A big ‘ole group of us went for an epic ride yesterday. It was a beautiful late fall day. Highs in the low 60’s, and not a cloud in the sky. Before I say anything I have to show this picture from up on the parkway just under Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi:
The ride was arranged on the mtbr.com nc forum by Jonathan and the route was picked by yours truely. We met up at 9:30 at the Kitsuma trailhead and were riding by 10 am. We had to be on the trail no later than 10 because one flat, one bad wreck, one wrong turn, anything would put us back at the cars at sundown or later. Just about everyone had hiking lights along, just in case, but getting back before dark was in everyone’s best interest.
The ride started with the climb up the Kitsuma switchbacks. There were a total of 10 riders along so a few paces were started right away. The fast warm-up guys were way out front and Erinna and I, being slow warm-up types, kept up the rear. It was cool watching riders snake up the switchbacks. We made it to the interstate overlook and on up to the Kitsuma peak pretty quickly. The first bit of wicked fast singletrack descending of the day was next. Jessie ‘The Dude’ led the way and I took up second in line. I had a pretty hard ‘crotch-meet-back-of-saddle’ hit along the way and let a few folks slide on by. It took a moment to refocus after that but after some more rutted out descending we were at the Old Fort picnic area. We hit our first pavement section of the day and that went by very quickly. Here’s a shot of half of the group as we head down the pavement to the bottom of Heartbreak Ridge:
and a pretty shot of the guyser:
We got to the bottom of Heartbreak, took a little breather, ate some gel, and started the hike/ride up the switchbacks up Heartbreak Ridge. Once again the group get pretty spread-out with some folks feeling really good, and some feeling really bad. Once we made it to Star Gap Jody had had enough, decided it wasn’t his day to do an epic, and turned back. Oh well, better safe than sorry, right Jody? Or is it Pain is temporary, Pussin’-out is forever? Just kidding, if I felt like this I would have turned back, too.
The descent down from Star Gap is a ton-of-fun. Switchbacks galore, high-speed benchcut, and a remote, ‘where the hell are we’ aura to it. The was a great place to take photos of folks coming into the grassy road of death, Here are two of the shots I took:
The grassy road of death was the place where I felt the worst during the ride. I was the ride leader but my knowledge of that area was a bit fuzzy. Jody was my backup knowledge base, and he was gone so I had to make a couple decisions that I wish I had had a map to verify. The grassy road of death climbs and descends and climbs and descends for a mile or three of grassy (duh) doubletrack. Along the way Jonathan had two good crashes, one that split his knee wide open. Just because it was wide open doesn’t mean you could not pay attention, that’s for sure. We crested the top and found a couple equestrians having a picnic. We regrouped, dismounted, and walked around them. It was a cool sight but my camera decided that out-of-focus would be the best way to preserve the moment:
Why was an easy doubletrack section my low-point? Well, as Rich pointed out, it was my first time back there on a SS and the next bit, miles and miles and miles of doubletrack downhill went by so much slower than I had remembered that I though I had taken everyone down a wrong turn. I had visions of a mutany hungry mob waiting for me at a dead-end deep in no mans land. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. We arrived at the bottom of Curtis Creek Road, the gravel road of death, and everyone was in good spirits.
Curtis Creek starts out with a slight rise, nothing that would alert you to the fact that a climb that will imitate the lowest depths of hell is about to commence. There was even this pretty scene that I had to take a photo of:
Here are a few photos from the rest of the day for now.
Jessie near the top of Curtis Creek Road. Notice the walker behind him. Is Curtis Creek Road an easy climb? HELL NO.
Once we were at the parkway we were treated to some magnificent views:
and even though we were on the parkway for only 5 miles, everyone was happy to be getting back onto singletrack
Wode, Erinna, and I went for a quick spin through Bent Creek on Saturday. We got a late start due to the abundance of ‘hanging-out’ and doing nothing on a beautiful late Fall Saturday afternoon. When we started Wode shot out of the parking lot like he had a rocket strapped under his ass. We crossed the road and Wode heard the dreaded ‘phssssssssssssss’ of a flat tire. I helped him with what should have been a quick change but alas, it was not to be Wode’s day, the rim strip was missing out of his new wheel. Doh!
