Sunday, September 21, 2008

On the Road Again

Raja cannot sit still for long, and the open road beckons him constantly. Barely recovered from our Swiss trip extravaganza, he was antsy for another adventure. It had been a year since we paid a visit to our friends, Marvin and Karen, in Asheville. So a trip was in order, and we conveniently packed our bikes along for the ride as well.

I always suffer from post Euro trip depression, as life in Georgia cannot compare to the bliss and euphoria we experienced for 10 glorious days across the pond. The mountains of North Carolina are on Raja's top 10 list, and he always pines for the trails of Pisgah.

Marvin and Karen were smart enough to get out of Hotlanta and move to Asheville. They packed their bags, and left us a few years ago for a better life. A much better life. Come to think of it, all our friends seem to be living the dream! Becky & Jeff, Marv & Karen.....we either need new friends or we need to get a move on ourselves!

Marvin built them a little shack on a mountainside for them to reside while they are not riding, running, or hiking.

He is always on the cutting edge of technology and has the latest greatest of everything. The house is eco friendly and state of the art with nature all around.
Check out this cool gadget. I would be into camping if we had something like this. Disco, eh?

We met Marvin long time ago through Sorba mountain bike rides, and started a good friendship in the early nineties. Every weekend, you could find us riding with him and a core group of about 5 other guys either at Bull Mountain, Mountain Town Creek, or Windy Gap. Karen came to a Sorba Pisgah trip in the Fall of 1996 and we immediately became fast friends. Wanting to keep her in the fold, I put on my cupid wings and worked on getting her & Marvin together.

Karen is from Australia, and I was terrified that she would move back home, thus ruining my perfect plan. But everything worked out beautifully, and 12 years later they are not only happily married, but have little Max as well!
She still has her thick Aussie accent, and I have to reacquaint my ears each time we get back together in order to decipher her rapid fire speech. She rubbed off on me and I still to this day pronounce many words just as she taught me. Signs of her heritage are everywhere in their house.

Our early years of epic adventure biking trips all started with these two. A mountain bike trip with them makes Camp Hillseeker look like a Cruise. We chased them up the mountains of places like Crested Butte and Sun Valley. We were on race teams like 24hrs of Canaan. We cheered them on in their great exploits like the Trans Rockies, Norba and World Cup Races. There is nothing these two cannot do.

As much as I cherish these 2 good friends, nothing evokes more fear in my heart when it comes to doing a ride with them. You have no idea the level at which they ride, and it always brings me to my knees. Seriously, Karen is one of the most wickedly talented, strongest, fastest riders I have ever known. Notice, I didn't say female, but rider. She can just about kick any guy's butt, and is considered one of the guys in that respect. And Marvin is off the charts in our book as well with unbelievable strength and skill. You all know how fast Raja is on a downhill. Well, Raja cannot touch Marvin on a technical descent, that's how bad he is.

The only consolation to be had in the prospect of riding with them this weekend was the fact that they are technically no longer racing. With a 15 month old, Karen has her hands full, and Marvin is just as busy. That meant they would only have to wait on us for 20 minutes at the top of the climbs instead of for 40 minutes. Good thing Karen isn't racing anymore, even though she won her class this year at ORAMM and slaughtered my time by 2 hours.

Saturday's ride was to be led by Marvin while Karen kept Max. A couple of years ago, Marvin led us on a similar route of going up an old road to Rattlesnake, to Old Toll Rd, to Heartbreak Ridge, back up the road, and up & over Kitsuma. It was a death march for sure, and this time we wanted a shorter version. We started at the Kitsuma parking lot which cut off the long climb up the road. Duckman joined us for the "easy" ride with a "slower" Marvin.

The climb up a paved road to the Rattlesnake trailhead is brutal. It was very steep and already I was off the back.

Having only done Rattlesnake once, I remembered it was a nasty climb of straight up pitches with loose rocks and roots. Not much had changed in 2 years. Raja did his best to stay with Marvin while Duckman and I just tried to keep our heartrates from the 4 digit range.

I struggled mightily and could not take any pictures. There would be no getting in front of anybody today, and if I tried to take a pic on the fly it always turned out blurry due to my anaerobic state. Every once in a while, the trail smoothed out and I tried to gather my wits.

Marvin never broke a sweat and yacked the entire ride, making conversation with Raja. I don't understand how someone can only ride 6 hrs a week and still be that insanely strong and fit.

Duckman felt sorry for me and hung back a few times to make sure I did not get eaten by any bears. The Old Toll Road passes by some rather interesting shacks that are used by bear hunters. I don't care if we were hunting for chocolate, there is not enough money in the world to pay me to stay in one of these. We passed by quietly.

Unlike the old days, Marvin showed mercy and would give a courtesy stop ever so often. I did not even bother giving excuses as to my lameness, and would just try and smile and say, "which way now?"

On on we went. Climbing climbing. I thought Camp Hillseeker was over?

Old Toll Road is very rocky, and is best attempted when your legs are spry. Mine were not. The rocks make the ascent tricky, and it is best if you stay in your middle ring to keep momentum going. Wanting so badly to spin away in my little ring, I strained away in the middle ring using body language to lunge myself over the bigger rocks.

