26 April, 2011

The Cleveland Brutal Riding Tour

Maybe its because we watched "Until the Light Takes Us." Or maybe its because a few of the guys ride for Scum City Racing, a Black Metal infused alleycat/road/cyclocross team they've put together from the underbelly of Cleveland. Or maybe its just because it was over 80 degrees. Whatever the reason, this weekend was spent turning up the brutality day after day for a nice block of riding to kick off the season for the Cleveland crew.

Jay, Guy and George made it down after a late start (happy birthday Guy) on Thursday. We suited up quickly and headed out to stretch their car trip legs. We spun the river road out to Montford in a misting rain. As it started to get dark, we made our way up Sunset, to Old Toll, portaged around the road closure near the turn to Bent Tree. The views over Asheville lit up for the evening made it seem bigger than it was. We made Town Mountain just at dark, and made an interesting descent, with me nearly meeting my maker as a car came 6 feet left of center, and kept coming as we passed eachother.

Friday morning saw a wheel change for George after somehow breaking a spoke on Friday's ride. The kitchen was also whirlwind of activity. The guys know how to destroy a kitchen, make breakfast, and have it clean again in a matter of minutes. Fueled up, and bikes ready, we layered up for a chilly Friday ride in the upper 40s. Back out the River Rd., and through UNCA up to Kimberly. As we were bundled up eager to ride, we passed similarly bundled up folks eager to golf at the Grove Park course. Not a great golf day for sure.

Flat rolling terrain is the norm for these guys, so when given the chance, they just push it in pacelines on the stuff. So, having been out for about 30-40 minutes thus far, they thought they were well into their ride. I'm used to easing out along the river, and turning it on at the base of the climbs. Our two styles collided as we hit the base of Elk, and I told them the business was just starting. Elk was a nice introduction to climbing, and a tasted of what was to come. Weather was pretty stable on the way up, but after the summit, a fog, easily 10 degrees cooler, had rolled into the saddle above Bull Gap. We made the final descent down Elk to the BRP in a fog that barely allowed 15 yards visibility. My wool was covered in tiny droplets of water, and a few of the more unlucky guys were just wet and cold. We continued to drop down the Parkway, with barely enough visibility to feel comfortable on the descent, let alone see any of the views down into the Riceville valley. We made it back after a nice little 2+ hour ride. The guys had learned their lesson about pushing it out to the climbs. Cleaned up, and rested up, we rolled out to Pro Bikes for some supplies, Harvest Records for a little music, and to Ritrovo for some Pizza. The Pizza never stood a chance.

Saturday morning, early start, big plans. The first BIG ride of the trip. Killing two birds with one stone, Saturday's ride would start at 12 Bones South. It eliminates some boring, trafficked miles at the beginning/end of the ride, and allows us to end the ride with pork products. The Route: Sweeten Creek -> Mills Gap -> Concord Rd. -> Cane Creek Rd. -> Lower Brush Creek -> Upper Brush Creek -> Charlotte Hwy -> Hollywood Rd -> Garren Creek -> Morgan Hill -> Hwy 9 -> Chestnut Hill Rd -> becomes Old Fort Rd -> Charlotte Hwy -> Rose Hill -> Pinners Cove -> Mills Gap -> Sweeten Creek -> Ribs.

The first part of the route was a nice way to stretch yesterday's climb out of the legs. Rolling terrain, some short steep ups, long flat sections; perfect to ease everyone into the day. The Garren Creek climb starts out barely noticeable, easing its way out of the farmland. When the real business started, we regrouped at the last switchback for a snack, and finished it off without much difficulty. We spread out a bit on the descent, taking in the scenery, nice farms, a field filled with Shetland ponies, the creek running along the road. The Morgan Hill descent was as fun as ever. Wide open and fast at the top, some tight turns, and perfect road surface. I think someone sweeps the corners. The creek at the bottom was running high and clear, and made for a nice backdrop as we gathered together again after the descent. Hwy 9 gave Jay and I a chance to open it up a bit and we chased eachother up and over the first climb, regrouping on the long flat section, before taking off again on the second climb and regrouping again near the Straight-Away Cafe.

The climbs were starting to break the group up a bit, and we did our best to stick together over the multiple steep punches that Chestnut Hill throws. The long rolling tail of the road got us back to Charlotte Hwy feeling a little recovered. We took a break behind the nursery on Old Charlotte Hwy and ate a bunch of food. I gave out the last of my hydration to George, who was having trouble in the heat today. Making the left onto Rose Hill, I let the guys know what they were in for, and let the group spread out. Jay took off up the hill, with Guy sticking pretty close. I stayed in the middle, trying to keep an eye on George. Gotta protect your sprinters in the hills.

