Adventures in Pisgah

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

mixing memory and desire

What strikes the most from last weekend's adventures are the contrasts: the contrast between lightly used trails and heavily used trails, between big groups and small groups, between mountain bikes and running shoes, between fast and slow, you and me, us and them....

Jeremy was in town which was cause enough for celebration that I got invited out on a good old fashioned Heartbreak Ridge group ride. Jeremy used to live here and was perhaps the original Pisgah blogger and was a big inspiration to myself and many others. Now he lives in the Colorado and does even more mind blowing stuff out there. It was a ton of fun to ride Heartbreak with him and eight others.

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Sunday was runday and the dogs got to come along as well. We stuck close to home and from the Turkey Pen trailhead did:

Turkey Pen Gap > Wagon Road Gap > South Mills River > Cantrell Creek > Squirrel Gap > Bradley Creek > Riverside > Vineyard Gap

A moment of hilarity ensued when we had to check the map to decide which way to go at the Squirrel/Bradley intersection.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Redemption in the Rain

Duma, Jon and I got out last Saturday to finish what we started a few weeks ago.

Newberry Creek > Orange Blaze > Snook's Nose > parkway > Green Knob > River Loop > 472 > Newberry Creek

It was still raining but twenty degrees warmer and that made all the difference.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Middle Prong to Shining Rock Marathon

On the drive to Sunburst on Saturday Yuri remarked his plan was to take it easy on the run. I had to ask if he had looked at the route I'd picked out for us as there was nothing easy sounding about it to me and I was a little worried about how hard it really could be.

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Green Mtn. > Mountains to Sea > Little Sam Knob > Flat Laurel Creek > Art Loeb Spur > Art Loeb > Black Balsam > Art Loeb > Fork Mtn.

Green Mountain trail #113 in Middle Prong Wilderness and Fork Mountain trail #109 in Shining Rock Wilderness are likely the two least traveled and most difficult trails you will find in the Pisgah Ranger District. I've done both trails before and knew exactly what to expect: insane elevation changes over very rugged terrain, bountiful views, twisted rhododendron tunnels, disappearing trails and few people. They are my two favorite trails in the forest. We were traveling light and other than my shorts, shoes and shirt I was armed with only arm warmers, gloves, wool cap, two bottles of water, a dropper of bleach, lighter and a thousand calories. There would be no lollygagging this day.

Green Mountain trail climbs steeply from the start and I tried running.

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That first pitch levels off a little after a few hundred vertical feet but the next four miles are still very much a serious climb. Every once in a while you top a little finger and get a brief flat stretch but that is often combined with rhododendron so tight that you have to run or hike hunched over. After almost three thousand feet of climbing you top out on Green Knob and the trail begins to go through several different patches of high mountain balds but unlike most of the balds in the area these have a great sense of solitude to them.

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We made the turn onto the Mountains to Sea trail and briefly discussed going the short way to the top of Mt. Hardy but we all agreed that we still had a long way to go and even a short way out of the way should be avoided if possible so we passed on it. The MST through Middle Prong is flat, twisted and slow going. Somewhere on it Yuri remarked that we were already over nine miles in. I did the math and realized that if the run was only 18-20 miles, as I had thought, we should only have been seven miles in. It would be over 20, that  much was for sure.

At highway 215 we could have taken Flat Laurel Creek but instead stayed on the MST and started climbing up towards Devil's Courthouse. I had been eating all day but my thousand calories were already cut in half and I was starting to worry about food; I was bonking a little and had moved from the front to the far back of the pack.

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Down Little Sam, up Flat Laurel Creek to the Black Balsam parking lot and it is decision time again. Do we go over the top of Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain or do we stick to Ivestor Gap trail and take the flat and easy way? We opt for the two 6000' peaks, of course. We stopped at the spring for our last chance of water until the end of the run where I popped a hit of caffeine and ate half of my last Snicker's bar before we took off across the wide open balds. It was a perfect early spring day and I was suddenly feeling great. The lows I had felt on the MST and Little Sam were gone and I was running strong and fast.

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Art Loeb III and the many social trails that weave around these balds are some of the most treacherous erosion gullies you will find around but this day I found them surprisingly runnable. While the solitude over the Wilderness had been shattered by the throngs of people this section still made for some truly excellent running. We paused briefly on the top of Tennent and I showed Jon the long ridge with all its various peaks that the Fork Mtn. trail would take us across.

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Fork Mountain is seven of the best miles of trail you will find in Pisgah. And also seven of the hardest miles. After 18 miles of hard mountain running the trail took its toll on us. We spread out, each of us enjoying the trail's beautiful misery on our own. For most of it's length Fork Mtn. follows the ridge line and twists, turns and climbs up and over Birdstand Mountain. It might look flat on the map but it is anything but flat. But it is oh so good!

After five miles or so we finally reached our final intersection of the day where we would finally begin to descend back down to Sunburst. We were all pretty spent by this point and we took a minute to relax before we summoned our final bit of strength for the home stretch.

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Those final miles drop 2000' straight down. If all the climbing hadn't been enough this final pounding was certain to fulfill any wishes for the run we might have had.

25 miles. Seven hours.




