I had one, and only one, day to ride in Pisgah. I know, how could I even hope to capture even a fraction of what the National Forest had to offer in just one ride?
So, I went to Motion Makers bike shop and got the recommendation to ride up Laurel Ridge and down Pilot Rock. I reviewed the proposed ride on line and found it to be a solid ride and, arguably, a classic Pisgah ride.
I changed the proposed route a little bit by parking at the lowest spot of FR1206 (Yellow Gap Rd) between the Slate Rock trailhead and the Laurel Mtn trailhead. This ensured that my road ride back to the car at ride's end would all be down hill - at the very small cost (advantage?) of a short dirt road climb at the start of the ride.
The climb was just as advertised - great singletrack with easily ride-able grades for the vast majority of the 5+ miles to the ride's high point just short of the BRP. Some of the technical challenges in the first few miles were just hard enough, so I dabbed and walked in a few spots. The super-steep and rooty/rocky climbs just before the apex of the ride were certainly not ride-able by me, but they were not that long as a hike-a-bike and certainly not dangerous in my bike shoes.
On one of the easier climbs about four miles in I found that I had actually acquired a rear snake-bite flat (tubeless at home, tubes on the rental bike). I was very confused about the cause of the flat, as I had not remembered any hard hits while climbing. I chalked it up to a bad memory and the super-light tube that came out of the tire. My replacement tube was a standard weight, so I figured that staying light on my wheels, as I normally do, would probably keep me flat-free for the remainder of the ride.
However, since I knew that I had a technical descent ahead of me, with no patches and no more tubes, I was a little nervous. Luckily, a local rider, doing the same ride as me, stopped to help and, after hearing of my concern, GAVE me his patch kit. I almost didn't accept it, but fearing a long, steep walk-out from Pilot, I graciously accepted it. Kudos to the generosity and compassion of that local (Brevard) rider!
Riding anxiety-free, I proceed up to the top of Pilot and began the descent. As I did so, I re-evaluated my earlier thought of doing an out-and-back. After all, the five-mile ST ride back down Laurel ridge would have made an awesome ride. However, after descending a few switchbacks, I decided that I would ride the route as prescribed and, if I wanted some less technical descending, that I would add the Pilot Cove/Slate Rock trail.
I rode most of the switchbacks. They were all ride-able, but I picked bad lines into a few of them and chose to dismount rather than try to compensate for my poor lines and endo. After cleaning the rock garden, I did not feel quite so bad for not riding all the switchbacks.
By the time I reached the cut-across to Pilot Cove Loop, I had decided to extend my ride. It was an easy choice - one more steep climb and hike-a-bike for few more miles of ST. This ride was great as it basically rolled down along the creek with enough interspersed features just to make it interesting. I did not ride most of the creek crossings as I find riding on round, four-inch logs over a gap to be beyond my skill and comfort levels.
A significant up-side to the extended ride (adding Pilot Cove and Slate Rock) was the avoidance of 3-4 miles of additional dirt road riding on FS1206.
This ride is documented in various sources as tough and hard-core. However, I finished it in less than three hours at a leisurely pace with time taken to orient, eat and fix a flat. If you are reasonably fit and experienced, do not be afraid to take on this ride.
If I go back to Pisgah, I may consider riding up Pilot Rock and down Laurel Ridge.......
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