Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Vista 60+6

First, cannot say enough about Bryan and Mechell at Flip Flop Burgers for an awesome place and making me feel at home Friday night. It felt very much like home to all sorts of biking, kayaking, rafting, outdoorsy riff-raff like me. Except Kim told her to be expecting Poncho instead of Honcho. So for one weekend only I stuck with Poncho Honcho.

 "Inspiring ordinary people to do extraordinary things". That's been my creed for a while in this ultra distance self-support adventure bikepacking thingy we do. I also have a quote I love to use from John Wayne - "Life is hard. It's harder when your stupid." I think there is a big difference between dumb and stupid. Dumb appears to be totally innocent - one has an elevator that misses a couple of floors, can be dumb just about a specific subject, or just lack simple common sense and still be highly intelligent. Stupid is something smart people, or even average intelligence people like me, do where they have a total lapse in judgement or preparation or whatever.

For me my attempt at a portion of the Vista route started with stupidity. The night before I left I changed brake pads on simple 'ol Shimano XT's. Have done that many times. For some reason this time it precipitated brake scrub like I never experienced before, which I didn't notice until about an hour into my ride. I could spin the tire with a normal minimal rotation check effort and get about a full turn out of the wheel. Hmm, not good. I tried most of the tricks I know over the next few hours and would get some improvement, but nothing that didn't come back. Some of you are probably screaming as you read this, with "do this, do that, you shoulda done this." Yeah, I got it. Will fix it.

Anyway that was physically and mentally grating on me, and if that were not enough I think I had pushed my Ikon's a few hundred miles too far. Coming off Starr Mountain I cut a small hole in the middle of the tread and blew out all my air. No problem - throw in the boot and tube and carry on. Except at the peak of my evening frustration and physical and mental exhaustion, I could tell I was losing air in that tube. I did not care. I did not know if I needed to drink more water, eat food which was tasteless and exhausting to the point I spit it out. Or puke, or poop, or just sit down and cry. I ended up doing all of those except cry. I decided at 60 miles in that rest and sleep was more important than food. Which ended up being a good call. I threw out my bag and bivy, changed into my light sleeping clothes, and proceeded to pass out for hours. Screw bears, mountain lions, and people - I was exuding so much hate they wouldn't dare come around.

So what about the route? Didn't Chris Gray repeatedly say "don't underestimate this section" about every section? Yep - that nails it. There is no grin. One little fun descent of Starr Mountain, which I conveniently interrupted with a blowout. Sometimes I wish I had the cursing talent of Michael Rasch or Joe Rinehart, but it's just not in me. Mom would be disappointed. This is a tough route in many respects. Take a filter or Aquamira AB solution. The water will begin lessening but will be adequate, but there is no reliable potable water until Tellico Plains. Maybe the sulphur water Chris Davis found at that church, but that would only accelerate my puking and dehydration. I didn't find any outdoor water at the Epperson Church either.

It is remote. You will not find resupply until Tellico Plains. Then Indian Boundary camp store. Then Green Cove. Maybe Coker Creek welcome center. MAYBE. Then Ducktown??? Set realistic goals for your timing. In the fog of the pain cave you will have to make some very rational decisions about how much food to carry onward, or sit tight and wait on one of the stores to open.

The bright spots? Made some new friends out there. Got to see Jon and Chris (why didn't Chris and I get a picture? - I think we were both pissed at the world right then, but primarily just Kim).

And finally, 60 + 6? I pedaled and some HAB 60 miles Saturday. Where I flatted was at the top of the descent to Tellico Plains. So I spent Sunday morning doing a HAB downhill to Hardee's - the +6.


BUT, a day I will remember and tell stories of for a long time.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Florida is Flat - HuRaCaN 2018

HuRaCaN 2018 Episode 8

Lake Apopka in the distance from the top of a climb on the Huracan

I rode my first Singletrack Samurai event in December just a couple of months ago. Chewy, Pickle, CMan, and I headed out across Florida on a ride that was one of the highlights of my relatively short bikepacking adventure in life so far. Being a part of the ride that saw perhaps the youngest finisher ever of a self-supported bike event was quite the experience. At only 14, Canaan "The Kid" Barrett left his mark on the history of our relatively young sport/adventure, and the small, loose-fit gang of bikepack adventurers that have been a part of the movement that is growing every year.

Next in line was the 2018 edition of the Huracan. It was only Chewy (Shawn Shepard) and me along for this one. CMan needed to stay in school after his time missed for CFITT, and Pickle is facing surgery on a bum leg that he smashed up in a motorcycle wreck a few years ago. But hey, Florida is flat, so in the world of off-road biking this should be a pretty straightforward event. Yep.

