Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The long and tall of it.

Annie's parents came into town for the weekend, but I was still able to sneak away for a mountain adventure.  Using the Avenza App I downloaded a map of the South Pisgah Ranger District and devised a route based on minimal experience in the area.  The best part of the maps you download through the Avenza App is that they use your phone's GPS (even with no signal) to pinpoint your location on the map - very sweet feature indeed!.  The goal was gravel/forest roads and it wasn't too hard to put a route together.

I wasn't sure what to expect elevation ride throughout the entire ride so I geared closer to what I had ridden Clawhammer to Black Mountain on the Glow Worm (since I would be starting with Clawhammer and riding it all the way to the top).  I was definitely spinning my ass off as I started up Avery Creek Rd and wasn't sure if it was more or less than last time... last time I was riding with a group and we were not in a rush.  I was also unsure of how gearing would be different on a mountain bike versus the cx... either way, I was riding what I had.

Even before starting up Clawhammer I knew that the climbing would be more of a mental challenge than a physical one (not to say it wouldn't test me physically as well) but last time I had Good Guy Greg to use as motivation to keep moving when my legs complained... this time I was alone.  Luckily I was not entirely alone out there, I had a support crew of butterflies flittering around me as I made my way up.  Before long caught a glimpse of some real company, I spotted a rider ahead of me.  I used him as motivation to keep spinning up the road.  I passed him on a switchback and exchange pleasantries before leaving him behind.  Not too long after I spotted a pair of riders ahead, and again used them as motivation as I cranked my way to the top.  Again I exchanged pleasantries and kept on trucking.

Eventually I had to stop to check the map as I was closing in on the top of the road, but wasn't sure if I should go left or take 5057.  As I was checking which was to go two riders came up 5057 (which was not my planned route) and headed up - I followed shortly thereafter up to the top.  My plan was to then turn around and descend Clawhammer and then continue up Avery Creek Rd.  I chatted with the riders, discussing the impending weather.  30% chance of rain (thunderstorms) and it had already started sprinkling.  The slight rain was more than welcomed as it was hotter than I had expected (mid high 80s), but the skies were looking evil.  One of the riders mentioned that his father had been directly hit by lightning, and his wife had been in water that was struck... pretty unlucky family!!  We discussed each other's plans (they were descending Black of course) and they offered a better alternative than returning the way I came - head down Buckhorn Gap.  THIS was the knowledge I was lacking for the area - what trails were cx compatible?  I'm good with roots and rocks, but after having ridden Black Mountain I know things can get insane - and that is not where I want to be with skinny tires and drop bars!

The trail was an absolute blast

until the skies completely opened up a minute later

My glasses were quickly rendered useless and my brakes were filling with sandy grit... but it was still a blast.  There was some weak rumblings of thunder that seemed off in the distance as I continued down the vegetation tunnel.  Soon I popped out onto a Forest Service Rd.  My newly suggested route had been to then take Pink Beds (more singletrack) to Route 276 back to the Ranger Station, but I was feeling good and I was now back into Service Roads I had actually planned on riding, so I jumped back into my original plan of grinding out miles.

From what a quick glance at the phone sized pdf map showed I wasn't expecting too much elevation heading out on Yellow Gap Rd toward the North Mills Recreation Area.  There was some climbing to do, and a lot of descending towards the end.  It felt like a lot to be honest, and had me somewhat worried about the return climb.  Descending was pretty damn fun on the Silk Worm, but wearing a pack did start hurting my back when tucked in for so long.  At the bottom I refilled a water bottle at the camp site and started back up from where I just came.  The strangest thing happened... the climbing wasn't nearly as bad as I thought!  Something I started to notice out there, even on the slightest bit of decline the Silk Worm just seems to take off... the bike just wants to go fast!

Climbing better than I had expected and gaining speed where I could I was having a blast.  Randomly out of nowhere my rear wheel started getting squishy, and I started to "feel" the gravel through my rear wheel so I quickly pulled to the side to check it out.  I was (of course) running tubeless and couldn't find any evidence of a puncture (no sealant showing).  I spun the wheel slowly listening for a leak... nothing.  Maybe I just burped it coming down too hard??  I pulled the pump out and threw some air back in.

    A couple times actually... I couldn't seem to get it filled up to where I wanted it... still no sign of a leak... I hopped on hoping that riding it would get it to seal any leak... soft again in no time.  I pulled off again to pump it up again and quickly determined this would likely be an ongoing battle.  Befuddled at the air lose I gave in a put in a tube.

At this point I had been out for hours and was feeling it a little.  Add to the uncertainty of the mileage left to go before getting back to the car, not to mention the unknown elevation left to conquer ahead once I got back to where I had entered Yellow Gap, and a little worry crept in.  I simultaneously tested and babied my rear tire hoping that it wouldn't go flat.  I couldn't locate anything in the tire that would puncture it, but I had my doubts that there wasn't something in the tire that was going to destroy my tube (I did have another if needed).  Then there was the worry of a pinch flat (when I got back to the pterodactyl I checked the air pressure in the rear, 20 psi - guess I hadn't pumped long enough!  On the bright side, I guess I know I can run lower pressure and be ok) floating in the back of my head anytime I was descending over rough stuff.  I had brought lights, a rain coat, and a long sleeve and I still had a little food, and if things got real bad there were road side campers I could look to for assistance... but to be honest, my real worry was the length of time I was out.  I hadn't planned to be out this long, and I knew that Annie would certainly start to wonder at some point and I had no way of contacting her until I was out of the forest and back into Brevard.  

With the tube in I rode on.  Soon I was back to where I jumped on Yellow Gap so I knew "all" I had to do was continue on Yellow Gap to Route 276 (which I could ride all the way back if I wanted) and jump back onto 477 - Avery Creek Rd back to the Ranger Station.  I checked my map to gauge how far until Route 276... no idea, but it didn't look as close as I would have liked it, so onward I rode.  The road surprised me as I ran into it, I guess it wasn't so far after all.  Short stretch of pavement and then a left onto 477.  I was here to hit the gravel/forest road, and hit them I would!  

For some reason I pictured 477 to be all downhill form this point, I was wrong.  As soon as I turned in it went up.  I walked a little but quickly shut that idea out of my head and jumped back on the bike.  Not too long after I had to stop to take a picture... I was getting to be done with this ride, and it seemed that Mother Nature was telling my it was closing time as well.

As I was putting my phone away a Subaru came down out of the fog, she needed directions back to Brevard.  I told her she was close to Route 276 and all she had to do was take a left and it would take her back to town - she was thankful, but it left me wondering what the terrain ahead was going to be for me?  I climbed for a bit longer, each time the road twisted around the hill side I imagined it would start heading down, after 2-3 turns it did... and it did in a big way!  My rear tire continued to cause me worry (but held up fine) and my back started to scream over the extended descent.  Out of nowhere the horse barn popped up and I yelled (literately) "I love you horse barn!"  Typically the horse barn signifies the beginning of the climb up Clawhammer (suffering), but this time it let me know that the end wasn't far off now.

I made it back.  Dirty, tired, and happy!

I may or may not change out my rear tire and go Clement X'plor front and back... still not sure.  The current set up did fine, a little slippage on looser climbs, but that might just be the name of the game.  I know I will try to go pack less next time... but there are things you need to carry when out in Pisgah (especially alone) so we shall see.  But there will be a next time for certain, many more next times between the Silk Worm and the Glow Worm (and probably even the HiFi).  The mountains are too great to visit so infrequently!

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