Sunday, January 6, 2013

glady beyond any experience

I was drinking at a bar with a buddy when the conversation naturally turned to weekend plans. Maps were produced and while ideas pondered I couldn't help but overhear parts of the the two gentleman at the end of the bar's conversation. One of them was the wild mountaineer type - big grizzled winter beard and a look in his eye that told me he had seen some mountains in his day - the other was a little cleaner around the edges and judging by the pleats in his khaki pants and the distance other bar patrons kept from him I could tell he was the law - they were talking about some corner of the woods that goes untraveled by bicycle.  I heard something about two gates and roads that are more like trails and a few other more specific details I cannot recall at the moment. This sparked my interest and I remembered a picture I saw somewhere of some brave hikers standing in front of a mine entrance and our fate was sealed. I told Zak that is where we should go, showed him on the map and just like that it was decided.

Dennis was recruited for the trip after being reassured by Zak that we were just riding Butter Gap or something simple like that and we met promptly at 9:30. It was cold so we stood around wasting time and trying to figure out how many clothes we could fit on for the three thousand foot climb that lay in front of us until 10:00 when we finally started rolling. Five minutes later we were burning up and stopped to shed layers. Ten minutes after that we had to stop again to shed even more layers.We were on roads that are clearly shown on all the maps but it was a place I had never been before. The first road we took looked a lot more like a trail than a road and the ride was an immediate success. That trail spit us out on a full fledged gravel forest road which took our intrepid navigator Zak by surprise but was exactly what I had been expecting. The woods were big and filled with views that are unique to that area. At one point Dennis remarked that it was like a whole other Pisgah out there and we all had to agree. We marched on making good time on the gravel. We passed a gate and then a little later another gate - just like we heard in the bar.

Our route was potentially ambitious and included a big unknown section. We were planning on doing a big loop on and around the biggest ridge in the forest but the maps only showed roads on half of the proposed loop. My gazetteer showed a few more trails but it is rather dated and can't be relied on so we were going on a hope and prayer that when we got to the top the road would keep going. If the road ended, which we were prepared for, we would bushwhack over the top of a mountain, find the mines, rescue the maiden, and then hopefully bushwhack a little more to the road we hoped would take us back down to where we started from. That was our hope anyway.

Things changed a little when seven hundred feet below our destination Zak stopped and announced announced he was 'out'. I stopped, turned around and examined the problem. It turned out the derailleur hanger on his cross bike (excellent choice for such a route, lol) had somehow failed while riding through the thicket that our road had turned into. After carefully examining the situation it was clear the derailleur was done but I reassured Zak bailing was not an option and that we could make the bike a single speed. Unfortunately, he got suckered into buying the ten speed drive train which is designed to shift and as such no matter what we tried the chain was rendered useless and his bicycle was reduced to a $3000 coasting only machine.

At this point we were three hours into our climb, still had a long way to go to the top, and still faced the big unknown of if we would find the magic road we hoped for at the top. Zak mentioned bailing again and I reassured him there wasn't much more actual riding bikes ahead of us so he might as well continue on. So on we walked. It took a little navigating. There were times it seemed we should start bushwhacking but I urged to follow the road and pray for a switchback (not my first rodeo). But eventually we decided it was time to bushwhack. It wasn't that bad - people have been there before - but was very slow going. We made it to the top and then there was nothing. More bushwhacking that had me checking the time repeatedly. Four hours to the top. Going back the way we came with one of our bikes without a drive train by my calculations would be another four hours - two hours after dark. Of course we could have bailed out down to the closest town and then called someone to pick us up but that seemed hardly sporting. So, I urged us to push on.

We found a road, miraculously, followed it for a little while and it petered out. Instead of attempting a five mile bushwhack across the biggest ridge in the forest or retracing our steps we decided to take the road the other way and see if it switched back to where we were headed. It did and we immediately felt like we were saved. Of course we hadn't found the mines, which were my major goal, and I had a hunch they were in the other direction but time was of the essence so I just let them go for another day. While we were on some resemblance of a road we still had a long way to go and still a lot of unknowns - there was a very real chance we could end up in a town sixty miles from where we wanted to be. If that happened it would have been okay but our road made enough switchbacks that we kept on our desired course.

At some point there was a really big push. Steep, steep, forest road. It didn't matter that Zak had brought a worthless three thousand dollar bike, nobody is riding any bike up that hill at that point in the day, so we all walked together. I pretended like I was in the army and tried to count out cadence: one, two, three, four, hut, two, three four, right paw, back paw, front paw, left paw, or something like that...

While just keeping moving forward a few flakes of mica on the side of the road caught my eye. And then a few more. And then Zak was saying we should stop. The land was clearly engineered. Tailings of mica were all over the place and while we were now a good distance from the bald were I had seen a picture of a mine it was clear something had happened here. We dropped the bikes and I scurried up the hill to see what I could find. There was no mine like in the picture but it looked like someone had put some dynamite in a hole and made a bigger hole where a mine used to be. After rounding up the troops both Dennis and Zak agreed we had found a mine. Success.

A very short distance later we passed two more mines that had been blasted and then I spotted a flat bit of land just above the road. While the chances were it would be just more blasted mines we decided to check it out and sure enough we got up there and it was just that. But then Zak spotted a small hole and there it was - our very own mica mine. It wasn't nearly impressive as the one in the picture, but it was ours and that was all that mattered.

After that it was all gravy. There were still some very long and very painful walks but we were headed in the right direction and had found our mines and it was great day to be alive in the Pisgah woods. Zak was a trooper and didn't complain much about his worthless bike and eventually we made it to our known gap where I could confidently announce it was all:

Downhill from here

We then plunged twenty five hundred feet straight down the mountain. While I'd like to pretend there was no pedaling involved Zak's chainless bike proved otherwise but this was still a very big downhill that took us right back to the start after 22 miles over seven hours. In the end there was not enough time to make it back to the bar to impress the other patrons with our stories of our heroics but that is what Sundays are for.

Only one picture for today. If you want to see the rest you will have to check back on Tuesday or read the book or watch the movie. This is what mountain biking in Pisgah is all about.



We did not pass any signs indicating Linear Wildlife Corridors or Private Property or No Trespassing on this ride/hike/adventure. Based on all my maps I am confident we were not in a Wilderness area or on a LWC or LWO at any point. I am being vague in this post because some things are better if you find them on your own and some places are better left less traveled. I apologize to anyone who is upset about me posting about this adventure. I didn't post maps or gps tracks for a reason - not because we were poaching but because this sort of thing is not for many people. And as far as I know carrying a bicycle through the woods is perfectly legal.

To anyone reading who doesn't know where this took place but is itching to know: I encourage you to not try to follow in my footsteps. Instead, look at your own maps, do your own research, dream your own dreams, make your own plans and have your own adventures. It is a lot more fun that way.

Edit again:

We were not on a LWC. Anyone who thinks we were is mistaken.

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