I will be the first to admit that my thoughts a few years ago, as I was getting into TNGA but hearing of the Huracan and other rides, that these Florida events could not be as challenging as the up and down world of the Appalachians. All of the climbing we do in God's Country of mountain biking had to be a bigger challenge than anything Florida can throw at you right? Right. Until I rode CFITT, and I began to understand. CFITT was some tough riding at times, but nothing extreme, and we were going at a pace that had a much different goal in mind. For Huracan, at least for me, I had a Personal Best frame of mind, and whether Chewy did or not I was going to find out.

Riding together Chewy and I have different strengths. He is overall a stronger rider. If he rode one of these events alone, he would probably finish much faster than he does. But that's not the most important thing for him. Being along for the ride is. I have more experience, and I would tell myself I am more stubborn, but I'm not sure that's the case. Chewy is tough, and I might just be the limit on how hard we push in terms of time in the saddle doing these things. Anyway, so on to the Huracan, and remember, Florida is flat.

Larry Bennett and Jason Murrell (Abe)

Karlos gives an awe-inspiring 10 second speech at 08:59:30am on Day 1, Saturday December 3rd. He asks us to roll out the first few road miles as a peleton for safety, and then says go at 09:00am. By 09:01am the peleton concept has been thrown out the window, and around 75 of us are rolling down the road in loose groups, in high spirits, anxious to get off the busy roads. The first miles click off easily. Everyone is fresh and in good spirits, the weather is cooperative and comfortable, and you get a chance to ride and talk with most of your friends and fellow adventurers at some point in the first few hours.

Then everyone begins to separate some. We roll past the naval bombing range in the Ocala National Forest, then hit some sweet singletrack that carries us a few more miles down the route to the first store and control point. Karlos likes pictures from his events which is a great idea, so a selfie at each control point is required. At that stop people were already grabbing food and drinks and ready to move on. Lots of familiar faces are there, and come and go as Chewy and I buy a couple of things. I get to catch up with Brad McLeod for a few minutes and the three of us roll out together, which is always an honor!

Shockley Store

The next few hours to Apopka are kinda faded in my memory - not sure why - there wasn't much eventful going on I guess. Just turning pedals over. The lead into the Wekiva River crossing is rather rough singletrack - not a load of fun but not horrible either. All of a sudden Seth Jacoby is there - he is like a stealth rider that just pops up on us during Florida rides LOL. As we near the river crossing it is getting darker, but not dark yet. I see lights and music through the woods. This is a popular place to canoe and kayak, and I assume some folks have stopped to camp out for the night. As we approach through the bush, I began to hear yelling and screaming from one voice, and I think there were cowbells involved. I remember thinking it was some obnoxious drunks, and just as quickly that it was Ski and his Party on Wheels neutral support crew! He is all excited, and I am too to finally get to meet him in person. I am not sure Ski is actually a bikepacker LOL, but he supports us all and makes sure we have a good time at least for a minute or two. So he comes to the water with us and we begin to strip down for the crossing, and of course Ski is a crossing expert standing on dry ground. As we are dressing back on the other side, Ski is alternating between the POW camp back in the woods and the river crossing yelling encouragement across to us. I am guessing he put in a few miles of walking and jogging around in that 100 yard stretch that night.

So we roll on in to Apopka and take our pictures at CP2, a shut down Citgo - they had not paid their taxes, and probably a few other bills. We take a break for fine dining at Taco Bell, then roll on to Lake Apopka. Chewy, Larry, Seth, and I are riding out and the route goes through a bike path that has been fenced off and a corner pulled back. Typical Karlos, so we push the bikes through and keep going, and run up on the Little Grand Canyon of Florida. Nah, not going to HAB that. We detour and make our way on out of town.

The ride around Lake Apopka is pretty uneventful. I saw a pair of gator eyes at one point, but never laid eyes on one all the way around the lake. In fact, I never saw a gator the entire ride. Pretty disappointing given the hype. Guess I will have to stop by one of those gator farms sometime. Anyway we get up to the overlook, weigh our options, and Chewy and I decide to get some shuteye under the picnic pavilion. Larry decides to ride on so we wish each other well and ride on.

The next morning a few groups had decided to stay in one of the overlooks, under shelter like us, or in their hammocks. We were all packing up and in pretty good spirits but a little slow to get going. We made our way through the hills, seeing dozens of road bikers and talking to a few along the way. We roll on into the Minneola Lake area and into Epic Bikes, where several folks are hanging out and getting some things checked out. We hang out a bit, then move on south around Lakeshore Drive toward the Lake Louisa reroute. It's there that a light rain begins to fall, and it is light rain for a couple of hours.

We stopped at the Green Swamp Store for a few minutes and decide to move on. I am anxious to get in, and past, the infamous Water Road I had heard so much about. Finding it really not that bad except for a short section, I was pretty happy, oblivious to the peanut butter hell we were headed into.

