Adventures in Pisgah

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

just fishing

I thought about running the Pisgah55 last weekend. I also thought about riding the 111. Then I thought better and decided to just go fishing instead. And so on Sunday when I went fishing I made sure I went up a creek where I was guaranteed not to see any racers and was unlikely to see any other users. I had a really good mountain bike to get there and then once I was at the old logging camp that was my destination I hung out for an hour or so and fished the hole behind the camp and made lunch on the centuries old stone furniture. Lunch was good and I actually caught a few fish before I reversed my course and headed to the Hendersonville Reservoir.

Once there I walked right down to the river and caught a nice hatchery fish on my second cast. I was only there fifteen minutes  during which time I caught several fish and noticed several groups of mountain bikers congregated up top. Nothing out of the ordinary for  a Sunday in May in Pisgah.

So, imagine my surprise when two frantic mountain bikers pull up  and ask "Which way do we go?" as I'm packing up my fishing gear.

"Where are you headed?" I reply.

"We are racing the 55," the younger one says.

He is on a single speed and looks familiar. It looks like Watts who I met at prar a few weeks before and I think maybe he is fucking with me. That is the sort of thing I might do after all. But then I look closer and see they have 55 number plates on their bikes.

It doesn't make sense. There is no reason a 55 rider should be at the Hendersonville Reservoir. I ask how they got there and they mention a steep descent and then a bunch of creek crossings. I check their cue sheet and it all comes together. They dropped Sassafrass off of Laurel mtn. down to Big Creek and were now ruining my fishing trip.

It really sucked for them as they were a long way off course and had been near the front. Backtracking up Big Creek would take at least an hour. There goes the race. But Watts, being the classy type, opted to reverse course and intercept other racers who had taken the wrong turn.

In the end I would drive three racers back to the finish from North Mills River and several more were riding down highway 280 as we passed them in the truck. It sounded like the course markings had been intentionally sabotaged to send racers as far off course as possible. I can't imagine a shittier thing to do. What is wrong with mountain bikers?

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Pisgah Running Adventure Race 2016

Sunday morning at Smoker's Cove was like returning the scene of a crime. The carnage from the previous day's bike race was apparent as mountain bikers were passed out  in all sorts of places. The runners, being runners, were scattered about doing their final preparations before heading off into the unknown. I did my best to get Mike P. and Watts D. to give the race a go and Watts seemed interested but used not having shorts or gear as an excuse. Yuri assured him had everything he needed in the back of his car but Watts wasn't biting. Maybe next year. With as big of a hit as pmbar is I was surprised at the light turnout but that is just everyone elses loss as this year's prar would prove to have the best course.

As Eric gave his speech and instructions I could hear mumbling about how last year there had a been a bus and we were shuttled. There was no bus in the parking lot. Something was up. Remember how I said I can't imagine a better trail in the area than Black Mtn.? Well, that is what was up. A quick glance at the passport one minute before the start revealed we would be starting and finishing with Black Mtn. to Pressley Gap. I left Yuri to ponder the rest of the passport and lined up alone at the start so that we would start exactly at 8am. The clock counted down and off Yuri and I went, passport in hand, while everyone else tried to make sense of the passport and routes.

You had to go to either a mandatory cp at the helicopter pad on Looking Glass Rock trail or Deep Gap on Turkey Pen Gap trail and then get a total of four checkpoints with the others being Club Gap, Avery Creek at Buckhorn Gap and Coontree Gap. A fifth cp would result in a two hour time bonus.

Local knowledge goes a long way and I have been wearing a hole in Black Mtn. as well as other trails in the area recently and the only question I had was if the Looking Glass Rock cp would be worth the time and effort. I calculated it to be close and as we discussed routes we decided we needed to leave Looking Glass Rock hanging for the end if we felt so ambitious. That would mean we would going all the way back up Black to a little out and back on Turkey Pen Gap before heading back across Black to Club Gap. Talk about Deja Vu.

