Monday, January 26, 2009

The Power of the Birthday Ride

There is truth in the saying, "strength lies in numbers". Everytime we have a birthday ride, it confirms my belief in the strength we gather when amongst friends. Our favorite Carebear, Mark, celebrated his 47th birthday on Saturday and called a celebratory ride at Rich Mountain.

Now, mind you, Rich Mountain rates as one of the most difficult rides in our area, if not THE hardest. Even though we have been riding this trail for 20 years, it has never gotten to the point where I take it lightly. Rich, or Stanley Gap (it's other name), deserves the utmost respect. The mere mention of its name in a crowd will elicit groans, ooohhhs, aaahhhhs, tales of horror, and even somber silence.

The ride had originally been planned for Saturday, but as usual, the rains foiled our plans. The ride was postponed till Sunday, and we prayed the weather would cooperate. January has been an unsettled month, to say the least, in regards to the weather, and we are all getting antsy, cranky, and eager to get out and ride.

In the midst of our despair, the skies cleared Saturday afternoon. A quick call was made, and we rallied around for a spontaneous Carebear Birthday Road Ride.

We were all so happy to be out on our bikes, that it did not matter whether we were on the road or mountain. I was also honored to be riding with Millhouse for the first time on the road. I am used to chasing his singlespeed down the dirt trails, not pavement. His lovely wife, Kristen, has been diligently attending spin classes all winter, so I look forward to having her join us on some rides soon.

Carebear, Tweety, Robb, Millhouse, Speedy, Regularjoe, Raja and I enjoyed a leisurely ride through the nice roads of Alphatucky taking care to save the legs in preparation for tomorrow's big ride.

On a side note, I was honored to meet Lauren this weekend. Lauren is the first (and only) female in the Cherokee Mountain Bike Club. How refreshing to see teenagers engaging in a worthwhile discipline, thanks to the leadership of their coach, Stephanie! I look forward to seeing these young riders out on the trails. Having been the only girl cyclist in my group for many years, I am especially rooting for Lauren.

On Friday, I was joined by The Caminator and Rlaz for a few hours on the road to jump start my system. After almost 12 days off the bike due to an injury, I was dreading that feeling. You know the feeling. Dead legs, no strength, no power, can't breathe, the horrible realization that you're starting over. The longer I put it off though, the more I would prolong the agony. After 2 days of riding to shake out the cobwebs, I was ready to head North for some Rich Mountain Fun.

Sunday morning looked promising for the drive up to Cherry Log.

As much as I love to encourage riders in their conquest of a new trail, I confess I am always a tad nervous with first timers on this particular route. You never know if their mental skills are up to the task and if all will emerge unscathed. Sure, Milma and Tibbs are mutha's of a trail, but they're only an hour or so of suffering. A Rich Mountain ride ain't over till it's over, and there's never any promise that all will end well.

Regularjoe conquered Rich last August on his 2nd attempt, and he was on hand today in case our first timers needed coaching. The morning air was cold down in the valley where we started, but we would warm up quickly. The ride starts with a mile climb up a gravel road leading to a 3 mile singletrack climb.

Ony was not afraid to take on the challenge of Stanley for the first time!

Another first timer was The Power of Cheese!

Emil, Clogger, and Speedy rounded out the First Timer Group. Speedy was lovin' the singletrack!

The singletrack climbs relentlessly for 3 miles cutting through the side of the mountain covered with the barren trees of winter.

Occasional clusters of rock covered in moss line the trail and brown leaves cover the frozen earth that will be mush once it thaws in the afternoon warmth.

Our tires were able to get perfect traction on this half, but it was another story once we headed back down to the pkg lot. For now, we climbed in ignorant bliss having no clue as to the slop awaiting us on the return.

I enjoy this trail the most when I get in my own little zone, not concerning myself with other riders or trying to keep pace. It seemed to also be the MO for everyone else. I like to look back on the trail and see each rider in their own little world making their way up through the trees. How many cyclists can you find in this pic?