Around 3pm the sky grew darker, and very quickly it started a steady downpour. The first few miles clicked on by with a few soft spots, then errrrrrrrrrrck. Yes, the turntable needle just ripped across and off the album. We hit a freshly graded road that was non-stop. It went on, and on. Sand and water was getting into everything good in the world. I could see pieces of my drivetrain being sandblasted off in pieces (not really, but sounded like it). My 1x11 was in about the 3rd largest cog, so it was slow, constant, monotonous, and a struggle. I was suffering for the first time in a long time. It was tiring and tedious, and the rain was like water torture on my helmet.

After a couple of hours of this, we finally end up near a paved road. I mean, Ridge Manor is just right down that paved road. Cars are going by and getting there in two minutes. But Karlos, in his infinite goodness, puts us down the Jeep sand/mud road from hell for over a mile. I say a lot of good things about Karlos down that road - his momma, his unborn, his pets, whatever. FINALLY, we pop out on pavement, cruise to the store, and fortunately there is a hose where we wash down everything. Everything. I am done for the day. Hungry, shaky, physically and mentally whipped. I need a hotel, so we go off route over to I-75 and get one. After a hot shower that included all my riding clothes, I fell into bed, exhausted.

The next morning I woke up with tired legs and not feeling very spry. I told Chewy it would be a long day. He agreed. We packed up, went downstairs, and I started packing in carbs and fluids. I was pretty bloated by the time we rolled out, and the first few miles up the Withlacoochee to Croom was just a shakedown. Fortunately I started feeling much better, got some life back, overall and in my legs. I really enjoyed Croom. Pretty quick and flowy, even though the overall moving speed was down compared to road. My outlook brightened a lot in Croom as the temps warmed and the riding was fun. We made our way onto Lake Lindsey Mall and Deli, where the ladies and sandwiches were wonderful to us! We sat and talked to Patrick and Ricky as they rolled in, and life was looking up for the final push to Inverness and on to Dunnellon. Patrick pushed on ahead of the three of us and we didn't see him again.

Lake Lindsey Mall and Deli

We pushed straight north through the Citrus WMA and into Inverness by about 4:30pm. My optimistic self was thinking we finish around 9-10pm, and I even texted that to my wife back in Ocala. I was so ready to finish. Chewy and Ricky were being more realistic, kinda bumming me out, but all we could do is pedal, right?

So we fly up the Withlacoochee paved path, and hit Dunnellon around dark. I push our ETA back to 10-11pm. Chewy is constantly asking me if I am OK, I think just to get under my skin a little. He has ridden up front and ahead most of the trip and gets to rest a bit every few miles. Yeah, I'm doing fine - are we there yet? That was kinda the theme for the final day.

We get out of Dunnellon and onto Tricycle about 7:30pm. I am convinced by now that 11:00-11:30pm is totally in reach. Even though the pigs had turned Tricycle into rumble strips for about half of it we roll through pretty fast. Then the reality of the tailing piles and Ross Prairie hits me in the gut. My tired legs, tired bike, loose right cleat that could not be fixed, made for more miserable riding. I'm pretty sure somebody designed that thing with a topo map and an Etch-a-Sketch. It took me forever to get through there, and then got to Nayls. But it's fun right? It was in my memory from CFITT. But no, more zig-zag up and down for a few more miles. So now I'm hoping for 12:30-1:00am.

I know Santos is a fun section, so when I pop out in the cutover before the land bridge, I get pretty excited. Ricky had long ago gotten tired of my speed. Chewy was now smelling the barn and he just checked out too. I did not see him again until Santos. Those last 8-10 miles were more enjoyable, and I tried to just relax and enjoy the singletrack at the end of a 17-hour day, but I was smelling the barn too. I had finish-itis bad. I knew when I went by the subdivision entrance I was really close, so I strolled it on in and finished up at 1:30am, 64 hours and 30 minutes and 333 miles from our start on Saturday.

Was that my Personal Best? Probably for now. I was pretty done at the end of each 16-hour day. Chewy and I both look back at the first night and know we could have pushed on deeper. Would that have changed the final outcome? I'm not sure it would have.

My Huracan 2018 Ride

Thanks to Karlos, sincerely, for the effort he puts into his events. I know for a fact it is not easy herding a group of cats this large. And he does a good job with it. Also, thanks to all you crazies out there that do this - it is a small group, but one of the best groups of great people. I saw lots of familiar faces, and made some new friends.

The Huracan pushed me hard. I am convinced that any route, out West, in the Appalachians, or in Florida, is what you make of it. It can be an adventuresome bikepack trip, a relaxed pace long event, or a butt-whipping Personal Best throwdown. So don't let anyone poo poo any event - they are all what you make of it.

Except Florida right? After all, Florida is flat.

Happy trails!

