Monday, December 2, 2019

Turkey Shuffle

Ahh, yes, the Turkey Shuffle. Mulberry Gap's answer to the PMBAR (Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race). I'd only done it once before, back when it was called the CMBAR (Cohutta Mountain Bike Adventure Race). Back then Eddie O'Dea ran it, and it was invitation only. Andrew destroyed everybody by riding out to the Pinhoti Terminus and collecting massive points. I got caught out after the sun went down with a light, but no mount for it, and learned that gravel roads are mostly OK to ride in the dark. I'd spoken to folks who'd ridden the event in the intervening years and they'd unanimously "had a good time" or "enjoyed themselves". I figured it would be a lighthearted affair, much like the Fireball Fiasco, especially considering that it was at the end of the race season. Still though, I got in a couple of rides leading up to it, just to be sure I'd be feeling good day-of.

That morning it was chilly at my house, so I packed all kinds of cold weather gear, expecting it to be even colder up on the mountain. I ate leftover macaroni and cheese for breakfast. Also fruit, so it wasn't completely weird. My shoulder was still bothering me from the previous day's crash, but my back wheel was in good shape after a fortuitous run through Smyrna Bicycles at the end of the same ride that busted my shoulder. I hoped those two would offset.

On the way in to MGap, I saw an enormous at least 10-point buck just standing on the side of the road in somebody's driveway. It's the middle of firearms season right now. I swear the deer know. This guy was like: "Heh, heh. They'll never catch me here..."

I arrived reasonably early, and was directed to park in the overflow lot. Both of the other parking areas were already full. Hmm... Maybe not such a lighthearted affair after all. I parked next to a couple of NICA guys that I'd ridden the Tour De'liverance with, one of whom had put the wood to me climbing out of Bear Creek on the Caretecay New Year's ride last year. Every time I've ridden with those guys, it's been on the longest ride they'd done yet. I gathered all of my crap into my pack and rode the little on-property trail over to the start. Shane Shreihart was in line ahead of me. Again, I questioned the lightheartedness.

Terry Palmeri was getting everyone's signatures. "Hey Terry, how ya doin'?" "Pretty good, except for these three broken ribs..." I got the story later. Basically they have some land that the loan out to a guy with some horses - a stallion, two mares, and a colt. The colt came up lame, Terry went to check it out, and the stallion was being protective. She saw it coming, dove out of the way, but still got caught in the back. "Yeah, I've been kicked by a horse before, but this one really got me..." Good god! And, in case it occurs to anyone to question her hardness, she also showed up for the Bull/Jake work party the next day.

A bit later, the riders began assembling in earnest.

Lisa Randall rolled up and I was like: "Ah crap, it's over, just give her the trophy." Joe Urbanowicz and Avery Glass were there too. I talked to Joe for a while about his most recent TNGA run. I know Avery from the internet but have apparently never actually met him in real life and so neither of us recognized each other. Got to love the internet. Jennifer Braddock was riding her new hardtail which I now covet. I need that exact kind of thing, urgently. There were 69 riders in total. Heck of a turnout! Not even vaguely what I expected.

It was warming up quickly. I frantically reorganized my gear and clothing to adapt to the weather, and to the fact that I probably ought to ride this thing like an actual race. Regular kit, no pack, just pockets, lots of food.

Kate called us all together and handed out maps. I ran inside to grab a sandwich bag to keep mine dry. When I got back outside, people were leaving. We had 5 hours to get to as many checkpoints as possible, via whatever route. The map showed a dozen or more checkpoints. The ones on the closest trails were worth 1 or 2 points. The Bear Creek Creek Overlook and top of Potatopatch were worth 3 each. The Mountaintown Trailhead and Pinhoti Terminus were worth 3 each. The Cohutta Overlook was also worth 3. But, the Grassy Mountain fire tower and Windy Gap Lot were both worth 4! My first instinct was to go for the ones out by Mountaintown because that's how Andrew did it years ago, but those Windy Gap points sure looked enticing. Ehh... I figured I'd start climbing up to Potatopatch and figure it out on the way.

