Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pisgah Recon

Cresting the Black Mountain hike-a-bike   

With last week's training schedule consisting of long days in the saddle, I opted to head for Pisgah to get my skilz on for the upcoming stage race.  I was able to get in a delicious, although crazy tough, 5 days of 4+ hours on the bike scouting the trails and gravel roads.  I chose Stumpy as my steed ... a bit more travel and a more relaxed position makes for an easier ride on this type of terrain.

Wednesday was a rough for me as I reminded just how tough The Forest is.  I had forgotten to put on my Pisgah legs ... still had my XC legs on.  Squirrel Gap was ... well, Squirrel Gap, only more eroded and overgrown.  The weed-wacking took its toll on my arms and legs; think of 100 lashings.  Unfortunately, this trail is set to be demolished .... ummm, reworked by people with big machines, and the race director is not allowed to touch it, as in clear the weeds.  So I guess the top-level pros will get to clear it for the rest of us.

Bridge connecting Buckhorn to Squirrel Gap
 I got to experience the long hike-a-bike section of the Black Mountain trail.  During last year's race, a course marshall was sitting on the rock in the above picture saying, "You are almost to the rideable part."  And yes, stupid me believed it.  Well, this year, you ain't gonna sucka me!  Some sections of this trail involve doing military presses with your bike to get up the trail.

The final descent off Black Mountain has also been reworked, but it should be in fantastically fast, fun shape come race day!

Wednesday night I hung out with the Asheville Janes'.  A super cool family, I was treated to a never-ending plate of Caribbean chicken and rice with peanut sauce, grilled squash, cantaloupe, and homemade Blue Ridge Parkway blueberry cobbler.  To top it off, I was stoked to sleep in Jubal's bunk bed with Transformer sheets.

I awoke Thursday ready to conquer Stage 4.  The start is straight up on Thrift Cove which then dumps you onto Black Mountain which goes straight up ... forever .... to get you to Turkey Pen.  When hike-a-biking is no fun anymore, I call it pushing.  Well, I pushed for a long time.  Turning onto Turkey Pen, I was immediately greeted with a wall of downed trees.  Pushing then turned to bushwacking.  As I was relishing the idea of being able to eventually get back on and ride, a huge tree not 50 yards to my right came crashing down, taking several in its path, like dominoes.  Sh!t!  What little adrenalin I had left got spent watching that cataclysmic show of natural force.  Thankfully the domino effect went away from me rather than towards.  I turned on the afterburners to get away from the top of this ridge where a lot of trees looked like they could go at any time. 

After 2 hours and 45 minutes, I made it to the Turkey Pen parking lot.  A sum total of 10 miles!  (Todd has since said that this WILL BE CLEAR come race day.)  After more trail, I eventually ended up on Squirrel Gap, although going opposite the previous day's direction.  This is where Pisgah demanded a sacrifice; since I was the only one out there, well the picture below clearly explains.

I was riding up and over a rather large rock when my front wheel got stuck in a perfect 26" size hole in between 2 rocks.  I desperately tried to fall uphill, but gravity won, and I tumbled down the hill about 10 feet before a rather large rock stopped me by bashing into my lower leg just below the knee.  Thankfully only a gash and a bone bruise to my tibial crest.  Squirrel Gap is no easy place for a rescue party to get to.  After assessing myself and my bike, I chose to walk a bit and gather my senses. (And that night, I ordered a SPOT.)  I now know how Danielle felt during a lot of her 2008 season!

Having the wind knocked out of my sails, I rode the remainder of my time a bit more cautiously.  I did not complete the stage as the rather large portion of pushing consumed a large chunk of time ... and my leg hurt like heck!  This stage is going to be the hardest as it is almost all single track. Thursday night Zeke and I demolished roast beef hoagies and steamed broccoli.

On Friday, Zeke and I rode a portion of Stage 3.  We started out of Kuykendall Campground and rode up FS 471 to Gloucester Gap.  My legs were feeling great and the climb was a delight to giv'r ... good roadbed and a steady grade.  From the 4-way we took a left and headed out to Hwy 215, rode it for a bit, and then hopped on Trail 129 (later we found out this has been taken out of the stage).  This trail was straight up and straight over Big Fork Ridge and then it leveled off along a beautiful creek and Courthouse Falls was an amazing work of natural art!  Even though this is not in the race, I am glad I persevered along the first mile of pushing.