Sunday, October 15, 2017


AMLX 2017 - A Journey

So let me get something out of the way first. I stopped my journey on the route for a personal reason - nothing bad, just a reason that will remain private. It had nothing to do with a mechanical, or me wanting to just quit, weather, or anything like that. I stopped. We each have our reason for doing these kinds of events, and I walked away very satisfied with my journey. Am I kicking myself a day later? Will I a week from now? A month from now? Nope. No regrets. And I had fun - you all know it's a weird kinda fun doing these adventures, but I was on a bike in the Alleghenies and enjoyed every bit of it.

So I will tell the story. Since I had the privilege to help Koz with TNGA coordination this year, I set my sights on AMLX. It intrigued me because of the location, the time of year, and the ruggedness of those Virginia and West Virginia mountains. And mountains they are. I think sometimes our friends out west don't think much of our Appalachians, but that would be the ones that have not ridden the oldest mountains on the continent. A 2000' elevation gain in 5-7 miles is a tough drill, and here we do it over, and over, and over. Whether it is northern Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, or any other Appalachian state, tough pedaling abounds for the cross country bikepacker.

So on to AMLX. Chris Tompkins and others have solidified a couple of great events. The AML400 is now a Spring run, and the AMLX is a Fall run. The AML is a loop. The AMLX is a Billy Rice inspired 500-miler yo-yo from Blacksburg to the tip of the Maryland / West Virginia border, then back. And it is a beast. A bare knuckle brawler. And for my rookie run I admit I made some mistakes, which I will go into, and even though I did a ton of research, I underestimated what I was in for. Much like TNGA, this route appears much easier on paper and maps, than on the ground riding it. AMLX might not have that nasty 62 mile stretch of Pinhoti, but don't let that bother your ego. This is a challenge you need to do sometime. The event turnout has been small since it is just starting up, but I give you my word this is a tough but doable challenge for any TNGA vet.

So this year we started with a lucky seven souls from the War Memorial at Virginia Tech. Blacksburg is a fantastic college town with many options for dinner and hanging out the night before. Chris, Robert, Bill, and I met at Mellow Mushroom Thursday night and I ate a calzone as big as the plate. I ordered a 10" pizza to take back to my wife at the hotel, and got to eat half of it for breakfast Friday morning! Just like the college days, except sometimes back then we stretched pizza for 2-3 days.

Friday morning Kevin Greten and I cruised down the mile or two ride from the hotel to the Memorial. What a starting spot. The history of Virginia Tech surrounding you in the darkness, and the shapes of the ROTC military branches doing calisthenics and running through the shadows, and the lights, of campus. And to step in front of the well-lit Memorial with all of that lively activity surrounding you makes you itch to be going.

According to Chris, Greg Strauser had always been late to the start. True to form, Greg does not show and Chris says a prayer and let's us roll out at 6:10am. We soft pedal as a group of 6 out of Blacksburg down toward the New River gap through the first mountain. We all stay together until I blow a turn about 10 miles in and Bill follows me for a 100 yards before I correct. At some point I gapped Bill, and had lost touch with the others since I am slower anyway. So then I'm alone until about mile 20 or so until neon green Greg comes pedaling up behind me. We exchange pleasantries as he climbs on past, then I am alone. For... the... next... 24... hours!

So the first 87 miles are non-eventful, and gorgeous. After the first nice climb and descent of the day, there is about 20 miles of road that is flatter than any road in Florida. No joke. We all make good time, and everyone either grabbed and got gone at the Paint Bank General Store, or passed by. I grabbed one of those make-your-own shakes and threw some Infinit Mud in it. Wow! That was good.

Speaking of Infinit, I do very well with it. And I carried too much. My plan was to carry 3 days worth, then drop Day 3 at about mile 170. Of course my weight went down during Day 1, but it was too much weight. I had a combo Infinit/junk food plan - should have gone with 1 day's worth and then gone 100% gas station calories. Big lesson learned. I also carried way too much clothing/shelter weight. Even with the forecasted lows (which it never got down to) I had too much stuff. I could have been 6 pounds lighter in total from the start - that's a lot to haul around.

Anyway Paint Bank is about 55 miles in. The next resupply is at Callaghan, which is at mile 87. I got there rather easily after another relatively uneventful up and down. After Callaghan, you head up the ridge toward Lake Sherwood. The pedal to Lake Sherwood is paved and low grade so you are just cruising. I knew it would be a while to potable water again so I go past the singletrack turn and do about a 3/4 mile round trip to the bathroom/shower area of the park. I get there right at or after 9pm. Guess what time the bathrooms are locked up? Yep. Fortunately there are water fountains outside so I mix up 3 bottles of good water and Infinit.

