This past weekend I joined my friend Troy in an attempt on the Dirty 130 route. Conquering the three ITTs had been a goal of mine for 2023 but after a complete rupture of my bicep tendon in April I didn’t think it was going to happen. The bicep injury had to be surgically repaired and with the physical restrictions that I was under following the surgery I just wasn’t able to train like I needed to in order to take on these monster routes. So when Troy reached out to me last week to ask if I wanted to do the Dirty 130 over the weekend my immediate answer was “thanks but I’m not up for something that challenging right now”. But Troy was planning to bikepack it and cover the route over two days and I naively thought that didn’t sound too hard. Boy was I wrong on that.
We started around 7am on Saturday morning and the ride from the start to Webb Brothers was nice. But it was already starting to get pretty hot. At Webb Brothers we grabbed some water and snacks and I ate the Hardee’s biscuit I stuffed in my bag that morning. Troy took a little power nap while I took a dip in the Hiwassee to cool off. In hindsight spending this much time at Webb Brother’s was a bad idea. When we started rolling again it had gotten really hot and the heat was starting to get to me. The little asphalt climb before you turn on Starr Mountain Road was like a sauna - the heat was just radiating off the pavement. I had forgotten to put an extra bottle cage on my downtube so I was only carrying three bottles of water and quickly realized that was not going to be enough. I tried to refill my bottles at the church right at the beginning of the climb but the water coming out of the spigot was brown so I decided to pass on that. By the time we got to the top of the Starr Mtn Rd climb I was completely out of water and starting to feel pretty dehydrated. Thankfully we found Yellow Creek on the other side of Starr Mtn and were able to filter some water and cool off a little. Our goal for day one was to get to the Coker Creek Welcome Center, grab some drinks and snacks, and then camp by Shuler Creek. As we got closer to the welcome center we started talking about all of the things we were going to indulge in - cokes, chips, ice cream, and maybe a fried pie if they had one. We rolled up to the welcome center at 7:30 thinking we had just made it before they closed at 8:00. It was pretty crushing seeing the closed sign and seeing that they had closed at 5pm. Not much we could do about that so we got back on the road, made it to Shuler Creek, and set up camp for the night.
We had planned to get up at 5am the next morning so we could beat the heat but we overslept and didn’t get rolling until after 7am. It rained steadily for the first six hours - which was preferable to the blazing heat the day before. We didn’t really get to enjoy the view on Buck Bald because it was raining pretty hard and had started thundering. By the time we got to the Fly and Tackle Shop it was dumping rain and we were soaked to the bone. The people at the tackle shop were great and made me an amazing brisket sandwich and some homemade mac and cheese. As we sat on the bench out front the rain continued and lighting was flashing pretty regularly. Then we heard what sounded like an explosion really close by. We stepped into the store to ask the owners what the loud boom was and they said “yeah we just got hit by lightning” and they showed us the plastic shrapnel from where their beer cooler had somehow blown apart. Troy looked at me and said “I’m out. I’m not dying out here”. He paid the tackle shop owner to drive him back to Mona’s and I decided to wait out the storm a little and try and get it done. After about 30 minutes the lightning had stopped and I was able to get rolling again. The section along the Hiwassee was nice and even the climb after the swinging bridge wasn’t bad. But that last ten-mile climb just about did me in. The rains had stopped, the sun was out, and you could see the steam rising off the ground. I was critically low on water and energy and had to do a lot of hike-a-bike in the first half of the climb. It took me two and a half hours to finish the climb. Kimsey Mountain Road seemed a little rockier going down than it did climbing up and it took me another hour to make it back to Mona’s.
I’m not a fast rider by any means. But I feel like I’m pretty ok at endurance, have done some hard things in my life, and don’t quit on anything. But this route certainly had me close to breaking more than once. I will definitely be back for the Death March Revival and Tellico Highlands routes - hopefully this fall.