RaceyTracey has ridden Rich a number of times, and she has no problem holding her own against the guys. We were the only female contingents in this sea of males, but we're used to it. That's why we're so tough;-)

Just when you think you cannot climb anymore, the top finally appears. Victory, for now. Ony was stoked over making it to the top of Stanley Gap. A few more climbs to go, but first, some nice long downhill.

The Downhill! There's plenty of downhill at Rich. This is what Raja lives for cause he has a need for speed. The Fox rp3 had just been PUSHed and was getting a test run today. I was hoping against hope that this would make him happier with the MotoLite. It certainly didn't slow him down. Nothing does.

Our roadie friend, Brian, had called at the last second to see if he could catch a ride with us. We were thrilled to have him join in, and he wowed us with the ease at which he flew down the hills (and flew UP the climbs).

Tweety is a diehard downhiller, so he brought his Santa Cruz Bullit for the ride. He never even felt the first rock or root, I'm sure.

Robb was sporting a new Rocky Mountain Slayer.

This was the latest in the lineup of bikes he is reviewing on his website, Mtb Trail Review. Whenever I asked him how he liked the bike, he would grin and say "I love it, everything about it is great!" Judging from how he was flying down the hills, he was lovin' it!

Everybody was riding in top form, and no crashes were to be had. Thank goodness! Rich Mtn can dish up some nasty spills if you get in over your head. Regularjoe has come a long way from where he was almost this time last year when he rode here for the first time.

We continued on down towards Deep Gap before heading off to the Flat Creek Loop. Paul is no stranger to Rich.

Neither is cRASh. Although he did not live up to his name today, fortunately!

As we started the climb up to Flat Creek, the rest of the birthday crew joined us. Carebear's Dedicated Athlete teamates, Brian, Shane & Tim, rolled up on their singlespeeds, barely breaking a sweat after chasing us up and over Stanley Gap. Millhouse was happy to have SS company, and we all secretly called them freaks behind their backs. These guys are crazy!

Brian Bell took off up Flat Creek with the Dedicated Athletes right behind him. Somehow, I found myself riding behind them and decided to enjoy being in their presence while it lasted. They weren't going all out race pace, but I still had to focus in order to stay on Flatfender's wheel. I reminded myself that their bikes were feather weights compared to my 28lb MotoLite. I was also carrying a loaded camelbak AND 3 lb camera on my 115 lb body, while they had nothing on their svelte muscle chiseled bodies. Well, all that was supposed to make me feel better about my lack of physical fitness, but it only made me more aware of the small child I was carrying on my back.

My motivation was to be with them once we hit the downhill. Flat Creek's downhill is super rocky and technical and lots of fun when you have good riders to chase. But the real mystery for me was to see them pull off this descent on hardtail/rigid bikes. Insane, I tell ya, downright crazy. These guys ain't right;-)

At one point, the trail is basically a creek bed of large rocks and water. With the cold temps, it was now a trail of ice. The ice was beautiful and I wanted so badly to stop for the great photo op this would be of riders coming through the rocks and ice. But I did not dare break stride and lose the train. I was having waaaaay too much fun riding behind Tim and Shane, watching them pick their way smoothly through the rough trail. NOW I was really appreciating my 5" travel Titus and the fact that my eyes were not bouncing out of my head. I could hear Tim shouting out comments; something about having a hard time keeping his eyes in their socket.

At the bottom of the long downhill, the trail takes a left turn to lead you to singletrack climbing back out.

This climb is relatively short and one of my favorites. It's beautiful. The racers took off, and my wasted little legs did their best to get me to the top. Carebear was keeping a fast clip, and I could not catch him. None of us could! But we were still enjoying being out on our bikes on the dirt.

Back at the trailhead, we congregated to discuss our options. Raja was ready for more, but my legs were fading. The loss of muscle over 2 weeks was sorely showing, and inwardly I was questioning my ability to get back up and over Stanley Gap. Most of the group was still eager for more, so I dared not back down and show any weakness. I was pleasantly surprised at everyone's eagerness to keep on exploring. The power of the Birthday Ride was starting to kick in.

