This past June 2nd was National Trails day. So, after unfortunately missing a couple work parties I made it out to the Bull Mountain work party. I got there and immediately saw David Muse throw up his arms as if to say “yes, you made it!”. David is a guy I’m always happy to see, fun, interesting & knows the Bull Mountain area like no one else that I know!
He knew that I had gotten my USFS chainsaw certification, but little did I know why he was so happy to see me.
He asked me if I was willing to drive about 5 miles on the Forest Service Road (FSR) through a locked gate, and close to a trail, then hike along the trail until I got to where there were 2 trees down. Hmm, drive the Jeep up past a gate where most aren’t allowed to drive? heck yea!
Problem: the key for the gate was about a mile out of the way with people that were cutting another tree. So, off I went. I finally got in touch with the nice lady that had the key – they had hiked the trail to the tree, would cut & hike out. In the meantime I figured it was a good chance to gas up & prestart the saw to make sure she was running. She’s a Husky, so no problems. I met up with the lady that had the key, then headed to find my tree.
Along the way I saw a group along an odd place of the FSR – basically if you don’t have David’s knowledge of the trails there you were in for a pretty long FSR ride – so I stopped & they were actually slightly turned around, but I got them headed in the right direction. They came across the creek at the base of FS77A and turned right when they should have turned left, gone around the gate and up bear hair trail – which was where I was heading.
I got the Jeep up to the single-track with no problems. I threw on the normally equipped 70oz. camelback, grabbed the chainsaw, I debated whether I would need the gas & bar oil, but figured for sure it was better to carry it up then have to hike back out and back in again with it, especially since I hadn’t seen what I was getting into.
As I started the hike, I quickly remembered a good trick that I learned at the certification class. Take a belt and wrap it through the saw handle & buckle it – now you have a strap that you can throw over your shoulder.
Legs were not happy at first and before half a mile I had switched hands with the saw & gas/oil. But soon I got into a steady hike, and after what seemed a couple of miles I found the tree that had fallen. Some branches had been caught by another tree and snapped back into the trail. So, I made a couple of cuts of the branches and was able to quickly get them off the trail. No big deal.
And then there was the trunk!
I figured I would go ahead and save this for later and hiked up the trail to find the other tree.
I hiked what seemed like another mile before coming across the next tree. This one had been dead for awhile and had come down in a storm. It was a basic couple of cuts to get the weight of itself off the trunk, and then cut sections small enough to be able to move it off the trail. So, I made my first cut on the upper end of the tree, made the second cut back far enough by the bank of dirt that no one would hit it – and then it happened – the tree rolled over towards me, although I wasn’t in any danger, because of the dirt and the trail, it just exposed about a foot of more tree towards the trail. I tried to move this ‘trunk’ section of the tree, but she wasn’t budging. Oh well, just another cut to get that section out.
After finishing up this tree and cleaning up everything off the trail I hiked maybe another half mile or so of the trail before turning back around and heading back to the first tree that I hadn’t finished yet. The Trunk!
When I got back, I stopped, set everything down, looked at the clock and it was after 1. So, I grabbed a snack bar and drank some more water while going over my plan of action on this tree. But first I really needed to sharpen the saw more – luckily I had remembered to bring along a file. My forearms are still nicked from sharpening the saw without a vise.
Since there were 2 supporting points on either side of the trail, I decided to cut the high side first. I knew the upper part of the tree was supported by 1 side of the trail, so I jammed some hunks of bark under the spot just below my cut and got to work. I was watching my kerf (first section of the cut) to make sure my saw wasn’t going to get pinched that would have sucked w/o having any other tools! As I got really close to finishing the cut I got nervous that it was actually going to pinch, so I stopped and ended up hand sawing it thru the rest of the way.
I pulled the bark section and stacked them, it would make a great obstacle – and I could double up the tree for an awesome log-over… but I wasn’t sure of the trail rating and how it would work-out on this downhill, so I cleared the trail
Next I started cutting just off the trail – I had to go off the trail to get the tree out and reduce chance of getting the blade in the dirt. I did the 1/3 under-cut first, then started with the top cut. I had gotten closer than I expected and the tree jammed on me – the saw was pinched – stuck in place. I’m in a tight spot!. I looked around and was able to find a small dogwood tree that was down & section a 6′ section for leverage, and although it took awhile, I got the tree off the saw. Phew!!
So, the rest of the tree I basically cut 2/3 the way through, rolled it, and cut the rest of the way, then rolled the sections out of the trail. Not that it was easy, but it was manageable.