So singletrack is awesome. Riiiight. Chris had said somebody that knew somebody, that once knew somebody, that pedaled the singletrack. I don't think I could pedal most of it on fresh legs and no weight. But I have no pride when it comes to HAB - I check that pride in at the start of all these adventures. So off I go, for maybe a mile? Maybe a little more. Then I pop out on an old roadbed called the Upper Meadow Trail. And it's awesome for about 100 yards. Now get in your mind this is an old forest road - not gravel. With time vehicles had simply worn the road into shallow two-track depressions in the old roadbed, which was now filled with assorted stick, leaf, and baby head rock debris. And it went up, and up, and... you get the idea. About the time I think I am topping out, that road intersects another.

This one happens to be called the Allegheny Trail. I look up with my lights and just start muttering. How long is this hill? Oh only a couple hundred yards at about an 8 pitch roof angle - loose, slippery, hiking. After about 3 of these I figure out I am on the ridge spine and might be doing this for a while. Yep. Buried giant elephant after buried elephant. Game clearings came and went. More elephants came and went. How many dang elephants did they bury up here? So after many more mutterings ( I said a lot of nice things about Chris ) and breathless HAB, I finally get to a point where my race plan profile says I have to start down. And finally, it did. Somewhat. You see, in the Appalachians, even the downhills have a lot of uphill in them. So I did descend quite a bit in elevation to about mile 120 and 18 hours into the ride. I decided it was time to stop for the night.

I am not one that can go days with sleep dep. My natural sleep is late to bed and wake with the sun. I should have pushed on another couple of hours and gotten to mile 140 or so. But I succumbed to the call of my nice comfy tent, pad, and bag. I went out solid. Right around daylight I heard a bike crunch by, and assumed it was Greg. I went through the wonderful ritual of putting on a wet kit and breaking camp, then rolled on down to water resupply. What water? Every blue line on my Garmin was a dry creek bed, or "run" as they are called in the Alleghenies. Evidently they are called a run because the water runs out of them very quickly. Later I would go by creek beds that were 30 feet wide filled with rocks and dust - drier than a mummy that died of thirst. But I found one water hole with clear water. So I treated - so far so good a few days later.

Day 2 started with a very long climb up and over the next ridge. It was relatively low grade, but my legs were a little sluggish and it took them a while to wake up. Only a couple of miles in I see Greg riding back down the mountain. He was smiling, but I could sense the frustration because of a rear hub that had gone bad. This was the second year that a mechanical had put him out a day or two in. I guess having it happen then is better than making it 400 miles before something breaks, but still. We chat for a bit and get to know each other just a little, then it's time for me to move on, and him to start the slow nursing back on blacktop.

Topping out there was a very nice downhill on gravel, then a long downhill on pavement into Mill Gap. Here I was on the search for water again. I found some where one nice creek had several dry runs leading into it.

The pedal for about 15 miles was rolling uphill through a beautiful valley. The shady areas were welcome comfort from the sun beating down on my back. Even though the temp was high 70's or 80, it felt much hotter than that, and humidity levels were getting up ahead of the remains of Tropical Storm Nate. Soon I got up into the neck of the valley and the terrain got a little more alpine-looking and cooler. Before long I popped out on Mountain Pike.

Mountain Pike is a fairly busy paved road on a Saturday, but not spooky busy. The climb was fairly low grade again with some steeper bits. My legs still were not fantastic but OK, so I just enjoyed the views and spun up. As I approached the top, I began to hear high-powered rifle firing, from both sides of the road. I'm sure some folks would be spooked by this, but I have grown up in the woods doing all types of hunting, and plenty of practice over the years. 99.99% of hunters are safe and responsible - the shots are very familiar for me. So I just slipped into a happy place thinking about going out onto a powerline in the Narrows at home. I was with my grandfather shooting my first rifle - a Marlin .30-30 lever action.

PawPaw as we called him never believed in scopes - he never used one. And he put plenty of venison on the table without one. I felt almost embarrassed a couple of years later when I bought my first scope and had it bore-sighted. I wanted him to go with me to sight it in, which he happily did. Of course he wanted to shoot after we got the shots on a pie plate. He was a tall lanky guy so the eye relief did not fit him well, and on the first trigger pull the kick of the Marlin popped the scope back and cut a perfect semi-circle around the top of his eye. I thought it had killed him it bled so badly. He laughed it off. I've followed that guy through the hot nights of Middle Georgia running the dogs after 'coons, and up and down Appalachian ridges in all kinds of cold, wet, windy weather, and continued that same "outside" affinity my entire life. Maybe that's why being tired, uncomfortable, gritty, and grimy on a bike doesn't bother me too much.