We crossed Aska Road and climbed up Green Mountain. Once at the top, we descended down to the Long Branch trail and flew down that at warp speed, eventually dumping back onto Aska Road. A nice mile long climb up Aska, and we were back at Deep Gap pkg lot.

All we had left was a 3 mile climb up Stanley Gap and then a nice 4 mile descent back to the cars. Sounds so simple. My legs were killing me, and had no umpf in them. I was envisioning having to hike-a-bike the entire 3 miles.

As we plodded up the gravel climb to the trailhead, I started whining to Regularjoe. Well, bless my soul, instead of whining back, he began to dish out the tough love speeches I have been preaching to him over a year. He reminded me of some things I had told him that were of help in tough moments like this. "I said that, really?" It was a nice splash of cold water in the face, and I swallowed my own medicine as we made the turn up the steep climb.

And just like Regularjoe said, things kicked in, I dug deep and found something somewhere to keep my legs going round. One pedal stroke at a time. It was slow, but I made progress. In fact, I was surprised to round a turn and realize this was the top. Thanks, Joe. The power of the Birthday Ride in action. You give a gift of wisdom on one ride and it keeps going round to be used over and over again.

Clogger and Carebear had long since dropped me on the climb, but I did not mind the solitude. I was enjoying being out on the trail, lost in my own little world, focusing on my pedal stroke and breathing. Once at the top, Clogger was waiting. I told him to go on and I'd wait for the rest of the crew. I know all to well how mental one can get when on a new trail for the first time. Being alone for too long is not always good when you don't know where you are, and I wanted to be their connection back to civilization.

I made sure to wait at the top of the climb, so I could holler down and assure any riders that the top was just ahead. The last pitch is a bugger and really steep. I've only made this climb twice in my lifetime. Today was not one of those times.

A few nasty roots were the only thing standing between us and the last downhill.

Millhouse is a rock star in my book. Anybody that does Rich Mtn on a singlespeed deserves a medal, or psycho analysis. (I'm just jealous I can't do it)

By now, the ground had thawed and created a nice sloppy trail for us to descend. Things were tricky and a few riders had some unplanned dismounts, but nobody was hurt. We survived the entire ride only to get muddied up in the last few miles. But we sure had a blast!!!

A treat of homemade Rocky Road Bars were in order. We rode 22 miles and climbed 4100'. And we did it with a little help from each other. The power of the Birthday Ride is strong!

I am very proud of the first timers! Rich Mountain is a toughie, and you have to be real tough to stick it out. Well done Emil, Brandon, Ken, Ony, and Mike!

There is strength in numbers, at least amongst us. I ride with a fine bunch of folks.

Happy Birthday, Carebear! Thanks for sharing the Power of the Birthday Ride!


regularjoe said...

Great post about a great day. I knew ya would dig deep. Ya always do...

Krista Park said...

Nice Pictures, you guys are having too much fun! Happy Birthday Carebear!

BIG JIM said...

This Florida boy has been enjoying your posts for a few months now. Great recaps and pictures of your rides. Every time I read about your crews adventures makes me want to load up and ride North GA.

Ken said...

What a great weekend, thanks for documenting it! It felt good to finally ride Stanley Gap, it was tough but really felt like what mountain biking is all about, beautiful environment, physical challenge, and celebrating it with great friends. Happy birthday Carebear!

jmilliron said...

That was a great report of a fantastic weekend of riding!

Brian said...

Another great post Laurie! And thanks for your help with my flat tire, I'm going to make them tubeless today! I look forward to riding with you all again, they are a great group. And although no one was around to see it, I had another "unscheduled dismount" on the decent as well.... Livin' to tell it though!

jmilliron said...

Oh and Kristen is very much determined to join us for some mountain biking this year. Not as excited about the road thing. Cars are scary.

Tracey said...

I always love reading your blog and "hearing" about your day on the trail. I am especially happy to be able to have been there. Great ride, great friends, great scenery, great food, great laughs. I am one lucky girl to be in such great company. Until next time my friend(s)

kelvin newman said...

great pictures and by the look of it some great riding