Four hours of sleep had me up at 5:00am, boiling water in the vestibule from the comfort of my sleeping bag. It was right around freezing, probably 36 or so, and the energy and output of yesterday that should have led to a deathlike sleep actually manifested as a lot of tossing and turning. There was a lot to go over in my head, and a lot of anxiety about the next days test. The oatmeal went down sticky, grabbed a light, refilled some bottles, and pulled the Dieringer up from her rest.
6:14am: Day two is underway with a time trial to the end of the pavement on Pilot Mountain Rd. I chose not to push up Farlow, and opted for a little warm up moonlit spin on 276, took the Davidson River trail to skip a climb, and hit the bottom of 475. The road wasn't too steep, but I definitely started to feel the prior days effort in my legs. Reached Gloucester Gap about an hour in to the day, and made the sharp right up Pilot Mountain Rd. A lot of this was spent walking, almost always within sight of a team of two SS riders. The idea being not blow out our legs climbing steeper stuff out of the saddle this early into an unknown day. At about the 2 hour mark I hit the end of the gravel, and the surprise that although our TT had ended, we weren't getting our passports here as we did yesterday. Wever was sending us further on Pilot Mountain "Rd." (at this point a chunder fest of large leaf covered gravel) to Farlow Gap, and then a mandatory 30 minute or so hike up the Art Loeb trail to the Parkway. North on the still cold parkway, up into the Shining Rock area via the Black Balsam parking area, and up further along the Ivestor Gap trail to Ivestor Gap, the point at which we finally got our passports. Walking the Art Loeb gathered quite a few riders together. As you ran into someone ahead of you, no one really had the energy or desire to "pass" while hiking, and our collective misery fueled some fun conversation, shared feelings, and general collective spirit in an event that at the most you had one other person to share with for 24 hours. The road sections instantly blew the group apart again, and I was left alone, drawing my own switchbacks up Black Balsam road towards the parking lot. I think this says a lot about the nature of the people that do these events, how we use this kind of volunteer suffering to find people we share a common thread with: an enjoyment of time spent in the woods. Outside of the woods we all do different things, lead different lives and may act completely different than we were these 24 hours, but in the shadows of Pisgah, everyone is pretty much the same.
I passed a few people coming back from Ivestor Gap and knew it couldn't be much further, and then finally heard some voices from up and over a scrubby berm. I had reached Ivestor Gap. Good news, this was also our mandatory.
Bad news, it had taken over 4 hours to reach this point. I was pretty wasted by the lack of enjoyment more than anything else, and was ready to bail. I knew a pretty easy way back to White Pines, and was all set to take it, after grabbing an easy checkpoint on Flat Laurel.
I bumped and grinded my way down the slightly downhill but rocky as hell Ivestor Gap trail, used the facilities to achieve race weight, and then took off down the trail. The flowing, rolling terrain of Flat Laurel put a little energy back in the legs, and the checkpoint was only halfway down the trail. Decision time. Either essentially bail early, but have to reverse the fun downward trending trail I just rode, OR continue down the fun stuff and commit to a much larger day.
Just a few pedal strokes further down Flat Laurel and I was feeling pretty happy with my decision. I came to do this thing to learn about the forest, spend some long days in the forest, and see who I could best. No matter how bad it got, I'd be home that night and could be as lazy as I wanted. Reached the end of Laurel at 215, climbed up to the BRP with 2 checkpoints and a brighter outlook on the day than I had had at Ivestor.
What seemed like 20 minutes of descending 215 brought me to the base of Summey Cove, and my 3rd checkpoint. This southwest stretch of 215 if one of the most remote places in Pisgah as far as mountain biking goes. 215 connects the BRP with downtown Brevard, but not a whole lot else. No place to go from here except back north into the forest and find a way home.
There was another logical checkpoint at the top of Summey Cove, but having "ridden" the trail during TMHTE, I decided to take a nearby fireroad to gain the elevation, reach the top of Summey and grab my 4th checkpoint at Court House Falls. Pulled out the map again and looked over my options.
Kissee Creek road was a small overgrown service road that connected the fireroad I was on, 140, to Farlow Gap, which was another checkpoint. I had climbed 104, but figured Farlow, with all its lure and hype as a downhill run, had to be higher than me, and set off climbing Kissee Creek into the mildly unknown. Kissee Creek road, while bringing me to Farlow, also brought me right back to the place I was mentally at the 4 hour mark. Done; tired of walking stuff I knew on a fresh day I could turn the cranks over on; tired of miscuing on little technical sections under the influence of exhaustion, and simply tired of going up. Farlow Gap was a carrot at the top of all this. I set it in my mind that all I really had to do was to reach Farlow, and it'd be over.