Speaking of bikes - back on point. So I top out and ride another rough two-track forest road across the top of the ridge for a while, then begin the descent into Bartow. It had been a long day without solid food and I was looking forward to something - anything - at Trent's. Like I said before the downhills have uphills, and that was certainly the case as the old forest road turned into a rough dirt road, then a little better gravel road. I was really anticipating that cold Coke and some Doritos, and it took me a frustrating for-ev-er to get off the mountain. At one point I ran across a couple of guys with a big dually and stock trailer blocking the road. We exchanged "hey, how ya doing?" as I lifted myself and the bike up and around the front of the truck on the road bank. He was smiling big and I said "Man I gotta get off this mountain!" He got a good laugh as he carried on and I pedaled on.

So finally at Trent's I walk in and immediately apologize to Kim (as I found out later) for being so stinky and dirty. She immediately told me she'd seen worse with a big smile, and I thought "yeah, I guess you have" working at a general store. That's not a West Virginia comment - that's just a human comment. What they probably don't see as much is a bikepacker walking in with a thousand yard stare wearing Lycra. I asked her for one of everything from the grill, which I knew was already closed. She did say she had plenty of homemade sandwiches in the cooler so I asked her to make it a double. I killed a chocolate milk, and sat down to eat two sandwiches, a large bag of Doritos, and a fully leaded 20oz Coke.

The wifi was across the road and she did not remember the password anyway. Her phone was connected so I managed to get a text off to my wife, and then proceeded to buy a couple more sandwiches and a few candy bars for the road. Kim had really looked after me for the time I was there, making sure I had anything she had and I wanted. It's a great little place, and you can tell it is a community hub in Bartow. I gave her a thanks one more time as I threw the leg over, groaned a little from the stuffed belly, and rode into the dusk.

By the time I climbed off the pavement and onto gravel up Middle Mountain it was dark. Today had not been as productive with mileage, and I was still feeling it. Soft pedaling, stuffed belly, and tiredness kept tugging for me to stop, but I was going to get up on top of that mountain before pitching camp. The wind was getting blustery as I got closer to 4000'. I really did not want to pitch a tent in that wind, so I descended into the first saddle of the ridge, and found a nice spot where the wind was less intense, with the ridgeline blocking most of it.

As I started setting up to sleep, I looked up and lights were coming at me from the opposite direction and immediately knew who it had to be. Jason! He had already been to the tip of Maryland and back - actually he had taken a nap the night before near the spot I was at on Night 2! To say the least he's a beast on a singlespeed.

Jason "Allegheny Abe" Murrell

We caught up and chatted for a little while - it was good to talk to someone familiar. We weren't actually looking at each other so our lights would not blind the other. I laughed about how easy the rest of the route might be, and of course he said it was pretty tough. The northern half is certainly the more difficult. He had seen Ed a bit earlier, and evidently it was a couple of hours before Ed's brake failure and crash that put Ed out. I certainly enjoyed the company for a bit, but as with all these meetings out on the route there comes a time when you just have to move on. So we bid farewells and he moved on toward a rest stop and I hurriedly set up camp.

It was warm enough that I did not need my bag at the time so I just rested on top of the mat and fell asleep almost immediately. Sometime during the night I woke up with a chill, snaked into the bag, and passed out again. I woke just before daylight to a pouring rain outside. That realization is like a left cross to your psyche, and I badly wanted to just stay there until the sun came out, which was probably a couple of days later. So I bit the bullet and pulled on the bibs and jersey that never dries at night, put on the wet wool socks and shoes, threw on my rain jacket, and stepped out into the rain. To me that's always the worst part - getting dressed in wet clothes. Once I'm up and riding it's all good.

I actually feel good on Day 3, and know there is a well pump at Middle Mountain Cabins up ahead. After a few big rollers I come up on the driveway which is blocked by a big FS gate, but know from Jason the people that have it rented that weekend are friendly and interested in what we were doing. Jason had told me they were partying pretty good the night before when he stopped in, and the evidence was laying around the cabins when I rolled up. The few out of bed were reluctant to move off the porch into the rain, but one hearty soul came out and kinda apologized for the current state of affairs (like I cared - I mean how could I judge them - they were at least smart enough to stay out of the rain). This guy even hand pumped the water for me, and cleaned up a broken beer bottle while he was at it! They certainly were not in the same frame of mind that they had been in when they saw Jason the night before! So with some pleasant goodbyes and good luck I rolled off. I overheard the end of the conversation where one of the guys was talking about bike fit and this and that, and one of the girls saying that she liked to ride, but not like that. I chuckled to myself at how ridiculous we must look to normal folks.

So I spend the next few hours going up, and down, and up, and down, and up... you get the idea. Middle Mountain is basically a ridgeline or just-off ridgeline ride for 30 miles or so. I knew I was nearing the end before Wymer, and based on my stopping point for the ride I needed to figure out how to get to some civilization for extraction. Fortunately I ran into a crew of people of all ages setting up camp for the opening of Fall turkey season. They were about 7 miles from Wymer, and had one of the largest yurts I had ever seen. It was huge, with a metal chimney rolling from the wood stove inside. I learned from a very friendly Vietnam vet that the annual tradition had started over 60 years ago in that same spot, by ancestors of the people there now. I was fascinated.

