We had spoken about some possible routes and that maybe we should keep this trip fairly casual. If you know Jeff and I, you know that we use the term "casual" rather casually. Jeff drove up Friday morning to get in a few early miles. I was able to hit the road mid afternoon which left me about 5 hours to scheme up a route that I know only Jeff would accompany me on. I tried to come up with ideas of how to sell this route to him if he was at all hesitant.
Here is the route that I came up with...
DRCG=>477=>276=>475B=>225=>Cove Creek=>475=>5003=> 140=>Sumney=>5031 =>140A=>Farlow=>DR=>DR Connector=>225=>475B=>276=>1206=>LM=>PR=>PRKWY
=>Big Creek=>Reservoir Rd.=>5000=>1206=>5015=>BC=>LC=>SG=>SMR =>Buckhorn =>Black=> Buckwheat=>Bennet=>477
When I arrived at camp, I casually mentioned what I had in mind. Jeff just gave me a smile. I don't think he was surprised that I sprung this on him in the least bit. We know each other well and understand that if it's just the two of us riding in the PNF then the rides are going to be big.
We had wheels rolling around 8:00 the next morning. It was a bit chilly but we knew that 477 would warm us up rather quickly. We cruised up 477 stopping to remove our jackets and fuss with our packs. When we hit Cove Creek we were happy to see the trail in great condition despite all of the rain in recent days. We made our way over to 140 and checked out the swollen creek alongside the road. This section of road is by far one of my favorite places in the forest.
We stopped at Courthouse Falls to fill up with water, change into something cooler, and eat some lunch. As we climbed 5031 up to Farlow, we decided that it would be in our best interest to divert down 229 to 475 to CC and back to 276. As we started climbing Cove Creek, I hit a wall. My breathing was shallow and I felt as if I were bonking. We were only 6 hours into our ride and I was miserable. I was trying to think of ways to quit but I knew that quitting was not an option. We worked our way to 1206 and at this time Jeff mentioned that he wanted to see Big Creek in the daylight and suggested saving a little time by heading up Pilot to the Parkway instead of Laurel.
Jeff took the lead up Pilot as I dropped off a bit. We have hiked this section many times so I knew what we where getting into but I wasn't sure how it would affect me in my current state. When I get into situations like this I have bailed myself out before by telling myself "just keep putting one foot in front of the other". I kept repeating this thought in my head and slowly trudged on. It is not very often that someone gets to see me broken but I'm sure that Jeff was smiling on the inside as the roles are usually reversed.
Once we hit Big Creek, the temperature was dropping and we knew that we would be running out of daylight soon. We changed into something warmer, mounted lights and pointed ourselves down hill. This was Jeff's first time down Big Creek and I had only seen it once before. I couldn't remember where it was but I did remember "the switchback" that put me down during my previous encounter. I wasn't sure if I wanted to take my chances with round two but as soon as I saw it, I knew that I wasn't backing down. Once again it was close but I nailed it this time! After many swift creek crossings we popped out at the reservoir and made it out to 1206.
Once out on 1206, I found something.. my legs. I was able to stay seated 90% of the climb to Yellow Gap which kept my HR low and allowed me to recover. Jeff on the other hand was about to hit his wall. The hike-a-bike on Laurel Creek was stream-like and engorged with hoof prints. Every time a step was taken, the mud insisted on trying to suck your shoe off. This slog hit Jeff hard and he was not in great shape as we made it to Squirrel. I was feeling great and felt that we could make up some time on this section of the route. It didn't take long to realize that Jeff did not have the balance nor the surging power that is needed to navigate a singlespeed through the technical sections of Squirrel. It took a while but we eventually hit the bridge and started spinning toward Black Mountain.
As we hit Buckhorn/Black Mountain intersection we stopped. Even though I already knew the answer, I had to ask. The big finish of descending Bennet before it's seasonal closure was not to be. We bailed on Clawhammer. That's right.. we bailed, but we payed for taking the easy way out. As we hit high speeds on the long Clawhammer descent there was a huge drop in temperature which froze us to the core. Our wet feet were blocks of ice and we both shivered uncontrollably. It seemed as if we were being punished for taking the easy way out.
Our "casual" ride concluded with 95 miles and 16 hours. Even though we were unable to complete the planned route, we had a great time trying. As long as we keep playing the game, one of these days we are bound to win!