Monica Desjardins (3)
This is a long one so maybe take a quick bathroom break to get started. I decided I would join Kim Ranallo for Dirty 130 after realizing our birthdays were pretty close and she had planned to ride the route for her bday on the 7th and I was going for mine on the 15th. We had just raced Cohutta 100 with one weekend of rest and tackling this thing at the same time just seemed like a more fun way to celebrate. After cross referencing some of my previous rides to get an idea of how much time it may take, I noticed I tend to ride parts of this route the same time every year. It’s so funny how I follow patterns when it’s not a conscious effort. But goes to show this is another one of my favorite areas.
We decided to roll right before dawn, which meant waking up at 4 am to make the trip to Reliance. Dang hwy 30 is a curvy road to navigate that early in the morning. I really didn’t eat that much breakfast so early but planned on consuming the rest of my breaky as we rolled out. Parked the car and rolled from Mona’s Antiques right on Hwy 30. It was chilly and I contemplated grabbing a vest, but decided I would probably be hot. Weather said the high would be 60, cloudy with 30% chance of early showers and some 15% chance of intermittent showers throughout the day. I did not look at that night's weather report. We hit the road and it was chilly but we warmed up by peddling.
Greasy Creek Rd leads to Kimsey Mtn Hwy and turns to gravel. Approaching Cold Springs Gap things always seem a bit ugly but storms the day before really dropped a lot of debris onto the roads. The sticks and debris were all over. We navigated the rocky stuff and at some point it started raining but I can’t remember exactly where. The descents were chilly without a vest. We made a left onto Lost Creek Rd, and I recall some small trees down, but there was a good one we had to climb through that had some dual sport guys quite stumped. They asked us for reroutes but we had no time for that. They were well equipped with gps and gear, and maybe they will remember a saw next time they venture through the NF roads.
Lost creek went by quickly and we were on our way back down 30. Web store was inviting, and even though early I needed a supply stop and to clean the grit from my glasses. I grabbed a juice, oatmeal cream pie and looked for wool socks, because they do have a little bit of everything and my feet had been soggy, cold, and numb for a while. It felt good to be able to get my clean glasses back on and some eye protection. After Tellico Highlands I fought off some conjunctivitis and did not want to deal with that again.
We continued to Hambright road. This is when I remembered the dog and decided to make sure Kim was aware. There is a pitbull terrier that lives at the house at the end of that road. It had been 2 years since I had been there so I wasn’t sure it would be an issue. Well it was and happened just like it had before. The road dead ends and you see just brush and tall grass and have to outrun the dog into the woods. I just trust that the path is still there. I tell Kim just pedal hard into the woods and aim for the grass, a trail will become visible eventually. The dog shouldn't follow us that far. So it goes as planned but still scary as hell, we both do not like being chased by dogs. This footpath through the woods follows railroad tracks which is where we eventually must make a river crossing to get to Spring Creek Rd. Poison Ivy was about shoulder high already and briers were tall enough to tangle you up. We made it to Spring Creek and across Star climbing the steep side. On the way down were some more dogs and also a couple of nice ladies on horses. This road is a horse area, and it’s a good idea to be on alert for them. I always stop when I see horses and ask the riders what to do. These 2 had never seen bikes so she said to just keep talking to her and walk the bike past. They were sweet but still a little nervous and passed me close and curious asking for muzzle skritches. It’s always important to make good encounters with other trail users.
