What a fun, tough stage.
Today’s stage started with a cracking climb up Grassy Road Trail. We rolled out from the start line, but in the opposite direction from the previous day’s stage. The start pace was much more sane today and traffic separated nicely in advance of the downhill section on Sycamore Cove Trail. I could feel the effects of Stage 1 in my legs, but overall felt pretty good on the climb.
The downhill on Sycamore Cove Trail is pretty much the local loop for folks. Soon I was chasing Jim Matthews down some twisting trail that was about a 3 inch ribbon, nestled between roots and the edge of the bench cut. Fast and exciting for sure! A few surprise features for first timers snuck up on me and kept things interesting. At the bottom, wonder woman and I think a female sumo wrestler cheered us on just before the police guided race traffic on to the road.
A short paved section of 276 lead back to the start shoot again. Here, a gorilla and the Pisgah Lion egged us on.
Now the climb up began in earnest on Thrift Cove. This was a pretty extended double track type climb that gave way to a fast downward section. A rider was right on my 6 as we zoomed down the trail and I had tunnel vision while hauling the mail. Darth Vader pointed his light saber towards a slight right and soon the trail got steep and fast. After a minute on this descent it became apparent that we were careening back down Black Mountain. I thought this was strange, but there were trail markings so I kept on the gas.
Unfortunately it turned out that turn near the top got mixed up a bit somehow and I found myself and a few others climbing all the way back up Black Mountain. Several other riders also found our motley crew as they came flying down Black Mountain. And so it was.
Never trust Darth Vader.
I was a little bummed, but damn it I came to race and that’s exactly what all of us lost souls did. We got back on track and summited the gnarly hike a bike back up Black mountain and headed into a ripping double track descent that gave way to a rolling fire road.
A left turn onto Buckhorn Gap trail turned out to be a really fun descent with some rocks and gnar at the bottom. Then Buckhorn Gap opens up a bit into a fast and flowing trial covered by a tunnel of trees. It was really fun!
Aid Stop 1 was a welcome sight and as usual the volunteers made it really easy to get what I needed and back on the chase.
A long gravel climb up FS 477 led us to Club Gap trail. While climbing the steep entrance I heard what sounded like a raging hornets nest. I was a bit freaked out. Then I saw the quad copter with the GoPro landing. What a relief!
Club Gap sounds like a fun trail. I mean, it’s a club, right? Really it’s a steep rocky climb that led us to the descent down Avery Creek. And oh mama what a descent Avery was. It started out with a steep, chunk, and washed out section at the top. There were many more bombed out sections that punctuated the rest of the trail before it eased up. But not before several seriously big drops had to be dispatched. I leaned back and wheelie dropped these things, but on a 4” xc bike it was a little harsh. Then the flowing section of the trail returned and I was back at the Aid Stop for round 2. A bit more smashed than before.
Zooming down a gravel road felt pretty good at this point and only one more major climb awaited before the final descent down Black Mountain. I drank my go juice and set to work on the extended climb.
Descending black the second time today was a little bitter sweet. Man, it’s a fun ride. But it served as a reminder that the mix up earlier cost at least 20+ minutes and probably 2 or 3 positions. Oh well, sometimes you just gotta play the hand you got. I still had an awesome time riding my bike on wonderful Pisgah trails.