Once I got back to the Jeep I remembered driving around a tree…. crap, I bet our work party organizer Debbie was twittling her thumbs wondering where I was and waiting on this key?! Wait, she has my cell phone number where I wrote out my name & number in case she needed to contact me – free reign!
Well, since I’m here with all the equipment I might as well make the most of it and decided to go ahead and take off the upper limbs to clear the trail some more. Once I finished that tree, I saw another 1 that I had driven past – might as take a little off the top of this one also. These were both trees that were blown down and there wasn’t anyway that they were beneficial being in the trail.
Phew, it had been a good and challenging, Fun day in the woods! So, I packed the gear back in the Jeep and headed out. Out the gate, locked her behind me, and back up FS77A. Once I got to the intersection with FS77, I vaguely remembered a girl named Polly asking if you can say you cleaned a climb if you have to stop and climb over a downed tree. Well, that heinous climb was directly on my right. I parked the Jeep, hopped out, gas up, and hiked up in search of this tree that came down over the heinous climb.
It was a dogwood. Not sure why it had fallen, but it was quick to get cut and out of the trail.
I hiked back down and headed back to the Jake parking lot to see if anyone (Beuller?) was around….. it was about 5 o’clock. Bueller?!
I headed back on down the road and in true mt bike fashion stopped at the local Mexican restaurant for dinner. Today was a good day, I got things done, I spent time in the woods, I helped improve the trails for other riders, and no one was hurt!
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This past weekend I loaded up the Jamis Exile Single Speed and made the drive North to Almond, NC to one of my favorite Mt biking locations in the South east – Tsali. Tsali is a magical trail system located on one of the most amazing backdrop of The Great Smokey Mountains.
I got there late Friday afternoon, just in time to set up camp before dark. And that’s when the fun started. Hanging out by the campfire catching with friends that I haven’t seen for most of the Hot, Muggy summer we have had in the southeast.
One of the great things about Tsali is the ability to ride straight out of camp and onto the trails!! It is awesome to come back from a ride with perma-grin and pop open an adult beverage, heat up some food, and just hangout and chat about the ride. And fortunately it is cool enough to need a campfire in the evenings. And oddly enough, I just happened to see this picture opportunity pop-up one evening of Tad’s Niner hanging on a hook behind the campfire. We took several photos of this with various amounts of lighting on the bike.
The next morning we get up, eat, and get prepped to ride Mouse, followed by Thompson.
I honestly can’t remember much about riding mouse – but for some reason I seem to remember everything about riding Thompson, especially the finishing stretch down to the camping area. This is a longer downhill section with just enough twists, berms and turns to keep you on your toes.
Of course, since I brought a good friend who had never been here, I made sure that we got to each overlook. And Lady Luck was on our side as it was a peak leaf viewing weekend at altitudes above 4,000 feet.
The next day we headed out to ride Left loop. This such a great section of easy paced trail that followed along the edge of Fontana Lake. It gets challenging in a couple sections due to the narrow trail along the slate rock.
From the overlook on the left loop, we headed over to the Right loop. This Right loop takes you from the overlook level back down to the lake level & then back to the Tsali parking lot.
All the trails are quite groomed at Tsali, but what makes them so much fun is the speed and maintaining your momentum on the berms in the corners. Running the Jamis Single Speed at Tsali was Great! I ran a 32×20 gear, and although it seemed a bit on the easy side a couple of places, for several of the climbs I was glad I wasn’t running a smaller cog. Any place that was flat or downhill & straight enough that I wanted more gearing didn’t last long enough to really warrant a bigger gear. And I was surprised to find on the couple of climbs that I had to get off the bike (don’t say walk) was where a rider in front of me caused me to loose momentum or the rear wheel spun out on me.
This wasn’t my first weekend at Tsali, but I think I got much better pictures this time!
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I got there on Friday afternoon, meeting a friend from Greenville, SC (a 3 hour drive). We figured that getting there Friday evening would highly trump the early alarm that would be required to arrive by 8am for a 9am ride….. besides, Mulberry Gap will cook any meal with ingredients from local farmers that you would like. Once we get there we find our host gracious enough to find me for my tent for the night (since Derek can sleep in his Subaru) – Mulberry Gap was Full this weekend, due to the Drama Queen ride, the riders for the Trans-North Georgia race, and a women’s Mt bike klinik, but Diane was sweet enough to set me up w/ a place for my tent for the night.
Having camped there that night, I didn’t feel the need to wake up that early, right? So when I heard the breakfast bell at 7am, I rolled over and my body hit snooze for another 30 minutes. Finally, I get myself out of the tent and back to the car to make some necessary coffee, followed by breakfast…. what I negated to factor in, was the inconvenience of cooking at the camp site, searching for where I put things in the packed car is not good, this is taking too long.