Oh well, We didn’t have enough time for the fix and restart so Wode walked back to the car and drove to the store to pick up a six-pack for us to share upon our return. Erinna and I pressed on, knowing we’d be back at the car in 45 minutes or so. We were bombing around, having a good time, and we ran into Thomas! Yeah! Thomas helped us keep the pace up and led the way. We went somewhere around Homestead->Explorer->Sleepy Gap->Chestnut Cove. Something like that. Thomas followed us back to the car then rode home (He lives in the neighborhood bordering Bent Creek…. Lucky!) and Wode, Erinna, and I stopped in to share the sixer with him. Fun, easy going, Wodeless ride around Bent Creek.
Two more photos, Erinna and Thomas on North Boundary:
Ian B. and I just got in from a tough 2.5-3 hour ride. We started on 5000 just below Spencer Gap->Trace Ridge->Reservoir Rd.->Fletcher Creek->Spencer Branch->Never Ending Road->Middle Fork->Spencer Branch->Reservoir Rd.->Wash Creek->Bear Branch Loop-> 5000. 23 miles, ~4260′ climbing. Sweet!
Wode and I went on a super chill ride yesterday, Laurel Mountain to Pilot Rock starting at Yellow Gap. We started pretty late in the day and took it easy all the way. Laurel Mountain was first. Wode was riding Mike B.’s Salsa El Mariachi so the first 20 minutes or so was dedicated to Wode getting used to the shifting, the hardtail, and the big wheels. Once we got warmed up and cruising we had a really good time. Laurel is so much easier than the trails we rode the day before and we took full advantage of the groomed trail. We were flyin’! It was a much cooler day than the day before but I still only broke a sweat once on the climb. We stopped a bunch, took a bunch of photos, and like I’ve already said, had a fun, chill, speedy ascent. Here’s Wode describing how the 29er rolls: “Smooooooth”
I saw a few interesting birds during the ride. A grouse, a small black and white woodpecker, and a blue bird. Not a jay, One of those tiny easter blue fellas. It was a beautiful day. Cool and cludy, but beautiful none-the-less. Here’s an overlook shot from somewhere along Laurel:
and here’s a blurry shot of me at one of the gaps
We kept the pace right at a fast yet comfortable clip and all the gaps just kept clicking by. We even rode right through Johnson Gap (our one bailout other than doing an out-and-back) and on up to Sassafrass Gap without even noticing. The $2000 climb was tough and at the Pilot Rock connector trail it was downright cold out. We decided to head up and over to Pilot Rock trail without a break because of the cold. We got to the other side of the ridge, it was still freakin’ cold, so we descended to the first overlook. We were starting to lose light but decided to take a break, eat some gel, take a few more photos:
and even shoot a quick video. The video doesn’t showcase my best technical riding ever, but it’s still cool. Good camera work Wode!
We kept a chill pace down Pilot. My hands were starting to hurt quite a bit and my brakes were pumping up to make matters worse. We made it down unscathed and to the road with no time to spare. By the time we had descended to Bradley Creek on 1206 it was far too dark to be in the woods. By the time we made it to Yellow Gap again, it was just plain ole dark out. 15 more minutes in the woods and we would have been stuck. Gotta remember to bring a petzel lamp on rides now! Anyway, fun, not so fast, but fun, and chill, classic Pisgah mountain biking for Wode’s birthday. Happy Birthday Wode!
Yesterday I went on a fun 4 hour ride with Erinna, Wode, Clint, Thomas, and Boone the dog. We started at 11 am at the Black Mountain trailhead and rode Black from end to end, past Club Gap, went over Buckwheat Knob and through Bennett Gap, then back to the cars.
We arrived at about 10:30 and talked with Bettina, who was getting ready for a short ride with some newbies. Clint and Thomas arrived and we were ready to go pretty much right away. Up Black Mountain trail wasn’t easy at all. I started out fast but my legs, lungs, and heart weren’t quite ready for the pace I was asking for. It was a warm day already and I took off a layer, waited for Erinna to do the same, and felt a bit better after a small break and a reduction in the pace. It turned into a nice climb for a while and everyone was getting into the groove. Here’s Erinna after the layer-removal:
and Erinna watching Wode and Clint arrive:
Black just goes up and up and up and up… Here’s Wode, Clint, and Erinna scrambling up a rooty section:
Notice that Thomas isn’t in any of the pictures? Well, he was having a good day. He was riding like a madman on that first big climb. Here’s a shot of him once I caught him at the top:
and… climbing away… again… Bastard!