One thing we had learned from previous years was that there was the potential for real pain and suffering as the race wore on so we had both brought poles to help ease the wear on our aging joints. A lot of time had been spent fine tuning our systems for carrying them and just a few minutes after starting up Black Mtn. we decided it was already time to take them out. My poles would stay out for the rest of the day as they proved invaluable on the steep sections of trail - both uphill and downhill.

With the whole race behind us it was only going to be a matter of time until we got caught. I was expecting teams to blow by us at any moment but we rolled over Hickory Knob and through Pressley Gap without seeing anyone and the first team - the Wrights -  wouldn't catch us until just before Turkey Pen Gap trail. I took that to either be a good sign or a bad sign - I wasn't sure which. As we rolled up and through the gaps on Turkey Pen a female team (whom I would refer to as The Ladies) caught and passed us and that felt better. A quick turn at the Deep Gap CP and we were headed back up to Black. On the way back up we crossed paths with several other teams including Simon and Damien - the only other team doing both pmbar and prar - as well as my old neighbors Thad and Kellie. Smiles abounded all around.

Back over the top of Black and Clawhammer mountains for the second time in as many days and there was no place I would rather have been. The Ladies were just in front of us but they hit the gas on the drop down to Buckhorn Gap and were out of sight as we rolled up and down the trail to the Club Gap CP. With as close as they had been it seemed like we should have been able to see them at some point but we never did. That had me thinking they might have made a navigational blunder and that a game was a foot.

Straight down Avery Creek to the CP at Buckhorn Gap where several teams including The Ladies were congregated. I pulled a sandwich and bag of chips from my pack and we continued on Buckhorn Gap trail towards the road as I ate my lunch. The short stretch of Avery Creek Rd. would be the only road we would be on all weekend in the single track heavy weekend. The Wrights passed us about half way up Bennett Gap trail on our way to the Coontree Gap CP and I estimated they had a ten to fifteen minute lead on us. That seemed like an impossible gap to make up which was fine with us. The Ladies were still in front of us and I expected them to be coming down the trail as we were headed up but they didn't. Then when they weren't at the CP it could only mean they were going big and heading for Looking Glass Rock or had taken Perry Cove to get to Bennett Gap. Simon and Damien passed us on their way up Bennett as we were headed down which gave us 10-15 minutes on them - a lead I knew we could hold as long as nothing happens. The mind game in these races is truly fascinating.

Pressley Cove is one of my all time favorite trails and would be the crux of the race. As long as we could move steadily up it we would be finishing well. I took the lead for the first time of the weekend and ran all the pitches I felt were reasonable. The rest I fast hiked. We paused at the stream to get our last bit of water and pushed on ahead with no signs of teams either in front or behind us. As we started up Hickory Knob I felt the first warnings of cramps in my left hip flexor and that had me squirting mustard in my mouth and toning it down a little as that was not the time or place to be rolling around on the ground with cramps. Once we could finally say Downhill From Here and it actually be true for once the cramps subsided and we hit cruise control to the finish coming in just under a minute after the Wrights.

Having not gotten the extra checkpoint meant that we would have the two hour wait of shame before we knew how we did. As the teams trickled in nobody had gotten the fifth checkpoint and we all just hung out and chatted as we waited for our two hours to pass. The communal aspect of these races is one of the many reasons why I keep coming back and I had a great time hanging out, drinking beer and listening to everyone's stories from the race. Our second Second Place PRAR finish was unexpected but more than welcome!

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Now is the time for what now?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race 2016


This year marked my eleventh pmbar and that milestone had me recollect one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs and made me wonder: Now is the time for what now?

This year's race brought a few surprises and with Eric urging us to read the passport it was clear it would be a wooden nickle sort of year.  A quick glance at the passport revealed no physical wooden nickles but showed mandatory checkpoints at both ends of Bradley Creek with FR1206 off limits. That was interesting to say the least and we headed up Black Mtn. without a route in mind. The checkpoint locations meant there would be a lot of single track and also a lot of people on Bradley Creek. The logical route was to take Turkey Pen at the start but I was worried about being stuck in traffic all morning on both Turkey Pen and Bradley Creek which sounded miserable. We decided to skip Cove Creek even though it was probably ever so slightly worth the time bonus figuring that the extra miles could hinder our efforts on Sunday. So, we formulated a route that would save both of those trails for the end and would also be 100% Pisgah single track.  That meant we would be pushing up Turkey Pen at the end so I named our route the Fool's Gambit.

