Variety Is The Spice

I can barely remember the last time I went for a run. Without looking it up, I think it has been nearly a month. Even though I have only been riding in this early spring, I’m doing a wide variety of types of rides. This couple weeks have included commutes, group road rides, solo road rides, solo mountain bike rides, group mountain bike rides, flat(ish) rides, mountainous rides, smooth flowy rides, technical Pisgah rides and more.

Maybe that’s why I own so many bikes.

The past couple of weeks have also featured a helluva lot of water. Rain (even though it never rains on me) seems to be more the rule than the exception, and even when it isn’t raining, I always seem to come back from a ride soaking wet. Maybe because water crossings have also become more prominent in my rides.

Let’s just recap everything in one big post and get this here blog up to date. At least for the moment.

Monday 04/16: ACS Rehearsal Commute

Another typical Monday commute with one notable exception. This is the first time in memory that I have ridden home from downtown Asheville after dark with no need for extra layers of any kind. That may seem like an insignificant detail but it’s kinda nice not having to try and figure out how cold it’s going to get between 7pm and the ride home three hours later.

Tuesday 04/17: Etowah Ride: FAIL #5

There must be something about the Etowah ride that prevents me from completing it in entirety. Over the past three seasons I have attempted it five times, and I have still not yet managed to ride the entire course. A complete route is something like 30? miles and if I ride there and back it’s a full 62 miles/metric century. As near as I can remember, here is how it has gone:

  1. Spring 2010 – Rode to the ride start: Got dropped by the A group with no B group in sight. Didn’t know where to turn so instead I headed for home: 50ish miles
  2. Spring 2010 – Rode to the ride start: Managed to stick with the A group until a steep climb near the end. Didn’t realize the three guys I was with turned off the course so they could ride home. By the time I figured out where I was, I also turned for home: 50+ miles
  3. Spring 2011 – Drove to ride start: This was a weird one. I was meeting a woman who rides on a kinda sorta first date out at the ride, but we got rained out. The two of us went to a pizza place and had our date. The bad news is that it wasn’t really a good match. The worse news is that I got zero miles out of  the day. The good news is I met Julienne a short time later!
  4. Fall 2011 – Rode to the ride start: Not only flatted halfway to the ride, but tore a sidewall. Patched it with a dollar bill but not good enough to complete the ride. Managed to limp home on very low tire pressure:
  5. 4/17/2012 – Rode to the ride start: Dropped by A group early on, got in a good B group of 8 riders. Made it most of the way around the course when the skies opened up and it started pouring rain. Rode home in the heaviest downpour I have ever experienced on a bike, much of it after dark.

This last one was one of the most miserable experiences I’ve had on a bike in recent memory, in terms of weather. The only saving grace was that I rode home via the N. Mills and Pennsylvania alternate that I had used on the previous weekend. Once again, this alternate to Rt. 191 is a longer way around and a little bit hillier, but a million times more enjoyable with almost no traffic.

Someday I’m gonna get my full distance out of that damned Etowah Ride!

Wednesday 04/18: SORBA Ride Cancelled

The heavy rain on Tuesday continued into the night and light rain/drizzle fell most of the day on Wednesday, so I made the call to cancel the evening SORBA group ride. After the drenching I got the day before, I was quite content to stay home comfy and cozy for an evening.

Thursday 04/19: Bent Creek Group Loop

I had planned to meet Patrick at Bent Creek for an evening loop, and when I got to Rice Pinnacle he was talking to another friend, Daniel. Daniel and some other guys do regular rides on Mondays and Thursdays so Patrick and I joined their ride. We did a somewhat short but always fun loop that features the bigger grade changes in Bent Creek: Up Wolf Branch/Ingles Field/North Boundary > Down Green’s Lick > Up Sidehill/Little Hickory > Down Ingles Field/Ledford Rd./Corvair. I turned off and headed for home on the Donnybrook access trail. Fun group of guys to ride with and of course we spent as much time stopped and jawing as we did riding.

I was testing out a new, replacement fork on the Epic and it performed flawlessly except for one part on it that was rattling and driving me crazy.

Friday 04/20: Bent Creek Group Loop / Solo Repeat

After taking the Epic to the bike shop to have them look at my little rattly bit, and getting it fixed up, I headed into Bent Creek on Friday evening to test her out. I ended up riding exactly the same loop as the night before with a notable exception: no stopping. Well, I did stop for about 5 minutes on Wolf Branch to clear some branches off of an overhanging treefall that were at just the right height to rip somebody’s face off.

I’m nice like that.