They first offered me a nursery grown ripe tomato. I was all in and asked if they had salt. I sat and ate that huge tomato like an apple, and kept dousing the salt to it. Then they offered me up some homemade sliced sourdough bread. Good grief! These people are going to nice me to death! They were really down to earth folks - the kind you love to meet along your journey. In the midst of the rain and them setting up camp they were making sure I was fed something besides Infinit or a Snickers bar.

They also had a good old-fashioned book map that they were able to use to get me to a location I could get wifi or a cell signal, since I was near my aforementioned stopping point. We decided Elkins was my best bet. So when I hit the pavement at Wymer, I turned left and went scooting off the mountain. I crossed one of the small forks of the Cheat River, and climbed a small grade. I knew the bigger climb was coming, and of course was not looking forward to it. But I lucked out in a little area called Alpena, and a roadside motel/restaurant/store/picnic area called the Alpine Motel. I got there 20 minutes before they closed, and the girl graciously allowed me to have the wifi password and call my wife, as they whipped up the best cheeseburger and fries I have had in months! Literally.

So there's the journey, which is the primary purpose to my riding. So I will close it out with a few of my favorite Avett Brothers lines...

A lotta movin',
A lotta rollin',
A lotta drivin',
A lotta strollin',

A lotta leavin' here, arrivin' there, I'm tryin' to go just about anywhere, a lotta thinkin' about where I'm goin' next.

See ya next time Allegheny's. Happy trails.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Well I am not really good at this am I?

I noticed that it has been almost a year since I took the time to blog. My buddy State Farm has always encouraged me to journal, or blog, but there is something weird about putting yourself "out there" for people to inspect, find fault, or get offended by something. It might appear somewhat self-serving to blog and then go public. But really it's not. There is nothing to gain from doing it other than sharing a passion about mountain biking, and hopefully inspiring others.

Since I last wrote anything lots of things have happened personally, mostly for the better. Except for the broken femur on top of Horn Mtn in October that left me fat and out of shape for several months. But that's a story for another day.

My buddy and mentor Koz asked me help direct TNGA this year. And I loved it! I love everything about the race. We changed the finish of the route this year, and think we hit a home run. It finishes well south of where it did before, and uses most of the remaining Pinhoti trail in Georgia, before turning south and hitting the Silver Comet for about a mile before finishing at the Chief Ladiga arch.

Koz, myself, and a number of Georgia Pinhoti Trail Association and NWGa SORBA members like Rick Moon, Steve Harrell, Marcus Moore, and others get out in the nasty heat and humidity of July and August to work over 100 miles of the western Pinhoti to make it a little more bearable for the riders of the event. But even at that, the Pinhoti is no joke. It can suck the life right out of any competitor, and cause normally sane people to sometimes lose control - even if for just a little bit.

Anyway, we had a full field and a few ITT'ers this year, so TNGA is blowing up in popularity. And now it has become a part of even a longer route called the Southern Highlands Traverse, which starts near the Maryland border in Virgina and runs the full length of the western side of Virginia, runs the Trans Western NC route, the TNGA, and the Skyway epic toward Birmingham. 1,250 miles of rugged and remote Appalachian bikepacking. Can't wait to see how that turns out.

So anyway, on very sporadic training I am going to go up and run Chris Tompkin's Allegheny Mountains Loop Extreme in October - AMLX for short. It's a 500 mile route in really remote areas of Virginia and West Virginia, and I am pumped. I love riding routes I have never seen before. So we will see how that goes - ultra bikepacking can be glorious or spirit-crushing, but that's kind of a condensed version of everyday life, packed in a short period of time where I rarely feel so alive. And that is a very difficult thing to explain to people that do not do similarly "out-there" things. Most reading this know what I mean.

Anyway, there it is. I will try to write more often, and make it a little more entertaining. The reading is always better when I am in action on the bike, regardless of the result.

Happy trails, Honcho

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


There are many things and people I am thankful for in my personal pursuits. There are so many people that if I start naming more than a handful I will begin hurting feelings. It's not that I don't remember and feel thankful for everyone, it's just one person would get left off some written list on a blog, and be hurt. I totally understand that, so please understand why this post has a small number of people.

I'll start with the one person that would perfectly fine if I left her off, and will probably get mad when this goes public. She really has no desire to be in any spotlight, but I have to tell you what a wonderful girl I found when I was 16 years old. That's right - our first date was the day I turned 17, and we have been together ever since. That was almost 33 years ago as of this writing, and we've been married 27 years of that. Marriage is not for the faint of heart. Too many people take it lightly these days. And sometimes it just falls apart. I get it. We're not special or immune to the difficulties of marriage, and Lord knows I've been the cause of most of the hardest parts.