On the first descent of the day I had a good scare. Clint was following me and I was doing my best to show him that he NEEDS a 29ER and that my big wheels are FAR SUPERIOR to his little wheels and I was letting at all hang out. Well, the slick leaves and gnomes under cover sent me directly into a tree. Luckily for me, the 29ER saved me, I just ricoched off it. We finally reached the top of Black Mountain after about 90 minutes or so. We stopped for a breather at the overlook and had a great descent down to the shelter. Oh, at the overlook tech move there were a couple hikers and I decided to try once, twice, three times to make it around the impossibly tight corner. I made it on he third try with my legtrailing behind me. I looked like Sophie streatching (Erinna said). I was feeling really good about my technical abilites and went for every switchback on the way to the shelter. I did very well, dabbing twice. There were two riders at the steps to the shelter and they were amazed by us. First, that we had climbed all the way from the bottom. Second that I was on a full rigid SS. Third, that Clint found his own way out of the woods (sans trail). Fourth, that we were calling out to Thomas who had also lost the trail and Fifth, that as soon as the girl on the pink bike arrived, we all got on out of there quickly and with big smiles. It all sounds normal to me, but they were a bit slack jawed.
On our way past the shelter Thomas found this little plant. He says it’s endangered and that we’re lucky to have it grace our presence. The flowers are gone for the year but little gems still are sprinkled throughout the forest:
My legs were going back and forth between feeling great and feeling like sacks of lead. Erinna was getting stronger and stronger as the day wore on. She cleaned the climb after the notch log like she had something to proove. Thomas cleaned it, too. Yeah! I gave it a solid try but came up short. Here’s the group at the top:
Erinna says: Yeah! try to beat me up the next climb.
I was having a great technical riding day . As I mentioned, I did the tight turn at the overlook, nearly all the switchbacks (even the super huge ones) plus I flew off the notch log. However, on the descent to Club Gap I took the lead and nearly crashed H-A-R-D. It didn’t happen, luckily, because it would have been a bad one. I was railing through a corner and me back wheel suddenly was launched upward. I rode a nose wheelie for a good 4 to 6 feet before bringing it back in. After that treat it was another climb, up to Buckwheat Knob. My legs were feeling pretty good so I took the lead on the climb. The descent to 477 is lots of fun, super fast, and tech tech tech. Thomas ate it twice! Once in the upper switchbacks where he almost broke his leg and once while taking the wrong line over the waterbar/rootball/waterbar with a big drop section and smashed his face! I wish I had taken a picture… blood running down his shin, a big smile and blood on his teeth. All of his teeth and face skin were intact so we pressed on towards Bennett. Here’s a shot from the field at the top of Bennett:
Clint was feeling good at this point and took the lead into Bennett. His little wheels did not inspire confidence (Come on Clint! Get a 29er!) so he got hung up on one of the tricky spots. With Thomas on my tail I cleaned the nasty left hand turn drop thing like I knew what I was doing. Actually, I’ve been there a few times lately so I kinda did have an idea… Anyway, I got messed up heading to the Clint huck (different Clint) and almost fell into the hole to oblivion, bobbled, got it together, made the switchback, and ate sh!t right at the huck rock. Dammit! I went for it a second time, bobbled again, and nearly fell off the side down to Perry. No bueno. No third try, thank you very much. After the Clint huck it was a quick hike-a-bike and down the backside of Bennett. I was feeling pretty good through there but was extra cautious during the steep setion with the big downed tree, it was FULL of leaves and impossible to make out trail features. Here’s Erinna as we pass Coontree:
We made it to the bottom at 477 in just under 4 hours. It was a beautiful day and lots of people were out. We ran into Craig and his dog on their way up Clawhammer and down Black right as we were off the single track. A bit of fire road and a bit of pavement later, we were back at the vehicles. Great ride on a warm late fall day.
Two more photos from the day:
O.k., this is cool… I just figured out how to do this; Here’s a map of the ride!