We decided to skip Farlow Gap as we have both ridden/slid down that trail many times.  We then split up.  I rode more of the single track, including Daniel Ridge and Cove Creek and then slayed some demons on the gravel road climb up FS 475-B.  Last year, I fell completely apart on the gravel road sections.  This year, less a diseased gall bladder, I chewed up the fire roads and spit them up.  I can honestly say I loved the gravel this year ... brappp!

On Saturday, Perry joined in on the fun.  Zeke shuttled Perry and I to the Turkey Pen Gap parking lot.  From here we intended to ride the remainder of Stage 5.  It was drizzling when we started, but warm.  Vineyard Gap Trail was fun and had some flow.  The descent was steep and the waterbars slick, but rideable.  Some of steep ups I had to get off and push a little, but that was mostly due to the fatigue I was beginning to carry in my legs.  The 6, or was it 7, creek crossings were o.k., but there were some DEEP mudholes along Bradley Creek Trail.  I found out the hard way on one when I sunk up to my axles and about endo'd.  After another good gravel grinder up FS 5015, we hopped on to Laurel Mountain Trail.  All was good until we hit the steep hike-a-bike; the heavens let loose with rain (hmmm ... reminds me of last year, only 30 degrees warmer). 

At the intersection of Laurel Mountain and the Laurel Mountain connector, we turned left.  What I did not know or see was that the trail we should have turned left on to was an even sharper left.  So after about a half mile of pushing, it just did not feel right.  I looked at the map, but could not figure out where we had gone wrong.  (I still don't think the NG Map and the actual trails at that intersection jive.)  So we kept pushing on forward.  This was a pretty wicked trail, too.  Perry was beginning to doubt his wanting to race here.  Well, after about 45 minutes of pushing we ended up at a sign that said Pisgah Inn to the right.  WTF!  With us in a downpour and the temperature dropping, we were NOT going back. 

Warming the core at the Pisgah Inn Restaurant
 We rode to the Inn, went straight to the restaurant where we both ordered coffee, and then I attempted to call Zeke.  I was able to reach him the first time.  Zeke saved us from an 18 mile pavement descent in a cold downpour.  Pilot Rock will just have to wait until race day.

Sunday morning I expected to wake up feeling tired and with cobwebs in my head.  I awoke to feeling none of the past four days in my legs.  Had I been possessed by the Energizer Bunny?  It still could be a different story once I hit the trail, though.  I fueled up on coffee, fruit, and oatmeal.  Our intention today was to go as hard as we could.  We started out by climbing up FS 477 and once again my legs were sparkly.  After a quick descent we picked up Club Gap Trail, all of which was rideable.  From there we explored the portion of Black Mountain between Club Gap and Buckhorn.  Boy, was it overgrown!  Just when I thought my wounds from the previous days were healing ...  let's just say that having injured legs lashed by more undergrowth is not very pleasant.  The descent down to Buckhorn was a whoo! hoo! experience.  Unfortunately I will have to go in the opposite direction on Stage 4.  I finished up my ride time with another 5 mile gravel road climb;  I emptied the tank on this one. 

I came to Pisgah with two goals:  gain knowledge of the course and leave it all on the trail.  I accomplished both.  Pisgah also taught me a lesson or two.  Beauty can be treacherous.  Be self-sufficient and expect the unexpected.

Meet my new riding buddy!

For those who want the ultimate test of skills, fitness, and mental tenacity, come get your fill of Pisgah at The Pisgah Stage Race.  Todd has stated that the trails will be a lot clearer than when I rode them.  The course will be well-marked, the aid stations well-stocked, and lots of people out there cheering you on.  But take heed ... this race will make ORAMM look like child's play.  Be prepared to ride hard, get wet, and hike ... alot,  If you are both mentally and physically prepared, then you are going to have one helluva good time.


My name is Stephen said...

Good write up! Glad you could make it up. See you in 2.5 weeks!

Emily said...

Sweet! Wish I had known what you were up to, I coulda steered you on the right path a couple places. But getting lost is part of the pisgah experience! See you at the race chica!