Wednesday 18th January – Beautiful Day for a Stack

Camp was pretty. I was right next to the babbling brook, but again I had trouble sleeping. I think I am insecure about being camped in a maybe-illegal spot, enough that whenever a car drives past, I perk up, wondering if it is the law. I either need to get used to it or camp more legally.

I set off for the trails of Pigsah Forest, the only reason I was in Brevard. I stopped in at the Ranger’s station to see what the top picks were and after a lot of back and forth with an older lady, she ended up sending me to the local bike shop because she didn’t want to give me misinformation. At “The Hub”, I got some good advice and decided on my day’s riding.

I drove out to Turkey Pen trailhead where I gave my bike some serious love. Since riding in Palo Duro, it had been out in the elements so the chain, rings and pedals had rusted and the flat tyre just made her look all the more sad. I further reinforced the sidewalls of my rear tyre and gave the drivetrain a good clean and lube, she was ready, I was ready. From the bike shop advice, I knew I was on for a lot of climbing, so I didn’t expect the fast, rocky and rooty downhill section that lead me to the footbridge over the creek. Not a bad warm up!

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I climbed up Mullinax which was tough, then I kept it in granny gear as I got onto Squirrel Gap, the classic trail. The first few km’s were tough climbing, but it soon eased to a gentle grade, but with plenty of obstacles to keep it interesting. My legs were screaming at me, partly because of yesterday’s run, partly because my body was relearning what riding was. I wasn’t too excited about the trail, but relished in the fact that the climbing was only making me fitter.

Near the top of the 6km climb, there was a tiny little stump on the trail and I went to the low side of it. I was riding too slow and lost my balance, resulting in a fall down the embankment. I was stopped by a couple of trees when I hit them just below my shoulder. Ow. I was trapped under my bike and somehow my backpack had got caught underneath the seat. It took me a while, but eventually I got free and lifted my bike back onto the trail and inspected the damage. The bike was fine and I had a graze on my right arm and some pain in my shoulder, but nothing significant. I gathered my thoughts for a bit, then seeing I was near the top, rode on.

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This is where I binned it! How stupid right? There’s NOTHING there…

At the peak, there was no peak, but some flat up-and-down riding. Covered in a thick layer of leaves, the traction was poor and rocks and roots were hidden beneath them, making for rough riding. I rode to the point where the bike shop man suggested and munched on a Clif bar, feeling more stiffness creeping into my shoulder. Squirrel Gap is most commonly done as an out-and-back, which doesn’t exactly excite me, but when I asked if I could make a loop of it with other trails, bike shop man suggested not to because the lower trails had a lot of creek crossings with the creek running very high at points. I consulted Trailforks and decided to pay no mind to bike shop man’s advice. Squirrel Gap had not been that exciting coming up and I knew it wouldn’t be any better going back down, so I went onto Horse Cove which was a fast downhill that was really cool. Finally a reward for all that climbing! I hit the creek soon enough and yes there were a few crossings, but nothing more than shin deep with rocks to get across without getting my feet wet. The trail that followed the creek was more my style. Pretty flat, but very rocky, meaning slow and technical. Things got a bit muddy but thankfully my socks stayed dry.

At the wider creek crossings there were footbridges, some in better condition with others. Riding across one, I got scared when I saw a few planks missing and safe’d it up by walking. I really enjoyed the slower pace of riding along the creek, it was beautiful. On a short climb after leaving the creek, I heard a snap while changing gears. That was the end of moving my rear derailleur. My cables and shrouds were up for replacement anyway, so I assumed I’d snapped a cable. Thankfully I was near the end. Finding that I still had some energy left by the time I got back to the first footbridge, I did alright climbing up the bomber downhill I’d done at the start, lifting up over step logs and rooty sections.

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I was happy to see the car where I’d left it. Best bit about the ride was the beautiful weather. It was a perfect, blue-skied day and I was sweating just in a t-shirt. This is what I’d driven all this way for! I had a shower, then got to fixing the bike. It wasn’t a cable that had snapped, but the shroud. Not too bad considering they are the originals from when I bought the bike. I replaced the cable and the shrouds and she changed gears smooth as silk. After giving the chain some attention, she went back on the roof and I drove out. I was prepared to stay in Brevard for another day of riding since it was such a huge network of trails, but based on what bike shop man had said, it would be more of the same style of riding and if Squirrel Gap was supposed to be one of the best, I figured the rest wouldn’t really tickle my fancy.

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It’s broken. All I seem to be doing recently is fixing stuff!

All I wanted to do was lie down and rest, so on my way out of town, I found a park where I could lie in what little sun there was left. Just as I laid out my Thai mat, Vanessa called so I caught up with her. I head off when the sun went behind the mountains, hoping for a camp half an hour away.

At sunset, just inside the South Carolina border, I stopped in at a huge flat rock that overlooked the valley. The view was beautiful, it was just a shame that every inch of the rock had been graffiti’d. It ruined the serenity for me. I didn’t stay long because light was fading and I was keen to make camp. On my way down a winding mountain road, I saw a spot tucked down into a valley, but carried on because I figured it would be a bit cold down there. This was a mistake, I should have turned around and camped it.

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After being misled by a rest stop sign on my Atlas and no options on freecampsites.net, I was 6pm and I was frustrated and tired so I turned down a rural road off the highway. There was an unused forest road that was a bit overgrown and had a huge log across it so I knew I wouldn’t be bothered so I pulled in there. From the moment I stopped, I wasn’t really comfortable with where I was because I couldn’t easily drive out and I was probably on someone’s private property. On top of that, there was one house in view with outside lights on and it just made me think that I could be visible to them and they could complain. Probably all paranoia, but I kept my lights dim and only exited the van once to pee, not wanting to make any noise with opening and shutting the doors.

I had a horrendous night’s sleep because I was worried about where I was camped and had to lie backwards on the bed because my head was lower than my feet and I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. It was easily my worst night yet, but I kept telling myself it was a lesson learnt and set an alarm for sunrise the following morning so I could be out before I was visible to all the neighbours.

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