Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sunday Mountain Ride/Black Bear Contact

The Route: Kitsuma parking lot at Ridgecrest, up Kitsuma, down Kitsuma to Graphite Rd past the erroneously marked Geyser(it should be identified as an man made Aqueduct) right up Star Gap to lower Heartbreak to the Never Ending Grassy Road of Death then left up Curtis Creek Rd to the Blue Ridge Parkway to Heartbreak Ridge then down all the way to Star Gap out to Graphite Rd then right up Mills Creek Rd back to the Car. Mileage: 43.5 Time: 6hrs 10mins.

I have done this ride more than once before, read one account here.

My Mountain Bike high on Kitsuma. This Machine operated without malfunction. The Story: Sunday morning's early mundane drive(122miles) was over soon enough and then I found myself in the Kitsuma parking lot fiddling with my Awesome Strap. When it was too short to fit 1 of my spare tubes around my stem I tried reefing it around my seat post just below the small saddle bag which had the other tube. Unfortunately my stacked thighs rubbed the Velcro on the strap in a test spin around the lot so I threw the tube in the bottom of my camera bag. I either need a more narrow stem or a longer Awesome Strap or to totally rethink the placement not right before a ride. Completely my ignorance not the Awesome Strap's. I should have messed with it as soon as I got it but my sherkiness hampered that effort. Think Awesome, be Awesome this strap is Awesome.

Up the Switchbacks at 32 x 18(I got the memo 2 weeks ago). The lower ones were somewhat easy but up towards the top I fell over and pushed more than once. Over and down Kitsuma across Graphite Rd by the Aqueduct then right up Star Gap across the tracks and into the woods. Once again the specific gear had me pushing some of the turns up to the intersection with Heartbreak Ridge. Then right down the lower Heartbreak was fun, dry and brilliantly lit by filtered morning sun light.
One of the switch backs that I fell over on.
I started the Never Ending Grassy Road of Death left at the base of HB. Within a few minutes it occurred to me that the grass has changed since the last time I rode this part of the forest giving it the appearance of dry, vibrant green, vertically growing shoulder high seaweed stalks without the ocean. The beat down 10' wide single track carved a meandering path up and down a long traverse of the left hand rising mountain which sloped down and away to the right.
About half way across the NEGRoD in one of the left turning bends about 20 meters in front of me I looked up and saw movement bounding off the right hand edge of the trail. As I approached that spot I stopped to peer down the V shaped ravine and immediately heard multiple extraordinary noises. Branches snapping like small lumber, trees breaking with a thud, snorts and the sound of a heavy footed animal running down the mountain's earthen slope. Just below where I stood was the ass end of a Black Bear running at a full powerful gallop down the 60 degree incline away from me as fast as he could. I never saw his face but I watched in shock as he ambled down and over towards this little tree covered ridge maybe 60 meters below me. It was obvious that he wanted nothing to do with being near me. I was in awe. As I recognized this situation for what it was I realized that what I was seeing was my first encounter with bear in years of mountain biking and hiking experience. Plenty of my little friends have told me the stories that they witnessed on trails that I have ridden but this was my first and I was alone. The air left my lungs for a minute, my heart picked up, I was safe and I knew it but overwhelmed by the wild raw power that this creature shared with me as I watched it make its way for the little ridge down below.
Eyes up across the rest of NEGRoD to Curtis Creek Rd and the realization sets in that 2.5hrs into this ride I am about to start a 9mile fire road climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Eat. I pulled out a 2 day old slice, I mean lump of cheese pizza from my jersey pocket that was wrapped in a reused plastic bag that held a loaf of bread not too long ago. Pedaling and eating the warm gooey former slice I was content. Drink, I finished 1 bottle and over the first few miles took in half each of the other 2. Up past the Pisgah official little camp ground on the right I found the fresh cold mountain spring that I was counting on. I drank 2 bottles standing there and then topped off all 3 before I put my head under the spout letting the icy cold water rush over my skull for more than one minute. Upwards into the troposphere. What a bitch smack this climb is. Relentless to the amateur like me who was thinking 32 x 18 would be fine, why waste the few minutes needed back in the barn to put on the 20 or even the 23 for that matter. Peter is right, Single Speed life is good. The climb kept going and after the last switch back 180 degrees straightened out on the rhododendron covered mountain I was now on the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 348.
Look Closely just blow center on right hand side of the image and see the thin line of the Blue Ridge Parkway wrapping around the mountain.
5 miles south on the parkway, the first 3 or so up then a short fast descent into a saddle.
Up on the last section of the Parkway to MM353 and the Heartbreak trail head.
The ride down Heartbreak was fantastic. The conditions were perfect and I was very aware of where I was and that I was alone now headed towards the Montero for the first time since leaving it around 4.5hrs ago. The ridge smelled clean, various floral smells pounded my senses as I watched the vibration of the trail through my eyes and body. I felt the left downward pull as I passed the place that I took stitches a few years back.
Flowy fun, the gear seemed a good choice on the ridge. I stopped twice for a minute or two each to let the blood return to my hands. I looked around and could feel the density of this mountain and the ones that I could see in the panorama all around me.
A fine portion of the HB trail.
Off of HB to a hard right on the final descent of Star Gap. Through the downward switches I missed two. The first because I would have died had I kept going and the second one because I chickened out. Through the burnt forested woods again, oh that is what the sign at the top of HB was referring to. Over the train tracks that Dude is famous for gapping with a slight rear tire case on a previous ride.
Then past the juvenile wards of the state dressed in blue jump suites working the ropes course, was that a 5.5 hour hallucination or did I really just see that. Finally, the last few miles up again on Mills Creek Rd but feeling happy and able to turn the whole length back to the car. Half way up this final climb on the roll I took my helmet off as if I were riding in a pre-2004 stage of the Tour de France that ended with a climb. Then I looked at myself not only on the mud splattered and dusty outside physical but as well I saw my inner self. It was a view of my inner body structure without the skin to block the view of myself in daylight sitting on the saddle, my hands holding the bars while my feet are mechanically clipped to the bike pushing around and around around and around the revolution of time up the dirt road. What a strange thought of myself I had at that moment as I came into the parking lot 6hrs and 10mins after leaving it. Then I started the return drive(visual on that later in the week) back to Dooleyville where I arrived at 1800hrs in time for tomatoes, peppers, onions and rice.


Anonymous said...

Nice pics. Thanks for sharing.

Kevin said...

Nice writeup! Kitsuma is good stuff.

Doug said...

Nice posting Billy... but i can't believe you laid your bike on the derailuer side... too much time on the fixie! ;)

EL SandPine said...

Nice write up great pictures. Hope to ride here some day. You revive my recent experience of a very similar encounter with a bear. I live in Florida so when I get to go to north GA or NC, I am always thinking bear. I ran into one over in Pinhoti 3. Reading your post revived my encounter. Thanks for sharing.