Breaking this into two posts because I'm tired, it'll be too long and boring to read all at once, and it makes me seem like a more prolific poster.
Friday saw a whole lot of packing for an adventure of unknown scale. I didn't have a partner. My last minute email detailing this hadn't reached the promoter. I didn't know if I was in or not, if I'd pick someone up, if Eric would say no way.
Bright and early Saturday morning I rolled down to the White Pines campground and set up camp amidst a group of slowly rising and coffee making out of towners. Found Mr. Wever, plead my case, and he made it official. I was racing Double Dare.
So here's the format: Two twelve hour periods to ride/move around Pisgah National Forest and collect checkpoints. Checkpoints are usually trail intersections, gaps, or other points of interest. First period starts at 12 noon and ends at midnight, giving you 12 hours to get as many of these checkpoints as possible, one of which is mandatory, and the only one required to actually "finish" the day, and get back to camp. Second day starts bright and early at 6am and runs to 6pm, same format, different checkpoints (and traditionally different side of the forest).
I got all my gear checked in; rain jacket, fleece top, tights, lock, lighter, first aid kit, space blanket, lights, back up lights, water filter, map, compass, whistle and ten bucks. Added to it enough food and nutrition for 12 hours unsupported in the woods (Hammer Gel flasks, Fig Newtons, some baked fingerling potatoes, a peanut butter sandwich) some extra clothes that seemed to make sense (extra socks, extra gloves, glove shells, hat, vest) and some more batteries for the lights. Crammed all that into my Ergon BD1, with some stuff secured to the outside and mounted up.
12pm Saturday: One of Eric's newer additions to Double Dare is starting each stage with a Time Trial. This does two things; makes sure everyone actually leaves, and gives teams an opportunity to earn a time bonus. Your gap on the slowest TT team is your time bonus. I wasn't too considered with this as I just wanted to finish, and SS bikes don't always equal fast TT bikes. Day One's time trial was to the northern end of the South Mills River trail. I got there in just over an hour after missing the turn to Clawhammer. I had originally planned and mapped a long way around on 276 but made a last minute decision that I came to mountain bike, so an old forest road was better than riding pavement. That last minute decision didn't allow much map looking time, hence the mistake, but my TT time was actually pretty good, passed a few teams and reached the end of South Mills and got my Passport. The passport details the 10 checkpoints and any Wever "Special Challenges" available.
With the consultation of a few other teams at the camp (this is barely a competitive event) I decided to go get the CP at Pink Beds, and continue up 276 to the Parkway and go from there. Pink Beds came quick and I had 1 under my belt, and long, cold climb up 276 to the BRP. The BRP was full of motorcycle, hot rod, soccer mom leaf looking traffic, and was absolutely frigid and windy. The exposed time on this road froze me solid. I stopped at the Buck Springs parking lot, walked down the MtS trail and rode/hobbled down Laurel Mountain to the Pilot connector to grab another CP, reversed the whole situation and headed back to the Parkway.
In all my trips up Laurel this fall, I've seen Mt. Pisgah looming off to the north of the Parkway and figured I'd eventually take a day off the bike and just hike to the top. What better time than now. This was Eric's "special test," and was worth another checkpoint. Click-Clacked my way up the rocky trial in the worst shoes for hiking possible, got a few looks from the families, and snapped a photo on the deck (photo's serve as proof you made a checkpoint). Checked the map, had a little warm up swig of Basil Hayden with some other racers, and sur'd up my next few moves.
More parkway time spent freezing down the descent to the Little Pisgah tunnel where I veered off to drop Big Creek. The minute I got in the woods I was shedding layers, thank god for a little protection from the wind. Dropping Big Creek is always fun, and was more fun with leaves on it. They hide a lot of the little rocks you don't need to worry about, and with the iPod up, it was a very focused descent, and felt smooth, objectively, for me. I still walk one off camber rooty section, and will clean it one day, but Double Dare will not be that day. Big Creek takes you all the way to the Hendersonville Reservoir, which, was a CP. That makes 4.
