The ‘Hoff’ Rider Report of D130 Oct. 3,2020
The day started with an early arrival at the start location, where temps were in the low 40s with a light fog. Forecasted conditions were going to be prime for making an epic loop on the Dirty 130.
The days game plan was to start at 6:45 so that most of the first hour, which is the climb up Kimsey Mtn, would be in the dark. This allowed for a stunning sunrise towards the top, and especially as you make the turn onto the east facing ridge of the Smith Mtn descent. Very early it became clear that today must have been opening bear season, as seeing many trucks with hunting dogs was a regular occurrence. Fortunately, I passed by fellow forest users without any incident. I was pleasantly surprised to find Smith Mtn to be in relatively ‘good’ condition, as I consider it to be one of the rougher parts of the course. Even though it’s mostly downhill, it’s one of those sections that can kinda beat you up and rattle an old dental filling loose. Because I’ve flatted a couple times on recent training rides, I chose to run slightly higher pressure in my 40/42c tire set up, much to my discomfort. The return to Reliance, via Lost Creek, was smooth and steady, where I stopped at the old Webb Brothers Texaco to reload.
From this point, the next sections’ opening part includes a significant creek ford. This was a bit of a sh!t show for me. (Full disclosure- I don’t do well with having cold, soggy feet for many hours, and with temps still in the mid 40s, I chose to do something out of character for me) Once at the creek, I decided to take off my socks and remove insoles so that I’d have a chance at having long term comfort. This removal/installation process cost another 10 minutes not moving. Oh well. The climb up Starr Mtn was slightly looser, in parts, than I last recalled, but otherwise good. I was very careful not burn any matches on this climb or the many paved rollers that lead to Coker Creek Visitor center. Some of these, while not very long, are quite steep.
Coker Creek was the next point of supply where I would get water and eat half of a burrito I carried. I typically eat energy foods while riding, but am discovering that after 7ish hours, I start to find it unappealing. Most (all actually) of my rides are simply not this long. This fueled me for the roll over to start the Buck Bald climb, which I find to be one of the many ‘jewels’ of the loop.
The Buck Bald climb starts on an old Jeep road before opening up onto a forest road before leading into a larger FS road for the final push up to the bald. Early on, there’s even a small cave you ascend past. Once at the summit, you are treated to an unobstructed, 360 degree view of the Cohutta, Nantahala, and Cherokee forest areas. If it’s a clear day, this is worth the price of admission, so to speak. Here, I downed the rest of the burrito and reapplied some lube. (Chain and otherwise.. if yah know what I mean... and I think you do)
From the bald, the return back to Reliance isn’t particular long from a time perspective, but a lot ‘happens’ in this section. Once turning onto Duckett Ridge you get slapped with very steep paved climb. And as an added bonus, there could be an A-hole dog that comes to ‘greet’ you as you try to maintain a single digit rpm up it. Luckily, I got a pass this time. Next, you return to gravel for a mix of ups, downs, and twist and turns. But just when you’re finding your downhill mojo, you again get clubbed in the head with the Fingerboard climb. Approximately a 10 minute, steep grunt on legs with 85ish miles in them. A couple more smaller ‘stingers’ and you’re back to pavement for the run into Reliance, and a possible resupply point. If you’re feeling good in this section, it’s a treat, if not, well then it can suck. In the past, I’ve done if both ways while on recon rides and highly recommend taking precautions so that it’ll feel like a ‘treat’. Your choice; eat appropriately.
Since temps were low, I was hoping to have enough fluids that I could bypass the out of the way Reliance Fly and Tackle supply,( it’s only a couple minutes, really) and make it to the piped spring in the last section of the ride. I chose this, as I find it harder to get restarted when facing, what I call, the ‘championship rounds’ section of the D130 course.
At this point you are approx 100 miles in, but now it’s time for a 2k foot climb up to the summit of the days first big effort. Crossing the river on the suspension bridge, the work begins immediately. Mentally, I had to break this part of the course into smaller sections. First, a 30 minute climb to the Y intersection, where you veer left and descend a short distance to the piped spring. Here, I would top off a couple bottles. (Spring is piped straight into the ground with no man made/agri development above it, so I didn’t treat. No issues from it) The next little mental section is the varying pitch climb along Wolf Creek, which is lined with beautiful rhododendron and evergreens, up to the split onto a much rougher Ditney Mtn. It’s these final 5ish miles of climbing that test ones resolve. This is due to the gravel road becoming more of a trail in spots. You transition from good surface to really old, unmaintained road while still ascending. Finally, after what is the better part of 2 hours from crossing the suspension bridge, you merge back into the larger Kimsey Mtn road to finish off the remaining climbing of D130. What was sunrise 12 hours ago, was now showing sunset on the descent to the finish. I thought it emblematic because a loop on the Dirty 130 is a ‘full days work’.
Total time was 12:34 and as I write this, sore the following day, I can’t wait to plan another lap. All in all it was a magical day on a magical course!