After Star we turn Left back on Hwy 30 to Ivy Tr. where we cross Towee Creek area to get to Hwy 68 and Coker Creek Visitor Center and another planned break for us. We got there in good time even with a potty break and picture stops. I bought a coke and chips at Coker Creek and am really kicking myself for not buying some earrings as a bday treat. We had a nice break and off we were towards Buck Bald. We would be reaching into North Carolina via the Joe Brown Hwy. One of the coolest parts of this area is the ability to navigate all the way to Robinsville NC or Murphy and beyond via solid stretches of forest roads which make up a portion of the Trail of Tears. After JBHWY we had a hard right onto Shulers Creek which is a pretty darn flat road that follows Shulers Cr to the Hiwassee River. It's crushed substrate that tends to be slurpy on a drizzly day. I highly recommend though for someone that wants a beautiful easy scenic ride to do an out and back. Off that we make a right up a gated road just before reaching Hwy 68. Kim has never ridden Buck Bald so I am getting stoked to see what she thinks. The road is a little spicy before it connects with the main one that spirals up to the Bald. I have died so many deaths up this climb, but not today. I was wishing my feet were dry, but the legs felt ok. This section is just an out and back with no purpose other than to see the amazing 360 view of mountains we had crossed in addition to the Smokies, the surrounding mountains of Cherokee NF, Nantahala NF towards Murphy NC and even Cohutta Wilderness and beyond. Well with the weather we pretty much couldn’t see anything but fog, so we quickly took some required selfies and rolled back down to a warmer, less windy break spot.
It was during this refuel that I realized that my top tube bag had turned into a big soggy mess, where the oatmeal cream pies, fig bars and pop tart were turning into a doughy gross concoction. At this point there was a good bit of giggling and just randomness as we were realizing how far we were into this thing, and most of the big ugly was out of the way….or so I thought.
Next segment was to cross back through the valley and hollers to Childers creek to hit the Hiwassee powerhouse climb. I felt like we were in the home stretch. We navigated some paved road to the Bailey turn, Duncan Ridge and Fingerboard Rd. It was on the descent off of Duncan I believe is where Kim disappeared, I turned around and found her in the middle of a tire change. I took the opportunity to clean up my fuel bag. She was a quick mechanic and off we went to the powerhouse. The climb up seemed pretty tame at the pace we took it, and I focused on drinking fluids in prep for a refill at the pipe spring. In my mind we just had to grab some water, get around Ditney mtn and we were on the home stretch. I somehow pushed the fact of how long and hard Kimsey mtn was out of mind. When we got to the turn off it was dark and we had been running our lights for a little bit. Also, a thick fog had settled in. This section had taken a hit with Friday’s storm. It was a mess with car swallowing mud holes and trees down. The trail is not really gravel but exposed rock, weeds, and dirt. I felt very off balance in the dark and dismounted several times because I could not navigate the washed out road. My pace felt painfully slow and I tried to calculate how long it would take if I actually had to walk it in the dark. Kim was a bit ahead of me and I heard some verbalization. When I caught up she had another flat and she was trying to see if the valve was the problem. After messing around and not getting anywhere the decision was made to walk and warm up. I tried to text Thom my location and that I would be really late getting home. We were shivering and it was hard to have motor coordination to do anything when you are like that. So the decision was made to walk until she felt warm enough to change the tube again. Kim replaced the next one even faster this time and it held air. I remember looking down and seeing 11pm, I had to come to terms with the delayed gratification of my finish. User error there. Thom must be worried and my Outbound Lighting Hangover had been on lowest setting for 2 hrs now. I was feeling dumb for miscalculating how hard this could be in the dark and not making note of night weather. I definitely had a fear of a bad storm rolling in, with some of the wind coming across the ridge there. We grinded out again and finally got to the downhill.
The descent was treacherous. I was very frustrated with the fog and usually descend fast. There were many times where I could have ridden right through a downed tree and not have seen a thing. I made sure I could always see Kim's light and just trusted I could react if needed creeping all the way down with wet squealing brakes. Hitting the pavement was a blessing and we raced at that point towards the car. Once on the road it was so quiet and calm, the darkness hugged us. Wearily, but now giddy we raced back to Mona’s. The delight of actually being done and safe was notable. I stripped down as fast as I could manage and we both jumped in our warm cars. It was a long day, but so much fun up until the end, and a good scare isn’t that bad, just reminds me to be more sharp.