I flew in late on Friday, after 11 hours of airport life, had to rush home, do laundry, and find bike stuff to do the early Saturday morning LaRoy orchestrated ride. He always suggests these things on days I'm guaranteed to have enjoyed no more than 5 hours of sleep.
We parked at the Fisherman's Bridge on 1206 at 8:30 in the morning. The Subaru said it was 23 degrees. The weather said it was to get up to 50 (in the city). What to wear. I recently lost a knee warmer to the great dryer in the sky, and didn't want to wear tights if it was going to warm up. Tights are a little committing as far as overheating options go. Solution...two pairs of shorts and my Swiftwick Merino 12's. There like tights for the lower half of my leg, and really did the trick. I doubled up with a pair of Merino 4's in lieu of any kind of bootie, and the lower half was as good as it could get. Up top I put everything on I could find in the car, some of which lives in there and was very cold. Not a good start. Start pedaling. We looked like a temperature experiment rolling out. Dennis in tights and booties, Jonathon "the sweater" in shorts and knee warmers with one jacket on, and me somewhere in between.
Our route was a little up in the air, but we climbed 1206 to Yellow Gap, then started up Laurel. As expected, but ignored, most of the fun technical sections on Laurel were all iced up. Today wasn't going to be the day to session the roots and rocks along the trail. No one really had any pep this morning. The regroups were frequent and chatty,
Jonathon broke a chain (saved by me. Luckily even though I've been riding geared lately, i still have an SS chain link on me) and we were a healthy 2:45 to the top of Laurel. We finished the last little steep pitch on the Pilot Connector, and I got to drop Pilot on 4.2" of rear cushion, which was nice. Even with the leaves covering the lines since the last time I was there, I rode a smooth descent. We paused halfway down to hang out on a sun baked granite slab overlooking the valley towards Slate Rock. We finished up Pilot, but not without me riding full clip into the Hum V section and decking uncomfortably into the loose skull sized boulders. Lesson learned. I still suck, even with full suspension.Rode the "other" pilot connector over to Pilot Cove - Slate rock. The gears made this steep little section all but cleanable, but by the intersection with the Pilot Cove Loop I had paid for for my stubborn efforts below.
I took a few more minutes at the top to cease breathing through my eye sockets while I waited for a hiking Jonathon. For all the steepness and or hiking of the westside of Pilot - Slate, at least you are rewarded with the ridge riding along the Loop. We again stopped at a sun baked lookout, this time looking westward to our original look out. If it didn't take so long to get from one to the other, it'd make a great photo opp. Set the timer on your camera for an hour and twenty five minutes and take off....and listen for a very faint "beep" across the valley.
We rolled the rest of the way down the Pilot Cove Loop, or whatever its called, 320a, to 1206 and climbed back up to the top of Yellow Gap. Dennis and I rode side by side, and had what I believe was a secret pissing contest that neither of us would admit to. We yielded to an abundance of hunter traffic, and made Yellow Gap with no real plan. We waited a surprisingly short time for our fearless leader, and our plan. Jonathon had never been up Yellow Gap Road/Trail, and I had some recollection of a ride I did there in September. (Spoiler alert....my recollection was wrong)
A fast and very cold gravel descent lead us to the beginning of Yellow Gap road. Throughout the day, it had warmed a little, and layers had been tucked away in the BD1. Halfway down the descent, eyes watering, I was wishing for a little more protection from the wind, but didn't feel like stopping. The climb back up Yellow Gap road was a welcome source of warmth. The pissing contest continued, side by side up the gravel and dirt double track to the field where the trail takes off to the right. The down hill side of Yellow Gap is essentially an old road with a ribbon of single track down its center. In the summer, the tall grass makes it more "singletracky." In the winter it just felt like an old road descent. But still fun, and fast, with a few little step ups along the way.
At the bottom waited the Mills River. This is where my memory let me down. I was here with Cook a few months back, and didn't remember getting wet. So there MUST be a way around that's dry. Go left...river. Go right...river. Go Left again...still a river. Dennis went off another way to check things out, while Jonathon started removing socks and shoes. Looks like our caravan was choosing to ford the river. And we were leaving Dennis behind.
Really, other than the hassle of taking shoes and two pairs of socks off, and the 12 seconds of excruciating pain produced by the last 8 feet of thigh deep river, it wasn't that bad. What was bad was that the other side held no relief. Another 50 yds. of trail and right back to the river. Some bushwacking ensued, was abandoned, and socks were off again. Now we were back on the original side of the river, 200 yards up stream. Again no place to go. Options: Cross the river again further upstream into the unknown, try to bushwack down stream, "Un"Cross the river two more times and start over. We tried all three in that order. A new river crossing didn't seem like a good idea, bushwacking did nothing but waste another 20 minutes, so we were back to our original two crossings. No taking socks and shoes off this time. We knew we'd be cold and wet, but back at the car soon.We climbed back up the Yellow Gap Trail, down Yellow Gap Road, and down the rest of the way along 1206 to the car.
And a waiting Dennis. He had figured out, much faster than us, that turning around and climbing out Yellow Gap was a good idea.