Corn Mill Shoals->2nd Cedar Rock->Powerlines->Cedar Rock->Big Rock->Burnt Mountain->Longside->Twixt->Quarry Rd->Wilkie->Cascade Lake Road
Another fun and fast ride last night. Wode and I drove out to DuPont and met Mike R. and Jonathan at 5:15. We were on the bikes by 5:30 and the pace was fast from the first pedal stroke. I don’t really know my way around DuPont so I was content with following a leader all evening. Jonathan led the uphills, Mike led the downhills, Wode and I held up the middle ground. Not much to say about the ride except we got to the top of Big Rock trail just in time for a beautiful sunset, I sure was glad to have sent Mike out as the ‘Scout’ on the downhills… he made some impressive moves that I was lucky enough to witness first hand, I followed a tumbling rock that Mike stirred-up and nearly crashed into a big drop since my eyes were following the rock and not the trail, Jonathan was climbing like a madman and encouraging me to do the same, Wode took a digger, the sky was filled with stars and the milky way was easy to spot, the weather was unseasonably warm,…. and we had a blast. 2 hours total, milage and elevation unknown.
Well, yesterday I did one of the harder rides of the year, the Swank 65K. Todd Branham picked a tough route this year for sure. I didn’t even know I was able to race until the Friday before because of work. I was able to work that out, though and made my way to the start out at Cove Creek on Sunday morning. I was running a few minutes behind schedule and hardly had the time to socialize that I wanted. Jonathan, Rich, and Brian were parked next to me, Dennis, Matt, the Poss’s, Krause, Garth, Todd, Shrimper, Mark, Ken & Vicky, JT, Ivory,….. there were folks everywhere that I wanted to say ‘hi’ to. Luckily there was a time schedule at hand so it didn’t turn into a meet and greet and big slow group ride… We were there to race! There would be time for socializing in 6 hours or so.
The race started with a longer than expected La Mans start and that split the field up pretty well. We circled around, found our bikes, left Cove Creek and took a right onto FS479. I immediately fell behind (who I thought was) Eric Krause and kept his pace for a while. We passed a bunch of people and I just stuck to his wheel like dog poop. I figured I couldn’t chase Krause for long and was wondering if the pace was too hot out of the box but as the rider on the blue ti Fat Chance hit a steep I made a pass and realized it wasn’t Krause, it was Chris! we talked for a moment and held each others pace and continued to pass other riders all the way to Glouscester Gap.
Next was a new experience for me, we climbed 5003. I had only ever done that the other way during backside-of-Farlow rides and was looking forward to riding it the other way. I really put the hammer down then and continued to pass folks until the gate at 140A. After the gate we went down to Courthouse Falls road and I followed a kid, I mean, teenager, I mean…. this kid had to be 14-16 years old and was absolutely flying! I got behind him, tried once to make a pass, and realized, O.k., I’m riding with the next Jeramiah Bishop here…. and let him lead. We hauled ass down to the road and I nearly rear-ended him. I gave out a big hoot, gave hime the ‘Nice Run!’ compliment, apologized for tailgating, and watched him disappear while climbing away from me on Courthouse Falls road. I took my first break at the bottom of Kissee Creek road and was caught by Chris and JT. Yeah JT!!!
Up Kissee Creek was easy at the bottom but got increasingly hard towards the top. I had been giving it my all (probably too much) and was starting to have a hard time. Brian caught up with me and said ‘whew! That’s too hard of work for this early’ and I took the cue, I started to walk the nasty spots. Kissee eventually dumps into 140A where we took a left. Finally some downhill! I traded spots back and forth with Chris, Brian, and JT for most of 140A. I was very happy to have been back there with Wode just a few weeks before. Knowing a trail makes it go by soooo much quicker. I had a great time, saw Brian with his bike upside down for repairs twice, and made my way to checkpoint one with a big smile on my face. First loop down and feeling better and faster than expected. Yeah!
I drank a full water bottle of heed, put another bottle on my bike, and must have sat still for a moment too long.Once I got moving again my legs started their revolt. Like a mild shock from a wall outlet my left leg started to cramp. I compensated with my right leg, kept breathing, worked through the cramp, and passed Valerie. O.k., things are looking good.
