As this weekend's festivities have gotten closer, I find myself being pensive -- a year ago, I volunteered to help in the parking area before getting my recon of Stage 1 on. I told myself I didn't know Pisgah well enough to compete yet ... but that maybe in 2011 I'd be ready. I was right -- I dropped in on Squirrel, caught up to Emily B. and her partner on some singletrack, and promptly went ass-over-teakettle in a spectacular display of dipshitedness.
And so now here we are. And as much as I like to begin to think about myself as a local, I'm going to do a very non-local thing. Though we all love Pisgah, the deep-rooted folks here have kind of a secret handshake going: You just don't tell outsiders how incredibly awesome this place is. "We" don't want our trails getting clogged up with tourists. Thankfully, though, there are enough transplants here now that it's not hard to find good routes, especially via MTBR ... though beware, because even then the "locals" like to send Pisgah newbies on some pretty knarly routes through the woods ...
Anyway, in the spirit of celebrating one year of Pisgah, I present my "Pisgah Awards." These are my opinion only, and are fully debatable -- and, truth be told, I can't wait to look back in 5 years and see if I still have the same opinion of these trails, especially the crazy-hard ones ...
First, the rough stuff:
Worst fire road climb: I'm going to have to go with Pilot Mountain Road up to Farlow Gap. For many, the payoff is awesome, but I'm not quite there on Farlow yet, so for me not so much. It's just ugly, especially if you've been climbing since the Hatchery or you're racing SWANK. Honorable mentions: Bent Creek Gap Road -- you just forget how dang steep it gets. Also, 471 from the campground all the way to Pilot Mountain (Stage Race).
Worst singletrack climb: Club Gap. Rocky, steep, nasty, with not such a great payoff. Especially in a race. (This category precludes the trails we "normally" go down -- some of those are pretty nasty too!)
Worst hike-a-bike: The top of Black, coming up from Pressley Gap. Solo or in a group, it's just tough -- but the views are beautiful. Honorable mentions: The "staircase" on Laurel (uphill); Farlow Gap (downhill).
Wetest trail: Graveyard Fields. Holy crap, you're riding through rivers the whole time. Honorable mention: Ivestor Gap. Almost as bad, just to get to Graveyard. Yuck.
Sloppiest area: The whole east side of Turkeypen. Vinyard Gap and Bradley Creek are just nasty. Honorable mention: South Mills River in Turkeypen and North Mills River in NMR.
Are we there yet? Middle Fork. No matter which way you slice it, The Never-ending Road seems to never end.
Surprise kick: Pea Gap sort of sneaks up on you.
"Flat"-est trail: Greenslick. I've only been down it twice without either flatting or seeing someone with a flat. Honorable mention: Laurel Mountain. Nice rocks.
Stupidest trail: Sumney/Summey Cove. Not quite as remote as the Black Balsam area trails, but the payoff is pretty lame. I just remember being hot and sweaty, and hiking a ton only to have to hike down the other side too. Not my favorite.
Toughest trail: Hmmm ... I'm going to have to go with Farlow on this one. Though I'm still walking the very bottom of Pilot, I'm at least getting further each time I ride it. Farlow though? Notsomuch.
Least-favorite trail: I have not yet figured out how to make Avery Creek "fun." It's fall-line at its worst, only to dump you into the Pisgah equivalent of the La Brea tar pits.
And now, the good stuff:
Favorite after-work route, no lights: Laurel > Pilot. This is a long ride to fit in without lights, starting from NMR and looping back via 1206, so you have to be in shape, and you only get a couple of weeks around the summer solstice to make it happen. Honorable mention: Spencer Gap > Trace plus Bear Branch. My go-to route, also from NMR, 90 minutes or so of pure twilight bliss.
Favorite after-work route, lights: Anything with the crew from Sycamore Cycles in Brevard, particularly if it includes Long Branch and Cat Gap. Wes and Dan hit out from the gun, and if you can keep up, well, it's a good day for sure.
Best night ride: Bent Creek, particularly Sidehill. BC is just smooth enough to be an intro to Pisgah, and just rough enough that adding the night factor makes it more fun and challenging. Great training for a 24-hour race. Honorable mention: Cove Creek can be downright insane when you're trying to make a time cutoff, at midnight, on Halloween. Just sayin'.
Best trail for my 2-year-old: Foster Creek. Out of the way, short, fun, and right up the road from her babysitter.
Best trail for my wife: Flat Laurel Creek. Waterfalls and scenery with an awesome roller coaster of a ride.
Best roller-coaster: Cove Creek from 225. Yee-haw!
Best seasonal: Bennett Gap. Seasonals are only open Oct. 15 through April 15, and Bennett gets better the closer you get to closing, due to the traffic. By April 1, it's amazing. Honorable mention: Coontree. Super fun and fast, but way too short.
Best Legends Loop: Thanks to Dave Thomas for this one: Laurel > Pilot > Horse Cove > Squirrel in any configuration, but particularly ending on Pilot. More bench cut than you can imagine, climbs to keep you honest, and a payoff that is unreal. Honorable mention: You just can't ride Pisgah without hitting Clawhammer > Black > Buckwheat > Bennett at least once.
Favorite singletrack climb: SMR > Buckhorn Gap from 476. Big-ring fun, going uphill. Honorable mention: Buckhorn Gap trail from 477 to Clawhammer Road.
Favorite fireroad climb: 475B > 225.
Favorite descent: This is a tough one, but I'm going to have to go with Big Creek. Insanely steep in places, fast and remote. Hairpins that are manageable. Bench-cut that is sometimes not. In the running for favorite trail, especially after the leaves are cleaned off a bit. Honorable mention: Butter Gap.
Best "secret" trail: Bear Branch. Great warmup for Trace, or just out there to have fun on your own. As long as the equestrians aren't out. Honorable mentions: Foster Creek or Wash Creek. Either one is only 10 minutes at a casual pace, but both are fun and flowy.
Best views: Really tough, but I'm going to go with the top of Bennett. Incredible views on both sides. Honorable mentions: Slate Rock, Clawhammer or Black.
Favorite spot: My favorite spot in the Forest is the intersection of Spencer Gap and Trace Ridge. There's a cairn there, and I always stop for a second to help build it. It's meditative, before bombing down to the river.
Favorite trail: My favorite trail in Pisgah? Turkeypen Gap Trail, from Black to the parking lot. Remote (it takes an hour of riding/hike-a-bike to get to the start), crazy-steep, loamy, with "earn-your-turns" hike-a-bikes in the middle -- Turkeypen Gap has it all as you razorback along the ridge. And in a rarity for Pisgah, it's dry -- no water crossings at all. There's just something about that trail that calls to me -- and I answer it whenever I can.
So there you have it. I know I've got a lot of learnin' to do, but that's why events like PMBAR and Double Dare are so much fun. I look forward to the days when I feel comfortable pulling off crazy moves like the staircase on Farlow, and I'm certain those days are coming ...
Have a great weekend everyone, ride hard and have fun!