As it turns out, I rode the loop more or less at exactly the same pace, just a couple minutes slower overall. I chalk it up to not having Patrick in front of me on Sidehill/LHT so I didn’t go as hard with nobody to chase. Both rides were 13.5 miles in about 90 minutes.

Saturday 04/21: Return Of The 111k – Partial

Chris and I headed out from my place on Saturday morning to head over into Pisgah. Chris wanted a long ride and I told him I was up for anything. Man, he wasn’t kidding. We didn’t do the entire Pisgah 111k route, but we did significant pieces of it. Adding in the journey from my place to N. Mills and back, we ended up with a 60 mile epic that featured a little bit of everything, except hail.

We started out on gravel, hitting Donnybrook>Powerline>479>5000 to Spencer Gap. Just after we crested Bent Creek Gap and started heading downhill towards the SG trail head, it started to rain on us. I knew it was coming from the radar image I’d seen just before we left. It was quite a chilly descent but we knew we’d be climbing again soon and didn’t stop to layer up. The climb up SG was slippery and I ended up hiking in places I don’t normally.

I also ended up hiking down the other side of SG in places I DO normally. I just have not had the courage to attempt that descent yet, even on full suspension. I’ve been down more technical trail, but not as curvy and hard to see. If it’s a straight shot with easy sight lines you can barrel over/through just about anything. Oh well.. maybe someday.

After SG we headed up the Neverending Road to Fletcher Creek and fortunately it was still in good shape even with the early rain. We had an enjoyable ride on that part, except for one minor issue. My drivetrain seemed to be grinding away like mad, despite stopping to lube it once on Spencer. After Fletcher we went looking for N. Mills, which I had never ridden before and Chris couldn’t quite remember. N. Mills involves a lot of creek crossings and apparently isn’t used much by mountain bikers, but we were curious and looking for an alternative to the ever-degrading Lower Trace trail. Eventually we found the trail and set out. However, my chain was getting worse and Chris helped me figure out that the problem wasn’t the rain and grit, it was the fact that I’ve already got close to 1000 miles on the Epic (in just 4 months!) and the chain and small chainring were worn out. I still haven’t gotten used to the far more rapid degradation of bike parts on mountain bikes than road bikes. Factoring in how much I ride and in the conditions I do, and it’s no wonder this is one helluva expensive sport!

I struggled for awhile, trying to decide whether to bail on Chris and ride home, or limp through the rest of the day on a failing drivetrain. Since we had already been over most of the steep climbing and the rest would be more gradual gravel roads, I finally decided to keep going, mostly thanks to Chris’s encouragement. (and the fact that he would probably have bailed to – Chris is smarter than me and doesn’t ride alone in Pisgah).

Once we resumed, we found out just how many water crossings there are on N. Mills trail – which is just shy of a billion. OK, maybe a dozen. Either way, it’s a lot, and some of them are pretty rocky and the going is slow. That cost us quite a bit of time and we now understand why mountain bikers don’t use the N. Mills trail, especially in adventure races such as PMBAR and Double Dare.

Once we cleared all of N. Mills we headed up Yellow Gap and down to… 1206? Or 50something. Gravel roads in any case. At this point we were skipping Laurel Mountain/Pilot Rock portion of the 111k route. Too much work and effort for us to do on this ride, with not much benefit. We eventually arrived at S. Mills (S. Shit) River and took that all the way to Squirrel Gap.

Squirrel Gap continues to widen the gap as my favorite trail in Pisgah and this time was no exception. With my failing drivetrain I could not ride up the early steep part off of the river valley, but I didn’t mind much since that part is nothing but pain on the legs and lungs anyway. Chris and I hike-a-biked up it and then started riding the much more fun bits all the way to Laurel Creek (not to be confused with Laurel Mountain). I cleared a few sections of Squirrel I’d never cleared before, and screwed up a couple notable ones I’ve gotten right, so it was a mixed bag. Either way it’s fun fun fun.

I was a little bit worried about descending Laurel Creek, as I have only been up it once and never down. That trip up I remembered as being a whole lotta hiking up and quite technical. As it turns out, while it is a steep grade and goes downhill in a hurry, the technical bits aren’t really all that hard and it’s a helluva lot of fun going down!

We rolled Laurel at a fast clip all the way to Bradley Creek and that pretty much ended our singletrack riding for the day. The rest of the ride involved gravel. A whole lotta gravel. Up Bradley Creek Rd., down 1206? back to N. Mills area, up 5000 to Bent Creek Gap. The miles ticked slowly by and about two thirds of the way up the skies opened up on us again, in pretty much exactly the same place as where we started out. It had also cooled off so we stopped under the BRP viaduct to put on jackets and then started down 479 into Bent Creek. Since it had rained so much we took gravel/pavement all the way back to my pace except for the last half mile.