Here’s a photo from right then:
I got to the top and took the descent to the climb to Butter nice and easy. Recover while moving, you know? Well I got passed by Chris, Valerie, and JT since their machines are ‘geared enhanced’ and they didn’t spin their brains out trying to pedal downhill. Next was a left and the climb to Butter Gap. I had actually never done Butter before so it was exciting for me to be there finally. I caught up with Chris again and he seemed to be just getting into his groove (He’s and ultra-distance guy) so I decided to take another breather at the top of Butter, and to let him go.
I heard riders approaching so I took off down butter. That was a fuuuuuuuun trail. nice and smooth in spots, wet and nasty in spots, rooty, smooth, rocky, smooth, rhodo tunnels, smooth, creek crossings, smooth, and beautiful. It felt like forever at the bottom but I made it to Long Branch without being caught by the riders behind me. I didn’t catch those in front either but at that point all I wanted was to make it back to Glouscester for the final time of the day. I did begin to notice how well Todd had marked the course while riding that section. There are a few twists and turns that I didn’t have to think about once. Great job Todd! I didn’t see another racer for the entirty of Long Branch. That trail was over sooner than expected then after a short steep climb up the fire road I was at checkpoint 2.
Once at the checkpoint I decided to keep moving as quickly as possible. I downed another bottle of heed, traded out my empty on the bike, and headed up to Farlow Gap. The climb up to Farlow was probably the low-point of my day. I was once again with JT and Valerie and we traded places a few times. The singlespeed was killing me at this point. Without a bailout gear I had to get off and walk a few times but I was happy to see JT walking also and no-one following close behind. The climb up Farlow went by quicker than expected, probably in large part due to having JT to talk to. I also got it in my head that the space-time continuem thing was just going to have to work and that soon enough, space, and time, would pass. As is always the case, time passed and I moved through space all the way to Farlow. I lost JT on the hike-a-bike but after about 5 minutes of descending Farlow, he caught me again. Farlow was unridable for many sections being that they were covered in knee deep leaves. When the trail WAS ridable I was being very very cautious. Early in the descent I had an unscheduled dismount that made the fronts of both of my legs lock up. I knew I had to be very deliberate in every move I made after that Eventually JT and I crossed the first creek, did some hiking, continued to descend, creek, hike, descend, creek, hike, descend, creek, hike, descend… jeez-us! The bottom of Farlow went on and on and on! I totally blocked out how far it is to Daniel Ridge. I lost JT somewhere along there and didn’t see him again until the finish.
At the top of Daniel I was right at 5 hours of riding and my hands were starting to hurt. It sure felt good to be riding downhill, despite my hands. I exercised extreme caution and finally took a moment to take in the beauty of the woods we were all blessed to be riding in. It didn’t take long at all to get to the crush-and-run flat section at the bottom of Daniel Ridge and I was feeling good again after the rest from descending. Down to 479 and onto Davidson River trail was next and over quickly. I hit Checkpoint 3 in high spirits and after downing yet another bottle of heed and replacing the empty on my bike I moved out of there as quickly as possible.
To finish the race all that was left was Cove Creek trail. I started out with Patricia and complained that my legs weren’t doing so well. I had it in my mind though that I was going to leave her behind. I still had a little left and I wanted to end the day drained. I picked up the pace and she fell away. She chased a little but after every switchback she was a little further down the hill. Soon enough I saw a group of 4 or 5 riders ahead. I thought my luck was in my favor but I was having a hard time reeling them in. I fianlly caugft the last in thr group and what? GAH! No number plates! They did make me up my pace just enough to make me wonder how the end was going to feel. I took the left and continued to climb to Cove Creek trail. No stopping there, I just headed right in. After the first descent Cove Creek has a few ups and creek crossings to deal with and who do I see at the top of one of the ups? Jonathan Tomato! I called out to him, he stopped, I got to him, andgotonmybikeandhammeredlikehell. One of my unstated goals was to redeam myself from my bonk-out on the tomato ride and I did it. Jonathan put on a little chase but once I crossed a log bridge, scrambled up the other side, and took a look back, and he was no longer there. I pushed as hard as I could through the ‘taint bruising’ (thanks jonathan) section and was feeling a bit euphoric as I came into the start/finish area. There was a guy in an ape suit making ape noises, friends and the announcer Bruce calling out my name, and I crossed the line with my fists over my head like I had won or something. It was a great moment for me.