VMBT Day 7: Into the Darkness in Catawba

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Groaning, I forced my body out of bed. My brain remained tucked away under the covers, groggy, tired, and unenthusiastic. I slowly loosened stiffened joints, bent aching muscles, and shuffled zombie like towards the kitchen. Coffee, box of pancakes, coffee, package of bacon, coffee. My brain started to poke out of the covers, almost prepared to reunite with my body and face the task at hand. That task? Another 250 miles of mountain biking into the unknown. No wonder my brain wanted to sleep. The body continued to cruise on automatic pilot, there were tasks to be done. Bike packed, food procured, and maps consulted.

When the inevitable could no longer be delayed, the body forced the brain to awaken. Reunited, I mounted the Krampus and pedaled out of town, keeping my eyes peeled for New York. Alas, he was nowhere to be seen. I couldn’t wait around to look for my new best friend, it was already getting past 9 am, and I had an undetermined amount of miles to cover. Luckily, the day started off quite easily. I really needed something to ease my way back into the groove, and 20 miles of road riding did it. I stopped for lunch in the “town” of Oskinay, which was really just a church. I then realized that I had forgotten my spork in Clifton Forge, despite repeatedly reminding myself to make sure I grabbed it. Damn sleeping brain. No bother, I would just have to go super old school and use my hands. Or maybe fashion a spork out of a stick, like a real survivalist. Or, most realistically, eat out of gas stations.

Oskinay, VA
The town of Oskinay.

Back on the bike. Ride ride ride. Long road climb, ideal terrain for a loaded mountain bike with 3″ tires. Pedal pedal pedal. Gravel turn off, finally. Taper into singletrack, and back into the wilderness. I have to be honest, the short amount of time in civilization got in my head. I felt…off. I was very timid, super paranoid about getting a flat, and generally just having a bad time. It is quite tough being alone and feeling that way. It is a serious mind trip, and is very difficult to overcome. Especially when you lose the trail and set off bushwhacking for a quarter mile to reunite with a blue line on your GPS screen, which may or may not be an actual trail. But seeing as how there was no alternative, that’s what I did. Bushwhack through the forest to find the trail I lost, which was luckily where my GPS claimed it would be. I stopped at a creek to eat, refill water and gather myself. It seemed to work, and I rode to a gravel road, which pitched skyward until I reached the North Mountain Trail, a 14 mile, “Most Difficult” rocky ridge trail. The trail ascends up to a narrow ridge line, at times no more than 15 feet wide, which it follows for 10 or so miles until steeply dropping down to the town of Catawba. At this point, it was going on 3 pm, and I had ridden mostly non stop since I left Clifton Forge that morning around 9 am. I was feeling fatigued, so had a quick gel and some water before setting out. There was a hostel in Catawba that I figured I might be able to make it to, otherwise I had plenty of water (so I thought) and would just camp somewhere on the ridge if need be.

Lee's Creek Trail
Lee’s Creek Trail, water stop. Gathering my senses.
Norht Mountain Trail
Start of a 13.2 (just a hair longer than a No PAMF run) mile ridge ride. It was labelled “Most Difficult”. I labelled it, “Most Excellent”.
Garmin Etrex 20
Half way?! Lot’s of riding. Check out that Moving Avg, cruising!

The initial climb up the ridge was tough. It wasn’t incredibly steep nor technical, but just steep enough and technical enough to keep me on my toes, and make it really freakin’ hard. I was able to ride the entirety of the initial climb which was probably close to two miles long. Once on the ridge, the real fun began. Short, very steep climbs, followed by large rock gardens, followed by short, steep descents. Rinse and repeat for the next 8-9 miles. There was plenty of pushing and plenty of fun. The constant up and down really took it’s toll on me physically. After about an hour and a half of pudeing (pushing and riding mash up, just invented that word, BOOM), I was cooked. Energy was low and the brain was getting foggy, attempting to climb back under the sheets and go to sleep. That is when things get dangerous, so I stopped to grab a bar and once again gather myself. I took stock of the situation, my physical and mental state as well as my food and water supply. I was already running low on water, which was just ideal. If there is one thing I really, really like, it is getting dehydrated. I was definitely feeling the day’s effort, but decided to push on, hoping to make it to Catawba before dark.

North Mountain Trail
The ridge, aka the “spine”. You spent the entire ride on a 5-25 foot spine of the ridge. Pretty incredible. Lots of rocks, lots of ups and downs, lots of fun.
North Mountain Trail Spine
Cruising the spine.
Catawba
The views.
North Mountain Trail
Freaking blur.

I was able to recover a tad, the thought of a potential Gas Station Resupply (GSR), complete with sugary snacks and cold drinks spurred me on. As my mind flitted between thoughts of cold soda and candy bars, my front wheel came down hard on a pointy rock.

Oh Fudge.

Only I didn’t say “Fudge”. My front tire started talking to me. “Ssssssssssssssssstop riding. I don’t feel ssssssssssssssssso good.”, it seemed to say. There really isn’t a “good” time to get a flat, but this was definitely not a good time to get a flat. I patched it up, my spare tube now patched, front tube patched, and I was running low on patches. Purrfect.

