Outdoors: All wet

Morning is an especially nice time for a summer mountain-bike ride at Bent Creek: The bugs aren't mobilizing yet, the thermometer hasn't hit 90 degrees, and you don't have to fret about afternoon storms. Hoping to avoid those terrible three, I recently confronted a gray, wet rag of a sky that seemed sure to let loose on me halfway through my ride. (In fact, the drizzle started before I even got out of my car.) One good thing about morning rides is that, when the unexpected happens, you may be able to reschedule for the afternoon.

Muddy legs and all: Riding in the rain at Bent Creek is not for the faint of heart. Photo by Jonathan Poston

But I'm not a patient man.

Hoping the clouds would move on, I came back to the trailhead around lunchtime, only to find the rain falling with more gusto. I left, vowing to return.

This time, the skies were a calm, Caribbean blue, though much too still to stay that way. Storm clouds lurked in the distance, the darkest ones emitting rumbles and booms accompanied by jagged, white hisses across the far sky.

But surely, I rationalized, wanting so badly to make the trip out there worthwhile, the storm would pass over or go the other way: It wouldn't loom all day right over the very area where I planned to ride.

Bad reasoning like this always gets me into trouble.

A route popped into my head: From the Hard Times trailhead, turn right onto paved Wesley Branch, hang a left at Rice Pinnacle, go up to Five Points and descend via Ledford Gap. Then hang a right and eventually pop out onto Bent Creek Gap, a dirt road. Take a left and keep left till you're back to Hard Times.

On the long pedal up, I plugged in the earphones and cranked up my MP3 player. Soon, however, I felt the wind sucking at me and brushing the back of my neck — and then the spray and an invisible clap interrupted my music. I snapped around, as if I could somehow stare down the beast. But those darkening skies lurched closer: The creature had caught my scent.

Cranking as hard as I could, my head pulsed and my knuckles turned white on the bike grips. When I finally reached the high road at Five Points, I thought I might have eluded the tempest, but I couldn't tell for sure amid the eerie fog that hung there like the ghost of something the storm had snacked on and discarded. Apparently still hungry, though, it lapped at my heels again, the ghost fading into the advancing wall of water as I wobbled and rolled down the mountain.

Normal dips in the path were transformed into bogs that yanked my front tire at every turn. Between thunderclaps, I pondered how it would feel if I were struck by lightning. Maybe my earphones would be welded to my inner ear as the electricity zipped around my body. Yanking them out, I tried to focus on the important things, like staying on my bike while threading puddles, slick roots and mercurial orange clay.

Then I saw some other riders coming up the mountain. I didn't even talk to them: They had to be completely mad to be heading straight into the very storm I was fleeing.

As I descended, rear tire stuck in a perpetual fishtail, I realized my pants were now coated with mud and debris— and some of the gunk was working its way in. Aha moment: Fenders really aren't just for show! Damn. Belatedly, the rain was beginning to ease, though I was practically back to the car by then.

Thankfully, it hadn't been as battered by the storm as I was. I rode up and patted my trusty vehicle, which seemed to stare back at me as if to say, "You better wash me when we get home — and, by the way, how'd all that peat get up in your seat?"

Long about then, two guys showed up and asked me how the weather was up there. With mud sliding off my legs and puddling at my ankles, I eyed their fenderless bikes as they prepared to take off. "Really," I replied, "it's not that bad at all."

[Jonathan Poston lives in Asheville.]

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9 thoughts on “Outdoors: All wet

  1. Karen

    I wanted to say riding in muddy conditions is not being a responsible trail user. As an avid mountain biker, trail advocate and trail builder I have to say it should be mentioned that riding in rain/mud can be very destructive to the trails! Yes there are times it can’t be avoided but it should be pointed out in the article that gravel roads are something to be traveled upon in such conditions. Riding in mud deteriorates trails and makes conditions worse for other riders and hikers! Please be a responsible rider and please advertise to others to do so too! Also join your local mountain biking organization (http://www.pisgahareasorba.org/) because we work on the trails to try to reduce those mudholes along with other events to promote riding and the trails we ride on! If it wasn’t for groups like ours we would not have such wonderful trails in our backyard!

  2. isaiah

    Great write up! Sometimes you just gotta ride no matter what the conditions. I’ve had to a couple of times in the rain this year. Brings back the kid in you.

  3. John Jans

    Thanks for posting, Karen. As an Asheville resident, Jonathan Poston should know better than to ride wet trails.

  4. killarue

    I want to thank the paper’s editor for sharing such a wonderful piece of journalism. I almost felt like I was there, not really. I suppose that I am not the audience for this piece of…but how about something mentally stimulating such as a book review and let the outdoor magazines print another ‘killer’ story about cheating death.

  5. Robin

    I, too, am a Pisgah Area SORBA member. Let’s face it, it rains here. Sometimes a lot. Some years you would never ride if you tried to wait a couple days after a rain. The best thing you can do is help with trail maintenance. This can be by being a club member (we can use your money), actually helping on trail maintenance events, or just doing your part while you are riding. EVERYBODY can stop and clean out the low end of a puddle. This is especially important in the fall. Realize that once the backside of a hump fills up with silt, then the water is going to breach the hump and go right down the middle of the trail, and if the water can’t get out the side, then you get a big sloppy puddle.

  6. BigJay

    Riding in wet conditions ruins the effort of many volounteer hours put in to help with trail maintenance. Joining your local bike club should help understand the impacts of your actions.

  7. Pscyclepath

    Jonathan:

    Glad you enjoyed the ride. Now, how about putting in a few hours of time with the local IMBA group repairing the damage you did to a too-wet trail, so that others can enjoy riding them too? One of the prime rules of responsible mountain biking is “leave no trace”… So if you’re fishtailing around in the mud, it’s too wet to ride, and you’re only ruining the trail for those who come behind you.

    Tom
    IMBA/National Mtn Bike Patrol

  8. wookie

    The only person that would rip wet trails is a person totally ignorant of the amount of effort it take to maintain trail of that caliber. I feel this article shows out of touch a biker can be from the Mountain bike community.

    It’ one thing to be out in the bush and get caught in a surprise storm but heading out knowing it’s going to rain… That’s just selfish and bad edict.

  9. Charles

    Basic rule of the trail: don’t ride within 24 hours of a rain event. Of course, if it starts raining on you while you’re riding, that’s a different story — just cut your ride short and take the next off-ramp! As one who’s spent over 1000 hours this year dealing with trail maintenance and responsible riding at a very public trail system, I would appreciate it if you went out on the next work day with Pisgah Area SORBA and maybe you’ll get a better understanding and appreciation of the hard work that is required by many volunteers to make sure you have fun trails to ride.

    ~Charles Myrick
    SORBA Trail Steward
    Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area

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