Fools or not, our route had us start with all of Black Mtn. trail which is the perfect way to start any mountain bike ride. I really can't imagine a better trail in the area (even if the current tread condition is unfortunate) and going over the top of Black and Clawhammer mountains is one of my favorite things to do. A quick turn at the Club Gap CP and then back to Buckhorn Gap and down to Wolf Ford before heading up Squirrel Gap. I was curious as to when the fast guys (and girls) would pass us going the opposite direction and was expecting them at any time but we made it up to the top of Horse Cove Gap without seeing them. A few teams were up there who had taken the road but we did a fast turn back to Squirrel Gap. We made it through the rocky section before the first couple of groups going the other direction started to appear. It surprised me that it had taken them that long to get there and I imagined what the scene on Bradley Creek was going to be like.

Just before Laurel Gap, at the worst possible spot, Charlie Roberts and his partner appeared coming the other way and I pulled to the side of the trail to yield for them but in true rookie style I stopped on the downhill side of the trail and when I went to put my foot down the ground gave way and I tumbled an impossible distance head first down the mountain. Luckily there was a downed tree that brought me to sudden stop when my face and shoulder hit it. I was left a little scraped and bruised but was other wise unharmed and really quite lucky.

On across Squirrel and down Laurel Creek where the masses started to appear. The traffic that we had hoped to avoid by going the wrong was still bogged down on Laurel Creek as well as Bradley Creek and the next few miles would be spent trying to get around all the people as we wrestled our way across the creek, through the dog hobble and over the downed trees. We crossed paths with several groups of friends as we kept trying to move forward through the masses. Bradley Creek is a beautiful trail and I was happy to be doing it as an out and back but other teams seemed less than thrilled with the experience.

The end of Bradley Creek brought our final checkpoint and left us with just Turkey Pen Gap trail to Black Mountain to the finish. Some friends were headed up at the same time as us and they said at the checkpoint they thought it would be an hour and a half to the finish but I knew they weren't thinking correctly as I have pushed my bike up the trail several times and have ran it many more. I knew there would be pushing but I knew it wouldn't be too bad. I also knew we had gone the wrong direction and were losing significant time with our Fool's Gambit but didn't care.  Just like the past two years, this year's pmbar was all about surviving to be able to run the next day. There would be no red lining it to the finish, just a steady push up Pisgah single track through a splendid forest. Somewhere along the way a checkpoint tent was set up which meant that it would be a checkpoint on Sunday. Game on.

Once at the top it was all downhill from there and the challenging sections had us taking it easy as a crash might not bode well for the next day.  A little bop up Hickory Knob and we were on the final downhill stretch. I rode the upper eroded section just fine but just before the seep with the log steps and rock slabs my front wheel washed out and I went down hard. I came up a little bruised but other wise intact and Matt F. took the opportunity to pass us. It was good to see Matt riding again after recovering from a broken femur  so being passed didn't bother me at all.

The finish was just minutes later with us coming in with what seemed to be a big wave of the front of the middle of the pack. Whatever, all I was after was to be done so I could drink a beer, eat a burrito and rest up for the next day. Not getting all the CPs meant we had the two hour wait of shame to find out how we did which provided an excellent opportunity to catch up with old friends,  make new friends and celebrate how lucky we are to be able to have such adventures in such an amazing place. And best of all was knowing that the next day I was going to get to do it all over again but this time without the bike!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

a frothy haze

Last weekend's Pisgah Productions races are still but a blur. For now all I can say is running is for horses and riding is for cowboys.