Spencer Gap is staring you in the face at the Reservoir, so I headed up that, took the sharp left on Middle Fork and rode a mildly technical false flat all the way up to its terminus with FS5097. Checkpoint number 5. I was kind of fading at this point, and was only eating enough to keep moving, not really perform, because that's all I could really carry. Turning around and reversing Middle Fork woke me right back up. The false flat turns into a wide open flow ride, with a few bumps on the way back. My kind of riding, totally within my comfort zone, half paying attention to the trails, half to the music, and just opening it up and enjoying it.
From the reservoir I took Reservoir road to 5000, and followed that over to 1206, Yellow Gap Road. Took advantage of the bathroom at the campground to fill up one bottle and top of a half bottle into the camel back. It was now dark, which meant two things. I wasn't drinking enough water, and it was time to put lights on. Managed to climb 1206 to Yellow Gap by moonlight, the only obstacle being an occasional pothole that caught me off guard. There were a lot of racers on this stretch. A few teams heading up, and a few teams heading down. Anyone ever watch Memphis Belle? There's a scene where one of the bombers gets hit slightly and drifts off course into the unknown over Nazi Germany, and Harry Connick Jr. gives them that knowing look of goodbye. That's how I felt about teams heading down from yellow gap at 7:00pm.
Yellow Gap was my 6th checkpoint and from there, I went down and up the rolling FS5015 to the Bradley Creek trail and on shortly to Bradley Fields. The Mandatory Checkpoint, number 7. More special tests. Shoot a BB gun and hit a target, two out of 5, or shot gun a beer and a half (teams had to do 3 but I was solo) A PBR and half later I was pushing up Laurel Creek to the intersection with Squirrel Gap with 7.5 checkpoints.
Lots of light trouble. I think one of my Hope batteries has a short in it and I'll have to get it replaced. It worked great sitting on the kitchen countertop as a cycled them a few times the week prior, but any bump or jolt would kill it. I had on my head a nightrider Evolution, a mighty 10w halogen, essentially a candle for all intents and purposes. Not a good situation for Squirrel Gap, which, at least until it hits Cantrell is nothing but roots and rocks. Great technical riding, my favorite trail in the forest thus far, but at night with questionable lighting it was frustrating. Sleep deprived, and kind of bonked out, I stumbled, half dismounted, rode stuff sitting on my taint and eventually made it to my eighth checkpoint at the top of Cantrell Creek. There was a checkpoint at the bottom of Cantrell, but time was getting tight, and the only way I knew out of the bottom of Cantrell would be wet as far as I could remember. Time to get back.
Continued on the flowy half of Squirrel gap, up and over a few rollers, and on to South Mills river. I crossed over the big cable bridge and made my way along South Mills River. Here's another dumb analogy that comes to mind. Remember those parts of the forest or castles in Zelda where if you didn't go up down left or right in the correct order, the screen just repeated itself over and over and over and over again until you hit reset. That is the south mills river trail at night with a candle strapped to your head. It all looks the same; swooping switchbacks to sand troughed trails with Rhodo hanging over you. Make another wide switchback and repeat. And on one of those switchbacks, always the one you think you just passed, is the intersection with Buckhorn Gap trail. Candles don't reflect trail signs, so this 30 minutes was a little nerve wracking as the time wound down, but I finally found it, climbed up to Buckhorn Gap, felt relieved and dropped a very cold Clawhammer to 477 and got back to White Pines Campground 11 hours and 1 minute later with 8.5 checkpoints.
I met two really great guys on this leg of the adventure, and owe them a lot for helping me get around and offering up conversation when I got tired of talking to myself. Sean and John from Harper's Bike shop in Knoxville are stand up guys, great partners, and worth stopping in and saying hi to next time you find yourself in Knoxville.