional bits of gnarly nougat that would take you and your 22 lbs hardtail XC knife and dump you in the middle of a Blackhawk Down gunfight. OK, I might be exaggerating, but what do you say to a gap jump in the middle of a rock garden with trees 6 inches from each handlebar plug? Or step-up to boulder to step-down with a tree riddled landing? Or steep, loose off-camber to g-out? Or the various double jumps, some 5 feet high and 16 feet long? You say go around if you don’t have the skills. I say pin it ya fairy!
Yours truly. (Photo Credit: All Mountain Imaging)
Of course, anyone with a brain would have realized that the podium would be topped by those who had both fitness and skills in equal measures. These guys are few and far between, but they pretty much annihilated the field. Guys like single-speeder Adam Mallett, my own teammate Jeff Cochran, and the hands down winner Tom Herman who had the timers double checking their stopwatches. Then there was Josh Clark, that insane bike handler from the hill country who did his fair share of damage on the XC crowd. The all-arounders did well too, like Nick Devore, Jim Crowley, and myself. It took some discipline to get myself into some semblance of moderate physical condition, but in combination with the blinding speed and effortless control of my Banshee Prime 29er (shameless plug), lead to some solid times on the more skill oriented sections. Jeff Cochran held up our team on the pedally sections and we walked away with a load of swag and some really good-looking 2nd place plaques. In the end, fitness was not enough to win it, your team had to have a balance of power and finesse. Exactly as an Enduro should be.
Mike Colona on the slightly-tweaked Wilds “XC” trails. (Photo Credit: All Mountain Imaging)
I really can’t say enough about this event. The folks were friendly, the trails were a blast, camping on-sight, an awesome cook-out with cold beverages afterwards, and prizes for miles. There was a great core of volunteers running it – this wasn’t no side show. And the racing experience was really fun. I always get nerves before racing, but as soon as we were off, they disappeared and you could actually enjoy the riding. It wasn’t over in 3 and 1/2 minutes like a donwhill race and it wasn’t 1 and 1/2 hours of suffering like a XC race. Enduro distills XC racing to just the fun parts. And you could make mistakes and your team mates had you covered. We made a fair share…Blanton tangled with a tree and smashed his head and shin, Jeff taco’d a wheel in the same spot, I went off the trail at mach 3 and threw a stage away, and Dave…well he was the only one that stayed on his bike, which would have saved our team had we all blown up on the same stage. Cletus and the Slackjaws will definintely be back next year!
Special thanks to 331 Racing who teamed up with AOA to make it all happen. Results can be found on their website (click results tab at bottom).