We climbed in a thick fog, sometimes breaking out to a light haze. By now, it was noon, I thought for sure the sun would burn through the clouds. I had remembered the rocks as being bigger, and was happy that my memory was failing me. They were tricky, but not as techy as I thought they were from last time. We finally reached the turn off for Heartbreak Ridge. There are 2 lovely little campers at the spot. It made my skin crawl.
It's like something out of a horror movie.
I don't get it.

Anyway, this short, but heinous downhill section would join us in with the ORAMM race course. I remembered it being steep and technical, but not too crazy. This time it was much worse than my memory served me. Marvin agreed that it had gotten much worse with erosion and time. I'm not really into that kind of downhill, if the truth be told. But I survived and we stopped at the juncture of where the race course joins in to the trail. Having flashbacks of the horror from when I did ORAMM 2 years ago, I wanted to keep riding. We barely got 1/4 mile down the trail and a rock sliced a hole in Marvin's tire.

He was running tubeless, but Sherpaman Raja came to the rescue and all was well.

The fog was slowly burning off and we were able to have some nice views as the narrow trail zipped along and down the ridge.
Raja had a flat tire this time. If it was not for the technicals they kept having, I never would have seen the guys. Each time we would take off, I would try to stay on their wheels, but it never lasted. Literally within a nano second they were gone, and I was all alone.
Now that I look at the pictures, I see I wasn't really by myself all the time, just most of the time.
Heartbreak Trail has gotten a bit choppier and rougher than my last ride here, and it was taking its toll on me. My arms were killing me and my legs were tired of supporting me. The roots ran at just the wrong angle threatening to body slam me on the downslope. I was useless and descended like a little girl. Marvin flew down like a thoroughbred, while Raja and Duck did their best to keep him in sight.

The latter half of the trail gives way to lots of switchbacks. Some of them were nasty tight little things that not even Raja would try. Of course, Marvin breezed through them as if it were nothing. I still have vivid memories of watching him ride down the deadly Portal Trail in Moab the first year we went in 1998. People die on that trail, and Marvin made it look like a piece of cake. At least he was nice enough not to laugh and make fun of us today. I was happy to just to get a glimpse of the guys every once in a while.
The descent finally ends, and the trail crosses a railroad. Marvin told us of his friend, Sam, that cleared these tracks. Impressive indeed. I cleared them. Stepped right over them while holding my bike in my hands.At this point, I knew I could survive the rest of the ride. It is a long but gradual grind up a gravel road back to the Kitsuma parking lot. Today, we would not be riding Kitsuma, thank goodness! To this day, I still do not comprehend how I managed to do that on ORAMM.
It was an "easy" ride for Marvin today. He chit chatted the entire time, while I was very quiet, focusing hard on making it through. 21 miles, 3 hours, and 3,600' climbing. I'm so confused now, I don't know what's easy or not. Seemed hard to me. Very hard. I was so glad to be done.

Sunday was Karen's day to torture us on the trails. Marvin packed up Max and they headed off for a hike.

Karen gave us tour of the Bent Creek trails. Marvin brought us here a few years ago when everything had just been completed, and we did a trail called Greens Lick. Wow! It was a long insanely fast downhill, and we have been dying to go back ever since. Some trail work had been done recently to make a few changes to the downhill because people were getting hurt while riding over their heads. Karen said there were 50 collarbroken bones last year! Or, as the Forest Service says, "due to excessive amount of injuries.."
Other than some of the berms on the upper part being a too tight, I thoroughly enjoyed the changes. All I can say is, that downhill is so much Fun! You have to do it!!!! Whoooooopeeee!Karen put her usual hurt on us, and dropped us like a bad habit on the climbs. But the trails at Bent Creek are so well designed and maintained, that we had a blast!
Even though my legs were toast and had no juice at all, I loved the flow and rhythm of the singletrack. This is the "Blankets" of Asheville, and there are plenty of folks using the trails. But you do not feel it's crowded because there are so many trails to do. It was nice having Karen's local knowledge and we quickly did 20 miles without repeating any loops.
I guess I'm just not hardcore enough, because I really preferred today's ride over yesterday's. I like the smooth zippy trails and the fun downhills with lots of jumps without worrying about whether I'm going to die at every turn. Bent Creek is my kind of trail!

Thanks, Marvin and Karen for a great weekend in a beautiful place! A refreshing break from the humdrum of Atlanta. We have lots of memories from the past with these two good friends, and it's great to see them embarking on new adventures with little Max in tow! He's going to be one heck of a mtn biker with these genes! Watch out world, Max is blazing a hot trail!!!


Becky said...

Ashville is so nice. Sounds like you are "living the dream" yourselves - Traveling to different places and experiencing the best of it all, having personal tour guides each time... That's the way to go!

jmilliron said...

It would be fun seeing The Raja on Greens Lick. I did that run twice when I was last up there and I'm sure it took me twice his time to get down to the bottom.

Ken said...

What a great weekend! Can't believe there are not one but TWO couples that you say are faster than you and Raja... scary...

waikit said...

Hey, I love your entries!
I kinda got into bikes a little then found your blog somehow.
Keep postin them :)