Getting myself ready for a couple of things coming up, I've been looking for some bigger rides that are semi-local to avoid making myself dizzy riding the same loops over and over here at home. I'm a fanboy of Kim's routes but hadn't done one in a while, so I figured I would go give the D130 an off season spin.
I sent the email stating that I would start last Friday but then noticed that some Winter weather was predicted for Monday. "Cool, snow!", I thought to myself as I decided to reschedule. Cue foreshadowing music. My buddy Walt Brittain also needed to do a long ride so he decided to come along as well. We drove up to Reliance and stayed in a couple of Kim's Fireside Outpost cabins Sunday night. That place was awesome. I hated to leave the next morning and vowed to be back as we drove to our pre-dawn start.
Getting suited up in the dark while snow is falling on you will put some weird Juju in your head. Best or worst day of your life. You know it could go either way but the only way to find out is to start pedaling. We roll out at around 7 AM and started up Kimsey-my favorite climb of this route (and others). Steady grade that you can just settle into like a recliner. The thing about riding in the snow I always forget is that your feet get just as wet as if it were raining. Five miles in and I already can't feel my feet.
Our target was around 13 hours so I decided to forgo the Gore socks. Biggest mistake of the day but we're making good time and enjoying some mind blowing snow scenes. I am once again graciously reminded by the signage that I "am the Universe" before reaching the Webb store at mile 32. Closed till March...dang it. There goes my turkey and plastic cheese sandwich I planned to have for breakfast. I did a quick inventory of my pack food and ate a handful of walnuts instead. Onward.
The weather is becoming progressively less than ideal. The temperature is dropping and the snow keeps falling. Contingencies start to enter my head but we're having a good time and are in good spirits. We headed up Star Mountain and my decision to not eat breakfast that morning caught up with me. I start eating disgustingly and often until we reach the top.
My calorie supply is relying very much on the Coker Welcome Center being open at this point. Closed Monday-Thursday...dang it. Walt and I had gotten separated for a couple of miles as I waited for him on the front porch, wondering what I was going to do for food. Getting colder. Wind picking up. The lights were on so I decided that it couldn't hurt to knock. A couple of minutes later, an angel of mercy disguised as an 80 year old man came to the door. "We're not open, but I guess we can be." I bought two of everything and shoved 1,000 kcals down my neck. Feeling like a Hulkamaniac again. Onward.
Riding into the afternoon, we have a couple of dog encounters. Walt did this thing where he would speak really easy and they would just chill out. Gifted. It's getting dark as we climb to Buck Bald. The wind is screamin' up top as we quickly took our mandatory selfies and got out of there. As we descended, our water bottles started to freeze. The nozzles had been ice all day but now I was having to eat my water. Our bikes were completely coated with ice. The ice in my drivetrain was starting to make shifting difficult and the suspension was becoming stiff.
We reached the Hiwassee suspension bridge at night and were treated to an image that cameras just can't capture. Snow and ice everywhere, The industrial sounds from the dam combined with the raging river below created this kind of spooky David Lynch scene. I'll remember that forever. Onward.
Two climbs to go but we're both feeling the effects of the weather. As far as I can tell, I don't have feet and hands. The snow is starting to come down in sheets. The higher we go, the more accumulation we encounter. Exposed rocks are covered in ice making them useless for traction. Every time I get out of the saddle, my wheel spins out. My right cleat has broken off from banging ice out of it all day. I'm starting to dehydrate because I can't eat any more ice. Walt's computer says 22 degrees with high winds. I have reached maximum discomfort. The saturation point where the moment ceases to affect you and you become weirdly optimistic. I make a joke to Walt about how this is exactly like 'The Revenant' but without the bears. I get a mild chuckle. Tough crowd at this point I guess.
We reach the top and bundle up for the super sketchy 10 mile downhill that was ahead. Heavy snow cover, ice, and cold wind made for a slow descent down Kimsey. We hit the pavement and were on our way to our 1 AM finish. The heaters were cranked to 11 as we sat in our cars until the numbness faded. That post epic ride elation really settled in as I started my 3 hour drive home fueled by day-old pizza, truck stop coffee, and some scorchin' Hall & Oates tunes. Every time I leave that Greasy Creek area, I can't wait to go back and do it again. Thanks for all of your hard work Kim and Shannon! I still can't feel one of my toes.