I powered up the last rising meters of Kissee and reached Farlow, elated if not fully rejuvenated. Snapped a few photos of my 5th checkpoint, and headed out the rocky extension of Pilot Mountain Road back towards the end of our TT this morning. It was still pretty early in the day, around 2 pm, and I knew I could drop through Gloucester, 475, and catch the Davidson River trail back to 276, essentially reversing the suffering of my moonlit morning run. If I got to camp with time and energy I'd look into grabbing one of two nearby CPs.
Luckily 276 is mind numbingly flat and boring on a single speed. I was meandering all over the road, going probably 12 miles an hour, and just wanting to get to camp. It was at this point the I serendipitously looked up and saw a sign for the Coontree Loop trail. My sugar deprived brain had initially thought about pedaling all the flat crap back to camp, and then climbing Bennett to a checkpoint at Coontree Gap, completely missing the fact that this trail staring at me presently could take me there.
I got a little excited when I saw the trail had just opened to bikes on Oct 15th. The excitement quickly left as I realized you don't ride the trail this way, its meant as a downhill. There were times I had the bike laid up over my shoulders and was trudging up a set of stairs, but it was still a better plan than going around and up Bennett. 30 minutes of walking got me to the intersection of the Bennett Gap trail, my 6th CP, and I dropped the familiar bottom have of Bennett back to 477.
At this point I was 3 minutes from being done, but still had 2 hours on the clock. The second "nearby" checkpoint that was on my radar was at Pressley Gap, the intersection of the Black Mountain trail with FS5022, or Maxwell road as some nearby downhill guys educated me it was called. Back up Clawhammer. Just like yesterday morning's TT. With all the acreage in this damn forest, and the endless network of trails, it seemed fitting that my last sadistic effort, now so close to the end, would be just as it began. I made me smirk a little bit as I made the turn past the horse stables and powered up the first steep pitch beyond the gate.
Maxwell meanders all over the place, slowly gaining elevation as it thins to a stripe of kitty litter consistency energy sucking trail. It eventually pops out at a campsite, with the Black Mountain trail dropping in from the left, and continuing its descent to the right. Snap a photo, checkpoint 7 for the day, and I realize I've finished. One more cold descent down Clawhammer, this time with the luxury of lumens, and I'd be back.
I stopped halfway to talk with the downhill guys on their way up, and yield the kitty litter to their uphill group, checked my watch and enjoyed the rest of the descent. I passed the Knoxville boys on their way up to their 8th checkpoint of the day. They had dropped Farlow to get one up on me, something I avoided because in my state, the rumors of Farlow kept me off, and I wouldn't really have known how to get out of there. One of the boys greeted me with a friendly "Fuck Off!" as I passed. They still had a lot of Maxwell elevation to gain, and knew it, but I'd see them back at camp shortly.
I finished at 4:42pm with 7.5 checkpoints (another half CP bonus for shotgunning some PBR at Ivestor). That made 16 for the event, and 21:32 minutes, officially, of forest travel. I used what energy I had left to diligently break camp and get packed up before I stopped moving. I really felt pretty good. I was eating more later in the day, and the feeling of being finished washed a lot of fatigue out of my body. A lot of racers were all ready in and gone, opting for a shorter day 2. Two or three more teams came in after me, to a scattered round of applause and some cowbells, and that was it.
Fittingly the end was anticlimatic. The jaded comparison of journey vs. destination holds true for everything about this event. From a competitive standpoint, it didn't matter that you reached a checkpoint, but how. And in the end, no one outside of this small community would care that you finished, or be able to comprehend what 37 people experienced in a span of 24 hours, but each team's journey over the trails of Pisgah was unique to them.I rode this thing solo, but wouldn't have made it without some help, advice, figures to chase in the distance, nips of bourbon, fatigued faces looking back at me as I passed, and the knowledge that everyone else was out there suffering as well, and we all felt worse than one another at one point.
Big thanks to Eric and the rest of his rag-tag-volunteer-for-the-hell-of-it Pisgah Productions crew. The guy's a visionary race promoter, gets things done on a shoestring budget of $0 dollar entry fees, and puts a lot of passion in it just to get our kind together. Cheers man.
*thanks to Beth for drawing my little maps and profiles for me....need my Garmin back you Reno thugs!!!