It’s been a little while since I’ve had a really great long mountain bike ride. The kind of ride that beats you up but makes you giddy with laughter, the kind that makes your legs burn but your body and soul feel alive, the kind that leaves you feeling exhausted yet truly satisfied and happy.
Today was one of those great rides. A couple inches of powdery snow covered the trails—just enough to make for a quintessential winter ride without the difficulty of slogging through 6 inches of slippery white slush. I felt great physically and mentally—finally a break in the “biking funk” I feel as though I’ve been in for the past few weeks. And our quartet of Evan, Jalon, John, and myself was an easygoing crew who was up for a challenging ride but also just wanted to have fun.
We parked at Greenwood Furnace, and started off with a gradual climb up Stone Mountain on Barrville Road. I quickly got into the groove, a rhythm of breathing and pumping legs that carried me up the mountain. I was in my element—gradual climbs are where I tend to shine on a bike. As long as I can get into the zone, I feel as though I could sit and spin forever.
Warmed up and sweaty, we made a left onto Pigpile Trail, continuing our climb up the mountain on more uneven terrain. My heart felt like it was going to beat out of its chest, but we were all rewarded at the top with a stunning vista overlooking Big Valley. We took a break on a log, passed around the flask, caught our breath until we began to feel the chill that comes with standing around too long in the cold with wet base layers. Time to get back on the bikes.
Soon, we were bombing down Sassafras Trail towards Flat Road, a steep downhill full of loose rocks that was made extra slippery by the now-softening snow. On almost too many occasions to count, I found my tires sliding out from under me, and myself flying off the bike. My bike acquired a few new dings, and my legs acquired a few new bruises, but that’s usually expected from a ride at Rothrock.
At the bottom, we reconvened and shared battle stories. John fared seemingly better than last time—I wasn’t there, but the story is that he ended up with a ripped jacket and a black eye. This time, our clothing and bodies stayed intact, and no one was worse for the wear.
Across the road, we jumped on Sassafras Spur and then Sass-xx—one of my favorite trails in Coopers Gap. It winds around evergreens, through rhododendron, and across small streams, not gaining or losing much elevation along the way. It’s just plain fun. Sass-xx was one of the first trails I ever rode at Coopers—on the first day I ever mountain biked with Evan, and the first day I had mountain biked at all in years. I don’t recall paying quite as much attention to its beauty that day—I was probably more focused on panting heavily and trying not to seriously injure myself. I’ve come a long way since then.
We then hopped onto Shittaka, another one of the trails Evan and I rode that first day. I remember walking most of it—my legs and lungs shot, me wondering why I felt so out of shape despite all the running I was doing at the time (this was the day I learned how “being in shape” could be very activity-specific). Today, I somehow felt very much the same—except this time I wasn’t walking, and we had covered a lot more milage before getting to this point than we had on that day last February. But it still amazes me how brutal this trail can be. Looking at a topo map, it doesn’t seem to gain much elevation, yet it feels like there is so much up.
By the time we got back to the road, I was beginning to feel the exhaustion set in. But we still had to climb all the way back up the mountain and down the other side to the car. Climbing up Kettle Road was painful—my legs felt like they had nothing left, my lungs wanted to explode, and I was having trouble getting my head into that zone that blocks it all out. Just keep pedaling, I told myself over and over. We finally reached the top, and I fell into the snow, laughing, so happy to have made it.
It was all downhill from here—a bone-rattling, rocky, rooty downhill on the other side of Sassafras Trail (we had gone down the other side of the ridge previously). I managed to stay on my bike all but once this time. We coasted back into the park to our vehicles, tired, eager to strip off wet clothes and get warm.
It was one of the best rides I’ve had in a long time, and, I daresay, perhaps one of the best ever. I’m out of the funk, and my love for snow riding that had perhaps begun to wane a little in recent weeks has been restored with full force. Frozen Fat, here I come!