Big Ron
So thrilled to be fixing another fu**ing flat.
flat tire
Flat numero tres. I even put sealant in that tube, to no avail.

It was now nearly 7:30 pm in the evening, I was at least 5 miles from town, nearly out of water, and in serious need of a meal. This is when REAL adventures start. The setting sun through the trees gave the forest a golden glow, and the adrenaline and anger from having to stop to repair a flat had me feeling more energized. I knew it wouldn’t last, so I hopped back on the bike, and “dropped the hammer”, as much as one can drop the hammer in that situation. (Read: I felt like I was going faster, but probably wasn’t). Caution was blowing in the wind, along with the BO that was wafting behind me. My VMBT trail name could have been “Pig Pen”.

Pig Pen Bike
Big Ron, “dropping the hammer”

It was getting hard to see, so I popped on the dynamo light, which lit up the forest like a flood light. Cue choral music.

Big Ron Jesus
The God of dynamo lighting and bike nerdery. Bow to his power.

I was suddenly full of energy, the excitement of getting a chance to use my newly built dynamo wheel to power a light had me all aglow in peak bike nerdery. The light worked super well, and it is a damn good thing that it did. Once the sun set, it was dark.

Surly Krampus
North Mountain Trail, after getting the flat fixed up. The sun was setting, it made for a beautiful scene.
Surly Krampus Ops
Sun was setting quickly.
Surly Krampus Ops
Some go with “Sun’s out, guns out.” I follow, “Sun’s gone, lights on.”

The trail remained very technical, the descent was rather steep, with large boulders, drops and tight switchbacks. It. Was. Awesome. I was no longer tired at all, I was hopped up on adrenaline. The dynamo light blazed the way, shooting out an incredibly wide beam, highlighting all of the numerous obstacles in my path. I was very glad to have it. The descent was about two miles long, and at the bottom, the trail popped out onto the side of a highway. I followed it in to the “town” of Catawba, which consisted solely of a shockingly well stocked gas station. Luckily, it stayed open late, because I desperately needed some serious calories. It was nearly 9:30 at this point, and I hadn’t had a real meal since Oskinay, which was about noon. The day had been nearly nonstop riding.

North Mountain Trail
Done. Long, rocky, technical descent in the dark. Sketchy, but super fun.

I hobbled up and down the aisles of the gas station, spending an obscene amount of time just standing, looking at the drink aisle, talking to myself about the various choices. I was thirsty.

I repeated this scene in the chip aisle. I was hungry.

And the cookie aisle.

And the cake aisle.

I started ranting and raving at the guy behind the register, Justin about the trail I had just come down. I was in an odd state, bonking, stupidly tired, and amped on adrenaline after such an awesome downhill in the dark. I definitely sounded like a lunatic and most likely looked like one. Justin was nice enough to smile and nod at my rantings. He couldn’t have cared less, the store was ready to close and I’m sure he just wanted to go home. He was nice enough to give me directions to the hostel just outside of town, not more than five minutes away he said.

Catawba
Justin.

So, I set out with my bag full of sugary snacks. I got 4 drinks, two bags of chips, a humongous slice of cake, and a candy bar, a true championship caliber dinner. It was hard to see anything off the road, and the hostel was basically just someone’s house, so unsurprisingly, I was unsuccessful at finding the place. I turned back around to the gas station, confirmed the directions, and went back out to my bike, only to find that my front tire was flat!

NO! NO! NO!

There were a few people pumping gas, and I pathetically asked them if they knew where the hostel was, hoping they would offer to give me a ride. I’m pretty sure I looked pathetic, and I know I sounded pathetic. It was a solid performance, but both of these people were freakin’ ICE. COLD. All I got was a curt, “Nope, not sure. Sorry”.

Pictured, the people pumping gas.

I went back inside, put on my most pathetic voice and face, and kindly asked Justin if there was anyone that he could call to get me a ride to the hostel. He called the hostel, and Eddie came and picked me up, at almost 10 pm. Sweet!

Four Pines Hostel Catawba
Eddie, great guy.

Finally, I was at the hostel and I could sit down and relax. There was a pair of AT thru hikers and two brothers doing the Trans America Trail, but I was definitely the insane one. Upon entering the hostel, I immediately stripped down to my boxers and walked around the hostel, dropping things in random places, muttering and groaning to myself, pounding liquids and munching on chips. The brothers were inside and just gawked at me with shock on their face as I told them about what I’d done that day, and the trip overall. I was completely exhausted, had no tubes without holes, was low on patches, exhausted, tired, and exhilarated. This was one of the most epic days of riding I’ve ever done. I was so tired and pumped that I couldn’t even sleep. I just lay on the couch, my legs convulsing, my mind racing and going over the day of adventure. It was absolutely incredible. I covered 60 miles in around 10 hours of riding, a pretty solid day. Thanks for reading. Next time, a river fording on a bicycle. Uhhh, sure!

-BR

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3 Comment

  1. Debbie says: Reply

    I’m sure these awesome people (aka saviours) truly restore your faith in the human race! Love your pictures! Especially the God light?!

  2. Peggy Donahue says: Reply

    Best post, although all have been great! You look down right scarey. I am feeling your every ache and pain! Great pictures and posts.

    1. Big Ron says: Reply

      I look scary?! I don’t believe it.

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