Oh, yeah, I also ran into Chris Konopka at the start. He was also wearing a PBR kit. He's a buddy of Flynn's. They do 3 hour races together sometimes. Super cool guy. He and I rode out together, but he kept going towards Windy Gap when I turned to head up to Potatopatch. I ended up riding with this guy Brian that I'd met at the Fiasco the previous year and then at the Tour De'liverance. Also a really cool guy. Jennifer came riding up behind us and dropped me so quickly that it was almost upsetting. Not quite, but almost. I managed to keep her in sight until around Barnes Creek Falls.

A lady in a red jeep came by and stopped at the falls. She and I would end up leapfrogging for the next several hours and wave at each other over and over.

Ha ha! My first three points!

There was a pretty big group at the overlook. Some were heading back down to collect all of the local points, others were heading up. Me and Brian rode together most of the way up to Potatopatch. Jennifer caught and passed us about halfway up.

3 more points!

It was decision time... Mountaintown or Windy Gap? I could get 4 for the fire tower, 4 more for the Windy Gap lot, and 1 for the Holly Creek Picnic Area if I went the Windy Gap route. But... Windy Gap. It's dangerous on a good day. I would be riding it solo, and it was super leafy, it had rained the night before, and I had a bum shoulder. In the direction of Mountaintown, I'd only get 6 points though. Coming down Mountaintown would be fun, but it would take a very long time and I'd get very, very wet. Ok... Ambitious plan. I'd attempt Windy Gap. If it was too treacherous, I'd have to take the roads back and lose a ton of points, but if it worked out, jackpot.

See you guys later!

On the way up Gassy Mountain like 6 riders were coming the other way. Apparently I wasn't the only one with that idea.

4 points!

Almost immediately upon taking those photos, Chris rides up. He'd climbed Windy Gap.

Let that sink in... He climbed ALL of Windy Gap. I'd never heard of anyone even attempting that, much less actually doing it. And, he was still feeling good.


We high-fived and fist-bumped, and I took off back down the mountain. Time to test the waters.

Yeah, they're not kidding. When did I last even ride this trail? I couldn't remember. 10 years ago, maybe? We used to ride it quite a bit before there were Pinhotis and good Jake, but I started journaling in 2009, and I don't think I have a single journal entry for Windy Gap. The singletrack section, at least. It's been that long. So, add that to the list: dangerous trail, solo, leafy, wet, bum shoulder, and haven't ridden it in 10 years.

Turned out not to be a problem at all. It's south-facing, so it had gotten reasonably dry. The leaves were kind-of fluffy, and I could see big jagged rocks poking out of them here and there, so I had to creep down through the steeper sections, but apparently I had whatever skills are necessary to manage that. My shoulder was a non-issue, as it turned out. I remembered the one exceptionally dangerous spot too... It's at the bottom of the singletrack, where it transitions to all those rolling dips. It looks like you can just let it go and start tearing down through the rest of it, but it's extra steep there, and the first bit of it is chunky, and it's easy to get going too fast for the chunk. But, ha! No problem. I did forget how much climbing there is though. There are a bunch of little steep kicks here and there. Nothing sustained, but they're easy to forget about. I also noticed a side trail that I hadn't seen before, near the switchbacks. I may have to go up and check that out some day.

4 more points!

I talked to the guy who owned that motorcycle while I was taking my pictures. He was headed up to scope it out. His buddy rides 4 wheelers up there, but wasn't able to get past a downed tree the last time. I told him that tere were 4 trees down across the road-ish section, that I could ride around 3 of them, and it looked like an ATV could too, but that I had to go over the 4th (bottommost). I didn't see a line around it. They might be relegated to the lower section and Milma.

It was substantially warmer at the Windy Gap Lot than it had been up on top. I figured it might be chilly up there, but not as chilly as it was. I was taking a bit of a risk with my clothing and gear choice. I was fine as long as I was working. But, I was relying on being able to keep working to keep warm. If I'd gotten hurt, I'd have been building a fire.

At CCC Camp Road, I had another big decision to make. Option 1: Continue on to the picnic area, pick up that point, then see what else I could grab in the vicinity of MGap. Option 2: Climb Fort Mountain on the road, pick up 3 points at the Cohutta Overlook, and then see what else I could grab in the vicnity of MGap. I'd been keeping an eye on the time. I was sure I'd have time for option 1, but not so sure about option 2. And, you lose 1/2 point for every minute late you are. I went with the sure thing.

