Monday, November 16

Hush Hush or Bust

"I'll take Bust for $1,000 Alex."

I showed up at the designated rendezvous point in the Pisgah National Forest Friday night. I was one of the late arrivals as most of the locals had already established their camps and were relaxing around the campfire. I picked up a cue sheet for the ride and then got to work readying my tent so I could hopefully be in bed by 10:00pm. After getting my shit straight I found myself in wrapped up in conversation with a few others trying to gauge the difficulty of the ride.

The route was chosen by Clay Faine and was going to take us over some of the best trails in Pisgah with a total distance of 99.9 miles and around 29,000 feet of climbing. That is not a typo... around 29,000 feet of climbing. Estimated saddle time was anywhere around 15 to 24 hours according to the fireside pundits. I was the idiot who thought 15 hours was shooting on the high side. I was basing my opinion on all my experiences at this now familiar distance and the 2008 PMBAR where Elk and I covered 100+ miles in a little over 12 hours (but on a much easier, more gravely route). Yes, I was an idiot.

I set my alarm for 4:00am as most of the riders were supposed to start at 5:00am. When I woke up and heard murmurs around my tent I was quite shocked to find out that I had slept through my alarm, and it was now 4:59am (seriously, one minute before I was supposed to head out). I went into scramble mode, and there was a flurry of action inside my diminutive two man tent. Chilled by the morning air I panicked and stuck a bunch of warm clothing in my Ergon pack thinking the temps could drop even more when the second darkness of night came some twelve hours later. I decided that my breakfast would be consumed on the first gravel climb of the day, and I almost forgot to grab my gels during my hasty exit. Luckily when I went back to my tent for my gels I found them nestled next to my That Butt Stuff chamois cream reminding me to lube up my rear end before heading out. I threw on my overloaded pack (25lbs+) and left the campsite at 5:29 behind just about everybody else.

From this point I may refer to "catching riders" or "passing riders", but please understand this was not a race. It was just a bunch of idiot friends going out for a ridiculously long ride at their own pace on the same day. There was no competition going on, and I am just mentioning them as impersonal reference points.

I finished up my organic toaster pastry as the climb started to punch up into the darkness on Clawhammer. I looked for lights ahead of me and above in the surrounding mountains, but I saw nothing. As best as I could I reminded myself that this was an all day ride, but I couldn't help but feel a bit hurried as I climbed up to the gap. Towards the end of the gravel climb I caught up to Sissy (or maybe Emily, I'm still getting my facts straight), and after a short "hello" we parted ways. I was really hoping that I coulda started my day with some others just to enjoy some camaraderie, but it looked like I was gonna be alone for most of the day. I was wrong.

On the hella hike-a-bike over Black Mountain I caught up to Nick the Stick, an anonymous (in the dark) rider, and Mike Brown, but shortly thereafter we drifted apart and their lights slowly disappeared behind me. I passed Clay Faine who had the contents of his pack spread out on a rock apparently having an impromptu yard sale. I purchased nothing from Clay's Pisgah Flea Market, and when I got to the top of Black Mountain I saw one of the most absolutely stunning sunrises I've ever seen (honestly), and I began my descent down to the Turkey Pen intersection happy and slightly warmer. When I got there Brad Kee (Double Dare, PMBAR, and The Most Horrible Thing Ever winner) and Matt Fusco (Brad's partner from said Double Dare) were standing around, so when they headed out I followed their lead down Turkey Pen.

Turkey Pen is an exciting descent (with a bit of up) on any regular given day. Cover it with leaves and ride it with a Crossmark that I mounted back in April and things can get dicey. This...

should look like this...

I slid down the trail more than I woulda thought possible and looped the back end around the front more than once. I tried to stay with Brad Kee and Matt Fusco, but their skills and suspended parts kept me at a distance on the downhills. I would re-establish contact on the intermingled climbs only to lose them again as soon as the trail went down.

When we popped out into the parking lot and headed towards South Mills I found myself riding with and around Brad and Dave "Beefcake" Cook. Honestly, this was not the company I was looking to keep. I've already mentioned Brad's palmares, and Beefcake was the only other person to survive the first very wet edition of The Most Horrible Thing Ever. I was riding with two not so little engines that most definitely could. There was no doubt that they were in for the long haul, but I was hoping to be in a little less aggressive company.

We went back and forth with each other until Squirrel Gap, and it was there that I lost them for awhile. This normally technical treat was testing my ability to stay upright, and I ended up smashing my goodies on a not so graceful dismount. I usually enjoy Squirrel, but I was happy to see it over with as I hit the gradual climb up South Mills River Trail headed to Pink Beds.