I hear riders being called up to the barn, everyone is either prepped or making last minute preparations, I’m attempting to clean-up from breakfast & get dressed. The 7am breakfast isn’t looking too early anymore…..but, I’m used to my usual breakfast, and changing that up this morning didn’t seem like a wise choice either. I luckily came across my Vitamins and quickly downed what was my last 3 Thermolytes, topped off my Hammer Gel Flask, and watered up the 70oz. camel back bladder.
Just as I’m finishing prep, I hear this slightly strange sound coming from the barn up above the hill, it sounds like knobbies on asphalt & I immediately realize that the riders have started the ride! Last quick check of things and I do a running cyclo-cross mount on the bike, I can put on the gloves as things start to settle into a steady pace. As, I’m racing away from the car, I see someone headed towards me – wrong direction – then I notice it is Derek, looking for me – ‘I’m good, let’s Go!’
I know there is a strenuous uphill to start the ride, then section of flat, to downhill gravel road before hitting the steep uphill of Pinhoti 2 (P2). There is a big group on the gravel already, and the gravel is dry = DUSTY! So, take the uphill slightly reserved so I can gas it just after, we motor up the climb, and since Derek is on a Single Speed (SS), I start to motor around people to get better position before hitting the single-track (this is just a ride, correct?).
We hit the single track and have just succeeded to put in a strong turn at the front to get over the first steep sections. This put us on the heels of Wesley (my old road racing buddy!), Robert, Matt & Becky Kicklighter – shit, I was chicked by Becky and I hadn’t even realized it! Now that we are on the single track Wesley is putting a steady effort, which was lucky for me – coming off the fire-road I was rolling too fast & Wesley’s pace was more on track for this long day in the saddle. The most hours I’ve gotten in the saddle lately are the 1.5-2 hour evening group rides – this will most likely be a 4 hour day!
I know Derek is still right behind me, on a single speed as I spin, so each chance I get I move up slightly, hoping that we can get through some folks and Derek can climb at his pace – which is faster than me. I move up a couple people until I get to Wesley, who is setting the pace of this group. We crest one of the sections and get a brief downhill, the pace has picked up and since I’ve ridden with Wesley I know he is a solid rider & I’m comfortable on his wheel. Suddenly he pulls to the right & I wasn’t prepared for the turn, but as I get the 2Niner leaning over the front Eskar 2.3 slides out from under me. I do a quick 3-point stance of 1 knee & 2 hands, everyone in the group passes, check traffic, and hop back on ASAP. Now I’m off the downhill pace, and rushing to catch back on, I drop a cliff bar. I hate littering and have been known to pick up ‘others’ trash I find on the trails, so group or not, I stop the bike again and run back 20 yards to find the clif-bar. Now another rider is coming through, then another and another in a group – about 7 in all passed me this time before I could safely get back onto the trail.
I hop back on the bike, and attempt to ride at a harder pace to reel in lost ground, I would like to catch back up to the guys I was with. As I’m getting closer to the top I hear someone call my name along with insults from behind me – my friends know me too well – if your not getting picked on, no one likes you – I ease a glance back and see Matt aka ‘PsychoBilly’ from Addictive cycles. He’s a strong rider and puts in a gap fairly quickly – not sure how/why he was that far back at the start, but he was making up ground quickly. I can’t hold his wheel on this climb, so I continue at my pace, only to find that we are closer to the top than I realized – Descent is my advantage & I start to reel-in PsychoBilly, he stretches it back out on a mid-climb, then I catch him just as we are coming off P2. Along the fire-road I hoped to help him by setting a solid pace and get passed some traffic to give him a clear trail for P1.
As he passes me starting P1 and with some extra space he passes and drops me (literally) back off with Derek, Wesley, Matt and Robert. P1 was to be a personal suffer-fest for me. First I passed these guys on the downhill (I was railing the corners well from last week’s Jack Rabbit trails). As I got onto the climbing I settled back in, and kept checking over my shoulder for them to pass me before the steep sections kicked in, my pace was over-zealous and they caught back up. Too bad I didn’t have a Twix, because I had to take a moment, stretch, catch my breath, settle into a proper pace based on the climb grade and distance rather than the false sense of urgency. I had to let the fella’s go on ahead with out me.
I soldiered on solo and decided that I needed to hike up a couple of the steepest sections of P1 to keep my HR and back in check and not expend too much energy. The descent down P1 was great, however slightly tricky due to being in and out of the shadows. I should have had my Orange lenses on my Rudy Projects today.
