Monday, September 20, 2010


I have finally kicked the pneumonia after a solid month of being sick.  I am getting back.  I've lost some fitness and gained a couple pounds, but I've bounced back from far worse in the past.  The work week had been insane, with very little sleep.   No time at all to think about whether I was still sick or not, and almost surprised, come Thursday morning, to find the bottle of antibiotics empty and my lungs clear.  I crashed out hard Thursday afternoon for a full fourteen hours of sleep.

Friday morning I woke up just in time for my volunteer commitment at the Pisgah Stage Race.  It was my first time volunteering for any race other than cyclocross.  It's always so great to see volunteers stationed way out on the course in the middle of an endurance race, and almost always they are super helpful and encouraging.  I was interested to see the scene from the other side.  My job was to ride out on the course to two trail intersections to make sure folks didn't make wrong turns. 

First was pointing people up Thrift Cove trail, just a half mile up from the start line of the race.  The fourth day of racing, and people looked pretty beat from the gun.  Within fifteen minutes they'd all passed.

  Go Jeremiah! Go... Other Guy!
Then I had to drive over to another part of the Forest, park, and ride up to my second trail-directing station, the intersection of South Mills River trail and Buckhorn Gap. Todd had specified that I should be there by 11am to catch the first guys.  I got up there at 10:45, ready to point the heck out of my turn.  11:00 came.  11:15.  I gave up on slapping mosquitoes and pulled out my book.

The clock ticked slowly. I realized that Todd had made a very optimistic prediction on how fast the fastest guys might be doing Black-Turkeypen-Mullinax-Squirrel-Horse-476-South Mills when they had several days of Pisgah already in their legs.  Finally at a couple minutes before 12, I heard two voices coming up from below as second place caught the front runner just before the top of the climb to the intersection.  Jeremiah Bishop and Andy Johnston ripped through the intersection wheel to wheel, chatting.  Then silence returned.

Time passed.  I realized from this day on, every time I rolled through that trail intersection I would think about the day I spent there.  It's not an especially striking corner of the forest, but as the hours passed it was really starting to grow on me.
 I amuse myself for a while by attempting to take action shots of the racers as they go by. The Droid shutter is unpredictable.  Snaps too late to catch Robert Maron.
 Snaps too early to catch Evan Plews Dot Com.
 Snaps just right to catch the one and only Sue Haywood
I stretched out on the ground, head propped on my bag, reading the novel I'd brought.  The racers might have been suffering, but so was I, because the book, which I'd randomly pulled from a stack of yet-to-be-read novels, was awful.  [my three syllable review of Kowloon Tong: Don't Bother.] I suffered through 125 pages of it anyway, because there was absolutely nothing else to do.  No cell phone reception, no one but the dog to talk to, nothing to listen to but the wind in the treetops, dozing in the sunshine until I heard the next racer grinding up the hill... okay, it wasn't all that bad.  The clock finally ticked around to 3.  The last riders came through, and I packed up to go.

Saturday I had mostly intended to race cyclocross in Johnson City.  I wanted to race, but was not looking forward to facing the fact that after a month of sickness I was going to be in lousy shape and riding slow.  When I woke up Saturday morning, my back was hurting in an alarming way.  As they say, the "pain was referring down the left leg" in a manner that recalled the herniated disc issues I'd had in 2007-2008.  I was definitely not going to race.  I contemplated how lucky I had been to have such successful disc surgery, and how after the surgery I'd resolved never ever to take spine health for granted.  I'd dropped ten pounds almost immediately post-op and been diligent with my abs and back exercises.  In recent weeks I'd fallen off the wagon on diet a bit, and the pneumonia had been such a distraction I'd forgotten all about stretching and core strength work. 

I decided to head out for a decent mountain bike ride instead of the cross race, then go to the finale party for the Stage Race.  I parked at the stables on 477 to ride a fast loop, Clawhammer-Black Mountain-Avery.  The extended climb up Clawhammer left no doubt that the pneumonia was gone.  I was thankful to breathe deep and sweat it up the climb.

 Recuperating at the Clawhammer-Black intersection.  Felt so damn good to breathe that hard.  Nothing like a period of illness to make you appreciate health.
Once I hit Black Mountain I was surprised to note that the Force was strong with me that day.  I was riding bold on the technical downhills, almost afraid of the lines I took.  I hit a big log drop on a steep rocky descent on Black, a drop I always dismount and walk down.  I made the landing, then was so freaked out by what I'd just done that I had to stop and mentally regroup. 

Coming down through the rock gardens of Avery, I realized that this 2-hour-ish ride was so good that I could happily spend a day doing it three or four times in a row.  And then realized that there are many loops I could say that about in Pisgah.  But the real luxury is that while I could do it if I wanted to, I never need to lap any trails in the Forest because there are just so many good ones to link together.  I am so glad I moved to Asheville. 

Subaru was a sponsor.  Sooo, yes, I parked my Forester in a VIP spot.
I hit the Stage Race party in Brevard to hang out with friends who'd been racing, and to get my free-to-volunteers food and beverage.

I did not partake in the Pie Eating Contest, which looked somewhat terrifying.  Note also the Brevard White Squirrel mascot in the back.  Later on, as the party really got going, children began hitting him with sticks.
It was cool to hear people who have raced on choice trails all over the world talk about how fun the Pisgah trails are, and how challenging they are.  It's true.  These trails are badass.

Big poplar on my favorite stretch of Laurel
Sunday my back was feeling better and I thought for a moment I might go to the second day of the weekend cyclocross races, but instead got back out on the trail.  From the sick time and the trip to Colorado, it had been ages since I'd been on some favorite trails.  The climb up Laurel Mountain unfolds like a story I've heard 100 times and still can't get enough of.  The plot points are familiar but still intrigue me in their particulars.  The lines through the technical bits elude me sometimes, practice makes perfect-- but there are moves through the exposed rock sections that I'm never going to master.

Remnants of course markings and high numbers of tire tracks, reminders that the race had routed up this trail.  It was nice to think about all the people newly introduced to a trail that is just so incredibly fun to ride.  Over the five days they'd crisscrossed the map repeatedly, looping back and forth from a base near Brevard.  I hoped they'd been able to enjoy it all even while in race mode.  

 Forward, downward; no going back on this one. Look around for Cerberus before you commit.
The racers covered most all the choice trails of Pisgah, but there are a few they missed.  I left the clamoring echo of the visitors behind to turn down a different trail.  It's nice to show the racers the best of the Forest, but it's also nice to have beautiful trails that would never be in the race.  I'm no Pisgah Local, but I'm local enough to know these trails.  An unmarked rhododendron tunnel leads to a narrow switchbacked descent dropping out beneath the front wheel.  Foliage grown in so tightly that there's just a split second between seeing what's coming, and riding over it.  The steeps end at last alongside a creek, and pausing there the remoteness of this spot is overwhelming. Wading through the river ten times to get back to the car: thankful that I know this trail exists, thankful that I am healthy enough to ride it, and thankful that I can sleep in my own bed tonight.


  1. Perhaps if I get the chance this winter, I can hook up with you and you can show me some of your newly learned Pisgah secrets!

  2. Definitely!! Nice work in the stage race, Carey-- wish I had been racing too.