Some cramping, a little walking, lots of heat, and we all made the top, thankful to be there. The descent down Pinner's Cove starts extremely tight, and then opens up and dumps you into the valley, with a few rollers before getting back to Concord. Thankfully that intersection is at the top of Concord, and all we had to do was roll down, make a left, and order lunch. Lots of Ribs, grits, potato salad, some barbecue chicken, and a few beers washed the day way on the back porch of 12 Bones. The rest of the day was napped off at the house, while I ran out to Hickory Nut Gap for some more meat products for the evening's grill.

Sunday, Brutal Sunday. I think Jay asked for it, but I'm not sure he really wanted it. When this trip was planned a few months back, he wanted to do some things they'd never get to do in Ohio. How about a 10 mile climb with 6 miles of loose gravel? How about we do some steep climbing before that. And we'll introduce the whole day with some more gravel? Adding to the fun, I actually got up and did some mountain biking at Bent Creek in the morning. Katy and I met in the parking lot a year ago, to the day. I rescued a cute little out of towner from riding aimlessly around the forest. And the rest, is (little known semi-secretive) history.

The road ride then started around 11:30 from the house. Route: River Road -> Broadway -> Through UNCA -> Up through Luella's BBQ to Kimberly -> Beaverdam Road -> Webb Cove -> BRP -> Ox Creek -> Reems Creek -> Maney Branch -> Paint Fork -> Barnardsville Hwy -> Dillingham Road -> Stoney Fork -> BRP -> Tunnel Road -> Home.

We kept it nice and easy for everything that wasn't a climb today. Rolled out nice and slow to Webb Cove, and stayed pretty much together. The first gravel climb was well received, no one was too put out by the extra effort needed, and all the seated climbing. Jay and I pushed it up the Ox Creek switchbacks, and we all descended into the Reems Creek Valley together, and eased along the flat section leading to the day's first steep climb. Jay had asked for a few sections to go off on hard efforts. I offered up the Maney Branch climb and he took it. After the rest of us snaked our way to the highpoint, Jay quickly admitted, "that hurt." Good. He's getting the full value day.

Another long descent down into Barnardsville, and regrouping in the valley below. Everyone was a bit low on water, and the thought that Easter Sunday may close my favorite Dillingham gas station entered my head. We pulled over under a bridge to cool off in the river. It was well over 80 degrees, and the last climb had been wide open, windless, and hot. The river gave everyone a chance to soak their legs, cool off, splash some water over themselves.

Thank goodness for the good 'ole boy gas station on Dillingham Road, and their willingness to be open on Easter Sunday. I think it saved the day, and offered some local color for our ride. There's always a few mechanic types in dirty overalls hanging on the porch, perfectly willing to talk bikes and mountains and gravel, as long as you can understand the dialect. I've been doing it a while, and still miss 80% of what comes out of their mouth. They always know how many people have been up Stoney Fork lately, and what condition it is in, and usually what the weather is like up top. They just site there like some kind of Oracles, but I'm ever thankful they do.

Ahh Stoney Fork. You Suck. I forget every time I go out there that its actually pretty unrelentingly steep, and now looser than ever. I stuck with Jay for a bit, but let him go to pull off and splash in two of the waterfalls on the way up. Eventually, I actually caught him, standing, dejected in the middle of the road. We remounted together, and then he needed another break. This break involved laying down in the road. I left from this point and finished it off, struggling to keep my bike upright, and tracking, in the loosest and steepest sections just before the final right hand turn. Happy to be on top, I turned back and watched for Jay. He emerged, broken, around the corner, one foot in front of the other, and bike next to him. Best quote of the day. "I don't know why you'd ever do this more than once." Jay had done Stoney Fork, and would never do it again. George was next, looking surprisingly good after yesterday's cramping and walking. I was imagining him coming up to me and punching me, but he was in good spirits. The top does a great job of erasing the last hour. Guy rounded the corner last, after having to walk a few stretches due to a pulled groin aggravated over the past few days.

It was a great climax to the weekend. I nice progression starting Thursday, and more or less ending Sunday at the top of Stoney Fork. The 40 minute descent back down to the 70 exit from the BRP came easy, stopping a few times for photos. The day was once again erased over a big meal, burgers and beers at UJ in West Asheville.

More than one of those guys will see Stoney Fork, or Rose Hill, or maybe the views from the Parkway in their dreams this week.

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