Thursday, March 20, 2014

the mountains win again

Everyone bails at some point. It is never fun and is always humbling but sometimes it just happens. It has been awhile for me but my number came up last Saturday at the Green Knob lookout tower. We were just four miles into a 18 mile run and as I struggled with a glove change in the freezing rain Jon suggested that we head back down to the parkway and then back down to the trail head instead of dropping the Lost Cove trail down into the South Toe valley and I happily agreed. I started the run already tired and the cold rain made me tired of winter and tired of running. Going back the most direct way seemed a lot more sensible than torturing myself with an extra seven miles so directly back down we went.

I'd gone into the weekend with the best of intentions of training, whatever that might be, for the upcoming PisgahProductions adventure races. On Saturday I got out for a really good roughly 40 mile mountain bike ride that pieced together all the seasonal trails in Pisgah.

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This is one of my favorite routes and a short while into it I decided to see how hard I could push it and vowed not to stop until I got to the start of the mandatory hike a bike at the top of Horse Cove Rd. I was feeling very strong and that plan worked well. Clawhammer barely felt like a climb and before I knew it I was at the Fish Hatchery with Bennett but just a dream. I took my helmet off for the hike and just took it easy and used the walk as an excuse to eat and drink and enjoy nature but before I knew it I was riding down North Slope and back at the truck in under five hours after departing.

So on Sunday the plan was to start at Newberry Creek and do:

Newberry Creek > Orange Blaze > Snook's Nose > Lost Cove > River Loop > 472 > Newberry Creek

And from the start Saturday's heroics had left me out of gas and Duma and I were struggling to keep up the rear. The Orange Blaze trail is as big of an ass kicker as you'll find around here. Over the course of just a few miles it gained more than just a few thousand feet of elevation and what we call a run was more of a long, hard hike.

When we hit Snook's Nose it should have returned to running but I was still hiking. The rain had picked up and as we gained elevation the temperature dropped and the wind increased. By the time we hit the Blue Ridge Parkway the rain stung and then froze as soon as it hit my face.

 On the way up Lost Cove to the Green Knob Lookout Tower all I cold think about was how cold I was, how tired I already was and how long of a slog it was going to be back up the gravel road after dropping down to the South Toe River. I know it is the long painful climbs that make you want to bail and know that if you just push on through to the other side you will begin to feel better just as soon as you start to descend and then before you know it you will be better than ever. But no matter how rational I make it sound sometimes emotions win and just one more mountain isn't worth it anymore.

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As predicted the descent was shamefully easy. I warmed up fast. Duma got a pep back in his step. Jon took off. What should have been a hard 18 came in at a hard 11.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

madien voyage #14

What most people would do if they just got a new handmade custom cyclocross bike is something like the classic 1206 > 276 > Blue Ridge Parkway > 5000 loop but Yuri isn't most people and I'm not normal so for his inaugural ride on his new 44 Bikes bike we started from the PRD Fish Hatchery and headed off for a pickle of a waterfall  on the sort of ride where you need at least two different maps.

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We quickly climbed up to Gluochester Gap and then dropped down to highway 215 and then climbed up again. As we neared to the top of the pass we took a left and headed into the Nantahala National Forest where our target lay. There were a lot of different forest roads on the maps to pick from and I steered us toward the uppermost one. We found it clearly signed right where it was supposed to be and we headed on up. It was steep and rocky and quickly turned into a hike a bike for me on my single speed but other than a few dismounts Yuri put on an impressive climbing display as I stared up at the mountain.

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At the crest of the road we took a slight detour up another old road to the top of an old grassy bald. The forest is slowly recovering this land and it is a special place off the beaten path and made the perfect place to enjoy a toast and moment with a friend.


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It was all downhill from there and once again Yuri showed that a cross bike can hold its own in these woods.

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When we got back down to the bottom of the road there were several different roads to pick from. We checked the maps and poked around in the bushes to try and decipher which way to go as nothing seemed to match or add up.

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We picked what we thought had to be the right road and headed up and around the mountain towards our target waterfall. After riding the road for way too long we got to the same intersection where we had been hours ago shortly after leaving 215. This was all wrong as we should have passed the waterfall along the way so, we pulled out the maps and the gps and tried and make sense of it all.

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I had been to the waterfall before but via a different route. The roads on the two different maps didn't match and the roads and waterfall weren't even on the gps so it took us a minute to stumble the short distance down to our destination.

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We let the multitudes of negative ions being released by the waterfall soothe our souls for a few minutes and then we crossed the creek and headed down a long road that has been forgotten long enough it is now a true single track trail. It was tough enough that I was glad to be on a fat tired bike but Yuri continued to hang right with me.

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It is amazing the stuff you find sometimes when you take the time to look around you.

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After several fun miles the trail ended on an asphalt road which led us out to highway 215. A quick plunge down the mountain and we were quickly back in Pisgah and climbing up Indian Creek Rd. to the gap again. Another excellent adventure in (and out of) Pisgah in the books!

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

tuesday's gone

 With temperatures in the seventies yesterday was better spent playing than working. I finally got to try my new canyoneering shoes and then squeezed in a quick North Slope ride before heading home to run the dog.

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