Rider Review: Steele Creek GNCC

Hello everybody, it’s WXC rider Rachel Gutish, back again with another Rider Review. In these articles, I will describe the race from a rider’s perspective. This gives both an “inside look” at what racers at this round were dealing with, and helpful information for riders who may be considering riding this race in the future. Nestled in a valley deep in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Steele Creek has been a longtime stop for the GNCC series – seventeen years now. While many may remember Steele Creek for the tremendous congestion that would result when trying to enter or exit the faculty, a new road built into the campground has made that almost nonexistent. Parking space can still be a struggle, and it is a long walk to from one end of camp to the other. The amenities are pretty nice tough. Since this is an actual campground, there are RV hookups, decent roads, a creek for kids to swim in, and in some spots, shower and bathroom facilities.

The steele creek logo, as shown on the awards handed out to riders
The Steele Creek GNCC logo, as shown on the awards handed out to the riders.Rachel Gutish

Though downright frigid (near freezing) for the early morning youth race, by the time the adult bike AM race took off, it was a pleasant 60-ish degrees with clear skies, and it did not get much hotter than that for the PM bikes. In addition to the perfect weather, ground conditions were prime, with lots of what can only be described as “hero dirt”, especially in the fields and up on the hills. There were definitely some muddy and sandy sections by the creek, but by and large it was grippy and corner-rutted clay.

The start was an open field, with a couple of grasstrack corners before entering the woods at about the seven mile marker and heading up a long and gradual climb. Personally, I’ve noticed that Steele Creek has three distinct sections, based on altitude. The highlands, up in the foothills are a hard clay. It can develop deep ruts in the corners (especially from the quads), and will develop jumps and rollers, but generally stays smoother and free from hard edges. While there are a number of hill climbs, most of them are long but not steep. Of course there are a few exceptions to this. There was a hill or two on the AM loop that required some throttle to get up, and a steep downhill for the PM riders.

downhill section of highland trail
This section is pretty typical of the highlands, with red-orange clay that grips well and doesn't get as beat up as other places. Most of the hills here at Steele creek are like this downhill as well - not steep, just long and gradual.Rachel Gutish

Additionally, there was another long PM only section – nearly two miles of single-track near the creek. Sand and mud are the two main features of the lowlands, and the single-track leaned more toward the sandy side. While smooth at first, it was in the lowland section near the creek, which means sand. By the end of the race it was probably the most torn-up trail section. The combo of soft soil, fast riders and only one line led to a lot of exposed roots and rocks.

single-track near creek
This is the entrance to the sandy section of PM race-only single-track down by the creek. As you can see, it was sandy and got dug out pretty good, exposing roots and rocks.Rachel Gutish

Steele Creek usually has at least a couple of mudholes deep enough to get buried in, but this year the few holes present were unusually shallow. That’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of mud to go around though. Aside from the loose, runny mud in the creek itself, there was some thicker and heavier mud a little further up the bank.

mud
This was a sloppy, loose section of mud not far before the finish barrels. While unpleasant to look at and clean up off yourself afterward, it was not very challenging to ride through.Rachel Gutish

Despite the name of the event, there are no actual creek crossings, due to the depth and speed of the creek. There are several bridges riders cross in order to get from one side to the other. At one of the vehicle bridges near the campground proper, riders actually have to duck as they ride through. This can be challenging, especially for taller riders.

bridge by the creek
Duck...duck.. goose (the throttle)! Don't straighten up too soon or you'll be leaving paint marks from your helmet on the bridge.Rachel Gutish

The third type of trail here are the fields. While the new start location of the start took up some of the usually large, sweeping tracks, the few we did ride were enjoyable as usual. On the whole, the race was pretty fun, aside from dealing with lapped traffic and a few nasty bottlenecks (in the AM race) on the tighter-than-usual course. It is one of the faster and least technical tracks, and the flow from the banked-corner quad ruts makes for a pretty good time. See you next race!

grass track
The hard ground and broad sweeping grasstracks are a standout feature of the Steele Creek GNCCRachel Gutish