After a long hiatus from mountain bike racing, I wanted to get one race under my belt this year in preparation for the 2009 season. I also wanted it to be a fun race, so I decided to enter the New Bethlehem Peanut Butter Festival Mountain Bike Race in New Bethlehem, PA (north of Pittsburgh.)

I never raced at this venue, but a lot of my buddies from the Shannock Valley MTB Race do this, so I had to do it sometime! And what a year to do it – pouring rain the days beforehand led to some serious mud!

We lined up on the wet streets in town, went downhill to build up some speed, and then hit a mild paved climb that dumped us off into the woods. After a short bend through the cemetery, we flew down the gnarliest descent of the course, through a stream crossing, and up a steep, sandy hill (which turned out to be a hike-a-bike, as seen below.)

peanut butter mtb race climb

*You can see riders walking up the hill, one guy at the stream crossing, and the guys in the distance are descending.

I was somewhere around seventh place on that hill, with the leaders in my sights. That didn’t last for long though – at the top of the hill, there was this crazy section almost like a maze between (and up and over) walls of shale, with sharp turns and steep drops leading back to steep uphills.

There were even some dirt/shale tabletops thrown in for good measure! If your tires weren’t sinking two inches into the soft, wet ground, slowing you to molasses-like speed, you could probably get some nice air off those!

I had a hard enough time trying to follow the course, I lost sight of the top racers shortly after. The next few miles were a blur of steep ups and downs, with more stream crossings and hike-a-bikes to add to the fun.

I was expecting this to be a lot like the Shannock Valley Race – well, it wasn’t even close! The climbs and descents were both much steeper, the mud was goopier, and the extra 5 miles of steep climbing really hurt! The only things missing were log hops and technical rock gardens.

But back to the race… long-time rival Shane Gouldthread was way out of sight, but there were a few guys within my reach – most notably Brad Kriley, who was trading places with me for virtually the entire race! (Brad destroyed me back in 2002, so it was an honor to be up there with him, if only due to my wider gear range!) 😉

So we went over this long dirt climb and what do you know but we missed a turn, swung around the hill, and went down the wrong side of the hill! After going down and back up, thinking things over, and then backtracking, we probably lost 10 minutes, but got back into full swing…

After some more ups and downs, I finally got to the infamous lighted tunnel. While I was expecting something like a mild dirt road carved into the side of a mountain, it turned out to be a ride upstream through somewhat deep water littered with sharp, pointy rocks! I’m pretty sure there weren’t any lights either, so getting through that without a flat tire was a surprise!

Afterward, I came upon the worst part of the course – a steady railroad-grade climb composed of thick, deep mud. It was extremely slow, boring, and painful. And demoralizing. And never-ending.

Needless to say, I was excited when it did end. But that excitement vanished when I stared at the steep, wet, and grassy climb I was facing!

No more surprises though – the rest of the course was much like the previous 10 or 12 miles, with a few more relaxed, fun hills.

I passed Brad Kriley once again and thought I’d get a good gap on him because I was feeling stronger than I had earlier, but I overcooked the last serious downhill turn, lost momentum, and had to play catch-up.

I was doing good though, and was excited for one last little bit of twisty singletrack winding tightly through the trees. But my handling was terrible! I was wobbling everywhere, sure that I was either hallucinating or going to need a new front wheel… but it turned out it was just a flat front tire!

Looking up at the pavement then down at the flat in disbelief (there were so many drops and rocks in the previous 14 miles and I get a flat tire here, in a grassy field?,) I made the executive decision to run it in to the line!

The run was slippery, painful, and a very unspectacular way to add another 2:30 to my already slow time, but man was I glad when it was over!

Overall it turned out to be a great day; I only got lost once, only had one real wreck, and one flat tire.

And anywhere with Smucker’s peanut butter, I’m happy! 😀

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Race website:
NewBethlehemArea.com

Results:
Overall results (every single racer)
Novice results (just the novice race)
Elite results (geared riders)
Singlespeed results (singlespeed riders)

3 Comments
  1. Coach Levi,

    Great read! As one of the helpers of the race, and one who’s ridden the course, although not on race day, I’m glad you had a good time and expect to see you here next year. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be on my bike for that one!

    Your recount of the day is certainly right on track. I was the spotter at the top of the very steep shale drop towards the beginning of the race. Although I gave fair warning, I saw quite a few riders go down rubber side up.

    Ryan Wells

  2. That steep shale drop was fun! I remember seeing you there and thought “hmm this must be a ‘fun’ section!”

  3. Hey Levi,

    Whats new man!? Riding much this winter? I loved the recap man. You somed that race up like it is tough! Hope to see you more this season racing its always a blast bro. Im racing some road this year for training too. Hope to see you out there.

    ShaneR

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