Carolina on my Bike 2/3
Day two of the Seth’s Bike Hacks Group Mountain Bike Trip is behind me. The event is organized and hosted by Red Wolf Mountain Bike Tours in beautiful Brevard, North Carolina. This was the “big” day of riding, and I felt it. The day was both challenging and fun.
Barrett and his Wife Jenna are managing the event and, as I have mentioned before, they are two of the kindest folks I have met. Barrett has an engineering background and can apparently fix anything. Jenna is a Home Health nurse (I’m pretty sure). By day, they both work hard and help others. During Red Wolf events, they guide eager mountain bikers on the local trails, showing off all the beauty that Western North Carolina has to offer in a fun, safe, and professional way. They both enjoy an inspiringly healthy lifestyle and are advocates for local living and sustainable trail management. I wish I knew more people like Jenna and Barrett.
The way the weekend is planned, there is one “base” cabin where people meet before and after rides for meals and meetings. It is the lowest one on the hill (first one you see when entering), and it happens to be the one I am renting with my assigned co-habitor Mr. Tonka. In our cabin this 33º morning we are hosting the entire contingent of riders, guides, and hosts. It’s going to be a busy one.
We started early in the morning. At 8:30, folks started showing up at our cabin to enjoy the breakfast provided by Red Wolf Tours. Hearty burritos (both meat and veggie), fresh fruit, and local baked goods were enjoyed by all as we discussed the days activities and prepped our rides.
Our second day was listed as the longest total ride day. It was described in the flyer as “12-25 miles and 1600-2800 feet of climbing”, and that is exactly what they delivered. Ride one was a 12+ mile ride while ride two was a shorter post-lunch spin. We got an early, cold start and headed for the hills in the morning mist.
We arrived at the trailhead when the sun was peeking out and the color began to filter into the day. The orange, yellow, and green forest was brilliant and glowing as we began our ride along Lower Trace to the start of our first climb up Spencer Gap. The climb was challenging but completely achievable. Smooth gravel access roads lead slowly up to more technical ad steeper inclines. Roots, rocks, and drainage scars lined the trails but were mostly hidden by the thick carpet of fallen leaves which were left behind by the recent storm. The guides made navigation of the hidden obstacles look easy. It was difficult to see where we were going at times, but a low gear and some leg power generally got me through the ordeal with a great deal of oxygen debt, sweat, and altitude to show for it. The trail was shaded by a canopy of dark branches that had their own colorful leafy rooftop. At times, it was dark and creepy, but there was always enough light to see the trail and its challenges. I made it to the top only dabbing once. I will forever be proud of that fact.
Dropping down the Spencer Branch trail was a lesson and a thrill ride. It was nice to have my guide running the trail just ahead of me providing confidence. I attacked boulders and drop-offs that I normally wouldn’t consider, but which felt comfortable when I could see someone else clearing them 30 feet ahead. It was a fast descent and at times it was treacherous. Two other riders crashed but no one was injured. One guy lodged his bike a few feet off the ground in a tree and walked away from the bail. It was a fun downhill for all involved!
The trail to fletcher creek was tougher not because it was more technical or challenging, but because my legs were feeling that first climb and the downhill wore me out. I hit it riding low and slow, inching to the top. Once there, I was greeted by my guide and a rest stop to wait for other riders. Whew!
The drop back to the parking area was fast and wild. Fletcher was a challenge of rocky drop-offs, creek crossings, and rooty outcroppings that wanted me to fall, but I somehow never did. It felt good to return to civilization after the adventure, but I knew there was more to come.
Lunch was a quick sandwich and a drive into town. I checked out my slow leak on my rear tire at The Hub and was ready to jump into the afternoon ride at Sycamore Cove.
My tired legs were not looking forward to this part of the ride and made me consider skipping it. Damned if I was going to let myself miss an opportunity just because I happened to have old-man aches and pains, so I marched on! Up the intense climb we went; clearing roots and rocks, and tackling steeper sections. I’m fortunate to have a lot of experience climbing stuff like this, so it was not too bad for me to clear with only one dab. I was stopped dead on one especially tough root as the rider in front of me lost traction and put their foot down about 6 inches ahead of me on the climb. I immediately went into panic mode and locked up my brakes. I pogo’d around him bunny-hop style and never put my foot down! It felt especially good as Seth himself was immediately behind me and saw the whole thing! (Yeah, that felt like some real validation after a day of super-slow climbing!)
The drop back to the car was ahead, but the guides somehow talked me into a second climb which started from the “top” of the trail. Upper Sycamore was more challenging climbing, but I rode it low and slow and got it behind be, opening up a sweet downhill back to the vehicles.
After the ride, we all adjourned to our separate cabins to prepare for the evening’s festivities. Last night’s campfire was nice, but tonight we were hosting barbecue from local Blue Smoke in our designated “base” cabin. Folks showed up right as I finished my shower and we enjoyed a fantastic evening of food, beer, conversation, and stories. I got to chat a bit more with several of my fellow riders and learned about their lives back home. There are a lot of great folks here who ride hard and love to seek adventure just like me. I hope I can stay in touch with at least a few of them after this trip ends.
Sleep came fast and I welcomed it. Another riding day tomorrow, then this trip is complete. I can’t imagine it getting any better. I’m sure Barrett and Jenna will find a way to make that happen anyway.