But Geneath, (affectionately called Neath by just about everyone close to her - it started with kids that couldn't pronounce her name) has been supportive of all my life pursuits, and this one might be the most difficult of all. She has been very patient so far with all of this even though I am gone and in the middle of the woods alone - she worries with me riding alone, but its hard to find someone that likes to go spend a full day or even two days on a bike. Anyway, she makes our household tick, and I admire her selfless way she tries to impact family and friends life in some positive way with running errands or cooking meals or just being around. She also likes to mow, bushhog, use her 12" bar Stihl chainsaw, and looking after our small herd of cows. I think I'll keep her. She is wonderful, and I love her.

Secondly, both of us are only children, and not spoiled a bit. OK, everyone says I'm spoiled but they don't say it about her. Hunter is our only child, and he has been a blessing his whole life. He and I have always been close, and from the time he was 12 to 20, as a family we were running all over the country racing dirt bikes. He was a national pro for a couple of years and loves it. Still does. But that is not why we are so proud of him. He has always been able to talk to people of all ages, since he was very young. At age 20 he bought his own trash disposal business, and with great natural marketing, customer service, and social media skills. And that is not why we are proud of him. We are proud of him because he is a responsible, productive, caring, relationship-building young man. We all tell each other we love each other on a regular basis, and that's good enough for me.

So that's it except for saying it is a short post, but there are literally dozens if not hundreds of people I could tell you about that have provided love, friendship, support, caring, and so on in our extended family. Good friends, good church friends, people I work with, and the dirty bunch of people I ride with and hang out with at Bear Creek Bikes and other places. Most of them don't smell good are not good-looking, but clean up OK about once a week. Hey, we're Appalachian Americans, and proud of it!

Happy trails! Honcho

Thursday, June 2, 2016

An unholy roller...

Of all the thanks I owe to being able to do this sport I love, there is none greater than Jesus Christ.

Uh oh, some say, a holy roller (get it? - pun intended). I am far from holy. I was born a sinner, was forgiven by Christ for my sins, as a sinner, and will remain a sinner until the day I am promoted out of this life on earth. I am no better than anyone reading this. I will never claim to be. The only claim that I make is that Jesus Christ is real and personal, and I am forgiven.

I have the same struggles in life as anyone else - balancing the demands of this life with those of eternity. I feel humbled and honored to lean on the things I believe to be true.

I get that some people reading this will go "right on", others will be skeptical, and maybe some have never even thought about it. Here's what I won't do: I won't argue God with anyone. To me it is a pointless exercise. If you are interested we can talk about it. If not, we'll talk about riding bicycles. What I will do is pray for your safety as we embark on adventures together, seek His will, and keep pedaling.

Some of you might stop reading right here. That's your choice, and not mine, to make. I might reference my Christianity from time to time, but I will never judge anyone. And it won't be the theme of my blog, though it is my guiding belief system. I know that I am no better than anyone on this earth. I respect your opinions and beliefs even if I don't agree with them, and expect the same in return. As Old Crow Medicine Show sings, "we're all in this together". If I can help anyone in some way, I will.

Happy trails!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Inspiration - Barnabas Froystad

I hesitate before writing this, because in no way want to dishonor the memory of a fellow endurance MTB'er lost this weekend. But part of my blog, before it goes "live", was to talk about a few people that have inspired me in this adventure called endurance mountain bike racing, or bikepacking, or adventure bike racing. See, we are such a small subset, of a small subset, of a small subset, of anyone that rides bikes, that we really don't have an official name of our group really. Some people call that large group cyclists. In other words this is a pretty small group of people, and with today's technology, it is easier to stay caught up on people from literally around the globe. The unfortunate part of that is that we are not necessarily tight friends with people, or take the time to call, or even message.

So I feel close to a lot of people I have only spoken to casually a few times, especially if we share a common passion. And I was crushed yesterday to hear of the passing of Barnabas Froystad. BJ as some called him, always had a smile and a kind or supportive word for fellow bikers. I talked to him a few times before or after, or during TNGA, a grueling race across north Georgia. In fact, one time he had finished WAAYY ahead of me and was cleaned up and refreshed back at Bear Creek Bikes as I had about 18 hours to go. Had to be because he was 20 years younger, right? Could not have been preparation. Nah, he was better prepared and had youth on his side.

Anyway, Barnabas was one of my inspirations. He was all the time doing crazy big rides in Pisgah just for fun, and I loved to see his pictures and comments. I am sure he loved every minute of it. I wish I knew him better - he impacted many many people in such a positive way. You rarely know what someone is going through unless you are close, and you can recognize pain and hurt. Keep your friends, even Facebook or casual friends, in your thoughts and prayers. Pedal on in Glory Barnabas.