I finally felt alive again, and passed Brad and Beefcake. I caught up to SSlohio Rob who had gotten an earlier start, chatted him up, and then left him behind as I was "enjoying" my chosen gear for the day. Once I got to Pink Beds I kept the pace lively, and for the first time I checked the mileage on the cue sheet and checked my watch to gauge my progress.


By the time I got to Pink Beds I had only gone 27 or so miles in five and a half hours. I extrapolated that out and realized that at this pace I was looking at a 20+ hour day. I was not prepared for that in many ways... mental stamina, fitness, lights, and nutrition (in my rush I had forgotten my emergency dollar bills for the vending machines at the hatchery). I thought I could handle a fifteen hour day in the saddle, but twenty hours or more would definitely be way more than I had bargained for when I decided to do this ride.

I signed the check-in slip at the Pink Beds trailhead and saw that Zach BrouSSard had already been there. He had planned on a 2:00am start or something like that, so I expected him to be out there somewhere ahead of me, but I didn't think I'd be the next one through (edit: he started at 4:00am and made it much further than I did). I sat down, ate a PB&J, and assessed my situation. If I were to continue at this pace I would be out for over twenty hours. Even if I had the desire to hold out that long I'd be up against the limits of my lights and food. If I continued on the chosen route I'd be 40+ miles in at the next bailout point and still hours away from my car.


I decided to climb the two and a half miles up to the Parkway and make the call when I got there. As I climbed I was putting more distance between me and the car, but I felt like I wanted to see the Parkway whether I was going to continue or not. Once I got there I sat down, broke out some warm clothes, and quit 30.61 miles in. I waited for Beefcake and Brad to show up so I could distribute my remaining PB&J's to the more worthy riders. They accepted my offer, and I turned around and went back down the road. I saw SSlohio coming up and stopped to talk to him. He said he was going to bail, but much later on in the ride, so I gave him my last PB&J before heading back.

I ran into Eric "PMBAR Honcho" Wever, Mike Brown, Clay Faine, and Sissy in the Pink Beds parking lot. Clay said he was stilling planning to go the whole distance, but the rest of the group was planning an early exodus. They tried to convince me to climb back up to the Parkway and at least go down Big Creek, but that would put me even further away from happiness (my car). I told them I was going home and spending the rest of the day with my family, and so I bid them adieu and rode back down 276 with my head hung low.

Am I disappointed? Dunno. Had I known that the route was gonna take that long I doubt I woulda even showed up. This is the time of year for short rides full of fun, not long rides full of despair. Except for my experiences at La Ruta I've never fared very well pushing my limits this late in the year, and I don't plan on extending my fitness much past the time when leaves fall outta the trees. I had a pretty cool experience, for what it's worth, and I think I learned a little (very little) about myself.

According to Facebook sources Brad Kee was the only finisher in a time of @ 22 hours. Way to go Brad, and I officially have NO regrets now. That's just nuts.

BTW: Congrats to Manny Prado and LaRuta Louise Kobin for winning that little race that ended over the weekend.


clay faine said...

Thanks for coming out and giving it a try. I had a feeling it was going to be challenging.

Emily said...

That was Cissy you passed on Clawhammer, she got started a bit late too. You passed me on Black Mountain. After a flat on Squirrel Gap I think was riding in DFL til I bailed on Laurel.
Next time ("next time"?!?) I'm bringing more food.

dicky said...

"next time???'


Anonymous said...

Last weekend we did squirrel in the dark. Interesting to say the least.

Sounds like Clay had one heck of a day planned.

'e' said...

bummed I couldn't make it, that would have been rad!

Big Bikes said...

Stuff like this has inspired me to try to put together a 177 mile ride on The Bay Circuit Trail up my way...and do it in a day.
Because you make this stuff sound so damn fun!
I think I might be able to convince two other people to do it as well.

Missed you at The Swank.


dicky said...

There's no dance party at The Swank.

A said...

The half-worn crossmark (which is a pretty freakin' good tire under most conditions)is definitely not at the top of my list of go-to NE fall/wet leaves conditions tires.


dougyfresh said...

That sounds like quite an adventure. You guys have some great trails to ride. Thanks for the story.

Ohio Robb said...

hey, I started with all those other "gear du jour" just had me out in front until Pink Beds...

dicky said...

Doh, I meant an earlier start than me.