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

in bloom

Spring has come to Pisgah which means too much of everything and not enough time to keep up with this blog. There is something about beauty and wonder I want to tell you but that is going to have to wait for another day. Instead I'll just leave you with a bunch of pictures. Bonus points if you can identify all of the trails.

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Another Linville Gorge Half Marathon

You would think that after my previous trips to the Linville Gorge I would know what to expect. You would think that I would have learned to do more research about my intended route other than look at it on my trusty Nat Geo map. You would think I would know my half marathon would be quite a bit longer than 13 miles. You would think I would know it would take six hours, not three. You would be right, I do know those things, but for whatever reason I still do little more than look at the map, decide what trails I want to explore and then just go. Sometimes not knowing exactly what I am getting into adds to the thrill of exploring a new place.

For my recent take on the Linville Gorge Half Marathon Concept I headed to the northern part of the gorge where I had sketched out a route that proved to be as good in person as it was on paper despite whatever  initial miscalculations I might have made.

Bynum Bluff > Linville Gorge Trail > Brushy Ridge > Roads > Jonas Ridge > Devil's Hole > Linville Gorge Trail > Babel Tower > Kistler Highway

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Things started innocently enough on Bynum Bluff trail.  Of course Bynum Bluff Trail wasn't on my map but I figured that out and down I went into the gorge. The Descent was steep we didn't have near the elevation drop of other trails on the other end of the gorge such as Pinch In. I was happy to see recent trail maintenance as well as some nice views of the gorge.



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I really hadn't paid too much attention to the map but knew that once I got to the river trail I needed to go right and then after a short ways for the river and take a trail up a dominant ridge. So, when I got to the river I went right instead of looking for any signs of a crossing or trail on other side. I hadn't seen much when I encountered a group of trail workers who asked where I was going and when I said ginger cake mountain they told me I was on the completely wrong side of the gorge. I knew that, and told them I was planning on crossing the river. I didn't know the trail name but they quickly told me it was Brushy Ridge and offered to give me directions. Sometimes I am wary of receiving directions from strangers in the woods but these people were with Linville Gorge maps.org and obviously knew the court as well as anyone. They marked my map and gave me detailed instructions including how to get to ginger cake without having to do too much on the road. I thanked them and headed back up the river a little ways where I was told to cross just above this waterfall.

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This ford wasn't very deep but was still quite slippery and by crossing the river I was committed to my route. Once across I spent some time wandering up and down the river bank looking for Brushy Ridge and marveling at the beauty of the gorge.
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 Eventually I spotted a stack of rocks and something that vaguely looked like it could have been a trail at one time and up I went.
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The trail was steep and overgrown at the bottom but steadily improved as I made my way up. Once again I was happy to see the third been very recent Trail maintenance done and the trade was in great shape at the top. And as always the views were amazing along the way.
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Brushy Ridge ended in a neighborhood and from there I wandered through some streets looking for Rhododendron Way which I had been told it would save me some road miles. A mail carrier drove by and I figured who better to ask for directions but then but of course they'd never heard of Rhododendron Way. I kept running along knowing eventually I would find something that would get me back up into the gorge when I saw a truck at a house that looked familiar. I had ridden with a guy named Phil who lived in the area and I thought it was bound to be his house. There was a woman unloading a bike and I asked if it was Phil's house and she said yes, Phil is her husband. Rhododendron Way was directly across the street and she gave me detailed directions to Jonas Ridge trail and wished me luck as I continued running on.
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Jonas Ridge was a great trail. Not overly hard with not surprisingly amazing scenery.
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While Jonas Ridge had been rather mild as far as trails in the gorge go, Devil's Hole was a nice little stretch of trail hell. It was either so steep that it required full on scrambling or was little more than an impossibly rocky dry stream bed. But it wasn't very long and ended at the river where I once again would have to cross.
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This ford was much more difficult than the first. There were some places where it looked like I might have been able to rock hop but the rocks were exceedingly slippery and the penalty for error was too much for me to chance on my own. I spent quite a bit of time working my way up the river bank looking for a safe place to cross. Standing on the riverside I was truly taken back by the pure beauty and splendor of this wild place I was in. I had seen several groups earlier in the day but now suddenly seemed totally alone in the wilderness.
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I couldn't just stay next to the river forever so after much scouting I found a nice and wide place to cross where the current wasn't very strong. That meant that it was deep and the crossing required a full on swim to get across. Once I reached the other side it was just a short scramble up to the Linville River Trail. The LGT trail might just be the most difficult trail in the gorge regardless of how 'flat' it might be. By the time I reached Babel Tower I was ready to be done with the run and headed straight back up and out of the gorge.
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In the end this take on the Linville Gorge Half Marathon concept came in at 16 miles with almost 5000' of elevation gain. Ouch!






















Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Tanawha Trail and Calloway Peak

A few weeks ago I headed up to the high country for a run with the Pisgah Nation. Our route was to be a point to point on the Tanawha Trail with an out and back on the Daniel Boone Scout trail to the summit of Calloway Peak on Grandfather Mountain. This whole area was new to me and I was excited to get to see some new trails and mountains.

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Things started innocently enough when we met at Beacon Heights where a false peak on Grandfather Mountain had Calloway Peak looking deceivingly close and easy.

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From there we shuttled on down to a frozen Price Lake where four of us started our journey. We had gotten a big snow fall just a week earlier and though the temperatures were nearing 60 the frozen lake was an omen of the winter conditions to come.

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I had no clue what to expect from the Tanawha Trail. I hadn't done any research on it so all I knew was it is near Grandfather Mountain, is part of the Mountains to Sea trail and roughly follows the parkway. I'd assumed that Calloway Peak would be the highlight of the run but in the end it would be the Tanawha that would linger in my mind longest. Things started innocently enough running through eight inches or so of snow through some rhododendron tunnels before popping out onto some open meadows with Grandfather hovering over the horizon.

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Everyone else had set off at to fast of a pace for me given the conditions and I urged them to not wait for me. I knew this was only the beginning and the conditions would only get worse so if I was going to finish the full 20 mile route  I would really have to try and pace myself. I just kept trudging along following the blazes and tracks in the snow having a great time running by myself. At one point I reached a trail intersection where I heard voices on what I assumed was a road just above me. I took a few seconds to study the signs, made sure I was on the right trail and continued on down the trail and away from the voices.

I kept running merrily along but after a mile or two I realized there was apparently only one set of tracks in the snow in front of me. That was odd because there had been three other runners on the trail in front of me. As I continued to run down the trail I pondered what it meant. I figured that either I took the wrong trail, the other three runners were running at the exact same cadence and following the leader's tracks exactly, the three others all took the wrong trail, or the group had split up. The middle two options were both very unlikely so I just kept going forward hoping to see a blaze to confirm I was still on the MST. After a frustrating mile or so I did finally see a blaze and was able to focus on the run again. A short ways later I crossed paths with a couple of hikers who told me a single runner had come by just a little bit earlier.

From there it was a six mile out and back to the top of Calloway Peak. It was a big climb and I expected deep snow and slow miles and that was about right. Whatever semblance of running I had been doing quickly ground to a halt. I really wasn't that bad though. Just slow and slippery. The conditions were otherwise perfect: blue skies and warm temperatures coupled with abundant views and interesting ecosystems. The ladders and cables along the way were all easily passable though I did choose to use my spikes on one section of trail.

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Excellent views from the top!

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Straight back down to the Tanawha Trail where I was hoping for a lot less snow and a much easier seven miles to the finish. Instead I was to be greeted by a heavy blanket of snow with a single set of tracks  through it. The run remained a slog and I knew there would be no easy miles this day. But I had all day so there was no reason not to just continue on and enjoy it.

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On a run with many highlights Rough Ridge probably stands out the most to me. Amazing views on a gorgeous day!

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From there I became aware that the trail was hugging the side of the mountain right where the famous Linn Cove viaduct snakes above the woods. The going was still slow and I was happy to amble along through the rocks and snow.

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