At the bottom of P1, I made the left and started the 7 mile climb up Bear Creek. As I passed an older gentleman he asked me how far it is? I stopped and said it was about 7 miles to the top. No, I was looking for the old tree up here (there is a 100 year old beautiful Poplar tree on Bear Creek) – not very far I said, and he asked me yet another question about all the cyclists passing. After speaking with him and I started off again and actually caught up to Robert and Wesley on a switch back. Once I caught them, I was happy to ride along at their pace again.
We climbed Bear Creek and I was a little disappointed not to stop by the overlook, but I swept wide and looked out as much as I could as we passed by, there was more uphill coming along – Much more! This is where we started to do the climb up to Potato Patch. This section was quite steep and thinking about the gearing I was using was humiliating – I was in a smaller chainring in the front than in the rear…. ‘spinning’.
After some time of climbing, I was very excited to see a vehicle up the hill, at an intersection – done with this big climb up to Potato patch and more water! I have drank nearly 70 ounces already. Robert didn’t stop, and pedaled on, Wesley topped off and headed out as I dropped in 2 NUUN tablets for good measure & in hopes that the Cramps would be kept at bay – at least for a little while longer. Then I saw that Mike ‘The Big Dawg’ who set-up the ride, so I chatted with him for a few before pedaling on.
This next section of fire-road was mostly down, but had some uphill sections also. Then we made the Left hand turn onto Tibbs…. Oh, Tibbs. U were my total undoing last year as I don’t think I was able to ride more than 100 feet of this trail. I was drained and totally unprepared last year, but Tibbs would not have it’s way with me this year, I knew what to expect & although I wasn’t as prepared as I would have liked, I was determined not to stop or even put a foot down! I have a Huge advantage this time – direction. We rode down Tibbs this year instead up Up, and although you may think this is crazy, people still complained that they didn’t like riding up or down it. It’s rocky, has drop off’s, & steep. Too much speed and you will most likely hurt yourself. The pain in my quads dropped to my calves, and I wasn’t sure if that smell was my brakes or my forearms burning.
Now was Milma, Milma was Fun last year, I was following Wesley through the whoops and he was playing some with the bike – I even got some of it on video. I was surprised that Milma offered even more fun going in the other direction and it was me that was getting some air off the whoops. Then after several jumps, I started to try getting more momentum from them by having the rear wheel down the ramp first. Almost like a wheelie. Well, one said wheelie and I suddenly got the sensation that the front wheel was about to go over my head as my loaded pack was pulling me backwards, instinct took over and a tap of the Avid Elixir brake slammed the front wheel back where it needed to be. A slightly rough landing, but hey like pilots say, any landing you can walk away from is a good one!
After much climbing, I finally made it to the parking lot of Winding stair to find Robert, Wesley and Matt re-fueling. I had gone through another 70 ounces by this point and re-filled, this stop was quicker and I joined them for the long descent down to the road. Almost as soon as we got to the road we saw the directional sign for the ride & after a 2nd take I realized it was the sign the LONG option. Wesley & Robert manned-up and kept going. I waited a second on Matt whom gave me a 2nd gut check as he headed out for the Long option also. I figured I was already in the yellow, and that climbing up Fort Mountain on the road would push me over the edge, so I kept my initial pre-ride decision and went short, 38 miles.
I went along on my own for the short option of fire road. I rode steady and tried to keep ingesting food. I had moments of thinking that I was almost back, only to then think I must be farther out than I thought. Finally I saw the sign for Mulberry Gap ‘half a mile’ and then shortly after, the old Firetruck that rests on the last little kick before the parking lot….. I saw the firetruck, but the legs were not going to get me there just yet…. I was cramping. Off the bike and leaning on it for support as I attempted to stretch the inner thigh/hamstring. Finally after what seemed like 10-15 minutes it eased & I dared put a leg back over the saddle and pedal on with out any one seeing me in agony. I rode up the driveway and to the barn to check on my time & let everyone at least know that I had survived another rendition of the infamous Drama Queen.
They asked me for my complaint – I don’t like to complain, but I had to give them a complaint…. after 4.5 hours in the saddle, I came up with:
“I have PMS, I’m cramping, my ankles are swollen and my nipples are tender!”
Later at the awards it won me an award by round of applause
Shane rocked the short option.
My friends Matt, Becky, Robert & Wesley finished the Long option, but not until after PsychoBilly had won it!
Congratulations everyone who finished this ride! last rider in was almost 9 hours.
A HUGE Thank You to Cartecay Bikes for organizing, and Mulberry Gap for hosting and all the Volunteers for assisting!
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