This all actually happened last weekend. But on the eve of PMBAR 2009, I'm hoping a little review will make me stronger, if only mentally.
The goal was to shake down some new gear that I'm checking out for my CTR attempt this summer. First up; new bags from Epic Designs, brain and sweat child of Eric Parsons in Anchorage Alaska. While impressive, extremely so, a thousand or two miles of Alaskan tundra is a little different riding than the technical proving ground that is Mother Pisgah. Eric made me a custom frame bag to match the geometry of the Dieringer. I think it turned out pretty good, no? It has one partial vertical divider and a mesh sleeve on the zipper side. Also in there is a front handlebar harness system. I've yet to make a sleeping pad choice, so I'm still using the extremely light, but bulky Ridge Rest I've had forever. The front bag held it great, and Eric designed a removable pocket that was a nice place to keep a camera, map, and lot of food at my fingertips.
Also running the gauntlet was a polished off sleeping system. Siltarp by Integral Designs, weighing in at 7 oz. A Montbell Breeze Dry-Tec U.L. Sleeping Bag Cover, basically a bare bones bivy sac weighing in at 6.3 oz. And my Mountain Hardwear Phantom 45 sleeping bag, 17 oz. I'm a cold sleeper, always have been. Low temp on Saturday night was 39.
Shelter was easy to set up. And I'm new to tarping, so that may be a no brainer to anyone who's used one before, but I was surprised. I just built myself a little fort, like a kid in the woods. I even had a moving 4th anchor point so I could have a high ceiling for looking at the map, or drop it down to protect from weather (of which there was none).
This bivy/bag systems I've put together is just about perfect. The bivy adds a lot; waterproofing, maybe 8-10 more degrees of comfort, and a little protection for the ultra thin Phantom bag. I basically never separate the two. The bivy was a little clammy early in the evening, the fabric requires a pretty heavy temperature gradient between inside and out to push water vapor. But it did get cold by the end of the night, I hunkered down, drew everything tight and woke up nice and dry in the morning. Very important when dealing with down fill, and even more important when dealing with as little down fill as there is in a 45 degree bag. Even the cold sleeper slept through the 39 degree early morning without an issue.
The ride itself was meant to be pretty mentally taxing right off the bat. The only fun thing I did was the little 475 climb and Caney/Cove descent. I wanted to do a few trails I enjoyed, and had ridden many times without all the gear strapped on. Caney/Cove fit the bill and the schedule for the day. I had added a little air pressure to the White Brothers fork in anticipation of the weight, but soon found out I either didn't need it or added too much. The IMV valve thingy pretty much does its job and I shoulda left the air pressure alone. Other than that the bike handled pretty good with all the stuff. Most of the weight was low, in the frame bag. Puffy stuff on my back, and the superlight albeit bulky pad upfront. Other than some shuffling around noises from the handlebar, and a little clunk from the framebag now and then, it all worked out pretty good. I don't anticipate as many roots and rocks out West, so we should be good there.
The rest of the ride was meant to break me. If I get used to pushing on when miserable, I'll be all set for Day 3 of any multiday event. After hitting Cove Creek Campground I started the long, gravel, and 84 degree furnace of a climb through Gloucester Gap, past Farlow, hiked Shuck Ridge, climbed through Black Balsam and topped out at Ivestor Gap. 2500ft to right about 5800ft at the beautifully grassed fields of Ivestor. This place is completely out of the way, and there's no good way to get there, but I love it up there every time I make it part of my day. The rest of Pisgah doesn't look like this at all. The forest is strewn with rocks and craggy trees. It seeps and drips moisture from all angles. At times it feels as though the Rhodo and Mt. Laurel tunnels will go from lashing your arms, to closing off completely.
Not at Ivestor. Its wide open spaces, and ripples of the Blue Ridge extend out in every direction.
I stuck around for quite a while, taking it all in, and taking in a few calories. I came out on a half empty tank from a late flight on Friday, and not much breakfast on Saturday morning. I was 5 hours in and already paying for it. I went and explored the rest of the Ivestor Gap trail past the fields. The trail skirts the boundary of the Wilderness area, and I figured new trail was better than retracing my breadcrumbs back along Ivestor. Somewhere along the boundary, the trail becomes the Graveyard Ridge trail, and then eventually turns into a hiking only trail. And NOT a good bike hiking trail. Very tight, lots of low trees and narrow passes. Basically a mess. But whatever, new trail is new trail, and it would be great lunch hike with great views and sun baked rock out croppings to soak in a sunset later in the year. Duely noted, but at the moment, the benefits of research were not outweighing the misery. Meeting the Black Balsam pavement was a welcome event.
The rest of the day was pretty easy. Rode Flat Laurel Creek for the second time, and it was still fun. Passed a lot of people camping along the creek, at what looked to be great swimming/sliding spots, gonna have to go back and check it out. Flat Laurel dumps you out on 215, which needs to be climbed to the parkway. It was hear that I started to investigate a rhythmic sound coming from the bike. Was it rhythmic with my cadence, or with the turning of the wheel? Wheel. Is it break rub? no. Something in the tire? No. Is it bearing problems? No. Well whatever it was, it helped pass the time all the way to the parkway where I decided to get off and take a look before dropping 2500 feet at speed along 215. Broken Spoke. Well, actually nipple, my 2nd in as many rides, I think. Grabbed a little electrical tape off my seatpost (That's why I have that there!) and fixed the problem.
Dropped 215 like a rock. No pedaling for 12 minutes. Not bad. Climbed FS104 to the northern end of Sumey Cove. I went to check out Courthouse Falls and found my little place to sleep. Worked out well, and I was done.
Morning run down (why don't I have pictures???) Climbed Kissee Creek "Rd" back up to Farlow Gap, and descended Farlow for the first time. That's right. I've never done Farlow. Until now. Went pretty well. I cleared a lot of the steep stuff, had to get off in one particularly rocky section where I just lost too much momentum, and then battled along the ridge with the steep ups and downs, all rooted. The stream crossing were roaring, and actually kind of sketchy in riding shoes, bet the downhill guys in 5.10 rubber have no trouble. Met Daniels ridge, rode it for a while before flatting, and then eventually made back to the gravel, past Cove Creek, jumped on the Davidson River trail to a) get off the asphalt and b) skip a little knob on 475. Made it back to the crowded Fish Hatchery parking lot at about 11 am.
That's a lot of work for 52 miles, but, it is Pisgah. 12,884 feet of climbing, 7.5 hours of moving time, and lots of sleeping time.