Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cohutta Pinhoti

Michele Z organized a Pinhoti ride for tomorrow, and I was all "yeah, that's just right" but then I checked the calendar and Iz has a gym meet tomorrow. Travis emailed me about riding too, I suggested all kinds of ridiculous routes, to which he replied: "I think some folks are getting together at Mulberry Gap at 11 tomorrow."

So that became the plan. I got there around 10:30 in case there was an 11AM roll out, but I was the first one to arrive. That is, except for Jason and Andrew because they live there. Jason's hand is healing up pretty well but apparently he's still got some work to do on it. Argh.

The MGap'ers had work to do so I got to wander around, "relaxing with my thoughts" until Travis showed up.

 Mulberry Gap

Since the last time I saw him, he'd grown this triumphant beard.

 Travis's Triumphant Beard

My beard sucks now. It's all half grey because I'm old, but not awesome-old, just lame-old and I have to shave it. Maybe when it's all grey it'll look bad-ass again like my Dad's hair does. "Yeah, I've been through some hard stuff in my life, just look how grey it made me." Most people can pull off the partial grey, but I'm not sure my beard can. Yet.

Everybody else arrived directly; some dudes I didn't know - TJ and Nick (or Neil?) and a guy named Brian I think. Man I'm bad with names. Mark "Carebear" Johnson was there too. He would lead the ride. Brian, if that's actually his name, was about to die of heat stroke at ORAMM last year when Carebear saved him. That's how they know each other.

We fiddled around until about 12:30...

 The Field

...then hit the road. Literally the road. We took FS roads around to the Bear Creek Trailhead.

 Bear Creek Kiosk

I was dragging around the 12 pound camelback again, which I would later regret, but thus far it had worked out OK. Some of the guys were moving slower than me, and the stronger guys appeared to be down for a social ride. It was going well until the slower guys decided to cut their ride short and let us go on ahead. I wanted to do the longer ride, but man, that meant chasing Carebear around all day.

We were joking about it. At the beginning of the race season he usually puts the wood to me, but toward the end, I can usually get past him. This is, of course, the beginning of the season, and he was riding a singlespeed. There was no chance of him sitting up. It would be rough.

We climbed Bear Creek, passing dozens of hikers and a nearly equal number of happy dogs. One of the dogs looked exactly like Namrita's dog Porter and at first I thought it was her and the E out for a walk.

There were little patches of ice here and there, but almost no mud. The roads had some of that really liquid splatter-mud going, but the trails were surprisingly clean. There are some steep step-ups about halfway up that started making me wish I'd left the camelback at home. Near the very top, there was a good bit of slushy ice and the road looked like garbage. We turned around at the switchbacks and headed back down.

We took the Bear Creek Loop trail instead of just descending Bear Creek proper - we'd passed a lot of hikers and it would be more courteous to take the loop around rather than bomb back down past them. I wish I could take credit for that idea, but it was all Mark. It wasn't as fun as the Bear Creek Trail, but none of us had ridden it in ages and it was something different, which is always good. It's mostly downhill, but there were a bunch of little kickers that I didn't remember and again, I was wishing I'd forgone the pack. Brian (if that's his real name) was turning out to be quite a climber. It was hopeless to try to keep up with him or Mark until we hit a downhill.

Despite taking the less-hiked route, we still ran into a couple out hiking, with a dog, who were a little lost and way short on calories. I gave them directions and a Milky Way bar which made her eyes light up like Christmas-morning. Lord knows, I've been there sister. Enjoy.

At the bottom, I dunked my foot, dabbing in Bear Creek. Instinctively, I cursed my bad luck, but the weather had actually been in the 50's all day, at least in the sun, so it turned out that it wasn't really so bad. I forgot about it within minutes.

Everything fell apart on Pinhoti 1.

 Pinhoti 1

I could kind of hang on the Bear Creekish, moderate climbs, but when it got steep, I fell back and back and back. Travis hit the wall there too. The other guys had to wait for us for like 5 minutes at the top.

Pinhoti 2 was easier.

 Pinhoti 2 Gate

The forest road and doubletrack climbs weren't too bad. I couldn't keep up, but I didn't get totally dropped. Nobody had to wait more than a minute or two. The descent, of course, was the best in the state. I kind of wanted to stop and check out the stump of the tree that knocked down the Captain a few months back, but I could barely remember where it was, and when I realized I'd passed the spot, I wasn't motivated enough to go back and see it. Another day for that.

Brian and Travis bailed back to MGap at the bottom. Me and Carebear rode a bit of P3. My legs were starting to twinge when I'd stand though, and Mark didn't have much left either. We ran into some guys on P3 and Mark showed us all a weird back-entrance to Mulberry that they used during the single-speed championship replacement ride a few months back.

Yay! What a ride. I was struggling all day, but it felt good to get back into some minor intensity. It's funny. All winter I back off when I get uncomfortable. I even ease up so I just don't get uncomfortable. But during the race season I get so used to it that it doesn't register as being uncomfortable, just as a quantitative measurement of how my body is performing. Every year, when I step up the intensity again, I struggle to remember how there could have ever been a time when I even tolerated those feelings, let alone welcomed them. There was a time though, not all that long ago even. All day I was thinking about that. It's funny what you forget.

Back at Mulberry, I ran into Travis again. Michele Z and Michael-from-Reality had arrived and were setting up a tent. The dudes we'd ridden out with earlier were building a fire. They had plenty of wood, but no tinder to speak of. Everything was damp too. There is literally no pine and no cedar on the Mulberry Gap property. It's almost all Hemlock. I wondered if Hemlock is full of resin like pine (apparently it's not, it's actually especially dry) but that wasn't the right time to experiment. Strike-a-fire sticks to the rescue! I've been carrying 2 of them in my camelback since last year. They were put to good use, and before long there was a Michele-approved fire going.

 Michele-Approved Fire

Also, I now know that you can carry strike-a-fire's around for a year and a half, and get them rained on a dozen times, and they still work. Good to know.

My plan had been to ride from 11 to 5 and then head home to eat with the family. If the ride took longer, I'd stay and eat there. Though the ride plan kind of fell through, as fate would have it, it was right around 5, right then, and I headed out. I nearly died of low-blood sugar on the drive home, but I had a good dinner with the family at Ippolito's.

After that I watched Mega Python vs. Gatoroid on SciFi. SciFi Originals are gloriously low-quality. Like SciFi movies from the 50's and 60's were by accident. So satisfying.

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