Thursday, March 28, 2013

Reprieve from Pavement - Pisgah NF, Day 6

Our sixth day in North Carolina was looking better weather-wise. Highs finally in the 50's despite temp still in the 20's getting up. Crazy low humidity too. Arik and I are both hacking up lung from so many hours of breathing dry air. Feels drier than Tucson, where it has been in the 80's all week.

Arik was planning another 100+ mile day, a variant of yesterday's ride. My legs were not going to have anything to do with that. I needed a rest day, or something that at least slightly resembling one in comparison. Sycamore Cycles is just down the hill from us, and the Pisgah National Forest is right across the street from them with half a million acres of riding terrain.

Dualies were pricey for the day, so I went with a 29er hardtail. I didn't bring my MTB shoes, and my Speedplay road shoes are entirely incompatible with off-road riding. So that left me with flat pedals or flat pedals with toe clips. The shop had some cheap plastic pedals with toe clips for me. I wore my running shoes. The bike was a bit antiquated compared to the luxurious bikes in my quiver, being an 8-speed drivetrain with many no-name parts on it. It weighed a ton. Wasn't complaining though. Trail conditions were claimed to be about as good as they get.

Heading out, I soon realized what a PITA toe clips are. My grippy running shoes would catch on the pedal, making slipping them into the clip almost impossible. Plus the right clip was clinched almost closed. I stopped to see if I could deform it to a little more open stance. It promptly snapped off. Son of a bitch! Now I had one barely functional toe clip and one flat pedal heading into some brutally steep, rugged terrain.

Climbing up FS-477

I began climbing up forest service road 477. It gains 1400ft, much of it around 8% grade. Not a bad climb for feeble legs, the middle ring could still make light work of it. A small descent wrapped around to Club Gap Trail. I've ridden this before and knew there'd be some hike-a-bike near the top. There was frost coming out of the ground, making the climb greasy. With running shoes on, I did not mind the brief hike.

Black Mountain Trail ridgeline

From Club Gap, the Black Mountain Trail is picked up. It follows the 4000ft ridgeline up and down and around. The deal was, the up and downs were pretty steep and gnarly, at least for my marginal riding platform. The fork had an unnerving characteristic in that it would rebound with a metal to metal thud. Sent shock waves into my wrists.

Black Mtn benchcut. Warm and dry.

Laurel up top on Black Mtn trail

When I reached Buckhorn Gap, I decided to pull the plug on riding the whole Black Mtn trail and began descending Clawhammer Rd, a somewhat rutted out doubletrack. I'd then pick up FS-5098/5099 and climb back up to Black Mtn trail for the final descent down from Hickory Knob, a heinously steep section I climbed once several years ago.

Climbing FS-5099

Easy spinning soon brought me to another named gap, Pressley Gap, at the Black Mtn trail junction. The final bit up to Hickory Knob required a some hike-a-bike with my tired legs and free foot, which nearly caused me to clobber my calf multiple times with foot slipping off. Apparently I push forward on the pedals quite hard when clipped in and found it hard to adapt to not having one foot clipped.

Plummet time. From Hickory Knob to US-276, 1400 feet are lost in just a couple miles. Keeping the bike under me with clangy fork and free foot proved challenging. But you can't help but smile coming down that. The lower half is bermed up, carved through a rhododendron and laurel tunnel. Stunning effect. Felt almost tropical, there was so much green with bluebird sky filtering through.

I had hoped to do a simple loop on the other side of 276, but it was posted hiking only, as there is a campground there. That wrapped up the ride for me, with the bike shop just two miles down the road. I finished with 25mi, 3600ft in 3hrs on the Garmin. No wheel sensor, so I suspect I under-measured by at least a few miles in the twisty terrain. A recovery day compared to yesterday's hundred miler, although I still felt pretty tired an hour later, sucking down my two favorite food groups, Starbucks coffee and Sonic malted shake.

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