Today's ride rings true that most important fact about Pisgah: Its not the mileage that gets you. So goes the proud credo of those who call its 1,076,711 acres home, the local trails, their backyard. Bruce, Bennett, JutRut and myself parked at the top of Turkey Pen, climbed a bit of Vineyard Gap, and then dropped a fast section of service road, with JutRut showing his BMX roots on every hip. We then grinded up Mullinax, until it turned into Squirrel Gap and the climbing got a bit technical. All the SS riders cleared the water bar and root filled climb, thus completing our impromptu wheel size experiment. Our conclusions; SS 26ers, 29ers and 96ers can all climb technical stuff, given that they are piloted by skilled riders. At the midpoint of the Squirrel Gap climb we stayed straight and dropped Laurel to Bradley Creek, our first taste of water for the day. There were 3 pretty good sized "creek crossings" and a rider's choice of methods were used to cross them; removing socks, rock dancing acrobatics, or arrogant fording.
I preferred the latter, and now had wet feet, but it was still above 40, and I had some back up socks in the BD1. Bradley Creek eventually morphed into the beginning of Squirrel Gap, taking us back to Mullinax Gap. Current ride time, about 1:15, and the car was only a Bruce twenty minutes (we had not yet learned the Pisgah Works translation factor) away, which wouldn't be much of a ride. Some debate occurred, everyone voiced their opinion, and we were off to complete Squirrel Gap. I had ridden the western section of this trail, from Mills river to Cantrell Creek during T.M.H.T.E., and it was a blow down mess. Last month's issue of BIKE magazine listed this trail as North Carolina's best, and I was eager to ride the eastern half, and hopefully the forest service had cleared the western half. Squirrel Gap delivered. And to drop a little foreshadowing, no matter what happened the rest of the day, the ride was worth it because of this trail. Great singletrack, technical in sections, very technical in others. It rides along with such character and flow, allowing you to carry speed when you need it, and offering the constant mental challenge of picking lines when you can't float sections. I never felt my legs through the first half, I just rode hard, cleared a lot of stuff I was proud of, and pushed a nice pace for the group. I think we all had a blast, and were happy with our decision, thus far. Squirrel Gap, nicely cleared by the fine folks at Pisgah Area SORBA, ended at the Mills river bridge, and South Mills River would be our return trip from here. Bruce briefly mentioned 3 more creek crossings, and 150yds later we were faced with a 40 foot river crossing. We skipped this one by going back over the bridge and riding a faint trail through the brush to meet the trail, but within a quarter mile, we had another river crossing. We spent a lot of time up and down the banks, looking for a divinely placed foot path of rock, but I'm pretty sure we never found it. I say "pretty sure" because after hearing Bruce's "we should be coming up on the last river crossing" five times, making a total of 8 river crossings, all over 30 feet wide, and ranging from shin to nearly waist deep, I can't tell you specifics about any particular one. The first 3 were met with the same myriad of tactics as Bradley Creek; some removed socks, daring balancing acts, and wet feet. As the afternoon wore on, and the temperature dropped to just above freezing, the intensity of the situation increased, as no matter what method we chose, we were all wet. River crossings were now met with a blind necessity, just get it done. Ride to the bank, get off, shoulder the bike, and walk in ice cold water, splashing up to your waist, the current carrying you downstream. Just get back on the bike and ride, the "last one" is just ahead. As much as I like my new S-works shoes, their carbon sole does little for traction in this situation, and I took a swim. I think I did 3 or 4 more crossings, now soaked, feet and hands numb to the point that I couldn't feel my pedals clip in, and had to keep looking at my hands to see if my fingers were closed around the grips. The song of the river current finally drifted out of range to our right, and I was, no matter how many times Bruce said "last one," finally confident that our river crossing days were over. Now it was time for the lashings. This trail must not see a lot of winter traffic (hmm....) so the laurel was thick around the diminished single track, and my shins took the beating of a lifetime, I awoke this morning to find thousands of little scabs on the front of my legs. It was like a sadistic
Schvitz minus the steak dinner. Nice. Pisgah in its truest form, never relenting, and offering the kind of adventure that leaves you pushing your bike up the last hill to the car, bouncing your woodblock feet of rocks, joking about using them to kick your route finding host's ass. We all warmed up eventually. Bennett's wife had lasagna waiting for us, JutRut picked up some beer. After dinner the regaling of our tale began; mental therapy to repair us for the days to come.
Stats: 25.56 miles, 4,822 feet climbed, 3:57:40 ride time, 5:42:31 adventure time
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