Author: Joshua Schucker
Photographer: Becky Schreckengost
In just two short years, the club members of the South Penn Enduro Riders (SPER) have demonstrated a tremendous amount of pride and flexibility in their preparations for the arrival of the vintage cross-country fanatics from AHRMA’s Mid-Atlantic region.
Certainly, the club’s access to an expansive plot of reclaimed Schuylkill (skool-kil) County coal mine and its familiarity with the terrain have played a major part in the variety of experiences that this event has presented in its recent incorporation to the schedule. Year one found the course laid out on the northern side of road traveling east from nearby Frackville, Pennsylvania, while year two forced a move to the south side due to access disputes over the northern area. Despite which side of the road, the courses have been excellent, and the events have been executed flawlessly and professionally.
In an attempt to limit the amount of travel the series requires of its participants each year, Mid-Atlantic coordinator Dave Kutskel set about planning a new concept in 2022 by introducing several two-round weekend events. The preference that selected locations can provide a unique layout each day, as well as accommodate the entire roster of racers for a weekend, puts a constraint on the potential venues needed to facilitate this schedule concept. But with the club’s recent successes, Dave was certain that the SPER folks would have the resources, versatility, and space to accommodate the Mid-Atlantic region for a spring weekend of fun and competition.
Leading up to the event, SPER members and Mid-Atlantic regulars Steve Bowman, Sandy Quickel, and Mark Hummel created a buzz with their assurances that they had lots of cool trails yet to be seen by the vintage crowd. Knowing that the land available is rather spacious, everyone was anxious to see what the club had in store for the weekend. Approaching the site on the road that bisects the prior courses, it became quickly evident that there would be no return to the northern portion. The view to the north was dominated by an apocalyptic visage of clear-cut forest straight to the horizon. Thankfully, the southern ground was untouched in the recent harvest and was sure to provide ample acreage for the event. Making the trek down the driveway to the parking area, there were plenty of arrows peeking through the trees in places that we’ve never been before confirming the anticipation of great new trails!
Subsequent confirmation of the variety to behold over the weekend was confirmed in Saturday’s rider’s meeting as Steve Bowman indicated that over eighty percent of each day’s course would be mutually exclusive. Both days begin the same, with the starting lines adjacent to the ample parking area. At the drop of the green flag, the pack is funneled directly into a stand of pines where a bit of bermed, zig-zag trail gets the blood pumping right from the start. A brief stint into the denser woods brings the first interaction with the rocks that are unavoidable in this region followed by a flowing pseudo-grass track section through the sparse trees and open fields within full view of the spectators in the pit area. Here the trail makes a full on “grandstand front-straight” pass by the pits with a fun little up/down transition where the brave enough can catch a touch of airtime before the “back-straight” leads the riders to a small rocky creek crossing where a point and shoot technique makes the crossing far easier than it first appears. Now heading to the north, the massive pile of strip mine overburden dominates the scene as the course runs through a set of power slide worthy dirt road esses that quickly transition to woods tucked in behind that massive pile. This is new ground yet untouched in prior AHRMA races, and it is here that the courses for each day split.
Saturday, the course stays to the right and behind the culm pile, which while very steep and intimidating from the pit area view, is more gradual and varied from this side. The course is woven neatly through the dense forest where a heavy cover of fallen leaves from the previous seasons makes the moderately rock-strewn ground more surprising in the early laps of the morning’s vintage race. Continued traffic made the obstacles more visible in later races, and the SPER crew did a great job of marking the most difficult rock areas with orange paint and appropriate signage not only in this section, but throughout the course. After fully exploring the flat area behind the pile, the trail began to take full advantage of the excellent variety in elevation, nooks and crannies, and unique terrain ascending the mound of spoils.
Since we are all bound by the laws of physics, once up on the plateau above, we gotta get down somehow. The trail descended through a narrow rocky crevasse where it is best to take your time to negotiate sanely and safely. An exclamation point was found at the bottom where a temporary bridge was positioned to cross an eroded portion of the trail and several SPER course workers were present to ensure safe passage. Not long after the descent the riders were headed through a sweeping right turn on a bank of coal and destined for a return trip through the creek and grass track area before entering the woods to the south side of the starting area. Here another excellent section of single track was laid out on some loamy terrain with more roots than rocks. At one point, the trail runs just behind the wood-line adjacent to Interstate 81 where the riders catch a glimpse of southbound traffic rocketing past with nary a thought to the awesomeness taking place just yards away. Not long after, the course returns to the view of the pits and makes it way past the scoring tent to conclude the lap.
Picking up Sunday’s course in the woods to the north, a left turn brings you back out of the woods and straight across the entry lane to the property now entering the woods on the west side where we’ve also never been. Similar terrain as the east side greets the riders here as the SPER team has an excellent and well-established set of trails through these woods, but the rumor that Sunday’s course is tighter is confirmed quickly. After a decent weaving flow of tighter single track, the course emerges from the heavier woods into a brighter stand of young white birch trees that are not far from being considered saplings. Here a sign proclaims, “Welcome to Jersey!”, in homage to the tight, technical sections typical of New Jersey enduro races throughout the years. True to its name, the trail through the birch was very tight. This is where the investment in bark buster hand guards pays off and depending on your comfort in these conditions, where you can make time or lose time. Nevertheless, it is a unique experience and an interesting perspective to see the condition of the trail and adjacent trees evolve throughout the day…hint, the trees didn’t fare so well.
By the time you started to complain about the section it was over, and the course returned to more typical tight single track with some two-track thrown in for variety as the course makes it way toward the southern end of the property. Here it revisits some of the course from the previous year including the root covered descent into an old mining pit and the climb back out the other side, making sure to avoid the water hole directly off the trail to the left. Not long after, and Sunday’s course rejoins that from the day prior in its return to the scoring tent. Surprisingly, while slightly shorter in length than Saturday, Sunday’s lap times were quite similar due to the tighter nature of the course.
Both days were blessed with decent turnout despite some wetness in the forecast and competition was top-notch. Weather ended up better than expected with seasonable warm temperatures and overcast skies holding back on the rain except for a portion of the disc brake class race on Saturday, which had to deal with just enough rain to make the rocks a tad slicker than earlier races but not an outright soaker. Race results were highlighted by an overall win in the vintage race on Saturday by Jamie Wright making his first appearance of the year on a bike borrowed from local legend Richard Colahan. Bad news for Richard is that he can no longer blame his bike for any performance shortcoming. Kelly Ashcraft once again demonstrated the accelerating abilities of the women’s classes in the Mid-Atlantic region when she topped the Post Vintage Expert class as well as positioned herself firmly in the top-ten overall each day in a competitive and large field. After being runner-up to juggernaut John Ashcraft in the disc brake race at every event thus far this season, Ethan Waddell finally managed to end John’s reign with the overall and AA class win on Sunday. To see the results for the entire weekend, and the upcoming schedule, please visit https://www.ahrma.org/ahrma-mid-atlantic-region
Many thanks to the entire membership of South Penn Enduro Riders for the hospitality, course preparation, sweep riding, and those folks out on the course ensuring the safety of all the participants. While the courses were on the tough side as dictated by the region’s terrain, by no means were they too difficult, and by all means they were a whole lot of fun! Also, many thanks to Dave, Joe, Mike, Connie, Randy, Kevin, Jessi, Lori, Jim, Jamie, and all the other volunteers that keep the Mid-Atlantic regional series’ wheels moving and of course the sponsors that grease the wheels: Potomac Vintage Riders, Preston Petty Products, Stainless Cycle, Grove Printing, KMI Printing, and Horizon Homes.