Landing on Pilot Rock

Published by Steve Dorsey on

Landing on Pilot Rock

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While on my 2020 Road Trip, I stopped in Brevard, North Carolina to ride for three days with Red Wolf Mountain Bike Tours and Seth (from Seth’s Bike Hacks / Berm Peak). It was four days of fun-filled challenges with great people and great rides. This ride was the toughest of the trip. It was just 14 miles, but it was 14 of the toughest miles I have ever undertaken on a mountain bike. We rode up Laurel Mountain and down Pilot Rock; two of the most challenging trails in the entire area.

The Approach

We drove to the trailhead individually and loaded up the bikes. I brought 3 liters of water, a variety of snacks, and the very center of my determination. I had been told that this is a climb for the mighty; a rough ride that only the best can complete. I was scared, but my resolve was steadfast. It was time to work. Riding the gravel road traveling up to the trailhead was a test of my nerves. Having been up Pilot Cove trail a year earlier, I knew how punishing these mountains could be. The humidity was extremely high (around 90%) and it was almost 80ºf at the start of the trail. It only got hotter. Hydration was important, as my sweat was not evaporating efficiently and I was not cooling off in a way I was accustomed. I drank water excessively, and I tried hard to rest and enjoy what little moments of breeze and wind we were exposed to.

Taking Off

The start of the singletrack was easier than I had expected. The trail was wet, but relatively level. It slowly ramped up and became more challenging as the terrain became more difficult to traverse. It seemed as if the difficulty of the terrain (rocks, roots, and fallen trees) increased along with the grade. Starting at a mild 5% was fairly easy to conquer, but the upper sections of the trail increased in steepness to well over 25%. Along with the grade, we were treated to more and larger rocks and a wide variety of wet root systems to slip around on with our wet tires.

Cruising Altitude

At a certain point, it became necessary to get off the bike and push it up the hill. The gnar was far too technical to be ridden safely, and I was quickly running out of water. Lifting the bike over the huge fallen trees and giant rocks was becoming tiresome. I was reaching my limit. As we approached the top of the climb, I broke away from our part of the group and pushed harder to get to the top of the hill. I wanted this ugly clim to be over with. My primary interest was to get started on the downhill and to complete this brutal day before I became too tired.

Coming in for a Landing

The ride down was extremely difficult. This may have been the toughest downhill I have ever attempted. It was filled with over thirty switchbacks, giant rocks, slippery roots, and occasional drops. Labeled as a double-black-diamond, this trail didn’t mess around and possessed a thirst for bike blood. I navigated the downhill as carefully as I could without slowing to a crawl. It was important to maintain a certain speed in order for the bike’s wheels to roll over the various obstacles that were thrown in front of us as we descended. Having completely run out of water, I was in a hurry to get to the bottom so that I could dig into Barrett’s cooler for a cold drink. As we exited onto the gravel road that led back to the trucks, I tried my best to recover and to keep my head on my shoulders. I needed to stay sane until I could rest a little bit and gain some of the strength I had given up in order to complete this monumental endeavor. We met later that evening at Barrett & Jenna’s home to enjoy a meal and relive our experiences on the trail. It was a welcome respite and we all gleefully ate our fair share of food (and then a bit more).

Seth accepts his signed gift from the crew.

I was able to give Seth a wall hanging that I had been working on for the last few months. We had all signed the back, and gave it to Seth as a thank-you for all he does for the mountain biking community (and beyond). Overall, it was a VERY tough day with a VERY big reward. I’m in no hurry to experience that pain again, but I would jump at the chance to ride with the other heroes who braved the North Carolina skies with me that day. We overcame amazing obstacles (literally), and proved that we could achieve the impossible.
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