ENDUROPACKING, PART 3
January 12, 2022
The third day of our adventure began with a bang by climbing up and out of our two-track home and directly up the top section of Black Mountain. A few friends joined us as we clambered our way up the trail to the top of the ridge. As we rode, we got a brief history lesson on Black Mountain and the surrounding trails, which was a pleasant way to start the day. Our nice break up at the top to enjoy the view and the rad descent that followed was the perfect payoff!
Our route had us hopping on Highway 276 briefly before cruising into Headwater Road and enjoying a pleasant pedal on smooth gravel roads. We slowly worked our way over to Cove Creek Road followed by Cove Creek trail, where we took some time to session a smooth wall ride feature. As we descended further into the Cove Creek valley, the humidity and moisture on the ground increased, making roots and rocks slick.
Up until this point we had seen very few people, but the lower section of Cove Creek trail is popular. Folks wander in to check out the waterfalls, so we rode cautiously to avoid surprising anyone. Popping out onto Lower Cove Creek Road, we opted for a short snack break and caught a glimpse of a fantastic waterfall and subsequent soaking pools. It was early yet, and we had all day to wander over to Bracken Preserve, so we thought we might as well enjoy a wee dip. We summoned a couple of beers from the depths of our framebags and soon our sore bodies were waist-deep in the cool creek water. The sun shone through in shafts of warm light down to the creek, where we explored and watched others slide down the falls and into a catch pool. It was the perfect spot to burn an hour of the day, but we had ground to cover.
Back on the bikes, we made quick work of descending along the Davidson River down to the fish hatchery. From here we had a long climb on a forest road some eight or nine miles over to the Bracken Preserve. Naturally, this drawn-out climb coincided with the hottest part of the day, and the lack of air movement near the bottom of the climb made for a toasty one. The rapid clicking of shifters searching for easier gears echoed among us as we gained elevation up and away from the river. We all jockeyed back and forth during the climb, stopping to adjust clothing, have a drink and a snack, and just catch our breath.
It wasn’t until we rose above the nearest trees and caught views of the valley below that we began to benefit from the breeze that was slowly building. During a break near the top, we surmised after a quick consult with our cellular devices that some weather would be gracing us in the evening. C’est la vie. It took a bit of exploration up on the ridge to find a suitable camping spot, but we secured one and stashed our gear in the rhododendrons.
This would be one of the final big descents of the trip, but we didn’t have much time to stop and chat as the rain clouds surrounded us. The upside to the deteriorating weather was that we had the trail to ourselves and could let go of the brakes more than usual. As we neared the bottom, the rain intensified, becoming a monsoon as I hit the parking lot. A small trailhead kiosk offered modest respite from the deluge. We eventually grew tired of waiting on the storm to pass and were emboldened by the cornucopia of fried delicacies that awaited us at Oskar Blues.
We arrived at Oskar Blues in a super-saturated state from the combination of pouring rain and tire spray. Despite the soaking, our spirits soared at the prospect of hot food and cold beer. Securing a table under the cavernous awning, we set out in teams to order food and beer. Friends joined us for the refueling bonanza, and we discussed that evening’s potential weather. We had front row seats to the oncoming storm front, and I suggested that perhaps we make haste while we had a weather window. I was looked upon foolishly for suggesting such an idea and the crew informed me hastily that at least one more beer was in order before traveling back from whence we came. We relished one more beer before settling our debts and hatching a plan. We stashed away a few beers on our bikes for the evening in camp and made a quick stop at a convenience store to gather the rest of our provisions for that night and the following morning.
Closing in on our climb, the skies began to open up once again, and it was every man for himself. Brent had elected to stay over at his friend’s home to catch up on old times and avoid the oncoming thunderstorm. That left three of us to claw our way up the trail to the relative safety of our shelters. The only problem was that all of the gear was still stored — we’d need to pitch our shelters before we could enjoy them.
I reached camp first and wasted no time retrieving our gear and piling it up. I set my tarp up as large as I could make it to offer respite for more than just one weary soul. A bit later, Evan and Neil arrived about as wet as you can be without being fully submersed. Everyone made it a priority to set up their shelters and don “dry” clothing for the evening. Once we were all set up, I invited the others over for beverages at my abode. We passed the rainy evening reliving old stories, talking about the day we had and the one the awaited us. Our headlamps caught glimpse of a colorful item in the leaves, which we discovered was a salamander wandering about camp. How cool to have this creature wander in and check us out! We took that as a good sign and parted ways for a well-earned night of sleep.
Our final wake-up of the trip was soggy, but we didn’t really care much since we just had to descend back to the van. Brent rejoined us, making our crew of four whole again. We carelessly stuffed our wet gear into any available space on the bike and began the short ride down to the parking area. I was thankful to have the super-knobby Kessel tires holding fast to the damp and slick trail. We backtracked down the forest road that had granted us access to our camp and were soon at the Davidson River once again. A stop for some post-trip photos near the river seemed fitting. Just as quickly as our adventure had begun near the entrance to the Pisgah National Forest, it was now coming to a close. I think we all learned a thing or two about Enduropacking and what we might do differently next time. You know it’s a successful adventure when you have yet to arrive home and you’re already talking about the next one.