Farther up the road I passed 3 riders. One of them posted a video of their ride online later. They basically just went out to the Windy Gap Lot, rode around on some roads in the area, and then came back in. I didn't recognize most of where they rode. There's a good bit out there, actually, that I haven't ridden. I always meant to, but it all involved climbing Tibbs or riding Windy Gap solo, and there was always plenty else to explore that didn't, so I kept putting it off. Maybe this winter though...

1 more point!

I ran into another guy named Shane at that checkpoint. I'd met him earlier, rolling out of MGap. I assume he did the same loop as me, but was just a little ahead of me all day. He was pissed because, to the best of his reckoning, the location of the picnic area on the map was about a mile west of where it was in real life and he spent all kinds of time looking for it. Luckily, I knew where it was from last year's Fiasco. He and I had basically the same plan from there on out - head back towards MGap and maybe try to pick up points at P1, P2, and/or the bottom of Bear Creek.

I'd been taking my complete TNGA gear on every ride since about last February. I'd climbed CCC Camp Road with it 6 or 8 times with it, during that time. Climbing without it felt amazing. At the Y, I decided that I had plenty of time and energy to head back up over Holly Creek Gap, and try to pick up extra points. P2 was out of the question. After climbing over the gap, I didn't think I had enough time left. I almost did an out-and-back on P1 to get the point for the bridge, but I even felt a little pressed for that. The bottom of Bear Creek was a sure thing though.

Heading back on Shakerag, I ran into a rider tearing towards me at full speed. Then, a minute later Joe and one of his buddies came flying by too. They were, no doubt, trying to squeeze in that one extra point.

Chris caught me right as I was coming off of Shakerag and we rode in together. At Mulberry Gap proper, we passed a couple. She'd had a great time on the trails, but also had enough of endless climbing on gravel roads. Yeah, that's the Cohuttas for you - great trails, and also endless climbing on gravel roads.

I made it back in time, but I didn't check to see how long I was out there. It's not impossible that I could have managed that P1 bridge point. I'll have to do some kind of post-ride analysis later. I ended up with 16 points. Lisa got 18! Shane, Joe, Avery, and whoever else was with them got 20! Goodness.

Me and Chris got Shane to take a photo of us and I texted it to Glen.


The funnest part of these kinds of rides is that you get a ticket for each point, but it's a raffle, so there is still a ton of luck involved. I put 7 tickets in the bowl for a free Fool's Gold entry and 7 tickets in the bowl for a free Southern Cross entry. I figured I had a good chance because there weren't many tickets in those bowls. I didn't even remember what I did with the other two. At raffle time, the Fool's Gold and Southern Cross entries were the first two they called, and I didn't win either, despite probably having put more tickets in than were already in either bowl before I got there. Figuring I wouldn't win anything else, I went and sat on the couch, and tried to play the guitar with the 5 strings left on it and watch the Georgia game. Then, out of nowhere, Kate called the number on one of my tickets. I won a women's Primal Wear hoodie and a $200 gift certificate!

Hell of a prize, actually! Especially for only remembering that I'd put a ticket in that bowl afterwards. I gave Kathryn the jersey and I plan on letting the girls order something of similar value for themselves. Spread those winnings around.

It was Diane's birthday and Kate got us all to sing her Happy Birthday. They also gave a way a bunch of random leftover swag by gathering up the non-winning tickets and just calling random numbers. There was a kid who rode with his dad up to the overlook and back. Longest ride of his life so far, but it was only worth three points. Still, he managed to win an entire Clif kit! The best part was that he had just asked his dad for a real kit for Christmas, but now that he's got the kit, he'll be getting even more bike stuff for Christmas! He was so stoked, and hearing him talk about it made me pretty stoked for him.

Man, what a great day! Great ride. Great to hit Windy Gap again after so long. Great to see everybody. Mark B's birthday ride is on the 7th, and the Fireball Fiasco is on the 14th. December's shaping up to be a pretty good month.

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