All in all it was a great ride and Christopher proved once again to be a great ride companion.

Sunday 04/22: Not Quite Craggy

Saturday’s Pisgah ride had taken about 9 hours, 7 of it riding, but I wanted to get in a fairly long road ride on Sunday. I was joined by Alex on what was supposed to be a ride up to Craggy Dome, a 62 mile out and back/loop that we were going to do from his place in W. Asheville. It was one of those spring days that is pretty much impossible to choose the correct clothing. Temp hovering around 60, very windy, sometimes bright sun with not just clouds but the threat of rain. I had originally put on a long sleeve jersey but in the warm sun at 2000′ switched to short sleeves at the last minute. I also left behind some layers to lighten my Camelbak.

That proved to be a mistake.

Alex and I headed towards the Parkway via my usual downtown commute route: Carrier Park MUP over to 191 and up through Biltmore Square. We got on the Parkway and rolled our way at a moderate pace towards the Fine Arts Center. This was the first time I’ve ever done a road ride with Alex and right away I noticed something – he’s lighter than I am. I wasn’t sure by how much, but it was obvious he could go up the steeper climbs faster than me. On mountain bikes we’re fairly even – sometimes he’s ahead of me, sometimes I’m ahead of him, and sometimes we’re right on each others wheels. There are a lot more factors to mountain bike terrain though, but on smooth pavement it was obvious he’d be climbing ahead of me.

I also noticed eventually that he was riding a standard crankset with only a 25 on the back. That pretty much forced him up the road faster than me, since he couldn’t sit back and spin up with a nice easy compact crankset and 28 like I’ve got.

From the Folk Art Center up past Haw Creek Valley Overlook Alex put about a minute and a half into me (yes, I was measuring time gaps) but he backed off near the top and let me catch most of the way up before we rolled the short descent to Craven Gap. We then traded pulls over to Bull Gap and at the first tunnel and the start of the 11 mile climb to Craggy, Alex once again pulled ahead of me. He slowed a few times to let me catch up and as we climbed higher and higher, the skies turned more and more ominous. The temperature was down in the 50s and both of us were regretting our clothing choices. We debated our options a few times and each time decided to keep going. As long as it wasn’t actually raining, we were OK with the conditions.

Not long after we passed the Asheville Watershed sign, we finally ran out of both luck and willpower. The light mist that had started a couple miles back turned into a steady light rain and neither of us had enough clothing to descend comfortably in the combination of temperature wind and rain we would be facing. Not only was it going to be miserable, but hypothermia wasn’t out of the question. So we stopped, put on the layers that we had and headed downhill.

This was the second time our weight difference became evident. I flew down the moderately steep parkway grade at a good clip, while Alex faded into the distance behind me. While part of that might be that I ride this part of the Parkway regularly and know the descent very well, I also had gravity on my side. Alex caught up at the climb back to Bull Gap and we stayed pretty close together until we got onto Town Mountain Rd.

The rain let up and came back a couple times and it never really did get much warmer until we were back down the bottom of Town Mountain. Fortunately, the road surface on TM was dry and although the gusty wind made things interesting, the descent was fast and fun. We rolled through downtown, down to the river and back to Alex’s place in Westie with about 55 miles. We had gotten up to 4500′ and from where we had turned around had only missed out on about 8 miles of the ride.

Good enough for me, especially after the previous day’s adventure.

Wednesday 04/25: SORBA Ride Shortened

After a c0uple days off to rest after the big rides on the weekend, I headed into Bent Creek for the weekly ride. I had just picked up the Epic which was now sporting a new chain and small chainring, as well as having had the brakes bled and a trued up rear wheel. It was practically like having a new bike – which it damn well oughta be considering – it’s nearly a brand new bike!

Seriously… 1000 miles in 4 months in Pisgah National Forest will age any mountain bike quickly.

The afternoon had been nice enough but not long after the six of us started out, it began to rain lightly. We got up Wolf Branch and Ingles Field to Five Points and while we were chatting there it started to rain harder and the temp began to drop a bit. By the time we rolled down LHT/Sidehill the trail conditions had degraded significantly and we opted to cut the right short and return back back to R-P via the service roads. Despite the continued rain dampened rides, we still had fun and I managed to get in 11 miles in about 1:20.

And there ya go… up to date on 4/25 with a variety of different rides.

But I probably won’t be up to date for long, as there’s another long Pisgah ride on tap for Thursday…